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.

The Shoes

During my recent overseas adventure, I visited both Nuremburg, Germany and Budapest, Hungary, among other locations. These two cities, especially in combination, were intensely moving.

My husband’s family immigrated from the Austrian-Hungarian empire in the early 1900s. The area had been ravaged by multiple wars followed by desperate economic strife and geographic displacement of the residents – not to mention changing national borders. However, that history, as difficult as it was, was overshadowed a few years later by the horrible history of the Nazi era. It’s a good thing his family left when they did, because they would likely have not escaped later. Many did not.

He probably would not have been on this earth today.

Nuremberg

It’s sad that a city lives in infamy for its worst moments. Thankfully, today, rather than attempt to whitewash the past, the Nuremburg citizens realize that they can use the past as a source of education about what they refer to as “our dark time in history.”

Wikipedia contains a short description about Nuremburg history during this timeframe:

Nuremberg held great significance during the Nazi Germany era. Because of the city’s relevance to the Holy Roman Empire and its position in the centre of Germany, the Nazi Party chose the city to be the site of huge Nazi Party conventions — the Nuremberg rallies. The rallies were held 1927, 1929 and annually 1933–1938 in Nuremberg. After Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 the Nuremberg rallies became huge Nazi propaganda events, a centre of Nazi ideals. The 1934 rally was filmed by Leni Riefenstahl, and made into a propaganda film called Triumph des Willens (Triumph of the Will). At the 1935 rally, Hitler specifically ordered the Reichstag to convene at Nuremberg to pass the anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws which revoked German citizenship for all Jews and other non-Aryans. A number of premises were constructed solely for these assemblies, some of which were not finished. Today many examples of Nazi architecture can still be seen in the city.

We all know what happened next.

As a member of the human race, one my biggest fears is that discrimination, racism and misogyny on this level will once again manifest itself.

Visiting Nuremburg, seeing those places for myself was at the same time sobering and spine-chilling. The cavernous locations of Hitler’s rallies, large enough to encompass a full city block and drive multiple busses around inside the arena. The arena below was filled with people and you’re only seeing about one fourth of the size.

The now-silent cheers of Hitler’s legions of Nazi supporters haunt this place, those who would advance his agenda and follow his lead to condemn millions of Jews and other “undesireables” to death – simply because of how they looked or their religion. Fear-incited genocide propagated by a charismatic leader sewing fear and mass hysteria.

Hitler is known for systematically killing Jews, but they weren’t his only targets. Additionally, he singled out LGBTQ individuals, the physically and mentally disabled, Roma gypsies, Poles and other Slavic peoples, Jehova’s Witnesses, blacks, mixed race “mulattos” and members of political opposition groups. According to the Virtual Jewish Library, Hitler killed more than 11 million people in total – 6 million Jews and 5 million others.

Eleven. Million. People.

Think about that for a minute.

New York City’s’s estimated population in 2016 was only 8.5 million. Eleven million is the size of New York City and Chicago, combined. The equivalent populations of both of those cities, today, died at Hitler’s hands.

In 1986, the Hands Across America benefit united 6.5 million people in a human chain from literally sea to sea. If every person stood 4 feet apart, 6.5 million people would have covered the contiguous 48 states. So, 11 million people standing shoulder to shoulder would stretch about the same distance – or standing at 4 feet – across America – twice.

By Buchoamerica at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4213272

Eleven million is an astounding number. I have to ask myself, how did Hitler, or anyone, manage to convince so many Europeans that the horrific murder of 11 million people was not only alright, but justified, AND convinced them to assist and abet this mass murderer by either willfully participating or turning a blind eye?

And in case you’re feeling particularly self-righteous as an American, our collective hands were not without bloodstain. In 1939, a ship, the MS St. Louis, carrying 937 Jewish refugees sailed from Hamburg first to Cuba, where only 29 individuals were allowed to disembark, and then to Florida and Canada seeking asylum, where the ship was not allowed to dock. The ship’s captain subsequently attempted to find safe haven for his passengers in European ports, having no place left to go, but 254 of those turned away by Cuba, the US and Canada were subsequently killed in the Holocaust after the ship and her 907 remaining passengers (one died in route) were forced to return.

Turning a blind eye to fellow humans is aiding and abetting. Failing to condemn horrific behavior is aiding and abetting.

