The end. Finito. That’s all, Folks!
You see – I am the end of the line – family wise. My dad was the only boy (he had two sisters) and I was supposed to be a boy (oops, sorry about the not having a penis thing). It’s something that’s bothered me for many years, ever since I realized (and, was informed) that I am indeed, it.
About five years ago, I became very interested in tracing my family tree. Now, my dad’s side has been traced back to Adam (we’re a bunch of drunken, Scottish heathens) – but my mom’s side – well, that’s a whole different ball of wax.
My mother never told me (or anyone, for that matter) much about her family. My grandfather died about 5 months before I was born, and based on what my sister and dad have told me about him, he was quite the character and I’m very sad that I never got the chance to meet him. He came from Russia in 1913 to join the Canadian Expeditionary Forces. He fought in France, lived through Vimy and was wounded a few days later at (in?) Arleaux Loop. He was sent to a military hospital in England, where he married his nurse and they returned to Canada.
That’s about all I’ve got. My mother adored her father and didn’t have much use for her mother (who, according to my mother, was evil and batshit crazy…hmm…the apple didn’t fall very far from the tree on that one).
So, armed with that information, I started digging. I came across some information in an old family photo album that actually listed all of my grandmother’s brothers and sisters. Aha! But the person I was most interested in was my grandfather.
On and off, over the past few years, I’ve done some research, even managed to get copies of his attestation papers from Veterans’ Affairs. Reading them was just fascinating! It detailed his military history, his health, what happened when he was wounded – every little detail was meticulously kept. Except for the town in Russia he was born in. The name he had listed doesn’t exist, nor did it ever exist. I tried a million different variations, asked around to some of my eastern European friends – I just couldn’t get anywhere, so I sort of let it lie.
About a month ago, my sister gave me a bag of documents. It was everything that was in my dad’s safety deposit box – she’d had it for some time, but had only recently come across it. For me, it was like Christmas. I found my mother’s birth certificate – and on it – was the REAL name of the town my Grandfather was born in! Turns out that it’s now considered a part of Belarus (I guess that sort of makes me a Belorussian – I think we’re very good at shot put in the Olympics, if I remember correctly 🙂 ). I also found out that my mother had Grade 12 piano (never heard her play a note in her life). I even found copies of her high school report cards – she was a pretty smart cookie; dad on the other hand – erm, not so much. It had my dad’s military records, a few photos and even a letter written to my grandfather from 1904.
In this bag, was a link to the family I never knew, never got to know and brought to light who my parents were before they were my parents.
My mother was HOT, I mean SMOKIN’ HOT! And my dad was no slouch himself. I learned through some reading and from my sister that she was a talented artist (again, I never knew of this). She was a real shit disturber during her Air Force days, and spent most of her time on her hands and knees, scrubbing airplane hangars with a toothbrush. The pictures I have of her as a young woman shows a free spirit, full of fun and life and mischief. Dad was the same way – some of his Air Force stories had me rolling with laughter (some of the crap he was allowed to get away with in the 1950’s is considerably different than what they can get away with today!)
I’m sad that I never got to know my parents beyond them being ‘mom and dad’. I did a little bit with my dad, but my mom remained tight lipped until the day she died. It’s only now that I’m learning to appreciate who they were as people, as a young man and woman in the 40’s and 50’s. Why they were the way they were – what happened to my mother to turn her into an old, manipulative and excessively codependent woman? Why didn’t she share her life with us, her family? Was my dad truly happy? Did he live a good life and was he able to achieve some of his dreams?
While I’m writing this post for me – it’s mostly for all of you who might still be lucky enough to have your parents with you. Learn from them. Ask questions – not kid to parent questions – adult to adult questions. Ask about their past, their dreams and what some of the best parts of their lives have been. Would they have lived life differently? Do they have any regrets? Encourage them to tell stories about crazy Aunt Helen, about their first kiss – even their first job. Get to know them as people; you’ll be pleasantly surprised about the things you learn – after all, they’re human too.