Pandemic Journal: The Influence of the Great Depression and How It’s Saving Us Right Now

The metamorphosis is now complete. I swear, I’ve now officially become my mother.

Mom doesn’t just “come out of my mouth” on occasion. No, I’ve become her – well except that I’ll never fit into her literal clothes. In spite of the fact that fudge was mother’s favorite food and she believed religiously in first, second and third dessert, she was rail thin. How is this fair?

My mother was a child of the “Great Depression,” except the only thing “great” about the Depression was its decade-long duration. Beginning with a stock market plummet in October of 1929, drought followed in 1930 throughout the agricultural heartland of America. Investors lost everything, jobs disappeared, farms were repossessed, banks failed and closed and people were terrified, with reason.

Depression migrant woman.jpg

This iconic 1936 photo taken by Dorothea Lange titled Migrant Mother shows a destitute pea picker in California. Florence Owens Thompson, age 32, mother of 7, hungry, dirty and not knowing where their next meal would come from represented the greatest fear that haunted all Americans. For many, it wasn’t just a fear, it was all too real.

The economic downturn which became the Depression began in the US, eventually encircling the globe. The Depression didn’t ease until the late 1930s and then was promptly followed by WWII which ushered in a slew of deprivations of its own including rationing.

1943 rationing poster

Mother was born in 1922 in a crossroads town in northern Indiana. She was all of 7 years old when the Depression hit. She, of course, couldn’t and wouldn’t understand all of the underpinnings. What she was acutely aware of was that her father lost the hardware business, her mother’s job, such as it was, was the only thing that stood between her family and abject poverty. Income was critically affected, almost non-existent, without enough for even essentials. Mom’s maternal grandmother, Eva Miller Ferverda, loaned her son, John Ferverda, money and forgave the debt upon her death in 1939.

To make matters worse, mother was critically in during that time with Rheumatic Fever. Her father and grandmother cared for her while her mother worked. There was just no other choice.

Money was tight, very tight – but unlike so many others, they did not lose their home, thanks primarily to Mom’s paternal grandmother. Mom and her parents didn’t live on a farm, but on the very edge of a small town, not even large enough for a stop light. The town stretched a couple blocks in either direction from the main crossroads of two state highways. Businesses consisted of my grandfather’s hardware store, before that business closed, and the Ford dealership which sold both vehicles and tractors. Mom’s father, John Ferverda, worked there after he lost the hardware store, until there were no sales so no need for a salesman.

I don’t think mother realized how much the Depression influenced her childhood and formed many of her personality traits. In turn, she passed them on to me – although I’ve struggled to break some of those ingrained habits for years. This past month, or really just the past couple of weeks, they’ve come roaring back with a vengeance – apparently having been lurking just below the surface.

Some of these “quirky behaviors” are actually quite useful. Others make me smile with nearly-forgotten memories. Perhaps you carry some of these hidden depression-era traits too.

Before Recycling Was a Thing

In the 1930s, there wasn’t “disposable” anything. Throwing something away was simply wasteful, heresy, and it was never, ever done – not until its original purpose and a few repurposed lives had been completed and there was literally, nothing left at all that was salvageable. Then, and only then, could it be thrown away. By then, “it” was unrecognizable.

Let’s take bread wrappers, for example – the disposable plastic bread bags that we take for granted today, throwing them away without even thinking, although I always have a twinge of guilt. That never happened at my house when I was growing up. We routinely saved plastic bread bags and reused them for storage.

When we had too many, Mom would crochet them into a rug to pad the floor standing at the kitchen sink or the ironing board. One year, Mom even found a pattern to crochet a Christmas wreath from bread bags. I kid you not.

This recycling before that word was even invented was normal in our house.

We seldom got new clothes. Most of our clothes were hand-me-downs from either someone directly or a second-hand store of some sort. Being gifted with new old clothes was wonderful and nothing to be ashamed of! After we initially acquired the clothes, they were “taken in” or “let out” to fit a child as they grew or were passed to another child in the family. The sign of a great piece of clothing was a HUGE SEAM ALLOWANCE.

When grocery items began to be sold in glass jars, those were never thrown away either. Jars sufficed for everything. In fact, I still have a glass jar upstairs with “old silverware” in it that belonged to Mom, and perhaps to her mother too. You never threw anything away because not only was it wasteful and irresponsible, you truly never knew when you or someone else would need that item. During the Depression, and after, you simply found a way to make do with what you had.

