Saturday, 26th. I have spent all of today upstairs among the books in the library, going through volumes bound in crumbling calf, and through Uncle John's old notebook on Salem, which is filled with the notes he took concerning his forebears' — and my own — involvement in the Trials.
I have been buried in these notes, and in the books, going from one to the other in an attempt to piece together a coherent narrative, and it appears I shall have to do the same for several days more.
It would have been easier for me simply to go to the library of one of the colleges in the area, and get some books more recently written. But, though I may make errors, I prefer to go back into the past myself, here in a Putnam house, with my uncle's books and crabbed calligraphy rising up off the desk to envelop me in those days of darkness and folly.
I prefer my own narrative to another's, for I am involved in it, and it is of a piece with this place where I have come to find out who I am, and in what age I am born.
Thursday, 1st. The narrative is finished. I am astonished and sickened by the involvement of my Putnam ancestors in this New England madness at Salem — actually, Salem Village, now Danvers, Massachusetts — in 1692. There has been revelation after revelation, among them being these:
The original American homestead of my many-times great grandfather, John Putnam, was Oak Knoll which, in the 19th century, became the home of the poet John Greenleaf Whittier. I own a letter written by Whittier datelined Oak Knoll.
I am a direct descendant, on my mother's side, of Constable "Carolina" John Putnam, who arrested many of the accused witches on warrants sworn out by the Putnams on "spectral evidence" given in to the Court by his aunt, Ann Putnam Sr., and his cousin, Ann Putnam Jr., one of the "witch-bitches," so-called, who threw fits in the courtroom and screamed that the spectres of the witches were tormenting them.
I had thought to paste the story into this journal, just as I lay-in the pages of my novel, so that the many things might lie side by side between covers — past and present aimed along these blue lines filled with emptiness, where I might come to look back and see things clearly at last. But the story of Salem is so depressing, so manic, that I think nothing good can come of that plan. Instead, I will put the story into Uncle John's file folder which I will lock in the safe. Let darkness swallow it.
It has been nearly a week since I have written an entry. The days have been quiet, and at the same time intense, for both Cara and me. I am exhausted. Cara has been busy today with the plant life we gathered in these old Maine fields of Uncle John's last Friday, doing with the herbs, roots, and seeds whatever it is a horticulturist does in the Fall to prepare for gardening in the Spring. The house is filled with the aromas of Autumn, and Cara walks like Ceres among her sere gatherings.
The other morning, while I was working, I heard a car drive into the dooryard and then, a little later, the voice of Rafe Hawkins downstairs visiting Cara. She must have told him I was busy, for they didn't disturb me. Yesterday morning I again heard the Rev. Rafe downstairs talking with Cara. A little while later I heard his car drive away, and I went back to my work. It went very fast, and I stopped around eleven-thirty in the morning for a rest. I leaned back and listened to the house. It was very quiet. I got up, went downstairs, looked into the parlor and livingroom — not even Catch was in sight. I went into the kitchen and called, "Cara?"
She often works outdoors, or goes into the woods looking for plants. I opened the door, but she wasn't in the dooryard. Her car was still there, though. I walked around the house into the riveryard and called, but got no answer. So I went back to work.
Around noon I heard a car pull up outside and a door slam, and then the car drove away. About fifteen minutes later Cara called upstairs, "Want some lunch, Charles? It's ready." I went down to eat and said nothing. She did not volunteer an explanation for her absence.
I wish I could be shut of women for all time.
While I was visiting Old Salem, the weather broke finally, and Vertumnus has come out of hiding to turn the sundial toward another season. It is cool enough now to brave the attic. Tomorrow Cara and I will go aloft and chase out the squirrels that scrabble all night on the ceiling.
Friday, 2nd. When we opened the attic door we found three bats lying dead on the lowest steps. They were the first thing we cleaned up. Cara made a face. "I know it's supposed to be a folk-tale," she said, "but they get tangled in your hair sometimes."
The stairs are narrow, so I went up first; Catch brought up the rear. We found a room at the top where the nineteenth century lay about in old trunks, or stood stacked against the walls, or hung from nails in the rafters.
The chimney piled up through the floor and thrust itself through the roof among old harness, lanterns, picture frames in gold leaf-and-scrollwork. There were boxes filled with collections of buttons and shells, like portions of some baroque seashore caught and held in an eddy of time. Faded dresses and suits stood in racks along the wall. A child's sleigh rode the dust on its deep wooden runners with iron rims.
"There they are," Cara said. In the colored sun that filtered through webs and the husks of trapped flies I saw the mattresses at which she was pointing: a stack of them piled upon an old bedstead. The feathers were leaking out of them, and the holes in the ticking were small tunnels obviously well-used. I felt sorry, for a moment, that we had to destroy such an evidently comfortable squirrel apartment dwelling.
"How am I supposed to get these outdoors without messing up the entire house?"
That's an interesting question," Cara said. She stood beside me, and while I wasn't looking she leaned to peck me on the nape of the neck. She moved closer, and I put my arm around her.
"How about the window in the other room?" I pointed through a doorway beside the chimney where the eastern light broached the gloom through large panes. She nodded, and we went in to see.
The room was where Uncle John had kept the eighteenth century. There was some very old furniture: a rope bed, two spinning wheels, one of them quite large. There was a real cobbler's bench, its surface shredded and pitted and dry. The wood was gray with age. On it, some buttermoulds and candlemoulds. In corners stood wooden churns and sugar buckets, a Puritan flail, a mortar and pestle made of wood.
"What a beautiful old place!" Cara exclaimed. Her eyes, out of that lovely oval face, touched each thing with their glance.
I tried the window and was surprised to find how easily it opened. It simply lifted, and I propped it wide with a cane.
I told Cara to stand aside. "Let me help," she said, but I shook my head.
"Those mattresses are filthy. No use our both getting messed up." So, while I dragged the bedding from the other room t the window, she wandered about considering things and picking them up.
