Frank 1

This is Frank Beard, my maternal grandmother’s father with his first wife. As far as I know, this is not a drawing. The picture was taken in black and white and then colored in after. We removed it from a frame that was as warped and weathered as the picture; a massive, heavy thing, ornately carved.

If I recall correctly, Frank was married 4 times. The woman pictured, his first wife. She bore him 2 sons before she died. His second was my grandmother’s mother who died when my grandmother was quite young. Frank’s 3rd wife treated my grandmother and her brothers very cruelly. The boys were beaten so severely they passed blood. This woman’s 2 daughters tormented my grandmother while the boys were in the field working alongside Frank. These “wicked stepsisters” dictated to my grandmother and her siblings how much they could eat. Consequently, they were underfed. My grandmother told stories of scrounging for scraps in the chicken yard.

Here’s the thing: Frank was evidently oblivious to all of this. It was not until he was alerted by a cousin, a woman who raised the alarm at the poor condition of his children, that he took action. He divorced Wife Number 3 and married a 4th time. Wife Number 4 proved to be a vast improvement.

I used to put off Frank’s neglect of his children to the times in which he lived. Caring for the brood was “women’s work” and none of his concern. He paid no real attention to the physical condition of his children. Made no notice of the interactions between them. Caught no signs of menace between his wife and her stepchildren. He had to attend to his farm. The day to day of his family passed his notice.

What are we allowing to pass our notice? Apparently quite a bit if the latest news is any indication. What does is say about the times in which we live? What is more important to us than addressing neglect and abuse in our very midst?

It’s said that, on her death bed, Wife Number 3 called Frank to her bedside. She claimed to see a finger writing on the wall so fast that she couldn’t read it. It was giving an accounting of her past sins.

No one knows if Frank forgave her.

Ice Breaker

Meeting new family can be challenging. What do you talk about? There is no shared history. And current events being what they are, no one is really in a hurry to start in on the news. The first black president has moved on to greener pastures and his successor is continually mired in a scandal a week while simultaneously inspiring America’s most racist impulses.

So you’re left with brief periods of small talk – the weather, traffic, the few friends you may have in common (which you really don’t) and then silences punctuated by sighing and staring off into the middle distance.

And then the meal starts. Tongues loosen, shirt sleeves roll up, collars unbutton and the stories flow. By the time the pots and pans are done, everyone is laughing and backslapping and trading phone numbers. Good food has that effect. Raises blood sugar and communal spirit. Puts people at ease. Sets everyone on a common path.

My great aunt had such a meal today with a branch of her family I know little to nothing about. And I’m still not certain of the connection. But who cares? We have now shared food and have hopefully started our own history.