I found the answer to my existence, the core of my being, in a box of century-old news clippings last week. Now I want to shout it from the mountaintop: My name is Jeff, and I am Canadian!
To understand this epiphany, you must consider that I’ve spent a lifetime trying to figure out just who I am.
It’s not that I didn’t receive proper instruction. As a child, sitting at the gnarly feet of parents, grandparents and even great grandparents I was patiently instructed in who I was: A descendant of Mayflower pilgrims, Germans, Scots, Irish, Hoosier pioneers and maybe even – gasp – a Native American. An ancestor from New England was reputed to have “liked Indians, ” and one from Kentucky was known to have dark hair, eye, and skin prompting speculation among his kin.
I learned that my ancestors were much like my parents, siblings and even their children: Exceptional without exception. Not a common or ordinary person among them.
In early grade school, my great-grandmother came to live with us. I knew she was the daughter of German immigrants and that some of her brothers had been born in the old country. She made great potato pancakes and fried chicken which I took that to be irrefutable proof of her German-ness. However, I was mildly disappointed that she could not, or would not, translate the German spoken in Hogan’s Heroes.
Also as a youngster, a feisty, short, red-haired great grandmother would often visit and occasionally babysit. She was old as dirt but played a mean game of tag with us little ones. Her feistiness was attributed to the fact that she had red hair and Irish ancestors. As a preschooler I found the red hair issue confusing as I knew her to wear wigs over her gray hair. But, she was feisty and definitely had an Irish ancestor, so the two clearly must go together.
When I was in junior high, my most beloved grandmother moved in with us. She was a wonderful storyteller and writer of children’s stories. I spent hours in her room soaking up family history and descriptions of turn-of-the-century life in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It was from her I learned I was not so much Irish, German or Hoosier pioneer, but Scottish. She was born a MacLachlan, and her great-grandparents had immigrated from near Strathlachlan.
Her stories were always vibrant and captivating for a small town kid growing up around the cornfields and union automotive plants of the Hoosier agri-rustbelt.
I would fantasize the lives of my Scottish ancestors as I plodded through life in my small town. My bicycle became a sailing ship crossing the Atlantic as I passed newspapers. In my mind, I became a small crofter as I cared for the livestock I showed in 4-H. And in hours of swimming practice, I imagined I was pulling across some ancient loch, though the threat of a Nessie attack failed to help me develop any speed.
With such a rich background, I knew as a young adult I must be anything but an ordinary Hoosier. I loved beer and potato pancakes, and that was proof of my German-ness. And, my penchant for single-malt whisky was clearly derived from my Scottish genes. The dark brown, nearly black, hair I had before going gray betrayed a Native American heritage. And, my father’s ancestors – who settled Indiana in the early 1820s – were all the evidence I needed that my stubborn perseverance comes from good pioneer stock.
You would think that all that good breeding would have filled me with the genes to stride through life as a confident Germano-Celtic-Hoosier. But something always seemed missing. Somehow the knowledge that I was a G-C-H couldn’t seem to overcome the sense that I wasn’t complete. There just had to be more to me; one little, extra special ingredient that truly defined me to myself and the world.
Then it happened. Just a few weeks ago, I found that special ingredient in a box of my grandmother’s yellowed newspaper clips. It seems her grandfather’s birthday was written up in the local Sault Ste Marie newspaper. And, while celebrating his Scottish-ness, that article said he’d come from Canada.
Canada! As soon as I read it, I knew that was the answer. Proof positive that I am Canadian. With the help of that yellowed news clip, I realized the truth that had always been there, hidden just beyond the obvious.
- I’m the only male in the family to have a beard. And Grandfather MacLachlan – a Canadian – had a beard.
- During the Lake Placid Olympics, I loved the I Ice Hockey event. And Canadians love Ice Hockey. And let’s not even begin to consider my fascination with the sport of Curling.
- I like maple syrup, and Canadians make a bunch of it and even have a maple leaf on their flag.
- I love the Great Lakes, and my Grandfather had to cross one of them – from Canada – just to get here.
- I drove to Toronto – Canada – once and enjoyed tracking my speed in kilometers per hour and buying fuel in liters.
As I explore who I am as a Canadian-American, I’ll clearly have to embrace the culture … my culture. I’m headed to the store now to seek out some Molson and wonder if I can find some snowshoes here in Indiana.
My name is Jeff … I am not ordinary … I Am Canadian!