Ancestors

ancestors

Had a crazy and wild evening of tv planned for today, but I feel like writing instead…and maybe playing with arg, we shall see if I get round to that. Thought I’d celebrate dia de los muertos with words rather than altars of marigolds and candles and statues, more my line after all…

My dad’s parents, Patrick Colum Gibbons and Margarette McCullough…here they are with my great grandmother Mary Barrett, direct from Ireland:

Mary Barrett died in Pittsburgh before I was born, her housecoat caught fire while she was loading the wood stove. Her husband had died long before that, not sure how…he was forced to leave Ireland fleeing gambling debts, made beautiful violins, and was a drunken bastard by all accounts. This is how I like to remember my grandparents:

My grandfather was much older, no one knows quite the year he was born…he used to drink back in the day as well, but never when I knew him. He spoke Irish. My dad said that he used to work in a steel mill in Detroit until one day the wire that they were using to bind a roll of steel broke, and the pressure caused it to snap around slicing one of his coworkers in half. He walked out of the mill and started selling insurance, but I remember him telling the dramatic story of how he got that job during the great depression, when men were crowding around the gates and they chose him to come inside and start working. I liked his stories, but it was so long ago that I hardly remember them. He loved pinochle. He loved me when I was very little, and my parents were living in Taos and could visit regularly. Apparently I started screaming when I was born and continued for several years without much pause, no one would babysit me but him, because he could always get me to laugh and smile. I couldn’t talk to him much when I got older because he was rigidly traditional and Catholic, and would go on about birth control and abortion and women’s places. He might have loved me when I was little, but I always think he valued my brothers more, being boys. He did not recognize me at all just before he died, and would ask about me whenever I left the room, he was convinced that my parents had had 3 kids not 4. He couldn’t seem to acknowledge that I had graduated from college, and would explain to me kindly that highschool was enough for any woman who wanted to get married, and I shouldn’t push my luck. Steel, steel was the industry of the future, and if I had to work, I should try and be a secretary for a steel company. I mostly just thought this was funny, but perhaps it hurt just a little. I drank my first shot of whisky and danced my first jig with aunt Kathy and aunt Barbara at the wake we held after his funeral.

My grandmother I knew a little better, since she came to live with us after my grandpa died, but I think by that time she wasn’t at all as she had been. She was immensely strong-willed, and immensely Catholic as well. She wasn’t born catholic though…she had 4 children with my grandfather, converted close to 15 years after the 4th was born, and proceded to have 3 more. What made me the saddest about my grandmother was that she could not tell stories at all, I tried before she died to know her better. I don’t know if she couldn’t remember things or didn’t want to, or just couldn’t find the words…so I just really know what she was like in the last few years of her life. She loved Harlequin romance novels that had sections in them that made me blush, she loved the Inquirer and other rags and I think she believed about 60% of what she read. She always feared the worst, if anyone was home late it was because there had been an accident, if my mum was cutting up vegetables it was “careful Ruth, don’t lose a finger,” if she was in any pain at all it was the worst most intolorable pain possible. She told me that John Kerry was a gay lover and a baby killer when I told her who I was voting for. I took care of her, did everything for her for a couple of weeks when my dad was sick with cancer in the hospital over christmas two years ago, and it was the hardest thing I have ever done both physically and mentally. When she died I think it was a blessing for her and for us because she couldn’t do anything for herself any more and was getting beyond the point of my folks being able to take care of her. When I heard the news I was at a conference in Portland, and I thought I would be alright but I wasn’t…I fled to the restroom to cry, and actually went and found a catholic church to sit in for a while. I loved her in spite of everything. My favourite story about her is that when the doctors told my grandfather he had less than a year to live because of his asthma, my grandmother travelled by herself from Detroit to Albuquerque with a cane and a broken foot, bought a house, and bullied the whole family into the move…my grandfather lived another 20 years.

