Ancestry

Ancestry

You can subscribe to a search engine that traces your family tree to the threshold of history. An in-law had been doing this with some success, until he tried probing into my mother’s side of the family. Two generations back and he hit a stone wall.

I remember a childhood on the sand lots of Long Island, unpaved roads, an impoverished cluster of homes built by the people who lived in them, more German and Italian floating thru the hot summer nights than English, deep poverty in money terms, but at my German grandfather’s house there was a garden yielding corn, potatoes, carrots and cabbage, and a large patch of ground fenced in with chicken wire holding a good thirty laying hens, two roosters and a ferocious Tom turkey; there were fruit trees laden with plums, pears and peaches.

At the Sunday gatherings the house was packed with aunts, uncles and cousins, the women clustered in the ill-lit living room, the children running wild thru the house and thru the back woods, and the men around a wooden beer keg on the drainboard in the kitchen. Aunt May was the only woman who dared intrude into the men’s world, pulling up a chair next to the wood-burning stove, her varicose veins bulging thru her brown stockings rolled just below her knees. “Give me a beer,” she’s say, and the men –big and raw-boned with faces weathered from a lifetime of hard labor–rushed to oblige. Aunt May would draw deep from the beer and wipe the foam from her old-woman’s mustache. “Listen,” she’d hiss. “Listen…”

The children sat spellbound at her feet and the men grew quiet as Aunt May, in a raspy, hypnotic voice, began her tale.

These were emigrants with an unwritten past, people who reported to no one and birthed their children in the beds they were conceived in.

It fills me with pride that the digital world cannot penetrate my past, and that the spirit of my ancestors lives on in my blood.

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