Read Dog Stays in the Picture Online

Authors: Susan; Morse

Dog Stays in the Picture (18 page)

Both brothers survived the war, not on very good terms, understandably, but they did have a reconciliation of sorts toward the end. Thomas, being on the losing side, fell on hard times and became quite sickly in his final years. Percival never married, but on his deathbed he bequeathed a decent sum of money to his destitute brother down south. Blood runs thick.

From the Department of Mysterious Coincidences: Percival and Thomas's father, William Drayton, served four terms in Congress. There's a glamorous portrait of William hanging in the White House, painted by none other than Samuel F. B. Morse, the Morse code guy, who David's mother is pretty sure is some kind of ancestor on David's father's side. Kind of fun thinking of our children's two distinguished forefathers together. Wonder what they talked about? No way to know. Too many questions and not enough answers. Like contemplating Lilly's mystery scars, all I can do is piece together scraps of evidence and guess.

I'm trying to be systematic, but it's hard not to go off on tangents. Everything's sort of mishmashed in the trunk, souvenirs from my mother's forebears nestled in the dark against a smaller collection of memorabilia from my father's side. My father's father's people, the Polish von Moschziskers, came to the United States much later than the rest of the family. The von Moschziskers were prone to estrangement according to Ma, and large branches of the family have completely lost touch. This is extremely frustrating because it seems like anyone from our branch who could really answer the questions I keep coming up with is no longer living. I'm deep in von Moschzisker territory, following a particularly intriguing thread, when the phone rings—my brother Felix.

Felix recently moved into his new dream house in Vermont, built from scratch, perched on a hill with a view of the Mad River Valley, and a few days ago we flew Ma up to celebrate his birthday. She hasn't traveled far since she became seriously elderly, aside from the odd overnight to services in Carlisle. The priests usually fix her up with a female companion while she's there, but on this trip to Vermont we winged it because Ma's in incredible shape right now—she hasn't missed her confiscated scooter for a second. In fact, when the nurse recently offered to return it, Ma gave it away to a fellow inmate.

Knowing this burst of mobility can lead to recklessness and accidents, I'm on guard. Felix, fifteen years my senior and a longtime bachelor, is not the ideal caregiver. He and Ma have had some epic clashes over the years, but they were both highly motivated to make her summer visit a good one. The older Ma gets, the more aware we become of the preciousness of time.

—Fe! How's the visit going?

—Great. Just exactly long enough. I'm about to take her to the airport now, and Suse, guess what she forgot to bring?

—Oh no. What?

—She ran out of colostomy bags this morning. Do you know where I can get—wait a second, she's yammering at me, I'm going out in the driveway. Be quiet, Ma, I'm talking to Suse.

(Clump clump clump.)

—Felix.

—Yes?

—Can I talk to Ma?

—Oh. Well, now I have to go all the way back in the house.

(Clump clump clump.)

—Susie.

—Ma?

—Susie, this is ridiculous. I don't need more bags, I'll be fine till I get home. I only told him that because I wanted his sympathy.

—Are you all right?

—Yes, I think we're both a little tired.

—Okay, Ma, I'll see you at home. Can I talk to Felix again? Wait—no, I have a question first.

—Yes?

—Why did nobody tell me Daddy was sort of Jewish?

—What?
Your father was
not
Jewish. His parents were Swedenborgian, which is unfortunate enough.

—But I'm looking at a file Colette sent me with some letters this woman in England wrote to Aunt Bert because they had the same last name. She sent Aunt Bert a photograph. They looked just like each other, and they both had little black poodles! She said she escaped Nazi-occupied Vienna just after Kristallnacht, and all her family died in concentration camps, and an American friend saw Bert's name in the paper, and the name von Moschzisker is very unusual, so—

—Oh yes.

—So you
knew
this? Why didn't anyone tell
me
? Was it a cover-up?

—No. We just couldn't prove anything, so there was no point in talking about it.

—Do
you
think Daddy was Jewish?

—Well, I always thought his father's nose was suspiciously large.

—Ma!

