It’s here. Today is the day I meet some members of my family I didn’t know existed. I wrote a post last fall sharing that our family discovered a branch of the family tree was missing. It was missing because my grandmother’s uncle had had a long-term relationship with an African-American woman, a descendant of slaves, over 100 years ago in Louisiana.
Although the relationship was illegal at the time, there were children born from that relationship. They were hidden from the rest of the family for everyone’s safety at the time. However, long after it was legal, no one made efforts to find them. When I learned of this, I was ashamed made it my business to push and push to gain contact with the descendants that make up this lost branch of our family because it’s never too late to do the right thing.
I very much wanted to meet Geraldine Pratt, the oldest living descendant, who would have been born just a few miles away from my grandmother in the small town of New Iberia, Louisiana. Amazingly, when I discovered this branch of the family tree, I learned that Gerry, had moved to Chicago and lived at one point in my life less than 15 blocks from me. She sounds like an incredible woman and a credit to the family. I tried to meet Gerry and her 4 daughters last fall, but they were in Mexico and then in LA.
Gerry passed away a week ago in LA and tonight I will travel to her neighborhood for her wake. I will meet her 4 daughters and their children, who are all my cousins. Part of me will be a wreck as there are no words to apologize for the injustices they have endured and the shame I feel that my ancestors didn’t treat them well when laws changed that could have returned them to the fold generations ago. Part of me will be sad that I wasn’t able to meet Gerry. Part of me will be excited to meet some cousins who have waited generations to know the other side of the family.
But mostly, I will be thinking of my grandmother and her siblings in Heaven, greeting Gerry and getting to know her while on Earth, I get to know her children and grandchildren. I would like to think that my grandmother is proud that I’ve made this connection, even if she couldn’t at the time. I am hoping one day to gather everyone we can and go to StoryCorps to record this as it is a quintessentially American story and to encourage other families to not be afraid of the past.
For today though, Bill, Sophie and I will pay our respects to Gerry, spend some time meeting these cousins and saying whatever we can to comfort them in their sorrow. All of this before we go to one of our family’s favorite holiday rituals, singing the Messiah with 1,300 other people at the Harris Theater in Millenium Park. Somehow, even though I’ve done Messiah singalongs for 25 years, that Alleluia chorus is going to feel a bit different this year.
Wish me luck!