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Cultural Heritage

Lately, I’ve been on this ‘heritage’ kick. A lot of people don’t think that your ancestors have any effect on who you are, or who you will  become. If you are one of those people, I hate it to break it to you, but it does! Think about this. The term ‘hereditary’ is commonly used in the medical world. If a condition is ‘hereditary,’ then it is a disease or condition that is passed down through families. Many problems, such as Agammaglobulinimunemia, Celiac’s Disease, Type 1 Diabetes, Chron’s Disease…these are all problems that are commonly hereditary. Now, let’s look at other way your ancestors have an effect on you, medical speaking. Certain diseases are more likely to affect people of a certain race. Native Americans, and African Americans, seem to carry most of these burdens. Diseases typically affect them the most. Why? Well, take a look at your history and you’ll see why. Anyways…

People of Native American or Irish descent are more likely to become addicted to alcohol. It’s not just a cliche, either. It’s the way that they’re bodies are made up, and the fact that people with this type of ancestry tend to have more addictive personalities, for varying reasons.

You may also be taught different things if you came from a different heritage. I know that I did. On my mother’s side I claim Native American ancestry; on my father’s side, I claim Native American, Irish, and English heritage. Did this mix ever affect my upbringing? Yes. For starters, my religious beliefs (although I claim Baptist primarily), are just slightly different from others, with Native American beliefs intermingled with my Baptist ones. Another thing: certain ‘manners’ were considered very important to my family. While they may be important to many families who raise well mannered children, my mother gave me strong reasons that the following were of the utmost importance:

1) Respect Your Elders
2) Cleanliness Is Next To Godliness
3) The Joy is in the Giving, Not the Receiving
4) Never, EVER, EVER lie
5) Give Back A Portion Of Everything You Get
6) There is always enough

Let’s start with the first one: Respect Your Elders. Okay, so most of you have heard this, right? Right. My mother’s reasoning behind this was that Native American culture puts a very high emphasis on the elderly. They’ve lived longer, and as such, they have much wisdom to offer you. Sometimes it’s very hard for me to believe that certain older people have wisdom to offer- we’ve all felt that way. But then I bide my time, bite my tongue, and once again glad that I did so when they shock me with some tidbit of wisdom that changes my life. I am not one of those people who cuss at the old people taking their sweet time in the grocery store. Instead, I am one of those people who offer them assistance when I see they are having difficulty reaching something high up on the shelf. I can climb that shelf, they no longer can.

The second one is not necessarily a belief that is Native American, or Irish, or English. Instead, it’s part biblical, and very southern. I will be the first one to admit that I despise cleaning. But I do it. Why? A clean home offers a much more peaceful sanctuary for anyone who might pass through, as well as those who must live there.

Number three. I remember many times when my mother had nothing, and still managed to give me something for Christmas or a birthday. In particular, I remember one year that she had $100 to her name, and she gave my sister and I each $50. She left nothing for herself, and she felt more joy than if we had handed her jewel laden, gold-encased platters. Do you know what my sister and I did with that money? We bought food for the house, we bought our mom something, and kept only some of it for ourselves. That is the way we were raised. My sister and I never felt any woe in using gift monies to help support our family. We grew up poor, but we grew up happy, and we felt joy in knowing that we had helped in some small way.

Number Four. There is a saying that my Papaw told my momma, which she told me, and which I will one day tell my own daughter. He would say, “If you had to choose a liar or a thief, you should chose the thief. A thief you can keep your eye on, but a liar you can never trust.” I think that pretty much says it all. I remember my mom asking me one time if I had sex. I was seventeen and had just lost my big ‘V’ card, and much later, in fact, than most people I knew had. Do you know what I told her? Yes. And she wasn’t angry. She was a little disappointed that I had decided not to wait for marriage, but she respected me for not hiding it from her. Then again, I could tell my mother anything.

Five. My family did not give tithes to the church. Instead, we gave our money to people we knew. One year, my mom used our foodstamps to buy a thanksgiving supper. We cooked all day. I should let you know that during those ‘meager’ years, we often ate nothing but stale bread or eggs donated to us by a very thoughtful woman we called ‘the egg lady.’ The food smelled sooooo good, and it had been such a hard few months for us. We made turkey, broccoli casserole, mashed potatoes with gravy, cranberry sauce, fresh bread, peanut butter cookies, pumpkin pie, stuffing… we could have very easily have saved the leftovers for ourselves. After this, we were unsure as to how long it would be before we could eat a nice big meal again. But before we even ate our own share, my mother sent my sister and I around the trailer park where we lived. There was an old woman, a disabled couple, and a woman with several small children. Before we ate, we brought them all plates heaped high with food, and a plate of sweets or a full pie for them to share. We had not told them in advance that we would be doing so, but we knew they were not having Thanksgiving suppers. The joy on their faces told it all, however, and although they thanked us many times, they didn’t need to. That year, my mother told us that she was thankful for being able to give those people a Happy Thanksgiving. I can not honestly remember a time when my mom did not have an extra child or two about the house either. It was a joke that my mom ‘took in strays.’ Over the years, my mom offered her loving care to many, many children when they needed it. She was not a foster mom. Parents simply seemed prone to ‘dropping off’ their kids at our house for long durations. My mom never complained. During the toughest years we had two extra children with us, and although they were not hers, she never once complained about two more mouths to feed with the money she did not have.

Six. My mother was a firm believer that there was always enough of everything to go around. My Thanksgiving story probably explained that rather thoroughly, but there were so many other times. People would stop by, and she would offer them food, even if it meant we must give from our own plates. My mom would give $2.50 to a homeless person if all she had was a $5.00 in her pocket which must us our weekly groceries. I was taught to do the same. I once hunted down a person I saw standing out in a rainstorm because they were wearing no shoes, and a tank shirt. I wanted to give them our umbrella, and a jacket. My husband and I  once gave our last money to a lady with children who had run out of gas on her way to the hospital to see a loved one. I am not bragging, and in fact, I rarely tell these stories. But if I ever became greedy, or did not help my fellow man, my mother would rise up from her grave and knock me senseless.

Tomorrow I’ll continue on my point about cultural heritage, so come back to hear some more!

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