April 5, 2018

woodpile

I became obsessed two years ago with Ancestry.com's two-week trial and went balls-to-the-wall researching both sides of my family.

This information had always been obscure, hidden from me.  My mother will scarcely speak of her father, given some less than stellar childhood experiences, but at some point I did catch his name, and that was sufficient.


I knew enough of my daddy's side of the family to know Granddaddy's name.  I received my middle name after him because I was supposed to be a boy, because I was a big baby and that's what they thought back in the 1970s.  (I was born feet-first like a pike-diver, so it's no wonder I was my mother's last child.)  There was also his sister, who killed herself back in the 1960s.  I have to wonder.  Maybe my disease is in my family somewhere.

Ancestry.com has amassed enough intricately cross-indexed information by now to allow two names to be adequate fodder.  Every lunch hour I'd pore through records and build my chart until it looked like a Katsura tree.  On my mother's side, I hit a wall at the mid-1800s because both of her parents were French Canadian and the only records were hand-scrawled baptismal books that I couldn't read.  So I'm half-French Canadian.

I made it back to the mid-1600s and found that most of my paternal ancestors emigrated from Ireland, with a smattering from England, Germany, and France, and one Ulster Scot in the woodpile.

The woodpile.  I had heard my daddy speculate on several occasions about our genealogy, but he doesn't Internet very well and didn't have the means to delve like I did.  So I had a mind to present all of this to him as a Christmas present that year.  I knew he would be delighted.  His natural curiosity would be satisfied in one corner.  I squirmed for months because I wanted so badly to give it to him, to see his face.

On Christmas morning, I set the stack of carefully organized charts in my daddy's lap and declared the fruits of my work.  I watched his face.  He was pleased, briefly, and asked me to show him how it worked.  I went through and traced the directions he wanted to follow, especially his own daddy's great-grandparents and where they were from.  He knew some of Grandma's history.  Then he said, "Well, that helps me.  I was just wondering if there was, you know, something in the woodpile."

I have fought against my daddy's conditioned racism since I was seventeen.  He once used the N-word in my house and I quite literally kicked him out that day.  He hasn't done it since, but he loves to make disparaging allusions against Mexicans and African-Americans to push my buttons.  I don't think this was one of those times.  I think he meant it.  The fucking woodpile?

Congratulations, Daddy.  We're all-white.  We're plump little chicken breasts.  Are you happy?  Because I'm not.  I wish something had turned up "in the woodpile" and made you face yourself down, gain some perspective and take a hard look at this part of your worldview.  When you're forced to do that, I always see you grow.  Like when your first grandchild died.  Like when I came out as gay.

Please grow.

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