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National Editorial & Columnists

Getting educated on ethnicity

Columnist’s family tree has grown some interesting branches

Scott Reeder
Scott Reeder

SPRINGFIELD – “What ethnicity are we, Daddy?”

My 12-year-old daughter asked me this on Monday. She needed to make a presentation to her class about her heritage.

I could only sigh.

My mother told me her mother was Scots-Irish.

So a number of years ago, on St. Patrick’s Day, a co-worker asked if I was Irish. I replied, “Scots-Irish.” I was greeted with a scowl and told, “That doesn’t count.”

Well, I suppose for some it doesn’t.

When I told my daughter this, she gave me a blank, expectant look.

The fact of the matter is that we really don’t know all that much about our ethnic heritage. Most of what we “know” comes from family lore that may or may not be true.

A few years back, I got curious about my origins, so I took a DNA test offered by National Geographic. I sent a test tube with my spit to Washington.

A few weeks later, I received a report that I was of “European descent.”

Good golly. Look at my picture. Who would have thought it?

When it comes to heritage, I really don’t identify with anyplace overseas. I never have.

I guess my people could best be described as “rednecks.”

They are just ordinary folks who for generations worked the land, baked casseroles and fought wars. We also collected Cool Whip containers and used auto parts for no particular reason.

When I was a toddler, I lived in fascination of my Grandma Wanda’s house. It was a down-on-its-heels building without potable water and heated with a wood stove.

Whenever our car would pull into the drive at Grandma’s, a gaggle of geese would come waddling, hissing and honking toward me. They hated me. My mother would look at me and say, “They remember you from the last time you were here.”

And then there was Abner, the dachshund. I know what you are thinking. Weiner dogs aren’t really “redneck animals.” But this one was. He had been fed so many table scraps, he looked more like a bunch of grapes than a hot dog and waddled as fast as his little legs would carry him away from me.

But in the midst of the living room was the thing that fascinated me the most: Grandma’s spit cup.

This piece of crockery sat next to her rocker. She sat there sewing quilts, watching TV and spitting lougees into it.

As a toddler, one of my mother’s most frequent admonitions was, “Stay away from that!” But some days the temptation was too much for me, and I upended the cup onto Grandma’s floor.

I’ve tried sharing some of these stories with my children so they can better understand their heritage. I’m usually met with perplexed looks.

My daughter’s teacher asked her to bring a family heirloom to show and tell this week, so her classmates could learn more about her heritage.

I gave her a 120-year-old pitcher commemorating victory in the Spanish-American War.

Why that?

Well, Grandma’s spit cup wasn’t available.

Note to readers: Scott Reeder is a veteran Statehouse journalist. He works as a freelance reporter in the Springfield area and produces the podcast Suspect Convictions. He can be reached at

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