My Inheritance, North and South

Inheritance is an odd thing.

We take on so much from others and from the world around us. Most of the time we aren’t even aware of it. We are just who we are. We think of ourselves as indidviduals with lives built up from choices we’ve made, but ultimately we are just a conglomeration of factors that came together in a unique way, none of the factors being what we can take credit for. We may have some choice in the arrangement, not necessarily much else.

I’ve thought about this in many ways. As I’ve aged, I’ve become increasingly aware of how much I’m a product of my environment, a result of the past. This life I was given certainly wasn’t of my own choosing, even if not to claim being a mere victim of circumstance. It’s more of an experience of being humbled by how immense and complex is the world. All of society (countries, ethnicities, communities, religions, families, etc) has been built up over centuries and millennia, shaped by the hands of forgotten generations of people.

The most obvious inheritance is that of genetics. Through genetics or other pathways, I’ve inherited all kinds of personality traits, cognitive patterns and behavioral tendencies. I’ve also inherited much from the culture around me, from being a part of Western civilization and specifically from being a descendant of immigrants from Northern Europe and the British Isles, from being a citizen of the United States which is a country that arose directly out of Enlightenment thinking, from having been brought up in the New Thought Christian Unity Church which itself came out of the Evangelical tradition during the Populist Era, from being born into Generation X as the Cold War was coming to an end, from being raised a Midwesterner right dab in the middle of the origin of Standard American English, from having spent many years of my formative youth and young adulthood in the South, etc.

There is, of course, an endless list of things I could add. It’s hard to imagine who I’d be if I changed even a single one of those factors.

Let me share more specific examples.

I have my mom’s scatterbrained mind with a certain kind of mental focus that has the potential for being nearly obsessive-compulsive. I have my dad’s intellectual curiosity and emotional sensitivity, of which he inherited from his parents; and apparently somewhat skipping a generation I manifest his mother’s spiritual sensibility and predisposition of laziness/efficiency along with shyness and a need for privacy/personal space, although my social awkwardness also seems to come from my mom. I have a large helping of depression and moodiness from both sides of my family. Sadly, I have a bit of an unforgiving nature and occasional interpersonal bluntness which goes along with the depression and moodiness of my mom’s family.

As for physcial attributes: I definitely have the features of my mom’s family, mostly seeming Germanic: large bones, big feet, long toes and fingers, thick hair, hazel eyes, bump on the ridge of my nose, and receding chin. But when younger I had features from my dad’s family (Steele) which seem more English such as straight, blonde hair, although oddly when really young I had eyes slanting in the way common with Asians.

For whatever reason, my mom’s genetics seem to be overall more pronounced in me. I do feel more of a connection with my mom’s family, partly just because I saw them more often growing up. I must admit that I have mixed feelings about the Clouse family on my mom’s side. Her dad was definitely a patriarch and acted that way (her mother playing the submissive wife). He was an alcoholic which was probably his way of self-medicating depression. I can understand the self-medication part and I understand the addictive aspect of alcoholism, although alcohol has never been my preferred addiction.

I was particularly thinking about the Clouse tendency toward grudges that go on for years. I know I have some of this capacity as well and I’m not proud of it. It’s very sad the kind of impact it has had on my mom’s family. Her brothers and her dad were always fueding and sometimes refusing to speak to one another.

My mom’s dad didn’t even know the name of his grandparents and I suspect the reason for it wasn’t a happy incident. Interestingly, a lady on ancestry.com contacted me who is related on my mom’s side through two separate lines, Clouse and Edwards, which makes her both a third and fourth cousin of my mom on each of those lines. My maternal grandfather’s (Charles Eugene Clouse) grandfather was Charles E. Clouse who married Lucy Hawk. This person from ancestry.com is descended from James Clouse who was the uncle of Charles E. Clouse and who married Lula Hawk, Lucy’s sister.

