Posted by: jahfrey | November 25, 2010

Threads in a Tapestry

I’ve always been fascinated by my roots, my ancestors. I revere those who have gone before me, and I strive to learn and understand my own life and who I am, based on what I know of my ancestors.

I thought I’d share a bit about some of the threads in that frayed tapestry known as McJeff.

Roughly, my dad’s side gives me English and Irish ancestry. There’s more, but we know those threads for sure. Dad’s side might include Cherokee, might include Swedish. My mom’s side gives me Spanish, Scottish, French and German. Again, there’s more –  perhaps Yaqui, perhaps Sephardic Jew.

If I take four threads, in following my grandparents, what I see is that there were two threads who have been in America for a long time, from the early 1600’s, most likely. The other two threads come from more recent, 19th century immigrants. Both my grandfathers’ families have long time threads in America. Both my grandmothers have later arrivals.

This will take me more than one post. I’ll start with the threads my mother has given me.
On my mom’s side, we’ve got my grandmother Anne, who was French-German, born in the Dakotas, and was a real frontier cowgirl who moved to the big city. Then there’s Grandpa Max, Scottish and Spanish, another frontier vaquero, raised on a ranch in New Mexico.

First, Grandpa Max and his strands. From what I know, I am most like him.
My grandfather Max was Scottish and Spanish. He was a member of a very prominent family in New Mexico, the Luna family. (The Lunas have their own compelling history. Very likely they were Sephardic Jews who converted when the Catholics took Spain back from the Moors. An ancestor in Spain almost became Pope! They came to the New World very early…1590? 1620?).

Max was orphaned at an early age, when his parents were killed in a carriage accident. Max’s last name was Longmuir…a good Scottish name. The Longmuirs were from near Aberdeen, Scotland. My great great Grandfather John left for America sometime in the 1840’s. He joined the Union Army and was in New York State for a while. Eventually he ended up in New Mexico. He fought for the Union at the battle of Valverde in the Civil War against the Texas militia. He met and fell in love with Guadalupe Luna, who scandalized the very Catholic and aristocratic Luna family by marrying a common Presbyterian Scotsman! But then, the Luna ladies were extremely independent and passionate women.

My great aunt Aloysia hung out with Billy the Kid, was part of the Lincoln County wars, and burned a swath through the men in the area. She married a dour but wealthy German, was abused by him and so divorced him, became lovers with more than one of the “big men” in Logan county, and was generally independent and feisty, strong-willed and strong-minded. She would not hesitate to give back as good as she got from the men in her life!

As she got older, she settled down a bit, and was close to Max, who was by now an orphan. I think he got a lot of his spirit from her. He did not want to live with her, however.

Max got the hell out of New Mexico as soon as he could. He rode the rails around the US for a while, and eventually joined the Navy. The Great War, WWI, was in full swing, and Max sailed much of the Atlantic, stopping in various European ports, including Rotterdam and Portsmouth.

Max had the wanderlust. He was also a handsome rake and a bit of a ladies man. He was a passionate and adventurous man, very much the Spaniard. He was strong, independent, and self-reliant – very much the Scot.

Some of his early life is a bit mysterious. We know that once he left the Navy, he moved about the country a bit, and ended up in Chicago, where he settled with a woman. We don’t know much about that, just that he left her suddenly and lit out for Los Angeles…there may be other children, she may have left him first, we don’t know. Whatever it was, Max ended up in the burgeoning City of Angels in the 1920’s. He was a top-notch machinist, and he did well there. It was on the Red Car trolley in LA that he met my grandmother, Anne.

My grandmother’s people were originally from the Alsace-Lorraine region, which has bounced back and forth between the French and the Germans for centuries. As a result, my people call themselves French-Germans. Earlier in the 19th century they had taken Russia’s Catherine the Great up on her offer to “colonize” the Ukraine. So, the stolid farmers grew wheat in the Ukraine for a generation. When the deal between them and the Russian government fell through, they departed en masse for the closest place to the Ukraine: North Dakota.

The Karey and Kress families built ranches on the Plains. They dealt with the Sioux tribes there. There are early photos of Anne hanging out with Sioux tribesmen, who are in full regalia. Anne was a great horsewoman, and apparently quite the shot with a rifle or pistol. Shades of Annie Oakley!

Anne’s mother had died in childbirth. Her father, torn by grief, did what a lot of single fathers did in that day – he gave her up for adoption. Actually, Anne went to live with her aunt on the family ranch. As a stepchild, she was not treated well, and given the crap jobs on the ranch. She was high strung and talented. She played piano, sang well, was very dramatic, did some acting. She was also highly sensitive and psychic. She actually predicted her own passing!

As soon as she could, Anne left North Dakota. She had relatives in Los Angeles, so she went there. I suspect she had a Hollywood career in the back of her mind. Whether she did or not, she was very beautiful and creative, and Southern California was the place to be!

So, it came to pass that one afternoon, a very beautiful young woman was riding home on the trolley when she caught the eye of a very dashing young man – not exactly tall, but definitely dark and handsome.

He, being the forward and brash man he was, immediately asked her out. She, being the cautious and strong willed woman she was, said no! He pressed her. She said she would have to have her aunt’s (who she was living with) permission. He got off at her stop and walked with her to the door of her aunt’s house. When auntie came to the door, he asked permission to date the gorgeous young Anne. Auntie said Yes!

No matter how Anne felt (and she must have liked him) they dated and eventually married.

It was a volatile relationship. From what I remember of them, they were both very emotional and strong-minded. They fought a bit. They made up. I’m sure that’s how my mom came to be….

They lived in downtown LA, near Normandie and Wilshire. It was a great time to be in Los Angeles. Creative types from around the world were coming to beautiful Southern California. The Longmuirs hung out with musicians, actors, writers, etc. As very attractive people, there was plenty of jealousy between them, but they loved each other deeply and stayed together.

When the Depression hit, Max lost his excellent machinist job, and was reduced to long, long hours working in a restaurant. He hated it. He drank more. He ate plenty of donuts and put on weight. This eventually led to diabetes…but that’s a story for another time.

Both Max and Anne were members of the Lost Generation in America. They partied hard in the 20’s, scraped through the 30’s, and did the thankless work in WWII as the middle management. Max and Anne embraced life as an adventure, and lived it passionately. There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t think of them, and feel inspired.

I remember Max as a great carpenter, and a fun and gentle, passionate Grandpa. I remember Anne singing German songs at the piano, cooking me wonderful French Toast when I stayed over, and her love and humor. I’ve gotten the wanderlust and passion for the ladies from Max, and I’ve gotten the interest in the intuitive arts and music from Anne.

Thanks Grandpa Max and Grandma Anne. I love you more than words can tell.
Next time: The Southern Gothic Jennings family!


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