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CROSS TALK

Edward Williams

Month

March 2010

The Progenitive Story

——My great grandfather Oscar F. on my fathers side introduced my grandmother on my mothers side, to her future husband, spawning the whole flock of us– well!  It isn’t that simple–he didn’t actually introduce them, he sent my grandmother, a young student of his at Rochester Business Institute (where he was a teacher), for a job interview; and that set up a chain of events leading to her meeting my grandfather. Who was an up-and-coming assistant at Lincoln Alliance Bank. And then they, the hard-to-imagine young couple, had a family, including my mother, who met my father in college, etc.  My grandparents themselves of course didn’t meet until my parents wedding! What? Which grandparents? Or shortly before my parents long ago, hard to imagine, wedding. What?  Of course, it wasn’t until my parents researched it, or my mother did (my father being uninterested in this kind of thing), that this story comes to light. The progenitive story is really put together by crazily interested descendants, who are looking for . . .  clues to their own existence, legends upon which to base their own ambitions!
—— But! If we can find out where the original anecdote featuring Oscar F. crystallizes in the consuming interest of a living descendant, that is where we might start the movie! We can’t start the movie at that first event, though it set a destiny in motion, because there would be just too much future to plow through, to even get to the pay-off, or the succeeding series of pay-offs, so to speak–the first of which I think is my parents wedding.  Though that too is rather far back! And I don’t have a scrap of information, or imagery, from it, so I would have to imagine it.  Imagine that, I would have to imagine my parents wedding!
——Well, a succinct version can be made exciting,  my sister keeps hoping this will be written up in full detail, as saving important family history. I don’t think she sees just how difficult it is, how clumsy it can get!, unless you can visualize everyone, and they happen to be your own family.  It is a trying task. And of course she wants me to do it, since I am the writer. It has some novelistic possibilities, sure, but the characters are liable to quickly deteriorate into stereotypes, inviting satire. Still, I have to ask, when does this story resurface as an ongoing family classic? Maybe that is the beginning of the back-spinning movie in the mind, that my sister and I both have glimpses of.  What is the synthesizing format that gives the dangling, promising facts their marching orders?
——Well, my mother reports that it was her mother, Nana, who always told the story of how she met her husband, Pop as we called him, as a “runner” who came into the law offices where she worked, having been sent by Oscar as his best student, etc.  When Nana talked to my father, before the wedding it must have been, she put it together via the fact of the Rochester Business Institute, which Oscar started, etc.  Complicated already! If we made a movie (it helps sorting out these things if you imagine making a movie, I find), we could start it there, not with Nana always telling the story (that is impossible to rig up), but with my mother striving to recall her mother recalling, etc. Get it? We could start it in the present and climb back through time, and end it with Oscar sending the young Adelaide out into the world. I can see it now, the end of that movie would be at the beginning of the story. Beautiful. All the moviegoers would know the future that was going to happen, because . . .
——Yes, the famous Oscar F. Williams sends his best female student from The Rochester Business Academy to be interviewed at a law firm for a legal secretary job. Her name is Adelaide Wohl and she is hired. Now, working as a runner at the Lincoln Alliance Bank, the young Edward Weingartner would often take papers over to that law firm where Adelaide worked. These two go on picnics, etc, are married, and one of their five children is Rita Weingartner, my mother. My parents, of course, did not know this background (that Oscar Williams had sent his future granddaughter-in-law, so to speak, to meet the man who would father the woman who would marry his own grandson!) when they met, at the University of Rochester. It came to light, as the complicated family legend, later of course, when my parents were married. Of course it would, and besides, I told my sister, this kind of story is hardly unique, particularly when families stay in the same city, and move in the same circles, go to the same college, etc.  Everybody has six coincidences like traffic accidents that brought people in their ancestry together.
——Still, I think, if I made a movie, say if I was in the position to make a movie out of my own personal ancestry . . .  I guess  I could start it with that classic photo of Nana and Jumbo looking at each other across the table, where two candles are burning. Or maybe this would be for the frontispiece on a chapbook, that tells this elegant anecdotal beginning of our family . . . when Oscar F. sends Nana to the bank where Edward Weingartner works.  While meanwhile his son Walter Sr. (Jumbo we always called him) is on a different track, he has still to meet his wife (getting short shrift here!), who will soon be married and have Walter Jr. My father. Cut to my father as a baby. And on the parallel track Nana and Edward have Rita, and these are MY parents. Well, this produces my parents, sort of, but it doesn’t cause them to meet of course. The mere force of this anecdote cannot cause them to meet! For that, we shall have to move heaven and earth in another way . . .
—–Or I could start the movie at my parents wedding, where Edward Weingartner the now established Vice-President of the Lincoln Rochester Trust Co., friend of George Eastman, is giving away the bride. The bookish, stalwart, highly opinionated and old-fashioned looking man looking on is my grandfather Walter Sr., who, I repeat, I knew as Jumbo. My mother says it is her mother, Adelaide who always talked about the fact that she was sent by Jumbo’s famous father to the place where she would meet her future husband, father of Rita who would marry Walter Jr, etc. etc. Where is Oscar? Now I am thinking maybe the movie should start earlier, way back with the very first scene, in the spring of whatever year it was, early in the century.
——Oscar’s chronology is itself a movie, what with him being Consul to Manilla Bay during the Spanish American War, and that cinematic scene of him on the deck of Admiral Dewey’s flagship, the Olympia, about to fire on the Spanish fleet; what with that cannon he got as war booty, and gave to City of Rochester, sitting silent in Highland Park, and his lectures he delivered as an anti-imperialist, etc., and back to the earlier history of his writing a Commercial Arithmetic textbook, and the founding of the R.B.I., etc. Not to mention his being in the first graduating class of Cornell, 1869.
——If only everyone had a family with a storehouse of memories, and handed down memories, like ours!  It is overwhelming, to think of all the movies!

