Wednesday, May 30, 2018


Who are my people?

I'm not much for genealogy. My thought has always been that we create ourselves and that generations further back than those who actively raised us don't matter much.

But still... sometimes I wonder. I know people from other cultures that pay attention to their people, who nurture a connection with those who came before. Perhaps I should listen to the wisdom in that nurturing.

My people have been in this country for a long time. Before that, from what little I know, they came from England. That may seem bland, but it is also a place with history: Stonehenge, King Arthur, the Magna Carta, Shakespeare. There are deep mysteries and great stories in the gentle hills and fields of that island.

In this country, my people are from Appalachia, on both sides of the family (at least as it is defined here). This month I got to travel with my parents to two of the places they came from.

One of those places is Hayfield Township, in northeastern Pennsylvania. My mother's people come from there. The old family farm is gone now, reclaimed by woods and wild things. To get there, you drive up to "Crow Hill" (supposedly because the land was so poor that the crows had to carry a lunch when they flew over it). Driving the road there is like one of those movie scenes where someone is going back in time: dark and twisty, grown over at the sides and covered by a thick canopy of trees. At the top, it opens up to a plateau where the farm was. The grange hall is still there:

And some old graves, including one of a veteran of the Revolution (we once were revolutionaries here):

We traveled, too, to the town where my father's grandfather lived, Shamokin, Pennsylvania. It is an old coal town, adjacent to Coal Township, a place where you can still see a rough seam of black coal slashing across the side of a mountain. The people there have a way of speaking you don't hear other places, and the white houses are gray:

I tried to find a place for my parents and I to stay in Shamokin; there isn't much. Eventually, I found a bar that rented some rooms out over the tavern. I called and talked to the bartender, and made a reservation. When we got there we pushed through the crowds and stood in front of Yuengling beer sign until a bartender came over with a key. I opened the door, to a room that was what you might expect.

"This is just right," my mom said. And, as usual, she was wise and right.

Greetings from the Lone Star State! Wow, I love that you took a trip like this with your parents and wrote about it. And I can't believe that I posted this today about something in my own family tree before reading your reflection:

I agree with you that the people who came centuries before us don't define who we are in the present. But I do think it's important for some of us to face the past as I tried to do, however imperfectly, in this series about a slave-owning ancestor (also, check out part IX, which involves the Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court and multiple jailbreaks):
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