Saturday, February 13, 2010

Nana Flapper

My parents were always very interested in geneology. I remember them being fascinated by various attempts at family trees, and stories about family members who had in someway achieved notoriety (such as how my grandfather's sister was apparently a contemporary of D.H. Lawrence. She allegedly probably had relations with him at some point.)

As soon as I was old enough to understand genetics, I started asking questions. I couldn't figure out how, if my heritage was entirely made up of anglo-saxons, I had been born with dark, curly hair and a generally very mediterranean complexion. All I need to do is think about turning on a fluorescent light and I turn brown. That's not very English.

Naturally, the answer I always expected was something along the lines of, "We bought you from some travelling gypsies when you were a baby", but funnily enough that was never the answer I received. They usually told me that I was just, well, a complete genetic throwback. When I asked where those genes even came from to begin with, they would usually tell me the story of Nana Flapper.

Nana Flapper was my favourite relative, hands down, ever. She was excellent. She was my grandmother's mother, and had the balls to be a single mother in the 1920s. Not only that, but she never revealed to a single soul who the father was. It was her most closely guarded secret, one she kept to her deathbed, and probably the answer to my mystery genes.

I always liked Nana Flapper stories. One oft-repeated piece of family mythology tells the story of how she won her first house on a poker game. My mother always insisted that this was probably an exaggeration, but I can't think of anything that story could have evolved from that is not already pretty excellent. I totally believed it, too. I saw the way she could pick a horse, right up into her nineties. It was rare that she wouldn't come out ahead, which always seemed like an amazing act of rebellion towards my Christian parents.

Nana Flapper was a smart talker, too. It is a very grounding experience when, as a teenager, you are sassed by your 90-something great grandmother. I loved it. She was also probably a big influence in encouraging me to write, as well. If any of us ever complained about having nothing to do, she would come back with "What do mean there's nothing to do? You've got a brain haven't you? Write a book!'. And I would.

Nana Flapper died some years ago, at the grand old age of 97. It was always reassuring to me, that someone like her could live to such an old age and get away with it. I have spent some time imagining who my mystery great-grandfather was, and why his identity was such a secret. Perhaps he was some kind of dashing Spanish superhero. That would explain why we can never know who he was.

-Smackie Onassis

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