The year is 1823, and GEOFFREY GERGEN and URIAH GERGEN, the great-great-great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather respectively of DAVID GERGEN, have arrived in Ceylon after sailing from Leichesterfield, on the H.M.S. ELIMAE, a stalwart vessel ably captained by SAMUEL MINTON, of the Shaftesbury MINTONS. The two Gergens enjoyed a hearty welcome and a brief afternoon meal in the delightful and well-spoken company of NELSON QUIGLEY, the chief consul, as well as his vacationing family, including ELIZABETH (wife), NELSON II (son), HELENA and EDITH (daughters), and REBECCA (spinster). All dined in the tastefully-appointed private room at the BROOKSIDE INN, reopened under new management. Noticeably absent was Minton, who sent his sincere regrets, saying only that he had to attend to the vigorous flogging of several of his men first, it being the end of the journey and all.
Their meals complete and their entertaining adventure stories told and then retold, Geoffrey and Uriah ordered the attendant locals to convey them, post-haste, to the government opium factory at Patna. The Gergens had a mission. Geoffrey and Uriah Gergen were in Ceylon to supervise the semi-annual inventory of the government opium factory, a task of not a little responsibility for either man.
In the cavernous stacking room of the factory all the opium was carefully stored in unadorned ceramic ball-shaped urns, called opium balls, which were plugged at the top with a cork, called the opium ball cork. When full, each corked ball weighed between fifteen and seventeen pounds, owing to uncontrollable inconsistencies in the manufacture of ceramic.
The balls were placed on shelves, called just shelves, actually, which measured about three balls deep and five across. As far as the eye could see there were these so-called shelves, stacked full from the floor up to the vaulted ceiling. Thin wooden supports conjoined banks of shelves at irregular and unpredictable elevations. The vaulted ceiling wasn’t really even visible come to think of it, not from the ground. One just supposed out of faith or logic it must have been up there somewhere.
Rickety ladders fashioned of lashed-together tree limbs and scrap wood leaned against the walls. Some ladders reached as high as seventy or eighty feet in the air. Various youthful Ceylonese aged nine to twelve, called kids, scampered up and down the ladders, chattering to each other energetically. As David Gergen’s ancestors looked on, these kids loaded several opium balls into plain woven bags secured across their backs or around their waists. The larger, stronger boys carried two bags. The kids emptied the bags onto the floor, stacking the opium balls for later measurement by adults, then scampered right back up those ladders for more.
“Their tongue sounds rather happy, don’t you think, to the ear I mean,” mused the sanguine great-great-grandfather of David Gergen.
“Now that you mention it, I suppose it does,” retorted the phlegmatic great-great-great-grandfather of David Gergen.
A guide accompanied Geoffrey and Uriah, an imperturbable Ceylonese in a turban and a pair of white cotton shorts and a white cotton shift or tunic. In the traditional Ceylonese manner his shorts were rolled at the cuffs and likewise his shift or tunic at the sleeves.
Geoffrey indicated to the guide his keen interest in meeting plant manager Ruskin. Said he, “I have a keen interest to meet plant manager Ruskin, as soon as is convenient for him.”
The guide said he would see to it, then asked if they should carry on then, and Geoffrey nodded, signaling, yes, let us carry on then, and so they did, carry on.
This is the Stacking Room A, the guide told the men whose genetic material bore resemblances both striking and many to that of David Gergen. We have also the Stacking Rooms B, C, and D, and, under construction, the Stacking Room E. Stacking Room A was orderly, spotless, and clean, and except for the aforementioned chattering, quiet. It was like a vast library of opium. The two men nodded and looked satisfied. One of the men harumphed, but it was difficult to well nigh impossible to discern who harumphed and who remained silent.
“This is rather a bit more opium than I expected, to find here I mean,” volunteered the man whose son’s son’s son’s son would one day work in the White House, counseling both Presidents Reagan and Clinton.
Overhead workers traipsed fearlessly across the thin wooden supports in a manner that was quite daring and something to see.
“Does give one pause, I suppose,” offered the father of the man whose son’s son’s son’s son would appear as a frequent commentator on both Nightline and The Newshour with Jim Lehrer.
Uriah paused to look in one direction and noted that the stacking room receded into a perspectival dot. Geoffrey looked in the other direction and observed the same. It was Geoffrey, of the two, who had probably harumphed, odds are. The guide politely waited off to the side.
In the weighing room, David Gergen’s forefathers, men he wistfully regretted knowing so very little about in speeches at Harvard or Yale or someplace, observed a group of highly effective persons who did nothing but read the scales. They called out whatever number the government’s factory’s scales’ pointer indicated. They saw a blind man nearby who confidently worked an immense square abacus with his hands and another, identical to the first, with his feet. With his hands he tabulated the total so far that day of all the numbers called out to him by all the men who did nothing but read the scales. With his feet he double-checked his sums. To the Gergens, he seemed the picture of remarkable pluck. The government’s factory’s workers’ successfully completed the inventory.
For father and son Gergen it was the end of a remarkable if busy day, but not quite the conclusion of this date in Gergen family history. For after the Gergens placed finishing touches on the government’s factory’s inventory’s report, they met their man Charles Rushkin, British liaison and plant manager of the opium factory at Patna.
“We have heard so very much about you, by way of your accomplishments I mean,” enthused Uriah.
“Honored,” contributed Geoffrey.
Rushkin’s sister’s husband’s son’s son’s son would come to be known the world over as British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Furthermore, Rushkin’s son’s schoolmate’s son’s son’s daughter is none other than fashion model Kate Moss. The Gergens struck up an immediately fond acquaintance with Rushkin, and all the men exchanged hearty, firm handshakes.
For an illustration of the stacking room, click here.