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I was recently reminded of something I’d not thought about for many years. The plain and simple reason behind this was my complete and utter happiness at age seventeen to leave the east end of the Iron Range and never come back. You know how youth is: adamant and generally wrong while being convinced this is never so. Youth is blessed with the quicksand of certainty that will eventually pull it to eyeball level with the mud. The next step past that is the one I hit on in the last column: when the worms march in and out while playing pinochle (the worm chant may be solely responsible for keeping memory of that game alive) on maternal snouts. These really are images only a child could stomach, as they do cake icing and greasy fries in close order.
In any case, back to the lead topic. The “reminder” (which was not intended) came from someone observing that I was “a good talker” after I’d made what I thought was a simple observation about the difference between two opposing points of view. The “good talker” observation reminded me of blarney, which in any speaker may or may not be a good thing, depending on how much of that gift of blab the speaker inflicts on others. My knowledge of blarney does not stem from Irish heritage. There’s none of that in me I’m aware of, in genes or culture, my upbringing being quite Polish until I reached Minnesota and puberty at roughly the same time and began entry into a sort of “Viking” existence based on exploration and pillage, though pillage was limited and strongly discouraged, as it is today.
As an aside on the lineage issue, I happily assent to the term bastard because I arrived at it in the time-honored fashion of illegitimate birth. Facts are facts and I see little reason to gild them with illusion or delusion. For many years I assumed my ancestry was Polish, southern Slavic from a group called the Gorale. On finding my birth name was Wahl (my adoptive parents, both dead when I learned this, were unavailable for questioning), I posited northern Europe and likely Germany as my gene pool. That seemed to make sense, and I was perfectly fine with that until I decided to do a DNA test.
I was not prepared for the result and am not yet reconciled to it. Going from Polish to German wasn’t too huge a step. They are neighboring countries, after all. The DNA result calls for a larger stride because it reveals my genes to be roughly 50 percent Italian and Greek. (As Greek as I ever got was to hold high esteem for Alexander the Great, who deserves better attention.) If that was difficult for me to believe, the remaining two portions of the test result are equally daunting. A little more than 10 percent of my genetic self is from the British Isles, with a smidge left over carrying genes from central Europe. My largest surmise to date is that whoever was responsible for my chromosomes, they were not much into inbreeding, or at least were somewhat selective about it. Perhaps you can now better see why a small detail such as being a bastard concerns me so little. There are more important things.
You’ll recall this piece started out heading into “good talker” and blarney territory. It is going back there now. Our parish priest was a well-liked and very talkative Irishman. I enjoyed his company for the musical value of his conversation, along with the fact that doing chores away from home had charm and value well fitted into my teen life. I’ve no explanation for why mowing the church lawn was more interesting that my own, but it was. Our priest introduced me to tea (tay) drunk with milk, to Belleek china (by the time a boy reaches his teens and finds an interest in antiques and china, he has few illusions of turning into a football hero), and to images of the Emerald Isle. Ireland is beautifully green. I was enchanted, but part of my reason for hanging around the priest (aside from the already given reasons) was a desire to learn Latin (is that the pesky DNA nature showing its head?). Sadly, the good father’s knowledge of Latin was pretty much limited to the church service. In any case, the picture books were fun and the tea was excellent, especially with little cakes when served on Belleek. It was quite charming.
Every few years our priest made a trip home. On one of these he invited me. My parents were not opposed to getting rid of their relatively useless son for two weeks, but the cost of airfare almost put my poor father into heart arrest. I did not go to Ireland, but afterward did hear all about it, including Father’s visit to Blarney Castle to do what all tourists do. Afterward he wandered the castle base until he found a small stone. This he offered, for the sake of its potential gift-of-gab powers, me to kiss, which I did because “Why not?” There was general, indeed I’d say universal, agreement I needed no help in verbal acrobatics, but if some is good, more is better, which I found especially true regarding cookies and at a later stage of life beer.
I wish I could tell you where it (and I) came from, but I don’t know. I can report, however, that there is significant advantage to being a bastard because it allows fairly full range and freedom to cast my lot almost anywhere I wish, though not without lots of surgery and hair dye as a Han Chinese. Being bound to a language, culture, religion, etc. has distinct value but also carries (in some cases huge ones) particular liabilities where beliefs define and limit your being. A bastard is free of those limits. I take pride in what I am not.