Worldview of LeVar Burton

On February 10, 2017, Levar Burton gave the keynote at Rootstech. I wrote about LeVar’s speech at that time, but the video link was removed so most of you never got to see his incredible session. The link has since been permanently (I hope) added here.

I implore you to watch this 22 minute clip of LeVar’s presentation. I guarantee, you’ll leave with a…oh never mind the sales pitch… just trust me and watch the clip:)

I’ve heard a lot of speeches and presentations and I have two words about this one.

Best. Ever.

It’s incredibly inspiring on so many levels. Especially, especially, LeVar’s secret “one minute exercise.” Nope, I’m not telling you. You’ll just have to watch, but here are a few quotes from LeVar:

“I could easily have been one of those statistics…..”

“My mother had hopes for me….and expectations…”

“My mother taught me that there are no limits to what I could accomplish in my life except those that I myself impose.”

“I would be…frustrated with the unfairness of that injustice.” 

“Two most important words in combination in the English language….’What if…’”

“…lifechanging.”

“That upon which we focus our imagination is what we manifest in this realm.”

“We stand on the shoulders of those who have come before us.”

“Close your eyes and bring into mind someone who saw you and recognized your brilliance and helped bring it into being.”

“None of us get through this thing called life on our own.”

“God and time are synonymous.”

“Unless we can be still we will never hear that voice of God within.”

“Pay attention, because if we’re not paying attention, we might miss something that is incredibly important that is key to us delivering our gift to the world.”

Your One Minute Person

Please enjoy the video, and when you’re done, tell me in the comments who you brought into your mind in your “one minute of silence,” and why.

I’ll go first.

My step father, because he told me, literally, that I could do anything I set my mind to and to never let anyone tell me otherwise. And he meant it.

He made me recognize the power of possibility and that it resided within me. I never understood the magnitude of that gift in his lifetime, and I sure hope he can hear me now. He changed my life in an instant by empowering me to change my own. It’s the best gift he could ever have given me.

Genealogy, Identity Theft and Equifax Update

Yesterday, I wrote about the Equifax breach and how genealogy can be tied to that breach in the article, Equifax Data Breach, Genealogy and You.

It appears that some folks may not realize how the combination of the Equifax breach AND your genealogy info can be tied together to compromise your online and financial security. I should have given a specific example. This is really, really important, so I’m writing an update today.

This situation is WAY MORE IMPORTANT than your genealogy itself.

I cannot believe those words just came out of my mouth.

It has also come to my attention that banks and other institutions may not use the same types of security smeasures around the world, so people outside of the US may not be familiar with how we do business here.  However, in the past day, this breach has extended beyond the US, so please, read on no matter where you live, even if you read yesterday’s article carefully.  There’s more you need to know today.

This breach doesn’t just relate to existing credit card accounts and establishing new accounts, but relates to your bank accounts, tax refunds and government services that you might apply for in the future, including Social Security and Medicare benefits. You don’t want some crook stealing your identity, filing for your taxes and applying for benefits, which means you can’t.

The Perfect Storm

Here’s an example of how this breach creates the “perfect storm,” for the crooks anyway, which is your worse nightmare come true.

In just three steps, made much easier by Equifax (thanks), your money can be gone.

Step 1 – In the Equifax breach, your social security number and address (along with other personal information like account numbers) was part of the information that was stolen.

Step 2 – Let’s say that at your bank, you use your social security number or your old street address as your password. Through the Equifax breach, the crooks now have that info, so they try both of those and voila, now they have progressed to your security questions, because the bank was smart enough to realize that the sign-in request was not coming from your home computer.

Step 3 – Let’s say you have established two security questions at the bank. Your questions are your mother’s maiden name, which is freely available in your family tree, and your grandmother’s birth location, which is also available in the same source.

Poof – the crook is in and your money is gone.

Yesterday, when setting up a credit freeze at one of the three credit reporting sites, six of the 8 security questions I could select from were genealogy related and readily available in online trees – surnames, middle names and birth locations.  Obviously, they don’t know about online trees and how easy it is to obtain that information – and they need to fix that security loophole. Even if you don’t have an online tree, you may well be in someone else’s.

Security Questions

In some cases, security questions can be selected by you. Don’t just pick the easy ones you can remember. Pick something that absolutely CANNOT be found online in any way associated with you. Your first pet’s name, for example.

However, if your first pet was a goldfish named Goldie that you accidentally flushed down the toilet and you published a blog article about that traumatic event – that’s not a good choice either.

Your first boyfriend’s name? Did you marry him or someone with the same first name? Then not that either.

So, what to do if you don’t get to select your security question and it’s something like your mother’s maiden name?

Lie.

Yep, tell a lie. It’s OK. Your children will thank you when you don’t have to live with them when you’re old and impoverished because your money was all stolen and your social security benefits too.

Make something up – but remember your lie or write it down someplace safe (i.e. not on a yellow sticky postit in the bottom of your keyboard at work) – because your access to your own account is tied to that information.

Passwords

There’s all kinds of advice on password selection. Strong passwords require a lengthy string including upper and lower case of both alpha and numeric characters.

Of course, you can’t possibly remember these passwords, so you will write them down and that too can be stolen. But, chances are that password in your house is less likely to be compromised than information associated with you available online – at least in my house.

Password cracker software runs through thousands of possibilities in the blink of an eye. That’s why most sites today lock your account after some number of erroneous tries. Bummer if you’ve just made a mistake.

Don’t use the same password for multiple sites either. If a crook compromises one location, the first thing they are going to try is a second location.

Storing your password list in your cell phone probably isn’t such a good idea either. Someone asked about password “safes” offered by some vendors. I’ve never used them. Think about how attractive those would be for hackers. Use at your own risk.

Worse yet, personally identifying information, like what was obtained from the Equifax breach, is used to reset passwords, so you can easily see how a crook could use info they have obtained from Equifax to reset your passwords.

If your bank and brokerage accounts offer something called two factor authentication, that might be a good option. Two factor authentication requires information plus something you physically have, generally meaning your phone. Access to your account then requires both the password and pin or token issued from something physically in your possession. Yes, I know this is a huge pain. But having your identity stolen is a bigger pain that never ends and thanks to Equifax, more than half of the country is now at a much higher risk than ever before.

Back to the Equifax Breach

In addition to what I wrote in yesterday’s article, you need to know the following things:

  • Even if the Equifax site tells you that your data has “probably” not been breached, don’t believe them.  It has been discovered and reported by multiple news agencies (along with my personal experience) that if you enter the same data, exactly the same way, multiple times, the Equifax story changes relative to whether or not your data was breached. Do not take comfort if the site tells you that your data has not been breached. I don’t think they actually have a clue. Assume that it has been breached and take appropriate measures.
  • Even if your credit has supposedly not been breached but your spouses has, much of your account information is the same, so consider your account breached too.
  • Equifax says that this breach now extends to some people in the UK and Canada, but no further information has been provided. For safety’s sake, assume you are one of these people whose accounts have been breached.
  • Equifax originally required you to waive your rights to join a class action suit in order to take advantage of their free credit monitoring for a year if they tell you your data has been breached. They have now recanted that position and their website now says the following as of noon today:

Options for Protecting Yourself

Because the Equifax breach has such long-term and permanent ramifications, meaning that while you can change things like your e-mail address and close a credit card account, you can’t easily change things like your name, address and social security number. Those are much more difficult and together, readily identify you as you – or the crook as you.

So, you need to accomplish multiple goals:

  • Know if fraudulent activity has taken place
  • Monitor to know if fraudulent activity is taking place
  • Prevent crooks from obtaining credit in your name by using the credit reporting services
  • Prevent bank accounts and other financial accounts from being compromised
  • Protect your assets like tax returns, social security and other benefits for which you may today or someday be eligible

The bad news – there is no one single way to do all of this, so you’re going to have to make some decisions and take multiple steps.

I’ve compiled information in the following chart. Please keep in mind, I’m not a lawyer nor a CPA – so please educate yourself and only use this as a guideline – not gospel. Plus, things change and right now, Equifax is changing their story daily – and it takes days to sign up for their credit monitoring service. I was able to freeze my account yesterday.

In the article, Equifax Data Breach, Genealogy and You, I discussed Credit Monitoring Services, Credit Reports, Fraud Alerts and Credit freezes, sometimes called security freezes. The chart below represents my understanding of how these services work together to protect consumers.