I took each mattress and heaved it through the window. It would flop out, feathers spraying out of it on its journey and exploding out o n impact with a soft, large pluf! There were six of them, and it didn't take long. I had just thrown out the last one when a voice from below called up, "What the hell is going on up there?" Cara and I looked out to see Rafe Hawkins standing in the dooryard by his car. A few feathers were falling out of the air onto his shoulders and head. He picked off the ones he could see.
"Stop using fowl language," I called. Pluck up, you're looking down in the mouth. If you're going to be chicken, learn to duck."
I heard him groan and say, "What, can't you get a goose in there somewhere?"
Cara distributed upon him and me a look of forbearance mingled with slight distaste. "We're cleaning the squirrels out of the attic," she called down.
"Weird looking squirrels," Rafe said, looking up. "All I can see is a pair. Well, have a nice time. I've gotta get to school." He waved and got into his wagon.
"Rafe's taken to dropping in just about every morning, hasn't he?"
"Yes," Cara said, "for coffee. He's a batch, and he likes to talk, so he drops by."
As Rafe drove off we turned to go downstairs. Cara brought the mortar and pestle with her, and a set of candlemoulds.
I got out the tractor and trailer and disposed of the mattresses in one of the gullies that spring across the north fields and fall away to the river. Then I went back up attic to strew mothballs over the floors, hoping to persuade the squirrels that the place was unlivable.
We are beset by animals here. Hardly a day goes by that Catch doesn't present us with a mole or a shrew or a mouse. He's even caught snakes and toads, leaving their carcasses in the year or anywhere in the house. Raccoons get into our garbage pails unless we leave food out for them on the kitchen steps, which we've begun to do regularly. It's much easier than cleaning up after them.
Crickets have begun coming into the house to live, now that the weather is colder. Cara feeds them crumbs, and they sing to each other across the hearth. This evening I was in the living room listening to them when Cara came in. She had two cob pipes, and she handed me one. It startled me. For a moment I was confused, and then I realized what she was doing. Obviously, one of the herbs we had gathered, and that I hadn't recognized, had been marijuana.
I've smoked the stuff very little, because it doesn't affect me the way it seems to affect other people. Back at school, in fact, it had been Cara three or four years earlier who had introduced me to the weed. I'm very leery of anything that touches or threatens my thinking. I drink very little alcohol, even.
The first few times I'd smoked, I hadn't been affected at all. Then, finally, at a party, I had gotten quite high. While everyone else seemed to be receiving pleasure from the smoke, I simply found that the top half of my head was where I was — my body was left behind. I became an observer of myself, and I felt very little connection between what was occurring in my brain, and the things my body was doing. It frightened me.
Now, as Cara handed me the pipe, I was taken with a fleeting suspicion of her. Why did she want to mess with my mind? I was about to refuse, but I looked into her eyes and found there nothing but contentment. I told myself she merely wanted to please me, and I think that's true. So I took it, and we smoked. It was pleasant this time. We got a mellow high on, and we talked about our menagerie as we watched Catch's black silhouette against the fire searching for the crickets between the bricks.
We got to laughing. I went upstairs to bring down George Riley's The Beauties of Creation; or, a New Moral System of Natural History; displayed in the Most Singular, Curious, and Beautiful, Quadrupeds, Birds, Insects, Trees, and Flowers..., published by William Young, Philadelphia, 1792; and Jedidiah Morse's The American Universal Geography, Vol. I, Young and Etheridge, Boston, 1793. I read some entries to her: "The Camelopard somewhat resembles the deer in form, without its symmetry. It has been found eighteen feet high, and ten from the ground to the top of the shoulder. The hinder parts are so low, that, when standing upright, it greatly resembles a dog sitting."
Cara began to giggle uncontrollably. I read on, about the Hippotame, Ourang Outang, the Dodo, the greater Butcher Bird. "This one's my favorite," I said; "Riley says of Owls, '...these birds employ the night in devastation....'"
"It would be," Cara said. Her laughter had been growing brittle, and had finally ceased altogether.
"The cock of the Twite species '...is known by a red spot on the rump. Food. Rape and canary; but they like the latter best.'"
There was nothing in the room but strata of smoke lying across the air when I turned to Morse and read Cara about a fabulous animal of Norway: "'The glutton, otherwise called the erven, or vielfras, resembles a dog; with a long body, thick legs, sharp claws and teeth; his fur, which is variegated, is so precious, that he is shot with blunt arrows, to preserve the skin unhurt: He is bold, and so ravenous, that it is said he will devour a carcase larger than himself, and unburdens his stomach by squeezing himself between two close-standing trees....'"
"What?" Cara asked, staring. I read her the last part again, and she said, "You don't want to be standing behind him when he does that." We laughed for a long while.
When we had quieted, I told her I had something else to read her, and I went and got the third letter from Wesley Court, which I hadn't yet read myself.
"Lowell Jan 11 1860
"I received your letter this morning. Was much pleased to here from my old friend. Yesterday there was the greatest accident in Lawrence that ever happened in any the northern states. About four Oclock the Pemberton Mills fell in killing about 500 persons. I will send you a paper containing the whole facts, you can see them better than I can tell you. The cars have run extra trains all day. I had an invitation to go to Lawrence last night but could not leave it is about 9 miles from here. Lowell seems like Frankfort today all the folks have gone to Lawrence.
"You said you had a dance newyears night. I should like to of been there. There is a furnul just passing the store, they are carrying off some there friends. It would bee a good thing if they was all caryed off, for they don't smell good. The irish are worse then the 7 years itch.
I have just been out to get two papers but could not get but half ones.
"I want you to give one to Farther & read the other your self. It is now six O’clock & they have not got them all out yet.
"P.S. I think you boys had better let Albert alone if he has amind to hug a girl, let him do it — poor boy, dont get the chance every day as you do.
"I received a letter from home to day said Louisa has married good on her head & Georges too I am going to be one these days.
"Pleas dont let any one see this for I commenced it just after diner & wrote aword to a time.
