Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Family Fire

I called Dad at work today (that is, in fact, his name in my cell phone: DAD @ WORK), and we talked about family history for half an hour, exclusively about the McDonalds. There's something we need to point out about my dad: he is one of the most emotionally generous men/people I have ever known. He is gentle. He is kind. He bows to the needs of everyone around him, most specifically the Spirit. He has cheerfully and/or willingly paid for stuff and stuff and stuff, most of which we, as children, did little to deserve and even less in the way of thanks. My father is a good man. And, last year for his birthday, he asked for one thing: for us to let him talk about family history for 20 minutes.

This week he's taking my youngest brother and sisters on a road trip to North Carolina, to find James McDonald, or whoever it is that fathered Archibald McDonald and a line of posterity leading down to my grandmother's mother. It's a mystery, you see. We don't know the name of Archibald McDonald's father. We don't know the name of his mother. We don't know much of anything about what happened, exactly, before Archibald McDonald began showing up on censuses. (As a gunsmith, if I remember correctly.)

Think of it. I am Sarah. My father is Jeff. My grandmother is Donna. Her mother is Bertha. Bertha's mother is Ida May (we think--my family history major sister and I are looking into it). This knowing goes on for just a few more generations until we reach Archibald, and then WHAM. No more knowing. We don't know who raised him. Who taught him to tie his shoe, to say his prayers, to brush his teeth (however that happened in 1801). We don't know who disciplined him, gave him his sense of humor (which, we can only guess, is why Grandma Olson and we all like to laugh while casually-seriously-schemingly playing cards). This is Unsolved Mysteries close to home.

So my family, my brother and sisters and dad are going down to North Carolina to sleuth around, to see the greenery, feel the pace, check the books, and wander around the county (counties mattered more back then)--the county that claimed our fathers and was, in turn, claimed by them.

This is a course in American literature, in American history, in the South meets the Scots meets the Revolutionary War. People pay money to see movies about things like this--think Last of the Mohicans, think Braveheart, think sweeping epics in lush country with music that swells and pierces and makes us all want to observe the clan ways. Thi is a lesson, an experience, a moment to focus on what is human and family and fundamental. It's a moment to find Archibald McDonald's dad, so that someday we, too, can call him father. And give to them, as we paltrily give our dad, weak ears and annual hand-decorated handkerchiefs.

It's the least we can do.

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