Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Patrimonial Storytelling

I refer back to all those arguments about skill versus talent, how much of each is inherent and how much can be acquired. If you've not read any such arguments, most of them have been duked out in several multi-thread arguments on Wordplayer. Happy reading. I'll not attempt to recapitulate them. Instead, I introduce you to the Canadian side of my heritage.

Middle of the picture is Margaret, my great grandmother. To one side of her is my great aunt, Florence. I only call her that because you, not knowing her personally, would not want to call her Aunt Flossie as I did the one and only time in my life I ever met her. I was eight. Just behind Margaret is Uncle Reggie, who died in his early thirties and whom I never met. To Margaret's other side is my grandfather, Walter, whom I called Daddy Batch and lived some of my young life with up to and abruptly stopping after the first grade.

Daddy Batch was a storyteller with an appreciation for books. As a little girl, I was sometimes spooked by his outlandish tales of leprachauns hiding in the traffic signals and a very intelligent monkey that operated the electric gate where my grandfather worked as a night watchman. Why a monkey? Because monkeys work for peanuts, of course, which is also what Daddy Batch claimed they paid him, although I never saw any. I wish now that more of the stories were written down because I don't remember many of them and even those I do remember are fractured and incomplete.

I don't wish to eulogize him because like many members of my family, Daddy Batch had a dark side and a few ugly secrets not relative to his creativity. Or, are they?

Why are so many highly creative people a little on the eccentric side? Why are so many artists down right whacked in the head? Maybe they aren't really, but are simply misunderstood. Perhaps there was nothing extraordinary at all about that German artist that wanted his dead body fed to piranhas in front of zoological students while somebody poked him with a stick to make his lifeless body seem alive and inviting to the flesh eating fish.

In 2001, I cajoled my aunt Sharon into taking a trip to Canada where we visited the childhood home of Daddy Batch, Sharon's father, and where his brother Reggie's widow still lives. We visited the church where he married my grandmother (and source of my name) and found the grave of a distant uncle Ben who tied us to the cousins I had met through some online geneology.

From Reggie's wife, Aunt Edna, we gleaned some history. Some of it was good. Some of it was not so good. But one very interesting thing we learned is that the other children in the photo were also storytellers. Many of the stories were written down and lost. Some were told in letters from Reggie to Edna while he was in the army. Others were just passed around because there was nothing better to do. But each of them told stories.

One of these stories was about Daddy Batch's grandfather, John, who disappeared one winter night after he left his Bible study class to walk home in a snowstorm. His body washed up on the shores of Parry Sound in the spring and it was generally assumed that he fell through the ice and drowned. I am not so certain though.

Maybe he just didn't know that there were no piranhas in Ontario.

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