Where you're from, and where you're not
President Bush, and just about everybody else, keeps talking about "the American people." He means the people of the United States of America. His error discounts the Canadians, the Amazon Indians, and various others who are just as American as I am, but are not citizens of these United States.
Our respected president needs to bear in mind that when he comes to his family's summer place in Maine, he is "from away."
Although I was born in Boston (and that is not the worst place to start), as a Maine resident I am careful to point out that Mother chanced to be there at the time and I had no choice. I call attention to the plight of Lansing Macomber of Lubec, Maine. He was born on Deer Isle (New Brunswick) while his mother was there picking blueberries.
When her pail was full, she rowed the dory back home to Maine. It happened that Lansing lived in Lubec the following 94 years and never again went into Canada, his native country. His tombstone in the Lubec cemetery attests, "He was almost one of us."
In consequence of our president's careless usage, I've been meditating on just what makes an American, anyway.
Our ancestor, bringing our illustrious name to America, seems to have been a ne'er-do-well from England. He preceded the Pilgrims and had a grandson who married the granddaughter of Elder Brewster, a Pilgrim who was exceedingly pious for his day, although a sourpuss.
This marriage entitled any of us to join the Mayflower Society just by mentioning the name Brewster. Miss Brewster, of course, became an early Gould.
A later young lady to achieve this honor was my mother. My mother's maiden name was Jenkins. We believe this was a form of the name Henckel, also Hinckley, and that the original American to bring the name from Europe was a mercenary Hessian soldier in the British army of colonial times.
His descendant, now Jenkins, was in the garrison at New York when the English ousted the Dutch. He shortly became enamored of the daughter of a Maj. Nicholas Edwards, the commanding officer, who had wisely put his money into real estate.
Equally wisely, Soldier Jenkins eloped with the major's comely daughter and took her to Prince Edward Island, which then belonged to France. Miss Edwards soon inherited her daddy's property, and Mr. Jenkins came to own nearly all of today's New York City.
I pause briefly while you catch your breath and consider what it takes to be an American. However, while my mother was a Jenkins, her mother was descended from the Norman MacLeod of Uigg on Skye, the first Scot to set foot on Prince Edward Island. So John Henry Jenkins married Catherine MacLeod, and they were Americans but never had anything to do with the United States of. Their youngest bonny daughter married my Yankee dad, and I was named after Grampy.
For a middle name, I'm Thomas after my other grampy, who was a Maine farmer except for five years of the Civil War. Both sets of grandparents were good Americans, and each had a tall, or grandfather, clock.
Major Edwards was stationed in Ireland before the king sent him to New Amsterdam, and while in Ireland he bought a tall clock made by Richard Freeman, a master craftsman. So Major Edwards bought the tall clock he brought to America, which later became that of Mr. Jenkins, and which Grandfather Jenkins gave to me, because I was named for him.
The clock is wound every Saturday, keeps time, and is surely the oldest tall clock in the United States, including America. To those who ask if it has wooden works, I explain that it does not. Clockmaker Freeman used brass; wooden movements came later and are American. My other grampy, Thomas, had a tall clock with wooden movements, but he sold it rather than burden me with its care.
Grandfather Thomas liked to go to auctions. These were the old-time estate auctions common in rural communities when a family ran out and "the accumulation of a lifetime" was offered at public sale, even to the land and buildings. Grampy seldom spent more than 35 cents.
He spent $3 for the tall clock, however, even though the clock didn't run and was likely beyond repair. Clocks with wooden movements were sensitive to weather and humidity, and this one had given up long ago. But Grampy thought the thing would add class to his front hall, and he could store comb honey in the case. He did josh that he would "hand it down" to me as a family antique, but that never came to pass.
One day the clock was gone. "Oh, I sold it!" he said. "Man gave me $300 for it. Said he handles antiques and fixes wooden clocks." In America, time is money and age does not wither it.
Let me quote something my friend Jean-Louis Gauthier often said about the Quebecois threat of "separation." Jean-Louis lived at Sherbrooke, Quebec, was bilingual, and (as a descendant of very early French colonists) had long since lost all relevancy to Mother France. He dismissed the whole idea of separating the Province from Canada. Of course not! He said, "I'm not a Frenchman! I'm a Canadian! An American!" But he always said it in French.
On the other hand, Mr. Peter Partout often said, in English, "It takes all kinds, and I'm thankful not to be one of them."