My father had a German father. What does that even mean? Silence? Sauerkraut? Is sauerkraut even German? His mother was also silent but not German, I think maybe Irish. Together they raised my father in silence. At least that's what I have gathered over my father's 67 years of mostly silence.
There is only one piece of advice my father has ever really given me:
"Remember, driving on wet leaves is a little like driving on snow."
He said it with an almost southern accent so driving came out driven'. He said that same thing to all my siblings so it wasn't special or geared towards me, the oldest. It was just this thing he said and it now echoes in my head every single fall. Maybe I hear it in my head year after year because there is nothing else. No other words of wisdom to jockey for position in my line of memories.
Ruby asked me the other day what we were. Where we were from. I listed the places her great great great grandparents once lived before their journey here. Ireland, Germany, Lithuania, Sweden, Poland, The Netherlands and probably many more I don't know of (because of all the damn silence.) I explained we were mixed up from places all over the world and now we are American. We are American because this is where we were born.
What I have thought over the past few days since she asked that question is that we are not just place and the places from which our ancestors come but the experiences carried through generations. We are joys and births, weddings and truths, achievements and first steps, talents and gifts. We are silence and adultery, secrets and hurts, lies and abuse, funerals and loss. We are what has pushed our ancestors down and what has lifted them up. The horrors and ecstasies of life cut in deep to the bone. We are the left over mysteries and sins seeking a place to hide. We are stories of love, of miracles. We are what is passed down and what is buried that we have no name for but feel anyway.
Then we fight. Then we fight to become the people we want to be. We bring it to the light. We try to leave behind the bad and carry on the good. We attempt to dig out and recover. We aim for redemption.
I am the least silent person I know. I despise silence. I sometimes wonder if it is my reaction to the silence of my father. I swing to the most opposite place I can find and I never shut up. Someday my children will write about me. Their mother who always had music or television on in the background, who talked and talked and talked. Maybe they will find some middle ground with their own children. Talking sometimes, silence sometimes.
I have seen my father change over the last few years. He sometimes smiles. He gave me a hugely meaningful compliment at my brothers wedding last summer. He has cast his brilliant mind upon God and pondered. I think he believes. He shows up at church Sunday after Sunday and sometimes even talks about it.
We are so much more than place.