Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Why do you think you are like you are?

Poet-in-Residence (see my blog list) posted a superb translation of a poem by Christine Busta a few days ago. The poem is called "Fragments of Origin". The poet came from very humble beginnings and in the poem she talks about her parents and grandparents and what hard lives they had - the implication being that their hardship has somehow made her what she is.
RS Thomas has a poem along these lines and I have spent the last hour searching for it in my poetry books, but I can't find it. What he says is that he has inherited parts of his character from one or the other of his ancestors.
At present there is a fascinating series on BBC1 called "Who do you think you are?" in which well-known people search for their ancestors, look back and see what their fathers, grandfathers and great gradfathers made of their lives. Last night it was Zoe Wannamaker looking into her father's side of the family. She found that they had originally come over in the late nineteenth century from what is now the Ukraine, but was then part of Russia. Their suffering had been enormous, pogroms were common around where they lived and so they had emigrated to America and her great grandmother had died only a fortnight after their arrival with heart disease and had been buried in a pauper's cemetery.
I would hazard a guess that most of the people who read this blog, were they to go back two or three generations, would find that their origins were also humble. I certainly came from a very poor background, and was the first person in my family to go to University and to have professional training - facts which made my father very proud, for he lived in an age when education was greatly valued (remember in the UK the 1870 Act was instrumental in getting all children into school until they were young adults).
The title of my post today - why do you think you are like you are? - is a question I ask myself often. Why do I behave the way I do in certain situations? What makes me the person that I am? What makes any of us what we are - I suppose it is the old chestnut nature or nurture. But I do know for certain that I have inherited - or learned - certain aspects of my behaviour from my ancestors. So I am posting them here in the hope that it will cause readers of my blog to think about aspects of their personality which they can trace back to their past. Why not give it a try?

Ancestry.

From my grandmother, Martha -
a strong personality
and a tendency to want to control
the purse strings.

From my father, John Henry -
a love of books,
a love of nature,
a thirst for learning
and a love of poetry.

From my mother, Alice Maud -
a hatred of argument,
raised voices or discord
and a need for order.

From my grandfather, John James -
a reticence, an unsociability,
a kind of standoffishness
which I fight constantly.

We are who we are
because of who came before us.

35 comments:

Debra (a/k/a Doris, Mimi) said...

I was just discussing this topic today with my co-workers. I completed a scrapbook for my husband as an anniversary gift. It chronicles our life over the past 20 years, such as when and how we met. My co-workers exclaimed how important this book will someday be to our granchildren and great-grandchildren. Sadly, I have no such details of my great-grandparents or even as recent as my grandparents. They are all gone now and I have no way to ask them. I have always compared my life to that of a glacier. Ever so slightly I inch my way through life, gathering pebbles along the way. My life is full of pebbles - events, people, and experiences that have shaped me into the person I am today. Wonderful post, Weaver! Very thought provoking.

Heather said...

Your poor friend, no wonder she is angry all the time. She is probably trying to make sense of things and not wanting to admit that she can't - so tragic. I hope I have inherited some good characteristics from my parents and grandparents so that they will balance out my weaknesses. It's inevitable really that our past should influence our future.

Reader Wil said...

That's a very interesting post, Weaver! It needs a lot of thinking. My father came from a rather poor family of hard working people. He was eleven when he left the elementary school and had to work in a forge. He didn't like it and went to evening classes. He studied hard and became at last a chief engineer in the merchant navy. He earned a lot of money and had his brother go to University to become a physician. And so we all profited by my father's hard work.

Cathy said...

Growing up in our family meant hearing about our history on a daily basis on my mother's side of the family. My mother and uncle worked on geneology and we all enjoyed the research and stories. I was lucky enough to know two great-grandmothers and several great aunts and uncles. On my father's side of the family, there was nothing. Noone talked about anything. Some of the family history has been pieced together but there are huge gaps. I love how there's such a crazy quilt of individuals in my ancestry. My creative side is from my mother and my love of the outdoors from my father. I'm a good mix.

Crafty Green Poet said...

we are who we are also because of the adverts we see at the cinema, at least your poem reminded me of a certain advert...

interesting question though. My great grandfather was Mr Train the station master and his son married a certain Miss Driver. Thankfully they didn't take the double barrelled name. My partner can trace his family back to Rob Roy MacGregor. As for personal characteristics, its very clear what I've inherited from my mother.

Raph G. Neckmann said...

I think it is very useful to know the traits we may have inherited; because then we can choose whether to accept them, or, as you mention about the trait from your grandfather, to fight them constantly. (Or to 're-frame' the ones we're not too keen on so they manifest in more positive ways! Hope that makes sense!)

Arija said...

Just as you cand see genetic likeness in families, so also character traits become more and more visible as we grow older.
Injustice gas made me very angry since I was little. I have a tendency to be hermitic and seek forest rather than people for company. My grandfaher was a forester. The strength to survive any situation or stroke of fate, from my mother who was the best and strongest, most caring and just woman I know. The love and care of the earth from a long line of tillers of the soil. Music from my father, the love of literatur from mother and poetry from both.
On and on it goes...a pleasant exercise to contemplate.
I appreciate your thoughtful posts.

jinksy said...

This may have taken a long time for BT to get it to my computer, but it was worth the wait. I've recorded the TV programme to watch, but I forgive you for jumping the gun! Intriguing poem with much to contemplate.

Bdogs said...