"How is it Chas. does Henry to up to Blind mans hill now
"I am going up to Mrs Erskines to night, there is a young lady from Richmond Me there her name is L J ask Henry who it is
"Write oftener or Ile pull your hair when I come home next Fall
Cara and I were both depressed by the time I had finished. I have sat up late waiting for my head to clear. Catch is sleeping with Cara; she says she will call him Wesley from now on, as they are both dark persons. If I sit quietly, I can hear the squirrels still.
Calais, France, May 18, 1968 (AP) — Low tide yesterday uncovered a plane, presumably of World War II, with the remains of the pilot still at the controls. Its origin could not be determined immediately.
I am standing in the window of the tower at an artist’s colony in upstate New York, and I am looking down at the fountain behind the mansion because I can think of nothing to write today. That’s why I’m here, I’m supposed to be writing.
The man is walking toward the fountain, and the sky is blue. He stops at the wall and looks at the sculpture of two nude nymphs and a satyr that lies against the woods under the mountain.
In his pressed white jacket the man leaves the fountain, and the sky is still blue. The man stops beneath me on the lawn. He is waiting. The wall stops as well and surrounds the white sculpture of two nude nymphs and the satyr who lie beside the woods under the mountain. In the other rooms of the mansion people are writing things, and in the studios on the grounds artists are painting and sculptors are sculpting.
No one is left to look at the fountain, and the sky is less blue. One nymph stands and yawns in the white sculpture of two nudes and a smiling satyr lying beside the woods under the mountain. The first nymph stretches her arms above the fountain, and now the sky is clouding. The other trails her fingers in the green hue of the pool where the nymphs and satyr lie beside the woods beneath the mountain.
Above, I stand in the tower window watching. I should be sitting before my laptop tapping on the keys, listening to the patter of words falling onto the virtual page, but the mist of the water in the fountain is a curtain, and the sky is clouding.
The man in the jacket returns to the sculpture where the two nude nymphs and the satyr lie still beside the woods beneath the mountain. The mist of the water is a curtain, and the sky is cloudy. Now a girl trails her fingers in the aquamarine of the pool where the nymphs and the satyr lie beside the woods by the still mountain, where the man stands looking at the sculpture and at the girl as I stand watching rather than writing in the tower window.
I was driving on the eastern outskirts of Dresden, Maine, coming from Wiscasset, when I saw a sign I'd not seen before that read, "ABE NAKI TRADING POST." Because I love a good trade I stopped and went in where I saw a man standing at the counter. I walked up to him and asked, "Are you Abraham?"
"Abraham?" He replied with a quizzical look in his eyes.
"Aren't you? I assumed it was short for 'Abraham.' Aren't you Mr. Naki?"
"Mr. Naki! Are you a wise guy or something?"
I was nonplussed. "Me? Why do you say that? You look sort of Japanese to me, at least Asian of some kind. Isn't 'Naki' a Japanese name?"
A change came over him, especially his eyes. "Get the fuck out of my store," he said as he came around the corner of the counter. He picked up a hatchet as he came toward me.
I backed away. "What did I do?"
"Do?" He asked. "Do? You're too stupid to DO anything except misread 'Abenaki,' the name of my tribe, for some Japanese guy named 'Abe Naki.'" As I dived into my car he said, "New York plates! I should'a known," and he kicked my fender as I sped away.
The new issue, No. 14, Fall 2015, of the periodical Trinacria, edited by Joseph Salemi, is just out with my poem titled, “The Old Comedienne” and, as a bonus, a review by the editor of The Hero Enkidu: An Epic by Lewis Turco, New York: Bordighera Press (www.BordigheraPress.org ), VIA Folios 107, 2015, 101 pp. ISBN 978-1-59954-098-6, trade paperback. Here is the last paragraph:
“Taken as a whole, The Hero Enkidu is an amazing and admirable accomplishment by a poet whose record of achievement is indisputable, and which is now capped by this vigorous modern re-imagination of an ancient myth. It is exactly the kind of tour de force that we would expect from a master craftsman such as Lewis Turco.” – Joseph Salemi.
Almost all my life I have known that my last name, Turco, in Italian means what it says: “Turk.” It dates, I understand, from the period of the Arab rule of Sicily from the ninth to the tenth centuries, and it is not an uncommon name in Sicily where my father was born. Since there was no such place as Turkey at the time, the word simply means “Arab” or “Moor”; moreover, according to Halbert’s1, a Turco family coat of arms can be found in Rietstap Armorial General, and the shield is described as “Silver with a Turk, facing front, dressed in a blue tunic and red pantaloons; wearing a red turban on his head, holding in his right hand a silver scroll, and in his left hand a silver scimitar trimmed gold. Family mottos are believed to have originated as battle cries in medieval times, but a motto was not recorded with the Turco coat of arms.”
However, I am something of a cynic, and I have long believed in an adage that would serve well for any family’s motto: “It is the wise child that knows its father.” Since everyone has trampled over Sicily since time began, including Sicils, Greeks, Romans, Carthaginians, French, Vikings, Normans, Danes, English, and so on ad infinitum, many of them raping and pillaging as they wandered across the countryside, I assumed that somewhere along the line there must have been a break in the chain and that my name might as easily have been Smith or Jones as Turco. So when it became possible, I decided to have my DNA tested to see where I really came from.
In 2006 I participated in the National Geographic Human Genome Project2 and discovered that my blood confirms what my name asserts: I am paternally a Turk through and through! Males are traced genetically through the Y-DNA marker which is passed down unchanged from father to son over generations; women are traced through their mothers’ mitochondrial DNA which is passed from mother to daughter, also unchanged. Of course every now and then, at great intervals, both Y-DNA and MT-DNA do take on characteristics that differentiate them from other evolutionary lines, and these mutated lines can be traced.
So far as can be discerned with the data currently at hand, it turns out that my father’s branch of the Turco family is part of a group of people about which little is known. My Y-chromosome results identify us as members of haplogroup G, “a lineage defined,” my National Geographic report stated, “by a genetic marker called M201” which had its origin some 60,000 years ago with an ancient Y-chromosome marker called M168.