—I have to pass you to Felix now. He's standing here grumbling. Felix you're very impatient.

If we do have Jewish blood, it's sort of moot since we're talking about the patrilineal line, but personally, I'll take whatever claim to Jewishness I can get. I can't figure out if Aunt Bert ever managed to meet this one lone survivor face-to-face, but I certainly hope so, and I'm a little pissed at the von Moschziskers for being so tight-lipped. The news makes me even more determined to figure them out. Clearly, there's a big iceberg down there.

My father's grandfather, Franz Adolph Moschzisker, was a doctor, a scholar, and a commissioned soldier in the Austrian Army. He sided with the Hungarians in the buildup to one of their various uprisings, was taken prisoner, escaped, and fled to England, where he married an Englishwoman, Laura St. John. They had a couple of daughters, and for some unknown reason, Franz Adolph left them all behind, inexplicably added the prefix “von” to his name (as if it weren't long enough!), and sailed to America just before the Civil War.

When I finally understand what happened next, I can hardly contain myself till dinner.

My father believed his grandfather Franz Adolph's first English wife, Laura, died long before he married his second, my American great-grandmother Clara Harrison, in 1857. But another cousin has been investigating, and documents prove Franz Adolph's first wife, Laura, was actually still alive and kicking years after her husband “married” Clara Harrison (no certificate to be found) in the United States and had another batch of children, including the one with the nose: my grandfather Robert.

—Kids.

—What?

—We are Jewish, and illegitimate.

—
What
are you talking about?

David hasn't quite caught my genealogy fever, but not to be outdone by my colorful lineage, he reminds us of a tasty item on his own family tree:

—Kids.

—Yes, Papa?

—You have an ancestor on my side named Preserved Fish.

We have no background on Mr. Fish; he's just an item on David's tree, and I haven't been able to get my hands on David's family records yet. According to
Wikipedia
, Preserved Fish was a New York City shipping merchant in the early nineteenth century, and his first name, Preserved, had more to do with being preserved from sin than what one might imagine.

Colette cautions me to consider the context before judging Franz Adolph as a deadbeat. Back in the early nineteenth century, divorce was not available to any but the upper crust, and some people who went to the New World from Europe took the opportunity to reinvent themselves. And as for the Jewishness: upper-class Philadelphians in my grandparents' generation were a haughty bunch. They tended to intermarry and did not take much interest in outsiders. I imagine this cover-up, if it indeed took place, was a matter of simple practicality.

Still, it would have been nice if someone had prepared us a little, provided some kind of explanation. Did they really think we'd never find out? Maybe they didn't care. That hurts my feelings.

Despite not coming from the “right sort of people,” Franz Adolph's son, Robert von Moschzisker (my father's father), did well for himself, especially if you consider his circumstances. Both Robert's parents (Franz Adolph and his second wife, Clara) died when he was still a teenager. I wonder if that's why we have all these unanswered questions. Was my grandfather orphaned before he was old enough to understand? Robert, who was no slouch, worked his way up from being a twelve-year-old law-office gofer to becoming Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. He married well also: to Anne, the daughter of another self-made man, of Scottish descent, George A. Macbeth
.

—Kids.

—
What
, Mama?

—You have a great-great-great and so forth grandfather who
may
have assassinated the king of Scots.

Sadly, we can't prove for sure whether Robert's wife, Anne, was related to that murderous fellow in Shakespeare's Scottish play. But what has always interested me is another coincidence: Anne's mother was also a Scot, a Duff, as in
MacDuff
, sworn enemy of Macbeth. This means when my father's grandparents married, two families with a serious history of differences became one. Talk about healing your family tree.

Nina and John have no idea what kind of monster they've roused—the more I've explored things both from the trunk and on the Internet, the more obsessed I've become. The genealogy websites are addictive—you sign up, plug in your own family tree, and then you can dig up more information when your people's names connect you with other trees. Mormons created these sites, I hear. Because their religion is relatively young, Mormons feel an apparent need to identify their lineage, the object being to gather the family in heaven by posthumously baptizing all ancestors who died before Joseph Smith came along and invented the one true church. (It's best not to get Mother Brigid started on this topic.)