The poem, “First They Came,” was written by German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984), a former Nazi supporter who survived a Nazi prison. His poem addresses the cowardice of German intellectuals following the Nazis‘ rise to power and subsequent purging of their chosen targets.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

And then, there are the heroes, like Sir Nicholas Winton who saved 669 Jewish children from the Nazi death camps. For a tear jerker, watch Nicholas meet those children decades later as adults. Just ordinary people – look at them. Get the Kleenex, because you will not get through this with dry eyes, I guarantee. You’re in good company, because neither could Nicholas.

Speaking about Nicholas, the Dalai Lama said,

“We must carry his spirit generation to generation.”

To forget history, or to ignore it, is to repeat it.

Budapest

A few days after Nuremberg, we arrived in the lovely city of Budapest, an incredible combination of the old medieval city shown by the spires in the distance combined with a cosmopolitan modern city that was sporting the international diving championships (the blue scaffold) along the Danube while we were visiting.

Having injured my knee at the beginning of the trip, I was skipping out on many of the walking tours, because I simply couldn’t handle that many hours on my feet.

However, as we returned to the ship after a bus tour in the morning, I noticed the shoes.

The tour guide, busy talking about the diving championships, didn’t say anything about the shoes, but I knew immediately what they were when I saw them.

In 1944 and 1945, 3,500 people, 800 of them Jews, were killed in Budapest by the Hungarian fascist party by being lined up on the banks of the Danube River, ordered to remove their shoes, then shot at the edge of the water so that their bodies fell into the river and were whisked away – like so much human rubbish.

By Tamas Szabo at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2054459

The Shoes on the Danube Bank memorial was created with 60 period-appropriate shoes cast of iron and affixed along the riverbank for 40 meters. If all 3,500 pairs of feet had been represented, shoes side by side, the memorial would have stretched for the length of more than a mile.

I walked alone along the riverbank on a sweltering summer afternoon in the middle of a heat wave named Lucifer for its punishing intensity, the sun searing and miserable. This memorial is not something you should be comfortable seeing. Discomfort, as well as pain, was welcome and appropriate – and nothing compared to what those people, and their families, endured.

Can you imagine the fear, the horror of seeing your family members, your parents, your siblings, your children, murdered – and knowing you were marching to your sure and certain deaths? The only unknown was how much you would suffer, and for how long.

And it wasn’t just Jews, but anyone who had the audacity to speak up for what was right, which was politically very unpopular – unpopular to the point of death. Death, intimidation, torture, murder, subjugation and annihilation was the Nazi way.

As my gaze was fixed on the empty shoes representing this waste of humanity, I was struck by how much potential was washed away, not just with these 3,500, but with the 11 million in total. How many never contributed to the good of humanity, but would have? Did the person destined to save us from cancer die? What is the unknown cost to us all?

After all, we all bleed blood – the great equalizer, along with birth and death.

What did we do to ourselves, not only with the wasted lives and unrealized potential of those who died, but with the horrid gash we inflicted upon our own souls?

I didn’t want to look, yet I couldn’t look away. I could see their bodies falling into the water, gasping for breath, hopefully, mercifully, dead by the time they hit the water. I pray their deaths were at least swift.

None of us can afford to look away. We must, in the name of humanity, prevent this from ever happening again.

I spent the afternoon alone, in contemplative silence, although surrounded by other walkers.  I sat behind and among the shoes, reflecting not only upon the deaths of so many innocents, but the challenges we face today in a worldwide atmosphere where rampant hatred and discrimination based on the slight differences of human form and our different religious choices seems to be making a virulent comeback.

I felt shame that we, in a global sense, and as individuals, let this happen. That we failed so many.  We must never let it happen again. We must be wiser now.

More the Same Than Different

The DNA of all humans is 99.9% the same, with very few differences. While we depend upon those differences for genetic genealogy, for the most part, we match every other living human.

Remember how many people whose DNA you match that you didn’t expect and don’t know, but you’re somehow related to?

Think about how many of those 11 million people that died you were related to.

Think you’re not?

I have over 30,000 matches among Ancestry’s data base of 5 million – and even if you generously subtract 25% with the assumption they are false positives, that means that I’m related to about 22,000 of 5 million people I don’t know. That means that I would probably have been related to many of the people who died in the Holocaust, maybe between 45,000 and 60,000 of them. That brings it a lot closer to home.