During that time, chickens, wild berry bushes and a large vegetable garden saved the family. Mother cleaned the chickens that were butchered and sold. She was paid a nickel for each clean chicken. For the entire rest of her life, she pretty much hated chicken, except for fried chicken, and she utterly despised cleaning the chicken. I think she viewed them as her murdered friends and not a commodity food source. I inherited that soft-hearted worldview too.

However, during the Depression, you ate whatever you were fortunate enough to have. Period. There was no expectation that you would actually LIKE what was served – that was a benefit. Today when I see kids refusing to eat something, I think to myself, “you have never truly been hungry.” That’s the blessing of course, as is having food at all.

At home, after clothes could no longer be salvaged and made into anything else, they were deposited into the “rag bag,” a coarse brown bag fashioned from rough upholstery material salvaged from an old couch. The rag bag hung on a hook on a door in the closet that led to the attic. Rags were quite useful – for cleaning, for turbans around your hair from time to time – and also to crochet into rugs. Yes, Mom made just about everything into rugs. It was the last salvage of the nearly unsalvageable.

If there was any cotton fabric in the rag bag that wasn’t entirely threadbare and had any color left in the fibers at all, it was a candidate to be used in a quilt. You could always tell the quilts from wealthier, meaning not poor, families because their quilts were actually planned with matching fabrics. Not ours. We had scrap quilts, made by patching things together, which I always loved and continue to love to this day. Scrap quilts are a storybook of history and we always talked about the “life story” of the piece of fabric we were sewing – the pieces of clothing the fabric used to be, who wore it, how it wound up in the rag bag and so forth. Some of those fabrics were decades and literally generations old. How I wish I had written those stories down – but they didn’t seem remarkable at the time. Everyone had a rag bag. We were just making small talk, after all.

Handkerchief quilt.jpg

This quilt, made originally during the Depression by my great-grandmother, Nora Kirsch, used on my grandmother and then mother’s bed, has been patched now using my grandmother’s handkerchiefs. It had literal holes, but the thought of cutting that quilt traumatized my kids, so like my ancestors, I found a way to preserve it, one more time. By the time one of my granddaughters inherits it, such as it is, it will be connected through 6 generations over more than a century.

Depression Culture

The Depression wasn’t just a defining event, it formed the culture in which my mother grew up. Frugality was ingrained by some combination of fear and guilt-induced obligation.

Eventually, I inherited the rag bag and used the items in that bag, along with the rag rugs, the bread bag Christmas wreath which eventually deteriorated and fell apart, along with decades worth of glass jars and things too “good” to throw away or pass on to someone else just yet. Of course, part of the “problem” was that as the economy improved, the need to obtain hand-me-down items from someone else to “set up housekeeping” was greatly diminished. Looking back, I’m not convinced that was a good thing, because I still have items from my mother and grandmother’s houses gifted to me when I moved to my first apartment. They aren’t “used,” simply accepted as second rate undesirables, but were and are cherished treasures infused with memories of a time, place and people long gone now.

You can take the child out of the Depression, but you can never take the Depression out of the child.

Those behaviors become generational. If you are the child of someone who lived through the Depression, I’m sure you have stories of your own just like these.

And just like me, those legendary stories might all have come rushing back during these past couple of weeks.

I used to think to myself when Mom did one of her “Depression Era” things that I understood. While I understood the genesis of the behavior, never until these past few weeks did I understand the fear that accompanied the scarcity and subsequent rationing that occurred during WWII.

The Depression hit Mom’s family with the same suddenness that the pandemic has struck our generation. We don’t know, as they didn’t know, what’s coming. How bad is bad? What businesses will be left? What will happen to all of those people? Can we hold on? For how long? How will we eat?

And what about toilet paper?

Toilet Paper

Toilet paper at that time consisted of the Sears catalog located strategically in the outhouse. I’m beginning to size up the different kinds of junk mail for “texture.” Obviously, something glossy isn’t good and neither is stiff and crunchy. Thank goodness I saved those old phone books – they look just about right! Mother would be proud!

Just 14 weeks ago, when this pandemic was still an illness in China that no one had heard about anyplace else in the world, my husband and I were leaving for a trip to Australia and New Zealand in the midst of their searing heat and bush fires. We purchased and took 4 boxes of face masks with us to protect ourselves from the smoke. We opened one box and put a couple of masks in our backpacks, but we never used any of them. I wanted to bring the masks home, because I am my mother’s daughter and we might need them someday.

However, I had purchased fabric and my bag was both full and heavy. My husband convinced me to leave the masks in the cabin. I told myself that the crew might need them to protect themselves from the bush fire smoke. I certainly hope someone got some use out of them and they didn’t just get thrown away. It pains me to even think about that – especially NOW that I desperately want those face masks.

