I just turned 40 this week, which kind of got me thinking a bit more about my family history. Not traditional genealogy research, which deals with dates, birth certificates and the like – but real family history.
My grandfather (“Grandpap”), Robert Allingham, Jr. lived in the Pittsburgh, PA area. His father got off the boat at Ellis Island straight from Ireland, and the family settled in the Pittsburgh area. But my thoughts weren’t about the facts and figures of the family history.
Instead, my thoughts were on the man who 30 years ago would take us for nature walks through the woods near his house. We would find long, flexible broken branches (probably sassafras) on the ground and poke one end into a crab apple. By whipping the branch like a fishing rod, it seems like you could send a crab apple flying for miles – or at least it seemed that far to a 10 year old boy. Then we would pick raspberries off some of the wild bushes. I didn’t like raspberries, but it didn’t matter.
Years later, my fiance Karla (now my wife) and I went to visit him. By that time, he was in poor physical health – thin and frail, and restricted to a hospital bed in his living room. But it was only his physical health that was frail – his spirits were high and his Irish sense of humor was in full swing. It was amazing to see someone who was so sick be at the same time so full of life. Karla only got to see him for a few brief days during that trip, but he made a major impact.
Several years after he died, I managed to get some of his writings. He was a man who did not finish high school and spent his life working in the steel mills of western Pennsylvania, yet his writings were not what you would expect – deeply philosophical and absolutely brilliant. For a Christmas present for my father, I formatted my grandpap’s handwritten writings, had them printed and bound in a custom leather-bound book. Eventually, I ended up making copies of the book for many family members.
I came across my copy of the book today as I was putting books away in my bookcase. Thumbing through it just after my 40th birthday made me hope that someday someone would look back and remember me the same way I remember my grandfather.