Tuesday, July 11, 2006

A Wee Bit O' Family Background Time for another trip into the somewhat jumbled understanding I now have of my early history & some background on the folks into whose care I was delivered. As I said before, the first 2-3 years of my life are probably lost to the annals of time, never to be recovered. After much digging, needling, & prodding, I have finally come to reluctantly accept that I'll never truly know what transpired in those dark years. This decision to accept things took many years of being frustrated at every turn by cover-ups, half-truths, lost memories, outright falsehoods, and a deep aversion to discuss the matter by all those in a position to enlighten me as to the facts. The reasons for their individual actions are many, but they've created an impenetrable screen and then "shuffled off this mortal coil" to their final fate. They took the means to lift the fog of the mystery with them. I bear them no ill will, I'm more puzzled than anything, although I do have an inkling of the people, places, and times that underlie it all. RIP for now. I'll get into the next few years as best I can & soon enough to suit me, as recalling those years fills me with an unshakable dread to this day. For now we'll concentrate on the folks who had custody of me until I moved out on my own at age 16. No, I didn't quit school & run away to join the circus, I chose a more arduous route to follow. That's another life, another story, and will be covered later on if I live that long, as it's a long way in the future of this boy's life. Now onto a very complicated "family" that I call mine, although not by birth. We'll start with Dad, since he's the one I cared most for among all the various characters that made up this motley collection of souls. His mother was Canadian born and a first generation Scots-Canadian. Her parents emigrated when her mother was pregnant with her older sister. Beyond that, I've never really enquired, as it has no real bearing on the "heritage" I searched for in a vain attempt to find out who I really am and where I came from. His father's lineage is a bit more murky. I do know he came to Canada as a young boy to live with his grandparents for whatever reason. As near as I can tell, he was molded by a pair of older, very religious, very miserly people. As a result, he was said to have had no real emotional expression, other than hate and greed. It's my understanding that he married Dad's mother when she became pregnant with his eldest brother, much to the dismay and horror of his grandparents and her parents. Soon afterward, they moved with their young son to Maine in search of work, which he promptly found in the blossoming paper-making industry. He worked in the mill until it worked him into his grave in the late 1920's. They bought & settled into a SMALL house & proceeded to produce another six children, who they raised in the little two bedroom bungalo with a great rhubarb patch. As I alluded to above, Dad's father died of "exhaustion" soon after the arrival of their last child, who was far removed in years from the eldest. His death came after many years of six day work weeks filled with the sixteen hour "doubles" needed to support their burgeoning brood. By this time Dad's two elder bothers and one elder sister were married and on their own. Using the small pension insurance her husband left, supplimented generously by her offspring, Dad's mother lived to a ripe old age before passing away in what passed as a "nursing home" in 1957. When she died, the little bungalo where all but one of her children were born and raised, was sold of necessity to pay her creditors from her last years. The little place still stands and has a nice big side yard where Dad's father had always planned to add onto the house. This makes it the nicest small house in the area today, and it's still inhabited by a young family with three small children that I saw happily picking the rhubarb with their mom on our last drive past. Dad went to college and returned home to settle down in a little shack of a house he and his new wife, MM, were buying in installments from the landowner, who lived next door. As soon as he moved in, he began to build his dream house around the outside of the little place, literally. This was interupted for several years while he served in Europe in WWII, but resumed when he returned, flush with cash from sources he'd never explain, except to allude to the fact that Uncle Sam generously provided a steady supply of playing cards in their ration packs. I'll explain the house building later. As you'll see in a bit, Dad would've been the perfect poker player, as he was almost as devoid of emotion as his father. He was blessed however, with a wonderful sense of humor in place of the greed and hatred. He also was a very fair and thoughtful man with good intentions toward all. He was just nearly emotionally dead in some deep way, safely hidden from our view. He'd never talk of it until Alzheimer's took his mind and put him, as a lad, in the past. Around 1946, my "uncle R" came into the "family" in a round-about way. There were three sisters in a small village nearby, two of whom married into Dad's and MM's families. The eldest married my "uncle-to-be", the middle one married MM's younger brother, and the youngest married Dad's next-youngest brother. Thus, although not truly "family", it being a very small place, he was always known thereafter as "uncle R". My uncle had come from a small farm family that had gone belly-up during the