Safety Goals Credit Report Credit Monitoring Service Fraud Alert Credit Freeze Comment
Has fraudulent activity already taken place? Free once yearly for all 3 services, Equifax, Experian and Transunion Typically a paid service that provides credit reports to you periodically. Sometimes provided for free when your data is known to have been involved in a breach. Does not report past events Does not report past events
Monitor to know if fraudulent activity is taking place No, only deals with events that have already taken place No, only deals with events that have already taken place Free service for 90 days that requires a lender to contact you to verify your identity before issuing credit in your name.   You must renew every 90 days. Allows consumers to freeze their credit.   Consumer must unfreeze when they are applying for new credit, then refreeze. You must freeze at all 3 agencies for this to be effective.
Prevent crooks from obtaining credit in your name through credit reporting services No, only deals with events that have already taken place No, only deals with events that have already taken place Yes, but expires and consumer must renew every 90 days Yes, doesn’t expire but you have to remove freeze when you want new credit.  Must freeze at all 3 agencies to be effective.
Prevent bank accounts and other financial accounts from being compromised Not related to bank accounts Not related to bank accounts Not related to bank accounts Not related to bank accounts Use strong passwords, change passwords often, do not use  security questions where answers can be found publicly or in credit reports, read the links below to know what to look for
Protect your assets like tax returns, social security, etc. Not related to this type of protection Not related to this type of protection Not related to this type of protection Not related to this type of protection Stay hyper-vigilant, file as soon as possible, read the links below to know what to look for

Additional Resources

You can read what the IRS says about identity protection at this link:

https://www.irs.gov/identity-theft-fraud-scams/identity-protection

Here’s what the Social Security Administrations says about identity theft:

https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10064.pdf

God forbid you ever really do need to change your social security number:

https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0248-do-you-need-new-social-security-number

Here’s the FTC’s document about identity theft, what to do, how to report identity theft and a recovery plan.

https://identitytheft.gov/

From the FTC, signs and signals of identity theft.

https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/topics/identity-theft

Again from the FTC, a scam alerts site.

https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/scam-alerts

Please note that this situation is fluid. Educate yourself and follow this in a credible news source for developments that may change your remediation plans.

Thank you to people commenting on the original article and providing additional, useful information.

Grandma’s Legacy

I apologize to my readers for this diversion these past few days with identity theft combined with genealogy. Unfortunately, because genealogists do share and as humans, we are inclined to use information we readily know, that means we’re vulnerable to the crooks – because our genealogy information is near and dear to us, and we remember it easily.

Fortunately, this is easy to fix by not utilizing our genealogy information that we so readily know.

I do love genealogy, particularly genetic genealogy, and I have absolutely no intention of giving it up. I am, however, now more vigilant. I’ve changed my personal security questions, or the answers, so that my family tree and blog articles don’t give me away.

I will be making sure that information from the past hundred years is marked as private. It not only puts me at risk, it puts anyone else in that same line of descent at risk too.

Keep in mind, there’s nothing you can do about someone else’s tree online that may include your grandmother’s birth location. This means that my preventative measure of making the last hundred years private in my tree may amount to closing the barn door after the cow has left.

I’ve frozen my credit, meaning I’ll have to unfreeze it when I apply for a loan someday for a new car. Maybe that means because of the inconvenience I’ll spend less. Hey, there has to be a silver lining someplace.

Here’s what I don’t want, for either you or me. I don’t want my legacy to be the grandma who had everything stolen and had to go and sleep on the park bench….you get the drift.

I hope you’ve found this helpful, and I sincerely hope I never feel compelled to write about something this serious again.

Let’s do everything we can to prevent that so we can get back to genetic genealogy. All of this bother is interrupting my research time!

Caveat

Again, I’m not a lawyer or a CPA. I have no ties to the financial industry except for being a consumer. Use at your own discretion. Educate yourself. Consider this a resource, not gospel.  Follow this developing story and make course corrections as needed. Changes are occurring rapidly. Presume the worst. It’s better than presuming the best and being wrong.

Equifax Data Breach, Genealogy and You

What, you may be asking, does the Equifax data breach this week have to do with genealogy?

The answer is actually twofold.

  1. Everyone who works with genealogy now lives in a technology world – or you wouldn’t be reading this.
  2. People tend to use pieces of information to secure accounts – like their mother’s maiden name, their address, birth location and other pieces of data that they can remember. Don’t. Just Don’t. I’m begging you!

And please, please read this article, even though it’s not specifically about genealogy. I spent 30 years in the technology industry, and believe me, if your identity is stolen or your finances compromised, it WILL interfere with your genealogy research, big time.

The Breach

I don’t normally discuss news items, but this security issue is mammoth, the largest breach ever, and could potentially destroy your credit and compromise your identity, either or both.

What’s worse yet, the breach itself occurred mid-May through July, Equifax discovered it on July 29th, but consumers weren’t notified until September 7th, 5 weeks and 5 days later, and then only in the news, not personally. That means that the crooks have had between 6 weeks and 4 months to use or to sell, or just hold your information to sell later.

You can read more about the breach here and here as well as a New York Times article with an update and additional instructions this morning, here.

Please do read those articles to understand the magnitude of this issue. The breach affects more than 143 million people, mostly Americans, with an additional 209,000 credit card numbers stolen as well, along with 182,000 “dispute documents” with additional information.

The US has about 260 million adults, so roughly 55% of the adult population has been affected by this breach. In other words, there is more than a 50% chance that your personal information, enough to file a tax return on your behalf and claim your return, among other things, is among thieves right now, on the black market.

And no, I’m not exaggerating.

Not. One. Bit!

AND, that’s just how many account records are known to be compromised. Equifax may not know the full extent of the breach.

If your spouse’s records are compromised, and yours aren’t, you may think one of you is safe.  But guess again – because your life, credit and resulting misery is inextricably linked together.

If one is breached, both are breached. Period. So the actual breach numbers may actually be closer to 100%, based on “breach by marriage.”

My husband and I have been working on this issue all day today (and no, we didn’t have anything better to do, thank you for asking) and discovered that our shared account numbers are listed, with both names, of course.  My accounts are his, and vice versa. Initially, only one of our Equifax accounts was reported as breached, which would have provided a false sense of security for one of us, until we looked closely.

However, later today, both accounts were reported as breached.

What Was Taken?

Equifax and other credit reporting agencies routinely track your credit history, including account numbers, as well as identifying personal information.

Information about consumers stolen from Equifax includes or may include:

  • Name and Addresses (current and old)
  • Credit History including balances and balance available
  • Account Numbers
  • Social security numbers (the hottest most desirable piece of your information for crooks)
  • Birth dates
  • Driver’s license numbers

The aspect that make this breach so serious is that it includes multiple pieces of information that should be unique to identifying you – such as your birthdate and social security number.  You can’t change those or get new ones to protect yourself – and the crooks know that.

Additional information in your file that Equifax has not said was or was not compromised includes:

  • Employer and position (current and former)
  • Employment dates
  • Phone numbers
  • Spouses name

I would presume that this too was compromised.

If you think your information isn’t at Equifax, you’re wrong, because Equifax, as well as the other credit reporting services, routinely gather identifying and financial information about everyone.

How Do I Find Out About My Information?

Equifax has set up both a telephone hotline (that is, *surprise*, entirely jammed) and a website for you to enter a partial social security number along with your surname to determine if your account was compromised.

https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/

Click on the tab at the top of the page that says “Potential Impact.”

If your data is not known to be part of the breach, you see a notice to that affect, but note that the wording is not definitive. It says:

“Based on the information provided, we believe that your personal information was not impacted by this incident.”

However, and this is a HUGE HOWEVER, when I tried this a second time, to be sure of the wording for this article, I got the opposite result for the same person, which said,

“Based on the information provided, we believe that your personal information may have been impacted by this incident.”

Bottom line, I don’t think Equifax knows for sure and their system appears to be flawed, so ASSUME YOUR DATA HAS BEEN BREACHED.

If your information is known to be part of the breach, you are given the option for free credit monitoring, BUT, you must remember to return to the site on a specific date to begin credit monitoring. Personally, I think they should be required to provide this service AT A MINIMUM for everyone, but they are not. Neither are they making it easy.

Equifax provides you with a date that you must return to their website to set up credit monitoring service. Mine was September 11th. You have to remember. They aren’t going to remind you. This credit monitoring service is initially free, but becomes a chargeable service at some point in the future AND you have to relinquish your right to sue in order to obtain this free service. So yes, strings are attached.

Furthermore, a free year of monitoring won’t help you in the future, beyond year 1, when the crooks still have your data. The crooks know this and may simply wait for a year to begin using the information. You must assume your data base been breached permanently and act accordingly.

Worse yet, a free year of monitoring at Equifax, or even permanent monitoring at Equifax won’t help you at the other reporting agencies.  The crooks can and will take your valuable information and simply use it elsewhere.

What Is Credit Reporting and Monitoring?

