The Genealogist

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From Grandmère’s album.

GRANDMÈRE IS REPEATING her favorite stories for my enrichment in a tidy room carpeted with green shag.

Grandmère has no filter.

On TV, Pope John Paul II is pretending to be God. A statue of The Virgin is enshrined among candles in a window. I should kneel in front of it, says Grandmère, and ask it for a good husband. (She was a naïve girl when she married Grandpère and definitely didn’t love him, but he was a fine husband anyway, and she was very content).

It’s wrong to worship idols, says my thirteen-year-old self, conscientiously. But ninety-one-year-old Grandmère isn’t listening…

Grandmère is so petite–when she plays the organ her feet barely reach the pedals. She has a memory like an elephant, though, and has traced her roots all the way back to 1695. She opens her album and flowing names like Jean-Baptiste reenforce the knowledge that my people came from France, ate snails, and died praying to the dead. (Ahhh, you say, that explains so much!)

They are strangers to me, these people of antiquity.

But I came out of them.

My 2nd great-grandfather dropped dead one morning for reasons unknown. Another one made coffins for a living (melancholy fellow). In fact, there are still undertakers among my relatives to this day. One of my dad’s brothers worked at a funeral parlor for a little while. A corpse developed rigor mortis while in a semi-sitting posture during a memorial service, and my dad’s brother actually had to sit on the lid of the casket to get it closed before the burial. (There’s your morbid/random fact for the day.)

My 3rd great-grandfather met his second wife at his first wife’s wake. His mother was half Native American. No doubt I lost that drop of native blood in my first nosebleed (which was a gusher, let me tell you), and I suspect that if you shake any American family tree hard enough an Indian will fall out; but my mom has been called a “white Indian” by the locals, and my grandpa looked at my sun-tanned skin and sun-bleached hair one summer day when he was trying to take a nap on our sofa and dubbed me Desert Flower.

Me Desert Flower. Me good Indian. Me no speak forked tongue.

(If you’re Native American, please forgive my sense of humor… That was lame… I know.)

There’s a mirky, sepia photo of a couple of 4th great-grandparents. They both weighed 240 pounds at the time, according to Grandmère. The woman in the picture left the man in the picture the day after their wedding and wept for three days before her father could persuade her to go back to him. The poor young thing told her parents (in French, says Grandmère, because that’s an important detail) … well, never mind what she told them!

And the moral of the story is?

(When you’re too lazy to write something sensible, you put “and the moral of the story is?” at the end and let the reader do your work for you.)

2 thoughts on “The Genealogist”

  1. A desert flower blooms in the midst of the death it is surrounded by, cannot escape, nor flee from. It survives in the harshest conditions with a fierce determination to thrive on little water. Desire for partnership in the lonesome world of a billion sandgrains mostly dry and samey, means t-i-m-e. This head will never bow to the idol of religion or marriage (stomps foot and bites bottom lip with hands on hips). The dead are dead even if they appear to be alive. Discernment only comes from the Holy Spirit. The horse and knight might never ride over the crest of the dune, but a businessman, a wacthmaker, or a tiller of the field might. After all, gold is found within the hills of which all appear similar, you just have to start digging in one of them. The desert flowers’ sandy horizons still continue to see the sun daily and its blooms are continually warmed by the hope that that this barren wasteland, this death valley, will soon become a garden again bursting with life. On that day the Carpenter will pinnacle the sandy hill, lift your withered blooms to His face and give you the water of life freely. Find the gold like Him sister, it will be worth the dig.

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