25 Years Since My Life Began…and A Lot Has Changed.

This Holy week is particularly special because I will be passing a milestone of tremendous significance to me. April 3, 1987 was the last day I spent in my life as an unmarried man. Put another way, my 25th wedding anniversary is April 4th.

I won’t bore you in this blog telling you how I love my wife, I do. Or how scared I was that wonderful day, I was terrified. It’s not necessary for me to wax-on about the many happy times we’ve spent, there are plenty. And I need not tell you of the commitment required from a man and a woman to stay married this long and however many more years we’re fortunate enough to enjoy together, total commitment.

But my reflective nature did think it was important to write about a significant change that has occurred in the last twenty-five years. Most notable is the fact that my marriage exists at all, and that no one (seemingly) has a problem with that. My wife is black, I am white. And this fact is nearly meaningless today.

This was not the case when we exchanged vows in Seattle, WA in 1987. We were a rarity. And we were a controversial rarity. My Dad was not shy in expressing his opposition to my marriage specifically and to interracial marriage in general. He told me. And in one sad and pathetic and somewhat funny telephone conversation he told my soon to be Mother-in-law. My Dad later claimed to have had too much to drink one night a couple of months before the wedding date when my would-be Mother-in-law called him on the phone to invite him to take a more active role in planning the wedding of her daughter to his son. As was told to me later he told her he was not interested in participating, or even attending the wedding. As the story goes he proceeded to clumsily explain to her the few times in his life where he felt he’d been “hurt” or “damaged” by people who were black. My Mother-in-law, being a strong and smart woman, quietly listened. And when he had finished his pathetic little rant she calmly asked, “Now, would you like to hear all the times white people had “hurt” me?” Having been born in Alabama in 1940 it didn’t take a PHd in Sociology to figure her list was long and severely more substantial than whatever my Bellingham, WA born Father was able to muster. He sheepishly declined to hear her tales. And he did attend our wedding. Though he told no one in advance that he would do so, and when my bride and I first became aware of his presence at our reception it was a pleasant surprise. He was one of the very few of my family members to attend. The cousins I grew up with and celebrated every Christmas, Thanksgiving, 4th of July and other holiday’s and special events didn’t come or send gifts or cards. My Nana, my Dad’s mother, likewise failed to come or acknowledge our wedding. One of my two Aunt’s, one of my Uncles; none attended my wedding or acknowledged it in any way.

It hurt my heart that people who raised me and loved me had such unprincipled views toward the issue of race and family. But it was a stance from which society allowed them to feel comfortable. Even in the 1980s I felt the discomfort, the staring eyes, the unwelcome attitudes, the bias from others because I was with a woman whose skin was darker than mine. It remained an issue years into our marriage. I still remember how offended I was at a news teaser from KING 5 News Anchor Jean Enerson in which she announced a feature story upcoming for the 5 o’clock news by say, “Interracial Marriages!!! Tune in at 5 o’clock for the inside story on these increasingly popular HOT couples.” Hot couples? This was about 1996 when my bride of 9 years and I were living in predominantly white Redmond, WA raising two kids, trying to pay a mortgage, driving to school and family events on a nightly basis…I didn’t feel particularly HOT. I felt like any other couple getting along in this world. And yet, Seattle’s leading TV news agency felt the make-up of my marriage was striking enough to feature it in their prime newscast and to characterize it as “HOT”? Really? Over 30 years from the signing of the Civil Rights Act? It was nearly 30 years since

William Shatner as Kirk in a promotional photo...

William Shatner as James T. Kirk kissed Nichelle Nichols playing Lt. Uhura in TV’s Star Trek;

Nichols as Lieutenant Uhura.

marking the first time in television history that a white person kissed a black person.

According to a 2010 CNN report interracial marriages were at an all-time high making up 14.6% of all newly married couples. That’s up from 6.8% in 1980. The report does not distinguish what races or ethnicities make up the interracial couples. A report in the New York Times from just 1 year ago says of every 1000 marriages white men marry black women only 3 times, versus 19 Hispanic women, 14 Asian, and 947 white women. So even now we remain an oddity. But fortunately, a much more accepted oddity.