Like most Americans I'm a conglomeration of ancestries, from Scots who came in the 17th century, all the way to German and French immigrants in the late 19th.
I'm presently enjoying one of the headaches that run on my Scots-French father's side, one of the aspects of our past that is less delightful. But the devotion my French grandmother showed toward writing letters surely has surfaced in my writing. I notice in me also my mother's empathy and temper, my great-aunt's practicality, and my father's love for philosophical speculation combined with a fascination for how things work. My French grandfather was a carpenter, and I continue to be riveted by the way wood is put together.
What a wonderful post, Weaver!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

We are who they were, and those before them, and so on until…what? Until we all become one?

I can see in me so many traits and preferences passed down from my parents—and the older I get, the more apparent they become and the more I wonder what is me and what is them. Are there ever different people—or just different mixes of the same people?

I loved your poem. It's absolutely excellent!

Woman in a Window said...

I've been thinking about this alot. And I can nail down a lot of it, except for my sentimentality. And that I wonder, does it come from my loss of all those before. Perhaps I lament their passing as an ever present ache and my sentamentality is my way of keeping them close.

Poet in Residence said...

Weaver, thank you for those kind words about my translation. My two grandfathers were the salt of the earth: one a coal miner and the other a slate quarrier. Between them they roofed the nation and warmed the houses. More important work I cannot think of.
Gwilym

Derrick said...

Hello Weaver,

This is an interesting topic. Nature or nurture? We probably inherit some characteristics but others will be acquired. It's the way we grow and learn. If I have my father's temper, for example, is that inherited or learned? I would suggest that our circumstances and experiences shape us more, are absorbed or rejected. In our formative years, those lessons naturally come from those closest to us.

willow said...

The thought of so many people making up our ancestry and effecting who we are has always fascinated me. It only takes ten generations for us to be personally connected to one million people!

Lovely poem, Ms. Weaver!

The Weaver of Grass said...

Debra - what a nice idea. I don't think we become interested in our ancestry until we get to middle age on the whole and often by that time our grandparents are dead and we can't ask them. I think one of the best things we can leave for our children are lots of photographs of the past - all well labelled, so they are in no doubt who is who. So often in sales around here you see boxes of photographs and nobody knows who they are - so sad.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks Heather for the commiserations about my friend. I am sure you are right.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Reader wil - interesting to read about your father - our parents belonged to an age when education was deemed to be the most important thing - I still think it is but lots of young people don't think so these days - it is very sad.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Reader wil - interesting to read about your father - our parents belonged to an age when education was deemed to be the most important thing - I still think it is but lots of young people don't think so these days - it is very sad.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks Cathy - I like the idea of the crazy quilt - that just about sums up our ancestry I think.

The Weaver of Grass said...

I love your story about train/driver Juliet. It reminds me of our village having evacuees during the war from schools in Leeds. One of the teachers was called Mr Plaice and he went to lodge with Mr and Mrs Dabb. We always thought that was very funny.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Yes Raph, it does make sense. That standoffishness that is the bane of my father's side of the family has been inherited by all of my family and it can come across as being snooty and "superior" - I hate it, but I am not naturally sociable, so I have to fight it all the time.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks for your thoughtful comment Arija - it has made me realise another of my mother's strengths - that of accepting adversity however it came, rising to the occasion, fighting it and overcoming it - I have inherited that too and I am often grateful for it - never more so than the occasion when I was widowed.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks Jinksy - sorry for telling you about the programme before you had seen it!
I am having difficulty with your blog site - once I get on to it I find it hard to get off and it keeps coming up on the screen again. Are you having some difficulty with it?

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks Jinksy - sorry for telling you about the programme before you had seen it!
I am having difficulty with your blog site - once I get on to it I find it hard to get off and it keeps coming up on the screen again. Are you having some difficulty with it?

The Weaver of Grass said...

It is wonderful Bdogs to come from such a rich, diverse background. There is some Romany in my background and I am so pleased although my mother treated it as a cross she had to bear.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Scribe - your question is an interesting one - I think now we are all such a mix that the answer is, as you suggest, just different mixes of the same.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Not sure about sentimentality woman in a window. It certainly does keep our past fresh in our minds - and I think the older we get the more prone we are to it.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Agree Gwilym - roofing and mining - great skills to have in your past.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Inherited or learned, Derrick, who knows? The arguments have gone on for generations about that one.

The Weaver of Grass said...

I didn't know that Willow - that is an impressive statistic.

EB said...

A good question, and some interesting comments too.

I get so much from my family - and yet I am strikingly different.

Love of gardens from both grandmothers. Interest in books and writing from about 3 directions! A lot of the pattern of my character from my father. Sadly a predisposition to drink too much from the maternal side, although like my mother I've learned to deal with it (by asbtinence in my case, touch wood).

But other things I find in no recent family, perhaps they are from further back: the dreaminess, the ferociously strong positivity... maybe they're just signs of a very easy life.

Ah - I'm also surprisingly good at making money stretch and at liking what I've got - that also comes from pretty much all directions!

elizabethm said...

Oh yes, what a lovely post. I too am fascinated by the tv programme and fascinated by way characteristics pass down through families. great post.

Dominic Rivron said...

I like this. It would be interesting to make versions of one's own.

mand said...

Hey, i have an Alice Maud in my own ancestry! My gran always said i reminded her of her mother, who was Alice Maud. In our case she wasn't the peaceful one... ;0)

Gwen Buchanan said...

oh my, Weaver, this is so true.. we are the sum of our experiences and dwell in those shoes...
My ancesters mostly all came over to Canada during the Potato Famine.. there was no wealth of any kind...... hard working humble people to be sure,
Never stop trying...
Aim high..
You can do anything you put your mind to...
be thankful for anything you receive.
Make something good out of what you have... making what you need and make do...
be kind...
I can't pick any one individual who I connect these with.. I value them all......