What Whitman said

By Chuck Sigars | Jul 03, 2012

I received my family history the other day in plain manila envelope, just in case there were prying eyes. It could have a dirty magazine, or a ransom note. My secrets were safe.

Although not as much secret, you know, as boring. A family member had been curious enough to have her DNA tested and her human haplogroup identified, along with the various subgroups. She apparently got this idea from a National Geographic show, so blame them.

She sent a copy to my mother, who sent a copy to me. Which is, in a way, how this stuff all works, this human being stuff, aside from the envelope, but I digress.

So, on my maternal side, I apparently belong to the haplogroup J. I don’t think I’m oversharing here. If you already despise us J-types I’m certainly not going to be able to talk you out of that.

There was nothing surprising in this document, although the technology is intriguing and I certainly understand how people can get fascinated with genealogy and family trees. There are all sorts of good stories back there.

I’ve just never much cared. So my ancient ancestors made the same trek all of ours did, out of Africa to somewhere else. So a fair amount on my maternal side ended up in northern Europe; not a surprise there, either. What microscopic portion of me has been skipped over millennia from this diaspora never crosses my mind. As I say, I don’t care. It‘s not relevant to me.

I am the result of my parents and their parents, that’s pretty much as far as I look. And aside from certain important genetic traits to be aware of, such as male pattern baldness, I’m mostly just interested in the people and their stories.

In other words, I don’t care much if some great-great-great-grandparent on one side was a scoundrel, or a scholar. It has nothing to do with me.

Although if some great-great-great-grandparent had invented mint-chocolate chip ice cream, I would be pretty impressed.

And my general genetic make-up isn’t a secret, either. Just look at me. I imagine I look like run-of-the-mill Northern European stock, and I also imagine if you listen to me speak or watch me walk, or God forbid examine the way I dress, you’ll size me up pretty accurately and pretty quickly.

I am an American.

Happy to be here, too. Not like I had a choice, or helped. A country and constitution were carved out long before I got here. Roads and hospitals were built, judicial precedent established, battles fought and lives lost long before I was a speck in somebody’s eye, and frankly I haven’t added much to the big picture. As I say, just happy to be here.

And particularly happy this week, with Independence Day falling smack in the middle. I am hopelessly romantic about the Fourth, and a little romantic about Maggie.

Maggie is a friend of mine, from Glasgow, Scotland. She wears her vowels and consonants on her sleeve, even after a few years here in the United States, and she is music to my ears.

I love to listen to her speak. I once asked my wife if maybe I could also marry Maggie, just so she could live here and I could listen, but wives get all prickly when you suggest things like that.

So I have to be content to run into her every week or so, and I happen to know that she’s in the process of becoming an American citizen now. We are lucky to have her, and while she’s perfectly capable of jumping through the hoops of making this final, I wanted to offer some Independence Day suggestions.

To Maggie, and to anybody else. Hopelessly romantic, as I say.

John Phillips Sousa, played loudly. Mark Twain, read leisurely. “The Best Years of Our Lives,” watched with tissue handy.

James Taylor, Pete Seeger, Judy Garland, Bob Dylan, B.B King, Willie Nelson, Billie Holiday, Louie Armstrong, Johnny Cash, and about a million others: You will find us in our music.

Will Rogers, Laurel and Hardy, Fred Allen and Jack Benny, Bill Cosby and George Carlin: You will also find us in our funny.

Eat a hamburger, make some ice cream, get messy with corn on the cob and watermelon; this is how we’ve always done it.

If you’re lucky enough to run into a production of “The Music Man,” catch at least the last act.

Check back in with a little Sousa right about now.

And under the penalty of not being a real American, Maggie, find yourself a baseball game. Listen to it, watch it, play it, but do it. The game of ball is glorious, said Walt Whitman, and so are we.

Polarized, quarrelsome, overweight, snackers, mass consumers and money grubbers, some of us, sometimes, but so are we. We are Americans, we are bred with hope, we believe in extra innings, and we welcome you to join us, Maggie and all the rest. Happy Independence Day.

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