I have this little man in my head that jots down my best ideas as I dictate them. He writes down everything I think. He records potential openings for my blog, and then he starts criticizing them. Before I can reread his shorthand and translate it to the keyboard, he has told me exactly what is wrong with my sentences and why my thoughts sound amateur. He reminds me that it is simply unprofessional to announce the subject of an essay. He says it should just come to the reader organically, and that I don’t want my blog to sound like a freshman comp assignment. Well, he’s right, darn him, but he makes me want to break the rules just to spite him. He makes me want to sound juvenile because it would be ironic . . . or something. I guess we’re both wrong this time. You see the emotions I am trying to express in this introduction have helped me craft an introduction that does not blatantly state the subject of this week’s post. However, I just wrote an introduction that in no way relates to the theme . . . or does it? Let’s find out together, shall we.
Today I’m going to talk about (ah crap!) my roots. I can’t tell you how many conversations I have had with my grandpa about genealogy. I can’t tell you because I have forgotten them all. Each time we finish talking about all the things he has discovered through research, I don’t remember a single thing he’s told me. And it’s caused some trouble over the years.
The first conversation we had was several years ago when I was in junior high. Funny how I can remember when it took place more than what was said. It may be because I came to associate the information with bad memories. I “learned” that our last name was different in the past. I seem to remember my grandpa telling me that our name was German and it used to be Pickleheimer ( the spelling it most likely inaccurate). The first people I shared this with were the group of simple-minded stoners and wannabe jocks. Why did I do this? Well . . . they asked. But, I didn’t even like those guys. They were smelly neanderthals. As if calling me Pickle wasn’t entertaining enough, they were then provided with a longer versions for even more laughs. (Just so you know, being called Pickle didn’t bother me. They just thought thought it was funnier than it actually was.) Fortunately, none of them knew people I knew, so the information did not spread outside of the gym. I didn’t tell anyone else for a long time.
The subject came up again in college while practicing with my brass quintet. There were many things we discussed, none of which were taboo, but somehow we ended up on the relatively boring subject of genealogy and name origins. By this time I was an adult, and my memory of the conversations with my grandfather had faded even more. When it was my turn to share, I couldn’t recall exactly what the name was supposed to have been, but my brain was telling me Pickleheimer was wrong. No, the correct answer, or the one that sounded more likely to me, was Pickleheiman (pronounced Pickle-Hy-men). That was wrong. The difference this time was that I was sharing the information with people I liked. However, good friends have a tendency to razz you just as much if not more than neanderthals. And because you chose to be around them, they are harder to tune out.
When I told the members of the quintet what I thought my name used to be, the laughter was unexpectedly rampant. I wanted to join in, but I didn’t know why it was that funny. I was not in on the joke, you see, for I was not aware that “hymen” is a word. In fact, it’s a body part. I didn’t know that, because there had never been a moment that I needed to know that . . . until then. Needless to say, I was mortified. I tried to explain that I was not confident that was the correct name of my ancestors, for it had been a while since Grandpa Pickle and I had talked about it. That didn’t help. I was stuck with the new name for the rest of the day and some of the week. In desperation, I called my grandpa to set the record straight and save me from further embarrassment. What I got was surprising:
Me: Hey, Grampa. Are you busy?
Grandpa Pickle: Well, uh, no. What’s goin’ on?
Me: It’s not a big deal, but I have a question.
Grandpa Pickle: Ok.
Me: Um, you know how you do all the genealogy and stuff? Well, I was talking to my friends, and I couldn’t remember. Was our last name . . . did it used to Pickleheimer or …
Grandpa Pickle: No, just Pickle.
Me: …but I thought it used to be German, and-
Grandpa Pickle: No, it’s English.
Me: Are you sure? I thought you told me it came from Germany.
Grandpa Pickle: Nope. It’s from England. I got a coat-of-arms and everything.
Me: You’re kidding, right? Are you serious? You’re not joking with me?
Grandpa Pickle: I’m serious. It’s from England.
This was bad news. I mean good news that I wasn’t a Pickleheiman, but bad news that I had mistakenly shared this information with other people. And however shaky I had been about the name itself, I was sure that it was a German name. So now if I went back and changed my story, my friends would just think that I was trying to cover it all up. And they would be right.
I asked my dad later, and he confirmed that our name had been Pickleheimer. This made me even more confused. I honestly do not remember when I heard my grandpa share this information with me, but I could swear he did. However, to this day he denies that the words ever left his mouth. Baffling, I know. But this experience has taught me to pay more attention when elders are talking so as to avoid any further embarrassment. I revisited the subject with my grandpa over Christmas break, and not only did he reassert his proof of our English ancestry, but he also explained how he knew it to be true. He said it’s just like everyone else back then; you were named by profession or association. That’s where the English Pickles came from. My grandpa also added that he had been stationed with guys who also had food names like carrot and turnip. Just imagine if he had married one of their sisters. I can hear a conversation playing out:
Random guy: So what’s your last name?
Random guy: Oh really? That’s unique. I like it. What’s your mom’s maiden name? Cucumber? (chuckles)
Me: Uh, yes, actually, it is.
Random guy: …Ok, now you’re lying to me.