(note, these events occurred in 2008. This is being posted now because John Gwynne Craig is dying and the email that it is over is imminent.)
THE CONCLUSION (email to close friends after returning from meeting birth father)
Hi.I’m back. I went to Vancouver, I met John, we talked, walked, did the whole weekend and now i’m back, and strangely (and this i didn’t see coming) still a bit of a mess.Information wise, i got everything i ever wanted. More actually. We’ll get to that in a minute.Emotionally, however, it was a bit more messy and confusing. I went in with what i thought were no expectations, but i found that i did have an expectation, and that was that after the whole thing was said and done i would have some sense of of…. closure. Of having arrived. Of satisfaction.But this relationship is difficult, and messy, and human, and overpowering, and i left Vancouver reeling and not sure how to process my emotions.So here’s the story. and i need to apologize in advance what will be an inSANEly long e-mail length. To make it easier however, i’m not going to bother with a moment to moment play by play of events and what we did, etc. For anyone actually interested, here’s a quick run through.
Chapter 1: What We Did
a. Walked around Vancouver.
b. Hung out at his apartment.
Chapter 2: So, How Was It?
Chapter 3: How Awkward?
I have taken the liberty of designing this easy to understand graph which carefully charts the degrees of awkwardness over the course of the operation.
………………… awkward. l really awkward. l insanely awkward. l awkward level rips hole in space-time continuum.
Chatting in Apartment :_______________________________________________________________________________________________
Going for 4 hour walk around Vancouver : ___________________________________________________________________
Chilling in evening back at apartment : _______________________________________________________________________
Next morning: ______________________________________________________________________________________________________
More Walking: ________________________________________________________________________________________
Having afternoon beer together: ______________________________________________
Being scolded for wolfing down hot dog: ____________________________________________________________________________________
Rest of walk: ________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Going to his mother’s sister’s apt, who he hasn’t seen in 42 years:______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Playing her piano:_
Dinner with ‘Aunt’ Vivian: ________________________________________________________________________________
Driving around Vancouver next morning with Paty’s long lost son Graham (who SHE gave up for adoption years ago, found 8 months ago, and who ALSO happens to live in Vancouver. Folks, i swear as Gd is my witness i’m not making any of this up):___________________________________
Saying Goodbye at airport: ______________________________________________________________________________________________
Chapter 4: So How’d You Feel Afterwards?
I sat in the Vancouver airport, put The Beatles’ “Blackbird” on my ipod, and cried.
Chapter 5: …….Uh……. and then?
Then i got up, bought a bag of sadness donuts, ate them, felt a little better, and boarded my plane.
I gained all the information i ever wanted and more, both about him and about my lineage in general.
I guess the best way to go about this is to start at the very beginning and work our way up through time.
The Gwynne-Craig Family:
1. We come from a long, kind of prestigious lineage in Northern Ireland, and before that, Scotland and Wales.
We have a family crest. Seriously. AND on it a family motto. Straight out of George R.R. Martin.
My grandmother still had rings and seals and stuff like that bearing the family crest. This is it:
The words are: “Live In God That You May Live”
2. I am not simply a Craig, (although i come from the Craig dynasty). The proper family name is Gwynne-Craig.
The Craigs arrived in Ireland at the very, very beginning of the 1600s. (Craig comes from a scottish/welsh word for stone or rock. A crag. Craig.
My ancestor John Craig was very close with John Knox, and was instrumental in helping to found the Protestant Church in Scotland in the mid 1500s. They moved to Ireland in the early 1600s, during the protestant Plantation of Ulster. (Not the greatest bit of history to be associated with)
Thus, James Craig, son of John Knox went with his family to Ireland, specifically to Ulster.
One of the sons married an Irish princess (seriously, this is the family story) from the Gwynne lineage (this family traces back to the Gwyn line from Wales, and goes back before 1000. I need to do research on this line, though.) and the Gwynne-Craig line was born.
