Friday, April 04, 2008

Drive the streets my foremothers walked on

It was a grey and gloomy day in Philly.

But the sun shone in the form of Mia, who graciously gave of herself to spend a day traipsing around the northeast corner of Philadelphia on my genealogical field trip, and all she got was a lousy parking ticket to show for it.

Our first stop was the beautiful and cozy 3 Monkeys Cafe, conveniently located across from the Torresdale SEPTA stop. If you’re in Philly, do take the time to visit. You won’t be disappointed. Just a word of advice: if you’re on a field trip back to the land of your birth, skip it. The food is too good to not eat, and I was so nervous I barely even ate one fourth of my veggie wrap.

So barely eaten veggie wrap behind me, we set off first for mom’s. After pulling into the wrong complex, we found the right area.

Mom lives right on the water.

Of course she does.

Of course she does.

Yeah, we pulled right up and parked.

Someone was in the house. The TV was on.

We sat there in the car.

I considered it for a nanosecond.

OK, half a nanosecond.

I didn’t. I couldn’t. I thought when I got back to the hotel tonight I’d regret not going to the door, but I don’t. Tomorrow is going to be a really emotional day for me, being around my entire adoptive clan, and I just need all the strength I can for it.

I couldn’t go to this thing tomorrow after, after I don’t know what, but just after. I couldn’t.

Anyway, it’s rude to show up without warning. I hate it when relatives do that to me. Even ones I didn’t even secretly give birth to.

But I was there. Right there. Right there, in front of mom’s. I don’t know who was in the house. I don’t know if it was her, or someone else in her family. I don’t. But I was there, in her space, and with everything I have going on now, it was enough.

Next stop, 4 blocks away, was the house I grew in, or at least achieved human form in. I was a little disappointed to see it had been seriously hardcore renovated recently, with new extensions on either side. The usual stone-face façade had been taken down except for one thin strip, and the house looked brand spanking new. But still, the original lines where the house of the faceless girl lived remain, and for a brief while I could pretend it was April of 1963, and this was a house of very, very, very unhappy people.

Next, 1 more block up, the church mom attended. I’d been there before. But this was the first time since I knew it once had been hers.

I didn’t stay long. It creeped me out. I had to just light my prayer candle quickly and get the hell out of dodge.

Oh and one brief detour: Catholic Church – wtf is up with the electric candles that you push a button to light? Where’s the magic in that? Listen – prayer candles only work if you can do the whole ritual:

a) take the long stick out of the sand
b) take the fire from an already lit candle
c) light your own candle
d) put the long stick back in the sand

Four steps – that’s it. Not press a button and an electric fake candle lights up. Jesus Christ.

Anyway, last stop, gramma’s grave.

I couldn’t find it at first. Good thing Mia was there, I very well may have given up after the first pass.

I couldn’t find it at first because the large name on the tombstone was not my last name, but the name of gramma’s family. Yeah, it was a family plot. And I hit the dead Irish genealogy jackpot as there is a veritable boatload of my DNA on both sides of the family located underfoot, with their names all engraved.

And therein, I lost it. Big time.

My family, my ancestors.

People I probably would have loved, if I had know them, which makes them all the more precious to me, and the loss of them searing and unbearable.

My family, my ancestors. People who died while I was searching for them. People whose lives went on without me. I could see the years of death and put them on the map of my life.

My family, my ancestors.

The graveyard was tough.

I’ve got two days left here. I have more places to visit. I want to see the great-grandparent’s houses. They’re all in this neighborhood too. I don’t know what brought them here when they immigrated, but they took root and never left. Nor did their children. And their grandchildren. Within five blocks generations lived, grew, married, gave birth, died, and the children they gave birth to repeated the cycle, never leaving this area. Almost all of them. They’re all right here, tucked away in this pretty little corner of the city.

I am of the tribe of Velda, and I am of the District Magherafelt, but by birth I am a Torresdale girl, and damn proud of it. Today, as hard as it was for me, I am very glad to be home.

By the way, that real kid was right. Genealogy doesn’t really feel real, until you see your first grave.

You’re dead and buried gramma, and just for today, I forgive you for throwing me away. Slán agus beannacht leat.

I’m wiped.

Good night.

Thank you Mia.

7 complaints from ingrates:

Mia April 5, 2008 at 8:09 AM  

I love you a ton and I am really REALLY proud of you for walking forward.
May the luck o' the Irish be with you today! Oh, and don't forget to sneak a spoon from breakfast. I was thinking about flowers.....forget-me-nots might be the way to go.

Third Mom April 5, 2008 at 6:40 PM  

You're on one incredible journey - thank you for sharing it with us. I'm trying to imagine the emotions you felt throughout the day, and they leave me speechless.

Unknown April 6, 2008 at 6:10 PM  

Dear Ungrateful,
I am walking with you on the Ungrateful Journey. I hope you do not feel so very alone. Thank you for inspiring me to participate in the Genographic Project. Soon I should know my ancestors' journeys also. I like that name Velda.

One step at a time.


Anonymous,  April 6, 2008 at 7:09 PM  

OMG T I can just feel it. I visited my grandfather's grave, I don't know if he even knew I was born, but I am feeling it. To see your very own relatives' graves, as you said - the people whose lives went on without you - *sigh*.

I wish I could have been there with you, too.

I'm proud of you for having the courage to go through with this. What an emotional journey.

Gershom Kaligawa April 7, 2008 at 4:02 AM  

oh my goodness. Theresa!!!!!!!!!!!!! I want to scream, that ease of knowing and being just in the general energy field. WOW. SO PUTTING YOU ON MY HEART RIGHT NOW!!!!

Anonymous,  April 7, 2008 at 10:31 AM  

Just huge hugs.

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