This family tree is more twisted than I am at the moment.

Let’s finally get back to Lorna’s life story and begin at the beginning, with her mother’s family.

It took me over thirty years to fully understand just how twisted my family tree was. I already knew about my dad’s suicide, his history of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of his alcoholic father, and how fear and religion seemed to be the one thing that kept that large family together. By comparison, my mom’s family, which was considerably smaller and who I knew a lot better, seemed picture-book perfect.

My mom’s mother, Maija (or as I called her, Mémé), blew the roof off our “normal” family in what she thought was her death-bed confession to my mother. She told the biggest secret of her life, expecting to die any moment and not have to answer any questions. Unfortunately for her, she lived another 15+ years. Unfortunately for us, she refused to dish up any answers, saying she didn’t remember anything about anything.

Stop asking questions. I was supposed to die, that's all you need to know.

Everything I’m about to tell comes mostly from Mémé and my mom. The two (maybe more) men who could verify this story are long gone.

Maija was born in Finland in 1905. Her father was a sea-captain who was gone a lot but favored her among all her brothers and sisters (about 5, I think). Maija and her mother didn’t have the greatest relationship; the daughter was bitter having to raise her younger siblings and probably jealous of any attention old Papa gave to Mama–Freud would have lots to say about this). According to Maija, she was so unhappy at home that she couldn’t wait to turn 18 and leave. She cooked up a plan with a friend to travel to Paris.  There, they would earn some money for a boat trip across the Atlantic and end up in Canada, where lots of Finns went when they got sick of Finland.

I hear Canadians have a much finer fashion sense.

Mémé was a “no-turning-back” woman. She may have burned a bridge or two with her mom by saying she hated her–the story varied. Anyway, once she left Finland, she vowed never to return. Maija was a wonderful seamstress and was sure she could find work in the fashion mecca of Europe: Paris.  Apparently the French were as hoity toity back then as they can be now and didn’t like foreigners. They didn’t want “aliens” taking jobs away from their citizens, can you imagine that? Maija found work as a “domestic,” but at least she wasn’t working for her mother. She worked for a cadre of wealthy Parisians and told stories of taking care of their children and their dogs, which she loved doing.

Maija, aka Meme.

Maija was working, but not earning enough money to save substantial sums for her passage to Canada. She was a young, attractive woman in Paris and wanted to live a little. And she did. She lived so much that she got pregnant in 1932. My mom was born in 1933. Her last name was Maija’s last name. Whomever my grandmother worked for was kind enough to let her tend to her infant daughter while performing her domestic duties. Caring for an infant made saving money more difficult, especially for two tickets. She knew her plans for Canada were postponed. Indefinitely.

To complicate life further, and not just for Maija, Hitler and the Nazi Party were gaining strength and making ugly noises about world domination. Foreigners were encouraged to leave France. Mémé stayed put. It was Canada or bust. She chose bust.

I chose "bust" as well. Now I keep looking at it and wondering what I was thinking...

As my mom grew from infant to toddler, Maija’s employer was less amenable to having an extra distraction for their “help.” For a while, my toddler-mom stayed with a cranky Finn woman who spoiled her own son while making the little girl in her care do her bidding. My mom remembers Nazi soldiers taking that little boy away one day and never seeing him again. When Mom was about seven years old, Maija sent sent her to live in a Catholic Convent. She was there when WWII broke out in Europe and stayed there until she was thirteen, and France was liberated.

Maija continued her domestic labor throughout the war. One family she worked for was a spy for someone. She found a briefcase full of money and schematics (in German) for something aeronautic and destructive (she wasn’t a rocket scientist, but she knew enough to find another job).

My mom often asked about her father when she was old enough to realize she didn’t have one. Mémé told her that he was a Parisian soldier, a Captain, who died in the war. When retelling this story for her grandchildren, she mentioned the name Jean Lampinon (or some such spelling). She never described him or said anything else about how they met, their courtship, marriage, or relationship. When discussions ended with Mémé, they ended.

That's who I always pictured. I'm sure my mom did, too.

During the liberation, Maija met the man who I came to know as my grandfather, Pépé: Carroll or Carl. He was an American G.I. who came from Sciota (sigh-o-ta), NY. He spoke enough French to get drunk. Maija’s English was about as proficient as Carl’s French. She heard “New York” and “Sciota” (which sounded a lot like “city” to her Francophone ear) and her eyes lit up. Carl became her ticket out of war-torn Paris and into the magic city where streets were paved with gold: New York City. Majia was still quite the French hotsy-totsy, so he couldn’t believe his luck that this “looker” was seriously looking at him. Little did he know that all she saw in him was location, location, location. Little did she know that his “location” was not the city where streets were paved with gold but a podunk village where roads were paved with dirt.

Carroll or Carl, aka Pépé.

The death-bed revelation is yet to come. That’s why you need to keep reading…