I’m not special. Life came to me bearing no great fortune of intellect or pedigree. I was drawn to earth by the light of a moonbeam and crashed onto the shore with the full force of nature. Formed and informed by what was put in front of me. Just like everyone else.
I was not any particular brand of poor. Not destitute, not white trash. I was not born in a barn. My husband once asked what kind of name my surname is. My reply? American. That is the extent of what matters to me about my heritage. I know what I know and show what I show. It’s that simple.
People who have great anthologies of the heroes and villains of their ancestry are interesting to me. Connecting to the past through their stories of desperation and determination strengthens us all to give this life everything we’ve got.
I know a man who can weave a story about his family being bootleggers as if they were royalty. He is not one bit embarrassed about them making moonshine, outrunning the law or being skinny and barefoot most of his life. I know a woman who had her children taken away by the state. She worried herself to death not knowing if they were safe or hungry. Before she died, she made sure someone wrote down their given names in case anyone ever took the time to find out what happened to them. I know families who worked in fields owned by someone else to make enough to pay the light bill. They ate peas and cornbread for dinner almost every night and never said a cross word to anyone.
I know boredom and blind luck. I know the fearless and careless. I know the oblivious, who damaged people they brought into this life and the courageous whose sheer will to do better made all the difference. There is much I do not know, more I will never know, and I’m okay with that because I know this life is a gift. It is ephemeral and it is now what it always has been, whatever we choose to make of it.
My husband says, “I love who you are,” and I provoke him with, “What does that mean? I don’t know what that means. You love who I am? Who am I?”
He says with a smile, “You’re American.”