According to Spencer Wells3 there was a single male who lived perhaps 75,000-100,000 years ago whose mutated Y-chromosome is carried by every male currently alive. Although scientists call this person “Genetic Adam,” or “Eurasian Adam,” in fact he was not likely the first fully human male, but none of the other males alive at the time have passed down to posterity their particular genetic markers. Adam’s line is the only one to have survived and proliferated.
A descendant of Adam identified by a mutation called “M94” was an inhabitant of the East African savannahs 75,000 years ago, and it was he who was the progenitor of most modern males because he was the founder of all haplogroups from B through R (haplogroup A did not leave Africa in ancient times). A later mutation on this male line called “M168” 60,000 years in the past is believed to have lived in an area that includes what is now Ethiopia in Africa, and he is the founder of haplogroups C through R.
To the north of Africa, according to Spencer, an ice age was developing and drying up Africa’s ecology to the extent that at least two groups that were descended from M168 migrated from Africa. The first group left around 60,000 years ago, and they are believed to have gone east following the southern coast of Asia populating southeast Asia, Australia, southern China, and the islands of the Pacific Ocean. A few appear to have been reunited with their by-then-distant kinsmen in North America about 10,000 years ago. A second wave of M168 emigrants from Africa traveled to the east and the north from the area of what is now the Sahara through Egypt and the Middle East.
A mutant marker on the M168 line called “M89” inhabited what became Mesopotamia and is now Iraq perhaps 45,000 years ago. As the founder of haplogroup F, this male was the ancestor of all the members of haplogroups G through R which include almost all Middle Eastern, European, Asian, and native American males. Several groups of M89 males traveled in various directions to a variety of places, but the founder of haplogroup G appears to have lived around 30,000 years ago in the area of the Indus Valley in what is now northern Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Up to around 10,000 years ago the members of haplogroups G through J were hunter-gatherers, but those people who lived in what is known as the “Fertile Crescent” developed agriculture, and “settled civilization” became possible — not only possible, but established, and disseminated far and wide. Populations expanded, farming and farmers followed the pioneers along the shores and through the islands of the Mediterranean, into the lands now called Turkey (since the early 20th century), the Balkans, and the Caucasus. The Indo-European language and its offshoots were soon to be found in northern India — including the Indus Valley — the Middle East, and Europe.
The Indus Valley civilization was the largest of the four great early civilizations including Mesopotamia in the Fertile Crescent, Egypt, South Asia, and China, but it is the one that is least known and understood because, unlikely as it may seem, it was discovered only in the 1920’s! How it was possible for modern mankind to live unwittingly among the ruins of this Indus civilization in one of the most populous regions of the Earth is confounding, but so they did, and still do. Archaeological researches are in their infancy there, and very little is known of the early tongues of the Indus because few language-bearing artifacts, most of them square stone seals with indecipherable symbols and animal motifs, have been found. So far, for lack of a Rosetta Stone, none of those scripts can be read, but we can recognize the animals, in particular the mythical unicorn, the bull, the rhinoceros, and the elephant. However, some of the major Indus cities have been identified and explored to a certain degree.
The first, Harappa, discovered in the western part of South Asia during the early 19th century, flourished from about 2600 to 1700 BCE. Its inhabitants built with bricks of the same size as were found in other Indus cities such as Mohenjo Daro and Dholavira. Harappa had well laid-out wide streets, public and private water supplies and distribution-drainage systems. Remnants of this Indus civilization exist in the south from the former Bombay in India to the Himalayas and Afghanistan in the north, and in the east from beyond New Delhi in Uttar Pradesh to Baluchistan, Pakistan, in the west, adjacent to the border of Iran.
Since there is evidence that trade existed between Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley Civilization, some of those members of haplogroup G living in its western portion must have gravitated toward the major centers of the Middle East. The westernmost Harappan site is Sutkagen Dor, located on the border of Pakistan and Iran on what once was, apparently, a navigable inlet of the Sea of Arabia and thus part of the trade route to Mesopotamia — in particular the fishing trade — between 3500 and 1700 BCE. This is the route, or one similar to it, that the early Turcos must have taken on their way to Sicily.
Gazing at a map of the world, one sees that a straight line drawn between the Indus River and a spot just below Sicily in what is now Tunisia, the ancient site of Carthage (not that our forebears followed anything like a straight line) crosses Iran (once Persia), Iraq (once Mesopotamia), Arabia, Jordan / Syria, Egypt, and Libya. Other modern countries in the area between the Indus and Tunisia are Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkey, and Israel / Palestine.
Family Tree DNA is the name of the Internet organization that administers the DNA results of those people who have been tested and agreed to have their results publicly posted. Subgroups of FTDNA include organizations that follow individual haplogroups, including the Haplogroup G web group. There are other specialty groups including the Turk Name group, and the Sicily Project, to all three of which I belong. Peter Christy, administrator of the Haplogroup G organization, in an e-mail message dated October 27, 2006, wrote me, “Our haplogroup is seeking members from the Middle East and adjacent areas, but with little success. There are a number of ‘high profile’ members of the Saudi royal family, as well as a claimant to the throne of Iraq, Sharif Ali bin al-Hussein, that are members of Haplogroup G. Perhaps by your efforts to publicize our haplogroup in Saudi Aramco World, [to the editors of which I wrote a letter on October 25, 2006, to which, as of February 8, 2007, I have not had a response] readers familiar with that part of the world may come to realize that they are a significant source of additional members.
“We have been attempting to contact those who have already been tested, but with little success. Bill Van Hemert has been using modal matching to profiles of known members of our haplogroup to find candidates who are registered at Ysearch. As you might expect, few of our emails even get through to the intended recipients and even fewer respond. All we have is some tantalizing clues left by a long list of potential Haplogroup G members with names that start ‘Al-‘ e.g., Al-Blais, Al-Bukhary, Al-Khalili, Al-Kureishi, Al-Qureshi, Al-Rikabi, Al-Ruwaili, Al-Sada, Al-Saman, Al-Shaibani, Al-Suwaidi and Al-Wazzan!” There is evidence that members of the haplogroup once served as members of the Persian cavalry.
