I suppose at this point, it might be worth taking a step back and looking at the constituent parts that have come together to make me me. . . .
I think I do this because it’s expected, because that’s what people are anticipating when they read a life story. At some point you must talk about the bits that came together over time and throughout history to create this being.
Personally, I hate genealogy.
I understand that it’s vitally important for people who have had their histories stolen from them – through slave trade, through ethnic exterminations, through war, through any number of horrible things people do to each other – and I would never deny anyone the right or the opportunity to research a family tree.
Most of the time, though, when I’ve heard about family histories – and, trust me, I’ve heard a fuck-load about family histories – I’m struck by people’s desire to find something wonderful, something amazing, something exceptional in the past.
It’s not your achievement. It says nothing about your character. It speaks nothing of your contribution to the world.
Personally, while I much appreciate an understanding of history, I prefer to keep my focus on me forward.
But, for what it’s worth, here’s a glimpse of what the family portraits might look like. . . .
My father’s mother was born in northeastern Alabama in a town near a town optimistically named ‘Brilliant’. His father was from Tuscaloosa, T-town, home of the University of Alabama. My mother’s family were all from rural, rural south Alabama – ‘out from’ towns even native Alabamians have never heard of.
My parents’ opinion might differ, but the image I have is of a very challenging environment.
My father’s family was, I think, aspirationally poor. . . . Certainly his mother was aspirational, anyway. I would say my mother’s family was more focused on survival.
My father’s mother graduated from the University’s school of nursing. His father attended the University. I don’t know if he graduated. I never knew him; he died a few months before I was born.
Both of my mother’s parents finished high school. Neither went to college.
All four of them – ‘given their circumstances’ – did very well.
Escaping poverty does strange things to people, I think. Sometimes it makes people kind and generous. I think this was the case with my mother’s father and, from what I’ve heard, my father’s father. Sometimes it makes people angry and mean. I’m afraid this was closer to the mark with my grandmothers.
My father’s mother, in particular, was determined not to slip back down the social chain. Determined her son would be a doctor, not the architect he thought he wanted to be. Determined he would marry the richest girl in town, not the, well, I’m not sure what she thought of my mother, but I know she wasn’t delighted by the match.
She might not have won on the marriage, but she managed the other two. Sort of.
My dad definitely became a doctor. And, if he learned only one thing from her, he certainly learned that the only way to go on the social ladder is up, up, up. . . .
So, he set out to have the biggest house in town, to ensure his wife had the biggest diamonds, to ensure that everything – including his progeny — was the best, the best, the best.
And, he set out to prove that his family – somewhere back in history – had done something to ensure we were worthy of high society.
So, that’s it. A glimpse up the branches of the family tree. They’re strong; they’re rough; they’re there.
It should be said that I adored my grandparents and loved spending weekends with them as a child. Likewise, I dearly love my parents. Both brilliant minds, perhaps, in fairness, a bit hampered by their surroundings, limited by their environments, incredibly successful ‘given their circumstances’.
But those are their histories, told fairly and accurately only by them.
This is my story.