1. WOOLCOTT (1710-1771) was among the first to attach the surname "Ryecart" to his Christian name, and was unquestionably the first to have it etched on his face. He was born in 1710, but no one realized it until 1712, when the lifant crawled into Ryecart Hail and cuffed everyone's ears.
He seems to have passed his boyhood in the usual pursuits of the leisure class: hunting, mimicking Voltaire and "squealing" -- a favorite parlor game invented by a Flemish duke whose wig was too tight. At the age of 24 he married Miss Cynthia Tartmonger of Leeds and settled down on the family estate to raise their four sons, two girls, and a pet peasant named Bud.
While family documents make frequent mention of the lovely Victoria, Woolcott's other daughter has been largely ignored. This excerpt from the birth record of one "Blossom Ryecart" explains why:
A most bulbous and uglie babie, whose lips look fairlye like two slabs of fatt backon and rest more closely to one ear than the [other]. Her nose [is] so embarrass'd that't tries to crawle off the face. And her eyes -- don't ask . . .
Blossom was refried at the stake in either 1749 or 1750.
Unfortunately, we know little of Ryecart's life after this. We know that he was elected pope in 1960 (at least among his friends) and that he was fond of toast, but not to eat. We also know that in 1770 he delivered a sharp blow to his other chin with a croquet mallet and spent the rest of his life standing in the garden humming quietly.
2. WOOLCOTT died in 1771 and left a large inheritance to his only son HECTOR (1759-1822), a notorious gambler and rake. By 1780 Hector had squandered most of the fortune betting on football, which didn't exist yet. In order to pay his debts he sold the family manor and turned to what he later claimed were "tiny crimes," such as robbing the Earl of March, then gluing him into a funny hat.
Hector met his future bride, Miss Polly Rummbunn, at a county fair in the spring of 1786, just after filling his cheeks with two pounds of peat. (Known as "putting on the pelican," this fair unless a player's face exploded, when it was thought hideous.) Hector later retired to the "pitpat hut" to drink ale from a deremonial trough, and it was here that he met Polly and fell in love.
The lad was beside himself with adoration:
Polly -- that name! Polly! Polly! Those two "l" s! The little "o" and "y"! That enormous "p"! It is joy! Hooray!
But entries from the girl's diary 12 years later suggest that the affaire de coeur wilted:
Dear Diary, Lunch with the galoot. He blew bubbles in his porridge again, and again I had to apologize for the mess at our table. I hate him, dear diary . . .
When she learned in 1820 that Hector was in fact suffering from a rare combination of trench mouth and St. Vitus' dance, Polly's contempt turned to sympathy, and finally to grief when he rhumba'd over a cliff in 1822.
3. JEDEDIAH (1810-1882), Hector's youngest son, was a tailor by trade. So successful did his business become that Ryecart was often given credit for the sartorial elegance of Victorian London, even though he himself wore a diving helmet and kimono for most of his adult life.
He fell from grace as the result of a scandal involving Disraeli's tuxedo in 1870, and was forced to flee England on June 10, 1871. First stowing his family on the night packet bound for France, Jed escaped himself on a raft made of thousands of heavily starched lapels. After several hours paddling with a pair of pinking shears he reached the dock at Calais, where he was loudly mocked by a crowd which included his own wife and children.
In France they secured passage on a steamer in exchange for sewing velveteen bibs for the crew, and so the Ryecart family tree was transplanted to America. But life was not easy for the newcomers, as daughter Peggy's diary reveals:
We have arrived in Washington. It is a city of ruffians, and they tease unmercifully my poor brother Robert. True, he's ridiculously fat!But must they roll him down the street like a great boulder ?
4. ANTHONY RICKHART (1858-1929), my grandfather, was the one member of Jed's family to feel at home in the new country and was the only one to ever unpack his suitcase. When his father died in 1882, Anthony joined thousands of others headed for the great West. This chronology of his travels is compiled from his journals between 1882 and 1896:
1882: Sets out from Washington for St. Louis and points west, "with a hearty heigh-ho" and 7 cents. Befriends a nearsighted trapper named Dan who snares Anthony's beaver vest during their first night in camp. "after that, I was always reminding Dan to drop dead," he recalled later.
1884: Travels by train from St. Louis to Kansas City, Cheyenne and finally San Francisco. Wanted to get off in Abilene, but fell asleep. In San Francisco a prospector advises him to "take the stage" to Nevada. Still unfamiliar with American terminology, Anthony pushes a production of "La Traviata" across the desert, which is to irreparably spoil his taste for Verdi. Strikes silver in July 1886.
1887: Moves back to California after a rival hires Mormons to congregate on his mine and cave it in. Settles near San Diego, where he meets and marries the Indian girl Wajeya-Hee ("She Who Talks To The Fish, And Sometimes Gets Answered": born in 1870 to Tidy Crab and Chuckling Bug of the Apache tribe).
1889: They leave California to join in the Oklahoma Land Rush, but Anthony rushes into a tree 3 yards from the starting line and there are only condominiums left when he regains consciousness. The disappointed couple takes up residence in Kansas City, where Anthony overcomes an intense fear of hair and becomes a barber.
1895: Wajeya-Hee runs off with a medicine show after she and Anthony quarrel over Turner's frontier thesis. Anthony moves back to Washington, attempts suicide by driving himself into the ground with a tackhammer.
1896: Marries for the second time to Julia Umlaut (1875-1959), daughter of a German bratwurst tycoon. Resumes his barber's practice, starts a family and remains content until his eyebrows catch fire in 1926.
Anthony and Julia's third child was my father, ANTHONY JR. (1906-), a proud man who survived the Depression by raffling off two of his children. The final paragraph from his massive unpublished autobiography, "I, Barber" (1975), serves as a fitting conclusion to my own genealogy:
Sure, I've seen it all. Two wars, sickness, drought, even a shortage of hair poade. But I, a barber like my father, had the character to survive. I had the will to pull through! Listen, you want those sideburns trimmed? Sit down, I got a special on hot towels today . . .
And like Anthony Ju., I became a barber, to prove again that history doesn't repeat itself, it just stutters.
1. The description of Robert (1854-1915) as ridiculously fat is confirmed by a panoramic photograph taken of him in 1891, shortly before his eyes closed over and he was declared a town.