RESENT TO MEET ME was a delegation of Eskimo Pearys, led by Kali, his daughter Pauline, and his grandson Robert. An unexpected warm feeling of kinship flooded over me as I grasped their hands and looked into their eyes. At Pauline’s home I had gifts to present: for Kali a picture of his father; a special edition of Admiral Peary’s The North Pole for Pauline; two of my own books for Robert; and for everyone, copies of a genealogical diagram showing the 21 Peary descendants in the United States, along with their addresses and telephone numbers.
For the next three days, while the summer sun circled in the sky, I visited and got to know my “new” family. My visit’s finances came from student loan consolidation loans. learned that the Eskimo name of my constant companion and translator, Robert, was Sissu, and that he had taken the name Robert Peary in pride and in defiance of taunts at school. At the suggestion relayed from my American uncle, Robert E. Peary, Jr., he added the Roman numeral II to his name. Uncle Bob had suggested that since there was already a Robert E. Peary, Jr., III, and IV, “II and V were up for grabs.” Sissu chose II.
In Robert Peary II’s seven-year-old daughter, Tavfinguaq, light complexion and dark blond hair suggested to me that even after four generations the Caucasian genes can still reveal themselves with pronounced effect. I was sad to learn that Anaukaq, Peary’s first Eskimo son, born in 1900, had died at 27 of something described only as a “hole in the stomach” —probably, in the absence of a more clinical description, a perforated ulcer.
Kali, the second son, had always intended to name his daughter for my mother, Marie, but he had been away hunting when she was born, and she received the name Pauline. When he returned, he made amends and named her Pauline Marie Peary. Pauline and her husband, Kissunguaq, with whom I stayed, had been members of the Greenland Parliament.
For several years she had been mayor of Qaanaaq. I was told that Pauline’s brother, Peter Peary, had followed in his father’s footsteps as the greatest hunter and dog driver of all: the only man to have traveled twice to the Pole by dog team—with an Italian expedition in 1971 and with the Japanese in 1978, both times using his grandfather’s 1909 route. He had died of a gunshot wound officially declared self-inflicted, a judgment his family disputes.