The Nebraska town in which I was born and spent the first 18 years of my life could pretty much have been dreamed up by Willa Cather. Almost everybody had jobs that related in some respect to farming. They raised crops themselves. They sold farm implements. They provided clothing for farmers. They worked on farmers’ teeth or broken bones. They gave vaccinations to farm animals. They sold bread and donuts to farmers. Don’t get me wrong; we didn’t walk around with pieces of hay sticking out of our mouths. Well, to be honest, some of us did, but my point is that we weren’t all a bunch of hicks. It’s just that our community relied on farming. That was probably true of most communities throughout the Midwest back when I was a child.
What’s more, we were all white. I’m pretty sure I’m right when I say that no one that lived in my community back in the 50s and 60s was what we would today call a person of color. The rumor I always heard was that there was a city ordinance that prohibited a non-Caucasian person to live in my town. I’m pretty sure that was an urban myth because it would seem to me that even back then (when dinosaurs roamed the earth) that would have been, if not against federal law, at least against moral law. But whether or not that was true, what is certain is that the community consisted of only Caucasians. By the way, that is no longer true. There is certainly a significant Hispanic population as evidenced by the fact that there are actually restaurants featuring Mexican food, and I’m not talking about the Taco John that opened about the same time I left for college.
My mother’s parents were both Polish, a Siemek married a Micek. My father was Swiss, a first generation American. When my parents got married in 1947, it wasn’t uncommon for people of one nationality to marry another from that same nationality as required by their parents. Mom and Dad always said that their parents never blinked an eye about a person of Polish descent marrying a person of Swiss descent. Perhaps my paternal grandparents were so happy to be Americans that it didn’t matter who my dad married. After all, the United States was the great melting pot.
What I do know, however, is that as children and teenagers, my friends and I were very cognizant of our nationality, and identified each other by our heritage. I had friends who were Irish, and Dutch, and Czechoslovakian and Polish. It was something that, for reasons I can’t quite explain, really mattered to us. I always was proud that I could limit my ancestry to two nationalities. Others were a bit more, well, watered down.
In some ways, it makes me sad that our kids are losing their sense of historical background in this melting pot. Court tells his children they are – take a deep breath – Germodian Poliswerian. For the record, this is a term he invented to include all of their backgrounds – German, Cambodian, Polish, Swiss, and Hungarian.
I love that my mother prepared Polish meals, although she never identified them as such. For example, she called it cabbage meatballs, but now I realize they are golobki. We ate kielbasa and soft boiled eggs for our Easter breakfast, and now I know that it was a Polish tradition. My grandmother often made a pie that we cleverly called Grammie’s Swiss Apple Pie. Upon further investigation recently, I learned that her pie is a typical food served in Switzerland, and it’s called apfelwahe. I featured her recipe in one of my blog posts.
My grandkids are very interested in their ancestry, and that makes me happy. As people from one generation beget people from another generation, the heritage gets more and more convoluted. While our McLain grandkids identify heavily with their Scottish ancestry (thanks in large part to the time their father spent in Scotland while in college, his wedding attire of a kilt, and his hiring of a bagpiper who “piped in the haggis” for one of the kids’ multicultural nights at school), they are in fact aware that they also have a lot of Polish and some English and even a little dab of Serbian in their blood. Joseph and Micah also have some Polish blood, and some English, Irish and French.
As for Kaiya, Mylee, and Cole, they are Germodian Poliswerian. But they are half Cambodian, and I’m so happy that their maternal grandmother – who came to the United States from Cambodia in the early 1980s – prepares them Cambodian food and I assume will teach them Cambodian customs, as will their mother. It’s true that right now they won’t eat the food. But they will some day, and they will maybe even learn to prepare it themselves. I hope so.
Barely related to my post, here are new photos of two of my own descendants…..
This post linked to Grammy’s Grid.