Connecting the dots to our past


There is an identity crisis facing Americans today. Apparently we have become a nation of faceless, empty-souled humanoids searching for the magic strand that might channel us back through our ancestry to some glowing moment in which we discover our true identities. There, smiling back at us through eyes exactly like our own, is that amazing person we once were, before all the hubbub, before all the outsiders that interfered with our precious unique selves.

There was a time when this pursuit was not so desperate, when we were resigned to our imperfect fates, when we were content to merely float among the flotsam and jetsam from the wreckages of our past. But today we will not stand idle like castaways. No, we will rise up and, through the miracle of Ancestry.com and other such absolutely positively essential science-based commerce, we will go boldly back in time. Like a nation of brave Narcissisans, we plunge ourselves into the gene pools of our past!

But I have to admit I am afraid to do it. A couple of decades ago one of my cousins did the old-school ancestry study-the kind where they dig up dusty, dull stuff like hospital records, library materials, newspapers. (There were none of the “poof” moments provided by today’s companies, like when the woman learns she is of the same right stuff as George Washington!). The gist of my story, from what I recall, was that some of my ancestors came here in flight from England; they were horse thieves and faced public hanging.

Well, I struggled with that. First, as an animal lover, I was proud to assume that the beasts we stole were abused by the Redcoats (who as we all know were big-time abusers who even wanted to take our guns away). But then came a seed of doubt: what if they were not of noble spirit? What if they were a bunch of stubborn, quarrelsome drunken rascals who would rather drink than work, and they took to the sport of horse thieving because, if they got desperate and hungry enough they would … well, better left unsaid …

There are other fears and misgivings about making that journey into the truth of the past. What if it was discovered I have a tint of African blood? Could I be related to Thomas Jefferson? Would that explain my preference for black music? My emotional responses to art? Or would I suffer like Steve Martin’s Navin in “The Jerk” with the knowledge that I am irrevocably white. And notwithstanding Mama’s consolation that she would love me even if I were the color of a baboon’s ass, I would curse my pale face. And I must resign myself to the fact that I will never dance well.

There is also the possibility that a Native American connection might be discovered. Would that explain my proclivity for wearing headbands and wandering in woods during the ’70s? Could it be the reason I’ve always preferred women with shiny black hair? Doubtful. Those are terribly romantic notions. Most likely, it was something that happened a long, long time ago — a brief, spur-of-the-moment episode in some remote setting, after which at least one of the parties wished they had exercised more restraint.

There are so many possibilities, so many two-edged swords in this box of scenarios. But I am fairly certain that nowhere in my heredity is there Jewish or Asian blood, as I have never been able to save any money, and I am naturally inept with all kinds of technology. Not much of Italian linkage either, as I don’t like red wine or marinara sauce. But then again, it all depends on how far back we want to travel. I mean it’s really a numbers game, and at one point there were just two.

I end with the lyric to a song I wrote a while back. It is a lovely song, I think. And it answers the most pressing of all questions man has faced throughout Herstory: Whence cometh man?

Some folk say that man was made

By the good Lord above

Along came a woman

And in the garden they made love

And so they fell down from the grace of Heaven

And their children would find no peace

But I believe we’re goin back up there

And that we [are] all family.

Some folk say that man came up

From some furry four-legged beast

As time passed by the mind grew strong

And it stood up on two feet.

Funny now when I think about it

My Uncle Bob looks like a baboon

But I don’t mind cuz I believe

That God loves animals too.

I don’t mind cuz I believe

God loves animals too.

Pete Howard is a Dunkirk resident, writer, musician and teacher. FOCAL Point strives to make insightful social commentary through the integration of Facts, Observations, Compassion, Awareness and Logic.