Do you know how valuable 4 boxes of face masks would be? Not just monetarily, but for the medical professionals and others. It’s amazing now how valuable TP and face masks have become. We would have been RICH!

Mom’s vindicated. I’m vindicated. My husband is wearing a cloth mask instead of a stylish blue paper mask that we left behind😊 – and hopefully a crew member someplace is safer for those masks.

Ironically, I’m not sweating TP, because as a result of being raised by a Depression Era mother, I have years worth of lone socks that, in a pinch, will suffice as TP sock-mits. Just wipe and deposit in the washing machine. And NO, you cannot JUST THROW THEM AWAY, because you have no idea how long you might need them.

Before saying “ewwww” too loudly, remember when we used cloth diapers on babies because pampers didn’t yet exist? We washed those diapers every day and thought nothing of it.

I’ve also stopped using paper towels because who knows how long they will be manufactured. We might need paper towels for TP, you know, before we break out those orphan socks that I knew, just knew, I’d find a use for eventually if I just kept them long enough.

Soon enough, lone stray socks will be just as valuable as TP. Find yours now wherever they’ve been congregating for years, waiting for their new purpose in life redeployed as TP sock-warriors.

It’s All a Matter of Perspective

I’ve been sorting through things in the closets and put several items with rips in a bag in the laundry room already, but I’m trying NOT to call it a rag bag. I may last another day or two before I give in on that one.

Of course, jeans with rips are quite popular right now, so I’m wearing those again and am now quite the fashionista:) I even patched one of the jeans, strategically, with matching fabric from a face mask. A coordinated pandemic outfit! Everyone is going to want one!

Not only that, but I’ve sewn phone pockets onto my PJs and leggings. I’m referring to them as holsters for face-mask sewing warriors instead of PJ pockets. It’s all in perspective and marketing, right???

Phone Holster.jpg

Mother and grandmother would BOTH be so proud, I’m telling you.

But that’s not all…

Food

Another thing that has changed immensely in the last month is food.

Everyone likes to eat. My grandmother worked first for a chicken hatchery and then for the welfare office. In both cases, unlike other women of her era, she was not “at home” to cook, so she relied heavily on meals she would either make in advance or quickly in the evening.

I’m not quite sure why my grandfather didn’t cook when he wasn’t working during the Depression, but he didn’t and neither did my uncle. Back then, cooking was probably considered woman’s work. Mom began cooking as soon as she could reach the stove even though she was the youngest family member.

All things considered, it’s no wonder my grandmother was perpetually exasperated. Her husband lost the hardware store through no fault of his own, they were in debt, he next lost a sales job at the Ford dealership. She worked to support the entire family, AND performed all of the traditional “woman’s work” too.

No wonder she was chronically unhappy. While it wasn’t anyone’s “fault,” per se, it was still a fact that these unfortunate events had happened and for a decade, followed by a war, there was no way out except for sheer perseverance. That economic situation lasted for 15 or 16 years in total, almost a full generation – by which time my mother was grown, married and my brother had been born.

depression cookbook.jpg

One of the favorite things that churchwomen did to liven up mealtime and to raise money for the church and charities was to publish a church cookbook.

Depression cookbook church.jpg

True to form, the Methodist Church where my grandparents lived published a book in 1953 or 1954, and my grandmother is represented.

Depression fudge.jpg

I think I might have found the source of my Mom’s favorite fudge!

Unlike the other women who contributed their “best recipe,” probably determined by how quickly it disappeared at pot-lucks or funeral lunches at the church – my grandmother’s recipe was how to make something called “Master Mix.”

Depression master mix

click recipe pages to enlarge

Think of this as an early form of Bisquick which you made up in advance, dry, and used it as the base to make several dishes such as cookies, dumplings, pudding, griddle cakes and waffles.

Depression master mix 2.jpg

All of a sudden, we too are suddenly stuck at home, without necessarily ready access to a grocery store – and if we can visit, they may likely be out of a large number of items.

We’re consigned to a type of “food challenge” which could reasonably be called Pandemic Cooking. You use whatever you have available, forgotten in the far corners of your pantry, and find some way to create something that results in an edible dish.

Everyone is getting quite creative.

I though it would be interesting to take a look at that cookbook published before I was born to see what my grandmother contributed. Hey, maybe something looks good. That cookbook was published before the days of exact measurements, which lends itself very well to “make do” cooking.

Next, I checked Mom’s recipe box where I knew goodies lurked.