Credit reporting companies like Equifax gather information about you and your credit, including open and closed accounts, so that when you apply for a loan, the loan originator (the bank for example) only has to call one of three credit reporting services to obtain your information and verify that you are a good credit risk – instead of calling each of your current and past creditors individually.

Equifax is one of those services, along with Experian and Transunion.

A credit monitoring service, offered by a credit reporting company life Equifax, reports activity to you when it occurs on your account. That means if someone applies for a new credit card in your name, you are notified. That does NOT mean that the transaction is prevented. This also does nothing to stop other fraudulent activities, such as filing for your tax refund, running up medical bills in your name or charging items on an existing credit card.

Or, worse yet, using your information in your stolen Equifax account information to attempt to hack your passwords at banks, Paypal, etc.

There are other options for consumers, in addition to or instead of a credit monitoring service, such as a credit freeze or a fraud alert, which we’ll discuss just as soon as we talk about passwords and security questions.

Don’t Use Familiar Records as Part of Your Password or Security

Using information about you that is publicly available, or available in your credit report allows the crooks to crack your passwords much easier. And yes I’m referring here to passwords for financial accounts like bank accounts, retirement and investment accounts and Paypal.

DO NOT USE:

• Your mother’s maiden name
• Your address
• Your previous address
• A pet’s or child’s name or any name that can be found publicly, on any service like Intellus or social media platform like Facebook
• A hobby that is discussed publicly in any way (so genealogy, DNA, genetic genealogy, quilting and gardening words are all out for me)
• The name of a school that you attended
• Your, your parents’ or grandparents’ birth locations
• A date such as a birthday or an anniversary
• Pretty much anything you can remember easily

Let’s look at steps you need to take to protect yourself.

Twelve Fourteen Steps to Protect Yourself Right NOW!!!

Yes, I added two more steps because it’s critical to protect yourself and your family, now. Please complete ALL of these steps to secure yourself.

First, check the Equifax site to see if your information is known to be breached. Regardless of their answer, assume that it has been.

https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/

Click on the Potential Impact tab.

Second, order a free credit report, which you can do once yearly, from Annual Credit Report at the link below. Do NOT fall for scam sites that offer free reporting or your credit score.

https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action

Order a report from all 3 credit reporting companies to be sure that no fraudulent activity has taken place to date and that your report is accurate.

Unfortunately, and somewhat maddeningly, when we attempted to order our free credit report online for Equifax, the process has changed and we now have to fill out a form.  Yes, I know their system is probably overwhelmed by this, BUT, making receiving a free credit report to which the consumer is entitled at a time like this difficult is reprehensible.  Do whatever you have to do to obtain your reports, because this breach is incredibly serious.  Do not be deterred.

Third, while credit monitoring only tells you what has already taken place, placing a fraud alert on your account means that a lender must contact you to verify your identity before issuing credit in your name. However, this can only be done for 90 days when it expires. You must renew it every 90 days at Equifax, Transunion and Experian, all three. Again, the results of this breach will be very real for years, so 90 days isn’t going to help you if you forget to call and put the alert on your account every 90 days.

Fourth, put a credit freeze on your account. A credit freeze actually freezes your account at the credit reporting agencies, meaning that if you are going to apply for credit, you have to go into your credit account and unlock your account with your pin to unfreeze the account, then refreeze it when you are done applying for new credit. The credit freeze service isn’t free in every state, but typically costs under $10, if anything, and is a whole lot less than the headaches you could have otherwise. Be sure to freeze your credit at all 3 credit reporting companies. This is what I’m doing. You can read more about this process here.

Fifth, many credit cards have an option to notify you when charges are made on your account through text messaging before the end of the month when your bill is sent. Visit your credit card provider to see if this option is available, enabling you to catch fraudulent credit card activity immediately instead of later when your bill arrives.

Sixth, monitor your credit card bills closely. Look back over your accounts since April. You might want to close any accounts you don’t need or use anymore.

Seventh, change your passwords on existing accounts, everyplace, just in case, especially any that include any piece of information that even MIGHT be held in a credit report or public location.

DO NOT use any type of identifying information such as your place of birth, mother or grandmother’s maiden name, or anything else that is in any way publicly available on a social media site, your tree at a genealogy site or anything else that can in any way be associated with you.

Eighth, at tax time, file your return immediately, as soon as possible. Guaranteed, if the crooks target you, they’ll file as soon as they can and you won’t find out you’ve been scammed until the IRS tells you that they already processed your refund and it’s long gone.

Ninth, be sure, absolutely positive, that your spouse takes these steps too, because if they are exposed, so are you!

Tenth, help family members that are not technologically savvy to be sure they are protected. The elderly are often targets.

Eleventh, this could not have happened at a worse time with hurricane Harvey in Houston and Irma positioned to strike Florida. Be sure family members in those locations who are distracted presently are aware that this security issue occurred, that their data may well have been breached, and that they need to take action – sooner rather than later.

Twelfth, take action NOW. Delay may well mean money – yours – gone – in someone else’s hands.

• Thirteenth, check your children’s names and social security numbers at the credit agencies.  Social security numbers of children are considered high value items, because they last so much longer. Young children shouldn’t be in the system, but teenagers, you never know and much better safe than sorry.

Fourtheenth, never ignore what seems like a “mistake” on a credit report, such as a misspelled name or an extraneous address.  On my husband’s report, his name was misspelled, only slightly, in one “odd” entry and it turns out that someone had run up bills in his name in another state.  When the creditor attempted to collect by contacting my husband, that’s when my husband discovered the issue. This also pertains to reported unpaid medical bills on your credit report.  I know of someone who supposedly had a baby and was billed by the hospital for an exorbitant amount after her identity was stolen.

You can visit the Federal Trade Commission site to learn more about identity theft and how to protect yourself.

https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0014-identity-theft

Ok, when you’re done with all that, feel free to resume genealogy research!

However, from here forward, you can never be complacent or really rest easy, because your identity truly is in jeopardy, forever.

Please note that these actions may not be the only actions you’ll need to take to keep yourself safe, now, or over time.  This story and the ramifications are still developing.  Please educate yourself and follow credible news sources.

The Last Father’s Day

The heat was oppressive. The air wasn’t moving, hanging like a hot wet blanket, engulfing you, making it difficult to breathe.

In the days before air conditioning, you woke up hot and sweaty, and that was before the sun was even on the horizon. You tended the livestock early, weeded the garden out behind the chicken house and picked whatever produce was ready by 7 AM or so, because the heat and humidity only got worse as the day progressed.

Home sweet home. The farm in Indiana.

In fact, it was so hot on the farm in summer that children were allowed to run around in their birthday suits except for their underwear, and play in the sprinkler or a tub outside, filled from the hose or the well pump. Sometimes the adults indulged in the hose too, putting their thumbs over the end to cause “spray,” or stuck their feet in a bucket of cool water. It was just that hot. 

This particular Sunday, June 20, 1993, just happened to be Father’s Day.

My life in 1993 was very different than it is today. Every June, I spent a week at Rockome Gardens, an Amish “park” in the countryside of heartland Illinois, at a Cross Stitch Festival, teaching and learning and enjoying the camaraderie of my friends.

A group of us met at Rockome from across the country every summer, like the swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano. Mind you, Arcola, the closest town, a few miles distant was so small that there was only a railroad crossing, a bowling alley and one small Mom and Pop motel. Of course, there were grain silos and an elevator along the railroad tracks, because after all, this is farm country.

By Daniel Schwen – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3448414

The area around Rockome Gardens was much like the area in Indiana where I grew up, corn, soybeans and farm after farm, so I was quite comfortable driving between the fields and avoiding Amish buggies sharing the road. Everyone waved at each other. Life was simple. I loved it there – it felt and smelled so comfortable.

The needlework show ended on Sunday afternoon, but I packed up early and hit the road so that I could drive to central Indiana in time to see my step-father, the man I knew as Dad.

I knew he wasn’t expecting me, because he knew that I was busy at the show, but I wanted to be sure to get there in time to celebrate Father’s Day.

Dad was 72 years old and had been having health issues off and on for a couple of years. A lifelong smoker, he had been in and out of the hospital with COPD. He would give up cigarettes, certainly while he was in the hospital, and for awhile afterwards, but he always started again. He thought that we didn’t know, because he only smoked when he was at the barn. I know he always thought he’d have “just one” but that one always led to another, which led to another, which eventually led to another ambulance ride to the hospital. Up until this time, the EMTs and doctors had always managed to revive him, patch him back together and home he would come with new resolve among our fervent pleas to spare his own life.

I was so grateful that Dad was still with us, seemed to be doing as well as possible, and was excited to surprise him. I had arranged with my husband to celebrate Father’s Day with him the following weekend by planting two maple trees at our house, so hubby didn’t expect me home until very late on Sunday.

