When you drive west out of
You're never very far, it seems, from a cluster of old headstones poking out of the grass and resting under the trees, reminders of people doomed to be forgotten.
I was new to
I'd never heard of
Mildly interesting, I thought at the time, but not compelling enough to demand a two-hour drive.
Some people have the ancestry detective gene. You may be one. We all know one. The ancestry detectives spend days, even years in pursuit of the family heritage, burrowing into the records of who begot whom, mapping the past through bloodlines.
I appreciate my relatives who have that gene. I don't. Neither did my father.
My dad rarely talked about the people or place he came from. His kids knew he was from
We knew vaguely that in his hometown of
The only time I remember my father elaborating on his ancestry was at the end of a boozy
I liked the idea that the unromantic name "Schmich" might be vaguely French, and having beer-makers in the family seemed both exotic and fitting.
Around the time the Tribune reader wrote me about the
The brewery to graveyard link became clear. I bought the bottles. But only recently did I feel the urge to find the graves.
On that day recently, my brother and I located the
We began pacing the rows.
Up and down the grass we went, glancing left and right.
It was hot. The quest was pointless. And, really, who cared? After a futile hour, we got back in the car, ready for a beer.
But abandoning a quest, any quest, is for cowards. It's a bad habit of mind, even if the quest is one you tell yourself doesn't matter. If you start it, finish it.
So maybe we were looking in the wrong place? What about that Catholic cemetery we'd passed at the entry to town?
We drove over, agreed that we'd browse briefly and then admit that we had no more time to waste on dead people we'd never met.
We parked. Got out. And a few rows in, there they were.
I've since learned that if we'd wanted to travel deeper into the cemetery, we would have found more. But these three felt like victory, and, more than I expected, like family, and not only because our father's name was
What I realized later was that finding the dearly departed Schmichs was only part of the discovery. Strolling through the graveyards was an encounter not merely with family history but with the collective history of our Midwestern world, when the Germans were the newcomers looking for a place to call home.
I left thinking that knowing your history is good. Being excessively identified by it is not.
There's nothing like a graveyard to make the point that we all come and go, people replaced by new people, old immigrant groups followed by new ones, all of us fleeting.
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