Mom’s Recipe Box

Like all women of Mom’s generation, she had a recipe box that was a virtual goldmine of wonderful comfort-food with many recipes, finally committed to cards, that had been passed down for generations. Most of the time, Mom didn’t even have to look at the recipe when making our favorite dishes. Both of us knew that fudge recipe by heart, I guarantee.

There are references throughout my mother’s recipe box to a “pinch of” something and instructions to work the dough “until it feels right.” I learned to cook this way and always have – much to Jim’s chagrin.

“How much of that did you put in?”

“I don’t know, enough but not too much. Till it looks right.”

Yep, I’m my mother’s daughter alright.

The transition to mother’s double seems to be complete, because I pulled a spaghetti sauce jar out of the trash earlier this week and washed it, thinking “we might need this.” You never know what might happen and how long the ramifications of the pandemic might last. Who knows, spaghetti jars might be just as valuable for barter as TP one day.

The good news is that there’s only one bread bag in the house right now, and it’s holding bread. At least presently. Plus, I can’t crochet. There’s that. Don’t ask how I know, but you can’t use bread bags in quilts. (If you figure out how, please, just don’t tell me – OK?!)

I am however, jealously saving even the smallest scraps of fabric from making protective facial masks for medical workers because I might need those remnants for a scrap quilt.

Now, if I can just find the lids to all of the orphan Tupperware, or is that too much to ask?

Throwback Cooking and You!

You’re probably finding yourself in the process of attempting to cook with whatever you have on hand too. You may discover items in the back of the pantry that are older than your children.

Mom, like her mother, worked her entire life – so her recipe box also contained a plethora of yummy recipes, many of which were also quick. Most of Mom’s recipes, however, cater to her sweet tooth. It wasn’t until I was digitizing and creating an index that I realized that the recipes for chocolate and sweets far, far outnumbered everything else – put together.

Don’t believe me – check it out for yourself by clicking on the link below to download a cookbook of sorts that I created from Mom’s Recipe Box. Please download and enjoy.

Mother’s Recipe Box

A few years ago, for a family Christmas gift, I scanned the recipes in Mom’s recipe box. Perhaps you’ll find some new recipes to try, or a dish that perhaps you’ll recognize from a long-ago church carry-in.

If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll find some comfort food from your childhood that you’ve forgotten about and you’ll have almost everything to make it!

Or, try Mom’s fudge!

Let me know if you find something fun here, or share a story.

By the time we exit out the other side of this pandemic, we’ll be cooking like our mothers and grandmothers, using whatever is on hand, not following any recipe exactly and “seasoning to taste.” 😊

Maybe this is a good time to scan your family recipes and document your memories. Seeing your ancestor’s handwriting and connecting with them as they survived trying times might just help you feel better.

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Fun DNA Stuff

  • Celebrate DNA – customized DNA themed t-shirts, bags and other items

Pandemic Journal: “Rosie the Mask Crafter” & Conquering Fear

As we look back, from our privileged position today in a safe home doing genealogy, we think that participating in a historic event or time might have been fun. Exhilarating or exciting, perhaps, or both.

When you’re in that historical moment where life changes in the blink of an eye, as we are today, and you don’t know who will see the other side, or what the other side looks like, it’s not fun or exciting in a good way. It’s flat out terrifying.

Our Ancestors Did It

We are doing today what our ancestors did before us. We are persevering and putting one foot in front of the other, doing what we can with what we have in the circumstances in which we find ourselves. They were resourceful, and so are we.

Bravery is not the absence of fear, it’s working through the fear, in spite of fear and doing something productive. Sometimes that “something” becomes our legacy.

It’s Your Turn

As one of the army of mask-makers isolated in her home says, “It’s up to me to be the history maker. Our lives are a culmination of the choices we make and the chances we take.”

That woman, still anonymous, is now and will be forevermore known simply as “Rosie, the Mask Crafter.”

Pandemic Rosie.png

An entire army of sewists, many of them quilters, are sewing masks, every day, all day, coordinating requests, delivering supplies and completed masks where they are needed across the country. The dozens made in our homes added together combine into rivers of hundreds that become thousands and then tens of thousands, but the need never abates.

Still, we cut and sew and pick up and deliver, day and night, and we will until either the virus is defeated, or the manufacturing industry can ramp up enough to meet the demand.

Thousands of us are members of social media coordination efforts that sprang up overnight to answer the call. Not only can we save others by staying home, we can help to protect our brave front line fighters in this war to the death – our health care providers who never signed up to fight battles. Yet, there they are every single day, trying to save us and themselves in a war zone that has been transformed from something that seemed perfectly normal just a couple weeks ago to a Hell scene straight from the apocalypse.

