One day during the 1890s, my great-great-grandfather was riding his bike to make a delivery near the docks of the California coast. He saw a girl with a note pinned to her sweater, written in Danish, explaining she doesn't speak a word of English and that she was sent to the US from Denmark for a better life. My great-great-grandfather just so happened to be the only person around who spoke Danish. He brought her home, and they wound up getting married. She quit speaking Danish and learned English, eager to become an American.
Fifty years later, their grand daughter met a rancher in a little Chinese restaurant. They dated, married in a little white church, moved to a ranch in the green canyons of the central California coast, and had three kids, one being my dad.
Meanwhile, in rural Texas, my other grandmother was living in an orphanage and dating her high school sweetheart. She sewed all her own outfits, became a teacher, and he joined the army. They eventually got married, moved from army base to army base, and eventually settled on the central coast of California as he got a job working on NASA's missiles during the American space age.
My mom, the daughter of two brilliant Texans, grew up 20 minutes from my dad, the son of hardworking ranchers. They went to rival high schools and must crossed paths more than once, but they didn't meet until they took the same class in college.
And here I am, a product of both worlds. A California girl living in the Midwestern cornfields, the daughter of two brave people who dared to move away from their central California roots. But that girl who nervously stood on the California docks, not knowing a word of the language of her new world, had no idea the legacy she would leave. We still eat Danish aebleskivers at family gatherings, and my grandmother teaches us Danish words and phrases. The traditions are still alive and well.
I have never been to Texas or gotten the chance to meet my extended family there, but I did marry a Southern boy, and I like to think that's a nod in their direction. I don't know their stories and where they came from, but I know that my grandmother is from them, and she's at least half, if not all, of the reason I'm painfully shy and a fierce lover of music and the written word.
Like a quilt made from different fabrics, I come from a Danish girl who sailed halfway around the world by herself for a new life, from rural Texas, and from sleepy little California towns. But I'm also from the Nevada mountains, from Ohio-small town and big city, and from a family that worked very hard to get where they are in life. We were the first of our family to leave California, and James is the first of his to move away from his family's North Carolina farmland.
We didn't leave our country or learn a new language, but we come from two vastly different American worlds and cultures, and I like to think it gives me a little glimpse into the life of girl on the docks, as well a story for our future family.