My Dad always used to say it’s nice to go away but nicer to come home. I’m not even sure how nice is it is to travel, since I prefer to stay put. I am not an adventurer. My father traveled a lot ( and in case you are wondering why I’m talking about my dad on Mother’s Day, it’s because my mother died nine years ago, so it’s a different sort of day for me. She also never really embraced the whole Mother’s Day hoopla, and used to say it was invented by Hallmark to sell cards. But still, I do think of her each Mother’s Day, and that’s not a bad thing, is it?)
My mother’s mother was an old fashioned Pennsylvania small-town woman. My mother was a modern New Yorker. She arrived there after college, a year in Spain, and Washington D.C. I loved her stories about Spain, and growing up in Western Pennsylvania. The one about her grandfather, whose wife had died in childbirth and so he left the baby on the doorstep that would grow up to be my grandfather, and took off for the Klondike, may or may not have happened that way.
My father talked about growing up in pre WW II England, and of his adventures in American boarding schools,like the time he was running back to the dorm after hours, slammed the door on a friend’s hand, and severed a finger tip, which the boys put in a match box and threw out the window so the dorm master wouldn’t know what happened. That has stayed with me. So have the more serious tales of my grandfather’s service in the war, and his time spent in a German prison camp.
I grew up knowing where I came from, more or less. But what I know about my heritage only goes back a few hundred years tops, and it gets very hazy as soon as the generation that told the stories is gone. What was my mother’s mother’s name? I think it was Sarah, but it may have been Margarette. Aunt Mary Ann, who labeled the old family photos, is gone now, too. I can’t speak French and have never been there. My home is no where near those Allegheny mountains where my mother’s clan all lived, or England, France, or New York where my father’s people came from. My home is where the Chilkat River meets the sea.
Maybe that’s why I love it that my grandchildren’s father is from here, and that his ancestors, the Tlingits– or the people of the tides– have lived in southeast Alaska for thousands of years. Today he is paddling a traditional Tlingit canoe with six other Haines men down the fjord to Juneau for the dedication of the new Sealaska center downtown. It will take four days, they hope. It’s over 100 miles from port to port. Lynn Canal is wide, deep, and the longest fjord in North America. The paddlers are dressed in modern gear, fleece and rubber, and wear life jackets. But before they paddle into the big celebration in Juneau, they will don Tlingit blankets, tunics, and vests, and my son-in-law will wear the hat of the Tall Fin Killer Whale clan. What a story he will be able to tell his little girls. What a great adventure this will be.