This past Christmas, my daughter and her fiancé gave me six-month subscription to Ancestry.com. History is something I’ve always been interested in, and without sounding as if the rest of humankind doesn’t matter, my own history in particular. I now have six months to piece together a ragged and eventually international account of who I am and where I came from.
What I’ve found so far goes back to the early 1800s on one end of the family and stops short in the late 1800s on the other. Back then, official records were handled with the same precision that I use for store receipts—I shove them in pockets, cup holders and my wallet until they are disregarded or lost. Details change as my memory gets foggy and when my wife tries to reconcile the bills each month, I’ve already forgotten what I spent $23.97 on at Target. The same goes with historical records, as birthdates and even names and the spelling of names vary, especially as I get farther back into history.
I’ve called sisters and cousins into play as I try to figure out first, middle and last names of people long ago dead, and it’s been equal parts frustration and intrigue. It’s all very black and white. Census records are easy to find, and most of my kinsfolk were machinists on the male side and housekeepers on the female side. None were authors. I don’t have to go too far back to get to Germany or Hungary on both sides, with a splash of colonial America thrown in for good measure.
These facts tell only part of the story. The real meat comes from people who knew somebody or who heard something about so and so. This is when I realized that here and now, in 2014, things aren’t that much different than things were in 1800. We all have stories, some accomplished, some ridiculous and both are equally telling.
One hundred years from now, somebody in my future family might wonder about great-great grandpa Rick and if silverfish haven’t devoured the very last copy of my book, they’ll find out some of the weird stuff. Maybe that’s why I do this, so that I can chronicle the stories that aren’t in black and white for my eventual heirs. Stories like this:
What’s that on the plate?
My wife and I both wear glasses. We wear them because we need them, but Mrs. G. doesn’t wear hers all the time. She likes to walk around in a gauzy world where everything is slightly out of focus, but this has gotten worse as she (and I) have gotten older and we both need bifocals to see things that are up close.
It’s complicated, but I can see things up close without glasses of any kind, but with my distance glasses on, I can’t. It has something to do with my astigmatism. My wife can’t see up close either way. At least ten times a day, I’ll hear her say, “I can’t see a damn thing without my glasses,” to which I’ll say, “Then why aren’t you wearing them?”
She also has a habit of leaving lights on in rooms she isn’t in, but she won’t turn on the light over the kitchen sink when she’s washing the dishes. This is where the clash of these two quirks brings in the comedy.
About a week or so ago, I was putting the dishes away, and found a plate with a big gob of cheese glued to the corner from her grilled cheese and tuna sandwich. The pan also had equal parts of cheese and God knows what stuck to the rim. Without trying to sound picky, I just pointed it out before I re-washed the items. The cheese had hardened to the point where I would suggest that the military use American cheese to hold tanks together. It had to be chipped off with a bread knife and I was about three seconds from throwing the entire plate in the garbage when this cheese epoxy finally popped off and landed on the floor. Milo, our dog, sniffed at it but he didn’t eat it. As for the pan, I had to let that soak for the better part of the afternoon.
A few days later, I was making myself a sandwich for lunch. Ham and cheese, as I recall. I opened the cupboard door and grabbed a plate because let it be known that I like my sandwiches served deli style—with chips and a pickle on a plate.
“What in the blue hell?” I said out loud. Sometimes my inner monologue slips out.
“What’s wrong?” my bride asked.
I held up the plate, and even from across the kitchen, without her glasses, she could plainly see half of a cherry tomato suction cupped to the backside. That thing was stuck there like an octopus on glass.
“OK, so let’s review,” I said. “You only wash and rinse the front of the plates? I mean, this was actually washed, went into the strainer, air dried, and then went up into the cupboard on top of the other plates, with a salad tomato stuck to it? And you didn’t notice?”
She was laughing too hard to reply, but at least it came off easier than the cheese.
Say, those are some smooth moves.
We have hardwood floors in the house, and part of the fun of this is that they are slippery. The dog constantly skitters across them, narrowly avoiding crashing into the walls, but the most fun part would be our poppin’ fresh dance moves.
It’s not at all uncommon to glance up and see my wife doing a robotic electric slide from the kitchen, through the living room and off into the bedroom. I’m not immune to this dance fever, and will often break into a spontaneous moonwalk of my own. This has become so common that we don’t even think about it anymore. What I often wonder though, it how this looks to our neighbors who may casually glance out their own windows into the back of our house only to see two old middle aged awesome street dancers gliding around the house.
See, we seldom close the blinds (even at night) because the trees plus the angle and distance of the house behind us leaves us quite isolated. It would take a freak accident or a real effort on their part to look into our living room—but I’m sure it’s happened. I’m not saying my wife and I are a pair of goofballs, but OK … maybe we are, a little, and I’m sure there are witnesses.
From the random fits of grapefruit juggling, to the quiet dinners at the kitchen table, to the spontaneous bouts of dancing and even to the casual specks of edibles stuck to the dishware, these are the bits of living that make up a life. As sure as we do it, I’m equally sure that if I could somehow peer into the windows of my young great-great grandparents in 1835, somebody would be wearing the wrong hat and doing something equally ridiculous. It’s the way people are, and as I dig back into my family history, I begin to humanize the black and white facts. These aren’t just names on a census ledger but real people who were living in the moment. When they weren’t being hard working machinists or raising a passel of kids in an era that I can only imagine, they were spending part of their candlelit nights behaving like idiots.
There’s no royalty in my bloodline, no people of fame or infamy. Just regular people who didn’t leave much of wake but who, for those they touched, made a huge difference. As I go though the archives and find pieces of information about the relatives that made me who I am, I admit to finding great comfort in coming from a long line of people who could probably bust a move in the living room, and laugh just as hard as they lived. For me, that’s all the royalty I need.
©Rick Garvia 2014 This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Electronic or print reproduction, adaptation, or distribution without permission is prohibited.