14 November, 2013

Where I Come From

I don't care where your family line comes from.  Some are more strict than others when it comes to marriage and the continuation of that line.  Me, I'm half Danish and damned proud of it.  My Mother is a full blood Dane.  My Mother's Father and Mother are both from an unbroken chain back to Denmark.  Copenhagen mainly.  In my youth I concentrated on my Father's side of the family but, in my "wise" years I cannot ignore Mother's side of my family.  Being 50% pure Dane, my Mother's side (well documented to boot) doesn't require much explanation.  My Father's side on the other hand... Potluck.  The remaining half of me is German, Welsh, Scottish and a dash of English.  There's supposedly some Native American in there, but it hasn't been confirmed as of yet. I live inWisconsin, a predominantly German state (beer, brats, sauerkraut).  We also have concentrated areas of Swiss, Poles, Irish, Italians and, if you're looking at Milwaukee (pronounced Muhwahkee, locally) a whole range of people.  Each of which has left their mark upon this great state.  Still, as I grow older, I can't help but notice the German and Danish in me.  I know it may seem stereotypical but I abhor disorder and have a passion for neat, orderly, paperwork.   I also have a desire to promote workers' rights and make sure society in general is cared for.  If that isn't the Dane and German coming through, I should probably be committed to an institution for being way too liberal.  There just has to be something in our genes that passes along the traits of our origins.  The German part of me comes through with these things, some of which I've already mentioned.  I abhor disorder, I love paperwork, I respect the "chain of command", I can't stand deviating from schedules, I'm not "upper echelon" but I can lead when necessary, I follow orders, I expect people to follow my orders.  If that doesn't sound like the stereotypical German Feldwebel, I don't know what does.  "But what about Denmark?  They're a neighbor of Germany." you say.  Well, so is France.  The French don't have those characteristics in spades to be sure.  As far as my Danish traits go, I think my maternal Grandparents, Arnie and Dorah, are a perfect example.  The worked hard, they followed schedules, they had rules and enforced them (not too the point Germans tend to),  they liked a little flash for ceremonies.  Where the maternal Grandparents differ from the "Teutonic" side of my family is in the liberal aspects.  Arnie and Dorah would help anyone.  Arnie started as a farmer in the Plains states but, somehow, got the call to be a man of the cloth.  Farming was (and still is) a difficult career.  But to leave that, go to college and enter another low paying career?  Insanity in this modern age.  Still, his wife and family supported him completely.  It was an extremely rough transition for them.  They often had to rely on others for the most basic things.  Food, furniture, clothing... The basics of life.  But they persisted.  Arnie was a damned good Methodist minister.  If you pare it away to the minimums, he was an evangelist.  He thrived on going out and visiting the members of his congregation.  He would visit people in hospitals, those sick in bed in their homes.  He had a knack for, somehow, being there when someone needed him.  And it wasn't limited to his "holy" duties either.  Arnie dressed as a man should.  In those days he would wear a pressed suit, shined shoes, the whitest shirts you've ever seen (not one wrinkle), polished tie clip, perfectly starched and folded handkerchief in the pocket... The works.  The farm boy was still in him though.  There's a story in our family that exemplifies this.  Arnie was out on his visitation rounds visiting a member of his congregation that was ill. During that visit someone mentioned that the family's tractor wasn't working.  Arnie took off his coat, rolled up his sleeves and went to work on it right then and there.  Dorah was the same way.  They say that behind every great man is a great woman.  Dorah and Arnie were a team more so than man and wife.  If you've been to a wedding lately you've probably  heard some bullshit about "Teams, partners... blah, blah".  Most of it is crap.  Arnie and Dorah were the real deal.  I'm a bit of an evangelist because of them.  As a mechanic I get asked, often, to do side work.  Most of the time I tell those people to, in a polite way, go fuck themselves.  Excepting family and the few friends I have, when I set the alarm and walk out the shop's door, the "shop" stays behind.  I don't bring "the shop" home.  Period.  There are exceptions.  Say I leave work and stop at the local convenience store on the way home.  For beer.  You know, to drink away the realities of my shitty career choice and the woman who's ruined my life.  I'll be walking out of the door all excited the 18 pack of Pabst was on sale when I see some poor sap looking under the hood of their car, completely clueless as to what they're looking at.  In about one second the following thought's go through my mind.  "Someone is having a shitty day", "It isn't my problem", "That could be me", "I wonder what's wrong", "GODDAMMIT! I'm going to end up helping them!"  I just can't help myself.  Somewhere in the Danish tree is an undeniable desire to help people who need help, regardless of myself.  I don't want their praise, I don't want their money, I just want to brighten their day and make them realize the world isn't full of shit-bags.  To a point.  I'm not going to stop in the south side of Chiraq to help someone.  I might toss out a first aid kit and some extra ammunition as I drive by, but I ain't stopping.  My Momma didn't raise no fool.  On the darker side, I sometimes do it because I love a good challenge.  I couldn't give a fuck about the person, but I want to find the problem, explore it and then conquer it.  I'm a goddamn viking.  Explore!  Conquer!  Move on to the next one!  So, let's move on to my Dad's side of the family.

