Part 1: On the way to meet the Bukoskis….
I suppose I will write something later today after the initial meetings, but now am on the local commuter train to Milford, Connecticut. This already has significance as it’s where I lived from 2 weeks to 3 ½ years old, for about 2 years with my mother and father and then for another year or so with my grandparents after my parents split up and my mother left for Boston to find work or something and my father went who knows where and found my first step-mother, Gloria.
This commuter train would have been the one my grandfather took into NYC when he worked here, which would have been during WWII on the Manhattan Project as a secretary basically. I’m trying to sort out the details as he also worked for Farrell’s in Ansonia but in a church newsletter in the early 50s, he’s working for a company that was involved in the development of the atomic bomb. This is why the name changed.
However, this still does not explain the split in the family itself and I really hope to gain some insight into that.
I’m also scared shitless. Somehow I missed that bit until last night when it struck me how scared I am of this meeting. What will I find? How will it make me feel? And even the first bit of seeing the places I lived in Milford, will that make me just break down? The photos look like any other photos of children in the first couple of years, but then the saddest slides from 1966 I think it is, when I see that Christmas is at my grandparents’ house and there is a picture of me with my mother at one time and with my father at another time. Gloria says the first thing I said to her when I met her was ‘you are not my mother.’
So the feelings are of fear, and fear of a sadness too deep to feel or that I will just freak out in front of people I barely know. Well, don’t know actually.
I come bearing tea and stones from Scotland for cousin Patti’s rock garden. I also have lots of old photos in hopes some can be identified.
The last time I visited my grandparents was the mid-80s and my primary memory is of the inability to breathe, trying to sleep in the guest room and afraid I would asphyxiate. I am fairly certain what I did to make this feeling go away was drink a lot of scotch. My grandfather drank scotch, only one or two a day, at least when I knew him. I on the other hand was more of a drink til you pass out kind of scotch drinker. Which is probably exactly what I did that night.
The older pictures of my grandparents when they were younger appear to feature a lot of alcohol at parties and such. I don’t know if that was just youthful partying or something that they also decided to bottle up (excuse the pun). I never saw my grandmother drink, but it looks as if she may have been drinking when younger.
My father definitely had a drinking and stoner problem, so I wonder what the back-story is there. There was also my grandfather’s mysterious preoccupation with roller derby (women beating the crap out of each other on roller skates – I have vivid memories of him watching this in a snowy black and white TV screen as the reception for this obscure sport on some local channel was not good. There was also apparently the porno collection my father and mother found one day in the attic.
At the time I lived with them from 11-13 they slept in separate bedrooms and did not seem to have any sexual or physical life of any kind together. They never kissed or hugged. However, on their anniversary or birthdays, they gave each other these very sweet and sometimes borderline lewd store-made cards about how wonderful the other one was. I never understood this.
By now, it should be clear how opaque the whole situation was and remains. And I am afraid when I meet this hidden family I may not get any closer to the truth of what happened between them.
This morning when meditating all my fears morphed into anxieties about where I will living in the next few months and what is going on with Bill. That is also about as clear as mud to both of us – our brief communications weirdly in synch with lack of clarity. And some kind of strange optimism, which makes very little sense. But then again, what does?
I was joking with my friend Julie yesterday that there are no guidebooks for the meeting I’m about to have; as in – how to greet relatives you didn’t even know you had when 48. And this reminds me of when I graduated from high-school and introduced my mother to others, who also had long lines of relatives behind them, but simple relatives like: father, brother, sister, aunt, etc. I had: Tom, my mother’s not yet 4th husband, David, her 3rd ex-husband and his gay lover Peter, David’s half sister Barbara and her husband Rick, my mother’s father ‘Grampa Graham’ and step-mother, Lili, Walter, David’s friend from college and my mentor, uncle-like person, and I think maybe also my mother’s friend Jill. So, after I introduced my mother, the rest were introduced by first names only. This was in 1981 and was not the slightly more common thing it is now, in fact to most people it was incomprehensible, so I didn’t even try.
My life and the people in it defy Ann Landers or any etiquette machinery. For better or for worse, I’ve spent my entire life making it up as I go along and knowing in my heart that all the forms and structures being offered as the way to go are arbitrary, and in most cases do not apply to me. I’ve also spent many fruitless years desperately trying to make my life fit into some recognizable framework and failing miserably.
I am now in deepest darkest Connecticut, home of so many years of my life, not Fairfield County (Greenwich, Darien, et al), but the Valley…not the suburbs of NYC as much as that which connects to Seymour and Ansonia and Derby, Waterford and New London…mill towns and places that build nuclear submarines, home of welders, factory workers and engineers.
Right now we are in Stamford, CT, which if I had to invent hell, this would be it – a city of office buildings and car parks, with glass that reflects back at you and no discernible humanity outside of business, the dark green glass of capitalism, impenetrable and insisting you see yourself in its face or get blinded by the glare.
The little car parks at the side of the tracks that remind me of countless films and TV shows I watched thinking: oh so this is what normal looks like. You drive to the train, which takes you to the city where you work and you come back and you get in your car and you go home. Think of any film wherein the character/s live in a suburb of NYC and work in the city and you will get the idea.
The difference, the big difference, since the 1970s is how much more multicultural each stop is. There are truly people from everywhere here, even in Connecticut. This is so different from when I was in grade school in Waterford and there was one little black girl who sat by herself on a swing during recess and my Girl Scout Troop leader was considered risqué for having a black husband, who answered the door with a mixture of shyness and hostility. He scared me, and the loneliness of the little girl in the playground scared me too. I was lonely already and did not fit in, but her not fitting had a distinctive shape and I could sense even then it was harder for her even than for me who was wearing the wrong clothes, had step-parents who were artists and showed up to parent meetings in dashikis. But I did not know how to approach her. I just watched her swinging – my excuse was she was a year younger than me but I know that’s not it – she wore perfect little dresses, frilly socks and braided hair. You know her mother spent ages making her look perfect. But she looked so lonely and sad.
