The Cambridge Dictionary defines the word “heritage” in these terms: "features belonging to the culture of a particular society, such as traditions, languages, or buildings, that were created in the past and still have historical importance."
While I do believe heritage can have a lot to do with a particular society, when I think of heritage, I probably think more about traditions than languages or buildings. More precisely, I think about the traditions passed down from previous generations of one’s own family.
Someone might well say “I have a family heritage of farming” or “My family is a military family” or “Our people have been in the ministry for over 100 years.” Or you might hear someone say, when complimented about their fine singing or prowess in playing a musical instrument … “Music has been a big part of our family for generations — it’s in my blood.”
It is also true that, in some cases, one’s family heritage — passed down from previous generations — probably shouldn’t be adhered to quite as closely as others. Take for example the fellow whose forefathers included members of the notorious James Gang. Or the family whose heritage includes years of “at home distilling” practices (otherwise known as the illegal production of moonshine). Yes, a bit of good humored pride might blossom from the infamy of it all, but such a heritage is probably not something one would brag about.
In truth, the only farming my family ever did — at least for the past several generations — was small- time rock-dirt farming in the hills of north-central Arkansas. I believe corn, sorghum, cucumbers, and produce were the main crops. Some of my ancestors even picked cotton in the large fields in the delta for extra income. But they weren’t farmers the way we think of farmers these days.
My heritage isn’t really a military one either. I make no excuses for that. It just wasn’t to be. Likewise, I don’t know of any ministers on either the Stewart or Everett side of my lineage, at least as far back as I’ve studied.
However, though I haven’t heard of any professional musicians in my family tree, there was always music around. I did have an uncle who played music most of his life, but it was never what you might call his “profession.”
Still, music was always there when I was growing up. When he wasn’t working at the steel mill, Dad would always be singing - maybe under his breath, maybe at the top of his lungs - while going about whatever he had to do around home. Mom loved music as well. In my memory it seems like the “hi-fi” stereo record player was always there, turning those 45s or LPs. At any given time one might hear a Tex Ritter, Johnny Horton or Johnny Cash tune followed quickly by an upbeat rocker by Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins, or even Chubby Checker.
Saturday evening television always included the bubbly champagne music of the Lawrence Welk orchestra, and on Sunday evenings we would tune into Mitch Miller and “follow the bouncing ball” across the words of the songs at the bottom of the screen, singing along with Miller’s all male choir. When we grew a bit older, my two older brothers started a “cover” band, playing pop music hits of the day. But that is a whole other story in and of itself.
I met my then future wife, Laura, while playing music in a church. As our relationship grew, I was glad to find out she had — and has — a beautiful singing voice and a love and appreciation for music as well.
Music is still a big part of who I am, and who we are as a family. I suppose it always will be. I see no shame in it. I believe that “gene” is in the blood of all of our children, and maybe even our grandchildren.
Maybe, just maybe, it is part of who we are as a family: part of our makeup, of who we are. Maybe there is a legacy there — one of music and love, and the love of music — being passed down from generation to generation. Who knows, it might just be our heritage.
And you know, that can’t be all that bad.