The history of the swift spread of Islam is amazing. Muhammad was born in the Arabian city of Mecca circa 570 CE. Around 610 he experienced a revelatory vision, began to write what became the Koran, and in 613 he began to preach publicly. He left Mecca and settled in Medina in 622, and he died in 632 CE. Only sixty-five years later Islamic Arabs, many of them Moors — a mixture of Arabs and Berbers — lived in North Africa and occupied what was left of Carthage which had been destroyed in classical times and was again destroyed in 698. Today it is a wealthy suburb of Tunis.
In the ninth century CE, around 820, the Tunisian Arabs began to set up trading posts in Sicily. Incredibly, they were soon invited by Euphemius, a Byzantine general, to invade the island, and on June 13, 827, they did so from the town of Sousse, 120 km south of Carthage, with ten thousand infantry and seven hundred cavalry. According to Sandra Benjamin, “Although the invaders originated in many parts of the Muslim empire (including Spain), most of the men were Berbers (from the North African coast) and Arabs (from farther east).” Seventy-five years later, on August 1, 902, the Arabs captured Tauromenium, the Byzantine capital and the last unconquered Sicilian city. All the inhabitants were slain and the city burned to the ground.5
Surnames began to be used only about 1000 years ago, so the surname “Turco” dates from about 1000 CE, the eleventh century or 100 years after the Arab conquest of Sicily, that is to say about the same time as the Norman conquest of both England and Sicily. Sicily was the earlier to be conquered, by the brothers Hauteville, Robert the elder and Roger the younger who did most of the fighting, conquering Massena in 1061.
The Hautevilles’ success is said to have inspired both the envy and ambition of their countryman William the Conqueror who invaded and subjugated England in 1066. Although he never ruled there, he pretended to the kingship of Sicily as well. It was William who ordered the Domesday Boke of England to be written in 1086, and it was in this statistical survey that surnames were first assigned to every family. Something similar during this period was occurring throughout Europe, including Sicily.
Michael Maddi who administers the FTDNA Sicily Project, in an e-mail message dated October 27, 2006, wrote me, “Have you noticed that out of 81 yDNA results in the Sicily Project, 10 are in the G haplogroup? That’s about 12%. This has been the biggest surprise to me so far in our Sicily Project results. My guess, based on my previous reading, was that we would have maybe 5%.
“I have always wondered what the Arab contribution is to Sicily’s genetic pool. It’s hard to figure out how many people of Arab ancestry remained in Sicily after the crackdown by Frederick II on Muslims about 1230. (Frederick actually had good relations with Muslim rulers and spoke Arabic and appreciated the scientific knowledge promoted by Muslim scholars. It was the Vatican which demanded that he expel Muslims from Sicily.) One book I read recently [see Benjamin, op. cit.] said that 1/3 of Sicily’s population was ethnically Arab when the Normans defeated the Muslim rulers around 1075. The town where my paternal grandparents were born, Mezzojuso, was founded by the Muslim rulers in the 10th century. It remained a majority Muslim town until about 1220, when Muslim rebellions in western Sicily and the subsequent crackdown led to many Muslims fleeing their towns for mountain refuges.
“I think our [haplogroup] G results, if they continue to stay above 10%, indicate that there is significant Arab deep ancestry in Sicilians and Sicilian-Americans.”
The branch of the Turco family to which I belong has long resided in Riesi, a village in south-central Sicily. The closest city of any size is Licata, on the south coast. Although I know for a fact that a number of my relatives still live in the area, at the end of 2006 I was the only person worldwide with the surname Turco who has been identified through DNA analysis as belonging to haplogroup G2. (My son and my brother and his sons may be presumed to be members in this country.)
According to Halberts (op. cit.) “Census records available disclose the fact that there are approximately 450 heads of households in the United States with the old and distinguished Turco name. The United States Census Bureau estimates that there are approximately 3.2 persons per household in America today which yields an approximate total of 1440 people in the United States carrying the Turco name. Although the figure seems relatively low, it does not signify the many important contributions that individuals bearing the Turco name have made to history.”
In fact, although I am not so far as I know related to any of them, a survey of recent volumes of R. R. Bowker’s Books in Print yields a seemingly disproportionate number of Turcos who are authors: Richard P. Turco is a science writer who has collaborated with Carl Sagan; Peggy Turco is a nature writer; Marco Turco writes travel books; Christopher Turco (not the Christopher who is my son, a musician) pens science fiction; Laura Lo Turco has written on the pyramids of Egypt; Ronald, on crime; Lorenzo Del Turco is an art historian; Vincent J. Turco publishes in the field of medicine; Douglas is a sports writer; Alfred is a scholar of English literature; Emanuele, diplomacy; Frank, food; Antonio, chemistry; Michael P., the Everglades; Page Turco is a media writer and performer; Salvatore J. is a nutritionist, and Mario Turco, a music historian. One recollects that the Moor on the Turco crest in his left hand wields a saber, but in his right he flourishes a scroll!
Apparently, none of these people has ever had his or her DNA tested. However, analysis shows that a person with a different surname, Frank Ricchiazzi of Laguna Beach, California, is rather closely related to my people although all of his family is from Montalbano, a suburb of Messina in the northeast corner of the island, and Santa Maria. (Is there a connection between this family name and the Arabic name Al-Rikabi mentioned above?) On December 11, 2006, he wrote in an e-mail message, “Clearly, our DNA shows a lineage going into the Indus region many centuries ago.
“Right now, I’m trying to find the time when my lineage first came to Montalbano. I have traced each grandparent to approximately 1500, but there does not appear to be any way to go beyond that date because I have exhausted the furthest points of the church records and the Rivelli in Palermo.
“My thought is that sometime in the late 1400’s, there may be some information from the Kingdom of Two Sicilies that had a notation of a [member of my family] given some land in the Montalbano area. That of course means trying to locate some records from that Kingdom.
