By Mickey S
If you are under age, or live in an area where reading stories that include sex between males is illegal, or if you're not into this type of story, please leave. My thanks to Tim and Drew for all of their help. The author retains all rights. No reproductions are allowed without the author's consent. Comments are appreciated at
By the time I headed back north, the idea of looking up Mom's old friend Johnny had come to me but when I got home I was so busy getting my business caught up I did nothing about it for a while. There was no rush, after all. Mom had only been a widow for a few months and wasn't at all interested in getting involved with another man. And since she and this Johnny had only been friends all those years ago, chances were the chemistry wouldn't be any better for them now. Although maybe if the problem back then had been a lack of physical attraction, that might be less important now that they were middle-aged.
I'd been home about a month when I finally Googled the guy. Unfortunately, while his name wasn't as common as Jim Smith, it still took some doing to narrow down the hits to likely possibilities. The most promising was a John Nichols who had written a book on Internet genealogy research. According to the bio info on him, he was the right age, had graduated from Montclair State and was a research librarian at the city library in Plainfield, NJ, only a few miles west of where Mom had grown up. I decided a trip to Jersey to visit Grandma was in order.
I wanted to size up this guy before giving away who I was and what I was planning. The approach I settled on was to pretend to be interested in genealogy and see if I could get him to help me look up my family tree. I wouldn't have to fake needing help since I knew nothing about my father's family and not much more about my mother's. I spent an evening questioning Grandma about her family and my grandfather's before going to the library. I didn't get a whole lot of information from her but at least I had some basics to start with.
I'd chosen a Tuesday morning to visit the library. I had no idea when the least busy time was, but I figured any weekday morning would probably be pretty slow. At the front desk I was directed to the research department where it wasn't hard to decide who John Nichols was since there were only two employees and one was young, black and female. Of course, she was the one who looked up and smiled at me.
"Can I help you with something?"
"I`m not sure. I'm doing a little research into my family tree and I was told there was an expert on genealogy here."
She rolled her eyes.. "That would be Johnny here. Only please don't call him an expert. His ego doesn't need any more inflating."
The man looked up from his computer screen as I turned toward him. He had longish brown hair, a trim mustache and goatee and brown wire framed glasses. He didn't look quite old enough to be Mom's friend although he was close.
"At least if I've got a big ego I've some reason for it, unlike other employees in this department, Jenna." A glint in his eye was the only indication he was teasing.
"Oh, puleeze. I've got youth and looks."
"Both shallow and fleeting, girl."
"Well, at least that's more than you've got."
"My good points stand the test of time." She was about to come back with another retort when he held his hand up. "Enough teasing, we don't want to scare your young man off."
He rose and walked the dozen feet toward me, holding out his hand.
"I'm Johnny Nichols, resident genealogy expert. What can I help you with?"
"Well, as I said, I'm interested in finding out more about my family and haven't any idea where to start. My name's Jack Martin, by the way." I shook his outstretched hand.
"Martin, eh? Scottish? English?"
"I'm told my grandfather's family was Scottish, though they go way back in this country. My grandmother`s family was Irish and they may have emigrated more recently."
"You see, you know a few things already. The best way to start is to organize what you know and then build on it. A few websites can be very valuable and make things so much easier. Come over here and I'll show you how to get started."
I followed him across the room to a table with a couple of computer monitors, looking him over as we walked. He was average height, a few inches taller than me and had a slim to average build with a nice butt for a man his age.
"I'd recommend starting with Ancestry.com," he said as we sat. "Depending on how far you get into this you may want to buy some genealogy software later on, but for now you can build a tree on the site. And you might also want to look at FamilySearch.org, the Mormon`s site. Whatever else their religion is about, they`re very into genealogy. "
"Do I have to pay to use the sites?"
"You don't have to but you'll probably want to join Ancestry.com. You can build your tree for free and do some research, but to look at the actual records they have online you have to be a paying member. I'll show you around the site and you can look into it more at home and decide for yourself if you want to join."
I gave him my grandparents names and their dates and places of birth and he showed me how to do a search of the website.
