Posts Tagged ‘memoirs’

Mother also brought cultural baggage to the marriage. She had idolized her father as much as papa had idealized his. And Opa had been in rebellion against his self-made Burgher grandfather and his dandy of an army officer aristocrat and had opted for a Bohemian cultural expression that led to perhaps a more Bohemian lifestyle than he had wanted. Mother, too, wanted to be “different,” as shown by her childish challenges to God in front of her friends, all daughters of Burghers with whom she was locked in a secret sorority. That she had ambitions to perform in the role of intellectual is indicated by her going to college, though I never heard her speak of any ambition and her actual performance ended with a couple of articles in the Alcalde, the alumni publication of Texas U., the import of which I do not remember. The first years of the marriage might well have been quite seductive, with the accoutrements of elegance, including a gardener cum butler and the luxury of a second honeymoon to Mexico. Then began the children, and from family stories, Thea was a delight with her imaginary Die Lila Lady. After that came the fall, its full impact staved off by Fredericksburg, where her intellectual talents could be put to practical use while the Burgher demands were lost in the realities of the peasant surroundings.

By the time mother appeared on my radar she had given up all pretence at following intellectual pursuits, but had not given up on being intellectual. She shared her interest in poetry with Thea in high school, she read to all of us from books that reflected her dissidence, and socialized with new librarian friends more than with her LUC cronies. It is clear that she had settled for getting her sense of self from the performance of her sons. The good side of this is that she put a lot of her time and energy into relating to us. Sometimes it was to her advantage, too, as when she responded to a neighbor who said what a wonderful garden could be made of the large yard where we played and she countered that she would rather use it for the cultivation of her children. Saves money, saves time, and is unassailable. But there is a downside to parents’ getting their kicks from the accomplishments of their children: the reinforcement of sibling rivalry. I believe sibling rivalry is a phenomenon that is built into social life – not as an inherited trait but as the result of the structure of the situation of infancy, most particularly where children are spaced close together. It rests on the fact that the younger displaces the older from his monopoly on the major source of affect, the mother. (For detail, see Bridge.) But the rivalry can be exacerbated or ameliorated by other culture traits, and maternal investment in children can be an exacerbating one.

This leads to an examination of Buntz, whose behavior I have always seen as being the most formative influence on me. He was the one who was displaced by me and my robust health must have threatened his sovereignty of the nursery. I have no doubt that his incessant teasing was a calculated campaign to lessen my powers and reduce my self esteem, forcing me to enact what he was accusing me of. He had a way of putting me down, as in his contemptuous response to my having been made editor in junior high school. His later behavior as big brother can be seen as the second phase of his hegemony, reinforcing his dominant role by being patron to my peasantry. It is not surprising that I wanted no more of this relationship and only that I had the wit and courage to turn it down. The public awareness of this invidious comparison was made by Miss Johnson when she returned my “Many Mansions” paper. That, at least, had the virtue of showing that I was not just paranoid.  I grew up being envious of his superior skills and of his success and when he bought a house in Georgetown (which did not have the panache that it has now, to be sure) and mother told me it had three bathrooms, I was green with envy. I avoided asking him for favors, though I always stayed at his apartment when I was in New York. But once he said that I should have told him beforehand that I was going to Puerto Rico, saying that he was a good friend of the governor. So when I was going to Iran (where he had spent a year while at the U.N to get a sense of local conditions for programs he was initiating wt the U.N.), I told him, and it was clearly to my advantage. I was duly impressed with the degree to which his name opened doors. When I thanked him he said that in Iranian culture it is more important to be a brother than oneself. Of course, for my part, I always sent him copies of my books to show my progress. When the attack on Margaret Mead hit the press, Tex phoned me and teased that perhaps somebody would find I’d faked the Arvin/Dinuba data. My riposte was instant and gratifying, “Tex, with brothers like you, who needs friends?”

I had always thought of this as my envy of him and only slowly became aware that the feeling was reciprocated, that this was all classic sibling rivalry and that I hadn’t just rolled over as anticipated, I suppose. My first realization came after I was a professor, on occasions when I visited them in New York as an established academe and one or other of his children were in college, and would corner me to ask for my advice and he would nose himself  into our conversation. This happened repeatedly, as did his recurrently telling me that he had been asked to be President of Reed College, seeing this as an up-stage, though my ambitions never took me to such “heights.” I am not even sure that it was an offer as distinct from a mere expression of interest. Whichever, I am sure Wickie would have nipped it in the bud as she was so disdainful of her father’s having been President of Case Western Reserve. Much later, in the last decade of his life when I visited him at Quadrangle, we had discussed our relationship from time to time. Once Tex said, “ashamed as I am to say it, I am glad that the first child died, for I would not have liked being a younger brother.” He also quipped in a talk at his 90th birthday that my championing the underdog came natural to me as I had always been one, whereas he had to learn of their needs.

The rivalry didn’t just happen; it was fostered by mother. I record the following sad story reluctantly, for it is not a pretty one and my own role in it makes me wince, but do so because it is a telling one. At some time – I must have been home from college – mother showed me a pair of papa’s cuff links, gold and set with rubies, and said something like, “they are to go to the first of you to do something important.” I should have protested or opted out right then, for it was sheer foolishness, invidious and oblivious to the age differential. Later, I was back in San Antonio after my As You Sow was published and its controversy had given me a public role, I suggested that it was a draw and that each of us should be given one to make into rings for our wives. I think mother was reluctant but she could hardly refuse. How could I have still been so childish? Like all good stories it ends with a sad irony. I did have a ring made and Gale never wore it, oblivious to its significance. Nothing was ever said about cuff links; I don’t even know if Tex knew about this “contest.” I made a kind of postscript to the cuff-links saga, though I had not intended it to be that. When I was included in Who’s Who, I knew that Tex would be in it too, for the instructions said that all ambassadors were listed and Tex had just been appointed one. So mother had her two sons listed for the first time in the same edition and I thought she would be so proud to see both our names on the same page that I bought a copy (for the only time, I might add) just so I could Xerox the page and send it to her to give her bragging rights. Perhaps significantly ironic again, she never said a word about it.


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Living in Texas in early 20th century, the matter of what current political correctedness. calls “ethnicity” was an integral part of the social environment. Blacks suffered complete segregation and it was not possible to have a normal personal peer relationship with one. Childhood culture included a repertoire of jokes based on racial stereotypes and dialect-driven expressions that live with one throughout life. The treatment of Mexicans was little better, though the segregation was not so explicit and, as I have already said, my childhood best friend was a Mexican boy who lived two doors away in an enviable house with a three-car garage in an era when a two-car garage was a mark of opulence. I used to joke that I learned about cultural differences every time I came out to play, when after raiding our respective ice-boxes, Babe, the Irish kid from across the street came out with his peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on white bread, I with my sausage and cheese ones on rye or pumperkickel, and Rudy with his enviable Mexican precursor to the taco. Since I usually envied Rudy’s snack, I learned early that difference does not necessarily carry the better/worse dichotomy of values.

