One of the rituals I’d inevitably need to perform anytime I’d dated anyone new is to attempt to explain my family. Yeah, I know, everyone’s family is bizarre in their own way. Mine is strange on a purely mechanical level.
As one former boyfriend once exclaimed, “You don’t have a family tree. You have a family hedge!”
Let me explain…
That’s my immediate family.
What you see there are only my “siblings” (blue), my “parents” (green), my step-nephew (white square), and myself (red). I’m not kidding. Depending how you count, I either have zero, one, three, five, seven, or nine siblings. There are twelve parents, step-parents, and other assorted people strung together by various marriages / former marriages / not-marriage-but-it-pretty-much-counts-because-I’ve-spent-holidays-there-for-a-decade. There are several people on that chart I’ve never met.
I have a half-brother, a step-brother, a step-sister, a step-brother-in-law, a kinda-step-sister, a kinda-step-brother, a kinda-step-sister-in-law, and a couple other people who are step-siblings to my half-brother… so I don’t really know what to call them.
Anyway, you get the idea.
Back in the 1980s when I was a kid and my dad was a bachelor, dad went all Beautiful Mind on our family tree. I remember going into the dining room of his house and seeing the walls covered with graph paper, meticulous handwriting, pins, string, and borderline obsessive/compulsive disorder. In the days prior to the Internet, he’d managed to trace our name back to Speyer, Germany in 1248… or something like that.
At one point during those years, the two of us took a vacation out to Pennsylvania, where we attended a family reunion… of people we weren’t really related to. Well, technically, there was some common ancestor back a couple hundred years ago in Germany, but that was about it. It was still kind of interesting, though, because we were in an area of the country where Kaerchers settled the land, so everything was Kaercher: Kaercher Road, Kaercher Creek, Kaercherville.
If I ever become a true megalomaniac, I know where I’m moving.
A few years ago, I was killing time in Chicago with my friend, Ian. For whatever reason, we decided that we wanted to go see Al Capone’s grave.
So, we drove to Mount Carmel Cemetery, which really is a fascinating place: a large number of Prohibition gangsters and politicians are buried there. Giant marble memorials grow like a forest, each one trying to look more expensive than the next.
Yet, when we rolled the car up to Capone’s grave stone, I felt weird about getting out of the car to go see it. I mean, it’s weird to be a tourist at a grave site, right? It’s not like we were going to pay respects to a crime lord. We were there because we were gawking.
So, there we were, sitting in the car, gawking quietly from afar.
Then Ian said, “Why does that grave say, ‘Kercher’?”
I looked. Indeed, the neighboring grave stone to Capone’s bore an American variant of my own name. We both scrambled out of the car to check it out.
Thus, my sprawling family gave me an excuse to get out of the car and gawk at Al Capone’s deadness.
(Coda: I sent photos of that grave to my dad, who had no idea who that Kercher grave was for. It was a proud moment in my life. I stumped the ancestry nut.)