Leave My History Alone…And I Will, Too…

Greg’s Corner

By Greg Ritchie

Messenger Reporter

Editor’s note: Greg’s Corner is an editorial (opinion) section where Messenger Reporter Greg Ritchie shares odds and ends from the job and unusual or interesting facts from across the world and across time.

MESSENGER OFFICE –   I bet most of you have never even heard of the Battle of the Medway. Not the World War II Battle of Midway – but Medway. This was the first battle the Roman empire fought in Britain that showed they were a force to be reckoned with and had come to stay. 

A few years ago, I took one of those online DNA tests and, since it said I am 99.9% British (a mix of old Anglo-Saxon, Celtic and Viking) I have no doubt my ancestors were there and got beat along with the other natives. The Romans rolled in, took our land and freedom and for the next 300 years or so, my folks were treated pretty poorly – taken as slaves, beaten, killed, fed to lions – not a pretty picture. 

In 1066, another invasion came, this time from the Normans in France. Once again, we natives were destroyed and ruled over by new overlords who spoke French and didn’t take too much time out to make sure my folks had food – they even complied a famous book of every crop, house and animal in the country just so they would know how much they could steal. 

My Scottish ancestors were tired of the English coming in each year and burning their homes and taking what they wanted – including the women – so they took an offer to be shipped to Ireland as indentured servants. It’s a nice way to say they had no freedom, couldn’t go where they wanted and were forced to live and work wherever the boss said for most of their lives. They fought the local Irish for the king for a few generations before they got shipped here to the new world. 

Once in America, they didn’t exactly find the American dream, either. They got to go live in the mountains of Appalachia and fight off native attacks and try and survive in the middle of the mountains without help from anyone or any government. 

By the Civil War, they were still struggling. When the war ended, the northern army burned houses and took what they wanted, even denying people the right to vote. We were too poor to have any slaves or anything of value – just good but poor people attached to the soil, trying to take care of their family and follow their beliefs the best they could. 

I tell you all this not so you will have pity on me – I bet your family history has as many tough periods in it as mine. I tell you this because I still love those people. They are part of my blood and heritage and I breathe thanks to their sacrifices. 

Had things been better for them, I might be living in some little Scottish village at 32 degrees in summer with no sun for nine months every year and no hope for a better life. I think about how I might have reacted in their shoes at some of those times. How do you answer when your neighbor says, “The Roman army is down the road and coming this way?”

We were poor and often, uneducated in a formal sense. We never lost our morals, in spite of the difficulties, but got through it with grit and steel and gravel in our guts. Those were my people, but in different times, with different ideas and I can’t judge them now. How can I sit and judge their actions and their decisions from my comfy house, sitting under the A/C and looking through messages on my cell phone? 

I am proud of them, for better or worse, those people made me the man I am today. They had to sacrifice in order for me to have the life I have and have a shot at that American dream. Thinking of them reminds me I must, too, make sacrifices for future people I will never meet. Whatever battles and struggles I must endure in this life, I hope, many years from now, my descendants think of me and thank me for getting them a little closer to wherever we are all trying to get. 

My people suffered a lot under the British flag, but the symbol doesn’t offend me. I don’t even know the names of many of my people who stood and fought and died for their freedom. And I can’t use all that suffering as an excuse for my own failures and shortcomings. I have never once – believe this or not – fought any Roman soldiers of any kind. 

I will respect my history and honor those who suffered and died for me. I must never forget it. I must try and be worthy of their lives and try and move my family a little further down this path we call life. I owe them that. 

But no one owes me. I doubt King Charles will send me any money for everything my people went through. No one will give me a job because my folks held the line at that big battle hundreds of years ago. I can’t refuse to write these articles and tell the boss I wanted to do it, but the pain of the loss of my great-great-great uncle of disease still haunts me. 

It is silly to try and impose our modern morals on people who lived hundreds of years ago. I will always be a part of my history, but I cannot impose my history on others. I cannot demand no one wear a British flag because it reminds me of the atrocities they committed 250 years ago. 

To do so would limit me. It would give me an easy excuse for not living my own life to the fullest. There is no invading army here and the only one who can hold me back is…me. Each generation must start anew, respecting and knowing their history, but being grateful for it and moving on. 

I don’t deserve pity or special treatment for something that happened to my family hundreds of years ago. Just thought I would mention that – for no particular reason. 

Greg Ritchie can be reached at [email protected]

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