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Guest column: Far-fetched families?

Peggy Sanders
Rangeviews, Oral, S.D.

You may recall the song, “I’m My Own Grandpa,” a novelty song which was written by Dwight Latham and Moe Jaffe in 1947 and performed by Lonzo and Oscar and others that same year. The first stanza goes like this:

Many, many years ago when I was twenty-three

I was married to a widow who was pretty as could be.



This widow had a grown-up daughter who had hair of red.

My father fell in love with her and soon they, too, were wed.



This made my dad my son-in-law and changed my very life

For my daughter was my mother, ’cause she was my father’s wife.

The basis for the song rests on variations. This was from an anecdote about a lad in Norwich, England and told by Mark Twain. Published in the March 1822 of the London Literary Gazette, then reprinted in the Republican Chronicle, Ithaca, N.Y., on April 24, 1822.

You see, I met a young widow in Iowa by the name of Sarah Minor and we were married. She had a step-daughter. Then my father met our step-daughter and married her. That made my wife the mother-in-law of her father-in-law, and made my step-daughter my step-mother and my father became my step-son.

Then my step-mother, the step-daughter of my wife, had a son. That boy was the son of my wife’s step-daughter and therefore her grandson. That made me grandfather of my step-brother.

Then my wife had a son. My mother-in-law, the step-sister of my son, is also his grandmother, because he is her step-son’s child. My father is the brother-in-law of my child, because his step-sister is his wife. I am the brother of my own son, who is also the child of my grandmother. I am my mother’s brother-in-law, my wife is her own child’s aunt, my son is my father’s nephew, and I’m my own grandfather. So, there you are.

This is leading to a personal story. Eleven months after my mom died of suicide on May 26, 1962, Dad married Betty, a woman who had grown up in Alabama. She had several aunts who had children. During the summer of 1965, one of the aunts who lived in California brought her family to our South Dakota farm to check out this man who was 10 years older than Betty and had two teenage children. Jeanne, one of the girl cousins. was particularly enamored with the farm and the new things that she learned—she also got acquainted with my brother, Jerry. Five years later Jerry and Jeanne were married; she was a registered nurse by then and Jerry was still in college. Within a few years they welcomed daughters Julie and Jolene.

You can see where I am going with this. Jerry’s step-mother is his wife’s cousin. His mother-in-law was his step-mother’s aunt. Dad and Betty had Audrey and Patrick, who are aunt and uncle to Jerry and Jeanne’s daughters as well as second cousins once removed. Julie and Jolene are second cousins to Betty, though they prefer the other defined relationship — Betty is their grandma.

So, there you are; the song is not as far-fetched as it might seem.

Peggy Sanders is a freelance writer and author of ’Rangeviews,’ appearing in The Fence Post, a Swift Communications publication out of Oral, S.D.


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