The tragic irony of human existence is that, after a life spent in search of ourselves, it is what we leave behind that says the most about us. It is also an unfortunate truth that we are never more appreciated than in the years after our deaths.
I miss my dad. We didn’t see each other often while he was alive (for all sorts of complicated reasons), but it was enough to know he was there if I had a question or wanted to talk to him. As long as that potential was there, I didn’t think to miss him. That is one of the greatest regrets of my life so far. He deserved at least to be missed while one of us could still do something about it. But I’m old and experienced enough to know that regret is a useless emotion—God, grant me the serenity, and all that—and so I do the only thing I can now that he’s gone: I miss him.
I hope that he can see me from wherever he spends his time these days. I have no idea what I believe with respect to the afterlife, but just because I doubt something doesn’t mean I can’t hope for it. Unlike regret, hope is never a useless emotion. And if Dad can see me from that great park-bench-chained-to-a-tree in the sky, I at least hope I’ve given him a few reasons to be pleased.
First, thanks to social media, I’m finally getting to know all the Larkeys. Well, probably not ALL of them—there are an awful lot of Larkeys—but several of them, at least. Dad loved his family and always wanted me to be a bigger part of it. I (for all sorts of complicated reasons) never quite felt a part of it. That I’m heading down this weekend for an impromptu reunion of the cousins would make him inordinately happy.
Second, I am SO my father’s daughter. Yes, yes, I look just like my mother, and I got a lot of my traits from her (my voice, the irrepressible compunction to question everything, and my sailor’s tongue, to name a few), but my personality is pure Jerry Lynn. I’m a dreamer. I don’t sleep and I loathe mornings. I’m horrifically disorganized. For Christmas, I’ve been known to ask for—and receive—things like a compound miter saw and router. I don’t know the meaning of the words “I can’t do that” when considering a project (I might not actually pull it off, but I’m sure as shit gonna try…and, secretly, I totally expect to pull it off).
Third—and what I mostly wanted to write about here—I’m proud of my roots. This one took me a while. You see, growing up in a small, lily-white, mostly-Republican-and-nearly-all-Baptist Southeastern Kentucky town, I somehow ended up a liberal. And not the typical Kentucky brand of liberal, which is really more Republican-before-Sarah-Palin (case in point: any elected Democratic official in the state). I mean a f’real left-wing liberal, with card-carrying membership in the Sierra Club, the LGBT-themed Human Rights Campaign, and the Unitarian Universalist Church.
During my transition to this godless, granola state, I looked back at my forebears and relations—not specific folk, just the general people and place—and thought simply “How?” How could we be so different? How could my very square peg have ever sprung forth from such a round hole? And how could I possibly cram it back in again without doing serious damage to both? For a long time, the only answer I could come up with to that last question was “I can’t,” and so for a long time, I didn’t even try.
I removed myself from where I came from. I went away to school. All the way to Oregon at one point, which is just about as far as one can get from Southeastern Kentucky without a passport (and not just geographically-speaking). I tried to minimize my Appalachian accent. I preened when, one day, a young man working at the grocery store I’d frequented as a child took one look at me on my way in and said, “You ain’t from ‘round here, are you?”
For years, I had seen myself as a thing apart. I was the Other, the square peg in a sea of round holes. Eventually though, that sea—and all the perfectly round little fish that swam in it—became the Other. The maligned and marginalized. The less-than. I was better than all those round folk, I thought in my worst moments. I certainly wasn’t one of them!
Oh, but I was. I am. I’m still as square as I ever was—and there are doubtless some round peg folk who’d rather I kept my sharp edges to myself—but I can appreciate my roots now. Because no one–no one–is Other. Because somehow, where I’m from did make me who I am today, and damn it, I’m awfully fond of both of us.
When it comes to family and community, there aren’t holes at all: we’re all just a bunch of pegs—round, square, and otherwise—tossed into a giant barrel and shaken up every now and then. In the process, we rub each other the wrong way. We poke somebody in the eye, or knock some paint off. We make a few scars and we get a few in return.
Sometimes, we find ourselves outside the barrel and we breath a sigh of relief. We might venture off to see where else our peg will fit, and if we’re lucky, we’ll find a place that doesn’t bang us around so much. But it is our time in the first barrel that shapes us the most. It is where we begin that we become a permanent and irreplaceable part of something greater than ourselves. I might be a square peg, but I don’t need a square hole to go home again. I just need the barrel.