My father was a very intelligent man who tested “genius” in the army. Drafted into the army at a young age, he decided not to take advantage of the “GI Bill” that would have paid for his college education after the war, because he already had a family to support. My father was lucky not to have served in combat. Scheduled for the invasion of Japan, he served in its occupation. I once asked him if he saw the devastating effects of the atomic bombs that the United States dropped on Japan. Instead of answering directly, he said dismissively, “I suppose you think I was traumatized.” I imagine that on some level he was, because unlike many WW II veterans he never spoke about his time in the army, and most tellingly, he was the only member of his unit not to sign up for the “extra pay” to be earned in the reserves, and thus the only one not to be called up to serve in Korea. Although he never questioned the US government’s right to wage war, he always told me, “war is hell.” Though he was not at all pleased when I became active in the anti-war movement, I found some of the roots of my opposition to war in my father’s refusal to glorify it.
I inherited my father’s intelligence, and he was pleased when I started bringing home “A’s.” As was typical in families at the time, he always told me that I could turn “B’s” into “A’s,” and for the most part, I did. I did not experience this response as criticism, but rather as a deep confidence that I could do even better. When I was about fourteen, my father asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. I responded that I would have liked to have been a stewardess but I was already too tall, so, I supposed, a secretary. My father replied, “you can do better than that, you will go to college, and you will become a teacher.” A few years later when I was about to graduate Valedictorian from my lower middle class high school where no one spoke of private or out-of-state colleges, my parents were called into the guidance counselor’s office. She told them that with my grades and scores, I should not be considering junior college or state college, because I could get into almost any college in the country. Although my mother did not want me to leave home, my father allowed me to apply to Stanford. As I did not receive a full scholarship, he and my mother made many financial sacrifices for my education. Though he did not support my decision to apply for graduate school in Religious Studies, my father was proud that I won two fellowships. When I came home for Christmas after my first semester at Yale and explained to him that I was being told I would never finish my studies and was being treated so badly that I too had my doubts, he responded simply, “You started it, and now you will finish it.” It would have been easy for him to have said, “I told you so,” but instead he expressed his certainty that I could and would get my Ph.D.
When I was in my teens, I was taller than all of the other kids and beanpole. In those years I saved my babysitting money to buy fabric and patterns and made all of my own clothes. Most ready-made clothes did not fit me—oh how I wanted a light blue Oxford cloth blouse with long sleeves and a knife-pleated cotton duck white skirt, but my mother always told me the sleeves were too short and skirts were above my knees. Every time I finished an outfit, I was asked to model it for my father. He always encouraged me to stand up straight. “If you stand up straight you will look beautiful and tall, and if you stoop, you will still be tall, but not so beautiful.” To this day people comment on how lovely and unusual it is to see a very tall woman who walks proud.
My father was an insurance agent who, from the time I was ten, owned his own business. When speaking of his work, he often calculated insurance rates in his head. As soon as I began to receive an allowance, he taught me not to “waste” it on candy, but to save it for something I really wanted. The same with the money I earned from babysitting, beginning when I was ten and a half. First I saved it for dolls and later for cloth. When I grew up, I saved the money I earned (and the money I inherited) to buy a house and “for a rainy day.” Because it is easy for me, I am usually the one to calculate how to split a bill at a restaurant. Over the years I have been surprised to learn how many of my friends never learned how to manage money.
When my mother died twenty-six years ago, my father had already considered how he intended to pass on their estate. While many of my friends did not inherit anything until both parents had died, my father was well aware that the tax laws of the time allowed each child to inherit a certain sum of money tax-free at the death of each parent. The will he and my mother signed left each of my brothers and me a significant amount of money when our mother died. I inherited enough to make my life comfortable—and luckily so, as Greece’s subsequent entry into the Eurozone raised prices where I live substantially. Because of my father’s careful planning and generosity, I was able to buy and remodel the house that gives me great joy and do not have to worry about the future. As my relationship with my father continued to be difficult, I was grateful that he was not holding his money over me as an inducement to do his bidding.
Though I did not visit my father during the last decade of his life for reasons that I have written about elsewhere, we were able to share a joint interest in the research I was doing on our family. My father mastered email in his late 80s in order to communicate his memories with me, and he was delighted to receive every piece of new information I discovered about our common ancestors. We were both thrilled that a researcher discovered our Christ origins in Unterpreppach, Lower Bavaria in the spring of 2016 when my second cousin Bill Christ and I were searching for our ancestral roots in Germany. When I found the Christ family graves in Most Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Cemetery in Brooklyn in the winter of 2016, I sent photographs to my father, and he was deeply moved. At the time I made a promise to myself that I would add markers to the graves at some point in the future. Now that my father has died, I have redoubled my commitment to do so. They will be one of first things I purchase with the money I receive as my final inheritance from my father.
Carol at the unmarked grave of Thomas Christ March 11, 1812-December 11, 1863 of Unterpreppach and Anna Maria Hemmerlein Christ August 5, 1821-February 14, 1907 of Stettfeld and Gresselgrund in Bavaria and their son Conrad Christ November 20, 1850-July 1860. The grave of their second son George Christ February 10, 1863-March 25, 1895 and his son Frederick Christ February 3, 1892-April 30, 1896 is marked by two white carnations (left center). Photos by Joyce Zonana.
In memory of John Anthony Christ, February 25, 1919-July 6, 2017
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Carol’s new book written with Judith Plaskow, is Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology.
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Carol’s photo by Michael Honegger