Saturday, January 28, 2017

A Little Family History

I love this country.  It's been hard to watch this past week.

I'm adopted.  Whatever my genetic heritage is, it's a mystery to me.  I'll be honest and say that it doesn't mean a lot, save that I like to pretend that I'm Norwegian.  All those old stories of the Norse Gods speak to me because they're all so weird.  If the ancient Norse believed in the abstract ideas of Good and Evil, they did an amazing job hiding it in their mythology.  What we see instead is a people struggling like Hell against a cruel world, drinking and frequently whoring their way through lives that were too often brutish and short.  I'm personally kind of a brain, but the Norse myths often eschew intelligence in favor of simple physical strength and the will to fight and survive.  There is no greater meaning in their stories.  They just are.

My ancestors, to the extent that you can call them that, debarked from an Oglethorpe Ship at the Port of Savannah in the early 1700s.  Family legend has it that the Heads were a pair of brothers.  I know that they were English because "Head" is an English surname.  Given that they landed in Georgia, it's a good bet they arrived from a debtors' prison.  They walked to the hills of East Tennessee where they became farmers.  We know that they took slaves because most of the Heads I've met in America have been black.  However, they were not plantation owners, nor does my family have any history of "gentlemen farming," at least not on my father's side.  Dad claimed that he had 1/8th Cherokee blood in his veins and that he had an ancestor who'd fought as a Confederate Cavalryman, and that this man is depicted on the Cyclorama of the Battle of Atlanta.  If my father's stories are to be believed, this man lost a hand early in the war and fought with a saber afterwards with the reins of his horse tied around his stump.  Whether or not this story is true, it is romantic as shit.

And yet, my father was Poor White Trash.  His mother was married to an Army officer at the outbreak of the World War II.  She had an affair while her husband was overseas, and that man--the officer--came home just long enough to divorce her.  This left her little choice but to marry the object of what was obviously an ill-advised, drunken affair.  Neither wanted children, and when my father was born three months premature, I suspect that both were secretly pleased at his prospects.  But.  If you ever met my dad, you will know that he was one Hell of a fighter.  He survived against the odds, and he grew up.  His father beat the ever-living shit out of him at every opportunity, and his mother was what can only be described as a self-loathing, depressive alcoholic.  Dad still made it to the University of Tennessee on a scholarship to play the trumpet in the marching band.  He hated the trumpet.  He also walked on to UT's cross country team, though he only lasted a season thanks to a car accident.

Dad joined the Marines when he graduated from UT and went to OCS, where he kicked fucking ass.  He was commissioned a logistics officer, went to Vietnam, did God knows what to wind up leading a rifle platoon, and killed Communists in industrial numbers.  He was recommissioned as a Regular Marine in the Infantry, went to Ranger School, and the rest is history.  The point is that he was a Marine serving in the Cold War, and hated Communists with a red-hot, burning passion.  He specifically hated the Russians.  He hated them.  He was not interested in peace or compromise.  He wanted to wipe them wholesale off the face of the Earth.  Especially their leaders.

My mom was a different story.  The Clan Gunn immigrated to the U.S. from Scotland at about the same time as the Head brothers, but at least in Flat Creek, Tennessee, they experienced quite a bit more success.  Local Tennessee history books sometimes call my great (x3) grandfather "a perfect example of a gentleman farmer".  In English, that means he owned a plantation and a bunch of slaves.  By the time my mother was born, diluted inheritances and the Depression had all but wiped out the family fortune, but the name Gunn was still worth quite a lot in the little town where she grew up.  She was supposed to marry a doctor, Roger, today the preeminent heart surgeon in the City of Nashville.  Instead, she married my dad.

You will remember that I was adopted.  I've no idea what my true origins are, but my folks pulled me out of whatever poor circumstances I was born into shortly after my father finished Ranger School.  My mother told me that my birth mother was a collegiate basketball player who didn't want to throw her life awat just because she'd gotten pregnant by accident.  Is this true?  My mom was not a particularly reliable source, and I'm terrible at basketball.  But it's all that I have.

What I know is this: whatever my origins, they're a matter of sheerest coincidence.  I could've been born in Aleppo, Syria, but instead I was born in San Diego at a time when my parents were stationed at Camp Pendleton.  I had the great good fortune to be adopted by a motivated Marine officer and his wife.

There were many other potential possibilities.

My folks were not crazy about my decision to attend West Point.  Dad was happy that I decided to serve, but he also thought I'd missed an opportunity when I turned down Harvard, especially considering what they offered.  My mother and I fell out when I was in high school.  She hated the person that serious swimming turned me into, and she hated even more the serious man who emerged from the Military Academy.  She wanted me to be a frat boy at UT and a writer.  She hated the things that I actually wrote.

I work with a guy, Mohammed.  He's from Bangladesh.  I interviewed him, and it was on my recommendation that he was hired.  When he became a U.S. citizen last year, I made him take the day off.  I've helped him "Americanize," spending hours to get his 401K set up, so that he can invest without violating the Muslim ban on earning interest.  We've talked at length about how the economy works and how people get ahead.  Mohammed is a good engineer, and I've felt vindicated many times for having brought him on board.  But I know that he's self-conscious about his "American-ness," and he often asks me, "What do 'real Americans' think about...?"

Six people from the West Point Class of 1995 declined Harvard for USMA, including our
eventual valedictorian.  That wasn't me, if you're wondering.
I always respond with, "You're a real American.  You're a citizen now."

I don't know what the point of this post is, but I hate our President and what he's done to this country in just a week.  People talk about "real Americans," but what is that?

You tell me.

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