It turns out I have a mage in my family tree!
Meet Ed the Wizard, also known as Edmund Peuschel, pictured here on his wedding day, with his beautiful young bride Margaret.
Dad told me Ed's story just a couple months ago. He lived in Kansas City, Missouri, in the mid 19th century, where he ran a saloon with his brother. Ed the Wizard had the singular ability to take his head off and hold it in his hands. To this day we don't know what his secret was, but I suspect it involved getting his clients good and drunk before the show started.
Or...Maybe he was a wizard for real.
Ed was the grandfather of my grandmother, Rita Gastreich (Rita Peuschel, by her maiden name). Rita studied ballet as a girl, and during the 1920s performed in New York as a soloist with the Albertina Rasch Dancers, featured in many of the Ziegfield shows. (In addition to clicking the link to find out about Albertina Rasch, you can see a photo of my grandmother in my July 8 post, Celebrate.)
It was during the off-season, when Rita came home to Kansas City, that she met the man who would become my grandfather, Karl Gastreich. Karl had immigrated to the U.S. from Germany just after WWI, at the tender age of fourteen. He came from a proud old German family, and was slated to marry a bride handpicked for him from a similarly proud old German family back in the fatherland. But he fell in love with Rita, and scandalized his extended family back home by marrying an American woman.
When Rita married Karl, she abandoned her identity as a professional dancer. All the photos and letters from that time were stored away and never talked about, along with her last pair of pointe shoes. It was not until the mid 1970s, when my sister went to study at the Joffrey in New York, that Rita brought all the old photos out of the closet and revealed her charismatic past to her children and grandchildren.
I never learned directly from my grandmother why she chose to conceal this charismatic past for so many decades, but it's occured to me in recent months that something in the mystery of her silence provided one of the seeds for EOLYN, a novel in which we find a variety of characters who, for one reason or another, hide the full extent of their magic.
I suppose we all have hidden magic; a special part of us that we aren't comfortable sharing with just anyone, and that we often simply choose to keep to ourselves. But it's when external forces obligate us to hide our magic -- through repression or other forms of violence -- that we lose something very important to our lives and humanity. This is a core theme of EOLYN, where magic is denied first to one class of people, then to another, and always with adverse consequences.
To this day, I am very grateful Rita brought her photos out of the closet. Otherwise, I might never have known who my grandmother really was.
For those of you who may not have noticed, this week I added a new page to the blog, A Brief History of Moisehén. Read it to find out more about the prohibition of magic among Eolyn's people.