The only place that afforded air conditioned comfort was a car, store or a restaurant. No place else in farm country had air conditioning, including the farmhouse that was always “home” to me, even years after moving away.

As I drove cross country, enjoying the cool of my Mom-van, back road to back road, watching the shimmering heat waves rise up from the pavement, I relished the thought of how surprised Dad would be. I had a small gift of some sort all tucked away, even though I had already send a card and gift certificate to Red Lobster.

Dad’s favorite thing to do at Red Lobster was to order something, add a side of crab legs, which he dearly loved, and then see how many meals he could get out of that one meal via leftovers. Red Lobster was a luxury he never allowed himself unless he had a gift certificate – which is why I gave him one at every possible opportunity.

As people age, they are infinitely more difficult to buy for. First, they have most everything they need. What they want has far more to do with people they love, time and visits that any “thing.” I knew that, which is why I was going home, even though it meant arriving at my own home late that night and getting little sleep before work on Monday morning.

The look on his face would be worth it!

I knew Mom and Dad were going to Red Lobster to eat after church on Father’s Day, so I timed my arrival for after they returned home. That worked perfectly.

As I drove, the baking sun gave way to storm clouds gathering on the western horizon. Heat induced summer storms were mixed blessings, as they brought much needed rain for the crops and sometimes a brief respite from the heat, but they also brought tornadoes and this was tornado alley. We learned what to watch for, and when to run to the basement and dive for safety. Tornadoes were a fact of life and I’ve lived through several.

I watched the western sky as a wall cloud approached, rolling towards me, hoping the downpour that was sure to come would be swift and fleeting, because driving in blinding rain is difficult. Many summer storms were violent, but passed quickly, leaving the vegetation refreshed and beautifully green.

I drove in front of the wall cloud for quite some time, at about the same speed apparently, but when I turned north, it overtook me and I found myself in a hail-filled downpour. In the open country, there is no place to “go” and the best you can hope for is to find someplace to pull off the road so someone won’t hit you. No one can see.

Normally, I find summer storms refreshing. I woke up to so many storms, both during the night and to gentle early morning rains when I was a kid that rainfall feels soothing to me, and so do storms, unless they are particularly violent.

But this day, the storm and the greyness didn’t lift.

I arrived “home” in the mid-late afternoon and walked in, just like I had done for decades. I knew where the key to the back door was hidden, but I never had to use it. The door was never locked. I don’t even know if the key worked, truthfully. The lock probably would have been considered antique and there was only one key in existence for everyone to share. Generally, someone was home, and if they weren’t the dog wasn’t going to let anyone but family in anyway. The front door, not once in my entire recollection, was ever used. This was farm country and that’s how farm country worked!

Dad’s two favorite places, other than the barn, were at the kitchen table and in his recliner. Beyond any doubt, he could always be found in one of those three places. This day, he was seated in his chair in the kitchen wearing his ever-present overalls. He looked up to see who was walking in his back door, and I could see the surprise on his face turn to pure joy as he recognized me.

He had no other visitors.

I walked up to him and hugged him and declared, “Happy Father’s Day, Dad.” He beamed, thunked me on the head with his thumb and tousled my hair. All was right with the world. He may have been a quiet, soft-spoken prairie farmer that time passed by, but he was the most important person in the world to me that day.

He was infinitely strong in his silence, a granite pillar, a mighty example of kindness and good. He stood steadfastly for what he believed, even when it wasn’t convenient or popular. He believed in his family, equality and what was right.  In fact, he believed in me when no one else did.  It was Dad who told me, another hot summer day, years earlier, “You can be whatever you set your mind to – and don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.” He didn’t have to say any more. He had said it all and changed my life with one sentence.

Thanks Dad.

He asked what I was doing there and I told him I had come to see him on Father’s Day. He immediately began to worry about me driving home late at night.

Yep, that was Dad.

I told him I came to visit and the drive didn’t matter. I could tell, in spite of his protests, he was secretly pleased.

I’m not sure where Mom was. She was there, I’m sure, but these 24 years later, what I remember of that afternoon was sitting at the old kitchen table and visiting with him. I don’t remember what we talked about, except the storm (of course) because farmers always talk about rain, and about what he ate at lunch at Red Lobster. I think I brought him a mug or something like that as well, and he complained that I shouldn’t be spending my money on him.

That was always Dad.

That was the same man who would patch anything and everything together with duct tape until it simply could not be fixed again, and then begrudgingly purchase a used replacement, but gave me his last $20 when I left with my young children to move away – to pursue that career he encouraged me to follow. He desperately fought tears that day and asked if I was sure I didn’t need more money. I tried to refuse his $20, but he wouldn’t let me. I later found a $100 bill tucked in my purse, which he adamantly disavowed any knowledge of when I tried to pay him back.

That was Dad.

Dad’s sense of humor never failed him. Sitting at the table that day, I recalled that one year I gave him a hairbrush with no bristles for Father’s Day, because he was bald. He pretended to use that hairbrush for years, which would always cause peals of laughter.

Dad, smiling at me as I tried to get one of my kids ready for Halloween. He was wearing a wig, so I wouldn’t “recognize” him – and to let me know he wasn’t bald anymore!

Yea, that was Dad.

We laughed in the heat that day, sitting at the kitchen table with the whir of a very ineffective fan in the background, as we recalled many funny stories, some of which both of us didn’t agree were funny. But we laughed at all of them anyway!

That was Dad. Never malicious or hurtful with his humor, but always a practical joker.

At some point, Mom came in to fix dinner, called supper on the farm. Dinner was at lunch and the word lunch didn’t exist in that world. I told her I couldn’t stay to eat. I had many hours ahead of me, on those same back roads in the rain.

Dad walked me to the car and uncharacteristically told me how much he really appreciated me finding a way to stop. He told me he loved me.

That was not Dad. He was a man of very few words, and never “those” words. Never.

I looked at him a long time, in silence, and he looked at me too. Straight in the eyes. Tears welled up. I knew how much he loved me.

I had always known.

I know he knew how much I loved him too. I tried to tell him with my actions always. As Dad would say, “actions speak louder than words.” I’ve lived by his simple “farmer’s wisdom” my entire life. It never fails me.

I tried to speak. I couldn’t. My voice cracked as I told him I loved him and I simply couldn’t say goodbye. The tears streamed down my face, mixed with sweat, in spite of my attempts to stop them. I felt his rough thumb, calloused by decades in the fields, as he tried to gently wipe my tears away.

Dad was of course sweating, not crying.

I finally got into the car. Dad stepped back a couple steps, between the house and the old building that passed for a garage, and began waving to me, very slowly. He just stood there waving. He never did that.

I knew I had to leave, but for some reason, I was transfixed in that moment in time. Time simply stopped.

Finally, I backed out of the driveway and pointed the car north. As I passed the little white church at the crossroads, on the land he donated, I braked to look in the mirror, and I saw him, still standing there watching me disappear, still waving.

I saw the storm clouds gathering again, and I knew I had to hurry or they would overtake me. I wanted Dad to go inside, out of the storm. He had already weathered too many. I desperately wanted him to be safe, and to be there went I went back the next time, waiting for me at the kitchen table.

I drove away, down that lonely grey road as the storm began. I had no idea I was crossing a divide.

The day after we planted those maple trees, my life changed forever.

That was the last Father’s Day.

It was also the last Father’s Day my husband would be with me.

And the last time I ever visited Rockome.

A year later, I would be on the other side of that terrible divide, and all I could do was to look back in life’s rear-view mirror, longing to see Dad waving. Wanting desperately to turn around and go back. Aching inconsolably for what was forever lost.

I’m so incredibly glad that I found a way to make it home on that sticky hot Sunday for what would be the last Father’s Day.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad, and thank you.

Eloise Lore, my grandmother’s sister, Barbara Jean Ferverda (at right) and Ralph Dean Long holding Spot. Garage, burning barrels and outhouse in the background.

Frank Sadowski Jr. – Bravery Under Fire, 52 Ancestors #162

Your name is Frank Sadowski Jr.

You were born on May 8, 1921. You are the consummate all-American boy, a member of the science club in high school in Chicago, then on to Northwestern University studying to be a physician – following in the footsteps of your father.

You are a cherished member of the all-American family, son of an immigrant physician father who worked his way through medical school and “made something” of himself. You are his name-sake, shown with your father, below and your mother, Harriett, a stay-at-home Mom, peeking out the window in the background.

You have a brother, Bobbie, and a sister, Margie, shown below, who is also attending college, majoring in music. In fact, she’s racing you to see who will graduate first.

You have a beautiful girlfriend, Jean, a professional tap and ballet dancer, planned soon to be your wife – as soon as the war is over. She wears your ring in sweet anticipation.