Someone posted “Rosie the Mask Crafter’s” picture, iconically posing by her sewing machine, a pandemic version of Rosie the Riveter who represents an entire generation of women who stepped up in 1943 during WWII to fill the manufacturing void.

Pandemic Rosie Riveter

Thank you to “Rosie” for permission to use her photo.

Then, a couple days later, this…from group member, professional artist, Camilla Webster:

Thank you to the member who shared a photo of “Rosie, The Mask Crafter.”

I painted her today for all of you in memory of my friend Maria who passed away this weekend of COVID-19.

Keep up the great work!

I salute all of you! ❤️✨🙌

Pandemic Rosie painting

Rosie, The Mask Crafter, Copyright @ Camilla Webster Inc 2020 ❤️ – Thank you to Camilla for permission to use her painting.

I have to tell you, when you know someone who is sick or dies from this monster, this gets real – real fast. When your friend’s spouse is a doctor or nurse ON the Covid floor, doesn’t have enough PPE and they ask you for help protecting their loved one – it gets real, very real in a heartbeat. Just like it did for Camilla when her friend died.

Suddenly, you’re not sewing, you’re driving your tank through the night to create the defenses our medical warriors need so the masks can be overnighted the next morning. They are the front lines, but we have their backs as much as possible. If they can do that, we can certainly do this from the safety of our seclusion – a luxury they aren’t afforded.

And on and on we sew – as the streams of sirens scream, delivering the flood of critically ill people to hospitals across our nation as city after city becomes overwhelmed.

You May Need Masks for Your Family – You Can Do This!!

If you are willing to make masks for front line medical workers or others in need, such as nurses aids, public servants or other essential workers, there are numerous groups on social media coordinating by state and county. Search for terms like “mask” or “face mask warriors.” Call your local quilt shops, hospitals, police department, sheriff or EMS facilities to see if they are aware of local need in places like nursing homes or medical offices.

I’ve provided the pattern I use here, along with pictures of how I’m making the masks.

As the pandemic worsens, it appears that the CDC may recommend wearing face masks when we go out in public, not only to prevent picking up the virus, but from spreading it if we are infected but not symptomatic. Even if you’re not sewing for donation, you may want to make some for your own family. Men are sewing just same as women – everyone can do this, even if you’ve never sewn before.

The frightening thing is, we are nowhere near the peak yet. So, I want to share something else with you today.

It’s OK to Be Afraid

It’s alright to be afraid.

I posted a link to the article, The Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief on my Facebook page. I’ve tried very hard to stay positive, but that’s not always possible, especially since I have family on that front line.

I feel like this isn’t just a temporary situation, but a fundamental change – a paradigm shift in life as we know it. Not only do we not know who will be on the other side, we don’t know what “the other side” looks like.

After I posted the link, I discovered that two of my cousins expressed their feelings. One said she is angry, and one said she is afraid. We discussed this, together, and a few more people chimed in. It felt good to share what we are all feeling and admit that we can’t be cheerful and upbeat all of the time. It was comforting to know we are not alone and that yes, we are grieving.

This situation exacerbates other life events that are already saddening – like deaths of family and pets when we can’t travel, and funerals that can’t happen at all. It isolates us when we most need to be together and hug our family – but we can’t. We risk their very lives, and others, if we don’t continue to isolate. This is particularly difficult when dealing with the critically ill, knowing we may not see them again and we’re missing our last opportunity, or when dealing with elderly or other people who can’t understand WHY we’re not there.

We don’t always, always have to put on the smiling face, the mask of our own that says, “it’s going to be alright,” because truthfully, we don’t know whether it will be or not. Yet, we all say that to each other as reassurance, a form of whistling while walking past the cemetery in the dark.

But here’s the thing. I don’t know if I’ll survive this, or if all of my family will – but I have a choice today. I’m inconvenienced and afraid, but I’m also able to fight and I promise you, I will fight until my dying breath whether it’s sooner or later. By making masks, by still doing for others as I can, by teaching and writing these articles, by honoring my ancestors and by fighting for those who desperately need help, both human and animal – I will fight on.

I may be frightened, but I’m not down and I’m not out – and I’m trying to make sure others aren’t either. I’m absolutely determined, committed and steadfast in my perseverance – even if we are all whistling while walking in the dark. Keep on walking, one step at a time! We are walking together – virtually – if not in person.

Five Things

If you’re not sewing masks, and even those of us who are can’t do that 24X7, here are 5 things you can do that will distract you and lift your spirits.

  1. The VGA (Virtual Genealogy Association) Entertainment Show free video is here, minus the music which had to be removed because it might have been a copyright violation to play or sing those songs.
  2. Legacy Family Tree Webinars is having a free genealogy webinar every single day in the month of April, here or you can subscribe for free unlimited access to everything, here.
  3. MyHeritage is making the photo colorization tool free, here, and all US census records are free here or you can try a free trial subscription to all the records, here. DNA tests are also on sale for $39, here.
  4. If you’ve DNA tested at any of the companies and contacted people in the past who haven’t answered, now’s a great time to check for new matches (don’t forget Y and mitochondrial DNA) and reach out because many people are safely tucked away at home. What better time to do some genealogy and reach out to others?
  5. Here’s a list of free educational videos and more than half a million National Archives records that you can use if you’re schooling your children at home, or maybe you’re interested yourself. Wait, you could assign genealogy research as homework! YES! Now THAT, that is a silver lining!

Stay “Rosie Strong.” You got this!

Pandemic Rosie strong.jpg

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Fun DNA Stuff

  • Celebrate DNA – customized DNA themed t-shirts, bags and other items

Bob McLaren, Beloved Clan McLaren Genealogist Meets His Ancestors

McLaren Profile.jpg

Compliments of Scott Stewart, photographer.

Bob McLaren, Clan McLaren genealogist and founder of the McLaren DNA Project, was one of the most beloved people in the genealogy community. He tried hard to be a curmudgeon, but he mostly failed at that. His smile and laughing eyes gave him away.

McLaren solo 2

Photo, compliments of Janine Cloud.

Bob’s sense of humor was dry, the same way he liked his Glenmorangie 12, single malt scotch whiskey, neat. Yep, he could tell you all about that, and don’t even think of mentioning some heresy about Cardhu. Unless of course, you wished to debate for the evening. Bob had been known to leave establishments, as is more than once, for having NO acceptable scotch in house.

Bob was Scottish, and Scotch apparently, through and through – always wearing his McLaren plaid kilt and educating anyone who would listen – at genealogy events, conferences and bars around the world. Bob was the consumate ambassador in every sense of the word.

Bob joined his McLaren ancestors on March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day, probably in protest of the danged Irish kidnapping a perfectly good Scotsman, Patrick, born Maewyn Succat in Scotland about the year 387, taking him to Ireland and turning him into a Saint. Waste of a perfectly good Scotsman in Bob’s book. Bob took his Scottish history seriously, very seriously, indeed. Just ask. Well, on second thought, no need to ask – he’d tell you one way or the other.

McLaren early

I remember the first time I ever saw Bob in person, from afar, at the 2004 Family Tree DNA Conference – wearing his kilt and dagger. Yes, dagger – known as Sgain-dubh in Gaelic, in his sock. At first, I was struck by his kilt, but then I couldn’t stop looking at his sock.

McLaren dagger

Courtesy of ISOGG, photo contributed by Candy Camprise.

Even when Bob had a cast on his leg, that sock and dagger were still very much present. After 9-11, he had to stop traveling while wearing his dagger. Airlines frowned on that for some reason.

McLaren talking

Courtesy ISOGG, photograph by Candy Camprise.

The never-failing commonality in all pictures of Bob is that he is always talking to someone, always educating, always sharing. Extremely outgoing with a “let’s get it done” attitude, Bob was passionate about every aspect of genealogy.

McLaren Jeremy

Photo courtesy Family Tree DNA.

Bob McLaren with Jeremy Balkin at the Family Tree DNA project administrators’ conference in 2013.

McLaren Kherlen.JPG

Photo compliments of Katherine Borges.

Bob, with Kherlen, volunteer project administrator for the Mongolian DNA Project at the 2014 conference reception.

Bob not only attended the conferences, he was a presenter from time to time as well.

Ever-present, we never thought about the day that Bob wouldn’t be with us. He seemed timeless. A tall man with a wizard-like beard, he seemed a bit like he was transplanted from another era. Maybe at first a little intimidating – at least before you got to know him and realized that his gruffness was mostly bluster. Underneath, Bob was a kind-hearted, gentle teddy-bear of a soul. Bob wasn’t trying to intimidate anyone, he just wanted to provoke you enough to get you to engage in an interesting conversation. I soon learned that two could play that game.

At one of the early FTDNA conferences, my husband and I had walked across the street from the hotel to a restaurant for dinner. I had seen Bob from a distance, but never actually met him. He was always talking to someone else!