I’m not Jewish, and still, I’m sure that some of my relatives died.  Assuredly, my husband’s did.

The Future

The Holocaust is no longer simply a lesson in history that happened three quarters of a century ago, it’s a dire warning about what is happening today as well.

Because.

Today we have Charlottesville. The re-emergence of the horrific.

Today we hear, on our own soil, horrible racial and anti-Semitic epithets, espousing hatred and bigotry. As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t matter who leads this country or which party is in power, wrong is wrong.

Hatred is hatred.

Seeds of discrimination and hatred sew discrimination and hatred that leads to violence which is the exact scenario that led to Hitler’s massive genocide.

Refusal to condemn and combat hatred and discrimination on an individual level, as well as a national level, simply begets more of the same. We’ve already seen where that leads. Do we have to go there again?

The recorded history of the world, to date, has been punctuated repeatedly by horrific wars (30 Years War, Revolutionary War, Civil War, WWI and II with its atomic bomb, to name a few), slavery (African, Native American, Moorish and English, as a beginning) on every continent except Antarctica, genocide (Native American, Jewish, South American, African, as examples) and the murder and/or displacement of millions of people due to their religious differences (Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, aboriginals, perceived witches and the Crusades for starters).

Not one of us lives today whose ancestors weren’t affected by these factors.

Not. One.

Probably every single one of us had ancestors who were enslaved, killed or displaced – one way or another suffering at the hands of other humans within a genealogical timeframe. On this continent – Acadians, Native Americans and Africans come quickly to mind. In the UK, Catholics and the Irish.  The list goes on – all at the hands of a ruling class that either lost or never had a moral compass.

Are we condemned to repeat that past?

Not on my watch.

Never again.

Not if I can do anything about it.

Not as long as there is a breath in my body.

In the words of Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Nelson Mandela:

No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love. For love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.

I hope that our DNA connections show us how much we have in common with others and serve to bring us together as the human race, celebrating our diverse roots and our humanity. Remember, the Momondo DNA Journey where 67 people were tested to celebrate diversity around the world and travel to where their ancestors were from? Take a look, here for one example. It’s an amazing story, really, that challenges pre-conceived notions and biases.

In one participant’s words:

“There would be no such thing as, like, extremism in the world, if people knew their heritage like that.”

We’re all cousins.

Remember The Shoes…

…and pray, pray, that no one ever has to stand in them again.

This time, it could be you.

The Unexpected Bounty of DNA Testing – Friends and Family of Heart

Bill and Sandie Lakner, with me in the middle.

When I first started with genetic genealogy in the year 2000, I was interested in proving (or disproving) specific stories about my Estes ancestors as well as learning more about as many family lines as I could.

I hoped that I would meet new cousins that perhaps would have information that I don’t, and who would be willing to share.

What I never imagined, and I almost hate to admit this, is that I’d find a whole new group of friends.

I have always been a rather solitary researcher, in part because I don’t live anyplace near where my ancestors did. There are no records where I live for what I need to research, so the local genealogy societies hold little allure for me. In fact, in my state, I AM the immigrant, more or less. The ‘more or less” part of that comment will have to wait for another day and has to do with my father being stationed nearby in the military.

Several years ago, when autosomal DNA was added to the genetic genealogists menu, I began to hear from LOTS and LOTS of people. In fact, so many that one of the reasons I introduced my blog and began to write educational articles was as a form of self-defense. Between the blog and the projects I administer at Family Tree DNA, I found myself answering the same questions over and over again, so writing a nice article with graphics where I could refer people seemed like a great idea. Never did I imagine the blog would actually increase the amount of communications, but it did!

It’s hard for me to believe I’ve been doing this for 17 years now, almost half of my adult life. I’ve met people at conferences and many have become friends. There are people I’ve been fortunate to find that have my back when I need help or am in some kind of pickle. I know just who to refer to for what topic and I’ve been the beneficiary of MANY excellent researchers and kind souls. I’m grateful to and for every one.

Project administrators and those of us with specialty skills try to help everyone, but demand has been increasing like a tsunami. Now, that’s the good news, because an incredible number of people are testing, but it’s also the bad news because it necessitates brevity sometimes and a standard reply to many inquiries.

Somehow in the midst of this swirl, over the years, I have found new friends that stand apart from the rest and are truly near and dear to my heart. Some have specific interests that are similar to my own, but others, for some reason, have simply become friends, close friends, near and dear to my heart.

