A Relative History

I was never very good at math, and I might be a bit excitable, but my “fiftieth” blog post last week was actually my 49th, derelict I know. So today is my 50th post. I am always early to a party J

I decided to go back to posting about reconnecting with my mother’s American relatives, because it is so much fun to discover more about one’s roots. I posted a lot of videos on my blog in the spring from the “round robin” video I found dating back to 1985, which is now thirty years ago but somehow hairspray and balloon pants seem like yesterday!

I never found any of the round robin letters between my grandfather and his siblings, but evidently they started in the 1940s and lasted through the seventies until perhaps they all got too old or started to die off. I believe my grandfather although not the youngest was the longest lived when he died at 96 in 2004.

With the miracle of Facebook I was able to connect with my grandfather’s brother Harold’s family and meet my generation on that branch, and lovely ladies they are. One of them sent me their mother’s beautifully etched version of the family history, and what she knew of each sibling’s family.

She begins the history with an apt preface, which I will quote:

Nothing would have pleased me more than to have been able to include some famous writer, educator, or statesman in our family tree, but I’m afraid that like most families ours is unexceptional…. Except for the fact that I knew most of these people… and that I loved all of them.

Although none of us are famous, I am sure there are one or two or three Derelict Moms in the family tree, and most certainly, at least one.

The author also says she will tell you about the Youngblood family as much as she “will tell you what I think I remember from the adults’ conversations and from reading the Round Robin letters.” Inevitably oral history will get some parts right and some parts wrong and the difficulty is in looking back and trying to distinguish one from the other. When I read the section on our side of the family, and knowing the difference made me giggle many times over. Here is what it said about my grandfather Curt:

A book could easily be written about Uncle Curtis… he had the most extraordinary life of any of the Youngblood’s. He received his law degree from the University of Arkansas and there were two future governors of Arkansas in his class, Sid McMath and Gov. Cherry. He enlisted as an officer in the Navy and served in the legal department of the navy during World War II. He was legal advisor to the Secretary of the Navy and observed nuclear testing in the South Pacific. At the end of the war he was transferred to London, England where he tried court marshal cases and handled lawsuits that had been brought by private citizens against the U.S. Government. He, His wife Ruby, and daughter Jane lived in a huge home with formal English gardens and completely staffed; chauffeured in a black limo with American and Navy flags on the fenders. ( The U.S. Government felt appearances and protocol important.)

The parenthesis are the author’s. I am not sure if all those details are true, but I don’t think they had a staff- I must ask my mother. The early history is spot on, but as it gets farther and farther away from the common ancestor the story gets farther and farther from the truth and more and more entertaining of course.

Curtis held court in Ireland, Scotland, Italy and France where they collected furniture, art etc and many friends who visited them in the U.S. including the author of “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” (this part is of course not true) . They continued to travel throughout their lives…

The parenthesis are mine this time… they were actually friends with the author and mastermind behind, The Man Who Never Was, Ewen Montagu, not John Le Carre the fiction author. Mere trivial details!

She continues:

Upon returning to the U.S. he was assigned to the Pentagon and placed in charge of the Navy’s offshore oil well and for the first time they were able to build their dream home… it is right on the Potomac River. The three story house which boasts a fireplace so large you can stand in it was built of brick made by slave labour (purchased when an old federal building was torn down.) When Uncle Stan viewed it he said it was so impressive it looked like the first National Bank of Texas.

I remember this fireplace and it was a pretty normal sized fireplace, which only a toddler could stand in, but that is from my perspective and I did grow up with electricity, parents, shoes, and multiple fireplaces. Of course I also grew up with the family trait of telling tales and never letting an even truth get in the way of a much better exaggeration.

Here is where the story gets funny:

When Curtis retired from the navy he went to work for a publishing company handling their legal affairs. His daughter Jane married a young English Barrister (lawyer) named Rob Spurling and they live in London with their son and two daughters. Rob’s father was Lord Spurling and Governor of the Bahamas, where Jane and Rob lived the first few years of marriage. ( A position the Duke of Windsor held during the Second World War… when the Royal family wanted to exile him for marrying Wallis Simpson.) Oddly enough Jane did not meet Rob in England but at Washington and Lee University. I have probably told you more about Curtis than you really wanted to know but he truly had an interesting life. And yes he did meet Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip though not in England.. but at a Garden Party at the White House.

