You asked me, “Who do you think you are?”
I am David’s daughter, a stubborn, often difficult, hard-working blue-collar man.
He loved laughing, movies, the perfect cheeseburger, and his family, but still died too young of a cruel disease that stole his identity and left him thin and sick, but still as strong-willed as always.
When he stopped breathing, the clock ticked loudly. I stood next to him, holding his hand as he took his last breath on earth and his first breath in eternity.
I am Kathy’s daughter.
She is an enigma, one of which I will never be able to solve, because I will never possess all the pieces of the puzzle to put them together in the first place.
The fragments, like jagged pieces of ice, float on the surface, pushing and grinding against each other, but never fitting.
Her ability to do the hard things never failed, working in a freezer in the winter for ten years, and working with insulation in the summer, until her fingers bled.
The insulation, splintering under the tender skin of her hands and inside her lungs and clinging to her towel even after she showered, often cut her delicate skin.
Yet, she worked.
She worked in shopping center cafeterias, washing dishes and waiting tables for tips.
She worked in a fish market, walking to and from work smelling irresistible to cats.
When her father was ill, she moved in with him to take care of him.
He, my grandfather, often catankerous and mean, having more whiskey than blood in his veins, was often unkind.
But, still she stayed,
chained by his illiteracy and her unreasonable love.
She took care of his tasks, not needing or expecting appreciation.
I am Betty’s granddaughter—
a woman who married young, had ten children (one after another after another)
who worked hard every day of her life to support those who were hers.
Her high cheekbones and dark hair made her beautiful as a girl, but the outer beauty was soon lost by the hard life of following the crops.
The sun burned her skin and darkened her face.
Diabetes darkened her once lovely limbs, her legs, staining her skin.
Married at 15 to a man much older who loved another,
her body worn out early, from childbirth and poverty and abuse and the burning of it all on her heart.
Sometimes becoming pregnant with the next baby while her breasts still full of milk, she endured much.
She, too, worked in the fields and followed the crops, picking berries, shucking corn, and planting food for the next season.
She, like me, loved letters,
both writing them and reading them in books.
Her words were her escape.
When she died her children mourned, and still mourn.
I am Ginger’s granddaughter—
a wild child, who lived hard and died hard and broke all the rules that young ladies in during WWII were supposed to uphold.
Her secrets, like blackened words on an old letter,
are still coming to light, even twenty-two years after her death.
Her humor and wit blended with just enough manipulation to keep me on my guard, but I never doubted she loved me.
I am David’s great-granddaughter, first generation American, who fought in WWI as a very young man and WWII as an old one.He drank hard, and lived hard, and lung cancer ensured he died hard.
I am the great-granddaughter of Joseph and Mary–Irish immigrant sharecroppers whose very existence tied them to the Missouri earth.
Joseph: stocky, hands dirty from the fields, shading his eyes, begging God for rain, married young Mary, a biblical-like coincidence.
I am the great-granddaughter of the Grahames: Scottish men and women who offended the king and were exiled from their native land.
They could not hold their tongues when they witnessed injustice. I cannot hold my tongue either.
I am the wife of Lee who works hard and thinks much, who desires to get closer to God and reflect him more fully. He is not a perfect man. I am not a perfect woman.
Our imperfections, our weaknesses–they weld together. His strengths—his engineer-like mind that is always thinking things through–weighing the consequences of each action as well as possible reactions
his even-keeled temperament seals
to my weaknesses of impulsivity, irrationality and the ability to hold a grudge.
My strengths—my passionate, often blinding love and loyalty, my ability to say what I mean, my love of research and fun,
blend well with his weakness of passivity and sometimes easy-goingness to a fault.
I am the yin to his yang.
We have known each other since we were children, and, though it has been no easy ride, we love each other and cannot ignore it.
I am Jordanne Melina’s mother.
When I was 19, they said
“Here she is, your daughter…Look at that hair! ”
Although I made many mistakes, she is lovely and funny and easy-going.
She is talented and fun and thinks deeply.
She is loyal, sometimes to a fault.
When she plays her clarinet, the angels stop to listen.
I am Sarah Nicole’s mother.
When I was 21, they said,
“My, she’s a long baby!”
She’s unpredictable, hot-tempered, unafraid to back it up with action, if necessary–always with a penetrating honesty and she requires nothing less from others…a natural leader,
a beautiful fire.
I am Nathan Lee’s mother.
When I was 28, they said,
“The baby is in trouble…”
There was no crying.
I ripped the oxygen off my face and screamed “GIVE HIM TO ME!”
His skin, blue tinted, terrified me.
He is funny and generous with his love,
his money and his time.
He loves helping little kids tie their shoes or find their moms when they are lost.
He smiles like my father used to.
He, like his sisters, has music in his veins.
I am a student, a teacher, a writer, a reader, a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, and a friend.
I descend from Irish-Scottish-German-British roots, but I am all-American.
Most of all, I am a child of God.
That’s who I think I am.