was wonderful this year, with its almost-full moon, its windblown
rustling leaves, and its warm air allowing costumes without coats. Two
special things happened to me on that holiday that I must share.
As I carved
my pumpkin, I noticed that it was beginning to rot on the bottom, so I
didn't scoop out all the way down, just made room for the thick red
candle. Lit the jack-o'-lantern on the porch railing at dusk, then sat
near the front door so I could quickly respond to knocks from
neighborhood kids collecting candy.
p.m. Chip came over and saw that my pumpkin was missing! He found it on
the edge of the yard, lying on its side, unharmed except for the big
hole in the bottom.
It was easy
to imagine what happened: Some young trickster stole it, grabbing it
round its fat middle, with plans to smash it on the road, and while
running away, tried to get a firmer grip by sliding his hand to the
bottom. His hand went through the rotten part up into the warmed, slimy
pumpkin guts. If I hadn't been playing "Thriller" at top volume, I might
have heard the little thief screaming all the way down the hill after he
We lit the
candle again and the jack-o'-lantern glowed red until after midnight.
Good job, Jack.
wonderful thing was I found out where I came from; not just that, like
all of us, I'm African-American, but that my ancestors didn't migrate
directly from eastern Africa to central Europe, but arrived there by way
of the Middle East and what is now northwest Russia. So I am the
great-granddaughter of a German immigrant woman whose ancestors traveled
to Bavaria the long way; I am an African-Asian-Russian-German-American!
And that's just on my mother's side! I have no way of knowing how my
father's ancestors got to Croatia.
Over a month
ago, I sent my DNA to the
National Geographic-IBM Genographic Project, which has been mapping
the human family tree. As a woman, I could not participate in the Y
chromosome part of the project: Only men can give their DNA to cover
either or both parents. The male ancestry can be traced back to "Adam,"
the hominid (homo sapiens) genetic father of all mankind, who lived in
east Africa approximately 60,000 years ago.
female ancestry, through mitochondrial DNA, can be traced back roughly
150,000 years, to "Eve," the earlier hominid mother of us all.
and "Eve" were not married to each other, which if we were to carry the
Adam-Eve analogy too far, could make our family dysfunctional, which we
know from studying history and reading today's newspapers, it is not.
ancestors, both Y and mitochondrial, left Africa, some of them — like
mine — wandered through the Sinai and Israel to the Mesopotamia (today's
Iraq) region, where the Biblical Adam and Eve appeared, at exactly the
same time, allowing them to have a traditional family, at least until
one son killed the other. (Honestly, it's a wonder their descendants can
function at all!)
one's DNA anonymously using a kit with a tracking code, which can be
used on the National Geographic Web site to find one personal family
journey; mine appeared on Saturday and I've been studying the project
and playing with maps every free minute.
this project can be done is that every now and then, there are mutations
that show up as DNA "markers," through which another branch of the
family is created. My branch is called "W" — no George Bush jokes please
— and it appeared around 30,000 years ago as its descendants left the
Caucasus between the Black and Caspian seas and headed north. Why they
were heading north in the middle of the last Ice Age I can't imagine;
the branch ends near the Arctic Ocean, though of course my existence
proves that it survived, prospered and eventually turned around.
is still adding data and may show my ancestors following the game south
to better European pastures, perhaps during the "abrupt warming" period
11,600 years ago. Maybe there's some genetic memory that caused my
8-year-old grandson, Aidan, upon hearing a discussion of modern "global
warming," to state emphatically that "it's better than global cold!"
You may want
to watch PBS or the National Geographic Channel genetic project
documentaries to learn more about this amazing story of how the Earth
was populated. Anyone can order a DNA kit. I was given mine by a friend,
but they normally cost $99.95, which includes the "Journey of Man" DVD.
can be a nice gift for family members who share the history. My son the
liberal, who dressed for Halloween as Barack Obama, will be delighted to
see hard data proving that he is African-American, too.
someday my grandkids will look at the journey of their ancestors and ask
themselves, as those ancestors themselves apparently did occasionally:
Is it time for a change?