Every family has its stories, and mine did as well. The stories that took over my mind were
the stories of my father, a lifelong soldier whom my mother had left when I was six weeks old. I spent
many years of my life trying to discover who he was inside - to find the poetry that would let
me understand someone who created half of me. And I did. I followed mother's stories and
found father's book of military poetry, "Old Soldiers' Drums.
Though I never knew him in person, I now know the man, and I know what of me was him.
Some family stores weren't mine. The search to prove 5th great grandfather, Henry Livingston,
was the actual author of "Night Before Christmas" was a story belonging to my genealogy cousins, but I took up their quest and Henry's come to life
for all of us.
Of late I've been giving my nephew and nieces huge notebooks full of information on particular ancestors that I think will speak to them.
In trying to select an ancestor to give to my niece Jeanne, who has been playing her guitar and singing in church, I thought of my grandmother
with whom Jeanne had lived for a few months when she was two and a half, and of grandmother's father, Zack Mulhall, someone I'm sure would
have applauded Jeanne's pleasure in entertaining.
But other than some research done for my Uncle Jack, I came to realize that I hadn't done the work to make Zack and Lucille real for
Jeanne and so I'm correcting that here with newspaper stories that I hope will bring these people back to life for her, even if only to virtual life.
Grandmother was illegitimate.
That fact might have bothered her, but it meant nothing to me. She raised me while mother worked and I loved
her intensely. But the stories she told me ran me in circles of confusion. She was raised on a ranch in Butte Montana, with
cowboys and Indians for friends.
Her mother lived with 16 children in St. Louis. Her mother was well to do. Her mother was poor.
It was my own mother who helped
me make sense of these confusing stories. Grandmother was illegitimate. Her birth mother was the one with the ranch
and the diamond ring grandmother always wore, and the allowance that let grandmother attend the Art Institute in Chicago
before she met grandfather. It was the mother whom
grandmother had "adopted" who was the poor woman running a boarding house in St. Louis with all the children who were to become the
aunts and uncles of my own childhood.
I can remember being perhaps 8 or 10 years old when mother first told me of grandmother's father, Zack Mulhall, and her half-sister,
Lucille. Grandmother told stories of the boarding school she had attended in St. Louis. When she'd finished school,
she moved in with the Dribben family, and all of her
beautiful clothes were distributed among the children. I think grandmother thought that a good tradeoff for suddenly
finding an emotionally fulfilling, though crazy, family for herself.
Mother's brother came to me with his
own childhood stories and asked if I could find out who grandmother's mother was. While he and mother both knew about
Zack, Uncle Jack never knew, and mother never mentioned, the name of grandmother's mother.
While Uncle Jack was quite young, grandmother referred to Lucille as her half sister, but never referred to the Dribben
girls as her sisters. Grandmother and Lucille kept up a correspondence, and grandmother periodically would receive
a check in a letter from some part of her birth family that let her young family splurge a bit. When the Wild West show came to Chicago,
grandmother received tickets for a box on the arena that they could never have afforded on their own. At the show, Lucille and another
cowgirl rode up and while grandmother and Lucille talked, the cowgirl in the short skirt amused Jack. This he remembered
Jack also remembered reading a
letter asking his parents to let him be adopted and made an heir by grandmother's birth family. Grandfather rejected that idea with as much
firmness as he had rejected the $10,000 he'd been offered by grandmother's birth family not to marry her. Since I exist only
because of grandfather's determination to marry nana, I heartily applaud his decision.