Our family manor was seated in County Donegal, and was called Finn View, as it was located on the Finn River. It still exists, and was still in the family in the 20th century. I’m being sent information from some cousins still in the region who i’ll be visiting when i travel to ireland to research my family history in greater detail.
We have long lives. We live in average to the late 90s. My grandmother lived to 95 (and she was an alcoholic for 60 years), her sister, my Aunt Vivian is currently 96, goes on golfing trips and BOWLS. I had dinner with her while in Vancouver. I expected a frail, old woman who could barely get around, much less talk, but she was perfectly active and mentally sharp as a whistle. My great grandfather lived to 102, and on and on with the late 90s/ early 100s.
2. My great-great grandmother was sainted. And not in a figure of speech, but actually sainted. During the Irish potato famine, she sold all her personal lands and possessions in order to feed the those starving in the surrounding township. She kept people for years during the famines and ended her life penniless (but well respected and well loved.) After her death she was sainted.
3. Years later her grandson, my grandfather William Eric Gwynne-Craig was returning to Finn View by train somewhere around WWI when it was boarded by Catholic soldiers looking for Protestant bastards to shoot. They went to pull my grandfather off of the train, but a bunch of men in the train, who didn’t know him, stopped the soldiers. “Wait, he’s a Craig,” they said, in remembrance of my great-great grandmother. The soldiers, local boys, nodded and left.
4. My great grandfather married a Bates, an English family who was in South Africa, and went there to help set up and develop the infrastructure. This is where my grandfather, Willaim Eric (known as Eric) was born.
Eric’s mother despised the socio-political system then in place, and insisted her son be sent back to Ireland to be educated.
Just after he graduated college WWI broke out, and he joined the royal air force and became a fighter pilot. He survived several nasty crashes, one of which punctured his lungs and led to health troubles After the war he went to Canada, where he roamed the Arctic and Canadian tundra for 10 years, living with the Inuits, who at the time were untouched by euro-american civilization. He amassed a large collection of native art which he later donated to the Ottawa national Museum. The Craig Wing of eskimo art and artifacts is still there to this day.
After 10 years in the canadian wilderness he returned to “civilization” and married a Scottish woman named Anne Robertson, and at age 51 began having children. They had 2, John Knox Gwynne Craig, and Patsy Gwynne Craig
John Knox Gwynne Craig:
John, my father, took an early interest in flying and was the second youngest Canadian to ever have a pilot’s license (at age 15).
I asked him what his interests were and he said “Speed. Anything fast. Driving, flying, skiing, you name it.”
“When did you graduate high school?”
He shrugs. “well… it took me a long time. I was busy racing around with my friends, and trying to come up with various schemes to make money.”
He also mentioned that he’s dyslexic and doesn’t see letters properly. “I only know words from lots of memorization. That’s how i had to learn everything, lots and lots of memorization.”
“When i was young I could do anything i wanted since i had no supervision at all. None, man.”
My grandmother, Anne, was a pretty hard core alcoholic, as was her mother before her, going back several generations. John’s sister Patsy started drinking at age 12.
Patsy too became an alcoholic and a real wild child. In 1959 she got pregnant, and unable to care for the baby, gave it up for adoption. She never saw him again until 6 months after i met her. Her son, Graham, through the hard work and diligence of his girlfriend Melissa, tracked Patsy down and called her up. He lives in Vancouver and they met. (while in Vancouver Patsy did try to look for John, but she tried under the name Craig instead of the name Gwynne-Craig.)
Patsy later had another daughter, who she raised, and at age 38 joined AA and quit drinking. I know all these details as history, but knowing her now, she is quite literally a beacon of light, and one of the kindest most beautiful souls i have ever met. She’s married to a great man named Dennis, and although currently in Virginia, they’re building a house near Taos, New Mexico.
Although John loved flying, his sinuses would dry up too much (just like mine do) and he had to stop. He took up skiing and loving the speed, he got really good and became part of the Professional Ski Racing circuit. This led to him traveling around constantly and he eventually he got a green card in the US. He lived in California. He continued traveling the ski circuit and eventually met a hotel receptionist name Jeanie. They fell in love.
