Mar 15, 2007

Characters in My Life

by Kari Diane Pike

While it would be easy to blame seasonal allergies for the tears that blur my vision this morning, I have to admit I felt sad as I watched my dad and step mom end their four-week stay as they pulled their little home on wheels out of my driveway and headed back to North Country. Perhaps sad isn’t the right word. I feel so many emotions: gratitude, inadequacy, love, longing, joy, regret, hope, anticipation, and more. Gratitude, however, outweighs them all; gratitude and love. You see, over the past several weeks they introduced me to a writer’s treasure trove.

This bounty came to me in the form of PAF. You know, the Personal Ancestral File. My step mom, Kathy, showed me how to download it off Then she copied all the information she has acquired over the years and assigned me the task of checking her work and looking for family members still in need of ordinance work. Some of the lines go back 20 generations. There are over 18,000 names in the file. Included in all these files are the notes Kathy took as she searched for and researched out each of those names. I found stories!

Reading those stories introduced me to characters; characters who are part of who I am. I had no idea I had such interesting genes! For instance, one great-grandfather was murdered by one of his tenants. Grandpa evidently was a slum lord in northern California, and took advantage of the Chinese immigrants brought over to work on the railway. Another great-grandfather was poisoned by a river boat captain while on his return trip to Missouri from making his fortune in the goldmines on the West coast. His body was never found and all his widow received was a nearly empty trunk holding a few articles of his clothing and a little gold dust…or 2 gold nuggets, depending on which version of the story you want to believe.

The story that intrigues me most of all has three or four versions listed, but the main part of the story is consistent. A man and a woman carrying a baby and a bundle, or a trunk, disembarked from an immigrant ship, most likely from France, and tried to cross a frozen river. The river ice gave way and as the couple fell in the water, they threw their baby onto the solid ice. Onlookers rescued the baby, but the couple disappeared into the cold, dark water. The baby boy was given the last name of Francis, either because people thought his family was French or because somebody actually knew the name of the family. No one seems to be able to find out for sure. One of the versions even includes a reference to a family crest on the baby's clothing, indicating that the family came from aristocracy and were possibly fleeing to the America's to escape some unknown danger!

On top of everything, I came to know my dad and step mom in a way I have not experienced before. Listening to these family stories made me aware of their colorful speech and colloquialisms.

I think I my progenitors lived as long as they did because they had a sense of humor. I mean, just try to keep a straight face when you hear or say something like, "That’s slicker than snot on a brass door knob!" I did not make that up. I hear stuff like that all the time.

So, I’m curious. How do you communicate in your family? Have you become acquainted with the characters in your life? After all, their story is in your genes!


  1. Your post reminds of something an lds Brit once said to me: I look to find myself related to royalty; you look to find the horse thief. He's right. We enjoy the odd and tragic stories. Maybe that's part of our heritage as Americans. Thanks for giving me the nudge to remember the funny stories from my family tree, true or not and who knows today.

  2. I enjoyed reading your essay. Family history is heritage and identity. THere were some sad stories - two murders and an orphaned baby - wonder what happened to him? What I like are the stories of people coping, just like I do, day in, day out . . .

  3. The baby grew to adulthood, married and was well respected from the stories I read. I am one of his many descendents!

    Other parts of my history include covered wagons, The Mormon Battallion (Levi W. Hancock), the Willie Company, polygamy, the Mayflower, and Ole King Cole...yes, he was a real person. Also Charlemagne, Native American, Revolutionary War, War of 1812, and Civil War stories.

    btw...I apologize for missing some typos and misspellings. I really thought I had gone over it better than I did!

  4. Kari--Great posting. Stirred the family historian in me.

    BTW--re the colloquial, descriptive phrases, I need one that signifies, I'm happier than_____, or this is an incredibly wonderful experience, better than _______. Did you hear anything like that?

    My people were southerners who traveled laterally to the west, so I grew up around colorful speech, too. I think anyone who works with either animals or machines is prone to that kind of a vocabulary.

  5. LOL,Liz-
    My Dad used to warn everyone to clear the room if my mom was at the sewing machine...he claimed he never saw such a gentle, sweet woman go through such a personality change as she did when she sewed...

    as for the descriptive phrase...I'll think on it...and call back home!

  6. I'm intrigued with your family history and history in general - I think that's growing on me as I get older. I'm sort of afraid of my family history becasue the recent history that I know is quite sordid. There are days I think that I'm the only sane/normal person in my family and that's pretty scary since I'm fully aware of my inbalance! :)

    We're not great communicators in my family. I'm trying to change that...


Thank you for visiting. Feel free to comment on our blogger's posts.*

*We do not allow commercial links, however. If that's not clear, we mean "don't spam us with a link to your totally unrelated-to-writing site." We delete those comments.