Friday, July 26, 2019

Anarchy In The DNA: The Obfuscation Game

"Whaddya mean you don't EAT NO MEAT??!!!! That's ok, I make lamb."

-My Big Fat Greek Wedding

As my hands clenched my mother's birth record, I searched for something that wasn't there: context. I was after all, standing in the whitest state in the nation, perhaps back then anyone who was darker was considered to be "black". What to do with this information? Let it ferment I guess, and start asking questions, but do so very carefully and very privately.

Keeping my mother's privacy and situation in mind, I did not ask her. Besides, I was going on a vacation to Italy, Sicily, and of all places, Africa (north). I was going to finally see my Sicilian homeland and did not wish to disrupt it. Besides, I also had a wedding to plan and a career to construct...

This newly discovered information had definitely taken root in me and I was definitely unsettled by it. Not for any other reason than I could not explain it by looking at myself or my mother. I could not see how we could have been black in any way. Sicilian, yes, Spanish, yes, Middle Eastern, yes, Cuban, yes, "negro"?, it just did not register.

So I went to my stepfather who was to be my best man at my wedding in a year's time. He was a retired Colonel in the US Army, a convivial man who had become special to our family. His response? "Don't tell your mother...."

So I went to my brother, a person with whom was a relative stranger to me in many ways, we were six years apart, and by the time I was 13, he was gone. I knew relatively little about who he was, what made him passionate about life, and how he felt about family and our history. His response is forever etched into my memory: "I implore you to not tell our mother."

Admittedly, I was taken aback by what seemed to be a direct affront to the possibility of being African American. Were these feelings of resistance grounded in shame? Fear? I thought that I may never get my answers as time elusively slipped on.

I had found a group online called "GenForum", and began to ask questions there, but unfortunately very few from Rutland County, Vermont lurked around in those trenches. However, there was a woman who did send a response to me claiming that my family was Moroccan. Fresh off of my trip from North Africa a few months prior, I was very receptive to this, but then some funny things happened as I discovered "RootsWeb"- census reports!

I wanted to verify that my mother was not lying to me before I questioned her, and honestly, I was in no rush to get to my final answer just yet. What I wound up discovering led to very much confusion and conflation on my part. My mother and her brother were raised by a couple of families, and the primary one was located in Fair Haven, Vermont. An old border town in central Vermont that sat in the lakes region and had its heyday mining for slate and marble. In fact, that area had the largest marble and slate mines  in the world by the late 19th to early 20th centuries. Many families had migrated to the area with grand hopes of sharing their craft and capitalizing. Many from Italy, Slovakia, Wales, Ireland, Lebanon, Syria, Ireland, Poland, had all made their way to that area and were helping to pull Adam's Rib from the earth once again.

Fair Haven was sandwiched between Whitehall, NY and Castleton, Vt. The deeper into the woods one gets, the more mysterious those town lines become, and game wardens rule the roost...

So I placed "Barber" (mom's father's surname) into the search function. How many of you realize that everything in life is an arduous task? That there are obstacles placed in the way of every single thing that you do? From the mundane- wake up in the morning, trip over shoes on the way to the restroom, to unscrewing the toothpaste, cap falls on the floor, you reach down then bang the back of your head on the sink kind of arduous? Well, blame me, I wrote that book.

 I fastidiously scrolled away and found entries for Barbers in Whitehall, NY:

Ha! Found the holy grail! Charles Barber, from Sicily, DARK complexion. That's all that I needed to exonerate mom. He had children, none of which bore my grandfather's first name, but that was ok. Being the ultra naive son who was just looking to exonerate his mother, this is all that I needed.
Score one for a round peg into the square hole!!!

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