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Tuesday, March 1, 2016

A Family Tree With Branches That Grow Legends

My name is Casey Grice. This is a picture of me and my two boys.  The following is the story of how I came to realize the importance of having a basic knowledge of my ancestry & family tree.

 As a young man I never really cared about where I came from. My parents were pretty cool and so were my grandparents and anything that happened before them, well, that was just ancient history that nobody really had time to care about. Atleast, not me anyway. Then one day I received an emergency collect call from my estranged Uncle Ned, pictured below:
Uncle Ned is an I.T. guy for a marketing firm in Jackson, Mississippi. His interests include high fashion, nature, and croquet. The left side of his face is 88% paralyzed from a bird watching incident that occurred in the spring of 1994. It involved a painters ladder, an aggressive woodpecker and a sidewalk, but those are the only details Uncle Ned cared to divulge.

It only took 2 minutes on the phone with Uncle Ned for that handsome silver tongued devil to convince me that I needed to lend him a helping hand. You see, he was on the road working on his side job, managing the career of my cousin Chico, an up and coming artist... 

(Quick aside: Not only had I never met Ned or Chico before this phone call, I also never knew they even existed.) 

Ned and Chico were passing through town and needed a place to crash for the night, due to a hotel room cancellation resulting from a sponsorship mix up. As a man with a passion for family...and art for that matter, I couldn't say no.

Well, as it turns out, Chico's art form of choice was that of the Mixed Martial variety. 
(This is a poster Chico gifted me for "tu hospitalidad.")

Not exactly compliant with my expectations but family is family...and like Chico said continually throughout the night, "Tu Casa es Mi casa!" I don't speak Spanish but I do believe that's something they say in their culture to express gratitude. 

We stayed up late that night exchanging stories of life and love. I learned so much about Chico through his broken English and intense facial expressions.

 Among other things, I learned that Chico is a man of many passions. He has a passion for gambling, fist fighting and beef jerky... as well as a serious passion for passion itself. Chico fights in the MMA featherweight division under the name "El Chupacabra."

By the end of the night Chico asked me to be the best man in his upcoming wedding. I was honored and I obliged even though I'm not exactly convinced we're related. The resemblance is uncanny though, so I was forced to give him the benefit of the doubt.

I know what you're thinking. "How could you put your family in danger by letting these strangers under your roof for a night?!"

I understand your concern. I really do, but as strange as these two men seemed, I couldn't escape the fact that the strong genetics from my dad's side were undeniably present. I just couldn't figure out why my parents had kept Ned and Chico's existence a secret for all these years. 

When I finally expressed my concern to Uncle Ned he explained to me how he had some of the same unanswered questions that he'd been juggling around in his unusually large brain. He explained to me how he recently uncovered a piece to this mysterious puzzle and as he pulled his Nextel phone from his pocket he suggested we extend an invitation for the night to my alleged half Uncle Early Ray who claimed to be travelling though town with the Pro Bowlers Association... One beep, one direct connection and one 10 minute cab ride later, Early Ray was ringing my doorbell with his nicotine stained fingertips.

Early Ray was unemployed. He had been bouncing around the underbelly of the amateur bowling ranks since 1998 looking for his big break, while growing his bangs. He blamed his unemployment on Obama... and Nixon... and every president in between. All the man seemed to care about was politics, smoking cigarettes, bowling, and smoking "left handed cigarettes" as he called them. After he finished venting about his understanding of the intricacies of divorce law, I was finally able to get some valuable family information out of him.

Could this night get any stranger?
 YES! The answer is obviously, YES!

Apparently this "family mystery" was something Early Ray stumbled upon late one night in a cyber cafe, shortly after his seventh divorce became official. He struck up a conversation with a waitress named Ernestine who was in the twilight of her life. After a few rounds of drinks and in between drags on her cigarette, she spoke of her great grandmother's long distance romance with a war hero named Ulysses. 

Now, you just don't hear the name Ulysses every day. Long story short, after a bit of prying, Early Ray was able to conclude that Ernestine was speaking of my Great Great Great Great Grandfather on my Dad's side: 

Ulysses S. Grice. 

Amazingly, these pictures survived the great fire of 1800 with minimal damage. He was an inventor, a scholar, a barber, a soldier and most importantly, a genius. He was single handedly responsible for 85 Indian scalps in the French and Indian war before he realized they were allies to the French and the point of the war wasn't to eradicate the Indians. (He fought for the French as a favor to the Great Marquis Duquesne who he befriended while bartering on the black market.) He was also responsible for the scalps of the President and all of Congress which he cut regularly at his barber shop in Norfolk, Virginia some time after the war. Some of his most popular inventions are the monacle (pictured above), the bifocal, the 21st century scissor (also pictured above, not to be confused with the 20th century scissor) as well as the 2 way mirror/window thing they use today in police interrogation rooms. 

At the peace conference of 1763, the British received the territories of Canada from France and Florida from Spain, opening the Mississippi Valley to westward expansion. According to Ernestine, this is when Ulysses relocated to France to become the liason of foreign affairs. 

