ANCESTORY

I come from good people.

“Who are these people?”

“I don’t know. The one on the right is my Grandpa Jack, my father’s Dad.

He’s wearing a dark suit. He always looked good in a suit and he’s carrying a hat and I don’t know the other two people. On the back of the photograph is written George and Mary so I assume they’re brother and sister to my grandfather.”

God, I’m low.

I wish I could feel better.

They’re standing in front of a car. It’s not my grandfather’s car. It looks like a Pontiac or a Buick from the late 1940’s, but there’s not much showing to tell.

The house is on Washington Island, Wisconsin I feel sure, because the road to one side isn’t paved. It’s a plain house, but they’re dressed for travel or church or visiting family the way people used to do.

The men have suits and ties. The woman has a dress and a broach at the neckline. Why doesn’t anyone dress up any more?

My grandfather never went beyond the fifth grade. He looks like a businessman.

He looks like a gentleman.

All men wanted to be better, at least in my family.

There are no drapes on the windows of the house. There are no shutters to adorn the plain white siding of the walls. There are no extras of any sort whatsoever. Extras cost money, except these dressed up people in a barren place at least one of them probably called home with a car to get around.

I think I’m sad because I don’t know two people to whom I am related. I never met them. If I did it didn’t remain. I lost it for whatever reason. I’m here and it’s as thought they’re looking at me. I want them to see me. I want to know if George is married, if he’s good to his wife. They’ve all got the same high forehead in the picture, but am I supposed to be a forensics expert? Am I supposed to know?

Wouldn’t it be so much easier if we’d told the stories so we could know?

Then I could say George had a hardware store in Sturgeon Bay and raised three children, had a rough time when the big franchise came to town, but hung on and did alright to the end. He’s buried with his wife in the plot where the rest of his kids and their families will rest some day.

Mary outlived three husbands and worked in the hospital until she retired, then moved in with a man she never married.

Wouldn’t that be nice, to know something and not hold a picture without beginning or end?

You know what holds me?

You know what keeps me?

It’s the expression in my grandfather’s eyes, the one in the picture I know.

He’s the one with the down turned smile. He’s the one who looks into me and says he understands and so will I eventually if I don’t take it all too seriously, if I remember to hold my mouth just right.

When we’d go fishing he’d help bait my hook. We’d throw our lines into the water, then he’d say, invariably he’d say, “Hold your mouth just right.”

Then in the next few moments as if on command the fish would bite our hooks and we’d pull them into the boat.

He knew.

“Once you know it doesn’t matter what else you know.”

   ♥