I only have a couple (Roots & Wings Contest)
There are many people out there who can trace their lineage back many years, or decades, and even centuries. I cannot. I’m adopted. It’s not a bad thing, it was done right after I was born, and by a loving family, who never hid the fact from me. As long as I can remember I knew about it. When I turned 21, my parents gave me my birth mothers name. I found her, and called one afternoon. Turns out my maternal grandparents emigrated from County Cork, Ireland, and my dad worked on a boat out of Belast… making me Irish. That did explain some things, certainly. Aside from some other knowledge about health related questions, that was it. Twenty minutes, and I was asked not to call again. I guess the “white wedding” charade was still working. So,as far as ancestors go, I only have my adoptive parents. However, they were also very closed off. I’ll tell you what I know.
Mom was of Swedish descent. I know this because we traveled to Sweden when I was young, and they had a huge celebration with what seemed like hundreds of guests. One of my favorite memories from that European vacation was jumping from the top of a three story barn into a huge hayloft with my cousins. My grandparents on that side, who I only met once, emigrated in the early 1920’s, just in time to be caught up in the Great Depression. Their daughter, who would later adopt me, would be a young girl growing up through it. It only struck me later in life how that experience could shape a person. Between that and being of Swedish heritage, I never really knew how bland she was as a cook. When I moved to the south and found out how much flavor food could have, I began to wonder why she even had a spice rack. But that said, we never went without. I can only think back and believe she knew exactly what it was like to go to sleep with an empty stomach. The two recountings she told me from her youth are from the early 1930’s, and one is sad, with a little humor. The other I never retell orally, because I’d never get through it without breaking down. It may be why I rescue dogs to this day, but you can decide.
The first time I heard this tale was also the first time I’d ever heard the term “hobo signs.” Seems a circle with an X in the middle could be found near their house, and it meant it was an easy meal. I’d never heard about that kind of thing before. It seems her parents gave her some change and sent her to the corner store for a loaf of bread. She held it under her arm on the way home, but had the open end, only closed with a tie, behind her. Well, as she walked back home, it came loose, and started dropping slices out. It went unnoticed until she got home, and just half the loaf was left. I laughed when I heard the story. Today, that would be very funny. When it meant the family might go hungry, it wasn’t. She caught a beating for that. I was glad I heard it after her parents were dead.
I was never allowed to have a pet as a child. I’m not sure if this had anything to do with it, but I have my suspicions. Pal might have been a family dog, but she loved him very much. She told me her favorite place as a child was behind the wood stove, snuggling with Pal, her best friend. The dog had an unusual trait. When someone took his picture, and I never saw one, he would get up on his haunches and put his paws in the air. It’s a cute story right up until a neighbor banged on the door. It seemed some animal killed one of his chickens. These days, it would be no big deal, but back then, it might mean a family went hungry. Without any evidence, Pal was tried and convicted as the killer. Despite all the pleas, he was taken into the side yard. Thinking he was going to be photographed, he sat up and put his paws in the air… and that neighbor shot him dead. My Mother watched it. I only hope, looking back, when I came home as an adult with my dog Bare, who fawned all over her, it assuaged some of that pain. I never really thought about it until now.
Dad came to the United States later in his life and became a man of the cloth, which was fine until I began to question the beliefs he wanted to instill in me. He was born in Latvia, and though I tried to visit once, it was still behind the Iron Curtain, and we didn’t even make it into East Germany. You might wonder why I’d even risk such a thing, and the truth is I wanted answers. I’d been told that our family descended from some kind of royalty, and I could even add “Von” to my last name if I wanted. The family owned factories and shops, but lost them all when the Russians took over the country. Some were even tortured and killed. That’s what I was told. However, well before all of this happened, my grandfather had moved the family to Paris. Though they escaped Stalin, they had a similar problem with Hitler. It was two stories he told me about that experience that I remember very well, and may have defined his early years.
He wasn’t even a teen when WWII broke out, but the German advance was fast. My grandparents decided to stay in Paris, but sent their son and his two older sisters to southwest France. It’s hard to imagine trying to make that trip on foot, even without Stukas dive bombing the people who were fleeing. Aside from a tale about all of them, and others, chasing a stray chicken for food, I couldn’t get any more information. His older sisters, who I met several times, wouldn’t discuss it either. Eirene, the oldest, spoke no English, and even later on my French sucked, so there was a barrier. But it was kind of odd that Vickie, who was fun and full of life, refused to speak on it as well. They have all passed, and I’ll never know more, but I’ll always wonder. I never even knew where they were going, or everything that happened, especially since all of France was eventually under Nazi occupation. Perhaps some things have to be left unsaid.
He would return to Paris, and join the French Resistance, but he was still young. Again, I have no confirmation of any of this, but he told me he was too young to actually fight. Instead, he was on a “fire crew” that went behind the Nazi officials trying to burn everything, and extinguished fires. I never got specifics, never found out when he reconnected with his parents, or when his sisters came home. I don’t think any of it was made up. If you want to do that, you can surely make a much more heroic story. I think it’s what he left out that makes it such a mystery.
Well, that’s my ancestors. It’s all I have. I’ve always tried to make my life an open book to all my sons, but it’s up to them to read if they want. I can’t judge my adopted family, or why they were so closed to me knowing what they had to endure. Perhaps that was part of all of it. You got through it, don’t put it on anyone else. I’ll never know… they’ve all passed. I wish I’d been more forceful in my questions. But more. I wish they were still around. I miss them terribly.