I don’t like being called “Generation X”. Most people who were born between 1966 and 1976 probably had parents who were born during World War Two, parents who listened to rock ‘n’ roll, moms who had jobs outside the home. I was born at the very beginning of that period, in January 1966, to parents who were born in the 1920s, married in the ’40s, and had their first child in 1955. I think of myself as the Schoolhouse Rock Generation. Remember Schoolhouse Rock, those little animated shorts in between the commercials on Saturday mornings? “I’m Just A Bill”? I know you know the words to “Conjunction Junction”.
I’m the late-life child of Greatest Generation parents. My Aunt Margaret, whom I think I have mentioned here, was actually my great-aunt, born around 1918; her brother, my grandfather, was born in the 19th century, as was my grandmother, his wife, Mom. I joke sometimes to fellow fans of the Marvel Captain America movies that my parents knew Steve Rogers; the music of my childhood, the music my parents played, was Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, the glory of the big band era.
On my shrine right now, I have a photograph of my grandmother. She’s wearing a pearl necklace and earrings and a black feather boa. I remember that this shot was taken at her hairdresser’s, or the beauty parlor, as we called it then. (She had a standing appointment every Wednesday.) The jewelry was lent for the photo; what looks like a black dress trimmed with feathers was a swatch of black fabric thrown over her breast and a boa, carefully arranged. She was around eighty years old at the time.
Next to that is a photograph from my older sister’s first wedding, around 1973. Mom stands tall and dignified beside a shorter woman wearing a lace chapel cap: The groom’s grandmother, a first-generation Polish immigrant whose English was still poor. Everyone called her “Boosha”. I remember talking to her a bit at the reception and liking her although she was hard to understand. I’m not sure anyone didn’t like Boosha.
In the same frame, there is a Polaroid of my Aunt Margaret. She is sitting, as she always did, on a small wooden chair, and leaning forward to pet our dog, Pippin, who is leaning against her legs with his head nearly in his lap. Born with one hip out of the socket, Aunt Margaret plodded through life with a steel brace on one leg and a cane in her hand. This did not prevent her from marrying, divorcing, holding down a job, living on her own, and travelling. I have other photographs where she and Mom and Pop (my grandfather) are in New York; she told me proudly that she had seen Robert Preston on Broadway in The Music Man. There’s a photo I treasure from a nightclub they visited: I realized one day, looking closely at the line of chorus girls onstage, that they were all men. My grandparents and my great-aunt went to a drag club.
On the table before the photographs there are two wallets and a small black book. The black wallet belonged to my father and contains his driver’s license and my mother’s, along with other cards that were in it at the time of his death. The monogrammed aqua blue wallet was Mom’s. Amongst her cards there is a newspaper clipping giving the date of Opening Day for our local baseball team.
The prayer book is a very old-fashioned Roman Catholic book of private devotions, with dreadful artwork. I am pretty sure it belonged to my grandfather, who was German. On top of it sits a tiny crystal skull.
Like a lot of polytheists, I consider ancestor worship to be a proper part of my religion. I honor the dead: My own family, known and unknown; those who are spiritual or creative ancestors for me, such as the sancti of the Ekklesia, some Christian saints, and famous writers and musicians; and on some occasions, the dead in general, or a specific category of them. I honor soldiers who died in war, even though there is no one close to me who died that way; I honor transgender folks who were murdered, in reparation for the manner of their deaths.
In all honesty, I have never had any kind of contact with my family dead, unless you count dreaming of them. In my dreams I sometimes still live with my dad in my childhood home, or with Aunt Margaret, who lived around the corner from us and ate dinner with us every night, or I travel with Mom the way we used to when I was a kid. But I’ve never experienced any kind of presence, and I’m not sure I need to. I have a general sense that they care, but they were Methodists in life and a bit confused by being prayed at.
I have, in the past, had contact with someone who was a very ancient ancestress of mine and possibly also myself in a former life, if that makes sense. I have not sought her out for some time, and I’m not sure what the status of my relationship with her is. I have not felt any drive to communicate with her, nor any lack in not doing so. I think that while I will always honor the dead, and the spirits, as well, my most important cultus is going to be for the gods.
But those photographs are staying on or near my shrine, whatever form it takes, along with a wallet containing two expired driver’s licenses, and another containing a newspaper clipping that’s thirty years out of date, and a prayer book for a religion I never practiced. And a tiny crystal skull.