Friday, August 1, 2014

Chapter I (continued): Basuqeing in the glory

This is what it felt like for me this first night. I had never taken part in that summer ritual so many of my classmates had in Portland. Most of them were schooled on their parents income while I worked and paid my way. Such is the life of a man who was born without the same privileges. I had envisioned myself a self-made version of “Pip” from Great Expectations. While he had a benefactor, I was making this upward move on my own accord. Cognizant of my past, I forged ahead with blinders ignoring a past that I had put in a rear view mirror lodged deep within my mind.

Here I was, though, with memories of inadequacy flooding back. Paul need not know. He saw a man before him who, though dressed casually, had clearly some advantage and comfort in the company of men of character.

Paul seemed a pleasant man at ease with where he was in life. But I began to winder about his culture. He spoke proudly of the Basque culture and his heritage. There was no secret shame in his dark eyes. He showed no signed of trepidation when he mentioned the she[herd past of culture. Yet I had some knowledge that the culture must have changed over the last ninety years. After all, sheep herding is not exactly in high demand these days. Surely the Great Depression changed the culture of the Basque sheep herding just as the Dust Bowl migrants had their entire lives turned upside down.

Yet, here was a strong vibrant group considered the largest Basque population in the nation right here in Boise.

Had the small ethnic group truly maintained their culture? It was difficult for me to know for sure. Without knowledge of Paul's ethnic heritage, one might never know much about his culture. He seemed perfectly assimilated into American culture.

As I was pondering these thoughts, Paul startled me back to reality.

“I didn't get your name,” he said.

“Sorry. Brian. Brian Jefferson.”

“Brian let me ask you a question. You say you're just in town for the night. Which way are you headed?”

Still a little lost in my thoughts, I simply responded “Not sure. Might head out to Idaho Falls for a while. Just taking a break from home for a while.”

At that thought, I began to eat my sandwich. I was starting to feel self-conscious about where the conversation would head with Paul. He had a great sense of pride in his heritage and I feared that a longer conversation may lead to my questioning what it all really meant. His ethnic pride seemed almost a mirage to me. Here was this man, talking fondly of the past; a curator of the local museum. But something struck me. There was a glint in his eye when talking about his culture and heritage, but there was a shallow tone. Discontent.

Paul thought himself a preservationist. Here he was, speaking to anyone who would listen with great pride about the history of his small ethnic group. But all his words came out in a past tense. There was no mention of what his people were doing now; no pride in current accomplishments.

I understood this feeling. I had some knowledge of my own ancestral glory; but for me, it just just that; ancestral. A part of my past history that had little effect on my daily life. We reminisce about the glory of our past, but it is a shallow pool of remembrance. Nothing of consequence about my ancestral history had any impact on my daily life. Like many, I watched Braveheart. I had great pride in the accomplishments and bravery of my own origins.

Now, that soul; that heritage. It wasn't even a memory. It was simply images flashing on a screen or words printed on paper. Somewhere along the line, my heritage became nothing more than history book fodder.

I imagined if I had continued too deep into conversation with Paul, I may have gone to a dark place that he did not want. The reality is more that I did not want to get too deep into conversation with myself. To do so might require forming a relationship that seemed far too fleeting for intimate conversation about my own history and my own past. Yes, I knew a little of my history, but I had no relation to that history.

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