I also belong to an ethnic group. There was no stigma to being German and, interestingly, the Jewish stigma was not felt until I came to California, when people would ask me if I was Jewish. I had a hard time giving an answer, for I couldn’t just say no honestly and yes was even more misleading. The question was never innocent. As I said, there were no Jewish customs or artifacts at 315 and I was only dimly aware of being “partly Jewish” as a child. Once a friend invited me to go to a Boy Scout retreat with his Jewish troop and I went, being amused at the underlying sense of “ethnicity,” and bemused by the to me unexpected inversion of prejudice when they sang a verse contributed to the WW I song, “Mademoiselle of Armentiers” that went, “We are the sons of Abraham,/ eating ham for Uncle Sam.” Each of the three of us joined Greek societies in college. Only much later, when I realized that because my mother was gentile, I was not Jewish by Jewish rules, I formulated the honest answer: “yes, but only by Nazi definition.” But in a household in which both parents came from families who had denied such identification and could be said to have a “mixed marriage,” all this ethnicity had seemed to be just so much nonsense when I first learned it – evil nonsense. I grew up with the assumption of differences as being culture-based and not a matter of biological inferiority or superiority and that all peoples had their virtues and peculiarities. I was apparently drawn to thinking about cultures, for I would get children’s books that described life in different countries – “The Bobsy Twins in China” sort of thing.

But we lived in and were adapted to a racist society. Willy, our weekly “help” washed the clothes out in the back yard, boiling them in an old iron kettle like those in cartoons of cannibals cooking, over an open fire. As in many southern households, however, there was a measure of warmth as well as exploitation in this relationship. Willie was a powerfully strong, dark woman (a descendant of “field hands” and not “house slaves,” whites would say). She was uneducated but we did not confuse that with being dumb. We quoted with approval those aphorisms that we thought were expressions of a natural wisdom, such as her saying that she wasn’t going to take her malady to a doctor, “’cause he’d just give it a name,” or when she came back at my cousin when he told her not to get any of the black of her hands on the sandwich she was making, “Sonny, my hands ain’t as black as your soul.” She taught us that racial discrimination is more complex than we had realized in an expression of her own feelings. Once, mother told her that one of our neighbors wanted her for some temporary work. When mother asked her if she liked it and was going back, she replied laconically, “No’m.” “Why, did they treat you badly?” “no,” she replied,  “but those people jus’ don’ know they place” And she explained that they had told her to set three places for lunch and that when her husband came in and sat down, they told her to sit down, too. “I aint gonta eat with no white folks! As I say, them folks jus’ don’ know they place an I aint goin back there – no way!.” This was a sad, unforgettable introduction to the realization that the oppressed often adapt to their oppression.

There was nothing militant or “radical” in our attitude, just a kind of academic interest in, concern for, and support for the interests of Blacks and Mexicans, the ethnic minorities of consequence in early 20th century Texas. As is clear from the discussion of my family background, cultural differences and cultural relativism were taken for granted in our household, and while we, too, accepted discrimination as a condition of our society and even took advantage of some of its benefits, we did not condone it. There was a book in our library called !Viva Mexico!, which made fun of the culture of the quasi-colonial masters and thus expressing the universality of human foibles.

This interest in other cultures led me to be curious about what we would now call “the other.” Sometimes, on my magazine route I would stop at the Catholic cathedral and talk at some length to the priest, who was as alien to me as a foreigner and he seemed as intrigued by this curious child as I was about him. I have no memory of the content of our discussions but they were not just fatuous pleasantries. An even more enigmatic memory that, again, I cannot contextualize was a visit I made to the home of a middle-aged “middle-class” Black couple when I was in high school. There must have been some reason for the visit, for it is impossible that I just knocked on the door. I have a clear memory of my being in the neat and orderly living room of the modest house and the polite, if stilted, talk that ensued. It had a unique smell, composed largely of cleaning fluids, it seemed. But the only content of our conversation I remember was about the player piano, prominent in the parlor, which was totally new to me, and so they demonstrated it for me. I cannot understand what brought me to this social confrontation, so out of keeping with the norms of San Antonio in the twenties. Later, when I was at college and when I was on digs in rural Texas, I would go to Black churches to listen to their music, for the Negro spiritual sung by Black choirs is a beautiful experience. This, too, was against the grain of the culture, and in retrospect, I wonder how my hosts felt at these intrusions, which they had not dared to contest.

So I entered anthropology with a total acceptance of culture as the source of behavioral difference without any trace of the terrible infection of racist prejudice. Or so I thought. But the mind is a far more subtle and devious instrument than we like to think, as a terrifying experience I had some twenty years later made me realize. Let us fast forward to a sunny December noon on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley in 1943, after I had launched my career deeply rooted in this liberal anti-racist presupposition. I was a bit distracted, trying to figure out what to buy Gale for Christmas on our constricted budget when a man of uncertain age came by me in a persistent stride and struck me lightly with his hand as it swung with his walk. A thought sprung into my mind – a whole sentence appearing on the screen of my mind as they nowadays do on my computer. A nanosecond later, when its message entered my consciousness, a cold shiver ran down my spine. The sentence was: “Only niggers swing their arms like that.” There was nothing in the situation that merited such a reaction; the man wasn’t African-American nor had he more than grazed me. How could I, with a career devoted to the denial of racist causation come up with such a wording and such a thought? If this piece of shitty nonsense was lying deep within my subconscious, what other garbage was there? I tried to think how that sentence came into my head in the first place, for it appeared full-blown — all of a piece and not just cobbled together. I conjured up a scene of walking up dusty Stieren Street with Thea and Buntz on the way to Bonham School, but in this memory I did not actually hear the words being said. So I can’t say that was its origin, but it remains my best guess. It is a lesson in the subtlety of cultural indoctrination and made me forever aware that nobody ever truly frees himself of early experiences. I have told this story many times, for it is to me a morality tale, yet it troubles me still, even now as I write of it. It also piques my curiosity, for I cannot believe a thought like that could lie in my brain without having some form of materiality, and I wonder if some place inside my noggin a string of synapses had held together for a quarter of a century.

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I went to Thomas Nelson Page Junior High School in the same old limestone buildings that mother had gone to the German-English School in the 90s. My chief remembrances of it are sitting in the far corner of the miserable grounds exchanging dirty – mostly scatological – stories with other pubescent boys and tearing open my hand on a broken drain-pipe. Whatever I might have learned in class must be stored in some part of the brain that is not accessible to me as I concentrate on my personal history.