I am glad to see at least this much is changing. Though I imagine there are still young children everywhere who feel lonely and sad. On the other hand, there seems to be a growth industry in checking on children’s welfare that did not exist when I was growing up. I think this is a good thing, though I fear, given my own experiences that there may be too much of a one-size-fits-all idea of ‘well’ and such.
Looking out the train now at beautiful wetlands and lakes, a white heron. So peaceful. You would never guess how not peaceful it can be.
Part 2 - later at the hotel - The Marriott at Shelton...
I have met many of the Bukoskis today and it is late and I am in my hotel room and need to sleep. I am overwhelmed with their generosity and the distance between my experience of life and theirs. Little children tumbling into rooms full of questions, older folks reminiscing and helping me place photographs, a cousin who has made me a bead necklace and many American flags. Which given my last post is particularly hilarious. There are many service people in the family and devotion to family, an anger at the government, which I sense may take the right wing tea party-ish tilt – though it’s a little ambiguous. Perhaps needless to say, I am not going at that directly right now. However, I did tell them how well the NHS works in the UK in comparison to the health insurance system here, and they were all very interested in that, as it’s clear now everyone is being screwed by the system here.
The Bukoski family members are the people who work in the factories, go to serve in the army, work for the police, run restaurants, act as medical technicians and do electrical work. They are fiercely proud and very, very angry about the state of the country, feeling sold out by the powerful and wondering why CEOs of corporations aren’t patriotic in their financial dealings but want young men to die for them. They wonder why all the manufacturing is done now in China and other countries. You’d think listening to this that the politics would be left wing, but you would be wrong. I am listening now, as this is my way to finally hear the people whose politics I truly do not understand, and perhaps even comprehend the American flag thing.
I also saw the 1901 Ellis Island and docking boat manifests of my great grandfather and grandmother from Hungary and Slovakia. There is something so moving about these papers, found lovingly by my cousin Pam, who not only gave me these, but also researched my grandmother’s side of the family back to the 1720s. She made a photo album for me as well. We poured over these and the photos I had brought. I found out that perhaps my grandparents had eloped, no one was sure. This was quite incredible and a new twist in the never-ending story/ies.
The story holds about the lost contact however: "we all scattered after the War", and no insight as to why they were so out of touch with my grandfather (their brother) after the name change. The pictures I showed them of ‘Jimmy’ – my father – as an adult shocked them, especially his long haired, 70s California photos. The last they saw him he was in a uniform going off toe Korea. They had no idea he had gone to art school, met and made my mother pregnant and then was compelled to marry her (by my mother’s father who mentioned her age – 17 – meant he could basically marry her or face jail). I did not tell them all this, simply that they were only married briefly and gave a sketch of the multiple marriages on both sides. I imagine to them this sounds as exotic as their lives, which revolve around similar towns, living close to each other, seeing the house they grew up in and knowing each other’s worlds, seems to me.
They really had no idea I existed until I got in touch with them a couple months ago, which shows you how out of touch the two families were after a certain period of time. And while people did move around, my grandparents were by the time I was born living in Milford, which is just moments away from where many of them lived, so I am certain there is something not being said or acknowledged or perhaps as the only ones left alive for the most part are the younger members of the family, from the more recent mother, perhaps they simply do not know.
However, they seem delighted to have me in their lives and Great Uncle Ed keeps saying it over and over, along with telling me stories of him and his brothers finding each other in the Pacific during WWII and how the veterans stick together. All the other family is saying they hope I survive tomorrow when Uncle Ed gives me the tour of Seymour and surround, but I know it will be fine, because I haven’t heard his stories a thousand times before and to me it is all charming and informative. I can imagine this can be different if you hear the stories many times, but happily for me it’s all news.
I did not expect to write this much but now must stop as I am exhausted. Tomorrow as mentioned I get the grand tour from 87 year old Great Uncle Ed, and will have photos to show after that.
Today I will end with a photo of the beach in Milford, where I used to play age 2 weeks to 3 ½ years. The shocking thing is this beach used to have lots of sand and go on for days. I know I am much older, but my cousin Patti (who made me the necklace and has organized all this for me) says I am right, there has been massive erosion of the shore.
My first word was not ‘mama’ or ‘dada’ but ‘wawa’ and my first sentence was ‘I wanna go beach.’ You can see why, especially when you know I lived about 500 yards from this shore. I found my grandparents’ old house where I lived but the house my mother described that I lived in with her and my father was inside a private drive and we could not get access to it to confirm. However, if you see the white house on the cliff overlooking the pier, I think we lived in the caretaker cottage behind it.
|Milford, CT - Gulf Beach - the eroded 2011 version of my childhood beach (1963-66).|
And finally the remnants of Farrel Birmingham, where my grandfather worked for the mythical (in family lore) Mr. North, as his executive secretary. The man who told him to change his name and who he followed from job to job, apparently - this explaining some of their moves - the moves the Bukoskis blame for losing touch with him. According to Great Aunt Madelyn “You see how we are all short. Mr. North was tall.” And he looms large in family legend. Farrell Birmingham, as it was once called, as you can see has fallen on hard times, having been another victim of the merger and acquisition frenzy plus the outsourcing of manufacturing frenzy that has overtaken and blown through the US like a tornado, razing businesses to the grounds, taking decent jobs, standards of living and the whole middle class along with it.
|the wages of global capitalism on US industry - another business bites the dust - my grandfather's employer Ansonia, CT|