“One thing that you and I and others who do this research can say: Every day brings a new finding or another piece to the puzzles of who we are. Thank you for sharing your information.”
My first name, “Lewis,” is also a family name in both my paternal and maternal lines; it was originally a Middle English version of the French masculine “Louis,” of Franco-Germanic origin, derived from the German “Ludwig,” “hlōd” (fame) and “wīg” (war): “famous warrior.” The French “Louis” (pronounced lu-EE) was a common name among royalty and the nobility, dating from the 8th century King Louis I, son of Charlemagne. Louis XVI, last in the line of that name, was executed in 1793 during the French Revolution. The name was imported to Great Britain after the Norman Conquest in 1066; its spelling was often Anglicized as “Lewis.”
Various versions of the name include my father’s first name, “Luigi” (Italian — he had no middle name), “Aloysius” (Provençal), “Luis” (Spanish), and “Ludvig” (a “v” instead of the German “w,” Scandinavian). Pet or short forms of the name are Lou, Lew, Louie, Lewie, and Geno (Italian). In 2009 “Louis” was the 4th most popular boy’s name in France. The British prefer the spelling Lewis, but Americans usually opt for the French spelling. “Lewis” is currently the second most popular name in Scotland, the 27th most popular in the UK, and the 30th most popular in Northern Ireland. Lewis is also a popular name in Australia and New Zealand.
My middle name is “Putnam” (Lewis Putnam Turco) which was my mother’s maiden name (May Laura Putnam), and my namesake, “Lewis Putnam” (b.1763) was the second son of my triple-great grandfather Asa Putnam (1743-1795}. An earlier member of the family was George Puttenham (1529-1590), author of the first book on poetics and prosody in the English language, The Arte of English Poesy (1589).
Traditionally, Weird (Fortune) seems to smile on men named “Lewis” and is augmented by optimism and good-nature. Lewis has a quick wit, a cerebral mind, and is usually persuasive. The bearer of this name traditionally is believed to love the excitement of life and can easily adapt to all situations. A natural adventurer, Lewis thrives on the new and unexpected and prefers to be in constant motion. It makes him feel alive. Lewis will stir up some action if there's not enough around. Naturally rebellious, Lewis has no fear and never resists change. Traveling and new experiences feed his soul; he is social, attracts friends with ease — people enjoy being around Lewis’s humor and energy.
1”Turco Coat of Arms, Historiography,” Bath, Ohio: Halberts, n.d.
2National Geographic Human Genome Project, on-line at www.NationalGeographic.com.
3Wells, Spencer, The Journey of Man—A Genetic Odyssey, New York: Random House, 2004.
4 Indus River Valley civilization, etc., on-line at www.harappa.com/har/indus-saraswati.html
5Benjamin, Sandra, Sicily, Three Thousand Years of Human History, Hanover: Steerforth Press, 2006.
They had been making these trips ever since their children had disappeared. Now, almost ten years later, they were on the road once more, driving through yet another little town they had never before seen. It was spring, the sun was warm. The pain had diminished over time until it was a dreary ache, but it was there, always. Every now and again it would put out a blossom of poison and then fade. It was the same for both of them.
"Look," Janet said, reaching over and touching Howard's hand as it rested on the steering wheel. She pointed through the windshield at a billboard.
"THE MUSEUM OF ORDINARY PEOPLE," Howard read aloud, "Five Miles Ahead on Route 12A." He blinked and frowned. His eyelids appeared to be paper thin, and the skin on his forehead not much thicker. One had the impression that the iris shone through, or the bone, but it was an illusion. His was a common sort of face.
So was Janet's. Both of them were beginning to gray, Howard more than his wife, but they were still on the farther edge of young adulthood. If they appeared to be older than they were, no doubt that was owing to their situation.
"Let's stop when we get there," Janet said. "We can take the time." She frowned also and covered her eyes briefly with her long fingers, then she smoothed her dress which was blue and wrinkling under the seat belt.
Howard braked suddenly and leaned across his wife to peer out the right window. "What is it?" Janet looked too — a boy and girl were playing in the front yard of a house with a moderate-sized lawn. He appeared to be about eleven and she, seven or so.
Janet sighed. "It can't be, Howard. You know that." She shook her head. "They're too young. When are you going to realize that?"
"Sorry," he said, sitting up straight and easing down on the accelerator. "Good thing there was nobody behind us." He glanced into the rear-view mirror as they moved slowly forward down the street of anonymous houses.
"They'd be ten years older," she said. "Billy would be a junior in college and Beth would be just out of high school."
"My mind knows that," Howard said, "but my guts don't."
They drove in silence for a few minutes, remembering the day the children hadn't come home from school.
There had been nothing unusual about it. All four of them had gotten up at seven in the morning, dressed, and had breakfast. "What are you going to do today?" Howard had asked the table at large.
Billy had shrugged and his pompadour had fallen down across his eyes. "Nothing much," he said, reaching for the butter. "We're having a spelling test is all."
"I think you need a haircut," Howard said to his son. "How about you?" He sent a droll wink in his daughter's direction and she giggled.
"Eat your cereal, Beth," Janet said. "You're just moving it around with your spoon. Don't you like it?"
"You put too much sugar in it."
"Okay, give it to me." Janet took the bowl over to the sink, poured some of the milk out of the cornflakes, which were beginning to look a little soggy, and added some fresh from the bottle on the counter.
"Okay, mom's fixed it," Howard said. Now eat it up and let's go."
Beth began to scoop the cereal into her mouth. Billy got up and grabbed his backpack. "See you!" he yelled.
"Wait for your sister!" Janet said.
"Wait for me!" Beth squealed, grabbing her lunch box.
"Whoa!" Howard called as the front door slammed.
It opened again, briefly. "Bye!" Billy called and slammed it again.
And that was the last time anyone had ever seen either of the children.
"There's another one," Janet said, pointing ahead through the windshield.
THE MUSEUM OF ORDINARY PEOPLE, read the sign, Three Miles Ahead. Largest Wax Museum in the Midwest.
"How many do you suppose there are?" Janet asked.
