Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Heritage and Family Get-Togethers

Families are interesting. You have his relatives, her relatives, his kids, her kids, their kids, assorted spouses, partners, grandkids, step kids, all with different backgrounds and expectations. My family, from five, six or maybe more generations has been in Kentucky (arrived between 1797 – 1835). Kentucky was not “technically” a southern state, but my relatives in western Kentucky considered themselves that. They were sharecroppers, coopers, bricklayers, farmers, shopkeepers, preachers, keepers of the poor house, soldiers, tobacco growers, prison guards, and politicians. They came to Kentucky from South Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, Vermont, New Jersey, Maryland, and Tennessee. My husband’s family has been in the south just as long. They were in Tennessee before 1800. His family ended up in Tennessee, Arkansas and Texas. They came from Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, New Jersey, West Virginia, Missouri, and Mississippi. His family members were farmers, mechanics, ministers, millers, soldiers and railroad engineers. My family was more rural. His family held more “city dwellers”.

What you call your parents or grandparents might be a regional thing or it might just be something that started because of what the first grandkid called the grandparents. My niece’s sons differentiate between their grandmother and great grandmother by calling one “cat mawmaw” and the other “dog mawmaw” because one has cats and the other dogs. My cousin was called “Dolly” (real name Mary Francis) all her life because her sister thought she was a doll the first time she saw her. One aunt has always been Aunt Shorty (real name Mary Agnes). I’ve never asked why on that one, but she IS fairly short. With blended families it can get interesting too. His kids call him Dad. Her kids call him Dave. Their baby calls him Dave instead of Dad (usually) because that’s what she hears her sisters, living in the same house, calling him most often. The first grandkids called me Mawmaw and the step grandkids are torn between calling me the same thing and adapting to a more non-southern name. I’ll still be Mawmaw on cards and in speaking about myself, since that’s how the “first” grandkids named me. I called my grandmother Mamma and grandfather was Papa. Other cousins called them Mamma Gray and Papa Gray. My kids called their grandparents Mawmaw and Pawpaw (they still do). I hear others calling grandparents Nanna, Nonnie, Grandma, Grandmother. I hear parents called Mom, Mother, Dad, Daddy, Papa. Where you live plays a part in these things too.

I’m proud of our heritage and our family. We smile and speak to strangers on the street. We take cookies to new neighbors. We say ya’ll. It’s our way of life. Folks should learn there’s a difference between southern and redneck; a difference between slow and laid back; between humor and sarcasm; between taking yourself too seriously and laughing with the crowd. Our family is very well represented with intelligence, education and opinions. There aren’t many afraid to express their opinions, but they all respect the others by listening to those opinions and then by expressing their own. We have very lively conversations. It’s so much fun to watch the younger generations find their place in those discussions. I like to think that those same discussions were going on around an oil lamp in Kentucky (or Texas) farm houses one hundred and fifty years ago as they debated the issues over the civil war or crops, just as we debate wars, economy, education and every other topic now.

Everything is always changing. We incorporate all these new visions and heritages into our family, and they bend and change as they blend in to the existing family structure. It makes everything very interesting.