You have it all.

Enlistment

December 7, 1941 – a day that lives in infamy in the history of this nation. Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese, drawing the United States into the midst of WWII. Even today, nearly three quarters of a century later, most Americans know the meaning of that date.

Americans were shocked, then enraged and incensed. The next day, war was declared. Patriotism was running at an all-time high. The unexpected attack on Pearl Harbor, sinking American battleships, united Americans decisively, providing a common cause. It was no longer about warfare or politics, but about integrity and honor. Enlistment and recruitment offices were full to the brim, with long lines of patriotic young men proud and determined to fight for and defend America.

It probably pained you not to join the ranks that day to enlist.

On February 16, 1943, over the objections of family members, you feel you have to DO something. WWII is raging. You’re 21 years and 9 months old, barely old enough to buy a beer. Men are needed. Real men enlist! Emotions are running high. Northwestern University, and finishing medical school, can wait. You have a war to fight. For freedom. For liberty. For what is right. For mankind. To help those who are injured. You’re sure with your medical training that you won’t be on the front lines, so it’s a pretty safe bet.

You enlist in the Army.

Your mother sobbed inconsolably. A fortune-teller told her that two of her sons would serve, and only one would return. Now, the first half has come true.

Your first several months are spent in training in several locations: Texas, the University of Chicago which isn’t so bad, then Oregon and California. Christmas 1944 finds you being deployed to Okinawa in the Pacific Theater on a destroyer.

Before you leave San Francisco, you v-mail (victory mail) a Christmas card to your girlfriend because you won’t be able to later.

You also mail a very private letter to your sweetheart, which, for better or worse, didn’t survive for future generations to read. You talk about your dreams for a life together after the war, about your wedding, about your future children. You miss her terribly, an aching that won’t subside. You write her every single day, whether you can mail the letters or not. In fact, you write to her so much that the other guys, “Joes,” as you call them, tease you – but you don’t care. She is your link to sanity, to hope for the future.

The Letters

On December 9th, 1944 before boarding the ship, you also write a letter to your father, who too is waiting at home for your return. There is no paragraph spacing, because as you’ve said in other letters, writing paper is a scarce and valuable commodity.

Hello Dad,

This is a sloppy mess but so is everything around here. Never-the-less I’d like to write you a bit. You see I’m becoming quite a prompt son in spite of obstacles. Come on, pat me on the back. I’m a bounder as far as that’s concerned. Of course I’m going to thump you on the back, dad. Don’t look now but you’ve been very generous with us kids. Especially me. Of course ? your my favorite anyway. Maybe it’s because you’ve got the biggest darn heart any man has a right to have. I know now how you’ve spoiled me but I can’t help but love you all the more for it. I guess Margie would call me a weak character and apply polishing my dad again. She’s right but I want to do it anyway, pop. You see, I’ve never told you these things quite right till now so it’s a lot like a confession to me. Of course Mom, sis and Bobbie have been pretty good as a whole, but I apple polish you all one at a time. You, pop, were responsible for a very warm Thanksgiving in my heart. Say, Christmas, is probably right on you and though I wish you a Merry Christmas before let me do it again. Dad, I’m in just the pink of condition and kinda happy about having people like you at home thinking about me once in a while.

All my love dad,

Frank

While on board the ship, you write letters, but of course you can’t mail them until the ship docks, nor can you receive any mail. You count the days until mail call again, because that is the only lifeline between you and those you love.

On December 14th, you write a letter to your sister, Marge, who you also call “Red,” for her flaming hair, much to her chagrin, complaining, in a teasing brotherly way, of course, that you receive far fewer letters from her than she receives from you. You then write 4 paragraphs about the food, of all things, because you’re afraid to say goodbye to her. You then ask her, again, to write you more often, directly, no teasing this time. And then you finally say it:

So long sis, your brother sure is beginning to miss you.

The homesickness is dripping from your every word.

On December 22nd, you write a letter to your father that tells him how you’re just fine – because you’re really not and you’re terribly homesick and injured, but you don’t want to admit either.

Then you tell him how unhappy you are that the Army informed your parents that you were injured and you tell your father that it’s nothing, really, just a slight cut on your foot. You don’t tell him that the cutting instrument was an ax, because you know he would worry. You’re someplace on an island in the Pacific for treatment, so you tell him it’s easier on the island to sleep and that you’re always hungry, always first in the chow line and in the best health ever. Me thinks you do protest too much.

You complain that you still don’t have your brother, Bobbie’s address, and ask for someone to please send it to you. He too is serving in the military. You ask if his address is in the mail yet.

You congratulate your sister for graduating first. That must have come hard – but of course, had the war not interfered…

You close to your dad with, “Don’t forget, your son still loves you,” and a PS that says, “That goes for you too Mom and Marge.”

Now, you’re writing home almost every day. You talk about the Christmas carols on the radio and how it’s like Christmas in the middle of July. You reassure your family that you’re “feeling tops,” but of course, you’re not. You tell your father, “no more paternal concern on my score – do you hear!!!” Then you tell him that you worry about him and you want to come home and find him, “in the best health you’ve ever been in.”

And then:

Well, Dad, my time is running out but my love for you and the family isn’t.

Your loving son,
Frank

Finally, Christmas is over. Your letters home are gut-wrenching. The gifts sent by your family never arrived, but none-the-less you tell them you had a wonderful Christmas day doing nothing. Your letter on the 28th hints that you’re not receiving mail either, although you are still on the island recovering from the “minor injury.”

Say, pop, you’d better get a letter out here to me – maybe I’ll have something interesting in response. I write a much better letter when I’m reading one of yours.

Of course, you would never want to admit how desperately you miss your family or how you crave a letter. Some days, you receive 3 or 4 letters in one day, then none again for what seems like eternity.

A few days later, you are back on the ship again and writing your family. In those letters you admit to your sister that in fact, it wasn’t an ax after all, but a machete that slipped and cut your foot and infection followed. Sulfa drugs didn’t work. You were a lot, LOT, sicker than you admitted to your family.

It wasn’t your time to go. Not yet.

In January, you’re off the ship and on terra firma in the Philippine Islands, and you’ve lost your pocket Bible your father gave you to keep you safe. The Chaplain finds another one for you, but you lament the loss to your sister.

You tell your father how proud you are to have “Jr. tagged on your name,” because you are very proud to be his son. You tell him that some men don’t like being a “Jr.,” but you are honored. Your letters are becoming much more openly loving, with more than a hint of urgency.

Your girlfriend is working with the USO back home to put together a show so that she can show up in a performance and surprise you and the troops. I can only imagine the look on your face when you realize who is performing! It was supposed to be a surprise, but your girlfriend’s mother wrote a letter to you and unknowingly revealed the plan.

Wouldn’t that have been something!!!

Your letters continue to your family, but your life is becoming more difficult. You lament that your entire life is packed into one duffle bag, including that precious paper for writing home and an 8X10 picture of your girlfriend that you worry about spoiling. The Bible lives in your pocket. Some of your letters aren’t arriving home now. Your family and your girlfriend are comparing notes to try to piece your life together. The war is escalating and they are desperately worried.

Something is wrong. You are sent to Hawaii and try to pretend to your family it’s because you are sightseeing. Your tone gives you away when you say that “the coldness is sensed by me even more here than before.” And it’s not the weather you’re talking about.

Later in January, you’re gone from Hawaii, probably in the Philippines, and you tell your family that you’re “red-lined.” They don’t know that means that you’re in a thinly spread military unit holding firm against attack. Your letters become less frequent, or at least your family receives fewer of them, and there now seems to be at least a month or two delay between letters sent and a response to a particular letter.  Some letters take even longer.

You tell your family how wonderful it is that your unit has managed to somehow rig up a shower.

On February 9th, you tell your family you’re receiving some additional inoculations, “shots in both arms,” and then you’ll be “ready for shipment.” However, that’s delayed, because on February 12th, you have infectious jaundice and are now hospitalized in the Philippines.

On the 17th, you’re very sick, but you write a couple sentences to your family telling them their mail from 5 months earlier is finally arriving and that your skin color is very yellow.

You don’t write again until March 2nd when you tell your sister that you’ve been in the hospital for 18 days – and you fall asleep while writing.

The letters (apparently) stop, as your sister and father saved every single one. Perhaps you wrote them, but your letters were never received.

Okinawa

We know from your sister’s scrapbooks and family members that you do recover and are shipped to Okinawa, arriving on April 6th.

On April 15th, you were assigned to a medical unit in the thick of the Battle of Okinawa which began on April 1st and lasted 82 days, until June 22nd. This was one of, if not the single bloodiest battles of WWII, with a total of around 165,000 men killed and scores more injured. The battle was known as the “typhoon of steel” in English and the “violent wind of steel” in Japanese, referencing the ferocity of the battle and the intensity of the Japanese attacks.

