Sunday, June 20, 2010

My Old Man

I hardly knew you, Pop!
by Charlie Leck

The reason I write this blog is that I had a father who had a father who had a father – and I didn’t know them. It has frequently haunted me.

I don’t want that to be the case for my grandchildren and their children. So far, I‘ve written 3 book length documents that try to tell the story of my soul. It’s not so much about the mundane, everyday story of my life. It’s about what’s burrowed deeply inside me; for that’s the meat and matter of life that really makes us what we are.

Thanks to my brother, Frank, I’ve left behind a rather complete photograph album that depicts me from tininess to old age.

It’s not that I’m anything special. I know the contrary is true. I just so often wonder about my father’s family and no one has ever really had the answers for me. And I’ve had no luck with ancestral research services.

My father’s people came from Germany to the U.S.. The generally excepted tale says that they were workers in the ship building yards of Bremerhaven and in the early or mid 19th century they came to America. I’ve searched all the ship manifests for the New York City ports, where they set up homes, and haven’t found anything.

It’s compelling that there is a village in Germany that goes by the name of Leck. It’s north of Hamburg and intriguingly close to the border of Denmark. The village lies quite close to the North Atlantic, too, and some of its sea ports. The islands of Westerland and Syit-Ost are out there in the sea, just off the coast. Drive 10 miles north and one is in Danish land – 20 miles northeast is the border of Sweden – and less that 40 miles east is the Baltic Sea.

The small town became something of an important geographic region during World War II. A German air base was built there. Residents feared it would bring bombardments, but the village was only bombed once. Now it is a U.S. Air Force Base (one, of course, of hundreds around the world).

My oldest brother, who I must admit seems to be correct on matters like this, says it means little – this business of a German town named Leck. My gut keeps telling me something else and some kind of force seems to draw me there and the Hotel Nordfriesland, in Leck, looks a comfortable enough place to spend a few days. A German fellow I met on a golf course in California said that he lives near Leck and it is a matter of history that the ship building industry drew rural people from that agricultural area toward Bremerhaven and Wilhelmshaven. Could the parents of my old man have come from there?

Now I read that a 1771 law was passed in Schleswig requiring people throughout the region to take a surname (lastname) that would become a legal identifier. Most people of common standing simply had a single name by which they were known, such as Charles of Schleswig. Charles now had to take a name for himself. Perhaps it became Schleswig. Or, after the animals he raised, such as Charles Schaf (sheep). Or after the place where he lived, like Charles Sumpf (swamp). Or, he may have chosen to use the name of the Schleswig village in which he lived, such as Charles Leck.

Father was very Danish-looking with his light skin and blonde hair and his deep blue eyes. It was a look more than German – it was of the Scandian lands. It all makes sense to me, even if not to my brother, when one adds it all up – the name of the community near Denmark, its proximity to the sea and eventual ship-building city of Bremerhaven.

Even if I went to Leck and found that I am totally incorrect, would one call such a trip a waste of time? Hardly! Northern Germany! Denmark! Sweden! I think it’s in the cards.

Thoughts on a Father’s Day. That’s all this is. No more!

My good wishes to all you fathers out there! To my father, up there among the stars: “I’m thinking of you!”


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