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A Zeigenhirt Labor Day

If you ran into C in a bar, you’d think, Redneck.

Except C doesn’t hang out in bars.

Plus C is the scion of a famously Democratic family with deep roots in these parts. He’s a rabid left-winger.

You never really know people unless you know their families, too.

Which means that most of the people you think you know, you don’t know at all.

###

I spent Labor Day at the home of C’s youngest daughter Elizabeth, watching the complicated and yet, at the same time, mundane and ordinary dynamics of the Zeigenhirt family (not their real name!) play out over three generations.

Elizabeth is a lovely person. The loveliness of Elizabeth is enough to renew your faith in mankind since, by any standards, Elizabeth’s childhood had to have been difficult: Her mother had a complete schizophrenic break when Elizabeth was six, and while I like C a great deal, I can’t imagine that being fathered by him was any walk in the park. And yet, Elizabeth is this warm, generous, practical human beneath whose placid surface lurk no subterranean monsters of any kind.

She’s a potter and a graphic artist, married to a friendly, kindhearted, engaging man who emigrated from Turkey and makes beaucoup $$$$$ working as an engineer. The party was a housewarming party for the new spread they’d bought in the outer reaches of Milbrook, and it’s just this insanely beautiful place with acres of gardens and a pool and a pool house that Elizabeth is going to convert into a studio. She is very practical about her pottery. It is not a hobby. She plans to make $$$$ doing it. Having seen her product line plans and reviewed her marketing strategy, I think she may have a real shot at that.

###

“How did Elizabeth manage to survive so unscathed?” I asked L as we drove home.

“She had a very close relationship with her grandmother,” L said. “Poor Cassie never had a close relationship with anyone. Cassie was a difficult child, resentful and rebellious. ‘Can I call you Mother?’ Cassie once asked me, and I told her, No. ‘I’m not your mother,’ I said. ‘I’m your friend.’”

L is an easy-going person, but she’s a stickler about personal boundaries. You can never force her to do anything she doesn’t want to do. She’s immune to guilt, and she never feels sorry for anyone.

###

Cassie inherited the full brunt of her mother’s madness.

And it came on at exactly the same moment in her life that her mother’s madness came on, in her mid-20s.

After a few abortive experiments with not taking her meds, Cassie realized that she had to take her meds if she didn’t want to end up homeless or dead.

The meds blimped her up to 300-plus and while they make the voices in her head manageable, they don’t make the voices go away.

The big deal at extended Zeigenhirt family get-togethers is the food, so I volunteered to help Cassie make her splash. Baked Camembert with sautéed mushrooms. Easy, right? How can you go wrong? I bought the ingredients and oversaw Cassie in the kitchen while she did the prep. She had a massive panic attack and begged me help her cook. But I refused. Channeling my own inner L, I suppose.

The Camembert all got eaten. Mostly by Cassie.

###

Bob Zeigenhirt, the patriarch of the family, is 94. He lives alone on the Zeigenhirt compound, which is the remains of the 19h century family farm, but since he build houses for many offspring on the compound, they drop in on him many times a day, and he’s just a stones’ throw away from help at any time. He’s in full possession of his mental faculties. His memory is as sharp as mine. (Of course, I have a terrible memory.) He still drove until two years ago.

I tried to call him “Mr. Zeigenhirt,” but he wasn’t having any part of that.

“Please! Bob. Mr. Zeigenhirt was my grandfather. He hasn’t been around since before World War II.”

Bob doesn’t like being old at all. It's very boring, he says. “Mostly, you sleep. And think about things that don’t exist anymore.”

I ended up talking to him for close to an hour about Dutchess County in the 1920s and 1930s. The Zeigenhirt compound is very close to the underground distillery where Dutch Schultz produced the rotgut that fueled Scott and Zelda’s NYC debauches. (Those underground bunkers and tunnels are now open to the public; they would be fun to visit.)

Bob is a national treasure, and really, someone needs to get him on tape. This is stuff you won’t find in any history book.



This entry was originally posted at http://mallorys-camera.dreamwidth.org/696953.html. You may leave comments on either Dreamwidth or LiveJournal if you like.

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( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
zyzyly
Sep. 6th, 2017 04:38 am (UTC)
"...most of the people you think you know, you don’t know at all."

So true, and a cautionary tale about making assumptions.
mallorys_camera
Sep. 6th, 2017 11:59 am (UTC)
Ha, ha! YES. :-)
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )