Feng Shui Before It Was Cool

 How unbeknownst to the family, a distant relative with OCD became a legend.

While having a rare dinner with family members recently, we began talking about our maternal great-grandmother. She was quite opinionated and, with a fair amount of prodding, could get hysterically funny.

She would verbally lambaste us whenever she felt we were being rude or overtly obnoxious. It was all in jest and when the good natured ribbing finished, we’d all be in maniacal fits of laughter.

Granny was also the family historian. She had tales that were passed down through generations and we were all amazed by her almost total recall. Her memory was astounding as she could remember small and even trivial details.

One cousin of mine wrote down Granny’s stories and, if there was enough detail, she could confirm many of them. 

For instance, an uncle of ours knew the Wright Brothers. Another cousin served as a messenger under General Pershing in WWI. One family member attended one of Buddy Holly’s last concerts.

But the one claim that intrigued me was one that I had heard of many times, but had no way of verifying.

My great-great-grandfather rearranged the deckchairs on the Titanic.

Now, I had heard this phrase used before to illustrate doing something that had no relevance to the problem at hand. A futile gesture signifying nothing. Like lighting a match during a house fire or wearing a parachute on a submarine.

I was once in a board meeting when one of the company officers used the phrase when someone mentioned implementing a new billing management system when the subject was about refinancing to avoid buyout. It had nothing to do with the problem.

It stuck with me. 

I knew there was more information about the sinking of the Titanic now than there ever has been. I took to the internet to find detailed databases and scour them.

I knew my great-great-grandfather was onboard the ill-fated ship on its maiden voyage. He was in third-class steerage. That meant he was down near the engine room. That much has been documented.

There are also family stories about how fussy he was with cleanliness and details. He hated smudges. My Great-great-grandfather despised crumbs of any sort on countertops.

He had a reputation for changing seating arrangements during holiday meals. 

Once he even had broken into a house of a friend to re-alphabetize books and had been arrested for breaking and entering.

As I was spending hours pouring through old documents, I came across two separate interviews of survivors of the sinking. 

Two entirely different witness accounts of some madman running up and down the decks of the ship while it was sinking after hitting the iceberg.

As the deckchairs were sliding toward the listing bow, this man was picking them up and placing them back in an orderly fashion. He had them evenly placed so the people could efficiently walk around them without having to change the direction in which they walked.

One interviewee said the arrangement was better than before and wondered where this man had been during the voyage. He said it was wondrous to see.

It made me subtly proud that a man that I am related to did what he felt he had to do while facing certain death. Now matter how daft or pointless that act was. 

I’m going to keep doing family history research. Now I have to find out if we really had an aunt that invented buffalo wings.


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