|Ernst, if you could have seen the future!|
Sometime in the 1860s, most likely, somewhere in Lower Saxony, in Northern Germany, a young man named Ernst met a young girl named Sophie and they started a family. Not far away, a young man named Heinrich met a young girl named Johanne and did the same. Ernst and Sophie Gundelach’s son Paul married Heinrich and Johanne Rühmann’s daughter, also named Johanne. A few years after their son, also named Paul, was born and after they had adopted their niece, Clara, they boarded the good ship Bayern and made their way from Hamburg to New York City. Warren Harding had just died and Coolidge was president, Oklahoma had just passed a law prohibiting the teaching of evolution, that famous Hollywood sign on the hills outside L.A. had just been inaugurated, Walt and Roy Disney had founded the Walt Disney company ten days earlier, and Charlton Heston was born two days before that. Paul and Johanne Gundelach of Braunschweig, Lower Saxony, would soon come to be known far and wide as Mutti and Vati, proprieters of the Germania Singing Society of Torrington, Connecticut.
It was Johanne’s sister Bertha who gave birth to my mother in 1915, right in the middle of World War I. Bertha’s husband disappeared and because raising a new born as a single mother in war-torn Germany was more than she could handle, she gave my mother to her sister Johanne to raise. Johanne and Paul Gundelach were living on a farm in Braunschweig and had food to eat. They had a month-old son of their own at the time, also named Paul (the family obviously has a propensity for recycling names), and in time, in America, they would have two more children, Carl and Rose. And so it was that Paul, Carl and Rose, my mother’s biological cousins, became her siblings. Once in America, they made it official and she took the name Gundelach.
Carl married Concettina Mollica and they had two red-haired children, one of whom, back in the 60s, thought Timothy Leary was peachy keen. That was my cousin Jimmy. Jimmy’s first marriage ended in divorce, but not before they had a son they named Sean. Sean married Joanna (no h this time) and had two children, Austin and Lexa.
Lexa and I had lunch today at the Mt. Everest Nepalese Restaurant on Telegraph Avenue. She did not know that by law she was my first cousin, twice removed and by blood my second cousin, twice removed, but we enjoyed the Tikka Masala anyway.
Her great great great grandfather, Ernst Gundelach, who gave both her and my mother his family name, would no doubt have commented, had he lived long enough to meet her, on how pretty she was. I would have had to remind him that she is a student at the University of California at Berkeley, and that suggests she is more than just a pretty face.