I found myself involved in a genealogy discussion the other night, and I guess I disappointed everyone by admitting that I don’t know the origin of the name Epps, nor am I all that curious about it.
I was disadvantaged by the fact that everyone else had surnames like MacGregor or Fellini (not really, but you get the idea), the origins of which are obvious without any extensive research, and yet, if you wanted to press the point, you’d find that none of them have any more knowledge about the language or culture of their ancestors than I do.
I could have contributed the fact that my mom’s side of the family — none of whom are still living — were all O’Keefes and Flynns, which makes me half Irish, but that somehow knowing that doesn’t have any bearing on my ability to live through the day.
In the prologue to Slapstick, Kurt Vonnegut wrote about growing up in Indianapolis in a family of German immigrants who had lost interest in their own language and history:
So—by the time the Great Depression and a Second World War were over, it was easy for my brother and sister and me to wander away from Indianapolis.
And, of all the relatives we left behind, not one could think of a reason why we should come home again.
We didn’t belong anywhere in particular any more. We were interchangeable parts in the American machine.
That’s what I am too: an interchangeable part in the American machine.