Monday, April 20, 2009

Roundtable and Family

Shalom and good evening my friends. It is once again that time, when the Gentlemen convene and, united in common cause, put forth an offering for your approval. In quiet supplication, we do beseech you; bear witness to the fruit of our weekly joint venture. This is, of course, the Roundtable.

One of the goals we espouse here at These Gentlemen is that of creating a community. Even putting the Brett Ratners of the world aside, we seek to encourage conversation, discussion, and, as always, civilized discourse. Thus I set out this week with the task in hand of encouraging our readers to respond to the Roundtable. How, I wondered, could I best guarantee eliciting a response? Then, at the last
tete-a-tete of Gentlemen, Bebop Graham provided the answer.

Talk about your family.

Everyone has a family story to share. Be it an anecdote, tall tale, family history, or personal memoir, everyone has something to tell about their relatives. These Gentlemen are no exception. Here are our stories. We'd love to hear yours.

Oh, and Ms. Graham's original inspirational recounting? It was about how her family weren't Nazis after all.

Daniel Strauss

My great uncle, Seymour Rechtzeit came to America with his Father from Poland in the early 1900s. He became a vaudeville star in the states, and sang a song called "Bring My Mother From the Other Side" to President Coolidge, who did just that (along with the rest of his family). That amazes me every time I hear about it.

Adam Z. Winer

My father, my grandfather, and David Pratt, are all intricately connected, and they have no idea.

You see, the Winer family is not traditionally a good story-telling family.
In fact, I know nearly nothing about my mother's lineage.
Unfortunately, there's really almost no one left to ask.

On my father's side, there is also not much known.
I've heard that the Viner family was run out of western Russian territory with the rest of the Jews in a series of violent pogroms in the early part of the 20th century. Supposedly we had a vineyard.

In America, Viner became Winer... we think.

My grandfather, from what I understand, worked during WWII fixing airplanes and the like. Len held many jobs over the years, including running a movie theater. My dad eventually began working at this theater as well. My dad's favorite film during that time? The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975).

It would be a long time until I saw that film. Longer still before I saw a live version of it. But the second time I saw it live, I saw David Pratt perform the role of Dr. Frank-N-Furter.

And I saw this...

The Winer family doesn't have much history that I know of... and in fact, we probably have very little in common with the Pratt family... but we do all like Rocky Horror.

Or we did, anyway.

John Ozkirbas

My father has, perhaps, one of the coolest stories I have ever heard.

He grew up as the son of Salih Özkirbaş- the Attorney General of Turkey. My father was a mischief maker and a scoundrel, nearly burning down his parents' house on more than one occasion. In high school, he effectively stopped trying at pretty much everything. He ran track, played basketball, and attended class, but I'm not quite sure if he actually did any work. At least whatever work he did do was enough for him to keeping going, but by the later half of his senior year he pretty much stopped attending class. He left for school every day, said goodbye to his mother, and simply decided to just go somewhere else instead. He used to tell me he'd go to the park, smoke cigarettes, read the newspaper, and listen to music. Although, I'm going to guess he drank a little bit. He hasn't told me that outright, but I have hard time believing that he just sat around a park all day reading the paper. I'm a little fuzzy on whether or not he even took his finals. Regardless, he failed pretty much all of his classes. His father was the Attorney General and this was a well known and respected military academy. Everyone knew who he was and this was a problem.

Having the highest ranking military position in the Turkish Navy, the man who I would have called "Dede" (pronounced "Deh-Deh") gave my father an offer. Now, Dede's job wasn't the most well-paid - it was a service position gained by climbing the ranks of the military of a 3rd world country. What he did have, however, was a considerable amount of power and prestige. Dede offered my father the high-school diploma from the impressive military academy that any other person would normally have to earn through hard work - no strings attached, no expectations, and he could do it with a phone call. He'd walk at graduation with his friends, embarrassment free. No one would know and the teachers would be told to forget about it. I don't know what went through my father's head at that time - whether he was struck by a moment of clarity, if this was just the limit to whatever moral ambiguities he may or may not have had, or whether this was simply another act of teenage rebellion - but, he turned my grandfather down and left. My father disappeared for three years.

From the ages of 18-21, my father, instead of going to college or finding a job, traveled Europe alone. He got by working odd-jobs and finding cheap rent. My guess is he stayed and worked in one place long enough to afford a train ticket to somewhere else. I'm not sure how many places he visited and where exactly he traveled to, but he eventually made his way to England. He found work there and hung out around london for awhile. He used to tell stories of this crazy Scottish landlord who would yell at him and whose wife would occasionally cook him breakfast for the morning. His room, apparently, was warmed by a coal furnace and his landlord would only let him use one piece of coal a night. In winter, it would get cold enough to nearly freeze to death, so the coal was rather necessary. Funny enough, my mother would be in England around this time. She, however, was not a complete scoundrel - but a religious, former high-school valedictorian on a Duke Study Abroad program in college. She was a nursing student and my father was a foreigner who could barely speak English. She would teach him english phrases, just to talk. And then she left for America. My father decided it was time to return home.