"We're lucky they were born in the 1920s. The most recent federal census the government has released is 1930. For privacy reasons they keep personal data from the public for 72 years."
"So we just look for a Margaret Reilly who was 2 years old in Plainfield in 1930?"
"That's it. You have to be careful though. Lots of people have the same name and ages vary in these records. Either people forgot how old they were or they lied a lot. And so many people go by different names, too. Nicknames, middle names. And all of these old records are handwritten and some are less legible than others. Ah, it looks like this may be your grandmother."
Sure enough, there she was with her parents. Patrick and Elizabeth and an older brother, Thomas.
"And you've really lucked out here, Jack. Living in the same household is Mary Ryan, a 63 year old widow. As you can see, her relationship to the head of household is listed as mother-in-law. So now we know your great-grandparent's names, ages and where they were born. And we also have your great-great-grandmother. So we trace them all back in time, looking at the census every ten years. Hopefully, we'll find more family members that way."
For the next fifteen minutes we searched through the various documents online, adding bits and pieces to my family. I found it all much more interesting than I thought I would. Part of it was Johnny's doing. He was patient, friendly and seemed genuinely interested in my family. He kept gently probing to get more information out of me. I had to be careful not to mention Mom's name.
His asking me personal questions made it easier for me to turn the tables and ask him about himself as well. By the time he had to leave me to take care of other library business, I was sure he was Mom's old friend. I'd been pretty sure before I met him, but from the information I got out of him and his general personality, I was convinced.
"I'm sorry to have to cut short your lesson, Jack, but I have a meeting I can't miss. Why don't you spend the next week or so doing some research on your own and then come back and go over what you've found with me?"
"Are you sure?" I wanted to get to know him better, but I didn't want to take up a lot of his time on false pretenses. "I mean, it's not like I`m paying you for lessons. I feel guilty taking up your time."
"It's my job, Jack. Helping people with research is what I do. Don't worry about it."
"Okay, then, how about I come back next week around the same time?"
"That works for me. As you can see, this isn't a very busy time."
I logged onto Ancestry.com a few times over the next week and added a bit to my family tree. I was surprised that I was able to trace a few branches back into the first half of the nineteenth century. I made a note of questions to ask Johnny as I ran into roadblocks. I was really more interested in finding out more about him, but I figured anything to keep a conversation going would help.
When I got to the library the next Tuesday, I was disappointed to see that the young black woman was alone in the reference department. I approached her, hoping maybe Johnny was around, just not in sight.
"Hi, I'm Jack Martin. You probably don't remember me, but I was here last week and Mr. Nichols helped me get started on some genealogy research. I had some questions and was hoping he'd be here today."
"Sure I remember you. How could I forget that red hair? Johnny's running a little late this morning, some problem at home, but he should be in any minute. I'm not an expert on the subject, but maybe I could help you in the meantime. By the way, I`m Jenna Miller."
"Nice to meet you. For real, this time. Mr. Nichols showed me how to get started online last week but I'm not really sure what I should be doing next."
"He'll direct you when he gets here, but if your family has been in this area for a few generations, why don't you look through some local history books? They might be mentioned in them. Also, we have some family files in the back, information other researchers have discovered and given to us."
She came out from behind the desk and led me to the stacks. "On the left here we have history books on the county and most municipalities. That should keep you busy until Johnny gets in and he can lead you through the rest."
"He really does seem to know everything. And he seemed very nice, considering the big ego you claimed he has."
"Oh, we were just teasing each other. He's actually quite modest and very shy. But he has a good sense of humor, though I was working with him quite a while before he was comfortable enough to joke with me."
I tried to pry some personal information about Johnny from her but that was as far as I got. She was friendly but all business, apparently not the type to gossip with a stranger. After a while, Johnny walked into the room. Jenna motioned him over.
"Your genealogy student from last week is back for more of your pearls of wisdom, Johnny. Is everything okay at home?"
"Yeah, now that I've mortgaged my soul to the plumber."
"Nothing major, I hope, Mr. Nichols."
"Johnny, please. And no, it was just a minor disaster. It's always something with an old house. But I shouldn't complain. I love the place in spite of its problems."
