When I hit a roadblock, I look for another way. Tenacious, you could call me. Not that I never feel despair, you understand, but usually I find a route to sanity before long.
When my mother died, I plummeted, overwhelmed by not just the suddenness but by the depths to which she had descended without our knowledge. Drowning in cat dirt, conditions which we did not know about but should have guessed. (She had smelled like cats for months.) But I've plumbed those depths in other writings, and dwelling there now feels like embracing the roadblock. The point is, my sister and I plowed through the vinegar-soaked remains of my mother's life and rescued anything we could find worth saving: mostly her artwork and family mementoes like ancient photos, memories of a family whose history was now lost to us.
So seductive, the call of hopelessness, because it promises release from responsibility. If you accept there's nothing you can do, then you need not do anything. A hopeless person can wail, can rail against injustice, can trail off into self-destruction. Not me. I don't have that luxury, because my brain keeps working out ways around.
About six months ago, my brother asked me to help him confirm a family story, about our connection to a Flying Monkey from "The Wizard of Oz," whom our mother always told us was our Nana's cousin. Knowing no one to ask, I fired up my Ancestry.com account, which I hadn't used since I started a trial version of it nearly a decade ago. Logging in, I smiled, seeing that I hadn't even been married yet, nor had a child, when I'd last used it.
Since the Flying Monkey's stage name was "Shorty" Hinkle, I knew he was connected to my mom's maternal grandfather, Jonathan "John" E. Hinkle. That was, however, all I knew. My mom had known very little about the Hinkles and had always hoped to research them some day. Plugging in my great-grandfather's name, I clicked on hint after hint, hitting a couple snags before determining that Shorty (birth name Merlin Hinkle, which I knew from a family photo album) was the son of Jonathan's brother and therefore, my first cousin, twice removed. Just like Mom had always said. He was also a clown, which had inspired my mom to a lifelong love of clowning.
The sleuthing reinvigorated me, setting me off on a spiraling course through our family history. I've traced some lines as far back as the Middle Ages, while others have resisted my efforts and led only to what I firmly believe are temporary roadblocks. Again and again, I've found that knowing the right information can be the key to unlocking the truth. Learning this weekend, for example, that my husband's maternal grandfather once worked for Disney, I have found a death certificate giving his exact birth date in New York and a death date in Sonoma, California. I'm hoping this will help me connect him to the many men with his father's very common name, in order to trace the line further back.
But ultimately, that is not what this story is about. Let me find my way back to the truth. This is a story about conquering hopelessness through finding purpose. My purpose: to recover the knowledge lost to me and my siblings in one black instant just before Thanksgiving 2015.
Oh, Mom, every day, I find something new that you never told me; I wish I could call you, but the underworld's lines are busy. I must content myself with telling my family, my friends, and anyone else who will listen. One day, though, when I walk through those gates, I'll have some stories to tell you.