My grandfather and grandmother reactions were classic - she welcomed him home with kisses and hugs and food and complaints that he was too thin, while Dede took one look at him, turned around, left for the night, and made a phone call. The next morning there was a barber in the living room with scissors and a razor. When he was finished - Dede came out from his office and exclaimed "My son is home! My son finally came back home!" My dad speaks of this moment very comically. He went to work and got his high school equivalence, learned English. Pretty soon he moved to the United States and met up with my mother. He went to college and grad school - becoming one of the leading Mechanical Engineering majors at the University of Emmitsville, Indiana. The rest is history.

You wouldn't know any of this looking and talking to my father now. He's a master of his field, a 100% family man, and a fiscal conservative. He's well read and spoken. And, most of all, he's my hero.

Steve Bragale

My aunt has recently developed an interest in ancestry research, and I get a lot of benefits of this research second hand. When I say she traced our family roots back, I mean that she went very far back. So far back, in fact, that she found direct relatives from the Civil War to the American Revolution, and to the Mayflower and Jamestown. She even traced our roots back to England, Scotland, and a band of Swedish vikings.

But I'd have to say out of all of the stories I've heard about amazing people in history who are responsible for my existence, one sticks out in my mind. And luckily for you, you've probably already seen this story played out on the silver screen.

Ever see the movie Pochahontas? Of course you have. I did. Everyone's seen it. Everyone. Well it just so happens that the title character in that film is my great grandmother. I've always felt like I had a little bit of a tribal princess inside of me, and now I know why. All I need to do is figure out if this entitles me to a share of some random casino somewhere and I'll be set.

Max Nova

Unfortunately I don't have any grand stories of fabled pirate uncles or secret half-cousins. But here's a little story about my immediate family.

Back in the day, my sister was a regular reader (subscriber/purchaser?) of the Delia's clothing catalog. I'm sure the female Gentlemen remember it. But, rather than always buying stuff mail order, which had lead to a number of articles of clothing being returned for being too big/small, she figured it would make sense to track down the real store in New York and make some purchases there.

So on our next family trip to the big city we went a-huntin'. Now in the dynamics of our family, my mom walks everywhere, and generally the rest of us are game for a walk. But when we would go up to NYC, she used to be against using the subway for anything less than maybe 50 blocks of walking. So after wandering lower Manhattan on a very hot Saturday for what seemed like ages (in retrospect it was probably only 20 or 30 blocks) we find the location, a large office building. We take the eleveator up, and arrive at a very quiet offices. What we had failed to consider at the time was that there was no Delia's store.

Of course - years later Delia's actually did open actual retail locations.

Jason Schlafstein

Less a story, and more an anecdote. My last name, Schlafstein, is literally translated to "Sleep Stone" or "Sleeping Stone," another name for the Philosopher's stone. My ancestors were alchemists, that original breed of mad scientists obsessed by, among other things, the quest to turn lead into gold.

That I am descended from a group of people notorious for endlessly pursuing a completely unfeasible and impossible goal should really surprise no one.

Or that I am obsessed with Grant Morisson.

Scott Maxwell

My great-great-great-great-great-(I think that's enough)-grandfather, James Maxwell (b. 1762, Co. Armagh, Northern Ireland), immigrated to the United States in 1768 with his widowed mother and sister, Ann. The normal thing to do in those days for a widow with young children would have been to return to the custody of her family, but for reasons (like her name) lost to history, Widow Maxwell wasn't havin' none of that, and decided to come to the New World anyway.

Young James then served in the Revolutionary war as an artilleryman... for the British. We know that he was there at Yorktown when Cornwallis surrendered in 1781, and that he quickly figured out after that that Loyalists were no longer welcome in the former Colonies (gee, ya think?). So he high-tailed it north to Canada, eventually settling in New Brunswick and founding the town of St. Stephen, which now sits right on the US/Canada border. It's directly opposite the town of Calais, Maine, which you may know as a place where you mail your credit card payments to. You're welcome.

Sometime in the early 20th century, my great-grandfather, Rendall C. Maxwell, snuck across the bridge into Maine under cover of night, and settled further west, just outside of Portland. Lesson learned - when America doesn't secure her borders, riffraff like the Maxwells find their way in.

Ali Daniels

My Grandma Daniels always used to tell people her family was from Poland. The truth is, her side of the family was from Galitzia (or Galicia, depending on who you ask), a small area formed from parts of Ukraine, Poland, and sometimes Russia. In case you don't know your Eastern European history, let me tell you who else came from Galitzia: gypsies. Nobody knows anything for sure, but there's a good chance our family was once a roving tribe of bandits.

And my dad on further good family stories: "Well, on our side, there's the question of whether your great-grandmother and great-grandfather were ever married."

Literally thieving bastards. We're a classy bunch.

