My ancestors are ghosts. They drift in and out of the haze. You see, I never really knew them. My grand parents on my father’s side passed on when I was very young, though I do remember sitting by the river which could be reached through a gate at the bottom of his garden. This was in North Wales, in the village of Corris. I remember a man sitting in an overstuffed chair but I can’t see his features. I do know that he worked in the slate quarries when he was younger. I don’t recall my grandmother at all. The only women I remember seeing there were aunts that lived nearby, or were visiting.
I do remember my grandmother on my mother’s side. She lived in Haverfordwest in South Wales. The Grandfather King that I knew was her second husband and not my real grandfather at all. My mother’s maiden name was Rees. I think Grandfather Rees was gone before I was born.
Grandfather King worked in the brewery and, much to my mother’s ire, thought it prudent to feed me a tot of hard cider now and then. He was my buddy.
My grandmother was a little woman with jet black, straight hair. I recall the smell of moth balls. But mostly I remember her kitchen with the fire always burning brightly and with a huge kettle hanging from a hook above the flame. I used to sit on the settle, a wooden seat with a high, straight back, and storage underneath, and watch her cook over the coals. The settle was uncomfortable to say the least, but it didn’t bother my childhood bones.
I didn’t see much of them after my father died. My mother and my grandmother became estranged and when she, my grandmother passed on, my mother put me on a train and sent me at age twelve to attend the funeral.
My father was my buddy, too, and when he passed away at age forty-one I was devastated. He was way too young to die.
I look at pictures of my father and I am as proud of him now as I was then, even though he was the one to inflict the punishment I supposedly deserved, usually on my mother’s command. He was the one, you see, who wore that wide leather belt. I think it probably hurt him more than it did me.
My sister was born in 1937 but lived only seven years. She contracted TB-meningitis from the school milk program. My mother was never the same after that and as I got older we drifted farther and farther apart. My sister, you see, was her favorite, the little girl she wanted. I was a tomboy. My father had wanted a son so when I came along he promptly started calling me Sam and taught me to hunt, fix cars, and ride his motorcycle with him. Perhaps I do my mother a disservice, but I feel she resented losing my sister when she had less-feelings, I think, for me.
I asked her once when she was in her declining years to tell me about he father and mother and her childhood. She told me in no uncertain terms that she did not want to talk about it. So I am left with the ghosts who drift in and out. But, I always wonder who am I and where did I really come from.
August 17, 2005