Thursday, August 13, 2015

My Father--Part 2

There are three mysteries surrounding my late father’s life.

The first is what he was doing in the United States in 1943. He apparently came to America with a group of French pilots, possibly to translate as they trained at an airfield in South Carolina. I find this mundane possibility farfetched. I think he accompanied them for another purpose, possibly secret or clandestine, but I don’t know what that might have been.

The second is why he and his family had a falling out. It happened before I was born, and when, in my late teens, I sought an explanation, he merely said, “They didn’t act right towards me.” And that was that. Nor did my mother have a clue, which was surprising. She thrived on information and somehow not being privy to such an important event in her husband’s life must have gnawed at her.

The third mystery is the strangest of all.

One night I returned from a date to find my mother upstairs and my father on the landing below. They were yelling at each other, the only time I ever witnessed such a thing. I was staying out of the line of fire and crossing the living room when my father shouted up at her, “I should have stayed married to my first wife!”  Then he stormed out.

The next morning dawned as if nothing had happened. He went to work downtown, she busied herself at home. Later that evening, they avoided each other eyes. Dinner was an unusually quiet meal, no gossip or report on the events of the day. My mother did not bustle noisily as she generally did when they’d had an argument and she wanted it known that this wasn’t the end of it. After an uncomfortable silence, I asked, “So what was that about last night?” They both answered, “Rien du tout,” in unison. “Nothing at all.”

I forgot about it. There were more important things to attend to, including the suspicion that my very best friend was secretly sleeping with my girlfriend.

Decades later, though, when my father was slipping in and out of dementia, I asked him about it. He was fully lucid that particular morning and he denied ever having said—much less shouted—anything about a spouse before my mother. But I saw something in his face, a fleeting and subtle change that told me otherwise. It was tempting to belabor the issue. Did I have siblings other than my two half-sisters from my mother’s first union? In my head, I ran through the full complement of journalism school questions—who and when and why and where and how! But then it struck me that if he’d wanted to tell me about some details of his early life, he would have done so. In this case, he chose not to, and that certainly was his right. I once asked my sisters about it, and neither had anything to offer. And so my father took these three secrets, and possibly many more, to his grave.

I have no contacts with my father’s family.

Sagnier is a relatively unusual name. It means salt gatherer, so on the paternal side I can safely abandon any hope of finding a link to wealth or royalty. There are Sagnier’s in Spain, and there’s a pretty strong likelihood that I’m related to the French actress Ludivine Sagnier, whom I think may be a second cousin.  

There are thirty Google pages comprising 283 entries relating to the name Sagnier. Most of them are devoted to Ludivine who is particularly well-known for a nude scene in the movie Swimming Pool. There are also architects, scientists, photographers, a champion stunt motorcyclist, and the mayor of a medium-sized town in France.

In the United States, there’s me, my ex-wife Mai, who chose to keep her married name, and Christine M. Sagnier who lives in Plainsboro, New Jersey.

But who knows. There might be a whole bunch of other Sagniers somewhere from my father’s first marriage. I’ll never know, and I’m fine with that.

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