Friday, January 16, 2009

What if...

The eyes clenched it. Peering up from the grainy Facebook photo of a young college student were my father's eyes. He had my last name, so rare, that a google search only turns up what I've posted on the web and a few odds and ends posts from family members or the cemetery plots of deceased grandparents.

I sent the guy a note and he added me to his list of friends: college girlfriends, drinking buddies, classmates, and me. I listed the names of his paternal ancestors and asked if they were his dad and his grandfather. Stunned, he wrote back, "Yeah, how'd you know??"

A long time ago my grandfather, groomed to be a priest, instead married your great-grandmother and if they'd stayed together, as good catholics should, I wouldn't be here, my children wouldn't be here, my entire family would still be dust.

George had two sons in Pennsylvania and neither knew the other existed until one day, on a baseball field, someone yelled out their last name and both boys yelled back, "What?" They never saw one another again, though years later my dad tried to make contact. And so we knew how the generations grew.

George was a drinking man of German stock. During the war he dropped a vowel in his name to avoid nasty associations with Hitler's Germany. He worked primarily in the tobacco industry and finished his career as a foreman for the Tampa Bay cigar factory. Retiring to a swampy, cypress-shrouded acre in Land-O-Lakes, he and Lois fished for Bass, killed water moccasins, and sat on the picnic table every evening with a six-pack of Budweiser.

I spent the summer of my senior year helping them take care of their one daughter, a mentally retarded adult, as they prepared for the inevitable. George and Lois died within one month of each other - one from bone cancer, the other from lung cancer.

I was at my grandfather's side minutes before he died when he confused me with one of his sisters. And I responded as though I was. Excommunicated from the church for his divorce, and told by the Baptists on his doorstep that Catholics were evil, he eschewed religion. When he learned he was dying of cancer, he gave me his rosary. On his death-bed, I gave it back.

My father had no sons and when he dies, this line of Miedrichs will desist. I look again at the eyes in that grainy photo. The future is now yours.


Anonymous said...

Wow--I never knew this story! So the person on facebook is your cousin once removed?

allison said...

(oops-that question was from me)

Karen Miedrich-Luo said...

Sort of, I guess. His grandfather would be my half-uncle. My grandfather would he his great-grandfather that none of them ever knew.