family · holidays · letting go · love


My Christmas was as it’s been the past four years now – In
San Francisco, with my great friend Luke, at the posh Kabuki movie theater, and thai food on Fillmore, followed by meeting up with some of our
fellows. We saw the new Sherlock Holmes and it was just as fun and satisfying
as the first – as my mom once put it around movies of this caliber, they’re the
kind of movies that just make your popcorn taste better 🙂 They’re not going to
change your life, but they are fun – just what one wants on a Jewish Christmas day.
Before converting to Judaism to marry his first wife, my dad grew up in an Irish Catholic family in the Bronx & Queens,
and so I also have a “real” Christmas tradition and memory of all of that. We
used to drive to Queens each year on Christmas eve and decorate the tree, and
my dad’s mom, step-dad, and half-brother would always have this elaborate and
wonderful Christmas village set up. All the little stores and shoppes 😉 We’d
put on tinsel, and the clothes-pin reindeer every kid made in school. It was
always a wonderful tradition.
Over the years, though, as things have gotten worse with
them, the tree and the village stay out all year round, and are now covered in
many years of dust and filth. And although I have a great deal of love and
compassion for them and their increasing mental illness, shut-in ways, I can’t
help but feel a little cheated at the loss of my connection to a family
My grandmother is in the hospital, her leg recently
amputated, and finally her other son and husband have agreed that their house
isn’t safe for her (the only bathroom is on the 2nd floor). So, to
me, it’s a blessing – she’ll be in a nursing home till she passes, and it’s a
little bit of dignity she’ll get back as she’s cared for in this way.
However, with the loss of her, …
My last name is not really my last name. I mean it is. It’s
on my birth certificate, and it’s on my father’s. But before that, it didn’t
My grandmother got pregnant at 15 by a “Spanish electrician
named Joe.” This was all I’ve known, all my dad’s known until very recently
about his father. Irish Catholic family? 1950s? Unwed teenage pregnancy? This was not okay, and my dad’s
first few years of life were actually spent on a farm in upstate New York. The
last name was “borrowed” from a family friend from whom my grandmother’s family
asked if they could use his last name on the birth certificate. And so, our new lineage was born. With a
big fat question mark on my dad’s dad’s side of the family tree.
More than a question mark, however, were cloaks of secrecy and
shame, and a large edict to never mention this. I can’t imagine how it must
have been for my grandmother.
A few years ago, while in her kitchen, helping to prepare
the Yorkshire pudding for Christmas dinner, I asked her more questions about my
unknown grandfather. Besides saying what she would come to only say about it,
“It was a long time ago,” (end of conversation), she also said that years after
my dad was born, my grandmother’s mother showed her letters Joe had sent
her during the pregnancy which her mom had intercepted and kept hidden – letters which said that he wanted to help and be involved.
Crushing. I imagine. I told this to my dad, and he was
stunned – he never asks, or talks about it.
I’ve done a little research, and in the Bronx in the 1950s, the
“Spanish” population, not knowing if that meant Spain Spanish or Latino
Spanish, it is likely that he, my dad’s father, was either Puerto Rican or
The last information I’ve gotten from my grandmother was
when I sent her a letter about 2 years ago, asking politely and nicely and just
… a little desperately, for more information. And she wrote back, It was a long
time ago, times change, we move on.
And now, she lays in a hospital bed, losing her memory, and
dying with the last of any secrets or clues to my lineage, my brother’s
lineage, and that of my father. Her husband married her when my dad was 6, and
they had another son. And that’s that.
It was years before I
knew any of this about my dad’s dad. I knew that the man I knew as my
grandfather was my dad’s step father, but I was always told that there was a
real Daniels, with a backstory – a descendant of a Scottish clan – and everything.
So, Christmas. There’s a bit of acceptance I’ll just have to
work on around this. Some people really don’t know their heritage at all. Some
are adopted, or were taken from their homeland generations ago, entirely divorced from their origins.
I don’t really know what else to say about it. It feels like
a loss, like a sadness. And I’ll always be curious, and I wish I knew more, and I often assume that my nearly black hair and dark eyes like my father are from this Latin lineage, and
I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever find those letters from Joe in the packing up
of boxes once they’re all gone. 
But I do know that over the last few years,
when I’ve been in spiritual circles during which we’re asked to name our
ancestors, I name him, Grampa Joe, and call him into my circle. 

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