Home is where the boat lands, eh?
I remember getting one of those god-awful mass-produced Christmas letters several years ago, in which the writer pointed out that she’d spent considerable time researching her family tree. (This being a clan that already is the most overdocumented group of human beings in the Western Hemisphere.) I wondered why someone who didn’t have a gun pointed to her head would do that.You could tell me you were joining al-Qaida (seriously, they offer benefits to full-time terrorists), or opening a meth-lab franchise and I’d respond more warmly to how you’ve chosen to spend your time. Unless you’re from outer space, I don’t care about your ancestors, and I really, really don’t want to hear about them. The biggest racist morons I know also happen to be obsessed with genealogy.That said, I received some troubling news the other day. Until then I’d assumed I was the spawn of by and large Irish stock that came through Ellis Island and blah blah blah ad nauseam. It’s nothing that should warrant mention.Then came the shock. “Apparently our ancestors were lost at sea,” my nephew wrote. “They landed several hundred miles north of their destination.”Their destination being New York. Which… OH MY GOD. THEY LANDED IN CANADA.
I’m envisioning a bad spin on Gilligan’s Island, in which the lost boat hits the rocks in Nova Scotia and the dizzy, starved occupants spill out and have nothing to do but have sex with the locals in exchange for gruel and crude precursors to Moosehead beer. They breed their way into the northern tier of the U.S., much like tree fungus. They say nothing of where they’ve been.Knowing this but not prepared to show my genealogical cards, I asked my son the other day what he’d do if he suddenly learned he was, um, Canadian.”Whoa. Whoa!” he said. “That’s way random, Mom, and yes, I’d have to kill myself.””It wouldn’t be so bad,” I said. “We know people from there.”He put down his X Box controller. “Let’s not go there,” he said.
The other night I saw a PBS episode in which prominent African-Americans were given the results of DNA tests, which frequently revealed a considerable portion of European blood. Oprah seemed OK about having some Native American blood, but most of them were at least somewhat taken aback to learn how very white they were. You just don’t like to learn you’re not what you thought you were, even, as in my case, you didn’t think you cared about it in the first place.So everything is different now. I need some plaid. I need to examine catalogs for “ladies’ woolen slacks,” and I think it best to accessorize with a pair of sturdy Oxfords. I need to stop thinking “The Red Green Show” is funny, because now it’s on our home turf and it makes fun of, well, us.I also need to rethink the times I’ve traveled abroad and thought it best to lie about my American citizenship. The Canadian thing is a basic CYA maneuver in places where people don’t think it’s a good idea to be an American. “Yesssss, uh, we’re from Vancouver,” we’ve coached ourselves to say. “That’s right – Canada. It’s near, uh, Kenora and Moosejaw.” People understood us to be Canadians and everything seemed to work out OK. As an afterthought to all this, I sought the wisdom of my 91-year-old dad, who’d adhered to the code of silence and had never said a word to me about the ancestors who were lost at sea. I figured it was time he came clean.
“Well, yes,” he said, nervously swirling a glass of beer. “Your grandmother’s grandmother did land there. But believe you me, they hightailed it out of there to Manhattan.””But Dad,” I asked. “Did they – you know – transmute into Canadians along the way?” He turned up the volume on the Olympic two-man bobsleigh race. Canada was doing well. I never did get an answer.Tara Flanagan writes a Wednesday column. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
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