This past weekend, I had the pleasure of meeting my 95 year-old uncle Bob for the first time. He is my father's half-brother, and both of them were the sons of Percy Llewelyn Fison. Until just a couple of years ago, uncle Bob was unaware that he had any living relatives. Thanks to the internet, and a timely posting of Fison family information by my cousin, and indefatigable family historian, Susan, he discovered that he had dozens of relations, some living only a few miles from his Carlsbad, California home.
My paternal grandfather, Percy, was a bit of a rake, you might say. He was a dreamer and a schemer, too, always chasing rainbows in every direction, never staying in one place - or with one woman - very long. And he never made his money the conventional way. For example, I have a picture postcard of him with one of his wives - a souvenir that they sold to finance their successful attempt to walk from Colorado Springs to New York City on their honeymoon in 1912.
Family myths have arisen around this Will-o'-the-wisp opportunist. My dad told us that Percy painted advertisements on the sides of barns in the Ozarks region (perhaps this is where he met my grandmother who was a resident of that area).
Another myth is that he tried to get into the motion picture business during the industry's "gold rush" days in the early 1920's, moving my grandmother and infant father to Los Angeles. Like so many fortune hunters, he never found gold, and the best he was able to do was a few days here and there as an extra. My grandmother, however, like so many other pioneer women, supported the family by dreaming up the idea to provide "boxed lunches" for the extras. So while she stayed home cooking fried chicken and biscuits, Percy sold them to his colleagues on the studio lots.
More than one family source has commented that he could never pass by a piano without playing it, although he'd had no musical instruction that anyone is aware of.
It seems Percy had a very bad habit of either marrying or taking up with various women, having children with them, and then abandoning them all when the whim took him. My own grandmother fell prey to this pattern twice, and uncle Bob was an innocent victim of Percy's wanderlust, as well. He says he has no memory of his father being there during childhood, and never met his father as an adult.
Like his other half-brother, my uncle David, Bob has been a minister, and continues to possess an abiding faith in the power of prayer. No doubt, he must have prayed for a family at some point in his life. And in their season, those prayers have been answered.
Bob's daughter told that he is not well, and has been diagnosed with lung cancer. He seemed vital and mentally agile when we met on Saturday, however, and his wife of more than 65 years, aunt Sylvia, moves with an ageless sense of grace, although she is 87. A spiritual center seems to be an important ingredient to longevity. It has been proven so in recent studies, and my own family appears to confirm it.
In comparing notes with my family in recent years, I have been struck by the similarities that run through the Fison clan. Percy's father, Sherwood Fison, was a minister, and two of Percy's sons became ministers as well. (My uncle David commented to me that I have a ministry as well in the form of the meditation sangha I have been leading for ten years.) Like Percy, my father never liked working for anybody else, and always told me to "be your own boss." That's the way it's been for me all of my adult life. I even came to California looking to strike it rich in showbiz.
Like Percy, all of the Fison men are musical and/or artistic. My dad played harmonica, uncle Dave plays the saw (no joking), and I've played guitar, mostly by ear, since I was nine. Now my own son, Zachary Sherwood Tatum-Nolan, cannot pass a piano without tinkling out a few phrases. And of course, he is completely self-taught.
It would appear, therefore, that the Dharma of interdependent causes and conditions that give rise to everything, exist within the family structure, as well.
Monday, January 17, 2011
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