It’s fair to say that some people have a predisposition attraction to people of a certain race, and at times a different race. That’s fine; and I find no fault with such predispositions. It just doesn’t apply to me. I wasn’t then, and am not now particularly attracted to black women. I am predisposed to be attracted to attractive women, no matter their race or ethnicity. Such is and was the case with my beautiful wife. I didn’t marry her because she was black. I also didn’t marry her because she is attractive, though she is. I married her because she laughed at my jokes, and because I thought she was one of the most genuinely kind people I’d ever met. She still is.

While interracial couples are far less an issue today than they were in the 1980’s, I’m proud my marriage served as one small example of how unimportant race is in the living and loving of people. In 1996 my brother married a woman of Philippine decent. My Dad was all over their wedding, ingraining himself in seemingly every aspect of it. Some time after that occasion I asked my Dad why he was so involved in my brother’s wedding and so uninvolved in mine; why was it OK for my brother to marry a darker skinned Philippino but it wasn’t OK for me to marry a black woman? He answered in the best way he possibly could. He said, “You were Jackie Robinson. You showed that it was OK.”

Thanks for visiting. Comments are welcome.

Me and my Bride- as kids

My False Irish Genes.

I grew up believing I was of German-Irish heritage. So St. Patrick’s Day and the history of Irish immigration to the United States was always fun for me to follow. I took pride in genetically and historically belonging to a people with such a proud history and such a tradition of closeness. In the United States few ethnic backgrounds for a Caucasian person clasp such togetherness, such ethnic pride.

Problem is…none of it’s true.

My German background is undeniable because of my name. The first Schuett coming to the United States in my lineage was my Great-Grandfather Carl H. Schuett.

Tombstone of my Great-Grandfather Carl Schuett in the Lynden Cemetery,Lynden, WA.

As best I can determine he entered the U.S. in Michigan via Canada in 1871 at age 15.

I believed I had Irish blood because my father told me so. He too always enjoyed playing the Irish heritage card on St. Patty’s Day. He believed in his Irish heritage because of his mother’s maiden name, Mathis. The pride in that name and it’s background evident by the fact that my Nana (Grandma) and her husband

My Grandpa Shelby Schuett in 1939.

Shelby Schuett named their first-born, my Dad, Jerome Mathis Schuett. My Dad’s brother’s, my Uncle’s, middle name  also came from the Mathis side of the family. He was named for my Great-Grandfather. Lee was his middle name. His Confederate father showing his Southern roots by giving his son a middle name in honor of Robert E. Lee. Outside of our family Mathis is a traditional Irish name, so I can understand my family’s belief in an Irish heritage that didn’t really exist.

About 4-5 years ago I began a life long interest of assembling my family tree through ancestry.com. The website is fantastic. I spent night after night staying up late…really late in the early going…scouring the birth, marriage, death and census records assemble on ancestry.com. When I started concentrating my efforts on finding the parentage of my Nana and all that came before her I was left both delighted and disappointed at the same time.

My journey began by trying to find that long rumored Confederate soldier I’d heard about in my youth. To find him I needed to find the birth place and parents of my Great-Grandfather William Lee Mathis.

My Great-Grandfather William Lee Mathis on his wedding day in 1908 in Bellingham, WA.

Fortunately I got a break when searching the 1880 Census. No other William Lee Mathis existed in census data at that time with anything close to the correct age other than my William Lee Mathis. The records listed him as a 2-year-old born in and living in Lee County, Texaswith his father Augustus C. Mathis and mother Elizabeth.

My Great-great Grandfather A.C. Mathis, far right, with his family in or about Lee County, Texas 1888ish.

The 1880 census data provided other important information that helped in my efforts to get back to Ireland. It showed the birthdate and location from where A.C. Mathis came; 1842 in Mississippi.

