Where is our family’s home?

I’ve been doing a great deal of work on my family tree- tracing my ancestors and learning their names. They appreciate the recognition and I want to ensure my name and the names of my blood are repeated and acknowledged by my descendants.

I’ve spent a great deal of time imagining these descendants, these children I don’t have. Imagining what I’ll teach them and the stories I’ll whisper to them as they fall asleep about their grandparents and great-grandparents. The recipes and tricks I’ll pass down and the traditions I’ll forge new with help from their tiny hands.

I don’t have any children yet. I am young. I have time.

It’s a strange thing to have children, stranger still is to raise them in a foreign land. My family is a product of immigration. I am second generation born in the United States from Germany and third generation born in the United States from Italy- this is  not the land of my ancestors. Even my parents, raised in New York and southern California, come from a different land than I.

My mother’s home is the ocean, warm sandy beaches and cool surf.

My father’s home is the city with towering skyscrapers that obscure the sky.

I am from none of these places. I am a creature of mountains. A daughter of grey rains and dark skies. I am a child of the evergreen forests of the Pacific Northwest.

But my children will not share this with me, my children will be of yet another land. They will grow up knowing the mightiness of the sun and blue skies that are unending. They will be creatures of open plains and unyielding heat. When I talk of rain that never stops and a grey chill that permeates your skin and soaks into your bones, when I talk of the dense forests of my childhood they won’t understand.

I wonder, is this a taste of what my grandmother felt raising the first of her family not born born in Germany, not born in Berlin? Is this what my great-grandparents felt raising their children so far from their ancestral shores of southern Italy?

What is the price of this familial disconnection from the land? What is the benefit?

When I was a child.

When I was a child I refused to brush my hair and my clothes never matched. I’d dig up worms from the ground and pinch slugs until they exploded with a satisfying ‘pop.’ The sun bleached my unruly tresses and tanned my olive skin while I rolled through grass and around trees. I would lean over the wooden fence my parents had built to pull wild blackberries off the vine, reveling in their sweet juices running down my chin.

Capture

In class I barely spoke because I didn’t have words to articulate the myriad of images streaming through my mind. I thought in pictures and wrote stories where I was a cat living on my own in the tangled jungle of my backyard. I used fallen sticks to construct my own bow and arrows to shoot beasts hiding around my fort of trees and towels.

Recently I’ve found myself wondering what that girl in the mismatched clothes would think if she met me. Am I still that girl? There is a magic to children, both unruly and uninhibited. If we could only rediscover those unadulterated versions of ourselves that lurk savage eyed in our souls, what could we be capable of?

Ancestor Spirits

My uroma took a drag from the cigarette in her gnarled hand and then pointed its smoldering bud towards me. Evil men come, she said in the same manner as she might tell me to fold laundry, and all you can do is have strength. Evil men. Böse Menschen. The smoke from her cigarette curled around us, twisting like hair caught in the wind. She handed me the cigarette and told me to drink a beer for her later. I inhaled the tobacco into my lungs and returned to Charon’s river.

Böse Menschen. Evil men.

Uroma lived through two world wars and the Russian occupation of Berlin, she survived an alcoholic husband and raised three children. The woman I met in her life was frail and old, broken by a disease that ravaged her mind and body, but the woman I have come to know is a dragon. She is the iron fisted matriarch who ruled my family for years and she is the woman whose guidance I often seek.

GGWalley_scan

Within our genes and DNA live our ancestors; they are the foundation that built us from the first single celled creatures on our world to our grandparents. They swim through our blood and call to us in our bones and if we listen we can hear their songs. Some like my uroma speak bluntly, while others move around my consciousness as instincts and intuition; communicating to me and to us all in their own way.

I was discussing my ancestors recently and was asked if I was communicating with ghosts. This actually seemed silly. Why would I need to try to reach out to a ghost? I’m talking to the parts of my ancestors that exist inside me. I don’t need to look outside myself and quite frankly neither do you.

When the “evil men” crash through my life I seek guidance from those who have come before me and I have strength. I drink a beer for Uroma and whisper thanks to my disir and they sing to me: do not fear, you have strength within yourself.

Heritage

My father tells me stories from his childhood, of my grandfather tending to his father’s grave, of my great-grandmother who prayed over my father to make him grow, of black clad ancient women who drank spirits and whispered in Italian for him to visit them. My father is a product of immigrants and tradition and I am a product of his stories.

A-Young dadcropped

Italians are a deeply spiritual, deeply superstitious people. When my great-grandfather lay dying in his bed of tuberculosis, he prayed out to the Virgin Mary begging for his life and he was healed. Every summer to honor her, my great-grandfather took his three children to swim in the polluted waters surrounding Brooklyn because the Virgin would protect them; his unwavering faith and devotion to the Virgin would keep his children safe from the sewage and pollution.

With this in mind, I found my transition to witchcraft only natural. Spiritual forces are all around us, listening and waiting.  They’re rooted in tradition and cloaked in various names spanning eons and languages, far more ancient than we can grasp.