Monday, July 6, 2009

Future and Past

Say hello to Wyatt Thomas Thompson.

Everybody go , "Awwwwwww."

This is my great nephew and I don't mean that in a superlative although he's a very even tempered, if noisy, baby. He's the son of my niece, Christina. I don't really understand the names beyond immediate family and adding a "great" to someone, as in great aunt, which is technically what I am. I'll just be "Aunt Debbie" and let them add the "great" when I come to visit and play ball or something.

I returned from Iowa hot, tired, dirty and hungry. Burger King at 11:30 with a 5 hour car ride just doesn't cut it. I'm thinking, "What do I have in this house that's not frozen?" And I remembered the leftovers from July 4th. Nuke burgers, take a shower and now all I am is tired. As much as I enjoyed the trip, I like coming home, even if I get glared at for leaving. Remember the aphorism, "You're no one until you've been ignored by a cat."

This trip took me past some places that figure in family history, one of which I'd never seen. Rather ignominious, those places are the Anamosa Minimum Security Prison and the Fort Madison State Penitentiary. My great-great grandfather, Andrew Thompson, was convicted, in 1872, of 2nd degree murder in the deaths of 4 people. He was originally convicted of 1st degree murder but the case was automatically appealed. The Iowa Supreme Court threw out the conviction on a technicality. (I love it! Even in 1872, they were tossing cases on technicalities.) The state did not prove premeditation, which is necessary in 1st degree convictions. He was given the option of retrial or going to prison. He chose prison. Yes, there are all sorts of questions, some we will never have answers for.

When you look at both places, you can see the old limestone prisons and how they have been expanded over the years. Fort Madison was built first and was the only option when he was convicted. By all accounts, he was a model prisoner and was transferred to Anamosa in 1894. He died there in 1901. The family refused his body and meager affects.

What possesses someone to commit such a crime? Is it something in the genes or the upbringing? Wyatt is 137 years removed from the conviction. Andrew was born in Scotland and left with his uncle who we had always been told was his father. Some 8 years ago, I finally discovered that was a fallacy. As I say, too many questions for which we don't have answers. Occasionally, I pull out my genealogy materials and have a go at moving the time line back another generation beyond 1768 and Alexander Thomson.

If he's interested, I'll tell Wyatt about his ancestor. It's very interesting to say we have an honest to goodness skeleton in our collective closet and I don't mean some great uncle's drinking problem where everyone just smiles at family reunions and his kids take him home. It was a source of extreme shame to my grandfather and great-grandfather's generations and attempts were made to remove Andrew from the family history. You can't. Somewhere, somehow, who your ancestors were comes out. Embracing the story and finding out who Andrew was and where he spent the last years of his life does not "rehabilitate" him. It merely adds leaves on the once empty branch.

P.S. Gas was $2.45 a gallon for mid-grade. More on that later.

Beverage: Ice cold Coke


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