Family line resembles N.Y. pretzel

November 20, 2008

My family has a long lineage and the shape of a New York pretzel. We try to untangle it for anyone who will listen.

I give someone my last name and add: You know, the largest county in Kansas. Often as not I get a last name of Wichita out of that conversation. Or I get a card from someone in Tonganoxie and I say, “Oh, did you know the Sedgwick homestead is in Tonganoxie,” and they ask where and I try to explain.

Except that none of the landmarks are there anymore and I never learned the new names of the county roads. So I say something like, “Turn at Elm Grove School corner (which is now a church) and go to the Glenwood Canning Club building (which is just an old out building beside a fire station) and turn west. You go beyond Daffer School (long, long ago torn down), cross the creek, and on the south is the old homestead.”

It was an old, gray, unpainted, two-story frame house, with dangling shutters and tall Cedar trees, guineas chortling and the creek tumbling as we passed over that wooden bridge that rattled your teeth against one another. The car path was a deeply rutted, unplowed road that wandered past where the fox was buried, near to where the tall red grass grew and a goose often had a nest.

I can hear the mourning dove cooing in the early light when homesickness set upon me and I looked longing toward the rising sun and home. I was pulled from that upstairs room, with its sloping, slanting walls by the banging of the screen door, the clomping of boots, the clattering of milk pails, the wailing of cows.

In the late afternoon we carried water from the well and gave each plant one dipperful of water. If it was late in the season, we dug turnips and carried them back to the house where they were cleaned, sliced and boiled in milk for dinner.

I thought about all these things because a cousin of mine recently died. He was the one who drove the Jeep into a telephone pole, propelling my diapered bottom end over end and gave me one of the two scars I have on my head. He was, as my mother, would say, a cousin once removed, whatever that is.

A friend of mine went to a family reunion with me once. There was that guy trying to open a jar and a big guy went over to help him. She asked me who he was and I said he was Gladys’ first husband, once removed. How is that possible, she asked? Well, I said, we may get separated, but we are never far from another: New York pretzel.

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