Confederate Army Veteran, Augustus C. Mathis, approx. 1875

After considerable time and research and travelling down dead-end roads I was finally able to locate my Great-great-great-Grandfather, A.C.’s dad, in the 1850 census. A.C. was in Pontoloc, Mississippi living with his farmer father John Louis Mathis, mother Luranah and seven siblings. The records also showed that John was born in Georgia and Luranah was born in South Carolina. So I was no closer to the land of Green.

Over a two-year period of nearly daily research I was able to trace the Mathis family tree from Bellingham, WAto Texas, Mississippi, Georgia, then pre-Revolutionary North Carolina, Virginia, and finally I found an ancestor who came from the Motherland…England. John Mathis died in Virginia in 1622 but was born in England, and his parents and Grandparents came from Wales. And as a side note his name wasn’t Mathis at birth. It was Mathews. NO IRELAND!? My Dad died in 2001 and never knew this information.

My Dad, Jerry Schuett

My research back on the various branches of the Mathis family tree never took me back to Ireland. Almost all the non-American lineage on that side of my family dates back to pre-1800s and comes from England, Scotland, Prussia, and France. The Schuett side was purely German. On both my Great-grandfather and Great-Grandmothers side of the family I was only able to research it back to Germany in the mid-1800’s. While not as dramatic or emotional my sense was like that of a child learning that they’d been adopted and all that they thought was true about their history, wasn’t.

I was delighted to learn that my family history in the United States on both my Dad and my Mother’s side of the family pre-dated the existence of the United States. Though I admit being disappointed in not finding Irish heritage.

So for Saint Patty’s Day now and forever more I’ll just have to adopt a temporary and fictitious name, like everyone else not Irish, Michael O’ Schuett…or should it be McSchuett?

Thanks for visiting. Comments are welcome.

Goodbye Dad; again.

Dad & Arica

My Dad with his first Granchild

Ten years ago tomorrow, November 30, 2001 my father died. Amongst the things I remember about this day is that Beattle George Harrison Died the previous day, but the news escaped me until the morning of my father’s passing. I also remember hearing a horrible Christmas song that morning about a young boy wanting to buy some new shoes for his dyeing mother. The song probably isn’t that bad. I guess a lot of people liked it. They made a TV movie about it. But I hated it. It always brought me back to the day I lost my Dad.

Losing my Dad was far more emotional and troubling than I would have ever predicted prior to its occurrence. I was a basket case for at least six months. I thought about him daily. And then slowly over time it got better.

At my Dad’s request he was cremated. Cheap and/or practical to the end. I bought the urn. His remains were kept in the possession of his widow. Not my Mom. She had been married to him his last 20 years beginning my Senior year in High School. Initially she talked of spreading his ashes in a couple of locations in Eastern Washington where my Dad frequently went camping in one of his RV’s (He rented RV’s for a living. So he had many over the years). But that never seemed right to me. Sadly I didn’t have a good alternative. It’s all just as well because the idea of spreading his ashes drifted away and never occurred.

My Dad’s widow died 2 months ago. I took possession of his ashes, and a few small items of his that she’d retained over the previous ten years. My office is now decorated with mallards, as my house was growing up.

Keeping his ashes in my home is not an alternative. He never saw this house. I bought it 2 years after his death. Keeping him here just wouldn’t be fitting. Fortunately I actually thought of the perfect place to spread his ashes, and that is what I am doing tomorrow

Dad's resting Place

He is where my Dad's ashes will spend eternity.

. I will drive up to Bellingham, where my father was born. Along the way I’m picking up his brother, my Uncle. Together we will drive to a favorite spot of my Dad’s along the Puget Sound waters south of the Canadian border. He spent countless days in this place as a kid. He took me and my brother to this place time and again. And in my 24 years as a father I have taken my family here innumerable times. I will dig a small hole in the beach when the tide is out, and will deposit his remains there, amongst the clams, and muscles and crab. I will then say a prayer. And then I will say goodbye Dad…again.

 

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