My mother tells this story of my grandmother.

"She is sixteen when her family leaves Turkey. Her father is George White, a missionary, the President of Anatolia College, a Congregationalist Missionary School. She is riding in a wagon with her family surrounded by Circassian guards with scimitars, protecting them. She is reading Lorna Doone and crying, because she wishes something romantic would happen to her! She doesn't realize that they are fleeing Turkey because the Turks are killing all the Armenians, and are starting to kill the Christians as well." My mother tells this as a joke and her presence is such that people laugh.

And my mother says that the College moved to Greece and my grandmother went to Iowa to go to school. My grandmother was born in Turkey to her Congregationalist Missionary parents.

My grandmother was an atheist all the time I knew her. When we went to China together in the mid 1980s, she would not enter any church. No buddhist temples.

So there are disconnects in this family story. My mother tells her story as a joke, but the slaughter of the Armenians and Christians and Jews in 1916-18 is no joke. Wikipedia lists George White as "witness to the Armenian genocide".

I did not question my mother's stories much until after she died. Then I went in to counseling to really look at the stories. She said she and her brothers were raised to pack their troubles in their saddlebags and ride forth singing. My mother would turn my fear or grief into a joke that she would tell as a story to make people laugh. Maybe that sounds like a good way to cope: but not when the butt of the joke is two years old and upset. It becomes humiliation and I learned to hide the "unacceptable" feelings. The feelings that would turn into a story, with other people laughing at my feelings. Anger was acceptable and "positive" feelings. A female cousin said that anger was NOT acceptable in their household: the household of my mother's oldest brother.

My grandmother must have known students that were slaughtered, or ones who disappeared, or lost fathers or brothers. Is that why she became an atheist and would never enter a church? She loved to travel and spoke Turkish, but I never heard a word about missionaries that was positive at all. Only passing scorn.

I see messages everywhere, on Facebook, in magazines, at meetings, that we should be positive all the time. We must be positive! We must have a good attitude! That will fix the world! No, it won't. I think that honesty is more important and we must learn how to handle all our emotions. Fear, anger, grief, vulnerability, happiness, joy, comfort....there is no negative emotion. All of our emotions are a part of our systems to warn us, to help us survive. Our tribes must become bigger because the world is getting smaller. We must hate the slaughter, the discrimination, not a particular ethnicity or religion.

And we need to question the family stories. What is hushed up? My great aunt could never have children and this was blamed on an illegal abortion early in the marriage, so that she and her husband could travel to study art. Is this true? There is no one left to ask. I read about the Iowa Seven and George White, my missionary great grandfather, on Wikipedia. The only story I inherited about him is the one my mother told. When families clean up the story after someone dies, and only say the positive, I think it does the next generation a disservice: we feel like such failures as we try to live up to these perfect ancestors held up to us. They did no wrong. Actually they did wrong, but it was hushed up, hidden, not talked about. We are shocked when someone has gotten away with sexually abusing children for years, because the person is a public figure, they are charming, this can't be true, we've supported them and given them money and trusted them and looked up to them...

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