Sunday, July 15, 2012

Social Networking

Highly unusual occurrence on the softball diamond this morning. As the first player, a young man perhaps 30 years my junior, stepped into the batter’s box against me, both teams cheered, “Let’s go Murray.” I quickly ascertained the batter shared my name, an anomaly I hadn’t encountered in close to 30 years of playing in the Sunday Jewish organization softball league. It’s most unusual to meet anyone younger than I with the name Murray. As I’ve written in the past, Murray is a moniker usually confined by script writers to policemen or dogs ( 

My last name is even more unusual than my first. People often mistake it for Forester, like the Subaru car, or Old Forester bourbon. But it’s Forseter, an Americanization of Fürsetzer. When we grew up, my brother, sister and I thought the only post-World War II surviving Forseters were our family and that of our father’s brother, Willy. All told, eight of us.

So when a St. Louis-raised colleague remarked he’d gone to school with an Elliot Forseter, I told him it was not possible. No doubt Elliott spelled his surname differently, I said. Naturally, an argument ensued. We wagered 10 bucks on who was right. To settle the matter, I trekked down to our fifth floor office to look in a St. Louis phonebook used by our directory division. Sure enough, Elliot Forseter was listed there in black and white. After forking over the $10, I called my father to ask who was this guy, Elliot Forseter. “Oh, that’s Allen’s son,” he said. “Allen!?!,” I screamed into the phone. “Who are these people? Where did they come from? Why hadn’t we heard about them before?”

My father didn’t really have a good explanation as to why he didn’t stay in touch with his St. Louis relatives, or for those in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area that used a Fursetzer spelling, or a Forseter cousin who had lived in Queens but died in the mid 1950s. Since I traveled the nation quite a bit back then, I was determined to meet Elliot next time I was in St. Louis. Only trouble was, I rarely visited St. Louis. 

Several years later, in 1986, en route to Las Vegas, I had a one hour layover in St. Louis, too short a time to leave the airport but time enough to contact Elliot by phone. He wasn’t home. As I explained who I was to his wife, I could visualize her looking into the phone and saying, “Yeah, right.” I told her I’d follow up with a letter. On the plane ride to Las Vegas I long-handed a legal-sized, seven-page letter detailing our family history. Elliot checked with his uncle, Isadore Forsetzer, in Florida before replying. Elliot, too, had no idea he had any Forseter relatives, as his parents had divorced 26 years earlier when he was 13 and his father moved to Los Angeles (by weird coincidence, to a home around the corner from my sister). He enclosed a picture of himself and his family. He could have passed as one of my father’s sons. 

A few years later I actually visited Elliot and his family, as well as my cousins in Minnesota. We all said we would stay in touch. That was 20 years ago. I have not stayed in touch. Sadly, I inherited my father’s anti-social gene when it comes to distant family relations. Maybe it was a universal Fürsetzer gene. My cousins haven’t stayed in touch, either.