Last night I developed what may be a new genre: family history fiction. I was tired of reading silly novels with my kids. I thought it was time to tell them something meaningful. At the same time, I didn’t want to bore them with old, family stories. So I found a middle ground by mixing fact with fiction. Because, as the old adage goes, “never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”
It began near the turn of the twentieth century in the decadent, Austro-Hungarian empire, the very center of world culture. My great-great grandfather, Josef Von Gaschler, was a wealthy landowner and adviser to the mighty emperor (true). I began explaining the political climate that led up to World Word I, and my nine-year-old daughter exclaimed, “I know that! The Serbians didn’t want to be ruled by the empire, so a Serbian man named Gavrilo Princip assassinated the Austro-Hungarian prince, Archduke Ferdinand.”
“Yes,” I said, taken aback. Apparently my kids are smart, and I’ve been filling their heads with dribble for too long. I then explained how Josef Von Gaschler advised the emperor to unleash the full power of the empire’s steam-powered zeppelins (false … but so necessary).
Next I introduced our hero, Josef’s Von Gaschler’s son, Franz Xavier. As a young family man living in the mighty Gaschler manor, Franz is constantly blowing holes in the roof and driving the servants mad as he explores the wonders of chemistry (true enough). Meanwhile, Josef Von Gaschler returns from his meeting with the emperor and sees his house in disarray. He chides Franz and asks him when he’s going to settle down and take on the family business of property management (true). But Franz insists that he must follow his passion for chemistry (true).
At this point, my seven-year-old daughter blurts out, “He’s just like me!”
But Josef Von Gaschler will have none of this. He insists that Franz must take on the family business (true). Franz sees that his father will never accept him for who he is, so he takes his wife and children, and they steal off into the night (true enough). They buy one-way tickets to the farthest place imaginable, Australia (true).
But the voyage is fraught with peril. While Franz and his family gaze over the deck of the steamboat, they spy a black flag on the horizon. Pirates! As the rest passengers panic, Franz advises the captain to prepare his men for war. He gives a noble speech about how Gaschlers do not buckle to tyranny; they do not shirk from conflict; Gaschlers stand tall, and Gaschlers fight. While Franz single-handedly knocks invading pirates off the deck, he makes his way to his briefcase, where he retrieves his chemistry supplies. Then, just in the nick of time, he creates an impromptu bomb, which he hurls at the pirates. The explosion scares the willies out of the pirates, and every last invader jumps overboard. Fanz then completes his monologue with, “… and Gaschlers are smart.” (None of this literally happened. Lyrically, it couldn’t be more true.)
When I ended the adventure for the night, my children begged for more. Of course, it’s only a matter of time before they’ll realize that their great-grandfather wasn’t actually a swashbuckling pirate fighter, but in order to discover that, they’ll have already learned (and will actually remember) more about their great-grandfather than most children will ever know.
In the next episode, they’ll learn about how their grandfather led an army of wild dingoes against the aborigines.