My mum’s parents I hardly knew of at all…here is their wedding picture in London, during the middle of the war:

Grandma jean also married a much older man…it’s funny that both my grandmothers married much older men and both were very unhappy in their marriages, but Margartte stuck it out and Grandma Jean couldn’t. My grandfather’s name was Robin Dar Woodcock, and he died years before I was born. This is how I remember grandma Jean:

Here she is with her second husband at her home Wayes in Devon. he was an old farmer who spoke like a pirate and I understood very little of what he said. He wore braces that creaked a great deal. I believe the calf’s name was Daisy, and I loved that farm…everything except the pigs. I only met her twice, once when I was five, and again when she was dying of cancer and I was 13. I’m thinking i’d like to spend some time learning more about her, and about my grandfather. I know she could milk cows and make clotted cream. I know that during the war she unravelled an old sweater, dyed and respun the wool, and knitted herself a new one. She was a tremendous knitter, and used to send us these amazing bulky parcels wrapped in brown paper with loads of colourful stamps, with blankets and presents packed in plastic tubs that used to hold cornish ice cream. Mum said that grandma was very very shy, was afraid of conflict, and had trouble coming out and saying what she was thinking and how she was feeling…she had bleeding ulcers before she walked out on my grandfather on a Friday and split the family in two, lost most of her friends, lost her son for a while. I have only ever seen two pictures of my grandmother and grandfather, when she left him, my grandfather destroyed the photographs that she was in…she lived a tragic life I think, but I salute her courage. Unlike my other grandmother who became more opinionated and bitter, I remember Grandma jean as being quiet and kind and warm and lovely.

Father Al Lot…the only priest I have every truly loved and respected, he was brilliant. Here is a picture of him and my brother Dan:

he was very unorthodox or I should never have loved him…he believed in liberation theology and loving your neighbor, he did not believe in hell or most of the Old Testament. He was passionately in love with his wife. I remember him standing outside church smoking his cigarrettes, telling funny stories and cursing with the best of them. I have met few kinder, more compassionate people, who actually worked to practice what he believed in, and I respect him tremendously for that. He also had a fantastic sense of humour and an incredible singing voice. He told me this story once about when he was a priest in San Francisco in the 1960’s (fair boggles the mind, that), and was asked to officiate at a wedding. When he arrived he found that everyone, bride and groom included, were naked…this is the 60’s remember. So what did he do? Took off his cassock and married them in the nip. I miss him.

This has become a novel, but I’m writing it for me, not for you!

Jeannie Sweetser…she was beautiful, funny, and lived by herself in a trailer in the desert off of Valencia and had a bit of land and a lovely horse named Treasure. We used to go riding sometimes. She ran our youth group (parents were big churchgoers in case you’re curious, we were inflicted with a large number of church activities as children), and I remember seeing 21 Jump Street at her house for the first time and falling in love with Johnny Dep. She, on the other hand, was in love with George Michael, and I’m only glad she died before forced to realize the bitter truth! She had the fattest cat I have ever seen even now, affectionately known as hippo. She once let Jeff Voutas drive her truck down her dirt road to practice for his driving test. I was in the front seat with her, and my brother Mike and Steve were in the back when somehow Jeff hit the gas and couldn’t get his foot off to find the brake and we veered off the road and fucking ran over quite a large mesquite…um…tree? Anywhere but Tucson people would call it a shrub, but all of us remember the day that Jeff ran over a tree. I really thought I was going to die, and some major bruising occurred in the back of the truck, but I remember when the truck finally stopped and we had all poured ourselves out and surveyed the damage (minimal to the truck, maximum to the tree), we all burst out laughing and couldn’t stop for quite a long time. Jeannie was shot in the head with her own handgun that she kept for protection, and it was ruled a suicide but everyone believes her boyfriend killed her. I was in highschool then…she was probably only a few years older than I am now. I miss her too.

Dr. Travis, my freshman english high school teacher commited suicide with a handgun as well. He had this amazing warm smile full of teeth, and he wore a hairpiece, you could sometimes see the glue, and he wore this red v-neck sweater all of the time…he was a good teacher and actually gave us interesting things to write about unlike the substitutes who took his place. I didn’t know him well at all of course, but it was shocking that no one had known anything…he was always so jolly and laughing.

Ricky Zajac, a delightful little Polish woman from church as well…she also lived in a trailer for a long time surrounded by religious kitsch that definitely looked Catholic, so why she was at an Episcopalian church is a bit beyond me. She used to own a polka bar in Chicago, and the mob paid her off to use her basement, not like she had much choice in the matter. I wish I could have seen her back in the day, but she had no photographs from those times on display, and I never thought to ask her. She stayed with my parents for a few months when her daughter left Tucson…she died a few months after her daughter dragged her off to Seattle to live with her again.

Winding down…this year has been hard, lost Noel Zuniga who I didn’t know well but whose mother is one of my favourite people and it broke my heart to see her pain. Mrs. Alexander. Eddie Nunez. I hope next year I won’t have any new people to remember…and I hope there are none that I have forgotten!

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