I Used To Be French

Legend has it in my famiglia that a great-great-great grandmother on my father’s side married a deserter of Napoleon’s army when it marched across the fatherland. I have always blamed this soldier personally for my short stature and the fact that I don’t possess your typical Lithuanian blond-haired, blue-eyed looks.

But the French ancestor has also served me well, especially as a conversation starter at parties.

“Hello, are you enjoying the party?”

“Yes. I am directly descended from Napoleon.”

I always chalked up the ease with which I picked up French to this particular family member, and felt pretty confident that with my beret, baguette, and striped boatneck shirt, I easily passed for a native during the time I spent living in France.

Whenever someone would comment on my impeccable accent, I would say,

“Thank you. It’s because I’m part French.”

But all of that changed last weekend.

I’d been hounding my father to write down his childhood memories of Lithuania for years, and every time I asked him how it was going, the conversation would go like this:

Hey, T?veli! Kaip tau sekasi prisiminimus rašyti?” (Hey, Dad! How’s it going with your memoirs?”)

And my dad would always tell me that he’s making good progress.

Kiek tu jau puslapi? parasiai?” (How many pages are you up to?”), I’d press him.

And he would say:

“Two paragraphs.”

But last week my Dad presented me with three single-spaced pages of his completed memoirs. He packed a lot in those pages – everything from how his family was separated while fleeing, to how he used to amuse himself in the refugee camps by picking apart detonated bombs.  I’m thrilled with it (and very grateful – a?i? T?veli!).

As a bonus, he included a family tree, which begins with the infamous French ancestor.

Whose last name was, “Felice.” Or maybe, “Feliz.”

I did a little bit of research about this surname and about the history around Napoleon’s path through Lithuania.

It turns out the name is Italian or Spanish. What’s more, Wikipedia told me that thousands of Spaniard and Portuguese conscripts deserted Napoleon’s army in Lithuania during the summer of 1812 and went on to loot, pillage, and terrorize the locals.

I took it pretty hard. It’s not that I’m not thrilled to be one-thirty-second Spanish or  Portuguese or Italian, only that for these past thirty-nine-years, I have believed myself to be one-thirty-second French. Also, my great-great-great grandfather might have been a marauder.

There would be no easy way to break it to my dad, so I went over there this afternoon and told it to him straight:

“I hate to tell you this, but we are Spanish, not French.”

He was clearly devastated.

“I wouldn’t be at all surprised,” he said.

“It’s just as I always suspected,” added Mama.

“That explains the moustache*,” my friend V said when I broke it to her.

And indeed, now that I’ve had a few days to take it in, I am very excited about my Spanish or Portuguese or Eye-talian blood. Of course, there are many things I will have to adjust accordingly (note: buy some pirate shirts and leather pants), but it does explain my fondness for paella and Spanish wine.

The only drawback so far is that the P-Dawg has started calling me, “Gomez.”

That’s the jealousy talking, right there.

The New Me

* I don’t really have a moustache.

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7 thoughts on “I Used To Be French

  1. Zivile

    Small world! My great-great grandmother also married a French officer from Napoleon’s army, as it was making its way across Lithuania. I’ve had the opportunity to visit her gravesite in Lithuania with her French surname engraved upon it. Being one sixteenth part French is AOK with me…at parties I tell people with a smile that that is what accounts for that little bit of the intangible, inscrutable “je ne sais quoi” about me :-))

  2. Marta

    Nothing wrong with having ancestors that look like Penelope Cruz!

    My family is 100% Polish. I don’t think there’s a single non-pole among us that is until I came to the scene and mated with an American mutt!

  3. Ricky C.

    I like the new you. What’s the dominant blood line feature do you have especially in terms of your physique? I’m quite curious about the Napoleon descendant.

    You look gorgeous like that woman from Pirates of the Caribbean!
    -Ricky

  4. Becca

    I really must research my own family origins. Mostly because I would like to have a second language with which to yell at my children in public. It really would be an asset, as you probably already know.

    You’d make a great pirate.

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