German

I know I’ve told you how shocked I was to learn that my German ancestors didn’t all come over in the late 1800s. My mom’s great-grandfather, a Fisser/Fisher, came over then and married a Swedish gal who also came over then. My dad was assigned to some of the earliest churches he was assigned to because, in the 70s/80s, there was a big push to get everyone Social Security cards, so elderly people had to have some proof of birth. A lot of times, in these old farming communities, the proof of birth these elderly people had was their baptismal records. My dad doesn’t speak German, but he could read enough of it to translate the records, hence his gigs.

My Grandpa Phillips, the story goes, was the first person in our family who only spoke English. Considering his birth date–right before World War I–it makes sense that he’d not have been taught German. But, folks, I assumed, if his mother–born Ina Mae Hiestand–was bilingual, then she was probably the daughter or grand-daughter of immigrants. No, those stubborn bastards had been in this country since before it was a country. They just never gave up their German ways. “German ways” in this case being extreme grouchiness and a love of sweets.

Oh, lord, I’m not having some kind of writing crisis this week! I’m reclaiming my roots!

Anyway we’re descended from the brother of the guy who built this house up in Kentucky. There’s as many generations between the guy who built that house and Germany as there is between me and that guy.

In the Times today there’s an opinion piece about how we should all reclaim our German roots, which have been all but lost, supposedly. I don’t know. My family hasn’t given up extreme grouchiness or a love of sweets or bratwurst or chicken fried steak or a fondness for Mennonites. But what would it mean for us to embrace our German culture? The one from 1730?

My dad has a friend whose family never did give up speaking German. They spoke it in secret, even after it became so suspicious to do so. When his friend went “back” to Germany, a place his family hadn’t lived, also, in almost four hundred years, he couldn’t understand a damn person. He finally located the place his family was from and he could understand their dialect, but they had a hard time understanding his. They thought he spoke like a weird, very old person.

Even if the anti-German sentiment in the 20th Century hadn’t taken place, we would be nostalgic for a weird, old Germany that contemporary Germans would find strange.

I don’t know. I guess I just find it strange to try to reclaim A German ethnic identity. If you just go by who spoke German, my parents are the same amount of German–each had a German great-grand parent. But it strikes me as absurd to think that Grandpa Fisher and Grandma Phillips would think they shared a common culture. He came directly from Germany. She most decidedly did not.

On the other hand, we did grow up hearing stories of how German prisoners of war at Fort Custer were sent out into the town to work and how some of them disappeared into the community never to be found when the war ended. So, I guess finding fellow German speakers might have been enough for some camaraderie.

But, I don’t know. I still come down on the side of “reclaiming” German roots being something like “making up a stereotype about Germans and then treating that as if that’s how we all should act.” I’m not particularly interested in that.

I will, however, continue to be grouchy, as is the way of my people.

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3 thoughts on “German

  1. I was going over some family tree stuff this past weekend with my Mom. My mother’s maternal grandmother was of German descent, her last name was Witt. I don’t imagine much of the ways of the old country survived from her because my Granny never cooked German style foods. But then again, my Grandmother was 15 or so when her mother died so there wasn’t a lot of time for her to learn from her in that short time I suppose.

  2. My grandmother landed in Ellis in 1930. She was 16, no English when she got here. Married another German, only he was northern and Protestant to her Bavarian and Catholic. My mom grew up bilingual, as did all her cousins, in a German neighborhood in NYC. Mom did not speak German with me, and to this day, proclaims befuddlement that I did not magically absorb it. (No, Ma. Learned it in high school.) We have the big Lutheran German bible from Dad’s side (midwestern German/Swede), that no one can read except, yes, my Catholic mother.

  3. As we know Germany is really a bunch of different countries, so my question is when was Germanness even invented and was it before or after your people came here…but I guess that’s just kind of rephrasing what you already said.

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