In the Spirit of the Gracious and Compassionate
Creator of the Heavens and the Earth
This is a continuation of Ancestors and Cousins.
I have many cousins in the United States, of course, but I also have cousins in the Netherlands, France, and Guinea — that I know of — and probably in Jamaica, Canada, and Scotland, as well.
Twenty-five or thirty years ago, my brother Arte traveled to Amsterdam, thinking that he might move there. He had become disillusioned (relieved of his illusions) with life in the Bay Area of California. Mom’s sister had told him that we had a cousin in Amsterdam, and he was hoping to meet our cousin. His name was Donald Jones.
When he had made some friends there, Arte told them he was looking for his cousin, Donald Jones. They gasped. “Donald Jones is your cousin?” In actual fact, our cousin, Donald Jones, had become the most famous entertainer in the Netherlands. Back home, he had just been weird cousin Donald.
For better or worse, Arte’s plan to settle in Amsterdam came to naught, and he returned to California. I don’t think he ever contacted our cousin while he was in Amsterdam.
When I visited Amsterdam in 1991 — I was performing in various European cities with the saxophonist Idris Ackamoor — I had the brilliant idea of looking up “Donald Jones” in the telephone book. “Jones” is not a Dutch name, and there was only one “D. Jones” listed. I called and my cousin Donald answered the phone. He had no idea who I was, and suspected I was a crank caller. I ran down the entire family tree that linked us: My mother’s father, Moses Towe Jr., had a brother named John, and John had a daughter named Martha, who married a man named John Jones, and Martha and John were your parents. Then he realized I really was his cousin.
Understandably, he was a very busy man, and I had called him on the day Idris and I were scheduled to catch a 9:30 p.m. train to Vienna. But he arranged to meet me on the train shortly before the train left. We got to talk for about fifteen minutes. No time for small talk. I learned a lot in that fifteen minutes.
Donald Jones had toured Europe in the 1950s as part of a five-person African American dance group, three women and two men. He decided to settle in Amsterdam, where he married a Dutch actress, Adèle Bloemendaal, and had a son by her. They named the son John. Donald became famous as a dancer and actor in the Netherlands.
I met John a year or so later when he was in New York visiting his aunt. He became an actor, like his father. You can see him in the movie Silent Witness (also titled Do Not Disturb), starring William Hurt. The movie is set in Amsterdam, and there is a bar scene in which the William Hurt character is sitting at the bar. John Jones, my curly-haired light-skinned cousin, is the bartender. He actually says a few words in the scene. He is married, with children.
Donald Jones also had a daughter by a French woman. The daughter’s name is Nike. I met her also, when she was visiting her aunt in New York. She was living in Mauritania with her French boyfriend at that time, but I believe she is living in France now.
Donald Jones passed on in 2004, but I still have cousins, his descendants, living in the Netherlands and in France.
Miriam Guichard (neé Towe), 1936(?)-2015, was my mother’s brother’s daughter — a first cousin. She went to France as a Fulbright Scholar. While there, she met and married Yves Guichard, a man from Guinea. In order to marry into his prominent Guinean family, she had to travel to Guinea so that his family could find out who he was marrying. She became a Foreign Service officer for the United States, and was stationed for almost 30 years in Conakry, Guinea. She and Yves had two sons — Eric Vincent Guichard and Jean Patrick Guichard. Both sons were born in Brooklyn, New York — assuring them United States citizenship — and attended college in Dakar, Senegal, before returning to the United States. Both are fluent in French, English, Susu (their father’s mother-tongue), and Wolof (the primary language of Senegal). By way of their father (who passed away many years ago), I must have cousins in Guinea — but I have no idea who they are.
(to be continued)