Traditions are our roots and a profile of who we are as individuals and who we are as a family. They are our roots, which give us stability and a sense of belonging – they ground us.
I can remember a time, when I was around seven, I couldn’t figure out where my red hair came from. It was more strawberry blonde really, but I was surrounded by tow heads and dark haired family members. And I had no comprehension about how things worked. As in, the birds and the bees, and DNA swapping. So there I was, sitting on the beach next to my mom, while my siblings were playing in the waves under the August sun. They could have cared less about the how and the why’s of life, and cared more about who could hold their breath the longest under water.
I remember it clearly, for some reason, sitting cross legged on my terry beach towel, sand drying on my toes. “How about her?” pointing randomly at some other red headed human meandering amidst sun worshipers “Did I get my red hair from her?” my mom, with a patient smile “No, my little bird, not from her” my brows furrowed in confusion “How about her?” pointing at another red head on the beach that day, being smothered in sun screen “No” came her simple reply. The memory fades out about there, I wouldn’t imagine there were too many red heads on the beach anyway. But, the stage was set, and it was obvious I wanted connection.
How deep do my roots go? And how far? And two hundred years ago, was there someone like me? With this strawberry colored hair and a dash of freckles across my nose?
You see, my mother had an olive toned complexion and blue eyes, with very dark hair that looked almost black. My DNA dad had dark hair and hazel eyes with splashes of green in them. Or so I was told. We had limited contact with him, and he died when I was twelve. Perhaps this is why I had questions, I felt half the book was written.
In my early thirties, I had two children, and my interest grew even more. What was I passing on to them? What DNA were they carrying inside them, that they would pass onto their own babies? And their babies onto theirs? Again, I could see the roots spreading, branches budding, and most of all, dormant stories piling up.
I wanted the stories.
I found Ancestry online, and delved into a wonder. And I began to grow my tree. I found so many stories that were forgotten, or were never passed on. Or even, no one even knew about. I quickly turned into the gardener in our family, a green thumb of information, and many were interested in hearing the stories. Some, could care less. And the more I dug, the more I could see how far my roots went, and how strong they were, I felt a connection to my past. I was not some scrawny little twig alone on a mountainside, I was among a forest of ancestors. And all the wonderful stories whispered through the breeze that passed through the leaves and branches among us all.
I could pull from the stories of our 1st cousin five generations back named, General Samuel Houston. The day his troops shouted “Remember the Alamo!” when they charged so bravely into the fray. I too can charge into my own battles with the same strength. My four times great Uncle, Sir Thomas Daniel Chapman, when he blustered on like a bull in parliament “No more prisoners are going to be sent to Australia!” laying the groundwork for Tasmania and Australia back in 1850. I too can bluster about and speak my mind, for something I passionately believe in. William Claflin, my third cousin, Governor of commonwealth of Massachusetts. When he took a stand for woman suffrage and the right to vote, and along that timeline, Susan B. Anthony, my fourth cousin (four generations back) she makes me remember, I have rights!
When my two time great grandmother, rode the steam engine from Tennessee to Washington State, looking for a man to wed. Because the Civil war had ravaged the state, and took out most of the male population. She was left to start her own journey, alone, to a man she did not know much about, even less, to a state in its young birth. I too can find the courage to begin life anew, and be my own advocate for happiness.
But first, I needed the stories, to enrich my roots and give me the courage to grow. Where do you go to find your strength? Perhaps it is your mother, a sister, a brother. Their example they have set, is your blueprint. Perhaps it is where you worship, and the people that reside there. Or a friend. How about being alone on a mountainside, with your favorite book or sketchpad. The list can go on, but I think you get the point.
I think the more we understand who we are, from the beginning of our roots to the top of our heads. The better we can circumnavigate this world and the smaller world of our own lives, much better. Good or bad, our families carry stories. What we learn from them, is completely up to you.
photos by: Hummingbird