PAINTED EMBLEMS OF A RACE
31 October 2003
As the sob of the breeze sweeps over the trees
and the mists lie low on the fen,
From grey tomb-stones are gathered the bones
That once were women and men
And away they go, with a mop and a mow
to the revel that ends too soon
For cock crow limits their holiday--
the dead of the night's high noon
Gilbert & Sullivan, Ruddygore
I very nearly forgot the On Display topic for October. The topic is "ancestors," and it is a subject I have touched on several times in this journal.
Tonight, with all the ghosts and goblins wandering the streets (though few where we live) seems a good time to think back on my ancestors. I come from a line of colorful characters.
My mother is from sturdy farm stock, good ol' Iowa farmers (descended from Scotsmen, who immigrated from Scotland to Canada...the head of the clan is said to have fought with Robert the Bruce and the Kirkpatrick clan got its motto--"I make sure"--from this guy who, after ransacking someone's castle, went back to make sure the enemy was dead..."I mak sikar" ("I make sure").
Fortunately, this bloodthirsty trait was not passed down the line, though it is said that one distant relative rode with the Hole in the Wall Gang (Butch & Sundance's buddies). Most, however, became farmers.
My great-grandfather had one leg and it is said that he walked with his crutch, and my grandmother, from Iowa to settle in California. Years later, my grandfather, who suffered from poor circulation, had to have first one, and then the other leg amputated. My grandmother said she'd grown up with a man with one leg and never dreamed she'd end up married to one as well.
My father's grandparents came from Ireland (except for that German grandmother who snuck in there). They raised five sons in turn of the century San Francisco. One became a champion bicycle racer, one nearly a champion prize fighter (I found his name in a book once), and one (my grandfather) was a singer in the waning days of vaudeville.
My grandmother (the one from German stock) was a dancer in the same vaudeville company and...well...nature took its course and in due time they gave up show biz and settled down to raise a family...which consisted of only my father (in contrast, my mother's parents raised 10 children).
It's a shame that we don't grow to become curious about our ancestry until we are so old that most of the people who could give us first hand information are no longer here.
I would love to hear tales of my grandparents' days in vaudeville, but all I have is several scrapbooks of unidentified photographs.
My cousin has done a lot of work researching our grandmother's (my mother's mother) side of the family and has extensive information on an incredible number of people. She speaks of relatives several generations removed with great familiarity. She has a closet full of binders of information about these people, who are my relatives, but who I can't quite connect with.
There interesting thing, however, when you begin to look at the information that is available is discovering that there are similarities and interests which seem to predominate in families.
In my mother's there are a large percentage of writers and artists. What's surprising is that writing is such a big part of the make-up of the family that there was a large collection of letters that was passed along in the family. Letters that were written by my great-great grandfather to his children in California. When you consider that this man was a farmer in Iowa, it's pretty amazing that he created this collection of thoughts about family life, politics, and other interesting glimpses into his mind.
On my father's family, of course, come the show biz genes that skipped my generation, but imbedded themselves in our kids. No only was my grandfather a singer and my grandmother a dancer, but my father was a piano player who actually played professionally for a brief time before his death.
It was also a big shock to me to discover that my father's father was a photographer and scrapbooker--in the days before it became fashionable to do. He not only took lots of photographs but arranged them creatively in several scrapbooks. Whoda thunk that this would be an interest he would share with his adult granddaughter?
On this night of ghosts and goblins, I think about the ghosts of ancestors whose genes I share and whose traits I've passed along to my kids.
I'm just glad that the traits that I inherited are the writing, photography and scrapbooking genes and not the murderous ones. If I'd been riding with Robert the Bruce, the only thing I'd have made sure of was that the whole event had been recorded on film and later pasted into a scrapbook or made into a slide show!