A semi-autobigraphical tale from a one of Lake Wobegon’s Children.
“I’m German, too! And Irish.”
“Did you know that Sean is all-Irish? 100%”
“I’m almost 100% Norwegian, but my mom’s side has some French in it.”
“You’re the only French person I know!!”
– an approximate recollection of the words from a bunch of 4th graders discussing their ethnic heritage – all from the same town, all born about the same time, all with grandparents in a 3-hour radius, at most.
When my grandpa died after falling to Parkinson’s and a broken heart, my family did whatever anyone else would do in a German-American Midwest town of 250 – we met up for a beer or something stronger.
Few people grew up in rural Minnesota without getting something figured out: how much of what you are, and how those whats make up what people can see.
According to my parents, I was as stubborn as an ox due to my German heritage. Whose German heritage made me stubborn was another story. My dad often blamed my mom for this Bavarian personality trait, but then both my mom and I would retort: “You’re German, too!”
Well, by his mother he was, as well as Polish. Through is father, my dad was also Swedish (our name’s heritage) and Irish (our fighting spirit’s heritage, or so I thought).
I don’t know exactly what drew my grandfather to my grandmother, but I can only assume it was a little of what drew my dad to my mom: a cute little lady known since childhood, a lonesome heart made by service in the military that made him miss his love, and some kind of feistiness that was deeply hidden in the threads of this woman’s makeup but was present enough to attract a man ready for a fun, loving challenge.
By the time I got into that bar with my husband, my second and third cousins on my dad’s side were already settled in. Frankly, I struggled to remember all their names, but our noses, our jawlines, and our penchant for beer and brats were basically all the same. And as if I had not yet grown beyond the age of six, I was greeted by the gallery with one clear cry:
“YOU LOOK JUST LIKE YOUR DAD!!!!”
It was and is true – I resemble my father. And I always wondered where exactly my looks came from. His height, likely that was a result of the Polish influence, or so family told me. The red tint in my hair could have come from the Green aisle on my grandpa’s side, and then what of my curved nose, my lanky build, my olive skin, my intrinsic and propulsive desire to pay attention to all things Mediterranean?
My cousins on my dad’s side, at least the guys, declared at both their weddings that they and their friends did
but I could be found at any chance doing west coast swing, country line, and, as my Panamanian friend told me, very-good-hip-swinging meringue. While I loved sports just like the rest of my family, I also loved all things Socratic and classic and romantic – present and past. And if there was one place to hang my hat on, and no part of me knew why, it was on Mosaic Law found in the books of the Pentateuch.
Fast forward to this past Christmas, and my mother-in-law handed out some of those spit-and-see DNA tests to everyone in the family. I was thrilled and also a bit nervous. What would this thing say? What could I know more than what I had clearly tracked down, even in the entomology of our names and the stories of our grandparents? I was, altogether, half German, and an eighth each of Polish, Irish, Swedish, and Hungarian (my mom’s side – I do like paprika). Any nationality beyond that was incredibly unlikely – my records went back 3 generations or more, for crying out loud!
Fast forward a couple of months and an e-mail popped up saying, “Your DNA Results are In!” Could you believe it: according to these results of my spit and the DNA within, my biological make up was (based on the regions these countries reside and in this order):
19% Polish & Hungarian
2% European Jewish
2% General Middle Eastern!!!!!
So 11% of me is not German, Swedish, Polish, Irish, or Hungarian. My “Roman nose” may just be Roman, my latin-swinging hips likely are credited to my 8% Spanish and/or Portuguese roots, and my stubborn penchant argument no doubt stems from my blood being equal parts Jew and Middle-eastern Gentile!
When my grandma preceded my grandpa in death, he talked about nearly no one else. He loved her and let everyone know it until his bones and brain failed him in the end. Likely – very likely – my mixed-bag DNA came from this side of the family. Perhaps what glued my dad’s parents together was even more than just a common home town and four feisty kids. It was something deep, maybe even as deep as blood-deep Meditteranean influence of long-held passions and promises.