Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Family Tree Limbs

Family Heritage is a funny thing to talk about. When you have the facts, the story seems dry and mundane. When you know the people, most seem normal and boring. Well, my Uncle Frank wasn't boring, but he was sort of crazy. He was a postal worker, so we expect crazy a little (just kidding, for all those hard-working postal workers out there!).
We don't have cliff divers in our family. We don't have sky divers - well, I did once and the certificate is on my wall, but that was a long time ago, my way of celebrating my college degree. Get a degree - jump from a perfectly good plane. In today's job market that doesn't seem quite so odd.
The pout is familiar...
We all want to be related to royalty, showing our family is somehow more than it seems. When I was a young man I read that Denmark had a royal family with the last name Bernhard. I then navigated through life convinced I had royal roots, so the mundane aspects of my own life seemed less burdensome. Well, after a little research, I don't think we're related, and I'm glad of that. Not nice people, those Bernhard Danish royals. Of course, if we were related to Sarah Bernhardt, well, that's another story!
My Dad was career Navy, a corpsman. He was in Viet Nam, which I still consider worth a modicum of praise. He never talks about it. All three of my brothers were in the military. B served in both the Navy and the Army (more? I don't recall.) D became an officer in the Air Force. My youngest brother, T, won't talk about it, but he is a trained sharpshooter. He was sent to some odd places.
Dad grew up in North Canton, Ohio. I later found that a large contingent of Bernhard family members call North Canton, Ohio home. Thanks to Carl Bernhard, a distant cousin, I actually have some family pedigree for there, though not much.
My Dad's step-dad, my Grandpa Benjamin Comfort, flew planes in WWII. Well, that's what I heard, but I have nothing to prove he flew them. He was in aviation, though, to some degree. He never talked about it. He worked in the Ford plant in Detroit for all the years I knew him. Grandpa Comfort was an avid and accomplished photographer. I'm trying to recall if I ever saw him without a camera. I don't recall talking to him much, but I distinctly remember how easy it was to sit in the same room as Grandpa, just comfortable being together without talking.
My Dad's real Dad, Victor Augustus Bernhard, died relatively young, apparently of a heart attack when he was leaving a pool hall in North Canton, Ohio. When I asked Dad what he did for a living he said he didn't know. He gambled in pool halls and could be found working in the vaudeville houses in Canton. Theater runs in the blood, I think. Victor's brother was Frank. A mean old bachelor, Frank worked as a postal worker his entire life. He scared the crap out of us boys. We visited him a few times over the years. Uncle Frank kept his thick curtains closed and his house dark and frightening. An older home, this house had sturdy electrical cords on the walls running from the light button to the lights in the ceiling. Maybe this means the house had to be wired for electricity; I don't know.
I can't go back further on Victor's side with much reliability. Some of the relatives in North Canton owned a small grocery store. A few were some sort of watchmakers. That doesn't tell much of a story.
However, Dad's mom, Josephine Briner is related somehow in the mid-1800s to the Morrow family. The most famous member of that family that I know of is Anne Morrow Lindbergh, who, by the way, was a successful author. Scraps of Grandma's family tree go back to Scotland in the 1700s. I'd have to do more research to tell you more. Fortunately my Dad has cousins who are amazing at family trees and are doing the research for Grandma Comfort's sisters. One of these days I need to get a complete tree from them.
The story of my Mom's Mom and Mom's Dad is the skeleton in the closet of the family. Family tales say he was mostly Indian, but I can't prove it. I recently heard from someone related to him, but haven't yet taken the time to pursue that. Family tales also say that my mother's side had Chippewa Indian in them. Chippewas are Michigan tribes. If you ever met my Grandma Jen or her sister, my Aunt Ida, you'd probably believe it just from the way they looked. Still, most of the people on my mother's side were farmers, settling in Michigan after coming to the New World by way of Canada (which is why I can really believe one of the younger men might have met an Indian maid...). Of course, there were the members of the family in England who were caught poaching and got on the wrong boat in Amsterdam. THAT branch of the family ended up in Australia. 
A short series of Michigan Stories, a bit about living in Michigan during the year that Dad was in Viet Nam (the year the Tigers won the World Series, 1968): Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Fini. I wrote a wistful story about my childhood.
Some of my favorite posts are probably not as interesting to others. There is the one that I consider a guest post by my Mom, even though she died in 2001. It's a story of her childhood Christmas time that she wrote years ago. After my Darling Daughter asked me about what I've done in life, I thought about it and listed my accomplishments. My favorite part of that was a sweet response from one of my dear cousins. I talked a little bit about coming to Houston in 1980, which seems such a long time ago now. Well, it was a long time ago. I didn't realize how incredibly huge Houston was at the time. I talk a little more about my brothers and me, using Mom's cooking as the backdrop. Later blogs mention Mom's cooking, too. I guess I like eating and talking about eating. I delve into the recesses of my college years, but don't give away too much. My favorite post is still the one that started it all: our Mission Trip to Africa. Even that seems long ago, now.


  1. Found it interesting that your family vets won't talk about it either.My father never, ever spoke of his WII service. After he passed I found out he had been in the Battle of the Bulge. He won the Purple Heart and the Croix de guerre, but I still don't know how or where he was injured. Somewhere I have and address for our poaching relatives down under. Also found out that Elston Hall was the ancestral home of Charles Darwin. Wonder if we're "linked" there somewhere.ml

  2. During Barry's time in the Navy he ran across a couple guys that knew Dad in Viet Nam. They had some nice things to say about him, things we didn't know, of course. One guy said they called him "Doc" since he was the ranking Medical Corpsman with the 1st Marine Division. Another guy said they called him "The Wall" but I don't think I know why. I like both nicknames, though. The Wall. Ha! He sure was when we were younger!