An Unusual Email

January 4, 2009

The following is text from an actual email I just sent. Someone was adopted. I’ve never spoken to this person before.

Dear E—–,

I am sorry for the delay in responding. I wanted to recheck some facts first. I think I can help you–and I will try.

There are a lot of secrets in that part of the family, during the early 1900s, and I only know what I know: what other family members have told me–sometimes conflicting accounts–and what I have been able to find in my own research.

Joseph Fister  a.k.a. Joseph Wilbur is a man of many mysteries. Mostly what I know about him personally is unconfirmed: that he changed his last name to Wilbur and fled to Colorado to evade the law–some even say he killed a man; that he left in the middle of the night taking all of the family’s money and was never seen again.

Adding to the confusion is a multi-generational re-use of names. The death announcement you saw for your Aunt Pearl was–likely–actually for your great-aunt Pearl a sibling of Joseph’s. Andrew Jackson Fister, Joseph’s father, a man with a great name, had a correspondingly great number of children. Most of them lived out their lives in Lander, Wyoming, where you can still find a significant number of Fisters in the phone book.

Joseph Fister had a daughter named Pearl who was given to an orphanage in Denver, as you suggested. She went to North (or was it South?) Denver High School and the head of the orphanage helped her attend nursing school. She gained her certification, lived for some time in Cripple Creek, Colo., then moved to San Francisco. Soon after, World War II started and she joined. She trained in Montana (even being involved with ski patrol, which I find very intriguing) and served in England. In Liverpool she met Victor A—– P—–. They settled in Minnesota and had four children.  His end was tragic.

The eldest daughter from this union is Frances M—– P—–. I have digressed this far because I am Fran’s eldest daughter, Fran being the eldest daughter of Pearl (who is in turn the eldest daughter of Joseph Fister).  Pearl is my grandmother; Joseph Fister, your grandfather, is my great-grandfather.

It is important to note that Pearl (who I believe to be your aunt) is very much still alive. I saw her just a few weeks ago. She is 94 years old and lives less than a mile from me. If this had been even two months ago I would tell you that she is doing fantastically in all ways: she has kept awake and alive all these years, even using a computer and keeping very up to date on politics. The past few months have not been good ones for her, and she is starting to show signs of early decline. We worry.

Joseph Fister was indeed married several times. Of these I am sure most of Frances Fry, my mother’s namesake and my great-grandmother. It is my understanding that Joseph and Frances Fry produced Pearl, C—–, A—– and I—–. He remarried twice, but my information was that he married a Marie E—– and another Frances. I’m not at all sure of those marriages. Even Frances Fry is an enigma. It is very difficult to learn of her origins, except for Pearl’s suggestion that her childhood was “dark,” that she might have done something “unforgivable” at a rather tender age.

My hunch is that I—– might be your mother, but she is a deeper mystery than anyone else for me. Pearl, who at the best of times releases family details in fractured vignettes, will not speak of I—– except in cryptic snatches that suggest ill will between the two. But at the same time Pearl’s decline is marked by paranoia, peppered with stories that didn’t really happen. I’ve heard her tell of traveling to a hotel in the mountains in her childhood and her parents “giving” I—– to a couple, never to be seen again. I know at least part of this isn’t true: my mother has met I—– (many, many years ago). And sometimes Pearl seems to confuse I—– with C—–.

Even so, I know very little about I—– I only know she exists because I’ve been told. I can find no trace of her out in the world. I am very curious.

I, too, would love to know the exact dynamics that drove the family apart. Pearl seems to carry a certain amount of hostility and stays buttoned up about family matters. She has suggested that her mother (possibly your grandmother?) was physically abusive, saying “she didn’t yell, she hit.” I’m sure it causes a good weight of sadness to be separated from your family and sent to an orphanage. I can only imagine.

But Pearl does tell wonderful stories about the Grand Junction area. The Mesa, she calls it, where she lived as a small child. They lived in a dirt-floored shack, essentially, surrounded by sheep ranchers. She collected a cigar box full of arrowheads. She still knows by heart a chili recipe she learned from a hermit that lived nearby. She had a horse named Cloverleaf. She spent much of her life trying to get back to the high desert, which is something I seem to have inherited.

I spent a few nights in Grand Junction last year, curious about the area. It is certainly beautiful; I drove down to Arches and Moab in Utah and back. I wish I knew more.

Your Second Cousin?
Lyza Danger Gardner

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