William Neat was my great-grandfather, born around 1880. I could look it up, but it's not important. He came from the Fitchburg, MA area - there was a small troupe of Neats in the Shirley, Leominster, Ayer region. I don't think any are left. There was a tribe of Neats who settled in Indiana and Kentucky in the 1800's, who I doubt are related, and a couple in Norwell who don't answer my letters but I suspect are from my line I can trace to Boston in the mid-18th C - but no close relatives.
His daughter Ruth Irene Neat died just before I was born, and so I was saddled with her maiden name as my middle one: David Neat Wyman. Neat is an older word for cattle, as you may remember from Neat's Foot Jelly. Another theory is that it has something to do with St. Neot. Or not.
It was considered uproarious when I was a child, and I tried to conceal it. Now it's just one more completely unlikely thing in life.
William lived until the early 1960's, but I never met him. He did come to visit us in Manchester unannounced one night, with some third wife or girlfriend or whatever, wanting to see us. My mother - I think she had only met him once herself - allowed him to watch my brother and I sleeping for a bit, and offered him coffee. That he might have money to bequeath occurred to her, but didn't seem a strong enough possibility to be worth waking us. She didn't mention it until decades later.
Oddly, he did bequeath us something in a sense - very good quality bicycles, which he left with my father in Westford, who never got around to bringing them up to us, 45 minutes away. Which tells you something about Dad. But he remembered it and told the story years later and apologised, which tells you something else.
Someplace along the way, while visiting my Dad at his father's chicken farm one summer, I was told that William had been a bicycle racer and trick rider. That year or another, I found a book about the history of bicycle racing, autographed by the author to "Bill, the greatest..." something or other. I read it, because there was nothing else except stashed Men's World's (I read those, too; I read anything). I recall that the book was old then, with sepia photos, and that Belgians and Frenchmen dominated the sport. There was a fuzzy picture pressed inside the front cover of a man on a bicycle at county fair in the 20's, with "William Neat, Trick Rider" on the back. I think I have seen that photo in adulthood as well.
The only other story I know of him was my father's memory of being taken for a ride in a car around 1931, and his grandfather trying to scare him by driving fast. Yeah, funny guy. Al would have been about four. I think there was real animosity from Ruth toward her father, and she kept away from him. Whatever that was about is long lost to history, unless my youngest brother or his mother, my father's second wife, heard anything by chance over the years. But Ruth Irene Neat, a nurse who married my grandfather Carl (in the parlor of a Baptist pastor in New Bedford in front of witnesses whose names mean nothing to me), is shrouded in mystery herself - even though she was a rather close relative to me. I asked my father about her several times, and he dodged. My mother was a newlywed when her new mother-in-law died, and my father just disappeared for a few days, leaving her to deal with lots of details herself. She resented that, as well she might.