Saturday, June 21, 2008

Chase your DNA

Lagoa Funda, Flores, Azores ©Jain LemosMy grandfather was born in 1869 on the island of Flores, Azores. He had 14 older siblings. At birth, he was named in memory of his elder brother, Antonio Ignacio Lemos, because my great grandparents thought this first son named Antonio was lost at sea. My great uncle Antonio, born circa 1842, had left Flores by sail as a young man, heading for America. En route, he shipwrecked off the coast of Italy, survived, married and started a family. I guess he didn't have time to notify the folks back home that he was vivo. Eventually, Antonio made it to the New World, arriving around 1882 in Mendocino, California, the town where I was born and raised.

In 1877, back in Flores, my eight-year-old grandfather, Antonio, left the island with a family group and landed safely in Massachusetts. By age fifteen he had become a master barber. Because he also spoke four languages fluently, he was a sought-after court interpreter in Boston. Eventually he moved west to San Francisco, then made his way north to Mendocino by the turn of the century. On arrival, he was amazed to find another Antonio Lemos in town. Yes, it was his long-thought-dead brother. I can picture this surreal and emotional scene! My grandfather promptly changed his name to Antone Braga Lemos, or "Mr. B." as our family refers to him. The brothers lived out their lives in Mendocino along with many Portuguese families from the Azores. Antonio died in 1913; Antone in 1938.

I wish I would have known my grandfather in person. In 2006, I made my first trip to Flores. Two years later, I still feel the impact of being there. I believe my footprints fell on top of at least one of the Antonio's. I understand the great need my grandfather and his brother must have felt in order to leave the island in pursuit of potential fortunes. Their dream to come to America parallels my dream of living my final years on Flores, painting, photographing and writing novels about old times and journeys. It is a life I imagine as one full of bliss, amongst loving and kindred people.