Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Family

Hello There My Lovelies,

Those who know me personally know how diverse my family is. I have family in different countries. I have family I still haven't met.

I remember when I was in the fourth grade, our teacher wanted us to know where we came from so she made us do a family tree. I remember taking it to my mom and then my dad. They dutifully thought about it and filled it out. I remember my mom sitting at her desk and doing some thinking before filling it out like a crossword puzzle, which she loves btw.

So I handed it in, and when I got it back, my techer was intrigued and wrote some things on my paper. She said "Wow ! I had no idea you are part Russian and have Jewish faith in your family, along with Austrian Catholicism." At the time I was attending a private Christian school, and for all she knew I was an English speaking American whose family has probably lost touch of their roots. After she wrote that on my paper, that made me feel special and unique. I didn't know what it meant, but I knew I was different.

I held on to that paper, and I still have it somewhere in storage. I am glad that I didn't throw it out.

All of my mother's family is in Austria. On her side, only she and my brother and I live in the U.S. I've been to Austria about 8 times. I've lived with my aunt and my cousins for 6 months when I was 10, and I also lived with my grandma for the summer when I as 17. My aunt and grandmother were responsible for introducing me to my Austrian heritage. My grandmother didn't speak English so she taught me German. She signed me up for Austrian Culture school one summer to learn about the culture and language. I did well and I left that summer with a much better understanding. We also learned the Viennese Waltz. My grandma also bought me a traditional Austrian dress called a Dirndl Kleid. I still have it my closet.

I always loved it that I had a grandma that was not tied to the US. I loved it that she didn't speak English, and I thought it was special. She was of the older generation. She was all about Austria, and was upset when the EU merged countries as the European Union, and took away the Austrain Schilling, replacing it with the Euro. She felt that EU was taking away a piece of Austria. When I went to Spain, the Spaniards and Catalans felt the same way. I agree. I miss visiting Europe when each country had it's own rules, borders, and more of it's own culture. I just do not like the EU. Some people compare it to the United States. A country with many different states in between. Well, in Europe it's not really the same thing. I just don't know how to explain it.

Anyway, my dad's side of the family is a little more complex. My grandma was born and raised in the US, and my grandfather was born in the US to Russian-Jewish immigrants who immigrated to the US through Ellis Island.

So that seems simple, but we're more diverse on that side of the family through travel and marriage.

My aunt and uncle converted to Hinduism, and my cousin married in India. As a result I have little half-Indian cousins. I saw pictures of their traditional Indian wedding they had in India.

My other cousins married Asian (I've never met her so I forget which country exactly, I think Cambodia, but she is also Buddhist)

- Greek. My cousin is going with her husband and kids to Greece this summer. I have half Greek little cousins. They are young, but big boys.

-I recently learned I have a Russian cousin that lives here in the SF Bay. We've never met.

- Did I mention that our family is comprised of diffrent religions ?

My last name is very rare, and when I find someone in the phonebook with the same last name, they are usually connected to the family somehow through blood or marriage down the line. I love my last name, and feel that it makes me unique.

I've been to one family reunion in 2001 for my father's side before my grandfather passed away in 2006. It was very nice to get to meet family I've never met and will probably never see again. People took interest in talking to me and sharing family history, and I was just taking it all in. It was also nice reading letters and seeing pictures from my great grandparents who died very early. Luckily before my grandfather passed away he wrote a thick letter to me about them, which I still have.

When my grandmother in Austria passed away in 2006 I got to meet all the family on my mother's side. My grandpa there passed away when I was five so it was nice to learn more about him. I got to talk to all my other great aunts and uncles. It was a big reunion to celebrate my Oma's life.

I think family reunions are special, and I am glad that I went. Even if your family is dysfunctional or you aren't close to everyone. You can still connect with someone older who can tell you something extra about your backround and where you came from. It's important to do your research, especially before they slowly start passing away. When my Austrian grandma and my paternal grandpa passed away in 2006 I felt a huge loss, like I lost a part of me. But at the same time I was glad that I got to talk to them about my roots and where I came from.

That is another reason I am really attached to my paternal grandma. After my great grandma passed away in 1995 she was considered the matriarch of our family. I feel like she is a link to where I came from and she knows a lot. She has been a huge help in helping me dig deeper into family history. She has told me a lot about my dad, as well as my mom when she first met her.

I first started taking a huge interest as a teenager in high school. We were studying WW II, and I interviewed my grandma. She was happy to tell me about her life during that era. So I wrote a paper on it, and I hope that I still have it somewhere.

She was born in 1920 when women were first allowed to vote. She also remembers Black Friday as her father was an investor. She remembers the Great Depression, what life was like before this god-awful social security crisis, the War, and the women's rights movement. She knew Betty Friedan. She was originally involved in fighting for equal pay, but eventually left when she said it was taken over by a bunch of "man-hating lesbians."

The world has changed so much. There is more technology, more people, different ideas, different countries, different world problems........... I feel grateful to still be able to talk to my grandma who was around during a different era and see why she holds the beliefs she does.

I hope that those that those of you that read this post will dig a little deeper into your past if you haven't already done so. There are always family secrets, waiting to be discovered. There is always something that you don't know about. I learned that when my Oma passed away. There was so much that we didn't know. So much you learn when things have to be taken care of and the house has to be cleaned out. When the will has to be executed.

Grandparents are known for talking over and over about their upbringing in the "good ole days". I listened as a child not really understanding the signifigance of what they were talking about. Then as I took history lessons, I could begin to piece it together. Then as I got older and the world started changing more and more, I found myself going back to all those stories they told me and reexamining them and going back to them and asking them to tell them again.

If you have children, the greatest gift you can give to your children is telling them where they came from, and what their roots are. I was very lucky that my family started early. My mom and dad were willing to talk about their parents and grandparents. My family in Austria stepped in and welcomed me in Austria. Maybe you don't think you know that much, or maybe you don't want to talk about it. But children will eventually start asking questions.

1 comment:

PorkStar said...

This is a very interesting post. I love hearing stories from the grandparents from back in the day. Mine, way way way back come from Spain. There is a very old town with my last name in Spain from where the family apparently comes from, somewhere in the Basque region of the country.