Tangled in roots and branches

I believe I’m probably one of the people Byron Ballard would refer to as a person who “has no roots and doesn’t care to.” She might assume that upon meeting me, but she’d be wrong, and my reaction to her column was a big “pffft—so what?”

My mother and father grew up in two different towns, a couple of hundred miles distant from each other. My five siblings and I never lived in either of those towns. We moved a lot during my childhood—pretty much every few years (my parents are both musicians and teachers). Today I have siblings in Maryland, California, Georgia and New York state, while I’m in WNC, my mother’s in South Carolina and my father’s in Florida.

“Rootless,” right? Wrong.

I am very familiar with my family’s history in America, all the way back to precolonial times. I know those people by name, what their values and accomplishments were, which of them achieved fame (and infamy), their extended family trees and the many places they all lived. In fact—and I’m proud of this—lots of my ancestors, like me, were “rolling stones.” I have ancestors buried in, among other diverse places, Charleston, S.C., and Dana Point, Calif.—that’s both coasts. The only real difference between Ms. Ballard and me is that I carry my roots with me. Personally, I wouldn’t have missed the experience of living in lots of different places for anything in the world.

The thesis of Ms. Ballard’s piece seems to be that people like me, who aren’t “from” this area, can’t be trusted to care about it—and care for it—responsibly. There is simply no basis for that assumption. As a dedicated tree hugger—hell, a tree hugger-kisser-lover-cuddler—I would like to assure her that I can be counted on to support [the area’s] protection and preservation.

Don’t get me wrong: WNC is certainly on my short list of the most beautiful and precious parts of the USA. But to those who think having several generations of their family buried in one place automatically imparts some rare and special wisdom, I can only quote a dear, sweet lady I knew in Charleston, who told me that those who brag about the number of local graves with their own name on them are “like potatoes—the best part of them is underground.”

Incidentally, about those WNC “natives,” the Cherokee: They are an offshoot of the Iroquois Nation of what we now call New York state, who migrated to the Southern Appalachians when the Iroquois’ success had resulted in overpopulation and resource stress. A thousand years later they, like me, are very aware and proud of their roots—wherever they might stretch.

— Jon Dana

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One thought on “Tangled in roots and branches

  1. who

    Jon, Thankyou for the letter. I have been in Asheville for three years. The first place, out of many, where I have actually chose to live. I grew up in a military family and never had a place called home. I was born in a foreign country – on base – as an American citizen. I don’t like to be told, directly or indirectly, that I don’t belong here. Nobody should be told that. And nobody should have to “legitimize” themselves by explaining their past or ancestry in order to be accepted. It is a free country and you are allowed to call home wherever you want.

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