He sat at a table near us, by himself. I walked over to his table and asked if he’d like to join us. A genealogist eating by themselves is a perfectly wasted opportunity. Of course, had Bob realized at that moment that I was a descendant of the dreaded Campbell clan, he might not have accepted that invitation.

I’m glad he did, because that dinner sparked a friendship that deepened over the years as the Family Tree DNA conferences became like family reunions – and Bob became family – to me and so many others too.

Bob was a man on a mission – genealogy and McLaren clan genealogy specifically. He didn’t so much love genetic genealogy for the genetics part of the equation, but for the fact that DNA could, did and would unravel the knots in genealogical mysteries. In particular, his goal was to document the various paternal branches of the McLaren clan through Y DNA mutations.

Bob also realized that collaboration was the only way to achieve this goal – hence his constant presence at various conferences, like NGS, RootsTech, FGS and others.

In order to interact with the maximum number of people and convince them of the benefits of DNA testing, Bob volunteered at the FamilyTreeDNA booth at many conferences – wearing his signature kilt of course. Everyone knew him, it seemed, and came by to say hello.

I don’t think Bob would ever admit it, but as he aged, it was a lot easier for him to sit in one place and let the conference walk by him rather than walk through the conference – especially large conferences like RootsTech in particular.

McLaren Rootstech 2015

RootsTech 2015, compliments of Family Tree DNA.

Just don’t make the mistake of telling Bob you were a Campbell, or even worse, a McGregor. He’d educate you on clan history right then and there.

McLaren table.jpg

Photo compliments Janine Cloud.

When an employee became ill at a conference, Bob along with Doug Miller, at right, volunteered and stepped in at the FTDNA booth at the FGS conference in 2011. That’s the kind of guy Bob was.

McLaren listening

Photo courtesy of Janine Cloud.

Bob was a wonderful listener, utilizing his decades of experience to dispense advice about genealogy research, clan history, trees, DNA testing, or pretty much anyone someone needed. He was a marvelous teacher.

Of course, Bob loved nothing more than to buddy with other genealogists, especially other Scottish men wearing kilts.

McLaren Moffitt

Photo courtesy of Robert Moffitt.

Here, posed with friend Roger Moffitt, Bob would call Roger “Laddie” and tell him he was a bad Scottsman when Roger failed to wear his kilt. Roger pays his respects to Bob, here, on his own Facebook page.

You may need to be Roger’s friend to see this and other Facebook postings about Bob.

McLaren dressed up.jpg

Photo courtesy of Scott Stewart.

I didn’t realize that there were casual and dress kilts and regalia, but Scott Stewart took this absolutely dashing photo of Bob “dressed up” for the 2009 NGS banquet standing beside fellow Scotsman, John Ralls.

Bob chastised Scott for not wearing his kilt too. No one escaped Bob’s encouragement😊

McLaren Beidler leiderhosen kilt

Photo courtesy James M. Beidler.

That Leiderhosen/kilt ad…well, here they are.

Bob and I were volunteers on various committees together, so I knew that he had become rather frail over the past couple of years. I was concerned about him last year at RootsTech and also at the NGS conference in May 2019 in St. Louis.

For a man who did not participate in social media and didn’t much care to have his picture taken, there are certainly a lot of photos out there that feature Bob and…well… everybody it seems.

That’s because Bob was quite kindhearted, despite what he would have you believe, and never denied anyone anything. Except maybe a McGregor.

In the 24 hours of so since the word of Bob’s passing crept out on social media, many people have shared such heartwarming stories about Bob. I’ve been smiling and laughing through my tears.

McLaren me

This photo was taken of me and Bob in February 2019 at RootsTech. I told Bob I loved his black leather purse, or bag, whatever it was. Acting quite offended, which I knew he wasn’t of course, he very quickly schooled me on the fact that it was NOT a purse and it WAS a sporran. Call it what you want, Bob😊

We had an absolutely lovely week at RootsTech, running into each other several times.

McLaren Benihana

Attendees tend to form groups that eat together. This particular evening, part of the MyHeritage team and the FTDNA team invited me along and we had dinner at Benihana. One person in the group had a birthday and the photographer took a photo of the group together. We teased the birthday person mercilessly – Bob goading him into drinking some birthday Glenmorangie 12 in celebration.

I asked Bob if Campbells were allowed Genmorangie 12. He said, “absolutely not” and that he would have to drink mine for me.

We gave this picture to the birthday person, and I discovered this morning that he placed it on his fridge where it remains today, as a memento of a lovely evening with friends.