David Pratt

Let's ignore the stories doubtlessly associated with the fact that my father's side of the family managed to effectively make our last name an insult throughout all of Great Britain. Instead let's focus on my mother's side. My mother, for those whom have met her, is a charming, funny, demure, incredibly classy woman. To meet her, you would never suspect she was descended from countless generations of thieves.

It all began with a nameless ancestor living, we believe, in Hungary. Back then, the last name was Spenardo, not Willner. This particular Hungarian, however, was no longer enamored with the Spenardo name, as it was written on wanted posters. To escape hanging, the penalty for as prolific a horse thief as he was, my ancestor fled Hungary and changed his name - likely to Vilna - which was Americanized to Willner after his descendants landed at Ellis Island. Or so the story goes, anyway.

Now, we have no solid verification that any of this is true. What we do have, however, is constant expression of these larcenous genes seeking to prove their otherwise theoretical existance. Grandpa Max, my great-grandfather, kept himself, his wife, and his four children well-clothed and happy while the Great Depression was raging. The success of his auto junkyard business was thought to be the cause. That is, until the FBI showed up at the house and took him in for dealing stolen goods on the black market. This is also my grandfather's earliest memory.

The trend continued in Grandpa Max's older son, my Uncle Eddie. Twice Eddie was arrested for embezzlment. Both times he got out of it by copping a plea of temporary insanity. This came back to haunt him when he complained about pains in his leg and got sent to a mental ward instead of a hospital. By the time a real doctor saw him, he was too far gone with cancer to stand a chance.

My Grandmother's side of the family is no less guilty; brushing over my Grandma Fran's continuous credit card fraud, we can look at the generous nature of my Great-Grandma Tootsie. Tootsie worked at a department store for years, and also, coincidentally, loved handing out random gifts she kept in her closet to people who came and visited. It was many years after a childhood spent adoring her grandmother that my Mom finally figured out Grandma Tootsie was stealing everything she could and then giving the purloined goods away as presents. She was clued in when she remembered shopping with Tootsie as a small child, and realizing her dolls and dresses had been hastily shoved in grandma's burgeoning purse.

As for me, I want to get into politics.

Thus concludes another edition of the Roundtable, but only for the Gentlemen. We now open the floor to you, the reader, and ask you the same question; what is your favorite family story, be it regarding members living or dead? Fill us in, we'd love to hear from you.

For now, we bid you adeiu, and promise to join you again next week for another edition of the These Gentleman Roundtable.


B.Graham said...

Wow. Tech week makes me suck as a person.

Yes, my story comes from my Gramma's cousin. It was about my German family, who were all deep in the German army before World War II. In particular, this is about her uncle, who was very high up in the army before Hitler took over. When he got word that he was supposed to go into the S.S. he killed himself. He said he didn't want to kill his own people.

My Gramma's cousin was too young for Hiter's Youth (you had to be ten and she was something like six), but she remembers so much from that time (trauma does that); she's currently writing her memoirs. I can't wait to read them.

B.Graham said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ozkirbas said...

Heh. So, about my story... Perhaps due to my own embellishments, perhaps part of my father's embellishments, perhaps this is a story I pieced together from fragments of other stories I've heard since childhood, perhaps my mind has a penchant for taking things and running with them - my mother just revealed that my tale is patently inaccurate.
(But, it does sound cool!)

Here's how it really happened/corrections:

My grandfather was the "Chief of Staff" of Turkey, NOT the Attorney General. He apparently was a naval commander before hand. My father DID graduate from a military high-school (and, actually did rather well). He failed out of the Naval Academy instead because he constantly played sports and didn't focus on his classes. Dede was not offering him a diploma (or to graduate), but simply, to be reinstated (similar concept, much more realistic). My father, the man of integrity that he is, declined and wanted to do things his own way.

He applied to the Secret Service, but there wasn't much to do otherwise for him. 3rd world country - jobs were limited. At this point in time, the right and left wing (true communism and fascism - driven to a further extreme than has ever been prevalent in America) began killing each other to move their political agendas. Civilian Warfare - families that could afford to send their children to Universities outside of Turkey did so for fear that classmates anywhere else in Turkey would kill them. My father left for England, where he attended an English Language School. And THAT's when he met my mother in England.

They met in Harlexton, although my father did spend some time in London. Apparently, he and his friend "George the Greek" were the first two students she met. The Scottish landlord stuff is all true. The one piece of coal thing is actually fairly accurate. And he did travel a bit - mostly between England and Spain, apparently. You can throw out the stuff about trains and odd-jobs, though. I have no clue where I got that from - probably just a large blank I attempted to fill in.

There are also interesting little chunks of stories that I didn't know before that I've just been filled in on. Unfortunately, I won't be telling them here. They're my father's secrets and I don't tell those. Not even for These Gentlemen. That would be a gross violation in integrity.

The Barber thing is 100% true - though, he didn't need his equivalence since he already had his diploma. And, he DID make the choice the go to America. My mother has always wondered if it was for her. He's never told her.

It's still my favorite tale. At age 22, he's still my personal hero. When I think about what it means to be a man, I always think of my father and this tale in particular.