I’ve even adopted a new brother, John, not to be confused with my half-brother John. (Yes, I now have my brother John and my other brother John.)

It’s like we were all destined to meet and have been waiting for this moment all of our lives. Once we do finally meet, it’s like we’ve always known each other.

If you’re one of those people, you know who you are. You are my family of heart.

Family of heart becomes increasingly important as your family of blood becomes smaller and smaller and is geographically distant. In my case, exacerbating the situation, I moved away. I’m not alone though, because many other people are displaced too, becoming effectively an immigrant family of one in a new community someplace with no family nearby. Those people are much more likely, I think, to develop family of heart relationships.

E-mail, Facebook and other forms of communications have made distant friendships easier. It’s easier for family to keep current with each other as well.

Bill and Sandie Lakner

Enter Bill and Sandie Lakner, several years ago.

I would like to tell you that I remember the first communication from Sandie, but I don’t. I do know that what began as questions about DNA results years ago has evolved into shared genealogy hunts, finds, discussions about children, grandchildren, pets, movies, gardens and Hurricane Sandy – not to be confused with Sandie.

Our topics jump around like neighbors chatting over the fence.

We don’t “talk” daily, but often and usually electronically.  We keep in touch and have for years now, defying the odds of internet friendships and short attention spans. We check on each other when we know something difficult is happening in someone’s life or bad weather is bearing down.

Then, last week, I received an e-mail from Sandie telling me that she and Bill would be passing nearby while returning home from a visit to Minnesota in the next day or so.

Could they meet us for coffee?

Could they?

I was so excited and was hoping the schedule would allow more than coffee. As luck would have it, our time was limited, but we made the most of it.

The Quest

What fun we had!

We immediately began discussing Bill’s “secret quest,” or better stated, his quest to solve the family secret.

Bill was hoping his trip to Minnesota would yield information, and maybe, just maybe, a descendent of each of the male children of Joseph Lakner (1876-1926) who is willing to DNA test. Yes, we were discussing paternal ancestry and DNA.

More particularly, which of Joseph Lakner’s sons is Bill’s father?

By the way, if you are the child, either male or female, of one of Joseph Lakner’s male children and are willing to DNA test, please contact me (and I’ll put you in touch with Bill) or simply order a Family Finder test through this link at Family Tree DNA.

Social Faux Pas

Genetic genealogists sometimes forget that our topics aren’t entirely mainstream.

As we sat at our corner table in the local Big Boy, excitedly talking, I said to Bill, “You remember, that was my brother who wasn’t my brother…..”

About that time, the server who was entering orders into a computer turned around with a slack-jawed, rather incredulous, look on his face. I think he had to see just WHO was having this discussion, because…you know…”old people” don’t discuss those kinds of things. These kinds of “things” and resulting scandals were invented by the younger generation…said with tongue firmly in cheek.

The server was standing behind Bill, so Bill couldn’t see, but Sandie and I could. I fought laughter, immediately lowered my voice and attempted to do some amount of social recovery, but in the midst of the next sentence that had something to do with my father being married to both mothers at the same time, the server’s head came whipping around again, this time, with him staring over the top of his glassed to garner a better view.

I mean, who *are* these rowdy people anyway, and did they escape from the facility down the street? They are clearly demented. Should I call someone?

Sandie and I both saw this entire exchange and both began laughing uncontrollably, to the point that we couldn’t speak to explain. The look on Bill’s face only made it funnier, and then the server turned around once again and asked if we were laughing at his shock. Then he tried social recovery, but ran out of words and finally just muttered, “Hmmm….” and shook his head.

The entire exchange left everyone laughing to the point of tears. My poor husband was looking around, hoping no one recognized him.

It felt so good to be laughing together – friends who had been friends “forever” but had never met before.

Family of Heart

By the end of our very short hour or so, we were left wishing we were those neighbors who could visit over the fence. If we lived near each other, Sandie would know where everything in my kitchen is kept and vice versa and the guys would know how to start each other’s lawn mowers. Our kids would know each other, and our pets would greet each other like family. We had met our family of heart.

The field of genetic genealogy has truly blessed me in ways that I never expected and could never have imagined. Not only does DNA connect us across the world, literally, the topic of DNA connects us to one another as well.

