OPINION: It"s in the genes

I got one of those ancestry genetic DNA kits for Christmas and the results were pretty much what I had expected.

The only minor surprise was that it showed I had a 36 percent French-German ancestry in my past. That chunk of my DNA, I would guess, would be attributed to my mother"s mother, who came from Austria/Germany to the United States when she was 2 years old. The French in the French/German mashup was mildly interesting.

The kit pretty much nailed my mother"s father, whose parents were Polish born, with 21.6-percent of my DNA being Eastern European/Polish, inherited from my maternal grandfather.

Stanley Paul Steck (Americanized spelling) was born in Chicago and moved to Michigan"s Waterford Township from Connecticut when my mother was 1-year-old. Stan and Adeline settled in the Detroit area in the early 1930s, at the height of the Great Depression.

He worked downtown as a photo engraver, a job I never really understood, but knew it had a lot to do with etching copper plates in the print advertising media. By the time my mother was a teenager, she and her five siblings moved with their parents to a small farm in Waterford Township, north of Detroit.

I grew up a couple of miles away from my maternal grandparents" mixed-use farm. My grandfather continued to commute to his job in downtown Detroit and my grandmother raised six children while maintaining a large garden and raising flocks of chickens for meat and eggs.

Stan was tall for his generation, combed his thinning hair straight back and had a long, narrow, Eastern European nose. His countenance had the regal bearing of a Polish aristocrat.

While I was growing up I downplayed my Polish heritage because the Poles, for reasons I never understood, were the butt of jokes in the United States. The "Polacks" were portrayed as being stupid and there were a multitude of jokes about their dim-witted ways. I wanted nothing to do with being made fun of and the brunt of crude jokes, so to cover-up my ethnicity laughed along with the jokes and told them myself.

When I was in high school, for whatever reason, I grew tired of laughing along with the "Polack" jokes and embraced my Polish heritage by "coming out." Anytime some told a joke about a downtrodden Pole I laughed along but added that I was a "proud Polack."

Although he dutifully rose early each morning and drove down Woodward Avenue to his day job, my grandfather"s true love was working on his 10-acre farm. In addition to a big garden, which helped feed his large family my grandfather raised Christmas trees as a "cash crop."

He didn"t look like what I thought of as a farmer — bib jeans, straw hat — he wore khaki pants and old white shirts from his day job in the city. A pair of suspenders, an old ball cap and a pair of dusty work boots complemented his farm attire.

My brother and I picked up spending money by spending Saturdays weeding the younger Scotch and spruce trees which would grow into mature Christmas trees that we helped sell in December.

The large gardens, the fruit trees, blueberries, and most of all, the several acres of Christmas trees, all had a lasting effect on me, and when my time came I followed my wife to Gaylord where she had landed a teaching job, and bought 14 acres in beautiful Elmira Township.

I planted a large garden, some fruit trees and berry bushes and even devoted a small part of our acreage to a few Christmas trees for personal use. I owe it all to that hard-working aristocratic Pole who was proud of his heritage and which, eventually, I became proud of too.

Michael Jones is a columnist and contributor for the Gaylord Herald Times. He can be reached at mfomike2@gmail.com.

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