We were to move to a newly built school for the last semester of our senior year and I recall asking to see the drawings of what it was to be like and this was met with a pleasant, somewhat surprised response for I was apparently the only student with such curiosity. I had a vague desire to be an architect. In grammar school there had been an assignment to “plan” a house, using pictures cut out of magazines. I liked doing it and I think it evoked a secret desire to be an architect. As a child I liked to drive through neighborhoods to look at new domestic styles. Among the many talents that I lack, along with limited math skill is drawing; I feel that I wanted to make houses what we now call more “user friendly,” that is, more sensitive to social uses. Whenever I passed the architecture school at Austin, I wistfully reflected on that old ambition, yet realized that for me it was a road well not taken.

A signal failure capped this last semester in the old stone school. For reasons unknown, I had been chosen to give the farewell speech to the departing class at the banquet at the Mexican restaurant. When I got up to give it, none of the words that I had so carefully memorized found their way to my tongue, reminiscent of those embarrassing silences when I was supposed to recite a poem on Christmas Eve. Finally I sat down, vowing never to memorize a speech again and now I wonder that I had the temerity to enter a profession that demands public performance. I kept that vow; fortunately extempore works for me.

I was also named editor of the school paper. When I announced this at home with some pride, Buntz laughed at the idea with a “what, you?” sort of comment, to which Thea responded with a more accepting, “Well, why not?”  When school started in our new building, mother had been given a permanent appointment as a teacher there (where she spent the rest of her working life) and was assigned to supervise the paper. She and I put the little mimeographed paper together each month, but I think that it was a mistake for us to have confounded her roles as teacher and mother. At any rate, I did a lousy job that falsely presaged the future, for as you will see, I take pride in my capability as editor.

Allowances were unheard of; we didn’t even get paid for the fairly onerous chores like mowing the extensive lawn with the old hand mower and other yard work; it was simply expected. Whether this policy was based on moral or on economic grounds, I can’t say. We never even heard about the tooth fairy, who also never visited my children. We appreciated our big yard for games there, but the chores were hard and time-consuming. I used to dream up labor-saving devices (many of which have since come into being) and fantasized becoming an inventor. I think I have the imagination to be one, but the talents appropriate for engineering were not in my repertoire and this dream ultimately faded into the more generic desire to be creative – the beginning of the urge to become a scholar, a “scientist” of some kind.

There was one recurrent chore that I did feel obliged to perform. As happens in yard-side ball games, balls often find a window, so I learned at an early age to replace the glass. When Tex and I visited San Antonio about ten years ago, I looked to see if the poorly troweled putty was still there and pleased to feel it. But now I wonder that, as a teenager or younger, I was permitted to bicycle the mile to the local glaziers and back with a pane, naked save for a sheet of newspaper tied around it, under my arm. As I survived without incident, I am glad that mother had such a relaxed attitude, for I think it is a healthy one — but I couldn’t muster it when I became a parent. Of course, the traffic was lighter and slower in the twenties; still, they were not the horse and buggy days.

Dad’s middle-class German background rendered him totally unsuited to any household task beyond replacing a light bulb and couldn’t teach us anything practical. Taking high school “shop” was infra-dig for us college-bound snobs, so Buntz and I learned to do things on our own and I benefited from his pioneering efforts. Both of us have taken pride throughout our lives in our amateurish efforts to fix things around the house and my yard is now a showcase of the crooked concrete steps and brick walls as proof of my having passed that way, like my early glazing accomplishments.

This vague if-it-can-be-done-I-can-do-it attitude is a kind of watered-down version of Yankee ingenuity that has been so important to the American ethos. I think the Model T Ford did a lot to carry this essentially rural virtue into early urban life, for many of my generation of town boys took one apart and rebuilt it. I remember that Buntz helped on one that older boys were putting together in our spacious yard, but I was too young to do more than hand them tools. Three Fifteen Adams Street was a social entity that we all felt keenly and others sensed. It was an informal gathering place for our friends. Other kids would come over just to hang out – mother often among us, as she had rapport with children because she liked them.

We were expected to earn our spending money but never had to share it, as with real poverty. Thea became a page at the Carnegie Library while in high school and Tex followed suit. He turned over to me the Saturday Evening Post route he had established at some effort. I am not sure I appreciated this generosity, for it was a task that I hated and it gave Thursday a bad name in my horoscope. Its one virtue was that I learned early in life that I wanted no part in being a salesman. Every Thursday after school I picked up my load of magazines and bicycled around the city to sell them for 5¢ each. Of this, I kept 1¼¢. I netted less than fifty cents a week. I never tried to build up the route because I was too shy to ask people to buy things. On days when the magazines were thin and the weather good, it was a relatively small chore, but it gets hot, cold and rainy even in sunny San Antonio, and as Christmas ads build up the load really got heavy.

I took this as the burden of childhood, but in retrospect it seems a dangerous and uneconomic activity. I am sure that it was chock-a-block full of moral fiber, but it has left emotional scars. The one I am sure of is a strange and irrational penuriousness. It is not that I “learned the value of money,” however, for it grabs me on the little things. I still hate to use stamps and acquired an electric razor early because razor blades chafed my skin, for I always thought I should get another use out of the one I was using. And I still find it difficult to buy myself small treats, though I try, with some difficulty, not to be quite so stingy with others. After some years I had a paper route, which I found more “dignified” but not much more to my taste.

Mother didn’t have her heart in housework, but could get enthusiastic about cooking. Yet when at college, I’d tease that if I was hungry for home-cooked food I went to the delicatessen. She liked to read and was lost in Moby Dick and Magic Mountain for a long time. We had the humor magazines, Life and Judge, and the early Vanity Fair and were early subscribers to the New Yorker – to which I credit such writing skills as I have, for I have taken it throughout my adult life.

There was a time when she would read to the three of us, but it was when I was far too young to follow the fare she chose. They reflected her interests and were barely appropriate to the age of the others. She seemed to go in for social dissidents rather than utopians or radicals: Mencken, Thomas Paine, Holmes’ Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, Upton Sinclair, and Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class. I have only a vague memory of this, brought out by some comments from Tex several years ago, though I think some of Veblen stuck, for it seemed familiar when I picked it up and from time to time I have an eerie déjà vu feeling that some of the others got into my implicit memory as well.

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After a miscarriage and two not very robust children, I was a healthy and quite presentable baby and this must have given mother a lot of satisfaction.  Mother was a very hands-on parent, and she would lie about on a couch or bed and schmooze with all or one of us. Often in these sessions she would say silly things, such as “You are so pretty people should throw quarters at you,” or “someday you are going to marry Hattie Heintz,” or “I’m going to save you for seed.” (Tex said that this last was demeaning and should not have been said, though he has himself often said that “children are like waffles, the first should be thrown away,” even in his son’s presence.) I was embarrassed and dismissive of these verbal blandishments, which is not to say that I didn’t find comfort in them. They probably bolstered my ego but they didn’t fit my self image. I have always thought of myself as “all right looking,” rather than with a more elegant adjective, but was neither vain about nor worried over my looks – then or later.

