On the Origins of Kork


I’ve been thinking lately about my American-ness; who I am and why my ancestors came here.  I guess that’s what you get when you go on ancestry.com and see the places from which your ancestors came.  Don’t get on their site unless you can handle the truth of history.  It may make you change how you think of yourself.  Genealogy is not a sport for the weak.

When I first began my research I started to feel a little bit sad and depressed that I was not just one nationality; for example, I wanted to be like one of my best friends who is 100% Norwegian and whose family has been here, in the New World, for several generations.  I mean, as I dug into my genealogy I began to feel like some sort of a hodge-podge of peoples.  Many of my ancestors can be traced back to the 1790’s here in the States; in short, I am not a newbie or a pureblood.  I’ll get over it, but as you can tell, it has not been easy for me.

What am I, you ask?  Well, I am English, Irish, Scottish, and I think a little German.  Check back with me later in the year because I am planning on having one of those DNA tests done to figure out exactly who I am.  Those tests seem like some sort of strange voodoo to me, but if they can tell me that I came from a certain region of somewhere then maybe I will know who I am.

As I write this Blog post, I am touring the American West: Denver, the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone and soon, Mount Rushmore.  It doesn’t get much more American than that, does it?  Being here has increased my feelings of pride for this beautiful country and it has left me quite emotionally touched.  Some may say mentally touched, I don’t know.

Looking out over these rugged lands, these beautiful and dangerous mountains, I am comfortable in my air-conditioned mini-van.  I have food in the cooler and iced cold Coca Cola ready to quench my thirst, should I have one.  When I get to the Motel 6 someone will have “left the light on for me”.  No snooze in a covered wagon for me!   I have the Freedom to choose a Holiday Inn if the Motel 6 seems a little questionable, too bad the pioneers did not have such a luxury.  God Bless our freedoms!

The pioneers who came this way 168 years ago had none of the luxuries that I have to comfort me.  The only thing that they really had was a faith that everything would work out for them in the end.  That faith sustained them and helped them through conditions that we can only imagine.  I mean, can you wrap your mind around walking behind a covered wagon from St. Joseph, Missouri all the way to Sacramento, California in the blazing heat?  Heck, my kids get mad if I make them walk from the far side of the parking lot into Wal-Mart, for goodness sakes!

In addition to their faith that all would be well, the pioneers believed in the principle of self-reliance, that age-old idea that God helps those who help themselves.  Where has that sentiment gone?  Do we really take care of ourselves anymore, or do we rely on a government or a state to do it for us?  We have a safety net, even the most poor and destitute among us do.  The pioneers did not, yet they forged ahead.

If those folks got out into the middle of the prairie and were hit by a tornado, a fire or a massive snowstorm, it was up to them as to how they were going to muddle through it.  Often there was no use trying to “call” for help (Verizon service could only have been spotty at best in 1844) because there was no help to be had for hundreds of miles.  However, they had the independence and pluck to persevere.

The pioneer’s traits of self-reliance, independence and intestinal fortitude, otherwise known as chutzpah (check back with me to see if I find Jewish roots) are the qualities that I most admire; I’d like to believe they are traits that I possess.

Thinking of those pioneers, it’s no surprise then that it has slowly dawned on me that maybe I do know who I am after all.  This trip has helped me to understand that it won’t matter what the results of the DNA test are; in fact, on second thought I might not even take it at all.

What should have been obvious to me all along is that I am an American.   I have come to understand that no matter what my ancestors’ origins were, I have become, to the very depths of my being, an American.  I don’t really need to search for my identity in a foreign country. This is who I am and this is where I belong.

I am celebrating, on my most favorite holiday of the year, America and my blessed American-ness.

God Bless America on its 236th birthday!  May we always know who we are.

I ‘Mell a ‘Kunk


Over the years I have lived in Iowa, California and Missouri.  All three are beautiful states and are such interesting and diverse places to visit.  What is interesting about all of our states is that each has its own character and its own livestock to which you need to pay attention.  I suppose some folks would deem that the “Charm” of each state, I prefer to think of it as “decider where to live.”

One thing that makes me feel comfortable about Iowa is that I know and understand the animals.  By animals I really mean bugs, reptiles and mammals: I do not mean some of the creepy old men in grimy John Deere hats who saunter into Wal-Mart with their smelly, dirt-encrusted bib overalls, sides unsnapped and flopped open.  Recently I saw one old farm guy who had his huge belly leaking out the side of his bibs.  While a fascinating study in weird, this is not the type of animal I mean.

In Iowa we have deer, raccoons, opossum, beaver, and skunk, which while really cute and loveable in cartoons, don’t cause me to love them.  I have a thing about foul smells, whether they come from skunks or famer guys: more on this later.  In a related note, a few years back we were riding in the car and my small daughter in her car seat said in her lisping way, “I ‘mell a ‘kunk!” (Translated for you non-parents that would be, “I Smell a Skunk”.)  We start them young appreciating and recognizing the sights, sounds and smells of critters here in Iowa.  

For creepy crawlies in Iowa we basically have crickets, spiders, and a few harmless snakes- except some rattlesnakes that somehow came to live in southern Iowa, which have never bothered me.  Yet.  I guess there may be a few more critters that I am unaware of here, but for the most part we are fairly safe from scary stuff, except for those aforementioned questionable Wal-Mart shoppers.

