I am a member of a family that has coalesced around one name, Paige. No matter that many of us were born with non-Paige surnames – we all consider ourselves Paiges. (We’re like the Kennedys — except for the Irish Catholic part, the political dynasty part, the dogged-by-tragedy part… oh, and the money. If you’re a Joe Kennedy descendant you’re a Kennedy, even if your name is something like Schriver.)
Right now I’m paying my annual pilgrimage to our family home, Pine Haven, on Cape Cod. My great-grandfather Timothy Paige bought Pine Haven in 1911 as a summer home when he came into some money from his uncle who had earned a bundle during the California Gold Rush selling pickaxes to the miners. Tim and the other Paiges had been farmers in central Massachusetts (Hardwick) for generations, so the inheritance was quite a shock.
Some of the money went for infrastructure in the village of Hardwick and some was spent on Pine Haven, the house next door to it and the house across the street. Pine Haven’s current owners are my second cousin Patty, who was born a Paige, and her husband. The house across the street also remains in the family and other cousins have bought or built homes within a block or two, so you could almost say we have a family compound – although it’s hardly grand.
Patty has taken it upon herself to organize family reunions every few years. We come from all across the country to participate and celebrate our Paigeness. We make a day trip to Hardwick to see the Paige Library, the Paige pew in the Universalist church, the modest Paige Agricultural Center, the statue of gold-rusher Calvin Paige.
About ten years ago Patty’s husband instituted a suitably fake-solemn ceremony when their daughter Paige married. With a ribbon, certificate and pompous pronouncement, he inducted the groom into the “I married a Paige” clan. Since then, whenever a member of the extended Paige family marries, their spouse is inducted at the reception, witnessed by growing numbers of the in-law clan, and cheered on by the “birth” Paiges.
So here’s the question: why am I a Paige, and not a Kimball, Bachrach or Keyes? Although my dad’s mom was the Paige, I carry equal shares of genetic material from my other three grandparents. I’m just a quarter-blood Paige by that reckoning.
But if my grandpa had been the Paige instead of my grandma, my Dad would have carried the name as a full Paige and I’d be a half-blood. If I was my dad’s son my name would still be Paige and I could also consider myself full-blood.
At each generation, the blood of one family line is diluted by each new family into which the children marry. Over time the dilution of a particular family’s genes could be considered only homeopathic in strength. And yet, if the family has sons at each generation who pass the family surname to their sons, the name continues at full strength, no matter how many generations have passed.
When does a bloodline begin then? Who is the most essential Paige, or Smith, Jones, Epstein, Kennedy?
Why am I a Paige? Because we say so. Because the Kimballs, Bachrachs, and Keyes never got their familyness acts together the way the Paiges did.
The regular gatherings of the clan and sub-groups of the clan reinforce our Paigeness. Patty’s collection of Paige photos going back more than 100 years and her unstinting hospitality to family members reinforce our Paigeness. The wedding ritual certainly celebrates Paigeness. And finally, we are blessed with a connection to Place. Pine Haven is the place we’ve been coming to for a hundred years, and there are more of us across the street and down the road. We can also go back to a village in central Massachusetts and see our name on various plaques on buildings, headstones in the graveyard.
We are literally grounded, and in today’s quickly changing world I find this solidity comforting.