(This post is part of a serial blog. Please see previous posts.)
I have decided to spare you, dear reader, from Generations Five through Seven. The reason is twofold: one, I simply don’t know who most of them were. There is only one branch where I’ve gotten back seven generations. The second reason is that the further away the generations stretch from me, the less is known or can be surmised about them as people. What were their life experiences? Their joys and sorrows? Their triumphs and tragedies? All I have are names, dates, and places – – not very interesting for you or me. And not very relevant to why I began this quest in the first place: to see if generational traumas left their marks on my DNA and are affecting my state of mental health.
As I’ve mentioned, there is a recurring theme throughout my ancestry: that of leaving or losing one’s home. My ancestors left loved ones behind and never saw them again, or were the ones being left behind. There is also a thread of abuse and neglect woven into the fabric of my ancestry – – on both paternal and maternal sides.
Would my ancestors wish to be defined by the traumas which I have described? I’d like to think not.
Would my great-grandmother Elnora choose to be described as married to an adulterous, wife-beating son-of-a-bitch? I choose to think of (and remember) her as an incredibly resilient and strong woman – – one who endured abuse but did not lie down and take it. She stood up to her husband during a time when it was often foolish to do so. In those days, when a woman lost her husband, she lost the roof over her head and her meal ticket (and so did her children). Somehow Elnora gathered up the gumption and pressed onward against the injustices – – perhaps with no plan of outcome or how she was going to make it. She believed in herself that she could do what it took to make things work out. She divorced her abusive and neglectful husband, and she survived – – – to age 94, in fact. She outlived both her children. She was a fighter with perseverance and street smarts. I am proud to be her great granddaughter.
Would my father wish to be defined as the poor little boy whose father deserted the family, caused them to lose their farm and who had to dig in garbage cans for scraps to eat? No. I choose to remember him as a strong man with a tender heart – – as a teen latching on to good male role models who taught him he was worth something, unlike his father. He took up gymnastics and bodybuilding to strengthen his physical being. His high school yearbook described him as “an upright lad, except when he is in the gym.” He worked long, irregular hours to support his own family, lest they should ever find themselves in the poverty in which he grew up. He was devoted to his wife, even in the most trying of circumstances. He had cause, but he never left her. He was loyal up until the end, even sharing a nursing home room. I am proud to be his daughter.
Would my mother wish to be defined as the woman whose mother was a loony, and that she had followed faithfully in her footsteps? No. I choose to remember her as an insanely creative mind who went to great lengths (and personal sacrifice) for her loved ones. In a time when most women did not work outside the home, and who devoted all of their time to domestic pursuits, my mother set out to become a published children’s book author. And she succeeded, winning accolades and awards both locally and nationally. She’s been compared to Dr. Seuss. Her mind ran rampant with ideas and she often couldn’t control the expression of them – – neglecting the house and meals in favor of her typewriter. She was a collaborator, putting out puzzle and riddle books with her many writer friends, who paraded through our house at all times of day to be in her company. She was fun and funny. And fiercely devoted to her children, especially when they were experiencing trauma. She literally gave her sanity over to her daughter, trying desperately to fix her. Although it has taken me many years to get there, I am proud to call her my mom.
Which brings us to me: part of the enigma generation dubbed Generation X. According to Wikipedia, “the ‘X’ refers to an unknown variable or to a desire not to be defined.” I find this to be personally true. I have a desire not to be labeled, not to be categorized, not to be put in a box. Whereas I wouldn’t want to be solely defined by my traumas or by those of my ancestors, nor would I want to dismiss them. They are the wind which prunes off the weak branches, leaving only the strong ones to continue growing. They are the grain of irritating sand necessary to make the beautiful, unique pearl. They are the grindstone without which the diamond does not become polished. They are the storms without which the flowers and the fruit wither and die. They are a part of me, but they do not solely define me. I choose to focus on the strength, resilience, and beauty that trauma creates. Although it has taken me many years to get here, I am proud to be me.