1898 Thanksgiving Day dinner given by Consul Oscar F. Williams (left) to Admiral Dewey and Fleet Officers at hotel in Manilla, Phillipine Islands
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Crying Portraits

—–This is what I notice about myself in action. I strive to become unfathomable and legendary, and the person that others see as busy with my own unique genius. I strive to be regarded thus, and secretly envied from afar, and have people take away an impression of me as someone who is in possession of things beyond their own understanding. But I do not seek to be openly adored, or praised, in fact I always cringe when attention is drawn to me as being anything but totally normal. I want to blend in, make no immediate claim or trouble, watch everything happen in real time, and see what others are doing– they being the people who are manifestly busy in life. I participate to a measured degree, focused, so as to not appear to be aloof, and certainly not superior.  Nevertheless, I want to be known after the fact as having been importantly engaged. Even though I don’t want to draw attention to myself, and be the focus of the party, I want to leave the impression that I was a special guest, and perhaps even the most special of all guests, the one who just by their attendance seemed to validate the whole proceeding. I would not mind if this was the conclusion of any of the others, or all of them. This duality I bear within myself, and know how to manage. The first facet of it is necessary in order to investigate the mystery in which I move about, collect the material for my work, and even learn the language of the others, whom I will paint back into a semblance of who they were.  And the second aspect, the thing I notice about myself as I go about, is obviously meant to sow the seeds of a clear, unkillable fame, and create a future readership for the book that has these crying portraits, and saves from absurdity and death these very dear people, lauds them as laughing heroes.

THE SECRET THINKER

—–The original event is informing the recounting of it. In some sense it is still there, that event–for the secret thinker, and certainly the memory happening now is time-stamped. There is a core to this event which is not to be altered, it is fixed there like a stake in the ground. But what ground? We don’t ask, but we throw a rope to the past and begin, as it were, to pull it towards us; or pull ourselves slowly toward it. And the received content is open to association. This capability we find, to associate the event with other things, if exercised, builds different worlds around the event that started the recall, and in the reorganizing of your life you are free to grab, you are rightful. This occurs only in thought, that is your own, which builds with these materials quite unfettered and unique to the person. Who else knows what relates to this event, but you? The time-stamp is flexible, it marries with other content than what is stuck in any particular location. It can even drag in events before the original, to nicely foreshadow, or threaten the possibility, and it can certainly use anything that is good for a reverberation, or commentary if that is your talking style.  Meaning, I want to say, is merciless, for it is devoted to deepening the first mystery of a person. Deepening, not finishing, for eventually it will all relate, don’t you think?
—–Oh, we are doomed to be profound, I saw it all along. Thus, in this haphazard process, memories find and correlate and cling to one another from disparate years, and are pulled in from any location they choose. They are rallied into the causal spirit of the original event–which, as I said, has put down an anchor. Now anything remembered is an an anchoring presence in your thoughts. Thought alone can handle this situation! Elements of other memories are moved to join the new compound, and even the teller himself is swept up. So that we live, largely, in the past–the time spent that our singular lives have granted us, already, before we even thought to become desperately organized in our thinking.
—–You can never catch up, for life is coming up from behind you to overwhelm you with its significance. How else could it build, except by catching you unaware, and then ultimately flattering your ability to think, and preen yourself on your own special awareness. Oh, do not say you are not a secret thinker.

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