From Alex Haley’s Roots – orally passed down family lineage and baby naming ritual
From an article about the series in LINK>The New Yorker that speaks to my heart, being the child of two adoptees who was robbed of knowing my genetic grandparents –
“The desire to know who we are helps to explain the second of two pulls we ordinarily feel toward grandparents. The first attraction, and the one that as children we understand more clearly, is toward something easeful, generous, and amusing about grandparents, and about the way they handle us when we are around. They can be a wonderful escape from the stringent regimes of parents, with their endless admonitions about how we should behave. Grandparents allow us to grow; they like to watch us obeying something inside ourselves—something that we know only vaguely but that is completely familiar to them. Long retired from the strenuous business of shaping their children, our parents, they are often ready to coddle and indulge us, to refresh themselves in our youthful curiosities, and to enjoy our affections. They are also ready to talk a lot—about the past, about when they were young, about their own parents and grandparents. At such times, they look at us with something mildly searching and wistful in their eyes, hoping, no doubt, to see some early and fugitive version of themselves. We understand this only later, when we become aware of the second pull that these old people were exerting upon us all along; we realize that in listening to their talk we, too, were listening for some earlier and fugitive echoes of ourselves. We were drawn to them for the odds and ends of their memory, without which we would be less whole, or, at the least, left to invent a greater portion of ourselves.”
I actually have no memory of my adoptive grandparents trying to talk with me when I was a child about their own past, their youth and families. There was once though after I was well into my adulthood, when my adoptive maternal grandmother came to visit me in Missouri. She grew up here and we found her childhood home in Eugene and our great luck was that the owner allowed us to come inside. My grandmother shared with me what had changed in the house and me told stories about what it was like growing up there. We went by the cemetery where many of her own relations were buried. Memorable was a story about traveling by wagon over the Gasconade River to buy supplies in some larger town.
I certainly invented stories about my own “roots” as we knew nothing. My dad was half Mexican, left on the doorstep of the Salvation Army. True, my adoptive paternal “Granny” did obtain him there. His birth mother was working there but the Salvation Army had taken legal possession of him (as shown in his adoption papers). Thanking that wonderful Granny of mine for writing his birth mother’s name in the margin of her request for Texas to issue a new birth certificate for him. That amended birth certificate had to come from California, as he was born at the Door of Hope home for unwed mothers in Ocean Beach (near San Diego).
Turns out his dark complexion came from his Danish immigrant father who was not yet a citizen and was a married man. Sadly, he never knew he had a son. I did hear stories from my dad about how he almost starved to death in Magdalena New Mexico where his adoptive parents and an aunt and uncle (she was one of my Granny’s sisters) were trying to strike it rich by digging a mine there. About the time the adults went to town for supplies and my dad brought the cow into the cabin to milk it as it was very cold and snowing. My dad shot rabbits for food.
My invented story about my mom was that she was half Black. Not true at all, though she did have a smidgeon of Mali genes in her, most likely from the paternal line’s ownership of a few slaves. I saw that detail in a will. The deceased deeded the slaves by name to surviving family members. It was found in a binder lent to me by a family historian that I met near Memphis TN, where my mom was adopted. Neither her mom nor her dad were Black.
My heart sorrows for what my genetic grandparents might have been able to tell me.
Certainly, my adoptive grandparents had a HUGE influence on me. Their culture became some part of my parents (the adoptees); and through my parents, my self as well. Not minimizing how important our close relationships with these people during our growing up years was. Just so much was also lost and there is truly no way to fully recover that.