(For anyone interested: The Clouse lineage descends from James Wesley Clouse of Kentucky and the Hawk lineage descends from Sampson Hawk of New Jersey. I figured both family lines were of German origin, but there are family rumors of Hawks having Indian blood and there is a photograph supposedly of Lula Hawk that could be interpreted as showing some Native American features. As for the Edwards lineage, this lady from ancestry.com and I share the same converging three lines. One descends from Hiram Edwards of Connerley Switch, Indiana whose father may have been from or at some time living in Kentucky. The other two descend through Thursie Mae Edwards of Indiana whose father was David B. Edwards of North Carolina and grandfather was Young Edwards of North Carolina and, on her mother’s side, whose grandmother’s mother was Susan Edwards of North Carolina, possibly descending from another David Edwards of North Carolina. Hiram Edwards’ son, Charles Lester Edwards, married Thursie Mae Edwards. The three Edwards lines then converged in their daughter, Inez Rosemary Edwards, who married Willie Clouse, the son of Charles E. Clouse. They also had another daughter, Jessie Ann Edwards, who is the person who is the ancestor of the ancestry.com lady. Thus, the Clouse and Edwards lines came together in at least two separate marriages just as did the Clouse and Hawk lines.)

This lady and I began corresponding about these links. I mentioned to her about my grandfather Clouse not knowing the names of his own grandparents and I told her about the Clouse inclination toward grudges. Her dad is a Clouse and she mentioned that her part of the Clouse family had the same inclination, her father not talking to his sister for years and not going to his sister’s funeral.

So, separate parts of the same family, unknown to one another in recent generations, manifested the same character trait. I’m sure at least some of it is genetics, but I doubt all of it is. I was wondering if it could be partly cultural. My mom’s family spent many generations in Hoosier Southern Indiana and before that many generations in Appalachia Kentucky. Their inclination toward grudges could be explained by the Southern culture of honor.

My mom’s dad was a very giving person, but it was the type of giving that established a hierarchical and paternalistic relationship for he would never accept charity from anyone else. He expected gratitude and deference for his gifts, maybe even a sense of indebtedness. He wanted to be respected and worked hard to escape the poverty of his working class family. As such, he wanted to be treated with respect and not be challenged. To have his authority, position or opinion challenged couldn’t just be forgiven and forgotten.

Maybe there is some predisposition of this in me, but it doesn’t manifest in this exact same way. I do have a mental checklist where I keep tabs on what people do and don’t do, say and don’t say; I can’t help it for such details of behavior just stick in my memory. And when someone crosses some particular line, I can be one of the most unforgiving people in the world. The difference maybe is that I didn’t grow up in that Southern/Appalachian honor culture and so my grudge-keeping tends to be more mild and suppressed.

It is the Southern/Appalachian culture with which I’ve tried to come to terms. It goes beyond my extended family. I too am partly a Southerner. Despite my self-idenifying as a Midwesterner and chosing Iowa as my home, I must admit that the South shaped me as well and probably in ways I’m unaware of. From 8th grade to graduation, I lived in South Carolina and went to desegregated public schools. I didn’t even know that regional differences existed prior to that time and it was a shock to my system when I first moved there, but after a while it became normal to me. I spent many years in the South following that time while in college in South Carolina and while working in the buckle of the Bible Belt in North Carolina.

So, my experience of the South is very personal. My best friend was a redneck and I dated a girl who came from a hillbilly lineage (I don’t use those terms in a disparaging way). I even learned to talk Southern. I used to fall into a Southern dialect without even trying, especially when talking to my redneck friend. To this day, I can unintentionally speak in that dialect for brief moments.

I am and I am not a Southerner. There is both much that I like and much that I dislike about the South.

It’s because of my personal experience, both North and South, that I’ve come to self-consciously identify as a Midwesterner. The South is part of me, but I know that I’m not fully a part of the South. I don’t know it in the way someone knows it who was born and raised there, who lived there for their entire life.

