Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Smith, Johnson, Williams...

Robertson is the 147th most common surname in the United States, right between Rice and Hunt. It does not seem to be the imprimatur of greatness for which I blame the dourness of the original Scots, the poverty of the Scotch-Irish who managed to be thrown out of two countries and the beauty of the Appalachian mountains where so many Scotch-Irish settled. Those green mountains, noble without being monumental, are a diversion from the urge to greatness, that and the fact if you stay deep back up in the hollows the prospect of marrying your first cousin is always at hand, somewhere between a temptation and a family tradition.

When I was a teenager, friends tried to insult me by suggesting the great basketball player Oscar Robertson was a blood relative to which I would answer I hope so. Of course, for some years now, given my accent and my big round face, some people have assumed that I must be related to Pat Robertson, the television evangelist.

I'm not. But whenever he suggests God is punishing or about to punish something or somebody -- Dover, Pennsylvania, for not embracing Biblical literalism in its biology classes; Ariel Sharon for refusing to expel the Palestinians and satisfy some nuance of Biblical prophecy -- I cringe.

My dad used to say that he had no interest in genealogy because the word around the family was that somewhere around 1900 there was an outbreak of illegitimacy in the male line back there in the piney woods.

I take comfort in that penumbra of bastardy. Better to be related to a rogue than a fool.

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