When I was visiting my family at Easter, I asked my dad about this fragmented memory I have. I remember being pretty young (about eight-years-old or so) and my dad being kind of stressed. Letters and lawyers were involved. I also have a hazy recollection of it involving Fort Erie, where my dad was born.
So I asked. The reply? Oh maybe that had to do with my great-aunts’ silk factory in the U.S. Or the will that I got five dollars and a bottle of whiskey from. Huh…and huh? Two sentences and I was fascinated.
First, let it be known that I’m really the only person in my family who pays attention to communication and whether I’m succeeding at it or not. My mom, dad, and sister quite happily switch between facts, fragments, and topics at a crazy pace, often from minute-to-minute. And because they see each other all of the time, it’s like they’ve developed their own language – one that only they seem to understand and one that I often find hard to follow. I had to slow down my dad and ask a lot of questions to divulge the following.
His great aunts (He thinks!) on his dad’s side once owned a silk factory in the U.S. It was seized by the government during WWII because of their German affiliation, but mostly because the silk was needed to create parachutes for the paratroopers. Apparently the factory was worth lots (maybe in the millions but definitely hundreds of thousands) and our family never succeeded in getting reparations. A lawyer was hired who would be paid when amends were made. They never were.
I had so many questions. I still do. What was the factory called? Where was it? My dad either never knew or doesn’t remember. All that correspondence? Gone. He did know that the sisters were single and ran the factory, themselves. That, I think, is really cool. I can boast of successful, single, business women in my family prior to WWII. They were rare.
Onto the five dollars and the bottle of whiskey…. Wha? It turns out another family business was lost during WWII – this time in Germany. My dad’s maternal grandparents had owned a bakery. My dad’s mom died right around the time the war was ending, so her share of the bakery and reparations were to go to my dad and his older, twin brothers. But the bakery’s legalities were tied up for so long and with so many lawyers that finally, late in his teens or maybe early twenties, my dad ended up only with some pocket change and alcohol.
Again, there were no answers to my questions about the bakery’s name and location.
I’m painfully aware of how much we now take for granted with the Internet. We want to know something? We Google it. But there’s no search engine that’s going to give me the answers I want. We only have access to our lives from the 90’s onwards and certain histories.
Also, there’s a very different mindset now. I guess it’s the global mindset. My parents are children of immigrants – immigrants who wanted to forget about what they left behind. They wanted to start fresh. They valued the new, not the old.
I value both. I feel so frustrated that our family history has been lost.