I am the oldest child of 2 oldest children, and I carry the responsibility of my lineage that comes with that position. Many of the family stories have ben given to me, some through words and some through actions–as well as the old Polish-English dictionary, the well-used locksmith’s tools and the frayed old wedding dress that’s been taken in and taken out over and over like an elderly housecat. It is my deepest honor and my crushing burden, the weight of all these stories, all these photos, all this baggage, all this love and loss, all these hopes.
My lineage is mostly French-Canadian, Polish and perhaps a little Irish. I carry the blood of the French peasant, trapper and Fisherman. I carry the blood of indigenous Eastern Canadians. I carry the passionate Baltic blood too, and the scrappy Irish. And I work to integrate this combination of energy within myself.
My people fished and farmed, foraged and made medicines, told stories, put out fires and made shoelaces overlooking a polluted river. My people were a long way from home, and then they were home. My people kept it light enough to travel.
My people were amazing and brutal, drunk and joyful, lost and found. My people showed up at weddings in ill-fitting suits and drank. My people knew things, saw things I CAN. NOT. FUCKING. IMAGINE.
Around this dark time of year, going into Winter and seasons of tradition and family, fires and foods I get to thinking about my lineage and how best to honor them, process their stories, forgive them their indiscretions and make them all proud. I feel that I cannot claim the power of my gender, bloodlines and class identity if I cannot at least try to understand them and their lives and choices, and if I cannot speak out for justice for all bloodlines.
No feathers, no firehats, no mother-tongues or pierogis without the work. The work is half heart-work and half action. Foraging. Listening. Weaving threads together. Rolling the dough. Preservation. Over and over. Do not falter. No names and no stories are really mine if I cannot at least attempt to unlock them, to understand where they came from.
I do not want to hold and draw power from the rosaries and tools and fabric of my people without fighting for all people to be heard. It is a disservice to everyone’s lineage if I can’t listen–to mine, to yours and to you.
And so I am making an elixir for each of my great-grandparents. I will connect to each one through taste this Winter, on long walks in the snow, meditating on my roots. I find taste to be grounding, a bridge across time, and it helps me to understand people and their stories. Taste can be a voice which whispers fem the past. Taste can help me to honor those who gave me life, some of which is very bitter indeed.
Each one will be based on the person’s heritage, what I know of them and what they loved.
And I hope to hear a tiny bit of the dreams they dreamed, the anger they suppressed, the passion and restless spirits that drove them to create.
I honor my lineage by healing my own heart, I can’t go backwards and help them but I’m by trying my best to stop certain ill-advised cycles that rip families apart, by sparking my own memory and trying like hell to make things right.
And I honor them by refusing to be silent, by acknowledging my privileges and contradictions, by letting history speak through me and my hands, making foods and herbs and wooly scarves. I honor them by claiming hope as my own, for myself, for my own kids. I honor them by insisting on seeing them as real, complicated people. And most important of all, I honor my lineage by refusing to forget.