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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Roots and Shadows


Roots and Shadows borrowed from

I was born in the same county as were my father and his siblings, his parents, and his grandparents. For the first several years of my life, everybody knew me as part of that big extended family: "Oh, you're S's girl! Sure, I know S! I went to school with his brother!" My father had a reputation as a hardworking, friendly and quick-witted man. My mother was a talented artist and gardener, a skilled seamstress and a snappy dresser.


Everybody I knew in my first years of school had grown up the same way I had. All the generations knew all the other generations. Birthday parties were populated by cousins and perhaps a friend or two. More likely the "friend" party would be a secondary, separate and smaller affair.


All our neighboring households had, at least, a few cows, and some had whole herds. One of the rituals of late summer was that in the early mornings all the men from five or six households would walk over the hills to each other's fields and spend several days cutting, baling and pitching hay. I was too young to understand the work they were doing, but I knew that it was an annual event when methigulum was the end-of-the-day beverage, and that my father would come home pleasantly tired and sunburned, redolent of fresh cut dry grasses, ebullient from the company of other men. It wasn't ten years after the end of WWII: The shared memories of their war service days and the shared work of farming bonded men in a different way, I think, than men's work bonds them now.


My mother had grown up on a farm too, in a county miles away. She enjoyed sitting on the back step in the afternoon sun, pinging freshly picked peas into the old metal dishpan and she knew how to pluck and clean a fresh-killed hen. Her enjoyment of farm life was shadowed and haunted, though, by memories of being sent out with her five siblings every election day to cull, with cold-stiffened fingers, the last of the potatoes from half-frozen fields.


Farm life and farm work hadn't changed much from the families' yeoman roots in 15th century Europe.


Before I reached adolescence my father died and our family moved to a small village far from my birthplace. There were farms out beyond the village, but having no Man, our family was no longer part of the camaraderie and the rhythm of farm work. The village men seemed to me a different species; they went to work in shortsleeved shirts and finished work at five o'clock. They never smelled of mingled hay and sunshine or of clean hard-work sweat. The children I met in my new home all had known each other since babyhood. To them, and suddenly to myself as well, I had no history, no context. For years I missed being a recognizable piece of a larger known entity.


I live and work now in yet another community where everyone I meet has local roots like the ones I used to have. Everybody has known everybody else since kindergarten. They know each other's family histories, each other's quirks, each other's family tragedies, scandals, successes. I take care of whom I speak and what I say because everybody I talk to is somebody's else's cousin by blood or marriage.


Being surrounded by a community that has known you all your life has reassuring advantages. If you have famous uncles you can reflect a faint glow of their eminence. If you were always the Smart Kid or the Strong Kid you hold onto the peer respect you earned at the age of ten.

Now, though, I see the drawbacks of one's history dragging around behind like a shadow. I've grown accustomed to standing shadowless in a noonday sun, and I have come to be grateful that no one knows everything about my history. They don't know that I am S and E's daughter, and that's too bad. But they don't know, either, about my crazy aunt who set fire to the barn, or that one day in kindergarten I threw up right on the floor after lunch, or that my junior choir surplice was bathed by tears for the duration of a church service because my boyfriend had given his ring to some other girl. If I choose to tell my acquaintances those things I can couch them in hilarious stories or surround them with an aura of hard-earned wisdom: I can shape my shadow as I wish.

This post inspired by Sunday Scribblings prompt #155 - "I come from..."

9 comments:

floreta said...

i think this is pretty much the essential difference between the 'city' and 'country' and why i am more of a city girl. i'd much rather prefer to be anonymous..

Carolynn said...

Wow.

This is...I can't quite find the correct words...

Beautifully written. Profound. Melancholy. Outstanding.

This is publishable and exceedingly provocative.

Truly an exceptional bit of writing.

Tumblewords: said...

Lovely work! To build your shadow - incredible thought. I've actually moved a couple of times in order to reinvent myself.

Mary said...

This is fabulously written. Despite the comfort of the familiar, I am glad to be in a place where I can have my secrets.

June said...

Thank you for reading, and thank you for the appreciative words.

Chrisd said...

My kids have history with their peers but we are outsiders. Protestants in a land of Roman Catholics.

I can understand your view point and I'm betting my kids can too.

dmarshall58 said...

The evocative and telling details in this piece create a picture of time... and a distinctive perspective on it.

Brilliant writing--thank you!

Tigerbi said...

I agree that your writing is exceptional.........you need to be published !

Mary said...

I can feel your apart-ness after your father died just from your description.