TheAmericanDiaspora

diaspora
My family, probably like your family, has been leaving for nearly five hundred years. We speak vaguely about our origins, never fully appreciating the filters our genome has passed through, as if we were somehow still mostly German or Scotch/Irish; Catholic, Fundamental Protestant, or Jew. We are now made more of the stuff we’ve passed through than we are of where we came from. We’re only passing through here. It doesn’t quite feel like home should.

Most raised in rural America moved far away from their roots, not fully appreciating, until the holidays come around, their sacrifice when pursuing opportunity and survival. Then, vestigial familiarities haunt us.

The tables we set there or the ones we’re generously invited to share subtly violate some tacit survival rules. Sure, it’s a bird, superficially indistinguishable from every other bird we’ve ever shared in celebration. But some subtle something’s off. Their traditions never quite manage to mirror our own, and while we can fully appreciate the resonance these dishes elicit in the locals, they fail to spark quite the same flame within us.

Perhaps this food, this celebration, fails to induce the good old family trance, rendering us altogether too aware, too self-conscious to completely immerse. We observe instead, noticing the infinitesimal differences along with the glaring ones. We nibble rather than gorge, and appreciate with that studied formality proper house guests deploy, hoping our spirits won’t appear the least bit disappointed.

We will yearn then for what we once reviled, what we once rejected as a necessary precondition for leaving the only home we’d ever know. We quite naively believed we could pioneer a new homestead and transplant our aching hearts there, and even take root. But our roots don’t grow nearly as deep as they spread laterally, and we’re easily tilted by the barest breeze. Their pie seems fine, but it cannot quite qualify as mine or my mother’s. I listen to their stories and recognize that they are mine once removed, like my stories are at least once removed for them, too.

Even if I cook the meal, I know the produce has been cobbled together during long excursions, through many produce managers nodding confused heads, disclosing that they have no idea what I’m asking for. Even the simple potatoes seem alien, not like the ones I grew used to before I’d developed even half a palate of my own. I will make the best of this sorry situation, though I will feel deeply sorry that the result won’t even approach the innocent perfection of what I’ve failed to recreate.

I understand why the day before Thanksgiving has evolved into the day where half the population of this country hits the road, rails, and sky. We are trying to fly back in time, to a place familiar to our souls, to spend time in the presence of souls who share our unique diaspora. Together, we conjure up a history none of us really remember, but almost perfectly recreate whenever we come together, absent the oldest old folks now, backfilled with an emerging generation or two.

Because we cannot ever go home again, we carry our homeland within us. It whispers even when we are far away from each other, quietly assessing the differences and the similarities between what we’re experiencing now and what our ancestors apparently knew so very well. I will be disappointed with the details and reassured by the very ritual of trying to recreate that time.

©2013 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved









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