October 23, 2004

Better Late Than Never

Within this past year I found a long lost cousin.

Not that he was lost.

We just had never really met, Mike and I. The circumstances of our lives had sent us to different corners of the country to experience the world in entirely different ways. My own dad was about 14 years older than Mike's dad, so I was already turning 18 and graduating high school when Mike was born.

Few of the cousins on my dad's side of the family really know each other anyway. Those Sheffler brothers - our fathers and uncles - spread out through the country like depression-era bank robbers. Must have been a plan of some sort. "Ain’t no one gonna find us."

One Uncle of mine had a couple of daughters with his first wife, and a son with his second, all of whom I knew as a child. But I’ve never seen any of them in about, hmmm, let’s say 30 years now. One of them, Teena, contacted me a couple years ago and we’ve traded photos and phone calls on occasion but I have yet to meet her face to face. I still see her as a 4-year old!

My dad’s oldest brother has always remained in Detroit so I didn’t meet his kids until I was 19 when my grandparents had their 50th wedding anniversary at our house in San Diego.

I did actually know my cousin Debbie up into my teens, at least as much as one would know a twice-yearly visitor. I saw her fairly often because she lived with my grandparents after being left fatherless at a very early age. She was left sisterless too on the same tragic day. My own sister tells me Debbie was at my first wedding but I honestly don’t have a memory of that.

It was no surprise, then, that when I ran across Mike on a random internet search, looking for Shefflers in the state of Oregon (I can explain that one later), I didn't even realize he was my relative. Silly me. For years I’ve found distant relatives, 5th and 6th cousins I should never guess were related, hiding in towns I’ve never heard of. I’m pretty good at that, yet my youngest 1st cousin Mike had to remind ME who the hell I was talking to.

In actuality I had once met him, when he was an infant. It was just two hours, on one of those afternoons when my girlfriend and I were blazing through town on some concert-going fly-by.

"Hi Aunt and Uncle, what’s up, can’t believe I found this house, it was completely on instinct, I knew it was around here somewhere because I remember the off ramp and the high school and the big hill, from when my parents drove me here as a kid to see Gramma and Grampa. We used to sleep upstairs when it was your room! (don't .. mention .. the .. uh .. posters ..)

"Hey, there’s that teeny weeny kitchen and the lightswitches that used to be toggle buttons! There’s that old garage in back with the visqueen windows where great-grampa used to tumble rocks in the little cylinder to make them smooth! And the two thin strips of crumbling cement that acted like a driveway! And the clawfoot tub, and the heater vent in the floor where grampa used to come out in the morning and just stand on it while he read the paper."

I remember his workboots sat there next to him on the grating like faithful dogs basking in the warm air. Oh yeah, and he had faithful dogs too. Little annoying chihuahuas.

But I digress.

To make my point, my cousins are actually just childhood memories to me, at best.
So: Mike! Glad we’ve made an acquaintance finally, so many years past the point of reasonably acceptable.

My cousin Mike has apparently been told he ought to get to know my dad because he’s so much like him. Like, exactly like him. I think that’s pretty accurate. You’re both total geeks. And, uh, I mean that in a good way. Geek to geek.

But dad’s never been a gin & tonic guy. And to be completely square with you, if in a few years you find that being "able" to be a brainiac whilst partying like a rennaissance-man-gone-bad, has proven to be a hindrance to your career development.. well, then you’re more like me, not dad.

So here’s to the Shefflers! Whoever we are.


At 2:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Those Sheffler brothers - our fathers and uncles - spread out through the country like depression-era bank robbers. Must have been a plan of some sort. "Ain’t no one gonna find us."That's brilliant.

I have a hard time believing just how far and wide our immediate family has been spread. It's crazy. Anyway, which 'uncle of mine had a couple of daughters with his first wife ... ' It's amazing that I don't even know these basic facts about my 1st-degree relatives.

Did I tell you that the house in Torrance (the one you were most likely to have seen me in as a baby) has been majorly overhauled? Now it's worth like 11ty billion dollars.

Oh, and, not a G&T guy? What kind of savages are you people?

--Mike Sheffler
... turning to the 3-D map, we see an unmistakable cone of ignorance

At 2:05 PM, Blogger Don Sheffler said...

Uncle Jim had daughters Teena and Dawn with first wife Bea. Yes - I had an Aunt Bea. I haven't had any communication with Dawn but she has a son (nearly your age). I've spoken a number of times with Teena, and she has sent me pictures of her happy-looking family.

About that house: A few years ago, when I dragged my whole family up to Redondo Beach to share a childhood playplace with my own kids, I was crestfallen and stunned when I rolled around that last street corner and headed up the hill. Where I expected to see this little old white house, I found in its place a nautically themed, flag-waving, observation-decked, 3-story-plus house...thing. Granted, it's gorgeous. It's a bazillion dollar masterpiece of good clean living and breezy consumption.

But if I wasn't mistaken, Gramma's little old white house was actually still standing inside the new living room. Above the underground garage. The disproportion in size made me seasick right there 6 blocks inland from the pier.

The only good thing is that I didn't have to keep my kids from yanking those curly white flakes of old paint from the sides of the house. Mmmm, lead-based house-paint candy.

So the still-healthy kids and I went across the street to climb the trees and roll all the way down the hill like the good old days with my brother and sister, & with Dawn and Teena, and Debbie too.

At 3:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is amazing to me because my family is a tidy little package, and I haven't lost anyone. I'm an only child. I have 7 cousins: my dad's brother has 3 kids, his sister has 1, and one of my mom's brothers has 3 as well. My oldest cousin is 4 years older than me. My youngest cousin is a toddler, but I do see him at least twice a year. My entire immediate family (aunts, uncles, cousins, grandma, even a great uncle and a cousin once removed) live within 70 miles of Reno, so handy for holiday gatherings. Only problem is most of them are totally nuts. Any advice for getting them lost?


At 7:27 PM, Blogger Don Sheffler said...

Hey, like banana bread, a family is nothing without the nuts.

And the butter.

At 9:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you by chance related to the Sheffler Brothers who manufactured coin machines in Los Angeles and also had business interests in Salome, Arizona? If so, please contact me at douglas.towne@prodigy.net as I'm writing a story involving your family. Thanks.

At 11:31 PM, Blogger Don Sheffler said...

Hi Douglas - no, I don't know what my relation would be to these Shefflers, although, I have seen information on both the cafe/motel Shefflers and the slot machine Shefflers, and you're the first I've heard suggest they are the same people. I don't know their ancestries, but I am very interested in your story!

At 6:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just a little correction .. Grandma Grandpa had dachshunds (aka weener dogs) and my memory of grandpa was him watching roller derby and turning off his hearing aid so when Grandma asked him a question he could say "I can't hear you " lol .... Teena


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