Sunday, June 21, 2009

Minnesota Part Four: My Ancestors Are Way Cooler Than Yours

The earliest branch of my family on my Mother's side immigrated to the United States, then the British Colonies, aboard the Mayflower. The gentleman that was to spawn my great-great-great Grandmother was a coopersmith from Britain. For those of you that are not in the know, a coopersmith fashioned the hoops that held barrels together. Now, one may think that sort of thing wouldn't be very impressive...but only if one fails to recall that until the late 19th century, almost all cargo in the world was transported in barrels held together by those hoops. Thus, a coopersmith was often a self-made man. This ancestor of mine...had bank.

Too bad someone along the line spent it, cuz I ain't seen nary a damn nickel of it.

My most direct branch of family emigrated from Ireland in 1822, well before the Potato Famine. This relative-o'mine, by the surname Carey, first name Richard, left Ireland, and moved to Newfoundland. Later, he realized that Canadia isn't a real country, just a bunch of Minnesotans that lost their way, and moved to Maine. There he married and had a son by the name of John. This man, John Richard Carey, got hitched and moved to Superior, WI. At the time, Superior was King over the Arrowhead region of the Minnesota Territory. But, my ambitious forebear banded together with seven other families, crossed the bay, and founded the city of Duluth, which was named after a 17th century French knight that explored the area. John R. Carey would later become the first postmaster, first Probate Judge, founder of the Democratic Party, and founder of the Presbyterian Church in Duluth, Minnesota...Minnesota's third largest city.

Somehow, his children managed to squander his political connections, convert to Lutheranism, and move to the country and take up construction work. I could choke all of them.

Actually, I love my family. It is amazing to have been born in a city of nearly 100,000 people that your very own family co-founded. When I was a kid, I visited the Depot Museum in Duluth, and I saw an exhibit about John Richard Carey. I remember telling my classmates that the old ass man in the painting had the same last name as my Mom. I had no idea, at the time, that I was staring in the face of my Great-Great-Great Grandfather...a politician, family man, city founder, and racist.

Indeed, the man wrote a book called the History of Duluth and Northern Minnesota, which can be found in the Minnesota Historical Society's archives, where he speaks of the glories of the north lands, and advocates for the removal or murder of the native populations.

I think it is hilarious that his grandson married a native woman.

When David and I arrived in Duluth, I was expecting two and half days of calm and relaxation. My Mom lives on Schultz Lake. A private lake that is only accessible if you own property on it. I had phoned ahead and told my Mother that after several days of nonstop motion, David and I were tired and did not want to have to do a bunch of family visitations. I thought she understand that we would spend time with some family, but, in general, we wanted to just relax.

I should have been much more clear in my instructions.

I should have known something was up when, after realizing I didn't quite remember the way to the lake house, I called my Mom's house and my Grandma answered the phone. My family is quite like cockroaches...for everyone you see...there are a hundred more lurking nearby. When we reached my Mom's house, David smiled at the beauty of the home and the lake, and then we both gasped, as we saw through the window of the house below us, about a dozen of my family members.

I could have killed my Mother.

We walked into the house to three of my aunts, my grandmother, my uncle, a great aunt, a great uncle, my Mom, her husband, the boyfriend of an aunt, and one of my little cousins. This was the first time I had ever brought home a boyfriend to meet my extended family, and shortly after our arrival, two more aunts showed up. Sweet Jesus, David looked as if he were going to run crying back to New York, and I buried my face in the giant roasting pan of barbecued meat that my Mother had prepared.

If you think I am sassy, you should meet my relatives. Smart assery is a gene in my family, and it is also a point of familial pride. I hadn't been in the house for five minutes when the snarky comments and the fun poking began. To escape, David and I went fishing on the lake with my great-uncle (a retired military lifer), and my uncle (a recently reformed Bible beater). That should give you a clue as to the choices we faced.

It actually turned out to be a lot of fun. In the end, with my family, the bottom line is that family is family, and if you are thinking about joining up with our have to pass muster. And, though I am the brown queer mega-liberal grandchild/nephew...I am also a family favorite. My aunties were sizing David up, and my great-uncle was eyeballing David like he eyeballed the North Koreans during the war.

They loved him.

After a few hours of covert evaluation of David by my fam, they all trickled out...and by trickled I mean they almost all left at the exact same time. So obvious.

David and I spent the rest of our time visiting with my Mother, fishing on Schultz Lake, and joking about my poor Aunt Mike (real name Chioko) who, in her mid-80s, is still a gorgeous Japanese survivor of World War II...and crazy as hell.


  1. wow-o-wow-wow-o-wow-wow-o-wow-wow-o-wow-wow-o-wow-wow-o-wow-wow-o-wow-wow-o-wow-wow-o-wow-wow-o-wow-wow-o-wow-wow-o-wow-wow-o-wow-wow-o-wow

  2. You almost made me spit out my cabernet sauvignon on this damn computer. LEAVE AUNTY MIKE ALONE!


Thank you for sharing your thoughts, feelings, and insights. And thank you for reading!