The family came back from Fredericksburg poor and papa was without work. His first job I know about was as accountant for a small retail firm, which he left when he learned that he had been hired merely to keep watch on the incumbent accountant, a role that he found obnoxious and demeaning. My earliest memory of him was one afternoon when I went on my tricycle to meet him at the South Alamo streetcar stop. He was pleased to see me, but his depression was so deep that even as a six-year-old, I was affected by it. He did not usually show his unhappiness, though it underlay his major domestic behavior – outbursts of violent anger, usually taken out on mother, often on Tex and rarely on Thea or me.
Soon papa got a job selling calendars and other “advertising novelties,” things merchants bought as advertisements or to give to valued clients for goodwill.  It was a hard and demeaning task that took a lot out of a not very robust body and God knows what from his soul. It was certainly beneath his talents and reasonable aspirations, but he carried it with dignity and without any complaint that reached my ears. Being treated with disdain by rural Texas rednecks, it is not surprising that he would often leave a client muttering, “verdammte Schweinehund!” The ads for Miller’s Death of a Salesman that ran for years in The New Yorker, showing Willy Loman carrying his sample cases, always evoked tears in belated sympathy.

My earliest and most influential memories of Buntz are of his relentless teasing, a demeaning reinforcement of my babyhood, of calling me babyface, pie-faced and a crybaby. This last was ultimately true, for he didn’t let up until I was reduced to tears – which was their purpose and never took long. These memories are strangely disembodied. They are never associated with a particular place; there is neither context nor consequence. This dissociation must be the result of their being recurrent, of being endemic in my early childhood – and that is the way I remember them.  If I had done anything to provoke him, it has left no memory trace. I can’t remember mother’s scolding, remonstrating or even saying, “wait till papa comes home” in association with this teasing, though I presume she did, just as I assume that some of the not infrequent beatings he got from papa had been for this teasing. I have never, either as child or as adult, talked about this to Tex or to anyone else and so have no take on it other than my own scarred and evanescent memories. Nor can I pinpoint when they ended, but I assume they morphed into fighting –which was recurrent but never very severe. I credit this recurrent behavior with having deprived me of self confidence – a formative element in my history.

It would be a mistake to leave a one-sided picture. Buntz was also a real big brother to me, especially as we moved into boyhood, and played softball and kick the can with neighboring kids. There were things like a toy steam engine and a small printing press, with which we would play together. In such things he was always in charge and they never caught on with me, whether because I was still too young to find use for them, too stupid to catch on, or just overwhelmed by Buntz’s superior capabilities. I remember no overt recognition of the age difference as being relevant to my poor performance, either in these educational toys or in the tasks we were expected to undertake together. This doesn’t mean that family members didn’t see them, but only that I was never supplied with the defensive excuse, which I must have made but have no memory of. A bright 7- or 8-year old can keep up with a run-of-the-mill boy of 10 or 11, but a bright older puts the younger at a disadvantage.

And Buntz was bright and loved the stage. He got out papa’s old collapsible high hat and did clever magic tricks with the magic kit he had been given. We occasionally took bicycle trips, riding the 5 or so miles across town and, after a desultory visit to the miserable zoo, biking up a long hill to have the exhilarating even longer coast down, then cooking our bacon and eggs over a fire and maybe taking a second ride down that hill before returning home. Once, on a very hot day we made the “south loop,” a road that circled past some decrepit old missions and returned to town. We had become awfully thirsty when, blessedly, an old Mexican driving a mule pulling a wagonload of watermelons appeared. We scrounged up the fifteen cents to buy one and broke it open. Good!

My earliest memory of my mother must have happened while I was in kindergarten. Mother said that she was going to visit the class and this made me nervous – not over anything I might have done, but for what she might do. I said, “OK, mama, but just don’t pull anything!” That strange locution expressed my fear that she might lean over to kiss me or otherwise reveal my still babyish ways. Already I felt the need to preserve my public image as a boy. I went to kindergarten at Bonham School near where South Alamo and South Saint Mary streets crossed, about half a mile from home. At first we three kids walked together, though soon I was alone and drove my bicycle.

My schooling had an unusual degree of continuity, some of the first-graders being in high school with me. We had an especially nice class that was made up of the more capable half of the first graders who all were skipping a semester – presumably to pioneer starting classes twice a year. It caused us to begin each grade in mid-year but also created a class made of the more focused students. I remember some who stayed together for several years: the very pretty Lorraine Nicholson, who was to accompany me and Charles to Austin a decade later, Dorothy Darlington, who dramatized that pre-fabricated stage name by being dressed very provocatively as an 8-year old, Mary Louise Guenther, only child of the flour baron, on whom I had a secret crush, and the stately blonde Lillian Riley. The boys I recall were Dan Richardson, bigger and stronger than me and my Mexican neighbor, Rudy Gonzales.  It was probably a couple of years later when I got the first of two black eyes in a valiant but unsuccessful effort to protect the sanctity of the M in my last name.

My final memory of Bonham Elementary School was at our last spring fair, at which the children performed for the assembled parents. The boys in our class, mounted on stick horses and brandishing wooden swords, galloped in a circle to spear the brass rings the girls were holding. To my delight, I won the ring, for Mary Louise was the princess who awarded the winning knight with a kiss. But that moment of glory went by so fast that I was not able to savor it – to my great disappointment.

We had a bitch dog, Lady Lou that provided me with my first lesson in sex. When I was about seven, she was in what we called a dog procession and got hitched end-to-end with one of her entourage. We three kids anxiously ran into the house to tell mother of her parlous state and she promptly got the hose to cool down the masculine ardor. When mother explained what was happening and why, I piped up with, “I bet that is the way it is with people.”

I remember the incident but not my contribution to the discourse, which I was told about later. I like to think it is true as an early example of my tendency to jump to valid conclusions from limited data. The use of inference to reach a conclusion is requisite to creative thought but jumping to conclusions from insufficient evidence is easy and very misleading. Mother had a way of doing this, as shown by an incident that contributed to the family lexicon. We were taking the customary Sunday drive, going along a country road where a recurrent little sign was fastened to the wire fence that read: “Jax, a lager brew.” That is all. Mother said, “I’m glad they finally came out with a five-cent near-beer.” In those days soft drinks were five cents but a bottle of the de-alcoholized beer of the prohibition era was fifteen cents. “How do you know?” got only one of mother’s characteristic little shrugs. At the next country store we confirmed that this price revolution had not happened. “Jaxing” proved to be a very useful verb in all subsequent family debates and, though it never made it into the dictionary, it did pass on to the next generation of our several households. Theorizing means that one must make inferences, and my tendency to do so seem to have manifested itself early, as Lady Lou’s indiscretion disclosed, but I still heed the warning of Jaxing.