"Not all that many, I wouldn't think." Howard had to bend to look as they passed.
They Move! They talk! The Experience of a Lifetime! Don't
A red light stopped them. "We need gas," Howard said.
"There's a place," Janet pointed again — it was a Seven-Eleven station up a half-block.
The light turned green and Howard pulled in and stopped at the pumps. "Fill it, please," he said to the attendant and got out of the car to stretch.
"Nice day," the attendant said as he unscrewed the gas cap and inserted the nozzle.
"Really nice." Howard put his hands on his hips and arched his back. The sun was warm on his face. "What's the name of this town?"
"Midville. Not from around here?" The pump hummed.
"Not so far away — a hundred miles or so. Lived here long?"
"All my life — twenty-one years." The tank was full, and the attendant rattled the nozzle against the rim and recapped it.
Howard reached into his pocket for his wallet, pulled out a bill and handed it over. His fingers hesitated, then he flipped to a picture of the children. He showed it to the young man. "Ever seen these two kids? They might have shown up in town when you were, oh, about eleven years old."
The attendant peered at the faces smiling out of the photograph. He hesitated, then he shook his head. "Can't say as I have," he said. He gave Howard a look as though he were going to ask a question but had decided against it.
Howard nodded. "Well, thanks." He took his change and put his wallet away. As he opened the door to get back into the car he said, "By the way, how's this Museum of Ordinary People up the road? Ever been there?"
"Oh, sure." The attendant turned to look up the street. "But not lately. Everybody's been there once, I guess. If you haven't, you ought to try it. It's good for a laugh." He nodded and turned to go back into the station. "Have a nice ride," he said.
Janet and Howard got back into the car and re-entered traffic. They were quiet for a few minutes. The trees along the curb were turning green quickly — it seemed almost as though spring had accelerated as they'd driven, but no doubt that was because the season was further along this far to the south. And then, as the houses began to grow sparser, the front yards to grow larger, and the trees to thicken, suddenly it was countryside and there were fields and few houses except at considerable distances.
Janet reached down and turned on the radio. She searched for a while and found a station they liked. For a few minutes they listened to golden oldies. And then they saw it. "There it is," Janet said.
Howard slowed down. "Are you sure?" he asked.
"Why not?" she said.
"'Admission $5.00,'" Howard said.
"Oh, I guess we can afford ten dollars, can't we?" Janet looked at her husband. "And it's not as though we're in a hurry," she added quietly, almost under her breath.
He smiled and nodded. "Sure we can." He pulled into the small parking lot and they sat in their seats for a moment or two listening to one of the old songs, then Howard turned off the motor.
When the children hadn't shown up by suppertime Janet and Howard had really begun to worry. They phoned around to the homes of schoolmates and friends and discovered that Beth and Billy hadn't been to school at all that day. The police had been notified then, and soon it was apparent that the kids had never even made it to their busses. They'd simply vanished between the house and the bus stop a block away.
The police canvassed the neighborhood, but no one remembered seeing the boy and girl in particular. Kids walking the streets in the morning were such a common sight that, even when someone thought he might have glimpsed the missing children, he wasn't sure it had been that particular day.
When at last Howard had been able to stop pacing or running to the door or driving around in the car peering out the windows into the shadows gathering and thickening among the houses of his neighbors, he joined his wife sitting next to the phone with a haunted stare in her eyes and a handkerchief in her fist. They had sat there like that all night long, waiting, jumping when the phone rang or the doorbell sounded, slumping when it turned out that there was no news. As the search went on neighbors and friends came and went with food and consolation, with assurances that Beth and Billy would turn up, that all would turn out well, that there would be a reasonable explanation for what had happened.
But they had been wrong, and a strange sort of emptiness began to occupy Janet and Howard from that point onward. The rooms of their dwelling filled with a silence that cried out for quick movement and loud music. A veil of anxiety settled itself between the parents and their home — nothing seemed to be real, to be solid or stable, not even their marriage, although they drew closer together after an initial repulsion, like magnets reversed, for each wanted at first to blame the other for what had happened. Common sense had prevailed, however; they saw that nothing could have been done to prevent the loss of Billy and Beth, for it could not have been foreseen.
When at last the police had no leads left to follow, when the story faded from the back pages of the newspapers, when even a private investigator could offer no more hope, on the weekends and on their vacations Howard and Janet would drive in any direction, show their pictures, ask their questions.
"Are we going in?" Janet asked.
Howard roused himself and shivered a little. "Oh, sure, hon," he said and got out. By the time he'd walked around the car Janet had gotten out herself and stood waiting. Together, they walked to the door of the museum and went in.
It was a large old Victorian house. Just inside the door, in a wide hallway, there stood an oak table where an old woman sat selling tickets. "Welcome to the Museum of Ordinary People," she said nodding mechanically and leaning forward. "That will be five dollars apiece." Howard gave her the money. She opened a drawer in the table, deposited it inside, and handed him two tickets. "Please take a brochure," she said in her odd monotone. "It will explain the museum. Please walk straight ahead." She sat back, blinked her eyes slowly, and said no more.
As they walked down the corridor toward the first door Janet leaned close to Howard and whispered, "Doesn't she remind you of someone?"
Howard paused, glanced over his shoulder, frowned, and said, "You're right, but I can't think who."
"Let's look at the brochure," Janet said.
The museum of ordinary people is a unique exhibit, it began, in that there is nothing extraordinary about it except its premise. Here the visitor will find the people he knows saying the things he would expect them to say. The waxwork figures are completely lifelike, even to their movements, for they are animated by extremely sophisticated electronic components which are capable of smoothly imitating natural muscle action. The recorded voices are those of real people responding to real situations and dialogue. Please enter and enjoy yourself in an imitation of the real world that is so convincing as to be astonishing. If the exhibit is successful, it will make reality seem fresh and new — it will give you a new perspective on your own life.
Howard looked at Janet with eyebrows arched high on his papery forehead. She stared back at him, the phantom of a smile playing across her mouth. "Well," he said, "let's give it a try. I'm willing to be amazed."
