My Heritage

When one crosses an Alabama-born, Army-brat girl of Irish Catholic redneck-lineage with an Egyptian Muslim raised in Greece, what does one get?

My family.

And now that I’ve converted to Islam, I think some people think I’m going through an identity crisis. I’ve been accused of turning my back on my heritage by several people. Mostly, they’re family members. Nothing could be further from the truth. I embrace my Irish heritage, my Catholic heritage, my Alabama and redneck heritage and my Army brat heritage. However, I do not cling to them with a G.I. Joe kung fu death grip. I take what I value as most important in all of them and use them as I need them, as the person I’ve become…so far.

I mean, really. Aren’t we all still developing as people the longer we live? Do we really just stop somewhere along the line in our personal growth and just not anymore? I haven’t. Personal growth isn’t height or shoe size. It’s a work in progress. At least, mine is.

I love my Irish heritage. I love my reddish hair and freckles. I love that I’m a 4th generation American on my Mom’s side. I love the width of my face and that I’m not usually offended when people drop the f-bomb. I love The Cranberries. I love that I’ve inherited the ability to look at a really bad situation and make a joke about it and carry on with life. I stopped drinking years ago. No reason to carry THAT particular gene around, right?

I was brought up Catholic. I was pretty involved in the church, sang in the folk choir, did readings at mass, taught Vacation Bible School and CCD, went on youth retreats and hung out with the CYO. I’ve since left the church for a myriad of reasons…all of them personal and none of them having to do with being “brainwashed” or “influenced” by my husband, any of his family, my friends, or living in Egypt. I still live by the same life standards by which I was raised. I treat others the way I want them to treat me. I try to turn the other cheek and think innocently of others, believing none of what I hear and half of what I see. As to the dogma of the Catholic church, I no longer embrace that at all. But having grown up in it and believing in it
for the better part of 34 years, I do still defend it when others, Muslim or Protestant or otherwise, speak
untruths about the beliefs of Catholics.

While Alabama and redneck do not necessarily walk hand in hand,  they happen to in my case. And I love
that I learned to parallel park in my Aunt Virginia’s Chevrolet Suburban and that my cousin, Wendy, and I used to drive to the state store in Mississippi in her 1949 purple Mercury with white wall tires so big that the car looked like a giant jelly bean on wheels. I love that I am one of the few girls in the world who knows what a universal joint is and how important it is when you’re trying to find a drive shaft that will fit on a 45 year old car. I love Mardi Gras in Mobile, the Fishing Rodeo on Dauphin Island, and water-skiing on Tea Lake. I love frito-pie at the ball games and the smell of pine needles and the sound of crickets and how it’s common knowledge that an Avon lady’s phone number is imperative in the summer months because how else can you keep the mosquitoes away without Skin-So-Soft bath oil and not smell like bug spray?

I love that I’m an Army brat and lived all over the United States and Germany. I love that I am adaptable to change and that I can speak four languages with a pretty good understanding of a fifth. I love that I don’t have “roots” down anywhere in particular because sometimes those roots can tie you down. I love that I continued with the travel bug my dad “infected” me with. I saw a huge chunk of Europe as a child and I enjoyed it with all my heart. Since I became an adult, I’ve continued seeing the world and added more of
Europe and parts of the Middle East and North Africa. I like that my children are all bilingual, even my
autistic daughter speaks Arabic and English. She’s teaching herself Greek and a little Japanese from subtitled DVDs. How cool is that? I love that I respect timetables and rules. I also love that I’m forgiving and can bend for situations where a particular due date was overtaken by events. I love that I went to a Department of Defense Dependents EURope (DODDSEUR) high school. I was exposed to world events as they happened,  politics, news, world history, historical sites like concentration camps, museums, and landmarks.
I love that we held our homecoming dance on a boat floating on the Neckar River and that we went to ski school in the Bavarian Alps. My father provided me with something so much more important than “roots.”
He gave me life experience, strict rules and a view of the world so broad that it somehow made the world an amazingly fantastic place to live. Living around the world has given me self-confidence, self-esteem, and an ability to not allow fear to prevent me from doing what I want. Being an Army brat, the words “I don’t know” were unacceptable. “I don’t know but I will find out,” was.

At current, I’m a redneck, Alabama-born, country-music lovin’, hip-hoppin’, hard-rockin’, Irish-American Muslim mother of five, living in Egypt. I can cook, sew, sing, write, home-school, slaughter and pluck a chicken just before cooking it for you and rebuild an alternator on a 1973 Chevrolet Camaro! I am amazing. And I owe it all to my heritage.

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