By Daniel Hubbard | November 14, 2010
Do you ever think about the occurrences that made you possible? It would be a very, very long list. What if you just concentrate on the odd ones—things with really low probability or very extreme outcomes that are just plain out of the ordinary? What strange things needed to happen to make you possible? I’ve heard many strange twists in other people’s stories. Many far more improbable than anything of which I can boast but go back far enough and every ancestry has some odd bit of fate that makes it possible.
In my family, a man whose grandfather was a reasonably wealthy mill owner and whose father inherited those mills and served in the state legislature would seem to have the cards in his favor. Instead, he drank, spent and went to an early grave. With his inheritance gone, his oldest son, still only a teenager had a lot on his mind and, having served in the war of 1812 when only 15, he joined the army at the age of 20, got married and soon learned that his regiment was being reassigned. He was going to end up far from his New England home. He was going west, so far west that when we was discharged his family had to travel hundreds of miles east to get back to the frontier. If not for his father, would he have joined the army? If not for the army and a decision to send this regiment and not that regiment, would he have stayed put and never seen the frontier?
Fateful Stories and Records of Fate
Sometimes these occurrences hinge on simple, though extreme fate. The type of fate like a grandfather who lived to meet a grandmother because he missed the boat and the boat was the Lusitania. Other times, some historical force picks a person up like driftwood at the beach and sets them down in a totally different place. Those are the kinds of stories that a family preserves—the improbable, the strange and the unexpected.
I may have mentioned before a story passed down in my family for no one knows how many generations. Two young women were on their way home in the fog. One more heavily bundled than the other. They couldn’t really see as they chatted their way down a familiar road. They walked off the end of an open bridge and plunged into the river. The more warmly dressed woman sank like a stone never to be seen again. The woman who lived to become my ancestor floated long enough to be saved. My existence hinged on a missing coat and the bravery and skill of a stranger—or so the story goes.
Sometimes all we have is the story and because it is improbable, we don’t know whether to believe it. Other times, the records tell the story. One ancestor’s family all died, all the children and his wife, of two different diseases in the space of less than a month. Sad to say but if they had not died, I wouldn’t be here today as a descendant of his second wife.
All of this brings me to my grandfather. Veterans Day, the anniversary of the end of WWI, has just come and gone. When the U.S. made its late entry into WWI, its army was small and inconsequential. A year later, during the summer of 1918, the U.S. was sending 10,000 men per day to France. During 1918, my grandfather was too young for the army but that only stops you if you can’t or won’t lie about your age. Grandpa managed to do that. He lied a little, passed his physical and entered the army. He trained, learned the drills and learned the equipment. He never fought. He was, so to speak, saved by the bell. The war ended not long before the day that he would have been one of those 10,000 men. He never went to France.
So many men were killed or maimed. Some were gassed and never really recovered. So many men who went would not leave descendants. By an narrow accident of timing, my grandfather never was at risk of becoming one of them and so I can exist.
What strange quirks of ancestral fate have allowed you to be here today? The answer can be anything from a fascinating triviality to a philosophical adventure in an alternate reality.Twitter It!