Kage Baker always marked certain holidays with especial emphasis. The most important ones led to meditation on ancestors.
Today is one of them. Today is the anniversary of Project Overlord, D-Day, the Normandy invasion that led pretty much directly to the defeat of the Axis powers. This is a day we should all mark and remember – especially in this ghastly, troubled world – as a moment when we shone brightly. It was personal for Kage. It’s personal for anyone who had grandparents or parents alive in 1944. As it should be for all Americans, if we stop chewing out one another’s throats for a moment.
Kage’s choices in these things were predicated on historical significance (as decided by her), in the fine tradition of maiden ladies doing research projects. She came from a proud line of ladies – most of whom lived as spinsters, even if they weren’t – and who devoted their lives to that peculiar combination of national history and familial anecdote that is a hallmark of iron-willed Steel Magnolias and Roses everywhere.
The coastal cities on most American coasts, as well as all of England’s, are full of these ladies. They usually run the local museum, or Historical Society, or chapter of the National Trust. They chair patriotic pageants and parades; they organize bake sales and knitting bees for anyone who needs them; especially, but not exclusively, for the local military. Sometimes they are enormous pains in the community arse, a tradition lovingly immortalized in the person of Mrs. Eulalie McKechnie Shinn in 76 Trombones.
The reason this is still funny to me, Dear Readers, is that I am descended on the maternal line from McKegnies. Which are probably a version of McKechnie. Which are both probably connected to the better-know McKenzies … although, as an erudite friend of mine told me long ago, it’s all translated from Ogham anyway, so the spelling is optional. It always cracked Kage up, because – being that sort of genealogically inclined lady – she knew all that, and found the hare-brained historical hubris of Mrs. Shinn’s character utterly in keeping with me and mine.
Not that Kage’s was much better. Though I have to admit that her family was better-established than mine, both of us are descended from the same bizarre combination of Celts and East Coast Native Americans; but hers all had higher social standing than mine. They were all equally loony, though. That may have had something to do with our lines of descent, from many folks who are historically, shall we say, eccentric. Kage and I were both scions of deeply rooted nuts.
One of her ancestors was a famous hanging judge in the Bloody Assizes (George Jeffries, still affectionately remembered by the family because he was loyal to his King). Another spent a year or so pickled in apple cider, waiting posthumously and fragrantly for his tomb to be completed. My family tended to get hanged, or to die weirdly on the way home from the local in an alcoholically-enhanced haze; although they also dug holes all over Alderly, and have connections to even larger holes in New Mexico.
Kage was intensely patriotic. It wasn’t in the flag-waving way. It was in the pay your taxes, vote in every election, resist tyranny, make sure some of your own in every generation go into the service of the country sort of patriotism. You know, patriotism for normal people … that was something we agreed on, as the maiden lady historians tend to do. Patriotism is not well-expressed in what you yell hysterically at traumatic moments – it’s in how you live every day as an involved citizen. And that means thinking about the Past on Dos Special Days, like Dis D-Day.
(See what I did there, with all the D’s? I am such a word-smith.)
Anyway. All this has been wandering through my head this afternoon, as I listen to the ever-awful news and try to fit another day into some kind of sane life. Ancestors, descendants, heroes kept alive in family histories: the history of sane men and women, making the world a fit place for children to grown up. I think the most important justification for all the spinsters keeping histories in small towns may be just that connection – keeping glory and history firmly attached to what real, human, not-crazy human beings do.
The beaches of Normandy didn’t fall to greedy lunatics – they were liberated from them. That, surely, is something to remember along the way.