Initially Bill’s search was to find his paternal family, specifically which Lakner male is his father. It’s a story to rival any soap opera, is still not solved and Bill would love to find the answer.

But never in our wildest dreams did we ever imagine that through this process, we would become family of choice. Sometimes it’s the human part of the connection that is the most important and not the genetics. Sometimes our family of choice is the best family of all!

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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.

Seventh Season “Who Do You Think You Are?” Airing March 5th

I received a very welcome e-mail this week about the 7th season of my favorite genealogy program, WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? (WDYTYA). I can hardly wait!

These programs are inspiring to everyone, novices to experienced genealogists. They embody the search and the discoveries we all seek. Not only are the shows just plain fun and interesting, we can pick up valuable research tips and historical information relevant to our own family.  We all seek those AHA moments that the featured celebrities often find – and you just never know where your AHA-producing tidbit will be found.

I mean, let’s face it (pardon the pun), who among us DOESN’T want this expression on our face relative to a genealogy discovery?

wdytya-season-7

From the press release:

TLC’s Emmy Award-winning series, WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? returns this spring with a new group of celebrities ready to delve into their lineage and get answers to the questions they’ve wondered about their entire lives. Eight new one-hour episodes bring more unexpected turns and surprising discoveries of great historical significance. Executive Produced by Lisa Kudrow and Dan Bucatinsky, the new season premieres on Sunday, March 5th at 10/9c.

This season’s celebrity contributors include:

  • Jessica Biel makes surprising discoveries that change what she thought knew about her heritage.
  • Julie Bowen uncovers the story of two relatives whose moral codes are from opposite ends of the spectrum.
  • Courteney Cox traces her maternal line back seven centuries to the Medieval times to discover royalty in her lineage and an unbelievable tale of family drama.
  • Jennifer Grey uncovers new information about the grandfather she thought she knew, learning how he survived adversity to become a beacon of his community.
  • Smokey Robinson searches for answers behind the mystery of why his grandfather disappeared from his children’s lives and finds a man tangled in a swirl of controversy.
  • John Stamos digs into the mystery of how his grandfather became an orphan, and learns of tensions between families that led to a horrible crime.
  • Liv Tyler learns that her family is tied into the complicated racial narrative of America.
  • Noah Wyle unravels the mystery of his maternal line, uncovering an ancestor who survived one of America’s bloodiest battles.

For a sneak peek, take a look at this link.

I’ll be writing about each episode and I hope many will include DNA. If not, we’ll discuss how DNA might aid and abet the search!

LeVar Burton’s Keynote at RootsTech 2017 – From Kunta Kinte to Star Trek and The Power of Imagination

Not only is LeVar Burton an incredible actor, portraying Kunta Kinte in 1977 in Alex Haley’s roots, followed by Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge in Star Trek, but he’s an unbelievably insightful man with a powerful story to tell.

levar-burton

I wasn’t able to attend Rootstech this year, but thankfully LeVar Burton’s absolutely incredible keynote is finally available online. I’ve been hearing about it for days and I was finally able to watch this morning.

If you watch only one thing this year, watch LeVar’s keynote. And I don’t mean if you’re black, I mean if you’re human. It’s only half an hour and, I promise, you’ll not regret it. In fact, you’ll need a box of Kleenex and leave feeling wonderful, renewed and inspired.

And please, do the “One Minute Exercise” with LeVar.

Aside from LeVar’s incredibly interesting delivery and poignant stories about his mother, Roots and Star Trek, he made the following points:

  • LeVar said his mother was determined that he would reach his full potential, “even if she had to kill me.”  I’m sure we can all related to that.
  • We all have an important story to tell and an equally important contribution to make to humanity.
  • Close your eyes and bring into your mind a person who has seen your potential in life and helped you realize your gift, what your contribution to the world might be. Someone who saw you and recognized your brilliance and helped bring it into being.
  • None of us get through this life on our own. We all have assistance on this journey.
  • You can do what you can imagine. Focus equals manifestation.
  • Unless you can be still you may never hear that voice of God within. Pay attention or you might miss something incredibly important that is key to delivering our gift to the world.

The Desert News provided some additional coverage here.

LeVar’s session is not on the RootsTech video selection, but other sessions are available for free viewing here if you scroll down a bit.

Thank you LeVar for the single most incredible, inspiring keynote speech on any topic I have ever witnessed.