Monday, December 2, 2019
A Feeling of Rootedness
What's at the root of this burgeoning fascination with our roots? I can't produce any definitive results of scientifically-designed surveys, but I suspect it partially involves a need to identify ourselves through the mosaic imprints gifted us by our ancestors.
For some, that drive to know is more pronounced. Adoptees, obviously, have a quest to identify the totally unknown. Recent immigrants, perhaps, wish to re-identify with the culture left by their parents or grandparents with the decision to uproot and move. And I, growing up with a surname not legally my own—nor even my father's, though he may have had a hazy remembrance from childhood of his true birth name—find a disconnect with the maiden name I long ago gave up.
All of us want to find a way to connect with our past—our "long past," as Scrooge inquired of Dickens' Ghost of Christmas Past—to see what, if any, echoes of that past have imprinted themselves on our reality today.
Perhaps because of such angst, my thoughts were turned to family this past holiday weekend—family long past, and perhaps those not so long passed. I often ponder traits and habits inherited from specific relatives I've known, but for some reason this was uppermost in my mind after having completed a visit down south, just before Thanksgiving. In the past, a visit to southern California often meant at least a stop to chat with my brother before heading back home—but not since his passing nineteen months ago.
Perhaps that was the reason that led me, one day after arriving back home again, to Google his name. Though a lesser-known actor, he was, after all, in show business. Such names do show up in media. I had started on that search, actually, by looking up my own father's name. My dad, a professional musician in New York, merited several "mentions" in city newspapers of the 1930s and 1940s, usually concerning where his dance band was playing, or which company was using his musical arrangements. What was interesting to find, though, was that his name also came up in more recent articles, long after his passing in the 1970s. Why? Because in his own interviews, my brother would always acknowledge how he got his start through my dad's backstage connections as a musician.
In my quest to know more about my own family—especially those who are no longer with us—of course I read every article and interview I could find. It was not just edifying but comforting to read about the every step my brother took on his own journey to become what he needed to become. But it was also uplifting to see my brother feel the need to acknowledge those who came before him, in recounting his own path. We come from those who became our roots.
In tracing those roots, we also become sensitized to other paths which lead back to those same beginnings. In researching a collateral line this past weekend, I stumbled upon another story of a family member who felt the call of the stage—and who eventually gifted that as a legacy to her two daughters. Though she was a fifth cousin to me—certainly someone I never knew of from my own immediate family—her story resonated with me, as I read through her biography.
Funny, but I wish my brother were here to tell him of this. I wonder if he ever knew her. A feeling like this—of seeking for connectedness—reminds me that the search for our roots surely is related to a corollary: a quest to identify with and belong to others.