I celebrated my Irish heritage on St. Patrick’s Day. I knew the names Lauder, Sparlin, McKinney, McCarty carried the lilt of the Emerald Isle. After all you can’t hear the cadence of an Irish tongue and not feel like tapping your toe a wee bit. But when I learned that in America there once were signs in windows that “Irish Need Not Apply”, I thought here was hatred and men with power again ruling others. (Although in time, the Irish were quite adept at wearing a policeman’s uniform!)
I looked at my Native American heritage and once again saw hatred and greed and power at work. (A pastor now wearing a uniform went seeking Indians to slaughter???) Family myth says my people were woodlands Cherokee infused with (French?) fur trapper’s blood. Were they on the Trail of Tears? But nary a signature card was signed that we have found yet. A paid researcher said my Oklahoma people certainly had worked hard to hide themselves among Whites in Indian Territory and newly formed Oklahoma, which was not uncommon then. It was dangerous to be an Indian, not something for pride. They hid in plain sight to save their lives…and they married Irishmen!
I thought I knew who and what I was, although there was little discussion among my parents. They were busy making and living a life, not a past. Now I am fascinated by family history. I want to know my people, where I can from for sure. I began to dig wishing my Dad were still alive for some help. My mother is still alive and warned me against what else I might find after I found one of her ancestors served time in a Federal pen for theft in Indian Territory, 1899.
Then I began to find the Germans: Westhoffs, Wagners, Schlappner, Dischkamp, etc. I followed them, both sides of Dad’s ancestors right back to Hessen, Germany and Westphalia, Germany. Oh…my….gosh…!! How in the world did this happen? I couldn’t be German, could I?
We think we know who we are, and underneath our skins is history unknown. How does this explain my fear of Germans and of uniforms? Do I have a past life myself? Did a relative experience the Nazi era brutality or some other power machine, passing the fear feeling along? What was life like in Germany in 1750 that caused them to leave for the wilderness of America? I have few answers, but at least the love of sauerkraut, sharp dill pickles, and salami that my Dad and I shared might make a little more sense now. (But I draw the line at Grandpa’s pickled pigs’ feet!)
As the snow flies and the air remains frigid, I will spent the winter looking for family tidbits that will warm me. I will search the few pictures I find and seek something familiar that I have seen in my parents’ faces or even in the mirror. How I wish I could visit with these people I have never met. Their stories would unfold like a great novel I am sure. And if I am shocked to be more German than expected, they might just be as horrified to be related to a Jayhawker from Kansas and Show Me Mule from Missouri!
I have read Picoult's The Storyteller...a wonderful story that I read straight through almost never shutting the book until finished.
Crossing the Border of Time: A true story of war, exile, and love reclaimed...Leslie Maitland
On Hitler's Mountain: Overcoming the Legacy of a Nazi Childhood...Irmgard Hunt
The Soldier's Wife...LeRoy
Bonhoeffer: Pastor, martyr, prophet, Spy...Metaxas
The Nazi Officer's Wife...Edith Hahn
My Mother's Secret...J. Witterach
Skeletons of the Feast...Chris Bohjalan
Three Quarters of the Orange...Joanne Harris
Let Me Go...Helga Schneider