Plait Your Hair

My dad grew up in Maine. His mom, my Grammie, was born and raised there, too. Her dad was a lobsterman. Despite countless years in Virginia, she never lost her northern accent. I can hear the “h” in car and yard now as I remember her saying them. I inherited countless things from Grammie: my narrow heels, our identical birthmarks that spanned the length of our right arms, my love of the beach and, some may argue, my hypochondria. She loved taking pictures and prided herself on knowing exactly who was in every sephia-toned photo snapped perhaps a hundred years prior, where they were and probably what they’d been talking about moments before. She made careful notes on the back of each one so that generations to come would know them as well.

She loved genealogy and had a flair for remembering the details of every story in our family history. Regularly she reminded me I was a descendent of the Wright Brothers and that our ancestors were the first in flight. Other days, perhaps while whipping up her out-of-this-world lasagna, she recounted the path her relatives took from Sicily noting that her Italian roots were why it was so easy for the two of us to “get some sun.” One of my favorites was when she’d tell me it’s believed that she was a witch with special powers for seeing into the future. If I remember correctly her mom was a witch too, or maybe it was her sister. The story we heard most of all was our ties to Pocahontas. Grammie swore we were direct descendants and therefore I was “an Indian princess.” I can’t begin to count the number of times she’d shake her head and say, “You should plait your hair. You’re a descendant of Pocahontas.”

Over the years my Grandpa refuted many of these stories. Once it was revealed that yes, we did have ancestors who worked with the Wright Brothers as they were building the first planes, but no, we were not related to the Wrights themselves. Maybe everyone was related somehow back then?? It never stopped her from saying it, that’s for sure. Though Grandpa shakes his head gruffly at most of the tales, he never debunks our Native American heritage. “The family name’s Bohannon,” he says. That it is. You see, my mom also loves ancestry. She has an impressive family tree on that dates back to the Garden of Eden and links us to royalty all over Europe. There are pictures there. Pictures of the Bohannons, too. They’re grainy and hard to make out, but as mom and I pored over them we were pretty sure the features confirmed what Grammie knew with certainty.

Mom’s interest in ancestry peaked when the opportunity to trace your past through DNA became available. She tested hers first: mostly Irish with some Scottish and English mixed in. With her red hair and freckles, that made a lot of sense. It took some convincing to get Dad on board. He has maintained for years that Grammie’s stories were all a bunch of bunk. It takes many weeks to get results and when Dad’s arrived, we all waited anxiously to begin attending pow wows to meet our relatives. Not unlike those commercials you see on tv for these DNA kits, Dad’s results confirmed what he already knew with certainty: 0% Native American. Not even a smidge.

Mom was unconvinced and I was still hopeful, as well. Of course you only inherit half of your genes from one parent. Perhaps the 50% he inherited from Grandpa were the genes of a different lineage? Surely if we convinced Grandpa to do the test the truth would be revealed. We all gifted him the test for Christmas, certain it would all be confirmed soon.

Zero percent.

We didn’t tell him what the results were. If he wants to believe we’re tribal royalty, what harm does it do? I know I’m okay being an heir to a throne, even if it’s just in my imagination. The test did confirm that Grammie did indeed have Italian blood and I certainly never heard Grandpa deny that she could cast a spell or two. On quite a few occasions I found myself with the answer to an unknown detail about a person with absolutely no knowledge of them before they ever told me. Perhaps I’m a witch, too? Ray wouldn’t contradict that one either.

It’s worth mentioning my two favorite hairstyles were for my junior prom and my wedding day. Both were braids. I remember telling Grammie I was going to incorporate braids into my bridal up-do and she exclaimed, “Why on Earth would you do that?!”

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