Friday, June 25, 2010

My Grandchildren's Half-Told Family Story by Kathy Nixon

On my desk is a photograph of Opequon Cemetery. It celebrates the end of a thirty-year quest. Finally, I’m here, at Winchester Virginia, to see where my ancestors are buried. The old iron gate arches over the entrance and frames the background. The focal point is the engraved granite stone. It honors my Scottish ancestors’ gift of land to their church in 1745.

A few seconds before the picture was taken, my three grandchildren and I were ready to pass through the gate. But we’ve been called back for this Kodak moment. The camera has captured us posed above our ancestors’ chiseled names of Hoge and Hume.

At the camera click, I guided Alexis, age seven, Ben, four, and Shannon, three, through the gate. I hurried to find the gravestones of other ancestors lying close by.

Now, when I reflect upon this picture, there’s a lot I don’t “see.” The tears in my eyes. The writing on the historical plaque. Alexis’ incipient pout, which she continues to perfect. Ben’s compressed energy ready to erupt the nanosecond my hand leaves his shoulder. Even Shannon’s balletesque leap, a bit blurry, doesn’t readily register.

Instead I “see” how my grandchildren tell America’s story.

From their mother’s side comes a long documented genealogy of Europeans. They immigrated here to escape religious, economic, or military repression. Opequon’s Presbyterian Church and its historic burial ground symbolize those ancestors’ flight to freedom.

My grandchildren show this heritage. Alexis has inherited my daughter’s upturned nose and chin. Ben’s striking red hair is so reminiscent of my sister’s childhood shade. Shannon has the same cornflower blue eyes as my father. Her eyes contrast sharply with her dark ringlets that never stay in place.

Their paternal side bequeaths a different story. It’s one of unknown white masters and an undocumented history of slavery. My grandchildren’s black ancestors were not seeking freedom. They were forcibly brought to the New World in chains.

This history also proclaims itself in my grandchildren. Alexis with her warm brown face the color of tea. Ben whose once blue eyes are changing to his father’s yellow. Shannon’s arms glowing just the shade of long treasured parchment.

The significance of their heritage resonates in my photograph. It is the convergence of their parents’ stories running against the backdrop of America’s history.

My grandchildren were too young to realize their feet were touching the same ground their ancestors had walked almost three hundred years ago. When they are older and look at this picture, I’ll share the story of their Presbyterian ancestors buried at Opequon. I’ll also tell them that they were what made the occasion special. For that day was bittersweet. There were no corresponding written histories or burial grounds on their father’s side. My grandchildren have been robbed of half their family story.

This is my hope. When they show their grandchildren this picture and tell the story of our day together, racism will have, long ago, passed into America’s history.

-- Kathy Nixon is an amateur genealogist looking for information on those "pesky" Garretts from McGaheysville

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