They hung out in Lake Tahoe their first summer, both working in hotel that the mob was trying to get off the ground, John bartending and Jeanie running the restaurant. It was a blast and they were offered the opportunity to have steady employment setting up more resorts for the ‘Family’. They declined and instead moved to Aspen, Colorado, where John, because of his notoriety from Ski Racing, became a high paid ski instructor to the rich and famous.
They had a son, T, my brother, who lives in Maui.
John has a lot of stories from this time period. He was very good friends with Hunter S Thompson, who got him into more serious partying, particularly cocain, which would soon become a very bad habit of John’s.
He was very close with Isabella Rosellini. The day after Janis Joplin got booed out of the Hollywood Bowl for being too messed up to perform, he met her by chance in Mexico City, where she had fled alone, and the 2 of them holed up for 3 days on the roof of a hotel, drinking daiquiris from noon to night. (“Didn’t sleep together, though. Just drank daiquiris. For her, it was sobering up. Her nose would bleed a lot.)
He was living high and fast. The coke and drinking got out of control, and he slept around like a man slut. His marriage fell apart. His wife turned into an alcoholic herself.
Around this time he started having an affair with a hot, hippie chick who was a ski-bum in Vail, Colorado.
Since this hippie chick had been told years before that she could never get pregnant, they didn’t ever use protection.
As we all know by now, she damn well did get pregnant (Yay!).
When asked about what he remembered about Gaile, the only thing i got was “She had these really, really bad menstrual cycles. Lots of blood and really bad cramps. She’d collapse on the street when the cramps started and you’ve have to carry her home where she’s hole up for 3 days.” (Well, it was the only thing he remembered)
Exactly at this time Jeanie caught him with aNOTHer woman and divorced the crap out of him. The divorce was brutal. He had a lot of money, but Jeanie took everything.
“I’ve had 3 nervous breakdowns in my life. I mean totally crazy in the head breakdowns. You should be careful to watch out for that.”
I asked when and why. The first one was the divorce from Jeanie. As to why or how:
“The thing is, I’m really, really emotional. I can’t see chick flicks because i get weepy at the drop of a hat. But the thing is, I hold it all in. I just keep it all inside, and eventually i just crack and break apart completely.”
Anyway, totally strung out on a major coke habit, drinking like a fish, slutting around like a man-ho, marriage crashing and burning, wife taking every penny he had, he fell apart. One night his wife’s divorce attorney crashed his car and died, and the police came looking for John.
He bought a one way ticket to Europe where he grabbed a 3 month eurorail pass and drank his way across europe.
One night, in Antwerp, the police found him blitzed out on the train, an expired ticket taped to his chest, and dragged him off to jail.
A catholic priest came and pulled John out of prison.
The priest took him to a rehab there in Antwerp, where he stayed for months, working as a janitor.
Eventually he left and went to the Isle Of Wight. he got a job as a dock-boy in a yacht yard. He became friends with some of the wealthy yacht owners, and one of them paid for John to go get his Skipper’s License.
Thus John became a Skipper for various yachts and schooners, becoming very involved in yacht racing, where wealthy men paid him quite handsomely to race their boats.
He also would pilot large yachts around europe for wealthy owners and eventually made his way to the middle east.
He skippered for various wealthy Arabians, wealthy princes, oil barons, and even the Shah of Iran.
“These rich Persian girls and princesses would take all their girlfriends and go cruising the european party circuit in their yacht. Them, all their girlfriends, and their Korean bodygaurds. No matter who it was, the bodygaurds were always Korean. As soon as they’d pull out of the Middle East they’d start drinking like whales. The men too, as soon as they took off their durkas they’d go crazy. The west for them was one big debaucherous party zone. The girls, man, they were horny as hell. All of them were circumcised, though. All of them. That’s a tragic thing….”
He would pilot the Shah of Iran’s boat regularly, and in the mid to late 70s was given a briefcase with $18,000 cash to take the Shah’s boat from Iran to Miami with a sealed hull he wasn’t allowed to ever open.