When dangerous animals do wander into Iowa it is a major news event.  A few years ago a black bear wandered down from Minnesota.  A moose or two has lost his way, probably again from Minnesota, and has taken refuge in the Hawkeye State.  I don’t know what is wrong with Minnesota that they can’t keep their wild creatures where they belong; they are falling down on the job.  We all know how those folks are.

Recently a few cougars have been sighted in Iowa; we knew they were here because cars promptly hit them.  Iowa may not be a safe place for wandering wild livestock.

Anyway, for the most part we Iowans are safe from harm and enjoy a life relatively free of fear from marauding animals.  This may not be so true if you are in other states.

When I was 15 years old I was traveling through Arizona with my parents and sister and we stopped for the night in Page, Arizona at the local hotel.  I’m sure Page has grown since I visited there, but I will never know that for sure because I am not ever going back.

For some unremembered reason, I had borrowed a nightshirt from my sister.  My parents, sister and I had settled down for a refreshing night of sleep and this is the part in the story where you should start to get worried about what’s going to happen next.

I woke up at about two a.m. with the feeling that there was a plasticized piece of stitching in the nightshirt poking me under my arm.  I drowsed back to sleep when I felt a deep biting sensation.  I reached into the jammies and snatched whatever it was.  It flopped and squirmed mightily while my hand was wrapped around it.  I promptly threw it as hard as I could against the wall, which was next to the bed.  In the dark hotel room the fact that I actually hit a wall should be applauded.

I jumped out of the bed and flipped on the lights, much to the chagrin of my family who were used to my night-time shenanigans (see http://korkygries.com/2010/03/freud-would-have-a-field-day-with-this-one/).  My father ran for his glasses and my mother, who was quite irritated, tried to coax me back to bed by telling me that I had had a nightmare.

She lifted my pillow to fluff it and there it was… an Arizona creepy-crawly.  Years later, after all the screaming, crying and cussing has finally died down, we have decided that it was about 12 inch long and was most probably a centipede.  In researching for this Blog post I have learned that its “bites are painful, but generally not life-threatening to humans, but they can be fatal to small reptiles or rodents.”  Yeah, well it didn’t do me much good, I can tell you that!  For over thirty years now I have suffered from the effects of that night: I refuse to sleep in a hotel room now without checking under the sheets, under the bed and any other place that I think critters might be hiding, waiting to munch on me in the middle of the night.  This does not amuse my husband, but I don’t care one bit!   I don’t like to think of myself as a nighttime snack for any creature.  

If you are reading this and you live in a state other than Iowa, you should be asking yourself what wild animals might menace you in your own backyard.  A friend of mine is from North Dakota; she tells me that they do not have bad people or bad varmints there because, “The cold keeps the riff-raff out”.  Great, somebody slap down some cold on Page, Arizona.  That sort of deep freeze might clean ‘em out.

When my husband and I lived in Missouri we were contemplating a canoe trip with friends down the Gasconade River.  About a month previous to the trip there was an article in the St. Louis Post Dispatch about how enjoyable such a trip could be but that one should be careful not to disturb snake nests.  I can’t remember anymore if they were Copperheads, Cottonmouths  (Water Moccasins), or really some sort of Black Mamba; it didn’t matter.   That canoe trip did not happen.  After all, if that pesky centipede found me in a dark hotel room a swarming nest of snakes seemed more than able to ram my canoe and hunt me down wherever I was.

I guess you are probably wondering why I am not a fan of skunks.  When I was a small girl I went on a walk through the woods with my dear Uncle Earl, whom I considered some sort of a “Mountain Man”.  He was one of those sorts of men who knew every tree, every plant and really everything about the woods that surrounded his home.  He called his land, “Rest Oasis”.  Doesn’t that sound peaceful?  Like a place you’d enjoy traipsing through the woods to find wild black and red raspberries that your Aunt Loras would then use to make some sort of delicious cobbler for dessert? Climbing and exploring through their wooded acres gave me endless hours of entertainment as a child.

Uncle Earl was a member of that much-respected “Greatest Generation.”  He was in the Seabees stationed in the Mariana Islands during World War II.  He didn’t talk much to me about his wartime combat experiences, but he did tell me that one time as they were sleeping in their tents on the island, he woke up with heaviness on his chest.  It turns out that a very large crab had crawled on him and was waiting for him to wake up.  Sort of like a “Welcome to the Islands” crab, I guess.   We don’t have crabs in Iowa, that’s an entirely different kind of critter.  See what I mean?  It helps to know what you are dealing with.

Once, Uncle Earl was traipsing down a path in his woods and I, a little six-year-old explorer, was following close on his heels.  All of a sudden Uncle Earl turned, scooped me up, and ran.  Let me remind you again that Uncle Earl was a veteran; he was not afraid of anything, including Japan’s General Tojo!  So when Uncle Earl ran like HELL I knew to be afraid.  Standing in our path was a skunk; Uncle Earl had come near him and wisely decided to leave before the skunk became annoyed.  Aunt Loras would not have been too happy if we returned to the house all skunked up.  I’m certain that it would have been better to face General Tojo than Aunt Loras if we had smelled like skunk.  It helps to know what or of whom you are most afraid.

Anyway, pay attention to your surroundings, whether you are in the nicest 5 Star hotel, the woods or your local Wal-mart.  You never know what sort of critters are going to come after you.