He was raised with love by a family with Irish roots. My entire life I associated strongly with that Irish heritage. I sang and danced during the loud and proud St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Canada’s Ottawa Valley.
Then, this past Christmas, my son gave me a DNA test as a gift. The results showed my Irish DNA at the BOTTOM of the list of the ethnicity estimate, at 2 %.
2 %. I couldn’t have been more astonished.
A second surprise lay in store. The largest percentage of my DNA indicated Scottish and Scandinavian heritage. I am three-quarters Scottish and . . . Viking, I guess?
In September, as fate would have it, my son headed off to Edinburgh, Scotland to do his Master of Physiotherapy. We won’t travel there just yet (you know . . . COVID), but we’re making plans for future trips. I began to read Love of Country: A Journey through the Hebridesby Madeline Bunting.
I read about the land of my DNA. I read of crofts (small rented farms with a right of pasturage held in common with others), and machair (fertile plains), and lochan (small inland lakes). I learned the roots of the word galore (see above) and mused about how wonderful it is that galore really means that you have everything you need for the given moment.
All of this got me to thinking about where I’m from (Scotland/Scandinavia) as opposed to where I am really from (the Ottawa Valley, Canada).
This past week, the book Where Are You From by Yamile Saied Méndez passed through my hands at the library where I work. It is the story of a child who must answer where she is from—no, where she is really from—to the point where it hurts.
When people ask someone like me where I’m really from, it means Where were you raised?What is the place that formed you?
For racialized people, the situation is reversed. For them, where are you really from means What foreign country did your people come from?
That makes it a backwards question, because for any of us, the place where we are really from is the place that has formed us.
My DNA says that the foreign countries my people came from were Scotland and the Scandinavian countries, but I’m really from a farm in the Ottawa Valley. I’m really from a place where we dug in the dirt to grow our food, where we wore hand-me-downs, and where neighbours and families helped each other out. On any given day we had everything we needed. Sufficiently, enough.
In other words, we had plenty galore. What a fine place to be from. Really.
I stroll through the woods near my home, and I run my hands along the gnarled bark of ancient trees. I trail a finger down the deep wrinkles in the trunk, and I think, “How beautiful.”
The twisting growth and grooved skin gives a tree its gravitas and wisdom. In fact, the more gnarled and grooved a tree is, the more we love it.
And yet, we detest those things in ourselves. Why is it that we humans fear wrinkles so much?
According to the Business Insider, in 2020 the “beauty” industry was growing at a historically fast pace. We are more afraid than ever to let our natural selves shine. The industry then was valued at an estimated $532 billion dollars per year, and it’s growing.
We are draining our bank accounts so that we don’t look like trees.
I celebrate a birthday this week. I am older. My knuckles have swollen, so rings no longer slide over them the way they used to. My lifetime of smiles and laughter shows in the grooves that curve around my eyes and mouth. How beautiful.
I’m not the oldest tree in the forest, but I’m not the youngest either. Many saplings grow around me. My wish is that by the time those supple trees reach my age, they will see the beauty of aging.
In the early days of rail travel, steam locomotives could only travel forward. Trains required turntables, like this one at the John Street roundhouse in Toronto, Canada, to turn them around for return journeys. While at John Street, the locomotives received “servicing and light repairs.”
According to the Toronto Railway Historical Association, locomotives serviced there were so attractively maintained, their appearance became known among railroaders as the “John Street polish.”
I’ll be taking a few weeks away for some “servicing and light repairs” of my own before turning around for a return journey, or at least some spit and polish before moving forward again.
Some of the time will be spent at my cottage—one of my roundhouses.
Going through old posts, I found a picture to give us a boost today.
It is the time of year for potholes in Ottawa, Canada where I live. The ground is thawing and contracting after expanding through the frozen winter. Road salt exacerbates the damage to the asphalt that crumbles under the wheels of cars.
On this pothole, patched by black asphalt, a happy person painted an orange happy face.
When life sends you potholes, put on a happy face.