August 8, 2012

ARCHIVE POST: Reconnecting with ancestors: grandmother’s house, part 2

(originally published on July 4, 2011)

There are trees around my grandmother’s house. Two walnut trees, older than myself, whose fruit we still collect. Several pines line the fence toward the main road. Two succulent mulberries in the back yard, which had to be cut down after rotting from the inside. An ancient pear tree that has guarded the side of the house faithfully since forever, whose swooning branches sometimes resemble an ancient matron, and other times look like the tresses of an Amazon. And then the youngest of them all, the baby that escaped my attention for fifteen years: a perky, vigorous ash tree that grew next to the barn, right across from the pear. Perhaps under the wing of her wisdom, perhaps in defiance of her obsolescence.

Somehow I just know he is a boy. His story is one of the neglected, unwanted child surviving on scraps and growing strong surreptitiously on the margins of nurture. Just when the bad parent thinks Oh crap, I forgot about the little bugger, is he still alive?, he shows up, bigger and stronger than ever.

Our ash tree grew out of a most unwelcome soil: a heap of building material that my grandfather dumped next to the barn when planning his next big project. A mere little twig fifteen years ago, no one gave him half the chance, no one acknowledged him enough to cut him down. He fought his way through piles of red brick laid on top of gravel and sand, a piece of nature conquering man-made material that tried to suffocate it, and simply said I am here.

I swear to God, he does look like a teenager. He is tall and lean and wiry, and his top looks like a wild head of unruly adolescent hair. I bet he’s a Leo, because his demeanor says Look at me. The family is already talking about trimming him down to proper size, so that he does not engulf the barn, but secretly I hope that he gets his way.

I sat in the gazebo and watched the ash tree. As my gaze fell to my arms newly tanned after a daytrip to the seaside, I remembered that I used to look like a little Gypsy girl when I was little: olive-skinned, dark-haired, playful and distrustful at the same time.

That house was built somewhere in the 1930s, with American money. My grandfather’s father went to the United States when his son was merely a few months old, worked his ass off and kept sending money home until the house was finished. If I remember correctly, there is a concrete block at its street corner that says 1936.

I am not sure why, but I never got to hear many stories about my family’s past when my grandparents were alive. Some of the reasons are political, that I know. My Mom has told me what she knows, but we still keep finding out new pieces of information and scratching our heads trying to connect the dots. For instance, my great-grandfather had several brothers, but we had no idea that one of them went to the States and never came back. He went to Canada, then Detroit, Michigan, and then apparently decided to say F.U. to everyone and just disappeared. After missing in action for about fifteen years, the family pronounced him dead.

After the rest of the extended family left our little luncheon, my Mom brought out the notebook my grandfather scribbled in when he was a political prisoner, decades ago. In the notebook there was an article from an American paper, dated 1954. It was an obituary for another family member that Mom had never heard of, who got married in the States, set up a business and became a prominent community member [the article lists that a hundred cars showed up for his funeral, LOL], and who apparently died in Lackawanna, New York.

We wrapped up the day by going to the village cemetery, where my grandparents and their parents are buried. After taking in so much psychic energy around the house, I really wanted to go with Hubby alone, because I felt the need to flush out all those emotions and he would have let me have my moment with grandma and grandpa without interference. Mom decided to join us though, which of course I did not mind. She has her Catholic rituals of lighting candles and praying, and a different way of communicating with her ancestors than I do, so I reined in my thoughts and merely sent out a warm mental greeting to the photographs on the tombstones, deciding that I would have my moment some other time.

My Mom’s parents died in their sixties. Way too early in terms of today’s life expectancy [although, sadly, that depends on where you live in this world], and far too early for me to be able to appreciate them as people and as family. I missed them at my birthdays, my graduation, and at my wedding. I was fifteen when they died, and too much of an adolescent clusterfuck to care for anything beyond the boundaries of my own egotistical mind. That teenage ash tree already looks wiser than I feel in my thirties. Perhaps one day I might catch up with him.

Nicholine Lee - Uprooted

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