Friday, July 02, 2010

Where Pilgrimage Takes Me

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" Everything's hunky dory here today ... so far. Alpha is curled up in her cat basket, Beta is out under the tree waiting for a baby bird to fall from a nest, Decibel the parrot is unusually quiet. Heir is at work. Spare is puttering about the kitchen. And I, Anne Johnson, am here to entertain you! Good times, good times.

Since America is such a melting pot, people tend to think of themselves as being "from" somewhere, even if their families have lived here for generations. Until recently, I've been as guilty of that as anyone else. I've always loved telling people I'm "Scotch Irish."

Then one day recently, I found myself by a pretty little stream with nothing in particular to do, and I began to consider where I'm really from and what I should call myself based on my ancestors' "points of origin."

I'm Appalachian.

So far back as I can trace, three lines of my dad's ancestors were living in Appalachia a dozen generations ago. Long enough to outlast an Old Testament curse! So far back as I can trace on my mom's side, a German named Peter Mittelkauf arrived in Philadelphia on the ship Morehouse from a place called the Palatine in 1740. He moved straight to Western Maryland, not stopping first in Chester County, PA as Mom's Scotch-Irish ancestors did.

Dad's kin probably win the prize for longevity of occupancy in Appalachia. And what rich names appear in the family tree! There are Mountains and Kennards (sure sounds French to me), Tewells, Imeses, Bennetts, Martins, and (of course) Johnsons. There are Lashleys, which back in the day would have been pronounced Locks-lee.

Conservatively, if I were to book intercontinental, I would have to visit France, Germany, Scotland, and England. And in none of these places did my ancestors have anything going for them -- otherwise they would have stayed put. Where they did stay put was Appalachia. Ten generations. Twelve generations. Fourteen generations (the hardy Bennetts).

I am the first of my family to leave home and live elsewhere. Even my sister still lives in Appalachia.

Therefore, when I think of connecting with Ancestor, my thoughts do not wander to Stonehenge, but rather to Hopewell Township, PA. I like kilts and bagpipes excessively, but given a choice I'll go with a basement bluegrass band first. In fact, bluegrass music bears out my point. It is a coherent melding of African, Scottish, Irish, and English rhythms, melodies, and instrumentation. It is uniquely American music.

You could argue, of course, that probably a thousand generations of my ancestors lived in Scotland. Maybe they fought with Robert Bruce at Bannockburn. Well, that would be a point of pride indeed. But still I would have to return to one fact: At some point, recognizing the immense danger and strong possibility of death, my ancestors climbed on little rickety wooden ships and braved the fierce Atlantic. Then, although life was no bowl of cherries in the fortress hills of Appalachia, they settled in and stayed. And loved it.

Where are my ancestors from? Appalachia. Where do I pilgrimage? Appalachia. Hail the hills and valleys, hail the creeks and cliffs. Hail the spot that will be my grave among my people.

Now, you say, "Anne. Wait a minute. You're chucking the whole of history and settling for a mere 14 generations?"

Okay, scrap that! Let's get serious about this ancestor piece!

Come, all of you reading this. We are all siblings. Let's do the deep ancestor crawl! Off we go to East Africa, to the Afar Valley, to Kenya and Tanzania. There to meet the bored gods that unite all humankind in the cradle of Homo sapiens.

Is that too far back? I don't know. I like thinking of all of us as one big family. It's true, they say. Still, I think I'll let someone else sort out that family tree. And once they do, they can find me on Polish Mountain, sticking little American flags around Joseph Bennett's marker. To me, that's pilgrimage.



I think my relatives would have stayed in once place if given the opportunity but they kept getting kicked out of every place they lived. till they came to texas..and no one kicked them out..which says something about texas ..ha

Sarita Rucker said...

Funny, the opposite sort of happened to me in the last few years. I expected to most connect with my Native American heritage, because I'm 1/4 Native American. But no, I connect more to my Celtic heritage, which is like 5, 6, or 7 generations back. Not that I would say that I'm actually FROM there...

I guess it just depends on the individual as to what part of their heritage they identify with.

Yellowdog Granny -- My Scottish ancestor (the guy 5, 6, or 7 generations back) wound up settling in Texas. I think all my relatives on my mom's side still live there.

THE Michael said...

I envy you, Anne. I have no roots....I have no idea where I came from, and nowadays seriously ignorant of where I'm going. Pendragon Hold is a place, but it was never truly a home. I'm not sure where home really is. I once swore it was Alaska, but that was more of heart than ancestry. I guess home is wherever I carry it, and I guess it will have to do.

Intense Guy said...

My ancesters were English, Irish and Scottish (Scotch?) - and before they were English they were from the Normandy area in France (which was "English" for a while).

One side of the family came to Phildadelphia and stayed there - nary a move... They were bell founders and then brass items of types founders. Stodgy and respectable.

The otherside of the family went to Boston and some of them went on to Kentucky and then Oklahoma were they emigrated a few moments too soon (Sooners). Several of them were traveling protestant preachers. Most of them just worked simple jobs day in and day out and enjoyed cheering any one of Boston's many baseball teams.

Knowing all this doesn't connect me to "them" though. I don't actually feel "connected" to...anyone tonight.

Kathryn said...

Intense Guy - if you go to the National Geographic site, for a mere (ha!) $99, you can buy a dna kit, follow the instructions, send it in, and you will be able to, after 6 weeks or so, look up the path of your y chromosone(s) from Africa. It's called the Human Genographic program. They want to get as much dna data as possible to track human movement. It's anonymous in the data base as I recall. This might give you an idea - at least on the male side of your line where you come from.

I'm not sure about my spiritual home as I'm Swedish, English and German with Irish, Scots and French so far back they probably don't count. A number of my father's ancestors came to Massachusetts in 1600 whatever, so..........? My maternal grandfather was 2 when the family came from Sweden, and my maternal grandmother was the only one of her immediate family born here. hmmm.