Thursday, October 30, 2008

How to Break an Ankle, Part 10

(Grandmother Dorothy and my father, Bronxville, N.Y., 1957)

My mother's family history is simple and straightforward: They came to this country in early 20th century from Poland, where my mother's parents were born, peasants, like countless generations before them.
My father's family tree is more complicated and mysterious, its trunk and lower branches obscured in the ground fog of time. What little we know about the paternal line is something we'd rather not know at all. You wouldn't either if you found out Booker T. Washington was a slave on your ancestors' Virginia plantation. While Booker T. was working for The Man - James Burroughs – my father's mother's Irish and Scottish ancestors were on the Oregon Trail. They became pioneers in Oregon, Washington and Alaska and seafarers who sailed the China route. At the time my mother's mother was boarding a steamship for America, my paternal great-great-grandmother, Ada Woodruff Anderson, was churning out novels about adventure in the Northwest. Her daughter, Great-grandmother McCully, would become a writer, too, mostly of gardening books and articles. Her daughter – my grandmother Dorothy – never published but was a writer at heart, an avid reader and the composer of great letters. She would have a profound influence on my career, although this would not be apparent until years after that summer of '69 in California.

She lived on Bancroft Street in San Diego at the time, an old, quiet neighborhood, with her second husband, Harry, a retired Navy man. It was a house I still walk through and around in my dreams: a garage stacked with dusty curiosities, a miniature house where Gram did her sewing, a lemon tree, a shuffleboard court, and a garden that Harry was constantly tending and watering.

Gram was pencil thin with a constant and broad smile that made her top-heavy. I remember her, there and when she visited us on the East Coast, as delicate and sophisticated, a cigarette and cocktail balancing in her hands like weights on a scale.
I spent a couple of days at their home that August, poking around the garage, playing golf with Harry, and sitting in the porch swing with Gram, and that's where it happened. No, not the broken ankle, but her influence on me: what she would say that would set my course.


Brant said...

Doesn't it seem odd now, men wearing white, starched shirts and ties, and women in dresses and pearls at cocktail hour? I have a photo of my grandfather from the early 1900s. He had been out on a lake and was standing with a string of fish he had caught - and was wearing a white shirt and a tie.

Park Burroughs said...

My father used to make us dress as if we were going to a state funeral every time we got on a train or a plane.

Brant said...

Because if the plane went down and they drug out your corpse, he wanted the people from the morgue to say, "Those Burroughs folks must be good people. Look how well this boy was dressed." ;)

Anonymous said...

Travel by air has changed dramatically over the years. When I began to travel regularly on business in the early 70s, suits, or jackets and ties were the norm, as were lots of open seats. The planes were clean, mostly on time and service from the cabin staff (all females back then)was cordial and efficient. Ahh for the good old days....