Monday, March 29, 2010

Lessons from Genealogy, #2-#4

Union Cavalry capture Confederate artilleryImage via Wikipedia

#2. Family myths are often just that.

My grandparents on my mother's side always bragged about their Confederate war heroes. I never found any. I found one guy who started his own cavalry unit, then fell off his horse and died during a parade--before they ever left home. Lots of slave owners--nothing to brag about there--but no heroes.

For the longest time, the most interesting people I'd found on her side were these wonderful old lesbians who ran a farm together deep in the Virginia countryside in the 1800s. Sometimes truth is better than fiction.

My dad's dad always bragged about his Revolutionary war ancestors and how they got all these gobs of land for their service. The only one I found was a supplier, never a troop. And he did get land, but it was land confiscated from his Royalist neighbors.

#3. Sometimes family myths are truer than you might think.
Mom's mom always told us grandkids we were descended from French kings. We used to joke that, more likely, we were related through palace concubinage.

Once when I was a kid my Dad drove me through some little eye-blink of a town in Appalachia in the wee hours of the morning and pointed to this crumbling, dark, old house and said, "That is where your Grandmother is from!" And sure enough, initially all I found was some runaway Huguenots. French? Sure. Royalty? Not hardly. And over on the fringes, I found a couple of poor Portuguese who came here because there was nothing for them in Portugal. So I thought, well, that is that. No French kings. She made it all up.

In the South, back in the 1800s, "tracing"--and they used that word loosely--your lineage was a Big Thing. Most families, outside of Virginia, were dirt poor and always had been. Most people saw Southerners as backward and indolent. So it was nice to be able to say, 'Oh, our family descends from Charlemagne'. This had a little extra punch when everybody was all into chivalry and reading too many Waverly novels. It was such a big thing that there are books still in print on family lines that are "guaranteed" to trace back to Charlemagne. I had pretty much written my grandmother's fairy tales off to that sort of thing.

But to my amazement, I eventually found that one line of her family indeed does lead straight back not to French royalty, per se, but through a bunch of English royalty back to a pretty impressive line of Normans and Poitevins. . . all the way to Charlemagne himself.

I wish she were alive to see it.

#4. Sometimes there are complete and total surprises.

Dad's mom never talked about her ancestry. Her dad was illegitimate, a matter of considerable shame at the time, and she grew up poor. Yet that's where the Confederate heroes were--her paternal grandfather and her great uncles fought in that war from its start to its finish.

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Lessons from Genealogy

#1. European royalty used to (inter)breed like mink. Once you link up to one royal person, you discover that you are related to everybody who was anybody. Sometimes twice.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Alibi

D-day assault routes into NormandyImage via Wikipedia

So my son tells his room-mate George that he needs to borrow George's car so he can meet me for breakfast this morning.

This is a patent lie, as Simply, Jr. and I had no plans for any such thing.

Nor were we likely to: In the first place, I rarely eat breakfast out. The nature of my disability is such that I need to eat first thing--meaning before I do anything else, including shower, dress, and drive somewhere.

In the second place, Simply, Jr. left the house at approximately 7:00 a.m. for this supposed breakfast, and the nature of my disability is such that I am not bloody likely to be up and about at that hour on a Saturday. I reach the weekend pretty well wore out, and don't set my alarm on a Saturday (or Sunday either, for that matter) for anything of less likely historical significance than the second invasion of Normandy. I would, if I were doing this breakfast out thing at all, tell Simply, Jr. that I would call him when I awoke, and we'd make plans then.

So I am sitting in the bird room minding my own business when I get a text from George, looking for his car, which has by this point been gone three hours and some change. He is not happy to learn that I have not seen my son all morning. He is angry that he has been lied to. I, on the other hand, while disappointed, am not surprised that I have been used as an alibi. It is probably not the first time, and won't be the last: My son has been an accomplished liar almost as long as he has been able to speak. Even as a young sprat, he could look Mr. Simply and me in the eye and tell us a whopper so convincing that he would have us questioning our own grip on reality.

I figured that, assuming he hadn't either wrecked the car or got arrested (again), that he would turn up eventually with a perfectly reasonable explanation. Which he did, seven hours after he'd left home.

Wonder what he's been up to?
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Monday, March 8, 2010

To Spring

My first--and probably last--crocus popped up this weekend, which got me to thinking about Spring and about the passage of time. I planted dozens of them in the woods out back of the house over a quarter of a century ago, and every Spring, like clockwork, they'd bloom among the leaves and the pinestraw and the little wild strawberries. But over the years they've been trampled by dogs and a kid, or eaten by squirrels and chipmunks, until I really didn't think there were any left. This little fella was a pleasant surprise Saturday morning.

I have photos from one Easter in the late '80s that shows we used to have a green lawn out back, too (but see kid, dogs, above), and a half a dozen flowering dogwood. Then Simply, Jr. grew up, four of the dogs went over the Rainbow Bridge, and anthracnose got the dogwoods.

Out front, we had this spectacular cherry tree that every Spring was a mass of pink blooms that seemed almost bigger than our little house. I once looked out my window to see it filled with Cedar Waxwings passing the petals to each other to eat like so much pink cotton candy. I remember when that tree arrived, so young and small it fit in the backseat of a car. We barely got it in the ground before a thunderstorm rolled in, and because we forgot to stake it, the wind tilted it a bit, and it has remained just a little off center ever since.

The person who gave us the tree and the person who helped us plant it that day are both dead, one of cancer and one of a heart attack. And after nearly 30 years the tree, too, has begun to die. The state extension people came out and said it was a fungus in the soil and that there was nothing we could do. Each Spring its blooms have gotten more sparse until this year it probably won't flower at all, for the first time in our life together at this house. Although it will break my heart to do it, we'll most likely have to cut it down this summer.

So much changes in 25 years. For one thing, Mr. Simply has gone bald. The daffodils my grandmother gave us to plant in the garden of our new home have gotten too old to bloom any more. And since those crocuses went in the ground, two dear friends and neighbors have gone in the ground, too, as have Dad's parents, Mr. Simply's parents, and my sister-in-law.

And we're getting older as well. This morning I noticed for the first time that I was shuffling--shuffling!--down the hall to the kitchen.

I eventually got my joints unlocked, though, and headed off to work. I had to stop the car halfway down the block to wait for a pair of cardinals having sex in the middle of the road.

So here's to Spring. . . and to the passage of time. As the old joke goes, beats hell out of the alternative.