the gathering gene pool

Posted by on October 13, 2006

The Michiana area should send Esme a thank you note for helping to stimulate the tourism economy. Since she was born, Jeff and I have had more visitors than we ever would have dreamed of receiving while living in this area. This includes the man in the above photo, who is my maternal grandfather, and Esme’s great grandfather. He called a week ago to let us know that he had already purchased his ticket– a direct flight from Orlando, Florida, to South Bend, Indiana– and booked his stay at a bed and breakfast. He wasn’t going to impose, he said, just peek at the baby, take us out to dinner, and take an excursion into Chicago for a day. Many years ago, when my mother was a baby, he had lived there while doing a nine month course at the University of Chicago. He hadn’t been back since and wanted to go see the city.

My father informed me that Popo (that’s what we call my grandfather) was crazy to be making such a trip at the age of eighty-nine. But my father is not a big fan of adventures, except the ones you take between the covers of a book, while propped back in an overstuffed recliner. My grandfather, on the other hand, has never stopped having adventures and doesn’t seem intent on stopping, ever. He has always owned a boat and still does, which he “goes out in” about three times a week. In his younger years he owned a plane. It was only a few years ago that he gave up owning a motorcycle, which over the course of several decades zoomed him through miles and miles of parkway in the Blue Ridge Mountains, with various of his eight grandchildren clinging to his windbreaker in the seat behind him. After being stationed in Alaska in World War II, he must have felt the need to keep the adventure ball rolling. He has stories. My favorite is one where he and another pilot friend (in the mid-1940s) decided to fly from North Carolina to Manhattan in a tiny, tiny plane that flew barely faster than a car could drive. They made it into Manhattan sometime after midnight, and putted in the air around the island trying to spot the airport. He said they traveled directly over Park Avenue, going not much faster than the cars below, flew over Times Square, and passed not more than 500 feet above the Empire State Building. When they finally landed unannounced in La Guardia, they were in big trouble. The traffic controllers cursed as they approached, told them to get the *#@*# out of the way because another plane was scheduled to land on that runway shortly. They were met at their plane and fined $50, which drained their weekend funds and ruined their plans for a big time in New York. Oh…how times have changed.

While with anyone else I might have been a little put out at not having been consulted about a visit, my reaction in this case was only to be thrilled and flattered that my eighty-nine year-old grandfather, who happens to be my favorite relative, was moved to make a special trip just to see his thirteenth great grandchild. (You would think that after, say, the twelth, great grandchildren would become slightly passe.)

On our way back from an Amish restaurant in the country last night Jeff wanted to take the backroads home through the cornfields instead of the toll road. We didn’t have a map, so we just guessed, and naturally, got lost. One might think that our elderly passenger would be put out to be lost in the backroads of Indiana at 9 p.m., ready to get back to his bed. But not Popo. He seemed to enjoy the uncertainty of driving through uncharted territory, and kept saying that it would have been helpful if we had a compass (as I recall, he has always had one mounted on the dash of his car). This morning he called me from the South Bend train station sounding delighted at the senior price tag on his round trip train fare to Chicago.

Having him here, along with the other relatives who have visited, makes me scratch my head when I look at Esme. There are so many wild cards in the Wickes-Mason gene pool. And yes, there is also the darker “shadow” side of both families, which I won’t go into here, but it is interesting to think of a baby–another individual– being born out of the colorful cornucopia of people that make up a family.

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