Going way back, my family was involved in the Civil war efforts; that is as far back as I can accurately trace it. We were hunters, some slaves, and others traders. There can be no question that each generation has stood tall on the shoulders of the one that came before. Of course some men and women failed, letting down their relatives, but in the long run the legacy is one to be proud of. And it is that legacy that has shaped the person that I am today. Milton Friedman is a very strict free market economist, but even he has admitted that society is not about individuals so much as it is about the family.
That is the only way to understand history as a whole, but in particular one’s own genealogical history. My family has always revolved around the great men, and in that way we are paternal. But this is not to say that the women are in any way excluded. In a sense, there is a pantheon of great people in my family that we believe are always watching over us; this is held from a Christian worldview, that they live in heaven and look down on us in love. Without this belief, it would be a lot harder for my family to face the passing of loved ones.
My grandfather, Jerry Buzugbe, was drafted by the Selective Service Act in 1917 and served in the trenches during World War I. He was eager, like many African Americans at the time, to show his patriotism and loyalty, and that he deserved equal treatment. It is an interesting fact about life, that you never know which moments will be the most important; the ones that will shape the rest of your life and future generations. I am fairly confident from reading through his letters and getting to know those that knew him, that he did not believe serving in the war of special significance.
But the effect that it had on him was profound. From what I could gather, when he came back he stood taller and spoke with much more surety. It was a transformation that demanded attention from others. Subsequent generations found support upon his strong shoulders. One thing that I know for sure that my family would identify with is pride in who they are. But it is a certain kind of pride. My grandparents would be the first to speak against vainglory; she would do so with a fiery passion. But there is a pride that is distinguished from a petty sense of grandiosity.
It is a sort of pride that is deeply content with one’s place in the world. It is the sort of pride that doesn’t look down on others, but is so self-confident that it supports others. In a way, Maslow’s concept of self-actualization is probably the best way of getting at the type of pride that my family identifies with. It epitomizes the idea of reaching one’s full potential; something that my family tries very hard to instill in us from a young age. If you can do that, the family wisdom goes, than you can live your life without regrets. And at the end of the day, to live life without regrets seems like a worthwhile goal.
The family members that are most present in my daily life are my two brothers, Frank and Richard, my parents, Monday, and Veronica Buzugbe and my extended family Ikechukwu. My extended family includes my grandparents, uncles and aunties and along with their families. The paternal side of my family is a lot less a part of my life. They have gone their own way in a very real sense. And one thing that I found interesting was comparing the two sides of my family in trying to see the reasons that they are so different. One thing that definitely sticks out is that my mother’s side is a lot stricter.
They were raised to be very conservative and to value family above all else. Perhaps it is as simple as that. Perhaps it is simply that if people grow up to value families then they are very likely to be great family members. But surely it is more complex than that. And when I looked back and learned more, I knew that there was. One thing that goes back quite a ways in my family is singing and playing instruments. We have a tradition that goes back a few generations: yearly camping trips, when the extended family gathers together to sleep under the stars. They are without a doubt some of the best memories of my life.
One family tradition that sticks out from those camping trips is telling jokes around the campfire. I guess, in a sense, I am blessed to come from a family with a really good sense of humor. We also do this thing called a one, two, three laugh. Where we all fake laugh at the same time in order to pretend that we are having the most fun of any of those camping. And what we find is that in pretending we often do have the most fun of anyone camping. Looking back, it seems that there have always been a few leaders in my family that keep up a sense of having fun and being loud and boisterous.
And, sometimes they are not always blood related. There are others that have come and gone through the years that could be counted as family. The Nunziato family comes to mind. They are a really fun group that likes to make sure that nobody is left alone; they make sure to include everyone. Because of the inclusive nature of my family, it seems hard to imagine anyone doing anything violent. Everyone seems to have his or her needs met. And beyond that, I don’t think anyone would want to let down anyone else. We all take pride in trying to do the right thing.
Not everyone in my family has had a steady job their whole life, or even most of my life. My grandpa, who is one of the best people that I know, never had a real career. He did side jobs all of the time, like doing construction or carpentry, or even working for one of his sons. But he got married at a young age and that formed the backbone of his life. It gave him a stability that he said he would not have had otherwise. In my life, he was the most important person, setting a precedent of a life of goodness that many who knew him try to imitate.
So, I have two grandfathers from the past who are a huge influence on me. That is a great blessing and one that not every person can boast of. Through research, I have learned that in some families there are sometimes particular family members that cause great harm to many. This is not to say that those people are terrible in any sense, but that they are simply different. And this brings up a point that I believe in very much; that a person could be a great fit for one family, and in that family he or she would thrive and grow, but a bad fit for another family, in which the person would dwindle away.
This is true in life in general, and why it is never a good idea to draw conclusions too quickly about people, as you don’t know if they might be amazing in some other profession or with a new group of friends. Each one of us is different, and requires different things in order to thrive. Fortunately for my family, most of us seem to “get” with each other. We know what it is that we want individually and collectively. I attribute this to a sort of collective consciousness that goes back many generations, probably farther back than I would be able to trace.
To associate such idea to how events that happened before we are able to form memories can affect the rest of our life. Being molested as a newborn, for example, is something that you would never remember, but has been shown to have dramatic effects on the rest of life. In the same way, there are surely events that happened long ago in my family tree that nobody has any memory of, but which nonetheless shape all of us in some way. Cooking has always been big in my family as well. What is interesting is that in my family the men are usually excellent cooks. At least that is the precedent that my randfather put in place.
My own father isn’t the best cook in the world. But, that is admittedly difficult for any son to appraise objectively. My grandmother is a decent cook too, but she always defers to her husband. And he is really a terrific cook. Some of my best memories aside from camping are going to his house for family dinners, especially during Thanksgiving and Christmas. They are always festive and the food is simply original in the best possible ways. The traditions that we practice on Christmas go far beyond the food, however, and they provide a link to the past that I think is very important.
In doing research, I found that it was important to learn about the importance of tradition. And what culture is more in love with tradition than the Amish? They hardly change anything they do from one generation to the next. Evidently, they have an unwritten law or code of conduct called the Ordnung that governs their interactions with each other (Kraybill, 2011). This is voted on by the elders twice a year, but rarely changes. This is because of how much they value tradition; it would seem they definitely value it over convenience judging by their use of the buggy.
The adherence to tradition is one thing that the Amish say keeps them together. If it is was good enough for grandma than it is good enough for us, they would say. This is completely contrary to our entire culture in America. Tradition is always changing, and whether or not this is a good thing is up for debate. But one thing that could be contended is that if tradition within a family is not upheld then there is a true loss of something beautiful. Of the many things that I have learned from doing this project, the one that resonates on a personal level is the desire to have the sort of impact that my grandfather had.
This is not out of a quest for aggrandizement, but in a search for belonging, to find my place in my rich heritage. I know that even if I do not achieve anything great, my family will still love me and consider me special and worthy of attention. But it is precisely because of that unconditional love and support that they show me that I really want to give everything that I have to impact future generations in a positive way. The way that family shapes an individual can in no way be understated. It is one of the most fundamental parts of who we are.
And, in the absence of a family, there is such a sense of loss in the orphan that life is almost unbearable to some. This clearly underscores the importance of a loving family as the foundation for life. And it may be that what a family believes is not all that important, so long as they believe things together. It is important that they share traditions and knowledge that is sacred to that group of people. For there is nothing closer to a person than his own blood, and to have enmity where blood is concerned is to profoundly diminish the potential of a joy filled life.