stories

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Unrealized Family History

I don’t think of myself as having a lot of family history. For a multitude of reasons my family lineage and pasts get mysteriously fuzzy after my direct grandparents and in some cases are just cut off. Several times and I am sure several more, I have tried to go digging back into the past to see where my ancestors came from, to find their stories. Have we been here since colonization of this land? Did we immigrate over during one of those many times of crisis from the continent? Did someone fight in the War between the States? Maybe on both sides? Many questions, not a lot of solid answers. A few…stories here and there but no evidence.

My family is also very nuclear. Not a lot of sprawling family reunions happening on either side. Although I think there is more extended family over on my mother’s side, however we’ve never really been intertwined in it. Maybe it was the military lifestyle, maybe it was other factors, but for whatever reason, I grew up knowing my immediate family and only seeing my grandparents on both sides occasionally. So again the idea of “family history” was not really a thing.

Moreover I was a Marine Corp Brat, we moved every couple of years all throughout my childhood, thereby erasing the sense of personal history and connection to place that I have witnessed a lot of other people have to their “home towns”.  Again family history was…more present history, more immediate, less…well less history feeling.

I did however manage to always have a very strong connection to my father’s father. An odd thing since I have no living memories of the man. My grandfather Wallace, known as “Chuck” for some reason I still don’t know, died when I was two years old. Despite that I have always felt his presence in my life, an affinity, a connection. Ancestor worship did not come as anything mysterious or foreign to me when I first started Celtic Recon so many years ago in large part because of my grandfather and his lasting presence in my life from beyond death.  Maybe it was because everyone told me from childhood how much he would have loved me. He had always wanted a daughter, but had three sons instead, and I was the first and for a long time only granddaughter on that side. Maybe it was the comparisons. Of my immediate family I am the only lefty, like my grandfather. There are lots of little things that you could logically reason could have laid this foundation for my affinity for my grandfather, however I will always feel that there is more to it than that. A reason that everyone felt compelled to tell me how much he would have loved my art, or how he would have spoiled me. A reason that comparison was on their lips. A reason I am left handed, and born only a few days before his own birthdate. It’s a connection, an ancestral tie. He has always been there, and I know he always will be.

For all the strength of my grandfathers presence, a strength that only grew when I started to live in my father’s childhood home with my grandmother, he has also always remained an enigma. My grandfather kept his past very much cloaked in mystery, and even much of his living life is shrouded with an energy of discontent and untapped potential. Living with my grandmother for several years and hearing her stories began to put the pieces together of why my loving grandfather always also felt stern and severe. A stoic storm. But even from her stories there was still a great deal that I did not know about him. Where he was born, who his parents were, what his sisters name was. All these details cunningly and purposefully hidden by his own hand. The fact is that even his date of birth varies from document to document, and every time I try to uncover that which he had hidden I am met with a black wall of mist.

I am used to thinking of my family history in such terms. Short, insular, immediate. Yet that is overlooking a large and while not “ancient” past, still a very present one. One that I have been living amoungst longer than any other place my whole life.

My family history with Berkeley is something that I know of and is not clouded in mystery, and something I can and should continue to reverence. I just never thought about it until recently. Clue-by-four indeed!

While I do not have a “home town”, my father did, and I am currently working in and and have lived in it and near it for close to 9 years now! Insanity. I lived for about five years in the very house that he grew up in. The house my grandparents bought after renting the house next door for many years, moving away for a little while and then returning. I work right in the downtown Berkeley area, and have walked by the highschool and middleschools my dad went. I remember all the old stories of what use to be where, how Oscar’s has been around forever, how MLK use to be Groves Street (how my grandmother still called it that and had the map that still had it marked as such). I have added to this my own stories of how things have changed, my own memories.

One thing I had forgotten to remember until last Friday, was that my grandfather worked for the Berkeley Post Office for close to 20 years.  The same Berkeley Post Office that I walk by every morning to work, the same Berkeley Post Office building whose fate is currently unknown. For those not in the know, the USPS had tried to sell the building (a fairly impressive historical building) and there is now a lot of legal standstill to ensure that the building is not abused. That is a very simplified version, here are two websites that go deeper into the issues: Berkeley Post Office Defenders and Save the Berkeley Post Office.

I had heard about the ongoing legal battle when it first took off but lost track of the story, then on Friday I needed to mail a package and was wondering if the post office was still operational. It was through the discussion with co-workers that I remembered once again the connection between this beautiful if defunct building and my family. I could not remember the exact time that my grandfather spent working there, was it 20  years? Or was I superimposing my own fathers 22 yrs in the Corp? A quick text to my father revealed it was 17 years, not quite the 20 years, and a phone call later suddenly I had more information on my grandfather that I (for some reason) never had before.

My grandfather retired early from the Post Office due to a past back injury by a grenade during his time in the Army.

I’m just going to let that sentence sit out there on it’s own, since it was just sorta dropped on me nonchalantly in that same way. First of all, while I did know that my grandfather was in the Army during WWII (and that he did not think highly of the military on account), I was completely unaware of any lasting injury from that service. But here is how the story goes:

Wallace Rogers

My grandfather was a Drill Sergeant in the Army during WWII, during a training one of his troops was not able for some reason to throw the grenade over the wall. My grandfather then picked up the grenade and threw it and was injured. Rather than go to sick bay, as any normal human being would have, he decided to forego it so that he would not be kept longer as he was just about to go on leave (and thus return home to my grandmother). It was a wound that followed him throughout his life, standing for long periods was  painful. Sitting for long periods was painful. Laying down for long periods was painful. Again the general storm of discontent and brooding energy makes sense. In 1972 after 17 years at the Post office this old injury was causing him lots of pain and he had to have surgery. During his recovery the Post Office was offering early retirement and so he took it.

I have to laugh at how randomly new information is bestowed on me. Once again I resolve to buy a decent microphone and on my next trip out to my parents am going to host story telling time with each of my family members. There are so many of my own parents stories that I want to keep, and many more from my grandparents that I just don’t know.

I am grateful for my grandfathers memory and continued presence in my life. I am grateful for my family history and the continued discovery of it. I am always grateful for my own loving family.

 

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