Quotidian Update 71.3.7.v — Phone Conversation with My Cousin

Zürich from a tower of the Grossmunster

“Well sweetie, we have osteoarthritis everywhere in our body. It’s in our genes.”

Suddenly it all made sense, the pain and fatigue I felt walking with Teddy in the Big Empty on Sunday evening.

“Do you find it’s worse when the weather changes?”

“I think so. The weather was changing.”

Since my cousin’s daughter found me on Facebook a month ago, I have had family. I already had my family that I put together on my own, but now I the other kind of family with shared childhood memories and relatives. I spent an hour on the phone with my cousin yesterday. It was kind of miraculous. I don’t know when we’ll be able to see each other, but this is pretty awesome as it is.

She had just finished reading Across the World on the Wings of the Wind, the whole mammoth trilogy of Savior, The Brothers Path and The Price compiled in one book. She had so much to say about it. The best thing — to me — was that she found Savior, the first book, too short. She’d wanted more. “I loved it. That book grounds everything, the family, there in the castle, all of it.”

Of course it’s HER family as well as mine.

“I didn’t know we were Swiss. I thought we were Scots/Irish.”

“Mostly. We’re mostly Scots/Irish. But yeah. Swiss too.”

“I had no idea.”

“No one did, well my mom thought Grandma was Pennsylvania Dutch, but I don’t think she knew what that meant.”

“Why did she think that?”

“Grandma has a few strange turns of phrase.” My grandma said a few every day sentences in German syntax, like “Put on the table the bowl.” I don’t know if my mom had read a novel or studied or what but she’d heard those and developed a theory. When it comes to it, I’m not sure we know our parents all that well.

“I loved your books,” said my cousin.

I was a little sorry she’d bought the books because I was going to send them to her. I just don’t have them all and Amazon isn’t rushing to fill random book orders from authors who don’t make them any money.

We gossiped about family, talked out the changes in the 20 year interval since we last saw each other, and talked about dogs. She has always had dogs and right now has Mini-Aussie puppies.

Today four years ago I was in Zürich. I don’t know if I will ever go back, but I hope so. Whatever small part of my DNA or ancestry or whatever it ultimately represents, it occupies a large part of my heart. I will always wonder (though I wrote about it) how my ancestors felt leaving. Relieved, I guess, scared, but I can’t believe some of them wished they had not had to go.

Nothing really going on which, given the times in which we live, is OK by me.

Featured photo by Lois Maxwell


Swiss in the San Luis Valley

This coming summer — on June 20, the Saturday closest to my grandmother Beall’s birthday — I’ll be reading from the trilogy. The trilogy’s official title is very long and cumbersome, but the titles I wanted were taken, so I titled it, Across the World on the Wings of the Wind. Long though it is, it’s very expressive of the three books together. They are Savior, The Brothers Path and The Price. You can learn about them on their website.

I expect to read from The Brothers Path and The Price. Savior is pretty far away from the experiences relevant to the people to whom I’ll be reading. The project is turning out to be part of a presentation and exhibit on Swiss immigrants in the San Luis Valley.

Switzerland might be a small, land-locked country, but Madame Helvetica’s people really got around. In the 17th and 18th century many left — as my ancestors did — for religious reasons. Life in Switzerland was hard for many centuries, and in the 19th century, many, many left for better opportunities. The emigration from Switzerland continued well into the twentieth century. Most of the Swiss in the San Luis Valley arrived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Swiss ancestry is one of the most common in the United States.

Members of my family left illegally, with no passport or permission. There is a letter to them from the Canton of Zürich telling them they will be arrested if they return. I’ve enjoyed free coming and going for more than twenty years, so it seems the hatchet was buried some time back. I love Switzerland and wish, sometimes, that I was a boomerang, but…

I’m looking forward to the project and working with the Rio Grande County Museum and people in the valley I don’t know yet. One family — the Knoblauchs — are doing the Swiss thing; they have a dairy farm — the Lazy Ewe 2 Bar Goat Dairy — goats, cattle, yaks — and they make cheese.

Wheels of Cheese at the Knoblauch’s Lazy Ewe 2 Bar Ranch

I’ve visited their farm and really enjoyed it. My favorite animal was the yak.

Because of my best friend, Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog, the Akbash, the livestock guardian dog, I’m very interested in how people protect their livestock from predation. The Knoblauchs use llamas to guard the stock in the day and Great Pyrenees guard the stock at night. They also have the sweetest pit bull on the planet.

Right now the project is at the GIANT amorphous size of a project, but soon, I hope, it will start to center on itself and we’ll know what it is.

As for me, I’m only 10% Swiss but that ancestry has had a disproportionate influence on me as a writer and maybe as a person. My Grandmother Beall (family names include Stober and Schneebeli) was an important person in my life even though she died when I was ten. I can’t explain it and have stopped trying. If I’ve been channeling her family all this time, it’s fine with me. I love them and their stories just as I love my aunts and am proud of my family’s adventures.

When my Aussie neighbor Elizabeth brings me jelly she has made, she brings it in a “boomerang” jar.