Friday, February 11, 2011

heritage.

I was asked today if I could choose any citizenship to have in the world, what it would be. My answer was actually quite surprising to me, and will be to anyone reading this who knows me well. I thought about it, and replied,
"If you had asked me this six months ago, I would have undoubtedly said Irish, Scottish, or British. But today, honestly, I'm an American and I'm quite happy to be. I'd take dual-citizenship, sure, but I'll keep my American citizenship, thank you."
To anyone who has heard me pine away for Ireland in the last seven years since I first visited, this might come as a surprise. Don't take this wrong though, I am quite happy to be where I am right now, in Scotland learning about things that most definitely concern my heritage. But this semester my classes comprise of two subjects very interesting to me, Traditional Narrative and Traditional Gaelic Song. Through my lectures and reading so far, especially in Traditional Gaelic Song, we have looked at the idea of song and sense of place. This element is very important in Gaelic song and poetry--which are virtually interchangeable--and is something worth a closer study in understand the nature of the songs. Yesterday in class the lecturer, Dr. Margaret Mackay talked to us about what sense of place means, and she mentioned a Spanish word--pardon my forgetting the actual word--that essentially means a feeling of belonging, of home, a sense of being right where you needed to be. She then asked the class to go round and talk about what that might mean to us individuals.
Being away from family and home in North Carolina has been more difficult than I had foreseen. Coming to Scotland was the fruition of a dream I've had for a long time, and I hadn't even considered the fact that I might miss where I had come from. I knew I would miss family, but since my family is already so far spread across this green earth I didn't think much of flinging my own little family of Jeremy and myself out across the wide sea. But I'm not just a Barker anymore, I'm a Foreman and I had become embedded in that family so much that my abrupt uprooting was more jarring than I anticipated. I miss family birthday gatherings, I miss little children, my nieces and nephews running around, I miss having brothers and sisters around all the time, and I miss the occasional but always memorable encounters of sitting and just listening to Grandmother and Grandfather tell stories.
So when it came to me to speak in class yesterday, to tell about what created my sense of belonging or place I didn't hesitate in saying "family." And not only family, I said, again to my surprise, but the green sheltering mountains of the Blue Ridges in our little mountain valley. There's a sense of safety and comfort about that place, those mountains, and those verdant forests. That's not to say I haven't felt that sense of belonging elsewhere, I have, in Ireland so many years ago and here in Scotland as well. But I've realized that here is not where I really belong. My ancestors belonged here, and so it runs in my blood, but my ancestors picked up and moved in a perilous journey over the sea to make better lives for their families--I am that family, generations later, and I am thankful for their sacrifice, for their own uprooting and departure of that familiar comfort and belonging. I owe it to them to not just cast away the new heritage they created for me in coming back to the old, unimpressed with the new, but to appreciate the heritage of my immediate family and delight in coming here and discovering a new facet of who I am.
That's what I was missing before. I was so ready to go back to my deep roots and become what my ancestors were, that I forgot where my actual home was, where I really belonged.
Not only that, but in studying the culture and folk life I so longed for here, I realized that the tradition and folk culture from whence I came is in part cut from the same cloth as that of this rich place, and that I grew up knowing it and participating in it.
And so, in realizing my dream and coming to the British Isles to study and become part of its tradition I have realized that was already part of a tradition just as rich, and so very similar. If nothing else is accomplished here--though I know it will be--I am happy to finally realize what I have in my cozy, mountain-crowned corner of western North Carolina, and that I dearly miss it, my roots still aching there, with family, friends, familiarity, and belonging. I see the country of my ancestors and love it like they did, but I will not forsake what they gave up for me.
I hope this post makes sense. I am so happy with what Jeremy and I are doing here, it's an adventure that we'll never forget, it's part of who we are, it's in our blood and our connection to it is undeniable--but it's not home. We will come home after a much-needed and well-appreciated jaunt back to the roots of our heritage.
Part of my missing home is probably the fact that I'm living in a city, and not used to it. I like it, but I'm definitely more of an open-country, trees, mountains, wildlife kind of girl. Here are some things I'll be happy to see again.

Early morning mountain fog on Black Mountain's railroad tracks.
The absolute breath-taking beauty of autumn in the mountains.
The verdant green of the Carolina forest, climbing Craggy Pinnacle.
Far off views of mountains at sunset and woodland as far as the eye can see.

3 comments:

KM said...

Wonderful post, Cait! You're a very good writer. I don't know why I never noticed this before; I'm sure you already know it about yourself, but I figured I'd throw in my two cents!
Anyway, we certainly understand the idea of missing familiarity. While we, too, love our life as a young married couple, we miss NC tremendously. We even miss Hickory, and when we returned over Christmas, we concurred that "Hickory wasn't so bad after all" (especially with our child in utero in mind)!

Sam said...

Lovely. There is something about Southern Appalachia. agreed. something wild and comforting all the same. The crisp wet mornings...the shade of green trees. all very lovely.

Marcy said...

Don't forget your journey is also important to insire your writing. I can't wait to read your first novel. Maybe you'll even autograph it for me!