Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Long and Winding Road That Leads to Your Door

History was never my favorite subject in high school. I recall failing a test freshman year when I tried to pass off a line from Cool Hand Luke as something to do with the Monroe Doctrine. Unfortunately, “What we have here is a failure to communicate” didn’t fool my teacher.

My ancestry was as vague to me as the Monroe Doctrine. It wasn’t until my oldest started looking at colleges that I thought about delving deeper into my lineage. Since winning a scholarship  for making a suit out of duct tape seemed futile, I looked into ones that he might get-like the Shamrock Irish Heritage Contest for my Mom’s side of the family, or the Sons of Italy Foundation Grant for my Dad’s. Or one I really wanted him to get-a Native American scholarship.

Rumors had circulated for years that one of my ancestors married or possibly stole a woman from an Indian tribe and that’s where we all got our hawk noses and darker skin. I became obsessed. The money was great, the kid was smart, the only missing piece was finding great-great grandma’s name. But the rudimentary internet was nothing like it is now, and after a few futile attempts to weed through thousands of Bennett’s (the ancestor surname) I gave up and focused more successfully on baseball scholarships. Until last year.

My Mom’s cousin started the first real search into that side of family. And what a search it was-he opened a door that, like in the Wizard of Oz, goes from the dreary present all the way back to the technicolor Revolutionary War. Lots of prominent county names married into ours. Lots of big farms, bars and restaurants owned by entrepreneurs. No Indian tribes, but a link to a woman who as a teenager, traveled alone to America to become my great grandmother.

And that’s where I got interested again. One of my Bucket List items was to kiss the Blarney Stone. Since another relative had done the legwork and found a distant cousin in Sligo, all I had to do was go. I booked the trip in September not just for myself, but for my 85 year old mother.

Ireland is one of the most beautiful countries I have ever visited. I was fascinated with their history-the constant invasion of Vikings and British. I was enchanted with their music, songwriters and dancers. I was hung over with their Irish Coffee and Muldoon Liqueur.

We drove up to Mohill one day to meet Mom’s cousins, the Caseys. The family stories told by her 91 year old cousin had been handed down from his dad, and generations before. It was magical walking through the door of the same three room house that the family lived in almost 200 years ago. Walking through the fields to get to the only well, and over the hill to see the road that they walked to school. Crazy that her cousin Michael and his two children had full scholarships for cross country in America and never knew they had family here. What??? They got full scholarships and didn’t even need to make duct tape suits or find Native American roots???

Two days after arriving home, I walked through another door to go back in time with my “other” Casey family at my High school reunion. After traveling 6500 miles round trip to meet family, I was a bit disappointed that people who lived just a couple of miles away didn’t take the time to attend. Life is short, and the poster of the classmates we’ve lost attested to that fact.

And then, another surprise happened. A genealogy link to a half-first cousin I didn’t know I had, led to them opening their home to welcome me as we learned a little bit about each other and tried to fill in the blanks on how this happened. My family tree grew another branch.

This was the year I resolved to open some of those closed places in my heart. I opened my home to a college kid playing on a summer league, which brought back the joy of baseball. Instead of holding a mental wake on the 5th anniversary of Wingman’s death, I celebrated his love of music at a weekend concert series. I welcomed grandchild number four knowing that my heart will always be open for more. I made dozens of mermaid blankets and gave most of them away to my friends with new grandchildren. And I started volunteering with a group that brings joy to the marginalized with food, warm clothing and music at the holidays.

Sadly, I already know that at least a couple of doors are going to be closing in the new year. This was the last Christmas in my house. Rather than rattle around in a home meant for a large family, paying high property taxes and ridiculous flood insurance, I've decided to downsize and enjoy the ride a little more. Those other doors will lead to more blogs to write.

Closing doors lead me to open my eyes to the infinite power of possibility. As my next husband Bill Murray said in Scrooged, I’m ready for it.  Ready for my miracle. Are you ready for yours?

Happy New Year, and God Bless Us Every One.

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