I could lose myself forever on these websites, and I'm beginning to realize we have a real boomer phenomenon with this genealogy business. There are a lot of us middle-aged amateur detectives out there, contemplating our mortality, seizing this new tool to understand where we come from so we can leave a record. So our children aren't left, like us, with a trunk in the cellar full of question marks.

I almost lost track of Nina's original mission: to get a better handle on those slaver Draytons on my mother's side who came over from England. There are theories that Draytons descend from a hero of the Norman Conquest, one Aubrey de Vere. After distinguishing himself at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, Aubrey was awarded land by William the Conqueror, on which his children's children's children built a family home in Northampton that still stands—a rather enormous fourteenth-century manor, Drayton House.

There's a famous medieval artifact, the
Bayeux Tapestry
, which depicts the story leading up to and including the Battle of Hastings. Greyhounds are all over the place on it. And, another coincidence: Aubrey de Vere founded Colne Priory in Essex, where all the fancy de Vere earls are buried. When his wife, Beatrice, died, Aubrey became a Benedictine monk.

—Kids.

—Now what?

—Mother Brigid's not the only clergy in the family.

Aubrey was Benedictine, meaning
not
Orthodox, therefore not Mother Brigid's type. Mother Brigid's a purist. Orthodox Christians date back to the early followers of Christ, pre-schism, way before there was any such thing as a Roman Catholic. As far as they are concerned, the pope is marginal. But Aubrey and the
Bayeux Tapestry
do get me wondering: Could
Draytons
have had
greyhounds
? In Cynthia Branigan's greyhound history, she claims we have Celtic monks in particular to thank for the preservation of the greyhound breed in Europe during the Middle Ages. While everyone was busy starving and fighting wars and burning up art, the monks focused on what they felt was important, holed up in their sanctuaries, busily copying over the books of the New Testament and, yes, protecting greyhounds from extinction, as the theory goes.

Lilly has her own British roots. It's actually easier to verify her origins than those of the Draytons. The racing community keeps meticulous records, and it's believed all greyhounds in America can be traced back to King Cob, a gorgeous nineteenth-century British champion who was the first public stud. Lots of intriguing monikers in Lilly's tree (Big Whizzer! Wigwam Wag! The Firth of Forth! Stumps!), including her parents: Lady Godiva and Dodgem By Design. Lilly's father, Dodgem, had a pretty distinguished sire line, which includes King Cob and the legendary Downing: a red brindle Secretariat-type machine dubbed the Greyhound of the Decade back in the '70s. Downing was such a phenomenon that they profiled him in
Sports Illustrated
; he raced all over the country and became the first greyhound to ever be syndicated, eventually retiring to chase ducks around his owner's farm and reproduce, rather prolifically.

While on the subject of monks and dogs, I can't help dusting off the old dog-training guide we used for our very first dog—the one by the Monks of New Skete. Back when we first followed the monks' tips with Aya, I wasn't particularly hip to the nuances of monkness. Now I'm delighted to discover that the New Skete monks, who I assumed all along were Catholic, are actually Orthodox. Another coincidence!

—Of course they're Orthodox, Susie.

—Why do you say that, Ma?

—Catholics are too focused on the rest of the world to think about dogs. For the Orthodox, fellowship with nature, especially animals, brings us closer to God.

I'm not sure I really want to know what the Orthodox position is on puppies and barrels. …

The Book of Kells
is one of the most famous monk-produced manuscripts. Interestingly, there are pictures of greyhound-type dogs all through it. Though named for the Abbey of Kells in Ireland, many historians believe the first edition of the manuscript was created in the ninth century by Celtic monks on Iona, one of the islands of the Hebrides off the western coast of Scotland. These monks eventually fled Viking raiders to Ireland, but despite all kinds of upheaval Iona was an important spiritual center for much of the Middle Ages. Many Scot kings are buried there, including our Macbeth, who was a real historical figure in the eleventh century.

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