Plus, I never experienced the full reality of what the Deep South once was. I arrived on the scene long after the Civil Rights movement. In high school, I knew kids who dated across the race line and it didn’t seem like a big deal. But hints of the Old South were still around such as my best friend’s mom referring to blacks as “niggers”. I was living in Columbia, South Carolina which is much more cosmopolitan. And in North Carolina, I lived near Asheville which is fairly liberal and alternative, especially for that area.

However, I know the Carolina region of the South better than I know the Mississippi Delta over to the Southern Border. My dad’s mom was born in Texas, lived in Oklahoma until her early teens, and went to high school in Mississipi. She then went back to Oklahoma for college and after that taught for some years in Mississippi and Georgia.

She died when I was so young that I hardly remember her and I’ve never visited any of those places she lived in prior to her moving to Indiana. So, the culture of that area isn’t familiar to me and didn’t influence me in any direct way.

Even as a Northerner, I know the Carolina region of the South better than the entire Northeast. My dad’s dad grew up in New England. But I’ve never visited there either. The closest I’ve come to New England is living in Iowa City which is a New England style college town (i.e., a small town dominated by a single college and surrounded by rural farmland).

My inheritance from my dad’s family feels rather skimpy on the cultural front. Identifying as a Midwesterner, one would think I’m culturally more similar to my Grandmother’s Oklahoma and my Grandfather’s New England… and maybe I am in some gneral ways, but those states aren’t part of my most personal sense of America. I don’t culturally identify as a Southerner in any broad sense and yet the South is intimately connected to who I am, even though I sometimes use it as a contrast to clarify my Midwestern sensibility.

I have lived in Iowa longer than anywhere else. Iowa is unique as part of the Lower Midwest. It is the only Lower Midwest state that isn’t on the borderlands of Appalachia and the only Lower Midwest state to be West of the Mississippi. Just follow the river south and there is the Mississippi Delta (much cultural diffusion went up and down the Mississippi river, in particular the 1927 flood in the Mississipi Delta sent many blacks to the North). Also, Iowa is the Lower Midwest state that is the most influenced by the Yankiedom of the Upper Midwest. The culture of Iowa is massively different than that of South Carolina. The only way to feel culturally further away from South Carolina would be to move to the West Coast.

Generation after generation, my mom’s family slowly drifted westward and northward. Finally, with my brothers and I, our family fully escaped the remnants of Southern culture that pioneers had carried with them into parts of the Midwest such as Indiana. I blissfully was ignorant of the South up to the beginning of my teens, but then my parents brought the family all the way down to the Deep South.

Moving to the South made me self-conscious about regional cultures from a fairly young age. Still, I didn’t begin to feel the depth of the differences until I got a summer job at a YMCA camp in North Carolina. As it was a YMCA, I was surrounded by Christians which in and of itself didn’t bother me. However, as it was in the Bible Belt, I was surrounded by Fundamentalists which made understand how far was the religious right or at least how far right were some of those part of the religious right. The religious right was a worldview that was outside my zone of familiarity. Living in the South, I heard the fire-and-brimstone preaching on the radio, but I had no direct contact with it. The girl I dated there was from a Fundamentalist family. Talking to her family gave me my first experience of a culture that seemingly had little respect for or interest in intellectuality and the broader world of knowledge.

After spending three consecutive summers at that YMCA camp, I permanently moved back to Iowa. In the following years, I was still visiting my parents and the contrast of the two worlds slowly formed into a distinct sense of difference about these cultures. Maybe I was becoming more influenced by the political moderateness of the Midwest and maybe I was becoming more influenced by the liberalism of Iowa City. At the same time, it seemed even more clear that my parents were becoming more stridently conservative the longer they lived in South Carolina. My parents were losing their Midwestern moderateness, although never coming close to the radicalism of God n’ Guns Fundamentalism.

Now, my parents have also moved back to Iowa City. I see them regularly which hasn’t been the case since the mid 1990s. We’ve been coming to terms with our differences which at times has been challenging, but other similarities have made it less difficult. This process, along with recent genealogical research, has forced me to also come to terms with these differences within myself.

How do I grasp all these influences? How do I contain within myself such diversity? What exactly have I inherited?