I just love the asides, despite the fact that it is totally hilarious, it would have been nice to be the granddaughter of a Lord and grow up in London, with a sojourn in the Bahamas, but alas none of that happened! and my parents met—oddly enough— at William and Mary University. My dad’s name is Rick, we live in Bermuda, my grandfather was a Sir and was never Governor of Bermuda or the Bahamas for that matter.

Particularities what do they matter? I wonder if they got these details from my grandmother’s Christmas letters, which tended like my Mother’s Christmas cards to be a more glamorous telling of the year’s events than an even truth. We are working on the 2014 version as we speak so I will be posting about that soon.

What amuses me most about the family history is that although Curtis “had the most extraordinary life of any of the Youngblood’s,” his life story is told through all the people he met or didn’t for that matter: Sid McMath and Gov. Cherry, John Le Carre, The Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson, and the Queen of England …. Not to mention the fireplace.

It’s pretty funny just think if he or she had written a memoir.

Xx Derelict Mom.images-7

The Dangling Conversation

If you have read my blog posts in the past you may have followed my interest in digging into my family tree. A few months in I realized it was more of a life long interest and not a temporary project, so I convinced myself to take a break. I have also been run off my feet with my living relatives especially the little one, who has no idea she has third cousins thrice removed who died in 1897 and lead a life full of intrigue. For Eva, Mommy, Daddy and Auntie Zoe are the most important people in the world and despite a few friends and her grandparents she is not sure why anyone else matters. Her biggest problem is that her mother, me, finds everything fascinating.

When my parents received a phone message from a long lost relative we had never met, I was eager to call the person back. As soon as my mother listened to the message she gladly passed it on to me, check that box! But I did not have a chance to call her until 7:30pm when Daddy came home from work and was playing with Eva.

The woman I called will be henceforth referred to as Shirley, which is not her real name in order to protect the guilty.

I dialed the number, she had said she was staying with some friends: let’s call them the Haywards.

I dial the number.

“Hello, is this the Hayward residence?”

A long mumbly pause.

“Hello.”

“Oh, um… Yeeeeeeesssssss.”

“May I speak to Shirley who I believe is staying with you?”

“Well, my dear, I am SHHHHIRLLLEYYY.”

“Oh” I say surprised that she would answer the phone so nonchalantly when it was not her home.

“You called and left a message for my parents Rick and Jane Spurling wanting to ask about the Davis family, I am their daughter and I am calling you back.”

“Oh, wow you called me back.”

“Yes.”

A long mumbly pause

“Hello???”

“Oh yes Oh yes, now who are you again?”

“Lucinda Spurling.”

“Who are your parent’s”

“Rick and Jane Spurling.”

“Why did you call me?”

“I called you because you called them?”

“Oh, I did?”

“Yes, this morning.

“What did I want?”

“You were looking into the Davis family. My great grandmother was May Davis Gurr.”

“Oh, and you are?”

“Lucinda.”

“Oh yes Lucinda Davis, I think we have met.”

“No we haven’t and it is Lucinda Spurling.”

“Who was your father?”

“My father is Rick Spurling, his mother, my grandmother was Marion Gurr, the

daughter of May Davis Gurr.”

“Huh?”

“May Davis married Frank Gurr, and their daughter Marion is my grandmother.”

“Who is your husband?”

“It does not matter, my husband is British, and I kept my maiden name- Spurling.”

“Yes, Lucinda Davis.”

“No Lucinda Spurling.”

“Whatever, well what I want to know is to look into the Davis side of the family.”

“We don’t know much about that side.” I say trying to discourage her.

“Well I am really serious! “

“I can tell.”

“I have been here two weeks and I am finally starting to call around. Did I call you or did you call me?”