depression leaving them penniless. Although his father found work with the CCC of the 1930's, uncle R always wanted to farm, as that's all he knew. He had the good fortune to marry who he did and when he did, as Dad immediately went in with him and his half-brother in the purchase of two adjoining family farms that had just come onto the market. As a result, this became my "safe haven" in latter times when Dad wasn't able to be with me. I'll get into the reasons for this seemingly strange "dual life" in the next bit I write, I hope. I'll also explain Dad's working life a little then, if I remember. This pretty much covers Dad and how he became to be the nice, kind, funny, unexpressive man he was. Now to MM. MM's mother was born into an old Maine fishing and lumbering family. While never going without a means of making a living, it was often a hardscrabble life in those years before WWI. Her family still resides on the coast and islands of eastern Maine and most still pry their living from the sea. One big difference today though, is that many of the younger ones no longer fish for a living, but work at whatever endeavor they can find in winter, and take tourists "deep-sea fishing" in the warmer months. The warmer months here generally being late June through very early September. Some also dig clam worms, clams, trap lobster, and smoke fish. There's also salmon farming there now. A few have migrated to the more inland areas and work in the wood products industry and as Registered Maine Guides. But we're off subject here, maybe later. Plenty of little gossipy snippets to fill a page or three. Back to MM's family. Her grandfather on her father's side had relatives living in the same area and more or less following the same lines of work as her mom's people. This worked out very well for him when, in the late 1800's, the Queen suggested he leave British soil and seek his fortunes elsewhere. As the alternatives were to remain in England under very unpleasant conditions, or go to Australia or New Zealand, he wisely opted to make an extended visit to his folks in the land of opportunity. He settled in, married, and passed his love of the bottle and shady dealings on to MM's father. As a result, it was suggested to her dad by the powers that were at the time, that perhaps a ferry ride up-river with his growing family and possible employment in the paper mill was in order. Seeing the idea as a terrific chance to get away from certain troubles on the local level, he immediately left with his growing family for greener pastures. For reasons of privacy among living family members, I'll not go too deeply into MM's family, other than to say she had several siblings, all but two of whom I've met. One died in WWI and another was committed to the State Mental Hospital at the time Dad and MM were dating. I'll get into a bit of it when there's no one left to be hurt or upset later on. For now, that's a much longer than planned capsule of where my adoptive parent's roots lie and , to some extent, what shaped them into the people they were. Not a bad lot, all things considered. Could've been much worse in many ways. As soon as my fingertips have the feeling return, I'll attempt to shed a bit more light on where and how I was raised and the times I lived in as a boy. I'll also try to portray the people involved as honestly and kindly as I can. Things were never really easy I guess, but I was blissfully ignorant of that truth, so I remained happy throughout for the most part. As my uncle told me almost daily: "We live through the hard times as best we can so we'll enjoy the good times all the more". I think that's true of most of our lives. We've got a wee stretch of darkness to travel next time, but the light that follows throughout my life was well worth waiting for. I'll try to update once a week at least, more if I can. Keep safe and stay optimistic, there's light at the end of every tunnel. Maybe that's a simple way to feel, but it's always been my way.

4 comments:

Sarah said...

Hi Mike,Your story so far is fascinating.You & Jim seem to have this wonderful talent to draw people in & wanting more.I am excited to see each new installment.I am coming back later to go over part 2 a little closer.

"P" said...

A light at the end of every tunnel sounds promising ...Good lead into what sounds to be a bumpy road ahead in the next installment.

Patricia said...

Hi, Mike...
Spent some time sorting out all the relationships in your second installment. Took a little time, but I think I've got them straight. Alsolutely no more information on your birth parents, or their relatives in the tribe they came from? Is that the information that has gone to the grave with whoever had it? Pity. No one of your same birth name from that tribe has done any of that genealogical research American Indians do to establish that they belong to a tribe? I don't know why I'm asking, if there was any, you would have discovered it and explored it by now, I'm sure. I sure hate it when you can't find out things you want to know, I have that in my own family research, I know how frustrating it can be.
Very good story telling. Looking forward to the next installment.
Pat

Mar said...

Hi, Mike, your story is very interesting, it's good to feel your optimism, I'll keep reading tomorrow (it's too late here now) and I'll look for the light at the end of the tunnel. I believe all your good and bad experiences made you good, as long as you became such a smart, generous man. Thanks for sharing your memories with us ;-)