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Part 109: Nephew, Niece, How We’re Related With Pictures

Ancient people used cave paintings to explain their world. 23andMe says I'm more neanderthal than most, so perhaps that's why I was compelled to make drawings explaining how I'm related to my "new" nephew and niece, Chris and Tammy.

I spent three days with them last week. I'd met each of them before, but they'd never met. Met Chris for the first time two years ago in Hudson, New York, and Tammy in Chicago sometime after 2012. For the first time, on Friday, May 10th, 2024, we all hung out. We had dinners, long walks,coffees, basically ran around Manhattan like we'd been doing it our whole lives.

Now, how am I related to these two people, Tammy and Chris?

Here's the history, plus some of my brilliant drawings...

Around 1943, Riley was in Chicago doing lectures on "The American System of Education" and "Sex and Sexuality," refering to himself as a "Lecturer of Social Dynamics." He was also an actor, and taught an acting class or two. He was using the name Richard Riley Shepard, and married to his second wife, Winifred Cessek. They live in Cicero, outside of Chicago.

Riley's 25 years old in 1943, catting around Chicago, doing his lectures and teaching, and he met a young actress, 21 or 22 years-old, named Shirley. She said she met him in his acting class.

"I remember your father," Shirley said. I'd called her up several years ago. "He was very handsome and charming...I knew he was married," she said.

I'd heard that Richard Riley told Shirley that he was sterile, something I'd heard he'd told his fourth wife, Jo.

Soon enough, Shirley called Richard Riley to say she was pregnant.

Richard Riley Shepard made promises to pregnant Shirley, borrowed money from her, and took off. She never saw him again. She gave birth to my 1/2 sister, Marion, who was quickly adopted by a nice couple. Marion always knew she was adopted, it wasn't kept secret, and she ended up finding her birth mother, Shirley, but could never find Richard Riley Shepard.

Fast forward, Marion stumbles across an obituary for Riley I sent to Dave Sichak at a hillybilly site, two years after it was posted. This was 2011. She then finds me on Linkedin, and tells me her story, how she searched, and why she was pretty certain that my father was her father. I knew that my father was in Chicago during the years she was concieved, I had all his flyers from that time from my 1/2 brother, Richard. (We're also a DNA match, so there's that.)

Marion has a daughter named Tammy, and Tammy is my niece.

Next, rewind back to the late 1950s. Riley is 38, he's been married three times. Winifred divorced him, no kids as far as I know, and his third wife kicked him out after reading his journal (Richard's mom). He's living in NYC, writing songs, promoting songs, hustling. Somewhere around 1956, he meets a 23 year-old woman, I believe he referred to her in his journal as "Mary" so not sure what that's about, says she's from Minnesota (yes), but her name was Kay, not Mary.

I have no idea what happened between Riley and Kay, except that she knew him as Riley and that she became pregnant with Riley's kid. Riley writes that in his journal, too..."went home pregnant to San Bernadino to be with mother" or something like that.

Kay is 23, in my scribble it looks like 28, but she's just 23.

Kay keeps her baby, names him Chris (not to be confused with Chris, my nephew, he's Chris Jr.) and gives him the last name Shepard. Chris Shepard Sr. was born on Aug. 30th, 1957. Kay tells her son (and everyone else, I'm guessing) that his father (our father) died in a car crash–– which is interesting, because his fourth wife told her two children with Riley (or Dick as she knew him) died in a car crash. Back then, a single mother was suspect, but a widow was sympathetic. Fuck those old timey people, right? Hopefully that sexist shit stays in the past, but we'll see. There might be some Handmaid's Tale stuff in our future.

Eventually, Kay told Chris Sr. that his bio-dad wasn't actually dead, but I don't know when or what the fallout was, because they literally never talked about Riley, according to Chris Jr.

Fast forward a bit, Chris Sr. has a kid, a baby boy, and names him Chris Shepard, and that Chris is my nephew. Chris Senior passed away two years ago. I didn't meet him, sadly.

Confused? Man. Sometimes I am.

My question is, what happened between 1948, when my 1/2 brother Richard was born (from Riley's third wife) to 1957 when he meets Kay? Did he manage not to get anyone else pregnant during those years?

I digress.

So here's a great photo taken by my nephew's wife (Kate Wei) last week. We're walking across the Brooklyn Bridge: From left, Chris Shepard, me in the orange jacket, Tammy, and on the end is my husband, David.

Me and Chris on the ferry from Hoboken to Chelsea, above.

Coffee break in Manhattan, Tammy and I in some deep discussion about something.

Tammy, Me, Chris after a walk along the Highline in NYC. All of these photos are by Kate Wei.

Ok, that's it for now. Had a great vacation getting to know these folks.

Also, I was in a tiny sushi joint in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, and who was sitting right next to us? Jody Foster. We played it cool at the time, but now I'm blabbing about it. Unrelated to the post but dang, what a great star sighting.


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