On April 19, 1945, in the battle of Bloody Ridge, a Japanese sniper shot you in the head as you threw yourself over the body of a wounded soldier, trying to save his life. I hope your death was swift – that you didn’t suffer.

The second half of the fortune-teller’s story had come true.

And I wonder…did my mother somehow know? Did you visit her? Are you the ghost that haunts your parents’ home?

This photo of two abandoned M4 Sherman tanks was taken the following day, April 20th, at Bloody Ridge. The battle was so intense that all of the foliage was blown off of the trees and vegetation was destroyed. The winter of war.

Your life, as we know it, ended that day, but your body didn’t come home for another four years. Your lifeblood watered the soil of Okinawa.

Sadly, we don’t know if the soldier you were trying to save lived.

Your sister’s notes indicate that you received a commendation for “bravery under fire.” Clearly, that would have been posthumously awarded, but somehow that seems very inadequate and understated for your incredible sacrifice. A sacrifice even more profound because of your unrealized potential.

We are left to wonder what that might have been.

Honoring Your Memory

I wonder from reading your letters, or at least the ones I have copies of, if you knew somehow that you would not survive. It seems that you may have had premonitions. Perhaps they drove the urgency with which you told your family over and over again how grateful you were for their presence in your life and how much you loved them.

Your girlfriend, Jean, became my mother a decade after you died. You were supposed to be my father, but sadly, that never happened, nor did the rest of your dreams.

Mother told me that she knew, somehow, the last time that you left the train station in Chicago that you would not be returning home. She stood on the platform and watched through rivers of tears as you disappeared from her life that that day, a proud soldier. She said she cried too hard and grieved too deeply…and she knew. She always “knew” things like that. Your tragic death tore the very fabric of her soul. I can only imagine the anguish as she watched the train disappear down those tracks, escorting you to the merciless future she could not share.

The discovery of your sister’s scrapbooks, salvaged from the trash heap by a wonderful Samaritan provided us with far more insight into your life that we could ever hope to have any other way. We know how much your family loved you and how desperately you loved them.

Of course, you have no way of knowing what happened after your death, how deeply and unremittingly they all grieved for you. You never knew that none of your family, nor my mother, were ever the same.  All these years later, in many ways, we still live in the light cast by your flickering candle.

There was no recovery – there was only plodding forward, one foot at a time in front of the other. You touched and forever changed their lives, just as you touched the life, or perhaps eased the death of that man on the battlefield.

You are, indeed, a hero – by any measure.

Cornerstone of Peace Monument

Today, the Cornerstone of Peace monument, unveiled in 1995 and shown below, located in Itoman on the southern tip of Okinawa by the cliffs of Mobuni near where you died honors more than 240,000 who were killed on Okinawa from the US, Allied Forces, Japan and Okinawa.

Your name is etched here, Frank, commemorating your sacrifice. It’s not much, but it’s something. There is no consolation prize in life and death.

By mdid with Flickr Creative Commons License

Thank You

72 years distant.

From a lifetime and half a world away.

Let me say those words.

Thank you.

Did anyone ever say them?

At your funeral maybe?

Your body languished for 4 long years.

Someplace in Okinawa.

Before you reached your final resting place.

Returning home a fallen hero.

I wonder.

Was it even you in that wooden box?

Covered by a flag.

Thank you.

Those words seem obscenely inadequate.

I don’t know if you can hear them.

I don’t know if you will somehow know.

I need to say them anyway.

Thank you.

Thank you for your service.

Thank you for your bravery.

Thank you for your ultimate sacrifice.

Your life…your love…your dreams.

You gave them all.

The hearts of those you loved died that day too.

We don’t know where your footsteps would have gone.

How many you would have saved.

Had your light not been extinguished.

Too early.

Way too early.

My heart grieves your death.

But oh so grateful that men like you lived.

At all.

At all.

To light the way.

Through the ages.

Your candle held high.

A fine example.

Honor, bravery, integrity.

Thank you.

You are not forgotten.

Eleven Years of Silence, 52 Ancestors #158

My mother, Barbara Jean Ferverda Long, passed away 11 years ago, today.

Some events and the surrounding snippets of time are indelibly burned into your memory, forever, like a movie for replay on your internal screen.

However, looking back those 11 years, it’s not so much what happened then, but the 11 years of silence that has followed. Of all the things, I miss Mom’s voice the most.

The voice who chastised me, a lot.

The voice who congratulated me.

The voice who called in the middle of the night to tell me a family member had unexpectedly died.

The voice who called me just to chat.

The voice I knew would always answer the phone, be there, on the on the other end of the line.

It was Mom that I called from the hospital when crisis hit my young family.

After moving away, it was Mom’s voice that connected me so often.

It was always Mom. Always the rock.

For a long time, I saved one message on my voice mail where she told me she loved me. I replayed it over and over, when I just needed to hear her voice. Then, one day, my carrier made a change and that was gone too – and the silence got a bit deeper and more permanent.

We think to take pictures, but few of us, at least not before the convenience of cell phones that take movies, thought to make recordings.

The last time I talked to Mom before she had a massive stroke in April 2006, she was laughing about me stopping traffic to escort a goose family off the road. Well, she wasn’t laughing at first, she was admonishing me to be careful out in that traffic because there were crazy people who would hit me. Or was I the crazy person for being out there in the first place, she asked. Then we both laughed.

I often called her on my way home from work. Mom couldn’t have a short conversation, and I certainly didn’t have a short commute, so hands-free cell was a blessing for both of us.

Then, one day while I was at a customer site, my cell phone rang and it wasn’t mother, but my sister-in-law, telling me that mother had fallen, crawled into the closet where they found her, and they had called the ambulance and taken her to the hospital. I left immediately and went home to quickly pack a bag and then begin the three and a half hour drive to where she lived.

When I was leaving the house with my suitcase in tow, my sister-in-law called again to tell me that mother had slipped from consciousness. I knew, in the pit of my stomach, what was going to follow.

By the time I arrived at the hospital, they confirmed that mother had suffered a massive stroke. The next 24 hours were critical. She would either get worse or get better. I knew mother’s worst fear was that she would be disabled and reliant on others – read vulnerable to abuse in a nursing home. She feared that far worse than death.

At that time, mother would rouse slightly to my voice, and I think she squeezed my hand once, but she didn’t seem to be able to respond to any requests. When we moved her from a gurney to the hospital bed, her eyelids flew open and much to my horror, I realized that her eyes were entirely sightless. She was blind, couldn’t talk and could only move one hand slightly.

I remember my abject horror at seeing her so terribly impaired – and knowing in that instant what she would have wanted.

She didn’t improve the next day, nor the next.

Then, we had to make a decision. My brother left, unable to deal with the situation, and my sister-in-law and I followed my mother’s advance directive and removed life support.

In spite of my mother’s well-known wishes, it was one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made. I am extremely thankful that there were no family members opposed and I am incredibly grateful for Mom’s signed directive. We don’t think she could hear us, given the depth of her coma – but still I felt someone needed to tell her what we were doing and why, just in case – and that someone was me. Part of me desperately wanted her to sit right up and object. There was no response at all.

Then, the waiting began – for her to dehydrate/starve to death. It took 7 more days. What passes for acceptable care for humans would be viewed as unwarranted torture for a much-loved pet. Until you sit those 7 days and watch the painfully slow process, you don’t realize how barbaric it is. I’ll spare you the details and hope fervently you never discover for yourself.

Mother lived near the hospital, so I stayed in her apartment during my visit. I’m so eternally grateful that my daughter took time off work, which she could ill afford, and joined me for the wait. We took turns sitting watch at the hospital, comforted knowing the other person was no more than 5 minutes away. The initial days of hoping mother would recover and survive were replaced by hoping the call that she had been released would come sooner than later.

My daughter’s dog came along, because there was no one at home to take care of her – and walking Chica, who has now joined Mom across the rainbow bridge, was such a welcome respite from the hospital. There was a little woods behind the church a block from Mom’s apartment, and that walk in the woods provided us some much needed relief.

In contrast to our dark internal gloom, springtime was popping out all over. I vividly remember the cherry tree in front of Mom’s apartment resplendent in all of its pink glory. It’s amazing what we remember in highly emotional times of stress. I can’t see one today without thinking of mother.

Mom didn’t have a computer, so she didn’t have wifi either, but a coffee shop a block or so away did. By the time Mom passed, my daughter and I were regulars and every day when we walked in, the staff looked at us a long time, waiting for a yes or no headshake. The day it was yes, they didn’t have to ask.

