Yesterday marked the end of an era for my family. In fact in many ways it was the end of my family. I said Goodbye to my memories, my sister, my aunts and everyone else in my family whom took a part in the resentment and the anger that has clouded my soul for the last 40 years.
It came in the form of a sale of a piece of property left to me by my Grandmother more than a decade ago, but was deeded to her nearly a century ago. In fact it was part of the clan that I can only lay partial claim to as the son a half sister who was born to a single mother in a Baltimore cold water walk-up just after the close of WWII.
My Grandmother, a judgmental, head-strong 19-year old woke up pregnant and married with an Armistice Day hangover in 1946. Early the next year, that hangover would become the bane of her existence, a reminder of poor judgement and a jail bird husband who lit off at the first news of being a Daddy.
My Grandmother, making the best of bad situation, dumped my Mom on her Grandparents in Baltimore and took up residence at the end of Aunt Rose's Bar in Annapolis. She did so to drink away the pain, she did so to stay young, she did so in the hopes of catching a better post war husband then her last without so much shrapnel in his soul. She quickly found the man I knew as my Grandfather, a decent yet hapless Army vet she could dominate and berate into submission.
His name was Ben and he worked at his Aunt's Bar in 1947 fixing and renting row boats to the newly released GI's back from the war. Aunt Rose's Bar, a local back water beer and crab house situated on the other side of the Naval Academy would become the hottest crab house in Annapolis, when Aunt Rose eventually sold the property to Cantler's and gave the opposite side of the creek to my Grandfather and Grandmother in exchange for a grandson named after the most prominent member of the family in history, Grover Cleveland Pumphrey, county sheriff.
Ben, just back from Italy was taking the summer of 1947 to collect his thoughts by working the docks of Aunt Rose's Bar in Annapolis while the rest of the family was back on the farm raising horses. He met Kitty one evening over a bottle of beer and some steamed crabs as she was down from Baltimore at the summer place just up the road from Aunt Rose's Bar. She was young, and pretty with dark hair and a well endowed frame. We always joked that it was clear my Granddad was not a leg man when you looked at my Grandmother and that must have been what caught his eye amid the piles of young ladies and horny young warriors scarred from battle, drunk as lords and riding high on an American Victory.
The two married in a hurry, and built a house with 1.5 baths and a finished basement on the newly acquired 2 acres across the Creek from Aunt Rose's Bar. This would eventually be the property that anchored our family and would also be the property that tore our family apart. And this was the property that was sold yesterday for $1.5 Million dollars, a decidedly grander figure than a name like Grover Pumphrey.
I thought I wanted to hang on to this property as it was the root of what I knew to be my family, but after living on this property and in this house and learning a story that has haunted me and will continue to do so until I can lay the spirits to rest, I decided it better we were done with it.
But it has launched a mystery I need to solve and that is what we will be doing this weekend with the Charted Life. I have client who needs lessons in Michigan and to get there I have to drive past the ancestral town of My Grandfather. Not Ben, but a man who was really my Grandfather, Charles Joseph Franz. The Jail Bird War Vet who may or may not have punched an officer and wound up in federal prison. The man who lived in a apartment in Covington, KY and died from lung cancer in 1991 in a Cincinnati VA Hospital bed alone. The man who fathered my Mother and disappeared never to be heard from again or so we thought.
You see the house in Annapolis, gave me the clue that has launched this mystery. A letter in my Grandfather's hand from 1949 begging for info about his daughter. He wanted to know her. My Mom lived her entire life thinking her mother hated her and her father didn't want her. And one night, on My Mom's birthday, I discovered a box of old papers in the basement of the house and in that box, I found that letter and my Mom discovered she had a Dad who loved her yet never met because my Grandmother would not let her know him.
So that's the mystery- who was Charles Franz? Did he ever remarry? Why did he go to prison? Why did he leave her in 1946 and walk away from a wife, a daughter and a family that would eventually be complete with grand kids he would never meet? What happened to him in war? Where did he work? Who loved him? Who was my grandfather? The world may never know but then again, it might.
Yesterday just after the house was confirmed sold, I got a message from a second cousin who lives in Montana. Our DNA matched on Ancestry and she claimed my Mom in her tree. I asked her how she knew my Mom and she said, her Uncle was my Grandfather. Wow. Jen and I were both in tears when we read that message and now we know what our next destination is- first to Covington, Kentucky on our way to Saugatuck, Michigan this weekend where we will sell the message of UGO and teach a nice young couple to sail their new boat. Then we plan to hop in Tilly and make our way out to Montana later this year to meet my second cousin once removed once Tilly is finished of course. We also have to head to Florida to buy a new boat with the proceeds of the sale of the house and we need to deliver the SV Southern Comfort and a 44 Leopard to Beaufort all before June 1. We have lots to do. But such is the Charted Life.
I am not happy about the loss of my family home, but it has started us on a journey that I never thought I would ever make. And so Jen and I were talking about it, and we decided that its not the journey that matters or even the destination, its the adventure that makes it all worth doing.
And so somewhere in this adventure I will meet the man who was my Grandfather and he will know he has a Grandson with a lovely wife and even great grandson somewhere in this world. Maybe I wont talk to him until the next world, but I do hope he knows that in this world, he will be remembered as a the man who wanted to be a dad to a daughter who so desperately wanted one.