Saturday, June 5, 2010

Who Are Your People?

In the South, this question is sometimes asked as a way of getting to know someone. Who are your people means who is your family? Where is your community? How are you connected to me, in that six degrees of separation kind of way?

I was raised in Tennessee. My people of origin come from the Ozarks of Missouri. I have now lived in the Pacific Northwest for almost twenty years and call it home. When she was five, I took my daughter to a family reunion in the little Ozark town where our family comes from. We checked into the tiny motel, the only one in town. We walked into our room, which was hot as Hades and had a faint odor of mildew rising from the stained shag carpet. I had started trying to figure out how to crank up the window unit air conditioner, when Mia asked, “Mommy, what is this?" I turned and saw what she was holding. “Sugar, that’s how you know you are in a first class deluxe establishment. That is a fly swatter.”

While we waited for other kinfolk to show up, we moseyed across the road to the Wal-Mart. As soon as we walked in the store, I saw my cousin Jayma Sue. And there was Monty Max and Bonnie Jo and Wanda Fern. And more. Soon we were having a family reunion in the aisles of Wal-Mart. My heart was filled with the warm embrace of my heritage, and I thought with grateful affection “These are my people.”

I saw a bumper sticker yesterday that said, “All people are my people.” I was reminded of my Southern roots and the importance of knowing who your people are. I remembered that day in Wal-Mart. Can I look at all people with that same depth of recognition and affection, of connection not based on common ground but on common ancestry? After all, at some level, we all share common ancestry, don’t we? We are our people.

1 comment:

  1. My family (I was adopted into it as an infant) is also Southern, and maybe on the rightward lean politically, and I wasn't sure how they would feel about our adopting my daughter from China. It struck me as so powerfully kind--not nice, not small, but soul strikingly right--when my elderly aunt from Virginia wrote back at our adoption announcement and said firmly, "This family needs a baby. And a GIRL!" Aunt Pat sends gifts to that girl now every holiday but Arbor Day. She's never met her in person, but we call her "Great" Aunt Pat, to signify the loyal consistency of her loving family kindness.


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