April 30th was on Sunday that year. Mom finally breathed her last a little before 9 that morning. My brother, sister-in-law and I were with her, holding her hand, caressing her, telling her to let go – that her mother was waiting for her and so was Dad.

The night shift had been mine, and my daughter was sleeping. I didn’t call my daughter for the end, because I really didn’t want her to remember Mom like that. Seeing death is not anything you ever forget.

As I was leaving, my daughter was coming in the hospital door. She knew immediately when she saw me, and I suggested that she didn’t want to go up to the room. Mom wasn’t there anymore, thankfully. She was free.

We turned around together, returned to Mom’s apartment and went for a long walk with Chica. The church bells rang, and we cried together in the rain. Our already small family, now one person smaller.

Later that day, my daughter packed to drive home and go back to work on Monday, while I began to pack mother’s things into boxes and prepare to go to the funeral home the next day to make final arrangements.

Thankfully, mother had taken care of many of those details. It was her way of removing the burden from the family, and I was oh-so-grateful that she did.

There is no such thing as an “easy” funeral for me, but I got through it as best I could.

We celebrated Mom’s third career of more than 25 years as an Avon Lady. Many former customers came to pay their respects and tell stories about how Mom had helped them over and over again.  Mom viewed her Avon work as her “home visitation” mission, not as a job, which is why she never felt she could take any extended time away. It’s also why she never made a profit. She would drive across the county to deliver a tube of lip gloss and take a gift or food too.

I tucked a tube of Avon’s lip balm in her hand in the coffin – just so she doesn’t run out in the afterlife. She was always so concerned that her family would run short that she was constantly giving us a tube. The last one sits beside me at my desk today.

A couple weeks later, I celebrated the first Mother’s Day without Mom by loading her furniture into a rented truck to bring my portion home. Not exactly how I had planned to spend Mother’s Day. I ate the chocolate I had purchased for mother on the long drive home. She loved chocolate and I know she would have approved!

As I look back, there are several things that make me sad:

  • That I never got to take Mom back to Germany to visit her ancestral homeland. She never felt she could take the time away, and by the time she did, she was suffering from the early stages of dementia and was frail.
  • That Mother died in such horrid, abysmal circumstances – having to lay there and dehydrate/starve until dead. We prayed for another stroke to take her. Had we not discontinued the IVs, they told us it could be 30 days, or more, instead of 10. We had no good choices.
  • That some relationships she cherished were never repaired in her lifetime.
  • That she can’t share the genetic discoveries made since her death – both in general and relative to her ancestors. I would love to tell her about my finds. We enjoyed sharing so much.
  • That I didn’t coerce her into going on even more trips.
  • That I didn’t take advantage of some opportunities to do things together due to my schedule conflicts.
  • That I didn’t call and visit her more often – although I don’t know after someone is gone whether there is an “often enough.”
  • That I found so much literature about loneliness and depression in the elderly among her things. My heart aches knowing she was lonely when it’s too late to remedy.
  • That I was not more forceful in insisting, as in taking her kicking and screaming if necessary, that she see a neurologist. She was apparently having small strokes that went undiagnosed before the big one, but she did not want to admit she was having issues and became very angry with anyone who suggested otherwise.
  • That I had to spend the majority of my adult life living several hours distant, although I came home several times each year. However, coming home to visit is not the same as living a few blocks or miles away where you can pop in and out regularly and be a part of someone’s daily life.

As I look back, there are several things for which I am very grateful:

  • The last time I talked to Mom, we were laughing. That goose adventure makes me smile even yet today.
  • That I talked to Mom often, but not often enough.
  • That I made her several quilts because she covered up with them all the time and they could hug her when I could not.
  • That Mom gladly took every DNA test I asked her to take, and that she was genuinely interested and encouraged me to pursue genetic research. Had it not been for mother’s encouragement, I don’t know that I’d be doing what I do today.
  • That Mom and I went on several trips together, visiting where her ancestors lived, to libraries for research, to antique shows, to quilt shows and to the State Fair. Those days are golden, irreplaceable memories now.
  • I’m glad that I took my daughter, then a child, on many of those trips too – even though she didn’t necessarily want to go at the time. I’d wager that my daughter is glad now too.
  • That Mom and I had the terribly difficult discussion about end of life choices and where things I needed were located – before we needed to have the discussion – because we couldn’t have had that discussion when we needed to have it. I tried not to cry, but I just couldn’t help it that day. She cried too, because I was crying. Then we both laughed at ourselves. I’m laughing and crying just thinking about it!
  • That my daughter simply came to stay with me when Mom was hospitalized. I didn’t realize how much I needed her, and I would never have asked.
  • That my daughter’s dog came along. Fur family members can be infinitely comforting in times of distress.
  • That my son and his wife and child came to visit with Mom one last time – even though she may not have known. Then again, she may have known at some level.
  • That Mom’s funeral arrangements were, for the most part, already made. Thank you Mom.
  • That I knew unquestionably what Mom would have wanted under the circumstances.
  • That the springtime flowers were blooming furiously, because they lifted my spirits, even if just for a minute or two, from a very dark place. I somehow realized they spoke to the future and that there would be life after…

I have far more regrets about what I didn’t do than what I did. Life is about spending time together and on each other. Our time is the most valuable and loving gift that we have to give. Time is what makes memories that at some point will have to be enough to last us a lifetime.

Now, 11 years distant from that rainy spring morning, what remains, aside from those memories, is the loudness of the silence that never ends.

WWI – 100 Years Ago – Thou Art Gone, 52 Ancestors #155

World War I was billed as The War to End All Wars, except, of course, it didn’t. This past week saw the commemoration of 100 years since the United States entered WWI. 100 years, a century…and to think my father served.

After three years of keeping the United States out of the war, on April 2, then President Woodrow Wilson appeared before Congress and called for Congress to declare war on Germany, saying that “the world must be made safe for democracy.” Four days later, Congress did just that.

On April 6, 1917, the United States entered WWI by declaring war on Germany after the sinking of 8 neutral US ships by German submarines in February of 1917 along with the discovery of a German plot to encourage Mexico to wage war on the US. The war no longer belonged only to Europe. We were involved, whether we wanted to be or not.

Shortly thereafter, more than 4.7 million Americans rallied to the cry and enlisted. A sampling of the recruitment posters is shown below.  You can click to enlarge.

Twenty-one months later, Germany was defeated and an armistice was signed on November 11, 1918.

That’s the short dry version of America’s involvement in WWI, but there was more, so much more.

Families

Those 4.7 million men – they were our fathers and grandfathers and uncles and great-uncles and cousins. Every one of those men left families behind and went to war. 53,402 of those men would be killed in battle, and another 63,114 men would die in service from non-combat injuries and illnesses, including the Spanish Flu which struck with a vengeance beginning about March 1918.

Soldiers, stationed and living in close quarters, were particularly susceptible. This photo from 1918 shows a hospital ward of soldiers suffering from the Spanish Flu in Fort Riley, Kansas. Many military hospitals couldn’t handle the onslaught of patients and temporary hospital quarters were set up in gymnasiums and anyplace additional space could be found.

Ultimately, about one third of the world population became infected, and of those, 10-20% died.

For the soldiers who were taken ill, not only were they very sick, sometimes gravely so, they were far from home and loved ones. They must also have been worried about family at home, if they contracted the flu, and how they fared. Were family members alive or dead?

Both of my father’s paternal grandparents died in July and October of 1918, while he was serving his country.

The Agony of Departure

No matter how much one believes in the cause and wants to fight for all that is right, no matter how patriotic the family, the agony of departure with its uncertainty of return is universal.

This screen shot from The History Place shows soldiers and their families with such poignancy.

My father, a young enlistee, left behind a girlfriend, Virgie…who…as fate would have it, he married not as a young man, but some 44 years later in his sunset years, just two years before his death. The heart-wrenching photo below is of my father, but the handwriting is hers.

Virgie kept and cherished this photo for 44 years until they were reunited, and it was then passed to me after her death, more than another 30 years later – when they were both truly gone.

The Draft

Voluntary enlistments didn’t provide enough manpower. Beginning May 18th, 1917, men born between 1872 and 1900, between the ages of 18 and 45, regardless of citizenship status, were required to register for the draft, providing genealogists today with a peek into the lives of those men sometimes not otherwise available. After all, it was a full century ago.

24 million men registered, or about 25% of the total population.

Today, those registration cards are available at Ancestry and additional information is available at www.fold3.com. At the Ancestry link, be sure to scroll down for history about the registration itself and hints for searching. If your ancestor isn’t present in the draft cards, perhaps it was because he had already enlisted.