“I called you back.”

I hear something that sounds very much like a swig.

“I am from New Mexico.”

“Oh that is nice.”

“Who is your husband?”

“It does not matter, he is British and I kept my maiden name.”

“Oh My husband thinks he is Bermudian.”

She giggles, “ I am from ALBUQUERQUE NEW MEXICO.”

“I know, you told me.”

“Did I call you or did you call me?”

“I called you back.”

“No one ever calls me back, you are so SWEEEET.”

So is that cocktail you are swigging I think.

“Do you know Bill Davis?”

“Yes”

“Bill Davis is going to help me; he is quite elderly.”

“Yes he is now.”

“Are you related to the Shelly Bay Davis’s or the Bailey’s Bay Davis’s’”

“Shelly Bay.”

“Well, we are related to both sides.” She says giggling again.

“Oh really, that is interesting.” By now I am wondering how to put myself out of this misery.

“I am 73.”

“Oh good for you, I am 38.”

“Is your name Ann?”

“No, Ann is my aunt.”

“Oh COOOOLLLL, I spoke to her today.”

“Oh you did, then you know everything you need to know.”

“Ann is a COOL lady.”

“Yes she is.”

“Ann was a Davis, what did Ann tell me, I can’t remember now.”

“Oh well,” I say sighing.

“ My mother, Kate married Harry Davis, Kate was a Barnes so I am related to everybody.”

“Everybody?”

“Everybody! So what is your mother’s maiden name?”

“Youngblood.”

“What is your father’s maiden name?”

“He doesn’t have one.”

“I want to ask you something, as I put my life together, can you help me put my life together?”

“Yes” enormous sigh from me.

“What is your number.”

“297-0221?” I gave her my old number that was disconnected many years ago.

“I am really serious about this, I will call you.”

“Okay.”

“So Who did you say was your husband?”

“It doesn’t matter, he is not Bermudian.”

“Did you call me or did I call you?”

“I called you back.”

“ No one ever calls me back.”

“I really have to go now, I have a two year old I need to put to bed.”

“Oh a two year old, I don’t have any of those anymore.”

“Okay, goodbye.”

“Goodbye, you will hear from me again- I am serious.”

CLICK.

The first thing I did was laugh, call Ann, and wonder what I would have done with those twenty minutes if I had not been on the phone with “Shirley.” Ann and I agreed that the drinking gene in all of our convening family lines, had many expressions and one of them was Shirley.

I have to admit that this is the first time I have given out a fake number to a drunk grandmother, which made me perversely nostalgic for the days I gave out fake names and numbers to hoodlums who tried to sleaze up to me- I guess I have lost my touch, or maybe just my youth. I also realized the danger of having years of dinnertime, bath time, and story time and then when the babies fly the nest replacing those activities with cocktail hour – even at age 73. Maybe I won’t wish for an empty nest so quickly.

Xx Derelict Mom.

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Long Days Journey into 1985

I can shoot a gun and ride a horse

I can shoot a gun and ride a horse

A few weeks ago I went to see my friend Timothy Trimingham Lee’s play in the Bermuda Festival. He came back from London to put on a production of the Eugene O’Neill play Long Days Journey into Night, and that it was – a long night was had by all. The original play is four plus hours and Tim was able to expertly cut his version down to three and a half hours, which is quite a feat to do seamlessly. Nevertheless it is a hard ask of a modern audience to watch a play that was written in 1941 and set in one location for four hours.  From a critical rather than entertaining perspective it is a towering play, Eugene O’Neill’s best, a thinly veiled autobiography of a family plagued with addiction. Although the play is certainly not modern it’s themes are and they resound for an island where families so often reside together or near each other (like our family) and cannot escape the ravages and temptations of addiction nor can they escape the temptation to argue with one another and life is generally better when the booze stays locked up in the garage outside. That’s where James Tyrone of the play locks up his liquor from his sons, and coincidently my father does the exact same.  My dad says he keeps it locked up so the handy men don’t steal it but I think it’s actually so his wife and kids don’t help themselves.  For some inexplicable reason he has now moved it out of the garage and put it under his bed. Our family of course comes from a long line of drinkers in the Bermudian tradition of rum swizzle mixed in a washing machine, vodka everyday and champagne only on special occasions. During the play I am sure we were all thinking, “Geesh it’s Friday I could really use a drink.”  I made my way right to the bar during intermission, but I think I might have been the only one to know we had another almost two hours to go.

