Cinemulatto is in London this week with her family, mostly showing her teen daughter touristy things and eating at places like Nando’s. I’m also visiting relatives on my mother’s side I haven’t seen in 23 years, plus new ones I’ve never met.
Not only is the search for Dorothy Newton continuing, but now there’s a beginning to the story. This beginning is my mother’s father, Lawrence Nathaniel Newton.
I never met my maternal grandfather. I only heard about him in stories, and knew (as mentioned in a previous Cinemulatto post) that my mother had spoken about his swollen heart as witnessed on his deathbed.
My time in London has unearthed several facts:
- He died from too much drinking, not heart disease, and it was his swollen liver my mother saw.
- He was Indo-Jamaican. I don’t know anything about my great-grandfather or where in India he came from, but I now know my brothers and I are one-eighth Indian (!).
- Lawrence was prone to violence. My mother was the only one among his wife and five kids who wasn’t subject to frequent, physical outbursts.
- He was a tailor. Thus the snazzy outfit above.
I couldn’t stop staring at the picture when I saw it. The prominent eyelids. The downward-curving mouth. Clear signs of “Newton” and traits I’ve inherited.
Why was my mother his favorite? What drove him to drink? What was the nature of his relationship with Mary Dawson, his wife? What are the other parts of his legacy?
More questions, plus the continued search for answers….
MULATTO OF THE MONTH, SPECIAL EDITION:
Due to popular demand (and her personal request), we have a late-March 2013 Mulatto of the Month: my daughter, Dakota Billops-Breaux. Her racial background: Black, White, Native American, Vietnamese, and Chinese. (Our theme song: “One of your own five kinds, stick to your own five kinds.”)
I won’t go into the many, many ways this young woman is extraordinary (bias be damned!), but I will say that our most recent “deep conversation” made me rethink genetics and family history.
It’s a given that in any gay or otherwise blended family, DNA is often secondary to the filial bond. There’s the occasional curiosity about the donor. There are blood lines traced through the birth parent. This has always been part of our family’s reality but only in a cursory way. It’s never determined in any real way how we relate to each other on a day to day basis.
During our London trip, however, as I became obsessed with the image of my grandfather and bonded with my cousins on family matters, Dakota expressed disappointment that she’d never have the “Newton look” or possess that particular connection to me that comes with genetics. My motherly response: I’d rather you have my sense of humor than my nose. Still, tracing one’s family history, even in a gay family context, includes at least partial discussion of blood line. And although it’s the case–even more so with the Supreme Court about to make history–that our relationship is recognized by family, community, and nation, to not respect all the feelings one’s child may encounter in becoming her own person is to do an injustice to all the things that make our gay household loving and tight-knit in the first place.
Happy March, Dakota! Thanks for continuing to teach me things.