A Union of Sorts: Élagage de l’Arbre Généalogique


The marriage of Hal and Margy in 1952 linked forever two families that were, by birthright and definition, quite different, if not geometrically opposed. The nuptials did ultimately lead to three progeny; my sister Polly, myself, and Richard who departed this plane almost as quickly as he had landed.

My father’s family was German, having essentially migrated to New York from Mannheim in the early thirties, escaping the building oppression that was sadly cloaking their homeland. Those relatives who were not Jewish were Catholic sympathizers who, as academicians at the University of Heidelberg, were vocal, targeted, and thus persecuted. Many were later deported or exterminated.

The Siebers (and Neubergers) were headstrong, opinionated, and often abrupt. Values and tradition always took forefront. Even as recently as twenty years ago, German was still the language by the hearth. They cared little for popular culture but embraced the arts, especially that of the written word and music. As a child, I was even fortunate to hear an ancestor’s composition interpretted by orchestra on the Smithsonian lawn. And, of course, higher education was neither an option nor a mandate; it was simply another step in growing up, from which no one (within recollection) had ever strayed. The Siebers were, in a word, grounded.

My mother’s clan was quite different. They were of Irish/English descent, having settled in the United States in the mid-nineteenth century. My great grandfather moved his family from Michigan to Washington, DC, in the early 1900’s so that his children could enjoy better educational opportunities. My grandmother and each of her three sisters, in fact, graduated from college and were intensely career-driven, a remarkable fact considering that it was barely the 20’s. I should also point out and mention that, by this time, that family had become quite the matriarchy. The women, although clever, witty, and charming, were quite controlling. The men always seemed to die young. As children, my cousins and I would joke that it was the only escape from such tyranny. The Cavanaughs, Liddys, and Moores were educated, immaculately appointed, and oh so reserved. There is a litany of further surnames that need listing but please forgive me, if I only mention three! They read, embraced the arts, but never argued, as it was considered unseemly. Needless to say, the resentment and dysfunction of the generations festered and was, thus, fostered.

Yet, my parents, meeting by chance in a Capitol Hill elevator in 1951 and marrying the next year, joined two very different families. The two clans were not only different in traditions and heritage, but immensely opposed in social values, skills, and directives. Let’s just offer this analogy as representative. If Hal were upset, he’d rant (sometimes slipping into German), while Margy would listen and then respond a day later … with a properly though-out and calmly delivered retort. Conversely, if my mother gave in to her emotions and reacted with spontaneity, my father was so jarred with disbelief that he could barely utter a sentence … in any tongue. Naturally, this method of communication led to drama, and more drama, and yet even more dramatic drama. And divorce in 1974.
I mention these familial ramblings, my friends, for two reasons. First, I do so enjoy a quick meander down that mossy path of crooked nostalgia. It keeps fresh those tidbits of my ancestry that both inspire and satisfy me. And doing so, humbles me … as all of my relatives seem at once to be much more focused, driven, and inspired.
Secondly, as my sister and I are essentially the end of the line, the furthest branches on the “rhetorical” tree, we are liberated, and perhaps replanted to more fertile soil. That may be one of the many reasons we are both so quirky and why we still insist on pursuing an odd path. Of course, that is in part due to the times, the confused world state, and the general breakdown of family as aneco-social unit. (In my mother’s family, the word “institution” is greatly feared and admonished!)
I am head-strong and annoyingly independent (Jon will gladly attest), often calculating and perhaps too analytical. And I am tall. Those are all Sieberisms.
At the same time, I am well-mannered, overly-reserved, and fascinated by trends and styles. Thank you, Cavanaughs, Moores, and the Liddy family.
But the essence that drives me with most passion are those variables that are the intersect of these two families. I cherish expression, in all forms. Art, music, written word, even cooking … they are all melodic forms of communication. Those become the sweet outlets for our visions and our dreams. It is indeed those dreams that are the blooms on that hybrid, cross-pollinated “rhetorical” family tree. We will prudently avoid any analogy to those water spouts that, at least here at Marklewood, blemish the diminishing dogwoods.
Now, however, I best tend to those roots, as they can often be neglected or unfed.
(Image: “l’Arbre Généalogique” by Claude Verlinde.)