Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Those Were The Days

A new year usually results in resolutions. This practice actually dates back thousands of decades. It didn't matter when the new year was set to begin, be it October 31 for the Celts, or in March and the beginning of the planting season for Rome, when the calendar began anew rituals were observed.

It was a time for paying off debts and making amends. The new year was to be successful, and so offerings were made to Janus, the two faced God. No, he wasn't gossiping behind his followers' backs, he literally had two faces, one looking back and one looking forward. January is named for him.

This concept was so well know, even the Irish have their own version.

Two versions of Janus-like Irish statues
So, before I talk about my goal going forward, I'd like to take a look back at my family, in all their unique characteristics.

On my mother's side, I am a product of Ireland. My grandfather's people raised racing ponies for the English and, in this way, lasted through the famine into the early 20th century. Some family went to England. My grandfather worked there for 8 years in order to make passage to America. Eventually he brought over his younger sisters, and he became one of the countless Irish to work the railroads until his death. He met my grandmother in New Brunswick, NJ. She was a “Bridget” for the Johnson family (as in Johnson & Johnson). When my mother was born, they gave her a cradle. The family still has it.

Grandmom came from Crossmaglen, County Armagh...Bandit country. Her cousin fought in the original IRA, and there is a memorial over his grave, in Irish, erected by the people of America.
St. Patrick's, Crossmaglen
Mom married Dad, a divorced protestant with three children. THAT''s a whole 'nother story. Dad wasn't into his heritage, but it was both illustrious and diverse. On Nana's side, the original family name was Scott. We are descendant from the first Earl of Buccleuch.

Here is a painting of the 3rd Duke. I don't see a family resemblance. I told Claude; she laughed at me. He had ginger hair and a

Per legend (and the writings of another relative, Sir Walter Scott) John Scott (the 1st Earl) followed the king's royal hunt. The king chased a deer down a ravine. John went down, broke the deer's neck with his bare hands, and dragged it up to the king. Per the poem:

"The King did wash into a dish 
And Galloway John he wot; 
He said "Thy name now after this 
Shall ever be called John Scott." 

"And for the buck thou stoutly brought 
To us up that steep heugh 
Thy designation ever shall 
Be John Scott in Buckscleugh." 

(“Heugh” is a hill, and “leugh” is a ravine. 
“Bucksleugh”, or “Buccleuch” as it's become, 
 loosely means “deer ditch”. Could be worse.)

The Buccleuch coat of arms

Some Buccleuchs went with Mary Queen of Scots to France, in 1558, where she married Francis, and some got involved in Dutch politics. From there, they came to the New World. One ancestor, Peter Buccleuch, is considered the father of Staten Island. Some were sheriffs in Perth Amboy, or wealthy land owners in North Brunswick. One fought in the Revolution (yes, I am a DAR member) and another – James Buccleuch – had a town named for him: Jamesburg.

On the other side of the family we have Carsons and Thompsons. Kit Carson is a cousin.

  So is a little lady known as Levinia Warren. She worked for P.T. Barnum and eventually married General Tom Thumb. Lincoln gave them a reception at the White House. 

A Thompson relative married Barnum's oldest daughter. When the circus came to town, everyone got free tickets! (No, it doesn't happen now – don't ask me.) ...And my great-grandfather Frederick Thompson was called “The Radish King”. He developed Thompson radishes.

The Burke family gave birth to the tall man of the Monmouth Circus, and the Meseroles came from France on the “Spotted Cow” in the 1600s and settled in Brooklyn. Streets are still named for them. Also on that side of the family there are many wealthy Dutch. Of the 9 or so founding families of New Amsterdam, I am directly descendant from 8 of them. And finally, through the Burke line, I am the several times great granddaughter of a Lenape Shaman. His daughter fell in love with a white man, who “kidnapped” and married her. She adopted the Burke name thereafter.

So, there it is in a nutshell...and I do mean nuts. All of the above, plus around $5.00, will get me a peppermint mocha frappuccino light blended at Starbucks.

Yummm....better than genealogy

My point is this: I have lots of weird people behind me. Circus acts, pioneers, Indians, landed gentry, patriots and Irish freedom fighters, and parents who defied their families and deep rooted prejudices to go get married. (Only death separated them for a brief while). One thing they all had in common – they were their unique selves. They were bold. They were courageous.

  A 19-year-old setting off alone from Northern Ireland, a little person wanting to sing so badly she joined a circus, a tribal woman willing to marry a white man for love...a catholic marrying a divorced protestant. One of my Dutch ancestors in New Amsterdam was a strong willed woman who owned her own property on Brewers Street in Manhattan (unheard of!). She was so sick of the water rising to her front steps causing mud, she paid to have stones put down along the whole street. It became known as “Stone Street” and is an historic district to this day.

  All of them were true to themselves. They were bold and took a chance, promoted by their inner voice. I can do no less. So no matter what the barrier or the infirmity, the disability or the nay sayers, I'm going to work towards my dreams this year. That means more writing and teaching, but also trying something new. I'll let you know how it goes as we all move through 2013.

And, oh yeah, loose weight, improve my diet, exercise, watch my finances...yes siblings, I haven't forgotten. (sigh).

Happy New Year, everyone. Health and Blessings to you all.

Janus, we lay our flowers at your feet.

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