"It sounds like fun."
He opened the door and they entered.
"Well, hello there!" said a woman on the other side. "It's real nice to see you, hon," she said. She had on a waitress' uniform; there was a pencil stuck behind her ear and a sales pad slipped through her belt. "Geez, when was the last time you was in here? Musta been a long time."
"We've never been here before," Janet said. "We didn't realize this was a restaurant too."
"Oh, never mind, just let me tell ya what's good today. The soup's good — minestrone they call it, but it's just vegetable soup. And then our specials..."
"Thanks," Howard said, "But we're not hungry. We'll just look at the rest of the exhibits." He smiled politely, his hand gentle but firm on Janet's back as they moved past.
"...are liver 'n onions with bacon, chicken fried steak...." and then she stopped talking and stood still, facing toward the door.
"Look, Howard," Janet said nodding toward a beam of light through which they had stepped. "She's one of the wax figures."
"We tripped an electric eye," Howard said sticking his finger into the ray. "Unbelievable."
"Well, sir," an elderly male voice said behind them, "that was back in 'sixty-six as I recall, and I never caught a better fish since." They turned quickly and saw the replica of a dock with a boathouse where an old man sat leaning forward in his rocking chair whittling a piece of wood. "Sure would like to run into a fighter like that big-mouth again." He nodded and chuckled.
"Straight out of my childhood," Howard said. "That looks just like the boatkeeper at Huntington Lake."
Janet laughed uneasily. "I feel like telling you to be quiet because he'll hear you," she said. "They really are lifelike." She walked on.
"Sorry, folks," the policeman said. He stood with his hands behind him and shook his head. "There's been an accident down this street and you'll have to keep clear. The fire department's laying down some foam over the spilled gasoline." He pointed with his nightstick. "It's not much farther if you go that way."
"Thank you, officer," Janet said before she could catch herself.
Howard grinned. "Probably the accident's in the living room," he said. Janet laughed and flushed.
They lost track of time. Every room held a crowd of ordinary people who spoke to them, offered advice, asked directions, complained — like the fat woman on the mock-up of a bus who said, "Oh, my feet ache. I been on my tootsies all day long, and now I gotta go home and make supper for my old man. Will he appreciate it? Oh, no," she said shaking her head, making her chins wiggle and her red hair with the brown roots jounce, "he'll just sit there after supper with a beer watching Monday Night Football while I do the dishes." She snorted. "Boy, I could do with a beer myself, come to think of it."
And there was the journalist sitting at his word-processor typing a story. "Fred Foyle," he said, turning around as they entered his office. "What can I do for you?" He had a thin face and a shock of pale hair that fell down over his eye. "Want ads? That's over there at the classified desk," he said pointing. "Can't help you." He turned back to his screen. Janet and Howard heard him sigh. "Obits!" he snorted. "This week I'm on obits. Next week I'll be on garden parties." He hunched forward and began to type, still mumbling.
"I'm starting to get hungry," Howard said. They were standing in an upstairs hallway looking out a bay window over the countryside. The sun was beginning to settle into the fields and appearing redder as it did so. There was a wind, too, that could be seen but not heard, riffling through the few trees visible in the landscape.
"That was a lot of fun," Janet said. "It was like walking through a whole town full of people that you feel you know."
"I wonder who got the idea for such a museum." Howard mused a moment and then said, "well, I guess that's about it. What say we hunt up some food and then head home?" A gust of wind rattled the window behind them as they turned toward the stairway. "Too bad that waitress downstairs isn't real."
"Oh, look," Janet said, "there's a doorway we missed." She walked across the carpet and paused with her hand on the knob of a door that looked out of place in the old Victorian building. Out of place but familiar, like almost everything else in the Museum of Ordinary People.
"Never mind it," Howard said. "I've seen enough, haven't you?"
"Oh, let's just have a peek," Janet replied, and before her husband could reply she turned the knob and pulled open the door. The house exhaled as they stood looking between the jambs.
"It's the attic stairway," Howard said peering upward into the gloom over Janet's shoulder.
She put her foot on the first stair. "Shall we go up?" she asked even as she shifted her weight forward. "There may be more exhibits."
"There doesn't seem to be a light switch." But he followed her. In a moment they were standing at the top of the flight listening to the hum of a wasp on the ceiling and the sound of a lawnmower in the hands of a distant neighbor. They stood quietly for a few moments peering into the shadows. They could make out a clothes rack filled with outmoded fashions, trunks and boxes. There was a film of dust lying upon everything.
A god's-eye stood raveling colored yarn beneath the narrow garret window. A girl's ballerina slipper lay beside it. A box of toys contained Pinocchio with a rubber nose. Winter lay preserved in a carton of Christmas tree ornaments, but the musty odors of summer sweltered in the nooks and cracks between objects. An umbrella waited for the sound of rain to come drumming over the roof.
"It's late," Howard said. "I'm hungry." He smiled. "I've had enough, haven't you?"
Janet hesitated, then she smiled back at him and let her hand fold into his, but before they could turn and descend the stairs out of the dim place where time lay in keeping, they heard the door close behind them.
The Virginia Quarterly Review "The Mutable Past," a memoir collected in FANTASEERS, A BOOK OF MEMORIES by Lewis Turco of growing up in the 1950s in Meriden, Connecticut, (Scotsdale AZ: Star Cloud Press, 2005).
The Tower Journal Two short stories, "The Demon in the Tree" and "The Substitute Wife," in the spring 2009 issue of Tower Journal.
The Tower Journal Memoir, “Pookah, The Greatest Cat in the History of the World,” Spring-Summer 2010.
The Michigan Quarterly Review This is the first terzanelle ever published, in "The Michigan Quarterly Review" in 1965. It has been gathered in THE COLLECTED LYRICS OF LEWIS TURCO/WESLI COURT, 1953-2004 (www.StarCloudPress.com).
The Gawain Poet An essay on the putative medieval author of "Gawain and the Green Knight" in the summer 2010 issue of Per Contra.