So I have one of those jobs that requires me to do one of those things where every-so-often, I have to query my family for random facts about things I thought I knew but have no earthly idea about. For instance, I have no idea when my mother re-married her current husband (my step-father). I called up my sister figuring that while I’m a terrible son for having no clue, maybe she’d know.
Both of us were at the reception, by the way and it was a grand affair (they didn’t have a formal wedding). I was off by a solid two years. I thought they’d been married for like 13 years. Turns out its been 15. I wish I knew that. Fifteen sounds like a year you celebrate. I’d have sent a really nice gift or something. At least a card. Something.
But it gets worse (maybe not worse). I have a shit-ton of sisters. Most of whom are married. I had to call people to get wedding dates (I was at most of their weddings…we have a rebel sister who has been married a few times who hasn’t had one formal wedding yet) and last names and dates of marriages. That made me feel some type of way .
Here’s something fun, I have two step-sisters (though referring to them as step might get you slapped). Our mother’s (my step-mother, again with the slapping) information was required because, ya know, mother. Well, she had been previously married to their father. Do you know who had no idea when their mother and father were married?
Yep, my sisters. I’m over here giving them vital information for their lives. While I was talking to my mother she joked that maybe she needs to sit us down and talk to us about our histories and all that.
That brought my mind back to a time of my youth when I made an inquiry. Allow me to set a scene for you.
My family (on my dad and step-mother -slap- side) is full of southern Black folks. My mother is from Atlanta and my father is from a little town in Alabama called Five Points. It’s in Chamber’s County, Alabama which is where Joe Louis was born. Chamber’s County courthouse was used in Mississippi Burning. Anyway, I have a lot of uncles and aunts. I can honestly say that I only know two well. I’m pretty sure my dad has at least 10 brothers and sisters. At least. My grandfather had 10 (I believe) and my grandmother had at least 4 kids. I met two of my father’s sisters at my grandmother’s funeral. To say they couldn’t have given a shit that I existed is an understatement but they didn’t give two fucks.
I’m losing my point, but I’m letting the beat build.
Point is, I only really know two of my aunts and uncles on my dad’s side but I do know his uncles pretty well. Well, two of them as well. My grandfather died when I was 3. As you can see, there’s lots of folks I don’t know that if I were to see on the street I’d have no clue they were family.
My mother has two sisters and a brother. Despite this being my “step” family, I’m way closer to this side of my family than my father’s side. Mostly because they’re all in Atlanta and we spent a lot of time with the Atlanta family. One day, in my youth while my mom’s father (in the south we call those “grandfathers”…he eats dressing) was visiting from Ohio, I had an epiphany. So I went to my father with this epiphany that was more of a question. It went a little something like this:
“Daddy, do momma and her brother and sisters all have the same dad?”
My father looked at me and said some of the most poignant words ever uttered to an 8 year old:
“Shut the fuck up asking questions about stuff you don’t know nothing about.”
It’s no wonder I don’t know nothing about nothing; I was too afraid to ask. I also know this isn’t an uncommon history in a lot of our families. I’ve always wondered why we never have a family reunion on my dad’s side and its probalby because the folks in my family like things just the way they are. I have no idea if there are any skeletons in any closets. I have to wait for funerals for that. But I never really felt like I could ask those questions anyway. Black folks are always talking about airing dirty laundry and presumably, many of our ancestors had a lot. Presumably. I really have no clue because again…
…how would I?
For that thing I have to do for my job every-so-often, those types of digging into the weeds are unnecessary. But I can honestly say that I’ve never really thought much about my family history outside of my immediate family. Or at least not enough to try to ask the questions that folks might have been living with long enough to not want to answer. This is a shame, by the way. But it’s really easy to have a million cousins and family members that you know you’re related to without really having any clue why. There are just certain places in America for which I’d never date a woman claiming such place as home. Newnan, Georgia. Roanoke, Alabama. Anywhere in Chambers County, Alabama, specifically.
And the point of it all is that I wonder if other people have faced similar situations when trying to find out information about your family. I also wonder if this is a Black thing. Not to racialize everything, but you know there’s a reason why Black folks are obsessed with image and not airing dirty laundry. And a lot of that starts with family.
I got all the information I needed, by the way. I’m also sure we’ll never have a family pow-wow where its explained why that one cousin always shows up to events but none of us really have any clue who she is attached to. Okay, that’s not true. Or is it?
No one really knows.
How about you? How much do you know?