The History of My Stomach: A Tristram Shandy Parody
The other day I came across the following paper that I wrote for an eighteenth century literature course when I was a graduate student at Western Michigan University. It was a fun little assignment where we were asked to write a parody of Laurence Sterne’s novel Tristram Shandy (1759-1767). For what it’s worth, here is my offering which has a bit of a Marquette connection since it references my ancestors.
The Life and Opinions of Tyler Tichelaar, Graduate Student
The History of My Stomach
This work is intended to be the history of my life and opinions, yet as I sit here typing, I find that my stomach is so upset I cannot concentrate on my subject, but perhaps this is not amiss, as stomach disorders have been my lifelong problem. In fact, I probably had stomach troubles while still in my mother’s womb, so my life story cannot be told without discussing my stomach.
My stomach has always caused me grief. No matter what I eat, my stomach becomes upset. Similarly, if I do not eat, my stomach is upset. A doctor would suggest that I change my diet to remedy this problem, but since everything upsets my stomach, changing my eating patterns is hardly a solution. Nor is it a matter of nerves or stress which causes my disorder. As an innocent, sheltered infant, I was removed from all forms of stress, yet I went through more diapers as a result of diarrhea than is suffered by anyone who regularly eats three meals a day at Taco Bell.
The reader may then ask if it is not purely my imagination that makes my stomach upset. Reader, I am not like Joyce’s Leopold Bloom, receiving pleasure from my bodily functions, enjoying each chance to urinate, and indulging in the movement of my bowels.
The fact is that I have a stomach problem, and there is no solution to my problem; nor is it simply my problem; it is a family complaint. Would that my problem were only my nose! Then, like the admirable Walter Shandy, I could find some consolation in Slawkenbergius. But if there is a worthy book on stomachs, I have yet to find it.
Perhaps the lack of such a treatise is why I dwell on the subject now. Perhaps it will behoove the world if I write on the cause of my stomach complaints. Perhaps others like me will realize they are not alone, and possibly, they will even learn the source of their own complaints. But perhaps if I am to write such a treatise, I must first relate how I discovered the true cause of my stomach’s malfunctions.
One day, while in the midst of great gastronomical pain, I thought I would contemplate the enigma of my stomach. In my contemplations, I recalled my mother once saying to me, “You have a stomach just like mine.” Therefore, reason led me to theorize that my stomach was a genetic inheritance from my mother; further contemplation caused me to believe my theory was true, for the similarity in our stomachs is attested to by our fighting over who gets to use the bathroom first after a visit to Bonanza’s salad bar.
After contemplating the inheritance of my stomach from my mother, I inquired of her if she might have inherited her stomach from one of her parents. She contemplated my question and then recalled that her father had also had a weak stomach. Being an amateur genealogist, I knew my grandfather had had parents of his own; perhaps from one of these parents, he had inherited his disordered stomach. But upon inquiring of other family members, I learned that the memory of my great-grandparents’ stomachs had disappeared into oblivion.
But I was determined not to give up the search for my stomach’s origins. It then occurred to me that some information might be derived from “The History of the Bishop and White Families” which Jean Martel, my second cousin once removed, had compiled. This family document was easily attainable since the author had given me a copy. In perusing this work, I learned that my grandfather’s father’s father, Jerome Nehemiah White, was a corporal in the Civil War.
But what does the Civil War have to do with my stomach the reader asks? Well, reader, be patient rather than trying to rush me, and I will let you know. Corporal White fought on the side of the North during the Civil War. Most importantly for my theory, he was shot in the abdomen on June 19, 1864 at Petersburg, Virginia. Following this wound, he did not die, or else I would not be able to write this now, nor would you be able to read this, so be thankful that Johny Reb was such a poor shot, unless of course, you are not enjoying my discussion of inherited stomachs and wish my great-great-grandfather had been shot to death, but I am sure such a brutal thought never crossed my humane reader’s mind. See, I knew you were deeply interested in the state of my stomach all along.
But what happened to Corporal White? Well, reader, he went to a hospital in Washington D.C. and recovered. In fact, he was released soon after the Civil War ended. Feeling much better, and wanting to celebrate both his recovery and the end of the war he had so bravely fought in, he decided to see a little of his nation’s capital before returning to his Michigan farm. After all, he was only twenty-four, and since he had seen little of the world he was in little hurry to return home. So one night, Corporal White went to the Ford Theatre to see the play Our American Cousin. But reader, you are anticipating me. Yes, you have guessed my family’s secret claim to greatness. My ancestor, Jerome Nehemiah White, witnessed the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth. There you have rung from me the surprise I intended for a future chapter since this chapter was only meant to explore the history of my stomach, or actually my birth, but since I am off the topic, let me discuss how this digression relates to the main topic.
Reader, I am a firm believer in cellular memory. I believe parents pass their memories on to their children through their brain cells, but only those memories of things that happened in their lives up to the time their children are conceived. My great-great-grandfather returned to Michigan and assisted his wife in conceiving my great-grandfather; in doing so, Corporal White passed on the memory of his wounded abdomen to my great-grandfather’s subconscious, causing all of Corporal White’s descendants to have upset stomachs. Therefore, my stomach is a direct descendant of the Civil War, as the following stomach chart illustrates.
THE STOMACH CHART
Corporal Jerome Nehemiah White’s Stomach (1841-1900)
Jay Earle White’s Stomach (1880-1963)
Lester Earle White’s Stomach (1905-1987)
Nancy Lee Tichelaar (nee White)’s Stomach (1941- )
Tyler Richard Tichelaar’s Stomach (1971- )
Reader, I intended to write about my birth in this chapter. I keep trying to return to my topic, but you keep demanding other information from me. But perhaps these digressions are not without value. Certainly, a little family background is needed to understand how I became the person I am. Really, going back 107 years into my family history is only a small leap, considering I have traced my family tree back nearly two thousand years, and my cellular memory goes back nearly as far. For example, I often have dreams of being in Hastings, England during a great battle. Such dreams might strike you as odd, but since Corporal White was descended from both William the Conqueror and Harold Godwinson, who fought each other at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, my dreams are also the result of a cellular memory passed down for twenty-six generations.
Cellular memory is so marvelous it now enables me to begin the history of my life, or my memories anyway, in the year 1066. But I shall not begin this history until the next chapter, having already filled up enough of this one. In fact, my story should rightfully begin in Chapter One, so I will name this section The Preface. And now, on to the Battle of Hastings.
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