When you really aren't something unusual, often you try to find things that make you bigger and better. It's hard to craft a story around something perceived smaller by the general population. The Mexican grandmother becomes "Spanish," the itinerant, wastrel grandfather becomes a hobo, romantically traveling the country by train. the sister who drinks too much becomes the artist, desperate to find her medium. Many Americans change their history so that they came over on a better, earlier boat--not from Poland but from England. ancestors fought in wars gallantly. they weren't, suddenly, inmates released to fight because soldiers were needed.
The past becomes a history to rewrite, the people who are in our chain highlighted, embellished, shined to blazing glory. They becomes our stories instead of people, our stories needing uplift and much more plot.
It reminds me of the stories that came out around the time Shirley McClain's books did--no one who discovered they were reincarnated ever found out they used to be a washer woman by the shores of the Thames. No, most discovered they were Cleopatra or Alexander the Great. busy people, Cleo and Alex. Talk about split personalities.
So in my family, we have two good stories, the best being on my father's side, the side where we can't verify anything easily, all the people now dead.
The first is that we are related to Jesse James. As a child, I liked that because his name and mine were so close, I felt connected and a kinship--that, and because I was often filled with bad behavior, I thought there was finally a reason for it. Genetic predisposition.
The second was that my grandfather was half Chickasaw Indian. And we had the portrait to prove it. There, over our mantle was the old photo of my great-grandparents. Taciturn (she more than he) and fierce (again, she more than he), they stand close, though the photos were taking separately and melded somehow. He looks like us, the big earlobes and slight smile, his sheriff's badge on his left lapel.
She--the Indian--stares out as if wanting to argue all the way from the grave. Her lips are tight, her dark hair pulled back hard, her small eyes glints of anger.
Jesus, I thought back then, though I probably didn't think Jesus. Wow, I thought. What is her issue?
Well, the story came out about her, how her family came from Mississippi or somewhere in the South, around where my Great-Grandfather came from. But they met in Oklahoma, maybe. Her family had walked the Trail of Tears. At some point, they met. Had a lot of kids, with names like Homer. Her maiden name was Bodine. Really.
The wild west ended, they died, their gene pool lived on. And the story of her Indian-ness grew and swelled and stayed put. What a life she had, I thought every time I passed by the photo. So hard, all those kids, a few who ended up dying. And the irony! An Indian woman and a sheriff. What a story. What an amazing life.
Except we had it all wrong. Just months ago, my sister told me none of it was true. My Great Grandmother was French. All the Indian part of the story was false. Homer and Bodine were true names and facts, but instead of walking the trail and living a hard, ironic Indian life, she was from France.
No wonder I like Paris.
Causes Jessica Inclán Supports
Women for Women International Goodwill Industries Lindsey Wildlife Museum Freecycle.org