Despite this early lesson in childbirth and mother’s openness, I remained terribly ignorant of sex. I once inadvertently opened the bathroom door just as Thea stepped out of the bath. She folded her arms over her chest and crossed her legs as she shouted at me and I wondered at her ability to hide her penis, for I found it quite impossible when I tried. I don’t know how old I was but it was when I should have known better. Obviously my childhood culture did not include “playing doctor” I was also well along before I learned about menstruation and was shocked to learn about it when I did.  Once Thea came home from a shopping trip with two intriguing packages; I wanted to know what was in them and had to have Kotex explained. I was unbelieving – and in a sense I still am and use this female indignity as an answer to the theory of “intelligent design” in creating humans.

It was not that I didn’t know boys from girls; I remember playing house all alone, it was to me a dark secret that I was imagining myself married; I remember once when a bevy of girls marched down our street from high school to the streetcar on Alamo Street, one with an excessive mother-fantasy picked me up and cuddled me and I kept hoping it would happen again; I remember the sense of pleasure and guilt when I came home from a big New Year’s party thinking about the girls who had kissed me. These occurrences all took place well before puberty. They were innocent of any thought of intercourse, of which I as yet had no awareness and therefore are not, in my opinion, really sexual, but certainly involved a great longing for contact with the other sex; they relate to what I have called nurturant love in Bridge. They address the issue I raise about gender identification, which is so sharply underlined by those who seek sex-change operations.

It was a bit later that I had my one oedipal dream — the only early dream for which I have a clear and explicit memory. I was no longer young anymore, I think in high school. I was in my parents’ bedroom and my mother was lying on the bed and giving birth to a baby. As I was watching the head emerge from her vagina, I realized that it was me that was being born. As I was pondering the impossibility of this dual self, I awakened. There was nothing erotic or prurient about the event, it was clinical and its interest to me was this duality that I was confronting — a philosophical issue. It was simply a naked dream about my self.

I don’t remember what prompted papa’s one foray into the subject of sex, but it was to say that one should not have sex with a girl one would marry — a rule rooted in the class society of 19th century Germany. I was vaguely aware that he had had mistresses as a young man and of the custom of casa chica in Mexico, but it ran counter to the egalitarian mores I had absorbed. I was then still a boy but knew that that was not the rule I would follow. Tex told me much later that when he was given this lecture, papa had cited Uncle Eduard, whose dalliance with native women in the South Pacific had led to syphilis, as reason to restrain oneself.

I was not subjected to this or any other moralizing from papa. He wrote long moralizing letters to Tex when he was off at college, but not to me. I suspect he had had enough of pissing into the wind. Despite this absence of moralizing, coupled as it was with the absence of any supernatural retribution, my behavior was constrained by strong moral inhibitions. The sexual urges were strong and I had the usual fantasies, but I did not act them out. Not so much from shyness as from a strong sense of moral right and wrong and the feelings of guilt aroused by any transgression. This did not apply only to the sphere of sexual mores, but to social conduct in general. I still have twinges of guilt at things that I have done long ago that I consider unseemly even when they are neither illegal nor immoral, but only against my own convictions about propriety.

This shyness is caught in a bitter-sweet memory. One summer we went on a kind of overnight picnic, taking along some of the Jockusch kids who lived in Galveston, among whom was Hetta, a bit younger than me. Their mother had been an LUC girl and whenever they visited their grandparents in the Groos mansion, we always got together. It was through them that we had access to a beautiful private pool owned by a German lumber baron’s widow, in an out-building, with the artesian water falling over a pyramid of lava rocks. Hetta was a very sweet girl, no beauty but attractive and we were automatically paired in our pre-adolescent social activities.

For some reason, it had been decided as we were all turning in for the night that there should be watches through the night and we children were paired off. Of course, Hetta and I were paired and assigned to keep the first of the watches. As the other campers fell asleep and the night grew quiet. I was tempted to hug and kiss her, but my conscience kept me from it and we spent the hours talking about the wonders of the stars. It was then, as I remember, that I first expressed the enigma that still captures my imagination: I can with difficulty imagine the universe as never ending but cannot picture its ever ending, for then what would lie beyond the boundary? I now wonder what so restrained me and feel I cheated myself and wonder if Hetta also felt cheated. Though I had not seen her since college days in Austin, she wrote me when she saw my letter in the New Yorker (1995), and in the correspondence that followed we shared reminiscences about that trip. I was to visit her in the spring of 2005 to reminisce and perhaps find out, but sadly she had died.

My only formal sexual education did not come until one spring day in my junior year in high school. An assembly was announced; uniquely with separate assemblies for the boys and girls. Soon a herd of tittering teenage boys was filing nervously into the assembly hall. A round non-descript man with a cheerily sober air bounced onto the stage. All I remember from the half-hour lecture was the warning that every drop of semen lost in masturbation was the equivalent of 20 – or was it 50? – drops of blood. By then I had been inducted to the pleasures of this sin by Buntz, which had given it a kind of legitimacy, and I just figured it was well worth it.

