Sunday, April 23, 2006


Little Anecdotes

The opening sentence of Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography is:
Dear son: I have ever had pleasure in obtaining any little anecdotes of my ancestors.

I recently obtained a little anecdote about my paternal grandfather Roy Gilleland, in an email from a gentleman writing a book about the Russian Railway Service Corps, in which my grandfather served:
When he joined the RRSC he listed at 5' 11" and 185 lbs. with a scar on his left clavicle caused by a bullet wound (the bullet could then still be felt, reported his medical history).
My grandfather died before I was born, so I never got the chance to feel the bullet and ask him about it.

My distant cousin David Vermette has a web site on Franco-American and Québécois History and Genealogy, with much information on the town where I was born, Brunswick, Maine. His article on Naturalization and Leadership in the Franco-American Community at Brunswick, Maine mentions my ancestor François-Xavier Paiement, who became a U.S. citizen on August 23, 1882, sponsored by another one of my ancestors, Philibert Racine.

But I was especially interested in Vermette's article on Ku Klux Klan Activity in Brunswick, Maine. By 1924, there were 50,000 Klan members in Maine, out of a population of less than a million. The target of their hatred was not primarily black folks (so rare in Maine that I never even saw a black person until I was a teenager), but Catholics and Jews. In Brewer, Maine, where I grew up, our parish priest Father Moriarty recalled Ku Klux Klan marchers throwing rocks through the rectory windows. Our local Catholic high school was named John Bapst, after a Jesuit priest who was tarred and feathered on June 5, 1851, in Ellsworth, Maine, before the heyday of the Ku Klux Klan.

Finally a little anecdote about myself, prompted by Dave Haxton's memories of his military induction physical exam:
After this they marched us into a large room and told us to form rows. Once we were aligned in ranks, the doctor at the front of the room ordered us to drop our drawers, bend over and grab our ankles. The last thing we saw on the way down was an orderly handing the doctor a box of latex gloves ...
My recollection is almost identical. I "won" number 36 in the draft lottery during the Vietnam War, allowed my student deferment to lapse, and was called in for a physical. They must have found something wrong with me, because I was never drafted.

I recall one other detail about my physical. The doctor asked me what I was studying at university, and I said Latin. He then proceeded to recite a poem by Catullus, with flawless Latin pronunciation. That gave me a slightly different perspective on the United States military.

I hope that my son, the only member of my family who reads this blog, has enjoyed these little anecdotes about his ancestors.

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