Monday, September 5, 2011

Sturdy: Examining my yearning for property.

             My favorite spoon is a bit heavier in the hand than the others.  Its sturdiness is what I am attracted to.  I feel as though I could stir anything with it, even as I use it to delicately coax the leaves to move about in my teabag.   It is more dependable than the others and I am delighted when I reach into the drawer for a spoon and it happens to be that particular one – that simple Oneida Baguette.
            I’ve often referred to myself as sturdy and wonder if, perhaps, my affection for such a simple and solid spoon is a reflection of my own perception of self.  I’m no large woman, by any means, but I’ve felt an association with big bones and my body density certainly isn’t average.  I’m more solid as one might think, and it is clear when you look upon my offspring that we are a sturdy lot, theirs even more pronounced due to the sturdiness also contributed by their father.  He is stronger than most men of his size and he is not a small man.
            Submersed in conversation with a homeschooling acquaintance the other day, we came across the subject of housing. Not unusual for me, with my sordid accounts of dishonest landlords and my wearisome pining for a home to call our own.  She was German, this acquaintance, to which I much admired, having grown up there as a kid and feeling a bit as one must feel towards a kind foster family. It was a heath upon which part of my childhood was wrought and I, for a time, called it home and loved it as if it were truly mine.  Living in Europe this woman was accustomed to living in flats and found apartment living to be very comfortable and customary for her.  Having admired condos in LoDo, an upscale trendy part of downtown Denver, I agreed that apartment living must surely have its perks.  Living in an urban area, from my opinion, was surely one of its highlights, along with the freedom to up and leave at the end of your lease if the north wind took you somewhere riveting like Vancouver. In my mind I pictured myself tending a variety of potted plants on my little balcony, a little yellow water pitcher in hand adorned with the usual cliché of daisies.  I pictured my children peering over the railing, toes lined up on the little ledge of concrete that we called our own.  Our property would end there, though, and of course the rough slab was not ours by any means.
            Surely, this iconic apartment visual seemed tempting, as I currently live in a larger house with its suburban yard covered in grasses doomed to remain three inches tall and loose hedges that never look quite right, despite my attempts at grooming them.  I ponder on it, in square agreement with her.  From her standpoint, she could not completely understand the drive for one to own their home.  Intuitive as I am, I could glance from her direction and understand what she had meant, I saw her thought processes and, for a moment, they were mine.
            But later, as I stand in my kitchen holding my favorite spoon, my thoughts drift towards that conversation and my mind begins to wholly examine it.  How did this separation of belief form? She is from Europe and embraces apartment living, while I am from the United States and pine for a home that we can call ‘ours’.  Then it occurs to me and in my mind I review the past two hundred and fifty years of my ancestry, when this distinction branched away.

            A couple of hundred years ago many pivotal events began to shape my ‘sturdiness’.  My Swedish ancestors left that town where their lineage had been recorded for over a thousand years.  They took their skills, boarded a ship and set off towards an uncertain future.  It wasn’t religion that forced them to rally their courage and pack their things, it was opportunity.  There was a new world and it lay ahead of them, full of promise and a future worth the loss of everything, putting all of their hopes on the timber and canvas that would take them across the sea to a land they had only heard spoken of.
            My German ancestors disembarked onto American soil already in debt.  They were indentured servants and they would pay ten years labor for the chance they had been given to make a life for themselves here in this New World.  Scarcely would they complete their years of service before taking up arms and joining in a revolution to fight for this land that that had become their home.
            My Scottish ancestors, those who had survived the Jacobite rebellion and the subsequent thrashings, fled their country in search of a land where they would be free to use their family names without retribution and where they could own land.  These Scots were not soldiers or urbanites. They would be free to be farmers, not crofters as they had always been, toiling on a land that was never really theirs. 
            A hundred years later my Irish ancestors left a barren landscape where families were starving to death.  There was nothing to eat and no way to make money. They were destitute and desperate, and they were not coming to a land that was a blank slate, they were coming to a land that in many places was not welcoming.  The poor, hungry Irish came in droves and were turned away only to grow more hungry and poor, at least those that lacked certain – sturdiness.
            These people and their offspring spread across a still-forming map like wildfire.  They set off into territories teeming with opportunity and danger.  They sought land, along the way stopping where they could to try their hand, many staying and others continuing on, out to the west, to pioneer their way to a scrap of wide open prairie. 
            They invested in railroads, sold everything they had and gathered themselves up in covered wagons with crude maps, beat down the earth in runs for land and tore through the hills in search of gold. They plowed dirt never before farmed and they wrought homes from what the earth gave.  Women bore children in lone cabins to the sound of Indian drums, men scoured the countryside carving out fertile hunting grounds.  They had to be sturdy.  Those who weren’t able to make their living on the Frontier turned around and headed back to New England cities, finding their own niche there somewhere in the building of American industry and business.
            I come from sturdy stock.  Every familial line that has led up to me were survivors, those who pressed the ragged edges of the map in search of land, of opportunity, of a rich life where their children could roam across ground that they called their own. 
            I dip my favorite spoon into the honey that my husband harvested from our beehive in our little suburban backyard and watch its gold gleam sink into my tea.  I understand, now, that I can’t fight it.  When you combine all of the ancestral trails that have led to this moment, me and my favorite spoon, there are thousands of years of hardheadedness and willpower.  A hunger for something tangible, the dirt at your feet, solid earth to harness, to provide for you.  This is why part of the so-called American dream includes owning a house.  It is in our very blood.    

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