Most of my family attended the play: myself, Chris, mom and dad, Aunt Ann, and the Uncles Michael and Michael. At about 11:30pm the play came to it’s long awaited climax when the drug addicted mother now finally completely insane and wearing her wedding dress, in faded glory, representing all she and the family had lost went on a crazy monologue about the past because everyone knows Mom has to have the last word. When the curtain fell, there was a moment of disbelief that the play had actually ended, for those of us who remained, who hadn’t snuck out at intermission, or made an exit in the second half when it was clear the play was not going to end before last call in the front street bars.

Leaving the theatre there was a heavy cloud following us out, the awkwardness of not being able to say what an amazingly life affirming play, but being haunted by its truths and reflections. Ironically Eugene O’Neill had found solace in Bermuda from his alcoholism and inspiration for this play, perhaps by watching the other ten thousand or whatever the population was then, alcoholics clinging to the rock.

Standing outside waiting for everyone to emerge there was a collective sigh, as everyone wiped their brows, “Phew my family is not as bad as that.” When my mother and father tracked the rest of us down, my aunt laughed and said to my mother,

“I remember a party when you came out in your wedding dress.”

“I remember that too!”  I said, imagining her swigging off a champagne bottle, but in reality it was far more sophisticated than that, it was Crystal champagne flutes and the wedding dress was worn to celebrate their twentieth wedding anniversary.

“It wasn’t just me!” my mother defended.

“All the guests were wearing their wedding dresses,” and they all happened to be swigging champagne too.

Looking at our watches it was after midnight, so instead of turning into pumpkins we went to the after party.  I had a glass of champagne, which was followed by a hot flash and I had to go home like Cinderella, as the clock crept farther past midnight and closer to Eva’s waking hour.  There is nothing like a toddler to curb your social life.

The next morning I was digging through old pictures for a genealogy project I am undertaking for Eva and I came across a picture from that infamous anniversary party of my mother in her wedding gown. I figured out it must have been in 1989. My mother looks great, my father looks like he needs a makeover but it was the eighties. We already saw in a pervious post what I looked like in the eighties and it wasn’t pretty. I was thinking about how our family had its vague similarities to the Tyrones, but we are really more happy drinkers, although we have all been known to have a monologue or two.

20th annivesary001

My pride in my familial line was brimming over as I began researching our history but little by little going through my parents’ files I found things that started to chip away at that family image previous generations had done their creative best to create.  I have to admit I am still a little disappointed I can’t trace my lineage back to Queen Victoria (she used to have dachshunds like me and sometimes I wonder if she let them kiss her like I do.)

I decided to dig out some old VHS tapes of my grandparents which I had transferred after they died and found one dating back to 1985.  Watching it I was instantly transplanted into the mid eighties of suburbia Texas around about the same era as my parent’s twentieth wedding anniversary.  While my parents were swilling champagne celebrating their anniversary our relatives in Texas were “letting Jesus save them.”   I didn’t know whether to be horrified, entertained or order myself a mid day bloody mary.

My mother has been denying the existence of relatives and Jesus for that matter, for years.  In 2009 I was inspired to trace my American lineage with hopes of becoming a Daughter of the American Revolution, and when I asked her about her father’s family tree, her response was:

“They were poor, their parents died young, all the siblings went their own ways and didn’t stay in touch so no one would know anything, and why the hell would you want to be a Daughter of the American Revolution?”