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I have treated the Rochs family story as if it were clan history, believing that its mythic value was more important to my development than the facts themselves. My father’s taciturnity with respect to his more prominent social background makes such a line of reasoning tenuous with respect to his side — but the facts are of interest and they still have relevance to uncovering the domestic culture of the household I grew up in. Papa was as taciturn about his background as my mother had been exuberant and most of what I know came through her or have learned later in life. I don’t know why this silence but I suspect that his youth had been unhappy and, by the time I knew him, his own career was a great disappointment. It may also be in part that he did not want to continue the stigma of being Jewish, inasmuch as he had been baptized as a Christian and had none of the public aspects of Judaic culture. There were no yarmulkes or mezuzahs, bar mitzvahs nor visits to the temple, and only much later did I learn that such artifacts existed. I do think some of the covert attributes of Judaic culture were there, such as the imperative for being successful and respect for learning, and were part of my cultural heritage. It is not that papa denied this Jewish background, for there is no ambiguity about this heritage in the fragment of memoir that he wrote, which I saw only after Tex died, which Tex had himself never seen.1 It is a fascinating, beautifully written 18 pages that demonstrates an erudite, sentimental German, with words in German, Spanish, Latin and some French and references to current literature and 19th century music. It also reveals a man who is painfully aware of not having fulfilled what he thinks his parents wanted of him, and certainly not what he wanted to have become. This I had been aware of, yet it was painful to read and feel his pain.
Mother had never met any of his family until she visited Germany in 1929, long after all of papa’s generation were dead and only some nieces remained. I met these first cousins when in Germany in 1954 and was delighted to learn of kindred whose nobility was inspiring. One was the widow of a World War I casualty and the other her old maid sister, the daughters of a medical doctor. Descendants of apostate Jews, they were involved in the underground during the Hitler era until they were arrested by the Polizei. The officer recognized the name of Preetorius and discovered that these were the daughters of the doctor who had saved his life as a child. He let them go with the admonishment that he could not do it a second time. Much later, I met another member of my paternal clan, a second cousin whose father had immigrated to Belgium and taken on the hyphenated name of Goldschmidt-Clermont. This cousin Paul was an engineer with special professional interests in welding. He had been a member of a group of men who were secretly planning for the social welfare protection for Belgian youths who had been taken off to Germany by the Nazis. What was to become of them when they were to return after the war? There is a plaque on the church in the village where they met in Paul’s summer home to hammer out post-occupation policies without Nazi knowledge – it was not on his house because his wife did not want the place to be a museum.  Because of my father’s silence about his background, these stories had no direct influence on my psyche as a youth. They do give me a sense of pride now, bespeaking an old family tradition of moral probity and social conscience.
Some of the Goldschmidt ancestry is discussed in papa’s memoirs. He gives genealogical data that starts with the recognition of knowing nothing prior to his grandparents’ generation, saying he supposes their parents had been “itinerant Jewish trades people, socially and politically beyond the pale of the law.” His grandfather was Hyem or Heyman, born in 1802 and married to Jeannette Hernsheim, the daughter of a well-to-do family from Alzey, a small town near Mainz. Papa describes them as struggling with a small lumberyard in this small town, failing to note that his grandmother belonged to a large and prosperous family that had become Protestant. They had eight sons, among whom my grandfather Max was the eldest. I have a lovely pastel portrait on paper painted in 1837 when he was but three years old, done by an accomplished artist, I judge, and not by an itinerant amateur. I dare not take it from its frame, as it is badly cracked, but a carefully left window in back gives dates and other information. Papa also tells of his father’s description of a rather idyllic childhood, with classical music and reading Goethe and other classics aloud in the parlor or garden, depending on the season. All this does not square with the neediness that inspires the grandparental Horatio Alger myth that follows.

According to papa’s document, after finishing his schooling, his father went to seek his fortune, vowing to help his impoverished parents educate his young siblings, and landed his first miserable apprenticeship as a result of an incident that seems stolen directly out of Horatio Alger. It goes like this: walking away after being rudely dismissed by the distant relative from whom he was seeking employment, he stooped to pick up a pen he saw on the floor and put it on a nearby desk. This display of virtue led the bluntly dismissive relative to reconsider, and gave Grandfather Max his first miserable apprenticeship. After similar acts of virtue and gentle derring do, he got to Monterrey, Mexico, where he was taken on as the leader of an itinerant trading convoy in the backwoods of northern Mexico by other distant relatives. His rise over the next fifteen years in the business world was spectacular and he turned over a thriving corporation of which he was sole owner to some of his brothers and returned to Germany to retire as a wealthy man. He had, earlier, returned to Germany and picked up a bride belonging to the very large and prosperous and aformentioned Hernsheim family and my father was the middle of their three children, born in Mexico. Max and his bride were cousins, for papa’s maternal grandmother was also a Hernsheim.
Let us look briefly at these double ancestors. Papa lists and identifies most of this ancestry; it is studded with enough prominent names of the day to make a boy want to brag about his background, had he only known it. Papa starts with a Mendez who he identifies as “an immensely wealthy banker in Amsterdam and Frankfurt am Main” who married “a Venetian girl of an old family” named de Texeira. Among the 18 children she bore was a daughter named Sophie who married a Jurist in Mainz named Ludwig Hernsheim, whose daughter, Julia was papa’s mother. Ludwig also had a sister named Jeannette who had married Max’s mother, as already noted. As I was not told these stories as a child but learned them only after I had spent a lifetime examining social behavior, they do not form part of my mythology and I find them useful only in illuminating the man who was my father, who was so enigmatic to me and who I will later discuss in some detail.
Meanwhile, Julia had two brothers, who were both prominent pioneers in South Seas exploration. I have in my files a manuscript copy of a memoir written by the younger brother, Eduard, whose tale also has a bit of Horatio Alger in it.1 I learned by happy accident that it has, along with other papers, been published in English.2 On the first page he says: “My parents had joined the Protestant church and my father was one of the foundation members of the first Lutheran congregation in Mainz, a Catholic town.” It was in speaking of this at a symposium on Boas that I learned from Paula Rubel and Arthur Rosman, who were participants, of the English version. (I had mentioned this ancestry to demonstrate my personal awareness of the dynamics of the apostate Jewish culture for I was saying that to understand the special genius of Boas, you had to appreciate this cultural background. Having done research in Melanesia, Paula and Arthur had a copy of the book.) Papa, of course, knew about this Christian involvement; indeed, I have learned from some of Tex’s reminiscences that papa was himself christened as a Lutheran and therefore the family was heavily assimilated to Christianity. Significantly, papa says his father wanted to name him after his grandfather with the traditional Jewish Hyem but was dissuaded by his Lutheran-Jewish wife and accepted the phonetically similar German, Hermann.
Eduard’s older brother, Fritz, came out to the South Seas and served as German consul in Jaluit and wrote, and illustrated with hand-tinted steel engravings, a beautiful little book about the culture of the Micronesian islands.1 Both brothers retired with wealth and proselytized for the development of colonies in the South Pacific, resulting in The Bismarck Archipelago getting that name. In Eduard’s memoir there are some off-hand comments about the Goldschmidt who married their cousin, along with fascinating discussions of the trade with the natives as well as the rivalry among the traders. The bit that both interested and appalled me was that tobacco was introduced to make up for the disinterest the natives had developed in trading for the redundant pots and trinkets. Eduard set up schools to teach the Islanders how to smoke to instill a motive for producing more copra. That game started a lot sooner than I realized and to an anthropologist this is a little like finding a horse thief in the family tree.
Max Goldschmidt had brought his family back to Germany when papa was about four years old and so he was raised in Germany and went through Gymnasium. He had an unhappy childhood and felt he was an unwanted child, for he had been sent, for reasons I don’t know, to live with Tante Binche in Darmstadt and later, when in Gymnasium, was overshadowed by a younger brother who apparently excelled in academic studies and later become a doctor. Papa claimed to have been an indifferent student but he was well educated in the then excellent German Gymnasium. He had mastery of four languages and his fluency in writing English — the third language he had mastered – is impressive. His self-effacing remarks seem as exaggerated as his flowery descriptions of his father’s exploits. At any rate, while his brother, Eduard, became a successful doctor, papa went into business in emulation of his father. He started several enterprises both in Germany and in Mexico, none of which seemed to have taken hold despite his apparent nepotistic advantages. His last move in the entrepreneurial world was to come to San Antonio at the age of 35 or 36 to establish an importing enterprise.

