Friday, November 20, 2009

somewhere out there

(somewhere out there from an american tail)

every thursday night matt and i hang out with a group of friends to share a meal (sometimes), and to talk about life, community, meaning, purpose, and ask some of the deeper questions that are easy to push down in the rush of day to day life. (of course, we also talk about mundane stuff too with a dash of celebrity trash thrown in.) 

last night, we held our annual pre-thanksgiving/immigration stories dinner. hmmm, you may say, what the crap is an immigration stories dinner?! since we randomly made it up a few years ago. it is pot luck style, and we divvy up the traditional thanksgiving meal between ourselves. (among other yummy items, nancy braved the turkey this year and i made my mom's amazingly delicious stuffing recipe. so. so. good.) as we eat, we share as much as we know of our individual family's story of coming to america. 

last night our stories ranged from the "longest on american soil" keith, who basically had relatives who came over with columbus on the nina, pinta and santa maria and never left (that might be a slight exxageration, but not by much...), to connie, whose parents were both born and raised in china before moving here forty years ago. 

of course, by now we've heard each others stories a few times, but in each history there are little nuggets that we love to revisit- some tragic, others funny, others a riddle that we try to figure out. our friend peter wins the award for having the most twists, turns, and mysteries, but the reality is that each of our stories is a rich gift to share with each other. every single one of us (aside from native americans) has a story of coming to this country and being the foreigner. 

in our room of 7 people, we represented family members from sicily, sweden, egypt, sudan, russia, germany, england, scotland, indonesia, mexico, france, china, and japan. 

it is rare in our culture to sit down and talk to each other (and listen) about where we come from and the people who have come before us. (well, it isn't so unusual for my aunts fern emma and audrey, who are very impressive researchers, and i think could tell me my entire maternal geneology going back to adam and eve...or for my dad and uncle martin, who have literally gone to extreme lengths to find out about their ancestors like making my college roommates approach strangers in dobel, germany) 

inevitably our annual dinner leaves us with more questions, and the assignment to "go ask your dad this!" or "go interview your grandma about that!" 

it has become a way that as friends we are more connected to each other, and we know more about each other's extended families and roots. we discover how our parents met each other, or when our family stopped speaking german, or who fought in what wars and on what side.

plus it gives good conversation topics for thanksgiving whether you are with friends or family. it is the perfect opportunity to ask stories about your family or someone else's as you down another slice of pumpkin pie.

i'll leave you with two quick ones about my own:
  • so just maybe the town of dobel, germany raised the money to ship my ancestors to america because they caused that much trouble and were a huge strain on the local economy. ouch. it cost less to send my entire family to america then it did to let them stay around being slackers.
  • on my grandmother fern kimmel's side, we had relatives come over to the massachusetts bay colony.
how about you? any good tidbits on your family? 


  1. What an amazingly cool tradition! I might have to start something like that with our friends!

    My family's history is rather mysterious, since the family records got burned in a trunk during the Great Depression (the trunk held the bank receipts of town, and they burned the trunk to eliminate everyone's debt- no one knew what anybody owed). Unfortunately, the family records also got burned! We know there are some Irish dudes and some German dudes who came across the ocean and got together, though.

    My husband's side is a little more recent. His great grandfather immigrated in 1908 from Russia.

  2. leah- that is an awesome story!! you'd fit right in at our dinner. :)

  3. Great, great tradition! And I also like the Thursday Night Deep Questions routine. My mother is heavily into genealogy and has tracked various strands well into the Middle Ages. One antecedent was the brother of a Cardinal who got into big trouble with Henry VIII and was burned in the street -- I forget the details. Some of my mother's Dutch ancestors came over in the early 17th C. My father is a descendent of Robert E. Lee, or maybe it's some cousin thereof.

    My grandfather was the repository of stories on my father's side. We tried many times to record the stories, but he'd always get self-conscious and clam up when the tape recorder was on. So most of the stories passed away with him. We try to remember and retell, but the details get fuzzy. Sigh.

    Huh. My word verification is "light". I like!


Hi friends! This is where you talk back to me. :) Easy peasy: write your comment, then scroll down where it says "comment as" to identify yourself (if you want to just write your name click Name/URL or just click anonymous. xoxoxoxo