Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Real Daisy

... was my grandmother. I have no idea when or where this photo was taken, but it was probably in Pittsburgh.

Her eyes were so black, you couldn't even see the pupils. Her hair was likewise very black, naturally curly and silky.

My grandmother was Melungeon, which I have always intended to blog about, but there is so little known about them, I don't know exactly what to write. Suffice to say, they were very WEIRD backwoods people with all kinds of BIZARRE traditions you never heard of. (I later understood this is why my family was so odd and never fit in with the other nice, Midwestern families on the block.) Her youngest brother (who never left the backwoods) had an indescribable, hard-to-place accent that was nearly indecipherable, as did both of her parents. It went beyond mere Appalachian accents, and it was nice to finally learn the reason why.

When the Melungeons were asked questions by census takers, they told them all kinds of creative stories, claiming to be Portuguese, Arabs, Jews, and whatever else they thought the census-taker wanted to hear. That's why nobody knew for sure what race/ethnicity they were, and historians are still arguing over it. Much has finally been sorted out through DNA: Melungeons were "tri-racial isolates" -- Native American indigenous people (and refugees from colonial encroachment) and free African-Americans, intermarried with white colonists who decided to go off and live in the wilderness for whatever reasons. This accounts for their deep secrecy and suspicion of strangers (and especially the government).

When white colonists eventually migrated to the Cumberland Gap and the New River (where my grandmother was born), they found these strange folks already living there.

I am interested in learning more, as it becomes known. In studying the Melungeons, it is fascinating to note how some people don't mind being one of the first Americans, but twist themselves in knots to deny the African ancestors. My grandmother told me that as a child, she always knew there were Africans in her family tree... but that is not the rude terminology she used, which I will not repeat here. (What is interesting is that she found this amusing and never denied it. In all honesty, she seemed to find the idea of being related to Cherokee more disturbing.) When people snootily remarked that she looked like Lena Horne, she was obviously too thrilled to get mad about the racial thing.

Second photo is of my grandmother and my mother, Betty, on the right. I estimate their ages to be 37 and 21, respectively. (1955 - Parkersburg, WV)

Third photo is my mother and me, ages 38 and 15. (1973 - Columbus, OH)
Yes, before you ask, I think that IS real fur. She thought fake fur was low class.

I miss them a lot during this time of year.

And now, your turn. Who do you miss?