I have no doubt I am the only person on earth marking this anniversary, but today — September 14 — happens to be the 75th anniversary of the death of my great-grandfather, Georges Tancrede Lamarche, of cardiac failure in the northeastern Connecticut town of Putnam. He was 67 years old. Born in Montreal in 1863, he was trained as a physician and emigrated to the United States with his four children, among them my grandfather, around 1901. I believe he followed the French-Canadian emigration of mill workers to New England, and during his thirty years in the United States his practice focused on French-speaking immigrant families — first in Springfield, Massachusetts, then in Putnam. Some people in Putnam still remember his stint as the parochial school doctor, and records of the Order of Franco-American Foresters (now L’Association Canado-Americaine) list him as an active officer. He edited a French-language publication, Le Reveil, but I have been unable to locate any surviving issues.
I mention this not because Georges Tancrede was any kind of significant historic figure, but because upon his death one of his sons, my great-uncle George (who became an interior decorator in Florida) undertook a very nice gesture. He took his father’s wedding ring, and brought it along with his grandfather’s wedding ring to a jeweler who forged them together into a new ring, which he presented to my grandfather, Paul. On the front of the ring are the initials “PL”, and on one side is the physician’s symbol and the other that of a pharmacist — Paul’s profession. Paul wore it from 1930 until his death from an embolism in 1969.
Here is a photograph, dating from around 1905, of Paul, Georges Tancrede, and, in the center, my great-grandfather, Georges Bricault:
At the time of my grandfather’s death, my grandmother had the ring removed from Paul’s hand and gave it to my father, Philip. My dad wore it from that time until he died on New Year’s Day in 1998. As my father got older, he made it clear to me that upon his death the ring would go to me. (My first name happens to be Philip, but my family always called me, and I’ve always used, my middle name, Gara.) And so it did.
In the last years of my father’s life, as he reeled from the effects of several aneurysms, a stroke and other maladies, I thought a bit about the ring, and the weird reality that when the day came that I looked down at my right hand and saw it there, it would be a constant reminder that my father was dead, and that I stood in a line of men — including my grandfather, an affable small-town drugstore pharmacist, raconteur, pipe-collector and avid amateur photographer I greatly admired — whose hands had worn that gold for one hundred and forty years.
Here is my favorite picture of my dad, in a pensive moment, nursing a Scotch at a Christmas party in my Aunt Pauline’s, wearing his ridiculous plaid slacks:
When, after my father’s death, the funeral director brought it to me, I placed it on my finger and found it much too large. After I had it resized and it fit more snugly, I felt its weight for many months as a kind of burden. To this day, eight years later, I make a fist while swimming, so fearful I am that it will slip into the ocean and end the line. Yet slowly but surely, the ring has become not my father’s, not my grandfather’s, not my earlier ancestors, but mine. None of the men who came before me ever left North America, but on my hand the ring has travelled from Machu Picchu to Cape Town, and touched the hands of U.S. Senators and persecuted dissidents. Sometime between tomorrow and fifty years or so from now the hand on which it is now borne will come to rest, and I am not sure where it will go, there being no PL after me. Perhaps my daughters will reverse the union of the original rings and make a simple gold band for each of them.