Genealogy finds much of its meaning in the links and connections between one generation and the next. Sometimes these links take the form of a repeated relationship such as that between a grandfather and grandchild. Other connections are found in dates commemorated from one year to the next.
Thirty years ago today, my maternal grandfather, Joseph Benjamin Hoffmann, died in Caldwell, Idaho. I remember certain things about Grandpa Hoffmann – his intentional mispronunciation of “pizza” (and how he would never eat it, or hot dogs, which at 9 years old I found bizarre). I remember him cooking steaks on the grill on the back patio, and how heat rose off the grill in blurry waves. My brother remembers Grandpa reaching down to massage his head with his hand while saying to him, “Crow lights on a fence post.”
One hundred years to the day before Grandpa died, on May 16, 1883,Grandpa’s own grandfather, Jacob Hoffmann, arrived in Philadelphia on the steamship Zeeland, bringing his family to America from Alsace-Lorraine and paving the way for a new life here. Jacob died in January 1914 when Grandpa was only six. One wonders what memories he had of his grandfather.
Grandpa Hoffmann now has a new namesake, my two-year-old nephew Benjamin. Benjamin and my father have their own special relationship. “Beepaw” is always in great demand when we visit, carting Benjamin around to look at the dining room light fixture and the “Iron Fireman” clock which used to hang at Hoffman Sheet Metal, the shop in Caldwell Grandpa started with his brother Lee. One day when Benjamin is a little older I’m sure his daddy will tell him about the great-grandfather for whom he was named and maybe demonstrate for him how a crow lights on a fence post.