Never be ashamed of who you are

By JAMIE PATTERSON,

My family and I celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with a pot full of Irish Stew, green clothing and a table of friends that felt like family.

It really was a great celebration with good food, a ton of laughter and just immense fun.

For one day, it seems everybody turns Irish.

I am very proud that my family actually does have Irish roots. My grandfather’s family arrived in the United States during the 1700s from the Green Isle.

The Jackson family was able to afford their passage to America through indentured servitude, by working for an employer for a certain number of years.

After they paid off their debt, they were able to freely work on their own.

In between those years, the family grew; small parcels of land were purchased; the men fought for their new country, including the American Revolutionary War; the women made a home; and they slowly became “American.”

But they never wanted to forget that they came from Ireland. They were Irish, and they were proud.

Through the years, the Jackson family made their way from Virginia on down to Mississippi. And they remained typical Irish Americans.

They worked hard, taking any job that they could. It was all about feeding their families and staying alive.

And they played hard. They were quick to perform traditional music with fiddles and such. Boxing matches usually settled any disputes. They held true to their faith and God. And they were avid storytellers.

But mostly, up to my grandfather’s generation, they kept to themselves on their land. They farmed by day, rested by night, went to church on Sunday.

Yes, they were poor, but they were happy.

But I can recall one time that I was so ashamed of my family history.

I was about ten years old when I arrived at my grandparents’ house for the weekend. I had a very bad week at school and was ready to forget about it.

For the past four days, I had been mocked for having an extremely fair complexion and curly, wild hair. I had reached my limit, and I was ready to snap.

In an effort to relieve some of the mockings, I snuck into my mother’s bathroom and applied some cream designed to give you an artificial tan.

About four hours later when the tanner began working its magic, I began to run through the house in excitement.

I  just knew that I would prance around school the next day, glowing. There would be no more pleas to stop wearing shorts for fear of blinding people. I would strut through my school hallways in my glorious glow.

But the tanner didn’t stop with a light glow. It went full blown, atomic bomb explosion.

I wasn’t tan and glowing.

I was outright orange.

I scrubbed and scrubbed my skin until I was almost bleeding. But it was no use. I was an orange blob.

Momma’s mouth dropped to the floor when she came home that night from work. I begged and begged her to let me miss school that next day. It was Friday, and I could just go ahead and go to Maw Maw and Paw Paw’s for the weekend.

So, that is what approached the carport of the Jackson house. Paw Paw saw his shell of a granddaughter with her curly brown hair, beanpole frame and orange skin.

“What happened to you,” Paw Paw asked, looking above his glasses.

“Go ahead,” Momma said, pushing me ahead. “Tell him what you did.”

I told him that I was tired of being fair skinned. I wanted to be tan like Momma and all the other little girls at school. I was tired to having frizzy, curly hair. I was tired of being bullied because I looked different.

Momma walked inside to help Maw Maw, and Paw Paw began to light his pipe.

Shoving his shirt sleeve up to his shoulder, he flipped his arm over to me.

“Is that pale,” he asked, pointing to his arm.

His wrinkled skin was so fair that you could see his veins running their courses.

“Yes,” I replied, looking at him.

“Well, that is why you are fair skinned,” he said, pulling his sleeve down. “I made you like that. Your Momma took after Maw Maw. But you took after me.”

For the next hour, Paw Paw gave me a lesson on our family history. And I soaked it all up.

“Don’t ever be ashamed of how you look,” he said. “When you look in the mirror, you are looking at your family. We are Jacksons. Don’t forget that.”

Like a typical Irish, Paw Paw also told me another bit of advice.

“And if they keeping messing with you, just clock them,” he said, with a laugh.

Now that I am 37 years old, I think what Paw Paw told me that day is finally sinking in. If I were to say I was ashamed of how I looked, it would be the same as saying I was ashamed of him.

I think that applies to all families with their own heritage and history. They made you what you are, and that’s something to be proud of.

So, watch out world. When those warmer temperatures start creeping in, I will bring my shorts and capris out of my closet.

Better grab those sunglasses because I will be shining.