When I first moved to Georgia nearly 27 years ago, a shopkeeper said, “Epps ... hmmm. Unusual name. Where are you from?”
“I moved here from Colorado,” I replied.
“No, no,” he responded, “Where are your people from?”
“Northeastern Tennessee,” I shared.
He looked at me in disgust and said, “That’s what’s wrong with you people from the South. You don’t know where you’re from.”
My response was a confused look. “Look,” he said. “My family comes from Italy. My wife’s family is German. You see?”
“Oh, sure,” I replied.
“So, where are your people from?” he insisted.
“We are from the South.” With a snort he went back to his work.
In truth, I had no idea where “my people” came from. It had never mattered. We were “Americans by birth and Southern by the grace of God.” Nothing else was ever discussed.
So, the next time I was in Tennessee, I brought it up. Dad wasn’t sure either. He thought that the Epps name hailed from Germany and he was quite certain that my mother’s maiden name, Luster, was Irish in origin. That was good enough for me. Suddenly I was a German-Irish-American Southerner, with a dash of Cherokee thrown in a few generations back.
Much later, I discovered that the Epps name apparently wasn’t German at all but English in origin. Many of those who have the name Epps, Eppes, Epes, and other variations trace their beginnings to Kent, England.
I can trace my father’s lineage back to before the War Between the States and there it gets murky. So, I was an English-Irish-American Southerner, with a dash of Cherokee thrown in a few generations back.
And since my great-great grandfather Alexander Epps was a private in the 63rd Tennessee Infantry and battled the invading blue hoard from the North, I guessed I was really an English-Irish-Confederate-American Southerner, with a dash of Cherokee thrown in a few generations back.
But then, just a few years ago, I visited Ireland. Ireland is such a beautiful land. Even in January, the green hues were stunning and the people and country were magnificent. I loved the food, the music, the accents, the people, the history ... I was so happy to be Irish.
Until I was informed by the tour guide that Luster was an English name. “Have ye ne’er heerd of Lustershire, in England?” he inquired. I had not. I was crushed.
For years, I held on to the joy of being Irish and now it seemed that I was an English-English-American Southerner with a dash of Cherokee blood ... and even that Cherokee part cannot be documented and the claim is held in dispute by some family members.
I have been told that one reason my strain of the Epps lineage may be murky is that, somewhere in the first part of the 1800s, there may be a mulatto in the mix — an ancestor born of black and white parents — whose name would not necessarily have been recorded in the books of that day. So, potentially throw African into the equation.
There are other lines left to trace, of course. I suspect that, like most Americans, I am really a mongrel — a mix of many breeds. Here in this giant melting pot, nationalities tend to bleed into each other and run together. So be it. The best dogs I ever owned were mongrels, too.
While I was a bit sad this last St. Patrick’s Day (I really did like the idea of being Irish), I finally know and have come to terms with who I am and where I come from.
I am American by birth and Southern by the grace of God.
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m. (www.ctkcec.org) He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and is the mission pastor of Christ the King Fellowship in Champaign, IL. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]