It's a long-running joke to me (and perhaps it's only funny in my head, but that's ok) that apparently I look like an immigrant. Which makes sense, I suppose. I mean, all of our families were, at SOME point. But I seriously have gotten compliments on how well I speak English. Which, you know, makes sense, since that's all I speak.
I've had people ask if I was Irish (nope), Italian (no), and Middle Eastern (wtf??? I'M PALE). By far the most popular question, though, is if I'm Russian. Perfect strangers walk up to me and ask me this, interrupting conversations. One of my favorite stories, which may not translate well into writing, happened on the subway in New York. I was riding along with a good (male) friend of mine, talking and laughing, when suddenly the man across the aisle asked me "Are you Russian?" I responded really nicely "No, I'm not" and turned back to my friend, who looked at me with exaggerated shock. "You're not Russian???" I again reassured him, "No, I'm not" and swiftly added on "I guess I should have told you that before you paid for my ticket over..." We both died laughing, the guy across the aisle looked very, very confused.
Fact: on my dad's side, my grandparents were raised Amish. So I'm Swiss/German on that side, French/English on my mom's. Basically very European, you know? The Mennonite heritage seems to intrigue people, especially since that's how my father was raised and that's how I was trained to cook. Growing up, the running joke was that I had a "mennonite face." Sadly, no one exactly knows what a mennonite face is. I think it's healthy, sturdy, and round? I am decidedly all of those things. Perhaps clean-scrubbed? I've grown out of that one, thankfully.
Despite the raised eyebrows, I'm pretty grateful for my mennonite heritage. The guys in this story? Great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather. The story was handed down to me as an example of a man who lived what he believed (pacifism) at the expense of everything, even the lives of his family members. But my favorite story, and one that's perhaps an urban legend that I have no way of fact checking.
My maiden name is Slabaugh, originally spelled Schlabach. (My grandfather americanized the spelling somewhat.) It means "running water." Apparently my ancestors were millers and anabaptists, which means they were against the established church and practice of infant baptism. When the church came and wanted to baptize them and their children into the faith, these millers refused, and were hung for it, in their mill, over the running water that powered their livelihood.
I was raised being told this story of my name. Laura means "victorious." Gabrielle means "woman of God." And Slabaugh? Apparently it means "hardheaded little creatures who will stick by their opinions TO THE DEATH." Yes, that sounds about right.
But those are my people: I come from a group who stubbornly stands by what they believe despite personal cost. How can I expect any less of myself?