Like the maternal side, the paternal side of my family were hard working, benevolent people.  To a point.  Both branches of my tree suffered the Great Depression.  My Paternal Grandparents, Howard "Smokey" and Esther, reacted differently than did Arnie and Dorah.  Arnie and Dorah suffered, but they kinda rolled with the punches believing things would change for the better.  They just had to hang on a little longer and "make do".  Grandpa Smokey, on the other hand, suffered through the Depression and never quite recovered.  Smokey's (as was Arnie's) first priority was to provide for his family.  That was his job.  Roof over the head, food on the table.  From the stories I've heard, Smokey had a hard time providing even those basic necessities.  He took whatever work he could get.  He even went off with the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps.  Thank you President Roosevelt) for months at a time.  Smokey even did CCC jobs in my hometown.  In fact, the house he was quartered in during one trip is but a mile from where I currently live.  Smokey was a man who did not show his feelings, but he loved his family deeply.  His actions are proof of that.  Smokey was driven to the point of borrowing money from his father in law.  The FIL lorded this over Smokey.  Smokey was a proud man, but when driven to it, he sacrificed his pride in order to provide for his family.  He was a damn good man.  But it changed him.  Esther actually had a better job before he did.  She got a job at the Post Office and was the "bread winner" for awhile.  When you take into account the "traditional family" thing that existed in the late 1930s that was quite a blow to Smokey's pride.  He eventually got a job with the county's highway department (I have his union badge) and proceeded to work his ass off.  Smokey and Esther squirreled away as much money as possible.  Having made it through the Depression with their family and their home, they would NOT be caught unprepared should it happen again.  Smokey eventually stopped traveling.  I think the last time I saw him at Mom and Dad's house was for my Sister's high school graduation in 1977.  He did not like the unknown (after the Depression, who can blame him?) and he stayed in his "known" world.  Then he was diagnosed with emphysema, crawled into bed and gave up.  That's mostly how I remember him.  I was born too late to have more than a few "traditional" family things with Smokey and Esther.  I saw Arnie and Dorah more than Smokey and Esther, but whenever I was with Smokey and Esther, they were just like any other Grandparents.  The "normal" times I had with Smokey were so few that I hold them close to my heart and will cherish them forever.  I also am disappointed with myself for not talking with him more than I did.  I was a teenager during Smokey's final years on Earth and I was completely clueless.  I regret not making the most of opportunities I had to just talk with him.  I know I've gone off the path but it's necessary in order to explain the next parts. 