Johnny spent over an hour with me, showing me indices to local newspaper obituaries, city directories and church records. My head was spinning but I took notes of everything he showed me. I tried to direct the conversation to him but he only seemed at ease while discussing his field of expertise. I didn't even get as much personal information out of him as I did from Jenna. It was nearly one o'clock when I decided I'd absorbed as much genealogy information as I could in one session and if I was going to find out anything personal about Johnny it would have to be outside the library.
"It's been really great, you spending all of this time sharing your knowledge with me. Can I take you to lunch to show you my appreciation?"
"That's not necessary. As I said before, it's my job. And I enjoy being able to use my knowledge to help others learn." He actually seemed a bit embarrassed. "Besides, I brought my lunch today."
"But you've been such a big help. There must be some way I can repay you."
"An eager student is enough payment for me."
"In that case, I'll come back again next week. But only if you agree to let me take you to lunch then."
Johnny hesitated. "All right, if you insist. But only if you've made lots of progress on your tree by then."
With that as an incentive, I did more research during the week. In my weekly phone call to Mom I filled her in on my new project (the family tree, not Johnny). Given our complete lack of knowledge about my father, I'd always been curious to find out what I could about her family, but she was a bit surprised to see I was pursuing it so intensely. As I filled her in on what I'd discovered so far, though, she became nearly as interested as I was.
In spite of our agreement, I had to do a bit of arm twisting to get Johnny to go to lunch with me after my lesson at the library the next week. As before, as soon as we stopped talking about genealogy, he became shy and withdrawn. I didn't let him get away with backing out of our deal and he finally agreed to let me buy him lunch at a diner out on Route 22.
We settled into a booth and a silence fell over us, not that we'd talked much on the short drive there. I usually got uncomfortable with extended gaps in conversation and tended to fill them with mindless babble, but for some reason the quiet was comfortable with Johnny. He began to flip through the old-fashioned juke box on the table and I watched him as he put money into it and made selections by James Taylor, Simon and Garfunkel and Joni Mitchell. He misunderstood my smile as he looked up from the jukebox.
"Yeah, I know, the historian living in the past. I can't help it if I like the songs from my youth more than most of today's music. I guess that's a sign of getting old."
"No, that's not at all what I was thinking. I smiled because two of the three songs you picked I sang in my act Saturday night."
"Your act? You're a performer?"
"Sort of," I shrugged. "Some friends own a little bistro in the East Village and I sing there on weekends. It pays a little but it's not my real job."
"And that is?"
I had intended this lunch to be an opportunity to talk about him, but it was starting out to be all about me instead. I explained my business to him, thinking that once he had info on me it would be easier for me to pump him for personal information. It did make it easier for me to ask, feeling less like I was being nosy, but it was still like pulling teeth to get him to talk about himself, at first anyway.
"So, enough about me," I said as the waitress brought our sandwiches. "It's your turn. Tell me about yourself."
"Not much to tell. I`m pretty boring," he said, then bit into his BLT.
"Well, how'd you decide to be a librarian? You're not the stereotypical image, you know, a frumpy, middle-aged spinster."
"I don't know, change the spinster to widower and you've got me."
Excellent! Not that he'd lost a loved one, but that meant he was single. I'd been trying to find a discreet way to ask that. Plus, that meant he and Mom had something in common, aside from their long-ago past.
"I'd challenge the frumpy part, too, so you're not really the stereotype at all. But you didn't answer my question." I figured now that I had some important personal info I'd back off a bit and just go for some less personal background.
"Well, I've always been fascinated with history. It was my major in college. And I like teaching, although being shy, standing up in front of a roomful of students was never a serious option for me. So being a librarian was a good alternative to teaching for me."
"I've known a few teachers and I think most have some initial trepidation about the public speaking part of it, but they say you get used to it."
"Looking back, I think I probably could have survived as a teacher, but at the time I just didn't think I had it in me. Of course, as a performer you probably can't identify with that."
"I can a little. It's not as though I give concerts in a huge hall filled with an audience sitting staring at me. Most of my audience is eating, drinking and talking while I'm performing. I'm just background to most of them. I'm playing and singing more for myself than anyone else. I think if everyone stopped what they were doing and just stared at me I'd feel very self-conscious."
