As part of our combined offspring’s effort to blanket the world with the most adorable children, we welcomed the arrival of Evan yesterday, bringing our family's grandbaby total up to an impressive 6 (all under the age of 5). At 9 pounds, 3 ounces, Evan will be flexing his muscles and driving his parents crazy in sunny California, under the loving eyes of sister Sierra, seen here holding him shortly after his birth.
Has anyone seen the new television program produced by Ancestry.com, Who Do You Think You Are? It follows celebrities as they trace their ancestry for information on someone they know little about, so they have a better idea of how they got to where they are now.
Of course, we build our family trees from the perspective of ourselves, looking backward as if those who came before were just preparing for our arrival. Not so, says poet Jacqueline Berger, who teaches at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, California. We’re caught up in the middle of a long train ride.
This is from her book The Gift That Arrives Broken, published in 2010 by Autumn House Press.
Why I'm Here
Because my mother was on a date
with a man in the band, and my father,
thinking she was alone, asked her to dance.
And because, years earlier, my father
dug a foxhole but his buddy
sick with the flu, asked him for it, so he dug
another for himself. In the night
the first hole was shelled.
I'm here because my mother was twenty-seven
and in the '50s that was old to still be single.
And because my father wouldn't work on weapons,
though he was an atomic engineer.
My mother, having gone to Berkeley, liked that.
My father liked that she didn't eat like a bird
when he took her to the best restaurant in L.A.
The rest of the reasons are long gone.
One decides to get dressed, go out, though she'd rather
stay home, but no, melancholy must be battled through,
so the skirt, the cinched belt, the shoes, and a life is changed.
I'm here because Jews were hated
so my grandparents left their villages,
came to America, married one who could cook,
one whose brother had a business,
married longing and disappointment
and secured in this way the future.
It's good to treasure the gift, but good
to see that it wasn't really meant for you.
The feeling that it couldn't have been otherwise
is just a feeling. My family
around the patio table in July.
I've taken over the barbequing
that used to be my father's job, ask him
how many coals, though I know how many.
We've been gathering here for years,
so I believe we will go on forever.
It's right to praise the random,
the tiny god of probability that brought us here,
to praise not meaning, but feeling, the still-warm
sky at dusk, the light that lingers and the night
that when it comes is gentle.
Full disclosure: John Mellencamp’s grandmother and my paternal grandmother were cousins, so I guess that makes us – what? – second cousins twice removed, or something? Don’t ask him, I’m sure he’s never heard of me.
In any case, the fact that we’re loosely related may have colored my opinion, but, over the years, I’ve grown to love his work – at least in concept – and was fascinated by this story on NPR’s Morning Edition, earlier this week: http://www.elabs7.com/ct.html?rtr=on&s=fj6,mqgz,dv,f2fy,cnwq,g1zw,l3bv
Born with spina bifida, Mellencamp got off to a rough start in life, but has managed to become something of an inspiration to many people, from towns large and small. At the same time, he’s developed as a musician in spite of in his phenomenal success.
As a fan and someone who shares a very little bit of his DNA, I can appreciate Mellencamp's eclectic musical taste and demand for authenticity. Lord knows he's paid is dues in a very tough business, and he certainly has a right to look back on his roots, musical and familial. After all, in the 1840s, his ancestors waded for miles up the White River to the White Creek (in what is now called Indiana), where they cleared the land to build a community. A century and a quarter later, Mellencamp ran away from that same spot, only to return home rich enough to buy up much of the town. What a story! Go John!
Here’s a review of his latest album, from Rolling Stone:
No Better Than This
By John Mellencamp
No Better Than This is John Mellencamp's debut on Rounder Records, the legendary indie label specializing in roots and Americana music. The entire album was recorded with Mellencamp and his band all playing live in one room using a 55-year-old Ampex tape recorder and just one vintage microphone. Legendary producer T Bone Burnett captured the 13 new tracks at three historic locations: Sun Studio in Memphis, Tenn., (where Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis first recorded); the First African Baptist Church in Savannah, Ga., (the oldest Black church in North America, dating to 1775); and in Room 414 of the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, Texas (where Robert Johnson made his first recordings in 1936). Mellencamp's songs on No Better Than This reflect classic American musical traditions including blues, folk, gospel, rockabilly and country, while addressing such themes as the need for hope, the nature of relationships and narratives that recount extraordinary occurrences in everyday life.