Fast forward to 2014, being under employed I decided to finally complete my side of a photo book Eva’s Great Gran (who is 105 and remembers the Titanic) created for her with pictures of relatives dating back to the 1800s up to the present with the respective family trees etc.  Digging through family files, I came across a file with my grandfather’s initials: CTY. Inside was a partial family tree and correspondence from at least two branches of the family descendant from his siblings.  I announced its existence to my mother who denied knowledge of it, leaving me wondering who filed it away, but I did recognize the handwriting on the file tab.

My mother has never been interested in her genealogy and I had always put that up to her not being interested in history or the past, as she was more concerned with her current social standing, even if she alternated that concern with threats of arson and moving to Hamilton (only a few miles but a world away.)

After reading the genealogy file on her side of the family and watching the Texas video from 1985 I think there is more to it. Her whole life had been a detour from the past, her family gradually moving East and simultaneously moving up in the world until mom ended up in Bermuda swilling champagne. I remembered a detour we made a few years ago on a family trip to Montana to go “glamping”  (glamour camping) at an exclusive ranch resort called Paws Up.  My mother’s mother’s family was from Montana so after landing in Billings we detoured to a little town called Harlowton for July 4th celebrations on our way to the resort. Despite the fact that I found it almost impossible to find a vegetable in the entire place, it had the rustic charm of a ghost town. I even met one of my grandmother’s old boyfriends who was able to continue smoking thanks to his handy wheel around oxygen cylinder.

We visited the house on main street where my great grandmother once lived which was now a museum. We went shopping at the local antique stores; we all bought cowboy hats and my father just to be different picked up a bear skin rug that the owner had shot and killed. Next door to the museum was the Graves Hotel, a railroad era establishment, which had long ago been shut down, but perhaps because they heard we were in town the bar inside was still in operation. We bought a few rounds of Pabst Blue Ribbon beers for the locals and they let us share in one of their bar side delicacies: Chicken gizzards, fried to order right next to the beer taps.  A few gizzards and beers in, Chris started dancing with the locals, but our happy hour was called abruptly to a close when the meth addict lady with no teeth tried to kiss Chris in the corner. I shook my head sure she would end up revealed as my long lost cousin. To get away from her Chris had to trade his Bermuda t-shirt for his freedom and like true out of towners we high tailed it out of the saloon wishing we had brought our horses.  This incident was my husband’s (who is from England) happy initiation to the Wild West and my American roots.

Some of the country must have rubbed off on my father, because when we got to the resort, while the rest of the family were enjoying happy hour at sunset, he crept behind a rock wearing his bear skin rug and scared the hell out of everyone especially the Uncle Michaels who called out for a rifle. Miraculously no one dropped their cocktails and Dad was able to shed the rug before he was shot by his own brother. Let’s just say there is a little bit of country in all of us, and we discovered on that trip how important it was to be able to ride a horse and shoot a gun.  A few years later my sister considered naming her daughter Montana, but decided against it after my mother convinced her it wasn’t appropriate.

Back in present day digging through these family files I realized that what I discovered in Montana and what I would discover in tracing the family, is that we are all human, the meth addicted toothless Montana cousin, the God Fearing Texas folk on the VHS tape, and us.  In the words of a cousin in her letter to my grandfather in the eighties,

“I started to research my family tree a little over a year ago, and at that time I promised myself that I would do research without judging the actions of our ancestors. Understanding that people live different lives in different generations and circumstances, it was not up to me to judge their actions as right or wrong. In our lines I have found ministers, lots of farmers, a family who sold one of their children, two committed to insane asylums, a family who chased down Indians to retrieve their captured wives, two murders and one suicide. Pretty much what most people find when they research their family trees.”

Most people? Okay. The first thing I thought was that she left out the alcoholics, but with this letter I was hooked on investigating the family tree starting with my mother’s side.  Because mothers always have to have the last word, even Derelict Mothers, I will end this blog post with a quote from Mary Tyrone in Long Days Journey Into Night  “ The past is the present isn’t it? It’s the future too.”

More on my genealogy in blogs to come, with video clips too.

Photos of the Graves Hotel:

https://timmazzaferro.wordpress.com/tag/harlowton-mt/

Harolowton bar

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