There are some interesting parallels between the Rochs and Goldschmidt clans. One is the odd religious symmetry. Just as mother had come from an apostate Lutheran family, so my father had come from an apostate Jewish family. But while mother flaunted her anti-religious sentiments, my father’s attitude could be summarized in his one comment on the matter “everybody’s religion is his own business.” I remember no instance in which he expressed anything about what he himself believed. There were neither religious artifacts from either side in our home nor any visit to a church, unless you count a few abortive efforts to go to the Unitarian church for the sake of socialization. The fragment of papa’s memoir speaks of the Jewish past but makes no reference to the conversion, which I learned about from his uncle’s memoir, nor of his own baptism – but then his memoir stops short at the time of his birth. I did not find it surprising that he could not face the ignominies he felt about his childhood.
Another parallel of interest is that they each had an involvement with what one might call the edges of anthropology: Opa Rochs with his philology doctorate; my father’s uncles Franz and Eduard Hernsheim in their involvement with the South Seas, as well as his father’s pioneering involvement in Mexico and my father’s continuing fondness for things Mexican. There was a tradition of cultural relativism on both sides.
Amusingly, my wife Gale’s family shows the same predilections. Her father was mustered out of the army at the close of the Spanish-American war while in the Philippines and stayed to become a lawyer and later a judge there. Her mother had gone to the Islands as one of a group of teachers organized by Colonel Barrows to introduce American educational practice into the Filipino schools. They married there and Gale was born there and they left only after her father was passed over for Governor of the Islands when Taft was defeated by Wilson in 1912. Gale added, with understandable pride, that her father tried to apply native laws to cases he tried as a circuit judge in the Philippines.

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The Freie Presse was a daily with a circulation extending widely through the Middle West; Tex said it was the first daily newspaper ever published in San Antonio. Whether or not this is the case, it was an influential one and its editor became a prominent member of the large German community in San Antonio society despite his low pay and the poverty in which the family lived.
The German immigrant community in 19th century America was both numerically large and culturally significant. It was large and prosperous in San Antonio, as attested to by the quality of the houses in an area that is now a tourist attraction known as “the King William Street Area.”  It was also liberal, or at least free-thinking and friendly to education, and so Opa was universally addressed as “Herr Doktor,” a title then limited to members of the medical profession.  He served on both the school and library boards and was fully integrated into this affluent middle-class society. He was often asked to give funeral orations for prominent German men who were non-believers and, like my female ancestor, did not want a preacher talking over their lifeless remains. A number of the more opulent artifacts in my parents’ house (notably a locked silver casket designed for sugar that I knew as mother’s jewelry box) had come as gifts for these services.
Not only was Opa an atheist, he was also a political liberal. I suppose one could get a measure of this by looking up his editorials, but it seems too much work. One story is enough. Opa would write long editorials condemning patent medicines in issues where the back page was an advertisement for Lydia Pinkham’s, probably the most widely used such nostrum of doubtful worth at the time. Little wonder that the relationship between the editor and the publisher of die Freie Presse was not entirely cordial and that his salary remained meager. Only after some years could the family leave their house in the slum-ish La Valita area and move to a modest house on the fringe of the King William Street, still there when I was a boy.
We have had cultural amnesia about the important role the German immigrants of the 19th century and their liberal and intellectual persuasion. That intellectual role probably was eroded by the virulent anti-German propaganda during the first World War and  was disappeared entirely with the emergence of Hitler — to the extent that mother broke with many of her old high school friends in the thirties. (Mother was visiting in Mexico City when Roosevelt died and was shocked to see the large German community in Mexico celebrating at his death.) I had evidence of this change in San Antonio when I brought Gale for her first visit in 1945. I took her to meet Omi Groos, the living matriarch of the pioneers who started the Groos National Bank. She was holding court, laying luxuriously in her bed, a beautiful old woman on the eve of her hundredth birthday surrounded by well-upholstered Burghers of my mother’s generation who looked as if they had walked out of the pages of Buddenbrooks. She had been a regular customer on my Saturday Evening Post route every Thursday, a fondly remembered beacon of pleasure in that dreary enterprise, for without fail there would be a piece of cake or cookie, delicious to my 8-year-old palate despite the fact it was left over from Sunday’s dinner. But now I had just finished the Arvin-Dinuba study (of which more later) and was happy to explain the social issues of corporate farming and the plight of the small farmer. As we left, Gale and I looked at each other and laughed, for Omi Groos, two years before her death from old age, was the only one there who dug what we were saying. She knew about such problems as they had existed in Germany a century earlier. But the attitudes had been different when these now well-upholstered Burghers were my mother’s friends attending the German-American school on South Alamo Street in the same buildings – though by then no longer German-American — where I went to junior high some thirty years later.
Gretchen Rochs fit into and thrived in this social environment and her fondest remembrances seem to have been of her association with some half dozen other girls from the neighborhood who went to the same school and at some early age created a secret society called L. U. C. that lasted through their schooling and remained a cherished memory for my mother when we were children. Their children were among our friends and we addressed the parents as Onkel and Tante, in German custom. So far as I can tell, none of us quasi-cousins ever learned the meaning of those initials despite our whining efforts to elicit it when we were kids. Some of these girls belonged to the Groos household, the banker family that owned the grandest of the King William street houses. In high school, one L. U. C. son was a close friend of Tex and much later, as President of that bank, he handled my mother’s meager estate when she died.
I find significance in the fact that I never once heard mother express any sense of distress at her relative poverty, despite the wide disparity in economic condition. If she suffered any social discrimination from the poor circumstances of the Rochs family, it never appeared in any of her enthusiastic talk about her girlhood. The intellectual standing of Dr. Rochs was quite enough to give her a sense of equality. It is also of interest that, despite the poverty, my mother was the only one to go off to college. The value of education lay deep in our tradition. Things must have been pretty difficult, for mother had to drop out for a year because of a lack of funds, spending it as a teacher in the small town of Victoria, Texas, and running into trouble for singing a song, known to all German Americans as “The Dutch Company.” The blasphemy, not the nationalism, was at issue.
The sense of social equality remained for us children a generation later despite the continuing economic disparity and the fact that our social lives ran in different circles. When Onkel Franz invited friends to listen to Caruso and Teribaldi on his new Superheterodyne (as I remember the name) phonograph he would include my father and in my youth from time to time we would be sent a venison joint or a brace of quail in remembrance of papa’s help in importing wine from Germany. I don’t mean that we were unaware of the difference in our circumstances or that we were not envious of their access to certain advantages, but we never felt demeaned. I am sure that Thea must have felt the deprivation when her best friend, a Groos descendant, made her debut and participated in the prestigious Tournament of Roses parade, but if there were any tears or tantrums by the 16-year-old girl, they never reached my ears. In contrast, there were anger and tears aplenty when she could not be sent to college after high school and had to take her first years in a local Catholic community college.
`    Mother took great pleasure in recounting the terror she inspired in these friends when they were girls by challenging God to do better than so miserable a show of loud, Texas-scale thunderstorms and for similar blasphemies. She met her first (and, I suspect only) love on a streetcar outing that was one form of social life in the “Nifty Nineties.” The girls met in one another’s house, had picnics and other parties and remained friends — though gradually grew apart as their life styles changed with marriage.
Opa Rochs and his wife went back to Germany in 1909, when his brother died. I do not know whether this final departure was in response to an ultimate break with the publisher, with whom relations had always been difficult, from worsening financial straights and the desire to set claim to what remained of the Gamm fortune, (which was respectable until eaten away by the inflation that followed World War I) or out of concern for the welfare of his aging parents or all of the above. He was gone before I was born and therefore is more myth than reality, though he lived until 1931.
One more myth, the truth of which is attested to by a fine photo portrait of Herr Doktor Rochs, that gives us the sense of irony that suffuses all life stories. He was at the local Bierstube when he became discomfited by a strange man who kept staring at him. Finally the stranger apologized and introduced himself as a painter and said that he had been commissioned to do a painting of The Last Supper and would like to have Opa sit for him as he had the perfect head of Saint Peter. Opa agreed, but ultimately the artist had to leave and so he had a professional photographer take this picture. So it happens that somewhere, if it was not destroyed in the war, the image of this devout atheist is seen having dinner with Jesus Christ and the other apostles.