Somehow he'd managed to turn the topic of conversation back to me. I didn't mind because I'd already found out much of what I needed to know about him, mostly, that he was single. I knew he was shy, bright and pleasant to be with even though he didn`t talk much. I didn't know anything about his interests, but Mom had known him years before and liked him, so that probably wasn't important. Now I just had to become friendlier with him so that I could work out a way to get him and Mom together.
"So how come you're into this kind of music?" Johnny asked, gesturing toward the juke box which he`d re-supplied with quarters. "These records are mostly from before you were born."
"But they're what I grew up listening to. I suppose I inherited my taste in music from my mother. From what I've heard, my father was more into hard rock."
"From what you've heard? Don't you remember?"
Now I was getting uncomfortable. He'd really turned this whole thing around on me.
"No, he took off before I was born. That`s why I`m not trying to trace his family." I hoped being abrupt about it would cut that conversational direction short. "But even if I were into rock, or hip-hop, I could hardly play that kind of music on an acoustic guitar in a little restaurant. Sixties and seventies folk-rock suit both my personal taste and the venue I perform in."
"That's pretty much my musical taste, too. And seventies soul as well." He chuckled. "I guess I really am stuck in that decade."
"The Me Decade, isn't that what they call it?"
"Yeah, although I didn't relate to that at the time. I was always into various social movements, involved in all kinds of causes. I would have thought of the greed of the Eighties rated the name Me Decade, myself."
"Maybe it's because the `70s were all about individualism, doing your own thing, as they said. And the '80 were more about conformity. The `me' term might not imply selfish interests or egoism."
"Could be, but there was plenty of selfish interest in the 70s as well. I was such an idealist I just assumed my whole generation was like that, too. I thought we were going to change the world. It's only looking back that I see there wasn't all that much selfless behavior going on."
"You sound a little bitter."
"Not really. As much as I try to be a cynic, my hopeless idealism keeps re-surfacing. Maybe I am a bit more pragmatic now, though."
I was surprised by how much he was talking. Just as I thought I wouldn't be able to get any more personal information out of him, he began to open up about his feelings and background.
"So you were a radical back then?"
"I'm sure some people thought I was, but I didn't think of myself that way. I just felt like it was important to stand up for what I thought was right."
"And here I was buying your line about being shy. You must have been a real rabble-rouser."
He blushed. "Well, I did take part in my share of demonstrations, but as far as rousing any rabble, I tried to stay in the background. I joined organizations and worked from behind the scenes. That was and still is more my style. I wasn't one of those leaders making passionate speeches. I was the one whispering in the leader's ear."
"The power behind the throne?"
`Believe me, with those little activist organizations I belonged to, there were no thrones. And I wasn't the perfect example of selfless behavior either. While I meant well, I've never been very politically correct. And I screwed up plenty, especially in personal relationships. I've always been a lot more comfortable dealing in the abstract instead of person to person." The waitress had slipped the check on the table as we were talking and he reached for it and looked at his watch. "I don't know how we got off on this trip down Memory Lane, but my lunch hour is over. I've got to get back to work."
He looked a bit flustered as he got up to go. I grabbed the check from his hand. "My treat, remember? This is partial payment for all the help you're giving me with my family research."
"Partial payment? I've tried to tell you that you don't owe me anything. There doesn't have to be any payment at all."
"I know, but I want to do something to show my gratitude."
"Well then, I'll accept your generosity in the spirit it's offered. Thank you. But no more is necessary. Really."
"I was only going to suggest that some weekend you might like to come into the city and see my little act at the bistro."
"I don't get into the city much any more aside from an occasional concert or play."
"All the more reason why you should come. But I won't nag you. Just think about it."
An idea had occurred to me as we were talking. When Mom came up north to visit Grandma and me, she always came into the city at least once to see my act. What better place to arrange a meeting between her and Johnny than at the kind of place they used to hang out in when they were young, listening to the music of that time. What a matchmaker! Damn, I was good!
To Be Continued