I’m going to veer off the straight-up Revolution track a bit and talk about the second of a pair of recent family-related road trips.
There was the Revolution Reunion Road Trip (3RT) from July 29th to August 4th. That was the two-sister, 1,500 mile run in a rental car. More on that in a future post.
Then, there was was the solo (unless you count my traveling companions, who included Mem Shannon, Dr. Didg, Medeski, Martin & Wood, Mouth Music and (see caption below) Richard-Thompson-who-loves-me) voyage to Green Lake to meet a whole bunch of relatives I hadn’t known existed until two weeks ago. I drove my own sweet ride, my mother’s former car.
You can draw a straight line between this blog and that trip.
Back in February, I wrote about our Superbowl Sunday furnace repair. That post included a copy of a letter Debby (of 3RT renown) had found on an ancestry website. Our great-grandfather wrote it in December of 1920, after a pogrom the previous summer had decimated the shtetl where he and the rest of our family lived. The translated letter became part of my grandfather and uncles’ passport application packets. They needed them in order to travel back to Europe and fetch their parents and sister.
Two weeks before the Green Lake trip, I got a comment notification from the Blog Fairy. I figured it would be tied to whatever my latest post had been, but I was wrong. It was about the Superbowl post, from someone named Susan. It read, in part, “We are relatives. My great grandfather was Simon, brother of your great grandfather. Fascinating letter. Would love to connect.”
My first reaction was the emotional equivalent of a fireworks display. Excitement. Thrills.
My second was to step back and consider the possible ramifications of letting this new relative into my life. What if Susan was a serial killer? Or a crazy cat lady, not the good kind.
Upon doing an internet search, I learned she was neither. She was about my age – a plus as I have always wanted a girl cousin my age, and lived on the East Coast. We also turned out to have a couple of Facebook friends in common. The rest was as easy as 1-2-3 (“Request,” “Accept,” “Connected”).
When she found out where I lived, she wrote that she was coming out to Green Lake for a family wedding – as in “my” (and her, of course) family. So I took advantage of my current laid-off status and, after completing my daily job application (I’m trying to apply for at least one a day, and was doing that even before discovering that it’s an Unemployment requirement), drove up to the Heidel House Resort.
Turned out I’d been there before – for a State-Called Meeting of the Displaced Homemaker program. (Note on link: I built this site, but the program doesn’t exist anymore. Years before that happened and after a server migration, I lost my ability to update or delete it. So it’s still out there.)
But this was a whole different experience. In addition to meeting Susan, who turned out to be entirely fabulous, I also met a few other very cool relatives. Barry and Ellie, the parents of the groom, treated me to breakfast, and Barry showed me the enormous database of relatives he’s amassed (my branch was in there). Many others came over to introduce themselves and say hello. I don’t remember all their names, but to a one, they were lovely and welcoming.
Simon’s descendants weren’t as religiously observant as Moses Mordechai’s, so, unlike my branch, there weren’t any kashrut-obsessed rabbinic offspring. There are bankers, lawyers, insurance executives, and some truly amazing nonprofit tikkun olam types.
That includes Susan, who spends a day each week volunteering at the cancer unit of her local hospital, doing her best to help fellow breast cancer survivors navigate their post-diagnosis lives. Then there’s Seth, who started and runs a school for 300 students in Tanzania. He and his partner, a Tanzanian woman, have two children. Barak owns Essay Mentors, which helps college-bound students – at all socioeconomic levels – shine through the words on their college entrance essays. He was there, and I got to spend time getting to know him, too.
As for Susan, you could easily have imagined us as a pair of birds on a telephone wire, chirping our heads off at each other as we watched the world go by.
One of the first things she told me was that she’d found me by entering my last name (which was also Simon’s) and the name of the family’s shtetl into a search engine. Which means yet another round of thanks – this one to my library school professors, who taught me everything I know about tagging.
It was more like catching up with someone you haven’t seen in a long time (unless you count the parts where we were telling each other about our parents and siblings, etc – or just chalk that up to a pair of viral amnesia episodes at some point prior) than it was being with someone for the first time. We yakked and visited until it was time for her to start the hour-long trek to the airport.