Friday, December 24, 2010

Day 358- Ancestry

Dear Mr. President,

Tonight my family had our Christmas celebration a bit early to accommodate our various work schedules. Around a non-traditional (and largely gluten-free, out of respect to my mother and sister's new dietary guidelines) assortment of gourmet foods we kept up the family tradition of being, to a man, loud and incredibly opinionated. Asher, my 2-year old nephew and the only child in our immediate family, seemed to sense that this day was mostly for his benefit, and ran around happily watching cartoons and playing with toys while the grown-ups mulled over boring assessments of roast chicken, maple-glazed squash, mushroom quinoa pilaf and scalloped corn. Gifts came after dinner (but long before the dishes) and we gushed over beautiful new sweaters, intriguing new books and appliances that had the adults even more excited even than Asher at the sight of his giant stuffed dragon.

Spoiled by generous siblings and our mother who never fails to make Christmas just as magical as it was when we were Asher's age, I got a poker chip heart;

Beautiful new scarves and shawls and sweaters:

The tools to marry my two great loves:

even my macbook got a little something:

but the most unexpected gift was a simple family tree from my older sister, and photos of ancestors I'd never even heard of before tonight.

The men and women in these photos are strangers to me. If there are traces of my own features in eyes or noses or cheeks I see no evidence of it. My ancestors came from Germany, Bohemia and England. They married and bore children and died in Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Some settled the west, some owned slaves, some arrived with the Puritans in Massachusetts. My sisters and I kept remarking in surprise at how shockingly American the whole story is. To know that these formally-attired, stiffly-posed subjects of photographs are connected to us is strange for me, especially in my urban tribe of familial bonds forged by forces stronger than blood. What significance, if any, do these lives have on my own? Staring at so much small-scale history makes me feel dizzy with the implications, so much more personal than the characters from my textbooks.

I hope that Christmases to come will feel this way, bright and warm and full to bursting with affection for the people near me. In a few generations, when my sisters, brothers and mother and I are all just tiny branches on some one else's family tree, I know they won't understand nights like this one. They won't know about the way we teased and laughed and talked too loudly as we passed around plates of food. They won't know that three cats and two dogs tread happily around our feet, or sulked angrily under beds. They won't know that my mother's Christmas tree had one string of lights in off-white instead of snow-white and why, exactly, that would bother her. They might see photos of me in my strange clothes and find nothing to connect them to me besides the sharing of some significant amount of genes. I think this gift, more than any of the others, reminded me to pay attention, to take in the details before they were lost in whatever next century's black and white photos will be. To look around at my family and feel connected to them, for all of our differences and for all of our faults. My ancestors' Christmas celebrations looked and sounded very different than my own and certainly meant something very different than this night means to our family now, but I hope that they felt a similarly overwhelmed by the love of those around them.

I hope that you have a good Christmas, Mr. President, and that even your job allows you a few hours of beautifully mundane moments like this to remind you of the sustaining love for and from your family.

Respectfully yours,


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