Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Way of the Potato

Today I vigorously scraped the inside of both my cheeks, put the residue in two little vials and mailed them to the National Genographic Project's DNA lab. It was a birthday present from my wife, who knows I hope I am a one-man melting pot.

In modern America, I don't think it's only liberals who wish their ancestry to be varied and colorful. Aren't the old thin-blooded son-of-paleface DAR types an anachronism? I assume even Hillary-hating conservatives express disgust for the Aryan Nations and their talk of racial purity, if only to avoid the appearance that "true" conservative politics are based on lineage and bad science rather than logic and the big tent.

I don't know. I do know I'm hoping that my own tribal ancestry is not as dull as I fear it will be. As the potato moved across the face of Europe, I'm guessing my ancestors followed close behind, their noses near to the ground. They were expelled from Scotland and then expelled from Ireland before finding refuge in the American colonies, at which point family legend says they spent part of the 17th Century and all of the 18th Century hiding in the Appalachian hollows marrying their cousins.

One hopes one is an octoroon, of course, just for the pizzazz, like Tennessee Williams. And, you know, I have a better than average chance. When my grandmother was young, they called her the little gypsy because she was so dark, and, as Connie Chung said to Newt Gingrich's mother, just between the two of us my grandmother was the illegitimate child of an illegitimate child back when bastardy was more than a lifestyle choice.

Some Native American blood would stand me well at cocktail parties. And to be a child of Romani would be better still. I have no interest in tracing my line back to particular kings or brigands. If I ever feel that need, I'll cultivate reincarnation and past life regression.

It counts for nothing on a personal level -- one does not pick the provenance of one's Y chromosome -- but the more mixed one's DNA, the more it is America's DNA.

Walt Whitman would have reveled in DNA, the science of it and the poetry.

There was a child went forth every day;
And the first object he looked upon, that object he became....

His own parents,
He that had fathered him, and she that had conceived him in her womb, and birthed him,
They gave this child more of themselves than that;
They gave him afterward every day; they became part of him...

The family usages, the language, the company,
the yearning and swelling heart,
Affection that will not be gainsayed,
the sense of what is real, the thought if, after all, it should prove unreal,
The doubts of day-time and the doubts of night-time, the curious whether and how,
Whether that which appears so is so, or is it all flashes and specks?
Men and women crowding fast in the streets,
if they are not flashes and specks, what are they...?

These became part of that child who went forth every day,
and who now goes, and will always go forth every day

1 comment:

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