Ernestine provided Early Ray with a satchel full of letters her great grandmother received from Ulysses. The letters served as a detailed documentation of their romance up until the point where Ulysses informed her that he met an italian debutant named Catalina and he had fallen in love. This was as far as Ernestine was able to take Early Ray, but it was all we needed.

We used the information Ernestine armed us with and that night we were able to find Ulysses' biography on a French website where we found out that he and Catalina had a son who grew up in southern Italy and became the founder and owner of the best pizzeria in Southern Europe.
My Great Great Great Grandfather went by the name of Harry. He made a delicious pie. He had many years of kitchen experience having worked in cafeterias and bistros across Italy throughout his formative years.
Harry built a pizza empire. A Harry Pizza Empire. He became the richest man in all of Italy and it was due to his inability to settle for anything less than the perfect pizza pie... that, and whatever the secret ingredient in his sauce was. 

Along came fame and fortune and with that fame and fortune came power and with that power came dreadfully horrible decision making.

Harry's European downfall came when he used a dough roller to beat up a member of the media who wrote an expose exposing the fact that the hair on Harry's head was not actually attached. An anonymous source (most likely a disgruntled colleague) was quoted in the peice:

"Did you ever notice that, from the age of 19, Harry wore a hair net everyday? Did you ever notice that every job Harry occupied required a hair net to be worn? Coincidence? I think not. Did you ever notice that Harry grew a massive beard once a year and when he shaved, he pasted the clippings atop his head and unsuccessfully attempted to hold down the runaways with a hair net? Did you every notice that hairy shed like an English Bulldog?"
Harry was exposed and run out of the country as a fraud. He also had charges of collusion, racketeering and tax evasion which didn't help. Harry's birth name was actually Floyd. He changed it to Harry when his hairline began to recede. Maybe good desicions were never Floyd's strong suit.
He came back to America and had a son himself. 

My Great Great Grandfather Ace:

Ace was was a true champion. His only interests were throwing things and racing things. He lived to be 111 years old. He died from a self imposed dart wound to the neck. That dart ricochet off of the metal surrounding the bullseye and pierced his jugular. Had that dart stuck (in the board) it would have been his 455th tournament championship. 

Ace is in the Guiness Book of World Records... twice. Once for the longest "Red Bullseye" ever thrown (57 yards) and again for the most DUI's while riding a lawnmower (also 57). Ace had a self described "serious to somewhat serious" drinking problem that could also be attributed to the cause of his death.

Ace left behind two sons who made an impact on this world unlike many before them. 

 I introduce you to an entrepreneur like no other:

My Great Grandfather

Dr. Darryl Grice
Darryl was a Labor & Delivery Dentist. In fact, Darryl is the father and founder of modern day Labor and Delivery Dentistry as we know it.
What's that? You've never heard of Labor and Delivery Dentistry? That's because Darryl also invented the Epidarryl, which is known today as the Epidural. His patent was stolen by his partner, Dr. John Bonica in the year 1940 and the name was subsequently changed. The invention of the epidural anesthesia put Labor & Delivery Dentists out of work world wide.

You see, before the Epidural, laboring women would get their cavities filled, their root canals, their teeth pulled, etc. during child birth as a form of anesthesia. The good old distraction technique. This practice killed two birds with one stone while simultaneously allowing the mother to feel that sense of accomplishment as she was able to multi task while giving birth. It killed 3 birds with one stone actually. It was during this time that cases of post partem depression hit an all time low.
These pictures were taken during the Labor & Delivery Dentistry BOOM of the 1930's. Many world renowned doctors still refer to the 1930's as Darryl's Decade.

Darryl passed away during the birth of his only son Swinton (my Grandfather). For old times sake he attempted to perform a root canal in the mouth of his laboring wife. I find that it's best to leave the details out when telling this part of the story.

That leads me to Darryl's brother, my Great Uncle Gary. There aren't many known pictures of him. The first one to come up on a Google search is this police sketch from an aggravated manslaughter charge from the year 1940.
On the surface one might struggle to find any redeeming qualities in the character of Gary Grice. However, if one were to dig a little deeper through the wake of prohibition in the 1920's and the subsequent rise of the American Mafia in the 30's and 40's one would see a man devoted fully to his craft.
A few face tattoos and multiple arrests later Gary managed to engage in a crime spree that left no doubt in the mind of the notorius mobb boss Lucky Luciano that Gary was a legitimate bootlegger as well as a deserving associate and anchor of a burgeoning criminal empire. The transformation was complete.
Gary had taken on the alias Brutus Sampson and ingrained himself deeper in the American Mafia than any FBI agent before or since and Gary was single handedly responsible for the undoing of the American underworld. He's also the man who is responsible for why I never knew any of these profound men were a part of my family.
 We were put in the witness protection program but we weren't forced to change our last name because everyone in the mafia knew Gary as Brutus Sampson and Mr. Sampson was so dedicated to his craft that he had no traceable family.

What a legend.

It took a lot of digging but with the help of 
Ned, Chico and Early Ray I was able to uncover a relatively interesting family ancestory. How about you? Have you ever come across any characters like these in your family tree? If not, you should check it out. I'm sure this type of thing happens all the time. 

The first two sentences of this story are true. The rest is a piece of complete fiction.

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