"No Better Than This shows Mellencamp channeling spirits and stepping into period styles. They fit him perfectly." ~Will Hermes, Rolling Stone
My grandchildren just might grow up thinking people don’t kayak or ride motorcycles until they are very, very old.
My grandmothers were age 54 and 65 when I was born. As far as I know, neither one ever drove a car, took a trip that didn’t involve visiting family, or chose to exert herself to stay fit. She didn’t need to, work took care of that.
My grandfathers drove, but I never really knew them. One died before I was born and the other was someone I heard more about than ever got to know first hand.
Whether I knew them or not, I am confident my grandparents never traveled to another country, learned a second language, kayaked, swam for the fun of it, ran in a charity race, took dance lessons, wrote a book, or even took photos of their grandchildren. I don't think I ever saw my grandmother taking a photograph. She probably didn't own a camera. Her life revolved around work (until age 78!), family, church and doctoring, until she was so debilitated she ended up in a nursing home.
If you’re old enough to have grandchildren, what do you do that you’re sure your grandmother or grandfather never had a chance to do?
Nana and Grandpa kayak at Adams Reservoir, Woodford, Vermont, 08/07/10
Pardon the grandmotherly exuberance, but how many people do you know who add two babies (not twins) to their family in one week?
Two new baby boys—Griffin and Mason—came home from the hospital this week to their respective homes, where their siblings got the first inkling this new baby thing wasn’t quite what they expected.
UPDATE: Two new boys born in our family the same week! Such a blessing! Makes our hearts sing. Thanks for the comments and good wishes.
I'll be offline for a few days, thanks to new grandbabies arriving in two different states, bringing our total to five (!). One down, one to go. Life is very, very good.
Here’s a little show and tell. Below are photos of my husband and myself, our siblings, plus my brother-in-law's significant other and my brother's wife. We’re a pretty typical American family, at least in terms of our own generation.
But, we're the old generation, destined for extinction. Fortunately, we have 11 grown kids among us, which means we have a pretty good toehold on the future.
Skip ahead to our children’s children and two of their cousins. Some of these darlings have parents from Mexico, Germany or from Philippine or African-American ancestry. Soon, there will be more grandchildren. And, there is the possibility for even more cultural diversity when the last few kids finally marry and start families.
If you want to see what the US population will look like in the near future, just look at our next generation -- a rainbow of colors, languages and traditions, all within one ordinary US family.
Are they beautiful or what? This is tomorrow, folks, taking the best from us and our ancestors, and putting it forward.
Yes, the face of the US is changing, but that’s not a bad thing. Nations evolve just like living organisms. Life goes round and round. Don’t fight it,! Just sit back, click on the video below, and enjoy.
Aside from those few words we shared at the symposium in 2003, here is my Ted Kennedy memory:
In 2006, I contacted Kennedy’s office to ask a favor for a dear friend who had spent her life caring for children from war-torn environments. Lynn never forgot how Ted Kennedy convinced an international adoption agency in 1973 to let her adopt a half-starved child from what is now North Korea, in spite of the fact that she was young, single and worked full time as a teacher.
She was a very religious person and had spent a year in Zimbabwe, doing mission work, her own version of a year in the Peace Corps. She came home determined to help young children who had been left behind as victims of armed conflict, or were simply unwanted in the first place.
In her mid-twenties, Lynn began adoption procedures while she was engaged to be married, but when marriage plans fell through, she was told didn’t qualify as an adoptive parent.
Determined to adopt a child she had sponsored for through an international charity, Lynn called on the junior senator from Massachusetts for advice. Ted Kennedy talked the agency into letting her complete the adoption.
Thanks to him, she was the first single person in the state to do so. And thanks to him, in 1975 she got special permission to travel to Southeast Asia to bring home a Vietnamese orphan, one of the lucky ones to escape Saigon on one of the last planes out. Later, Lynn adopted more children, all from places rife with war or poverty.
Click on Read More (below, right) for the rest of this story.
Ann Sentilles has an interesting post on her blog, The Third Third, about the phenomenon of adult children moving back in with their parents, due to the tough economy. She's writing off a New York Times story, saying it that piece "should, probably make us all stop and think about what we're willing to do under the aegis of 'family' and what's healthy and what's not." See Caught in the Safety Net for the NYT story. Go to the blog section of The Third Third to see what Ann and her readers have to say on the subject.
When I was little, I remember wondering why our family wasn't anything like the Nelsons, or other folks on television sit-coms. (My brother recently told me he asked the same question, so I guess I wasn't imagining things.)