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A trip to the family home land

Recently, my husband, K.C., and I had an adventure of a lifetime.

Our daughter, Hope, graduated from the University Of Edinburgh, Scotland and we were able to travel there to celebrate with her.

I must admit, I was intimidated at first, but Hope is experienced at traveling abroad and knows the country very well. She arranged for us to explore the history of Ireland, Scotland and England in places so beautiful it took our breath away. We followed her around like baby ducks as she maneuvered the buses, trains and taxis.

Since my ancestors primarily came from Scotland and Ireland, it had been a dream of mine to see sights they had perhaps seen and walk paths they might have taken.

Though I loved the architecture of the thousand-year-old buildings and the cobblestone streets of the cities, it was the countryside that made me feel strangely at home in this foreign land.

The mist rising up the mountains, the green pastures with herds of sheep and the simple cottages that dotted the landscape made me long to step into the lives of my great-great-grandparents.

At one point, while exploring the Highlands of Scotland, I was brought to tears. I said out loud, “What would cause our people to ever leave such a beautiful land?” A man nearby replied, “Desperation, my dear,” and he began to tell us stories of the hardships our people had to endure.

I learned that, at one point, the Scottish people were stripped of their culture by the ruling English. They could no longer speak using their own language (Gaelic). It became illegal to follow the understood ways of the clans and their customs were prohibited.

I learned that, during the potato famine in Ireland, what few potatoes they were able to scavenge from the earth had to first be given to the lords of the land, mostly English nobility, before the farmers could feed their own children. I was told Ireland has never recovered from the loss of two-thirds of their population (one-third from starvation and one-third from migration).

As I heard the stories of our people, generations removed from where I am now, my heart was bursting with admiration for their strength, anger for the injustices placed upon them and broken for the desperation they had to have felt.

History tells us that the vast majority of people who settled in the Appalachian region were people who came from challenging lives. Yet they were resourceful and endured hardship in order to care for their children and give them the best life they could.

These were people who appreciated creation, who knew how to care for the land and farm animals, and who valued faith and family above social status.

Whether it be Caucasian people from the peasant class of Europe or African-Americans who were dealing with the unbearable wounds of slavery, our Appalachian ancestors were a sturdy people who knew tragedy placed upon them by humankind and the healing power of the mountains they embraced.

I wonder if my ancestors could see how I live now, not the material possessions I have acquired, but the moral decisions I make: my work ethic, the way I value my family and community, would they consider the extreme difficulties they had to endure worth the price they paid to bring me to where I am today?

Would they be pleased with the way I treat others from different races, economic or social status or those who have different customs than I have? After stepping on the shores of my ancestors land I hope when I get to heaven I will get to meet the generations of family who invested in me by their determination to believe for better. The better they sought is now my treasure.

I pray the generations of family that come after me will one day be strengthened by my life and recognize the gifts of faith, family and community. Let these be gifts that never die.

 

Nora Swango Stanger, a Lawrence County native and Appalachian outreach coordinator for Sinclair Community College, can be reached at norastanger@gmail.com.