The German in me comes straight through Smokey's family tree.  I wish I had a photo handy, his eyes had that steely German gaze, his nose was purely German, etc.  Orders were to be issues and then followed.  Period.  An example of that is this little tidbit.  On the second floor of Smokey and Esther's house there were four rooms.  Well, three actually.  The fourth was the open space at the top of the stairs that had just enough room for a bed, night stand and dresser.  One of the rooms was always closed.  I never, ever, saw the door open or even saw anyone go into that room.  I was never told I couldn't go in there, but following the general rule of "Don't monkey with anything" that they had around there, I never even considered opening the door to that room.  Until I was 17.  When I was 17 I was at Smokey and Esther's to help with getting things ready for the auction.  Grandpa had gone into a nursing home and Grandma was going to an apartment.  The house and any unnecessary items were to be sold at auction.  Grandma told us we could take anything we wanted as long as we told her what we were taking.  She wanted to know where things were going.  All of us "kids", my siblings and cousins, still followed the "Don't monkey with anything" rule.  I took a small tool box and some other doo-dads, one of my brothers got some fishing poles and other small items...  None of us wanted to be "tomb raiders" and it bit us in the ass.  A lot of important stuff ended up with people who didn't give a rat's ass about the "family value" of what they were bidding on.  Early in life we were given our orders and we followed them to the letter.  Germanic sounding, isn't it?  I did go into the "room" though.  It was a treasure trove of family stuff.  All of my late Uncle Jack's stuff was in there (that's a story for another time), loads of old photos... a family gold mine.  Thankfully, most of that was saved from the auction block.  When the house was sold, the "stuff" auctioned and Grandma moved to her new apartment, I learned about Grandma's part of me.  Grandma, in a nutshell, brings the Welsh and Scottish into my bloodline.  That's where my independence comes from.  Esther could take care of herself and woe to the person who tried to change her.  She was an outstanding human being and she loved her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to pieces.  As with everyone, time had its way with Esther and she was put into the same nursing home that Smokey was in (Smokey died long before Esther).  It made me very sad to see Grandma slowly waste away though her mind was sharp right to the end.  I was living near her the last time I saw her alive.  I made a visit to the nursing home to see her (I should have done it more often) one weekend.  She was very frail by then.  I remember walking into her room and saying "Hi Grandma."  She turned, saw me, gave the sweetest smile I've ever seen and said my name.  "Timothy Jack."  My middle name, Jack, was the name of my late Uncle.  Esther, as was Dorah, was concerned with her "flock".  Both of my Grandmothers were happiest when their children, grand children and great-grandchildren were around.  I'm quite sure teaching me life lessons was the furthest thing from Esther's mind but that last visit with her taught me so much about life.  By that point in her life Esther had outlived her husband (Smokey), all of her siblings and her two sons.  She could have been completely soured to life but she wasn't.  Like Dorah, Esther believed "It's sad that our loved ones are gone, but there's nothing we can do about it.  Let's be thankful for those who are still here."  It really sank in at her funeral which, I might add, was at a church Grandpa Arnie had presided over at one point.  Also the same church my parents were married in.  Anyway, during Grandma's funeral service I was sitting next to my Aunt and Uncle.  My Aunt being Esther's daughter.  Having seen Dad's side of the family as mostly matter-of-fact, not a bit of emotion shown publicly and rarely withing the family, I was taken aback when my Aunt started sobbing uncontrollably.  At that moment (yeah, yeah.  I'm slow) it hit me that I was seeing a daughter at her Mother's funeral.  Up to that point I saw it as My Aunt and myself at Grandma's funeral.  I thought "Geez, what if this was MY Mother's funeral?"  Then I started sobbing uncontrollably.  I began to start thinking of my family as a whole.  Not two separate entities.  I then started to see how all of those branches in my family tree had come together.  In me.  I'm an individual, yes, but I'm really the sum of my parts.  I'm just one lucky son of a gun in that both sides of my family, despite the nationalities, had the same core values.  Work hard, provide for your family and help those in need.  I am, quite simply, in awe of those people who made me. 

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