Once upon a time… a long time ago…
Once upon a time… a long time ago… in a place way far away… there lived…
All of the bedtime stories my father told began this way. I would wait holding my breath to find out what the story would be about. My favorites were the ones he told about family – about himself as a little boy growing up in post-WWI Los Angeles. Next best were the ones about his parents and how they came to America and those about his grandparents and great-grandparents a very long time ago in the Old Country - in Russia.
One of the best of these was the one of how, a very long time ago, an ancestor performed some small service or task for the Tsar - and as a reward was bestowed a surname – a valuable gift indeed for a Jew in Tsarist Russia. (Unfortunately, my dad didn’t know what his ancestor did to be given such a rare reward but the story was pretty good anyway.)
As a child, I often wondered what my own stories were and where they began. As young as I was, I knew that the wonderful stories my father told weren’t mine, too. Not really truly. I knew they ended with him and that they would go no further.
I knew my story didn’t start with me and I wanted to know where, what and who I came from - what I was made of. Luckily, thankfully, my parents understood this. When I asked, "Who were MY ancestors?" they were very interested and curious, too, but they couldn't answer me. They didn't know.
I looked into the mirror often and asked the question that every adoptee asks at one time or another: "Who do I look like?" I would also ask the girl in the mirror, "Who ARE you? WHAT are you? Where do you come from?" I would study every feature from every angle and wonder what I got from whom. I wanted and needed to know. I HAD to know.
"In all of us there is a hunger, marrow deep, to know our heritage, to know who we are, and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning, no matter what our attainments in life, there is the most disquieting loneliness."