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The Rochs Side

I never set eyes on the single most significant clan ancestor in my life: Dr. Arthur Rochs, my mother’s father. He took on a mythic quality in my mind. Other cultures might well have said that his soul had entered my body. It did in fact, if you accept my idea of a secular soul. My mother was the most important influence on me and he was the most important on her; the continuity is clear. It didn’t hurt that when I was a small boy all the people would exclaim that I looked just like Doktor Rochs – to the extent that my first, and by no means worst, pun on record is saying that even the chickens said “doc, doc, doctor Rochs.” (In the guttural German it sounds much more like chickens: “duk, duk, dukter ruks.”)
My mother talked often and with great affection about her father but if her mother ever appeared in conversation at all, it was in a subsidiary role, as when telling of her father’s dislike of that newfangled instrument, the telephone, and justifying this dislike by claiming that his wife was always yakking on it. Or the time when Teddy Roosevelt, then organizing the Rough Riders, came on a street car in which she and some friends were riding and they carried on in German about his appearance. As he was getting off he stopped and bowed to them, saying, “Guten Tag meine Damen, ihr Rede hat mir sehr vergnügt.” (Good day, my ladies, your talk gave me great satisfaction.) Henrietta Rochs appears to have been a good German Hausfrau obedient to her husband’s wishes, with no education and a lot of superstitions. Mother seems to have inherited her good German cooking for my body but nothing to pass on to my soul; Oma Rochs is a blank page.
Let me see what my life owes to the grandfather I never saw. He was born in the 1857, earned a doctorate in philology from Halle with a dissertation on the Romance of the Violet (a German counterpart to the Romance of the Rose), and came to the United States, ending up in San Antonio as editor of Die Freie Presse für Texas.
Of course Opa Rochs did not spring out of nothing. He was the grandson of Paul Gamm, a German manufacturer — of soap, I believe — whose portrait, painted when he was a prosperous Burgher in his thirties, hangs on my wall.1 As the story goes, he had a daughter who was something of a termagant or otherwise not readily marriageable, for whom this prosperous nouveau-riche acquired an army officer husband (and status) in hierarchy-minded 19th century Germany. The story is embellished with the tale that when this young bride brought home a replica of a statue of the Kaiser, her snobbish young husband pooh-poohed it as a piece of kitsch. Miffed, she replied that she had bought it with her own money. He refused to talk to her for weeks and they never again spoke of vulgar money matters. There must have been reconciliation, for she produced two sons, both of whom received university educations. The son, Paul, sensibly followed a practical course and ended up with the title of Engeneur and became a Stadtsbaurad, while the son, Arthur, pursued a discipline for which there was no possible practical use. This ancient event was echoed in 1934 or thereabout in my papa’s response to the announcement that I had decided to be an anthropologist with the exclamation, “Ach, sohne brotlose Kunst!” (Such a breadless art!) .
This bartered bride lived on until 1929. My remembrances of her are connected with a sense of envy when my brother received an intriguing looking package covered with German stamps; an envy that soon dissipated when it was opened to reveal a dismal gray thing in Gothic print, a prayer book or New Testament sent by this pious old woman for a confirmation that never took place. My brother and sister had been baptized as Lutherans when they were babies, I presume in order to retain a claim on such heritance as might remain in the estate of the prosperous Paul Gamm. By the time I came along, either the heritage or the hope of sharing it had dwindled and I was not subjected to such klimbim, as Opa called such religious nonsense. On the other hand, I had been circumcised. Because of some urinal obstruction, my mother explained, but I later teased her for hedging her bets, with one son baptized and the other circumcised.
There is one other legend that belongs to the Rochs background. Tex has it associated with the Gamm grandmother, but since she was seen in other contexts to have been devout, this may be mistaken. From my perspective it matters not; I am more interested in the implicit message in these myths than in such historic niceties. So whether it was Marie Gamm or her mother, the story is that when she was on her death bed and the priests were called in to perform the last rites, she raised herself up and wagged a wizened finger at them, shouting, “Get out of here! I have done without you blackbirds all my life and I can die without you.”
About the time Opa Rochs earned his doctorate around 1880 he apparently knocked up Henrietta Rohrmann (or so my mother believed, though she didn’t put it in this way) a Catholic girl of no social standing, and married her. This must have been a triple whammy in the Rochs household, a university degree in a totally unprofitable area of knowledge, a liberal and anti-clerical outlook and an illegitimate child and Catholic bride in the home of a social climbing Protestant Burgher’s daughter and a ne’er-do-well snobbish father of upper class pretensions. It was not a ménage that was well suited to a poetry-writing intellectual pursuing knowledge of no possible use, burdened with a superstitious Catholic bride and a daughter of doubtful legitimacy. They were apparently urged to leave and after some abortive effort to make it in France, were given money with which they embarked for the United States (when the product of their earlier indiscretion was about three) with $5,000 in pocket. (That is the explicit sum as I learned it, Tex has it more inflated, but at any rate, it is just figurative.) The story goes on to say that on board ship was a man of great charm who had some land in Florida that, as it happens, could be had for $5,000 and so Doktor Rochs und Frau ended up in the United States penniless. Somehow (one may presume either by pre-arrangement or through acquaintances) he came to be a reporter or free-lance stringer, sending dispatches to Germany. He ultimately arrived at the New Orleans Cotton Exhibition, There he was sought out by the publisher of Die Freie Presse für Texas and invited to be its editor and the young family settled in San Antonio in 1884, soon to be joined by a baby son, Paul Arthur. That is how my mother came to have an American education.

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