Thursday, November 8, 2018
--- Pride of Place: Living Memorials ---
We have just celebrated All Saints' Day and Dia de los muertos - the day of the dead. Almost every culture has had some kind of recognition of the dead - of ancestors and powerful figures of the past. Why?
Why not let "auld acquaintance be forgot?"
The last two sections of Pride of Place: Huwerl Thornton, Junior's "Living Memorials: Honoring Your Family" and Kristin Wetmore's "The Amistad Story: Commemorating a Local Narrative" are explorations of co-memoration - the remembering together of past peoples and events.
I am first a sociologist. My primary trainings and interests are peoples and cultures and you will see in this blog many pointers to events and peoples that are important and salient to whatever culture I encounter.
There are many elements of strong, healthy cultures and two are folkways and history. These things can be toxic. Remember (always remember) the character of Nazi Germany, endued in a pervasive and overwhelming folk tradition invented for political purposes - murderous in intent, and remember (always remember) that we have often allowed the same poison into the United State's psyche.
But cultures need anchors in the universe and the greatest anchors are the sense of belonging in time and place.
We remember our past in gravestones, statues, murals, street and place names, and buildings.
The Browns were intimately connected with Denver so when you see "The Unsinkable Molly Brown" or "Titanic" you can think about our Avoca and Brown Palace (even though the Brown palace was another Brown, Molly did stay there a week after the Titanic disaster.)
We remember our ancestors because they provide personal connections in time and place. We remember local and national heroes because they anchor us in the world. We remember events of the past, both good and bad, because they are the stuff that sews us into the fabric of the universe. Our existence may be the product of spirit or the Higgs field, but what we are is the product of our histories.
Can you reconstruct where you came from and where your community came from in the memorials that exist and are publicly visible in your community? Even if you and your family are not originally from where you now live, can you see traces of your culture in your new home?
My family has produced politicians, actors, directors, inventors, and ballerinas. I am connected through them to the churning washing machine (Nicholas Van Zandt invented it in 1809), Citizen Kane (Philip Van Zandt played Mr. Rawlston), and the opera Lakme (Leo Delibes composed it specifically for Marie Van Zandt). I am connected to VanZandt county Texas which once tried to secede from the state of Texas but decided to have a party instead, and I am connected by ancestry to the national hero of Germany, Arminius, who trashed a third of the Roman military machine with a few hundred German woodsmen and secured a lasting freedom for his people. Arguably, he's the reason that Martin Luther was able to escape the clutches of another world power, the Holy Roman Catholic Church. My mother's ancestors, the Forehands and Fordhams, were law men of renown and friends of the Younger gang, who were either lawless or heroes according to who you talk to. The Saint James Hotel, where I lived in Selma, was named after Jesse and was a reminder of this anchor I have in time and place. My great grandfather was a lawyer. He was known by his initials: J. J. Forehand. "J. J." of course, stood for "Jesse James".
You are established in the past by your own history. We hold our pasts in us. We are living memorials.