“So i drove it across the Atlantic, to New York, where i’d follow the coast down to Miami. Bu as soon as i got to US waters, the coast guard was sitting waiting for me. I thought, shit, what’s in this hull, i’m going to jail for life… but they just escorted me all the way down to Florida. Must have been some CIA approved plan. I eventually found out that the hull contained 25 million dollars worth of paintings the Shah was fleeing iran with. Then the revolution hit and the Ayatollah came to power.”
“You know, 3 times in my life i had lots of money. And 3 times i had it taken away. The first time was with Jeanie, and the divorce wiped me out. The second time was skippering all the yachts. I had a house in Spain, a house in France….”
Me: “What happened?”
John: “Women happened.”
Me: ” So what, you just gave them the houses?”
John: “Pretty much.”
He started moving further east, into the orient, now mostly piloting science vessels. Teams of scientist from all sorts of companies, corporations and what not would rent vessels to conduct ocean research and he would be the driver.
He spent a lot of time sailing out of India, Singapore, Thailand, Bangkok, etc.
In a hotel in the Philippines, he picked up a Philippino maid. They eventually fell in love.
She turned out to be the daughter of the hotel’s owner, and together they set up a resort on one of the islands. He would spend a few months skippering ships and a few months building the resort. It became quite successful and he was happy on the island with his wife.
“The resort was the 3rd time i had lots of money. We did real well. It was a beautiful, beautiful place. Had it all. Then my wife died. I wasn’t legally allowed to own property so it was all in her name. It reverted to her family who swooped in and took it all. Paid me pennies on the dollar. Just took it.”
“This was when i had my second nervous breakdown. I just fell apart.”
His wife dead, his enterprise taken from him, in 1996 he returned to Vancouver where he had been brought up.
Soon after arriving, he started coughing up blood and finding blood in his stools.
“I went to the hospital. They ran some tests, and the next thing i know i’m in a quarantine chamber, with attending doctors dressed in full body plastic suits drooling over my lab results. It turns out i had Tuberculosis, the same kind as that guy on the airplane had a few months back, worms living in my intestines, i had already been de-wormed once in Bangkok, but i guess it didn’t take, Dingy Fever, Dysentery, Bell’s Hausy Disease….
“I had just been walking around with all this stuff for who knows how long. The doctors were swooning with delight. I was a walking case study and they ran entire medical classes and lectures me. It took awhile, but they they eventually cured it all.”
Me: “Bloody hell! How’d you get all this crap?”
John: “The orient, there’s no hygiene. On the Ganji River, we be anchored in the middle of the river and dead bodies just float past. That’s how they get rid of their dead, just throw them in the river. The mosquitoes and flies, they’re feeding on the corpses then crawling on your food. Plus the drinking water…”
“So i got over all this stuff, and i’m doing all right. I’m going back for checkups and then bam, in 2004 i get diagnosed with liver cancer. A tumor the size of a baseball. They do laser surgery and take it out and i start a year of chemotherapy.
“It was too much. I couldn’t take it. This was third time i had a breakdown. I decided to kill myself. I wanted to die so bad… I got a whole bunch of pills together to do it.
I didn’t though. I don’t know why. I really wanted to. I never looked my age just like you, but after the diseases and the chemo, i suddenly aged very quickly. But the chemo ended and i was okay again. “
And he is. He darts around at a rapid walking pace, occasionally breaking into full runs when he thinks a light will change.
And then one day, his sister, who he hadn’t seen or spoken to in 38 years, called him out of the blue.
They Skype now every day, talking for hours. He will soon meet his long lost other son, T (i don’t need to name names) who he last saw at age 4, 38 years ago.
And there you have it. The conclusion to my journey. I have met my birth father, i have learned of his life, i have discovered my lineage and ancestry.
I don’t feel as… i thought i’d feel a sense of closure but i don’t at all. And as interesting as it was, i didn’t… actually… like the guy. But i have finally answered the greatest mystery of my life.
Paul Shapera (Gwynne-Craig)