I grew up a spunky German child, though I didn't know it at the time.
I never thought to inquire about my family’s cultural background, I was born in America. As far as I was concerned my culture was American culture. Then when I was in grade school, my class was assigned a family tree project. I thought it would be as simple as asking my grandparents who their grandparents were. My paternal grandfather was useless in this capacity, he complained his age made him forgetful, and that maybe we are Swedish or something.
My older sister had made a family tree when she had been in grade school, and being more ambitious than I it was pretty well done. Mom had kept the folded up poster board project, because it was the most elaborate explanation of our lineage. I pretty much plagiarized it, kinda sorta, I mean it's my family tree can I really steal it? I learned that on my Mother's side, we are German. The tree on my father's side looked like a stump.
I went to class and was as usual too nervous to present my tree. All the other kids had such big trees with cool histories. I began to notice most all of them were Irish, Scottish and English. A whole class of Irish, Scottish or English kids, it was crazy. There was like a Korean kid just to shake things up. But mostly Irish, Scottish and English. I felt so envious of my best friend, her family had Scottish lineage and they could even trace to which clan their namesake came from. I wanted to be Irish soooooo bad, I thought Irish was tops. When it was my turn, I thanked jeebus for overachieving sisters. I explained the only thing I knew for sure was my family was descended from a long and distinguished line of German people that thrived in Berkey, Ohio.
I didn’t think much at the time of being the only German kid in class. Until recess came, all the kids were playing Indiana Jones. When I was brave enough to get close to the popular kids I’d try to play nice, besides which I loved Indiana Jones and hoped one day I to could be a globetrotting adventurer. The girls always had to be the kidnapped victims and didn’t get to do anything cool. The boys got to rescue them because they were all Indiana Jones. I wanted to be Indiana Jones too, or at the very least the leader of a Kali Cult.
The other kids were more taken with my being German than I was. I was immediately type cast as the Nazi.
I was so depressed; Indiana Jones had thus far been my introduction to fascist society. And according to kids, all Germans were born Nazi’s. I couldn’t defend myself against their accusations, I didn’t know anything about Germany aside from Indiana Jones. So I began telling the other children that my family came to America so they didn’t have to be Nazi’s. But a child’s logic at the time was thus, if you’re German you’re Nazi. I immediately felt responsible for WW2. But I still maintained that they should not get to be Dr. Jones, they weren’t real archeologist, and their doctorates were questionable. I didn’t know it at the time but I was already feeling the hurt of typecasting.
Anton Diffring, Kurt Kruger, and Henry Victor, I feel ya buddies.
As I grew up, cultural background came up from time to time, except now I am more prepared for the inevitable. “Farfignewtons! Like Nazis and stuff?!” Good ole German far fig newtons. But now I’m prepared with knowledge, “No not like Nazi’s! Like apple strudel and Oktoberfest! Like polka, sausage and fast cars and stuff!”
I didn’t give too much of a crap about being German growing up. But now that I’m older, I feel like I want to connect with my roots. No I’m not going to learn German, it’s too damn hard. Maybe I’ll find my roots elsewhere? Like maybe I’ll find that I’m genetically predisposed to looking good in dirndl dresses or making black forest cake or holding steins or invading Poland...I mean making beer! That’s what I meant to say! MAKING BEER!