The Records

My grandfather’s draft card is shown below. I didn’t know where William George Estes was living at that time, as he moved between Indiana and Tennessee and eventually settled in Harlan County, Kentucky. However, I did know his birthdate, so it was relatively easy to find his draft card with a combination of name and birthdate. Will, as he was called, didn’t use his middle name on his draft registration, but he did sign the card. This is the only copy of his signature that I have.

He was white, 45 years old, his nearest relative was his wife, Joisie (Joyce) and he was of medium height and build with brown eyes and black hair.

While I do have a few photos of my grandfather, you can’t ascertain much of that information from photos.

Will and my grandmother had divorced in Indiana, and I wasn’t sure if he was married at that time, or not. The date of his registration is September, 12, 1918, which gives us a snapshot of him at that point in time. He was never called to serve.

Sons

William George Estes had 3 living sons:

  • Charles Estel Sebastian Estes born November 1, 1894
  • William Sterling Estes, my father, born October 1, 1902
  • Joseph “Dode” Harry Estes born September 13, 1904

Of those sons, only one would have been required to register for the draft initially, Charles, who went by the name Estel, was the only son old enough. I was unable to find his draft registration, even though I think I know where he lived at that time.

The other two sons, far too young to enlist, did just that – enlisted.

Enlistment

How could William and Joseph “Dode” have enlisted? They were too young. No place near 18 years of age.

Both boys “adjusted” their birth year.

My father recorded his birth year upon enlistment as 1898 and his brother, two years younger, did the same. We know, positively, via the census and later Social Security records that neither was born before 1900.

In the 1900 census, above, you can see that neither William nor Joseph were members of the family.  Only Estel and Robert, the son who died when the house burned.

In the 1910 census, Sterl is age 8, so born in October of 1901, and Doad is age 5, born in September of 1904. These years may be off by one year, as Joseph’s SS record says he was born in 1903 and my father’s says he was born in 1902 – but still, they were far younger than 18 years old in 1917.

How the heck did those boys pull that off? I have no idea, but they unquestionably did.

Unfortunately, my father’s military service records burned in the July 1973 fire in the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri. That blaze was so intense that it burned for 2 days and most of the records were destroyed. However, between various alternate record sources, the Veteran’s Administration and I were able to piece some of his information together.

For example, we know that William Sterling Estes enlisted on May 14, 1917 at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana, near Indianapolis, giving his age upon enlistment as 18 years and 24 days of age. He was actually 14 years, 6 months and 13 days old. So young to be trained how to kill.

Fourteen. Years. Old.

Enrolling in the military.

Fighting a war.

And that is assuming that my father was actually born in 1902, not 1903 as some records, such as his delayed birth certificate, sworn to by his father and with the family Bible as evidence, state. So, he could have been 15 years old if he was born in 1901 as the census suggests, 14 based on other records such as social security, or 13 years old if he was born in 1903.

Giving his birth year as 1898 would have made him old enough to enlist. So, yes, there are primary source records that show my father’s birth year ranging from 1898 through 1903.

William Sterling Estes during WWI, above.  His brother, Dode, was two years younger.

Joseph “Dode” Estes during WWI.

I don’t have Dode’s service records, so I’m not sure whether he actually enlisted with his brother, or later, but the family story is that they enlisted together and “Dode was 12.”  It’s hard enough to believe my father enlisted and served at 14, but he did, let alone Dode at age 12.

Fort Benjamin Harrison

Fort Benjamin Harrison was a welcome center and training ground for recruits before they were sent elsewhere.

Men were assigned to housing known as cantonments.

They were trained in combat skills.

Training and study took place outside, between the cantonments.

Including inspections.

Quarters were close.

The mess tent was camp style.

You can see additional photos of Fort Benjamin Harrison at the World War I Museum, here.

To the best of my knowledge, my father never served overseas and never had to use his bayonette skills. I don’t really know though, because his military records were destroyed.  He died in 1963 and there is no one left to ask. On his funeral home record, it does record a war injury, so the question of overseas service remains unanswered.

After training was complete, the men were sent to their assignment.  I know that my father spent most, if not all, of his first enlistment at Camp Custer, near Battle Creek, Michigan, where he was honorably discharged on May 19, 1919 and re-enlisted the following day.

Camp Custer

Camp Custer was built in 1917 for military training during World War I. Named after Civil War cavalry officer General George Armstrong Custer, the facility trained or demobilized more than 100,000 troops during World War I.

Construction began on July 1, 1917 and on December 5, less than six months later, the completed camp was turned over to the government.

A booklet, “Souvenir of Camp Custer,” published in 1918, gives an excellent contemporary view of the camp and its resources.

Camp Custer was called a “national university that takes a young man from the farm, the shop and the office and in a few short months graduates soldiers, trained and equipped, ready to fight the battles of democracy.

Camp Custer is a wonder place. Nothing like it was ever built in America before — and this is one of thirty-six such cantonments, all built in an amazingly short time to meet the country’s emergency needs.

The site of Camp Custer was as peaceful and quiet stretch of countryside as existed in America. Then came the declaration of war, and in five months a complete military city of two thousand buildings, with comfortable quarters for 36,000 men, stretched its length over four miles of territory.

This aerial view taken in 1918 shows what was at that time an expansive complex.

From my father’s letters to Virgie, we know that he contracted the Spanish Flu and was hospitalized at Camp Custer, at least twice in 1918. It was during that time that he met a hospital volunteer, Martha Dodderer, who was destined to become his wife and the mother of my half-sister.

In 1918, displays of patriotism became very popular. At that time, a human shield was formed at Camp Custer, utilizing 30,000 men and officers dressed for their position in the shield. My father would have been in this photo, someplace.

According to the brochure, this photo was taken from the top of the water tower.

I wish I knew more about the role my father played during the war. I know nothing other than his occupation was listed as a fireman.

The last veteran of WWI has died. It’s unusual to find someone whose father served. I was a very late in life child for my father causing me to be a generation off-shifted.

Your Tree

Take a look at your tree to see who was of the age to either serve in WWI or register for the 1917 draft.

In my tree, only one other male qualified, my Brethren grandfather. Brethren were pietists, but he did register and not as a conscientious objector.

This registration does solve one long-standing question about John Ferverda’s middle name. Was it Whitney or Whitley? Since he signed this card himself, his middle name is clearly Whitney! I also didn’t know he had grey eyes and light hair. By the time I knew him, his hair was clearly “light,” as in grey. There is only one color photo and it’s late in his life.

John Whitney Ferverda is shown below.

Earlier photos don’t really show his hair to be remarkably light.

John Whitney Ferverda never served, but, surprisingly three of his brothers did, and two more registered for the draft, telling me that several men in his family had grey eyes and dark hair. One had blue eyes and light hair. I really had no idea this family was more fairly complected with lighter skin and eyes. I guess we always think of our family as similar to ourselves.

The three stars in the window found in this picture of Evaline Miller Ferverda indicate that this family has three sons serving in WWI. That’s pretty amazing for a Brethren family.  If I hadn’t actually looked, I would have assumed that none of their sons served…and I would have been dead wrong and overlooked a great deal of information.

Siblings

Take a look in in the WWI draft registrations for your ancestor’s siblings as well. You never know what you might discover. WWI draft cards are an underutilized resource.

Samuel Bolton was my father’s uncle – his mother’s brother. He was born on June 12, 1894, so he was relatively close to my father’s age.

Samuel turned 23 years old a week after his draft registration. Samuel did serve in the war, being inducted on September 20, 1917, just 3 months after registering. He was sent overseas in May of 1918 and was killed on October 8, 1918, on the battlefield, in France. Sadly, there are no photos of Samuel, nothing, other than this one.

I was able to discover the name and number of Samuel’s unit, which allowed me to track Samuel, with his unit, to that fateful day in France. If you can find the unit name and number in which your family member served, you can figure out where they were, when, and put together the story of what happened to them during that time in their life.

Honoring Our Veterans

Thankfully, WWI was not on American soil. It was not the war to end all wars. In fact WWII followed just over two decades later. Sadly, as we have seen since, warfare seems to be a perpetual state someplace in the world and even as I write this, American men and women are serving in harm’s way.

Other than the short-lived Spanish American War in 1898, in which comparatively few American men participated, WWI was the first conflict since the Civil War in the 1860s. The Civil War produced some draft registrations for northerners, but did not produce draft registration cards on this scale, so WWI is the first resource that offers genealogists a type of nationwide census of military eligible men.

How did WWI touch your ancestors? Was it through their own service, or the service of a spouse, brother or parent? Did they return home, or are some buried in cemeteries like the one at Camp Custer or even on foreign soil?

Please take a minute to silently honor those who served and to think about how our lives today might have been different had WWI not occurred, or had the outcome been different in either a global or personal sense.