I have a stand of bamboo in my backyard. It is beautiful, reaching fifty feet high and dancing in the wind. Birds make their homes in its leaves. When the snow falls, it weighs the tops of the trees over to make a network of tunnels that my son and our neighbors’ kids crawl through like explorers in a new world. The feather sounds of winter as the trees rustle…sounds of my home, now and in my youth.
But there is a root system under the ground that steals water from my grass. And when the springtime comes, baby bamboo shoots spring up in places I didn’t think the root system could have spread to. The bamboo stands at the back of the yard, yet new trees want to grow in the middle, even on the other side of the fence in my neighbor’s yard. In the growing season, I have to keep my eye on it. My son and I go on periodic searches, and when we find young shoots, sometimes only an inch out of the dirt, we kick them. If we wait too long to check the grass, we find shoots that in a couple of days have grown three feet.
The bamboo is crazy, its network of roots everywhere, growing out and out, generation after generation. The longer the network exists, the stronger it becomes, and the harder it will be to eradicate.
Which gets me thinking about family, legacy, heritage, and the importance of root systems. Each of us is a node; we have roots behind us, the ones that led to us. If those roots had never existed, then neither would we. Now we plant our own roots, grow offshoots.
But whereas the bamboo can live hundreds of years, generations side by side, we need to tell our stories for our roots to really survive. Where do my roots go back to? That’s hard to say with precision. When my son asks, I’ll tell him what I know: my grandfather’s parents emigrated as infants from Germany through Ellis Island in the late 1800s. I’ll tell my son how Cousin Dougie did some genealogy work and learned that our family name, Squires, is actually an Americanization of Skwaris, which was a Germanization of a town in the Ukraine, Skvyra. My grandfather confirmed that Skwaris was in fact my family’s name until his father and uncle changed it.
But how many generations lived in Germany after migrating from Skvyra, Ukraine? How did my grandfather’s parents meet? What made his grandparents decide to make the trek to the United States? Grandpa couldn’t say.
I just wish I had the story—as much of it as possible, anyway—from the many nodes in my root system. The story I have thins out the further back I look. It’s a ghost, irretrievable. But looking forward, I want to do my part to thicken up my family’s story. When my great-grandchildren want to know about me and how I view the world of today, they’ll just have to open the book. I want my family network to be more like the bamboo root system under my grass—generations side by side.