What happy times we had, and how we need those memories desperately today.

McLaren Addy

Photo compliments of Jennifer Zinck.

For some reason, Bob was especially inspirational to young people, and they in turn were drawn to him. One person mentioned that he is a sort of father-figure for her, and now he’s gone. Someone else said that he reminds them of the grandfather they wish they had known.

Addie Zinck, above, with her friend, Franklin the spider, attended her first Family Tree DNA conference in 2018. She too is missing her friend, Bob, today. Addie, don’t worry, Bob’s still with you.

Community Memorials

McLaren Katherine.jpg

Katherine Borges, Director of ISOGG, has known Bob almost as long as I have. She too had a very special relationship with Bob and remembers him, here, on the ISOGG Facebook page with this commentary and poem:

I’ve know Bob since the first Family Tree DNA conference in 2004. I’ve been blessed to get to know him better over the years because he had a huge heart and a wonderfully dry sense of humor. I used to tease him that I was going to buy him some McGregor whisky and he’d pull his skean dhu on me in reply. 😆

God willing and the creek doesn’t rise, I will dress in full Scottish regalia at the FTDNA conference in November in memory of Bob. And we’ll toast the life of this wonderful man with a wee dram.

“An honest man here lies at rest,
The friend of man, the friend of truth,
The friend of age, and guide of youth:
Few hearts like his, with virtue warm’d,
Few heads with knowledge so inform’d;
If there’s another world, he lives in bliss;
If there is none, he made the best of this.”

– Robert Burns

Many people have replied to Katherine’s post with their own memories, so do take a look.

McLaren Borges Magellan

Photo courtesy Katherine Borges.

Bob with his fellow Scots, Linda Magellan and Katherine Borges, above. Looks to me like Bob, Linda and Katherine are plotting something!

McLaren Beidler Southard.jpg

Photo compliments of James M. Beidler.

Blaine Bettinger posted this photo, with Diahan Southard and James M. Beidler – and memorializes Bob here in the Genetic Genealogy Tips and Techniques group with this commentary:

In Memoriam. Robert “Bob” McLaren, who passed away yesterday, was a fixture of the Family Tree DNA booth at just about every conference. Bob was a project administrator, DNA expert, DNA educator, and all around incredibly nice person. Over the years he educated and assisted 1000s of people with all aspects of DNA. And I’ve rarely seen someone as proud of their heritage! He will be very much missed.

Be sure to read the many comments on this post too. Bob inspired so many.

It’s incredibly gut-wrenching when these iconic legends pass over.

The McLaren Quilt

This year, just before RootsTech, Bob became ill and was unable to travel. Based on what he said and the medical testing underway, we knew that he needed a care quilt.

Folks at Family Tree DNA and RootsTech that knew Bob signed blocks, although we were being quiet about his illness and his privacy.

McLaren quilt.png

I quickly ordered McLaren tartan fabric from a custom design/print shop. The signature blocks were overnighted to me from Utah and Texas after RootsTech and I pieced the top. The quilt was quickly quilted over a weekend with a Scottish thistle design, bound on Monday and overnighted, arriving the morning of Tuesday, the 17th.

Sadly, Bob never received his quilt. I spoke to Mrs. McLaren today, and she said that the quilt is now spread on the couch with the family admiring it and telling stories. That’s what Bob would have wanted anyway – although I am gravely regretful that I couldn’t somehow have gotten it there a day or two earlier. If it was humanly possible, I would have. I hope his “McLaren Quilt” will bring his family comfort, knowing how many loved Bob and reading their caring messages.

Several people have said to me, “Bob sees it now,” and I desperately hope they are right. I wish now that I had told him it was on the way, but I wanted it to be a surprise and I had absolutely no idea Bob would only be with us another 24 hours.

I am incredibly glad that I called Bob on Monday and spoke with him at length, explaining how he had inspired me, thanking him for being such a strong pillar and foundation in our community.

Bob was planning to be dismissed the next day and his wife was preparing for the same at home. Bob told me, among other things, that he hoped and indeed, planned, to be at the next Family Tree DNA conference in November 2020 in Houston. After that, he said, “it’s probably lights out.” By this time, Bob was aware of his diagnosis although he was optimistic and encouraged to think that he would attend one more conference. I had already spoken with his wife and was surprised to hear Bob planning for November, but make no mistake, if any human could have pulled that off, it indeed was Bob.

Sadly, that wasn’t in the cards, as Bob slipped away the next day with his family gathered round.

While I’m crushed, as are decades’ worth of friends and acquaintances in addition to his family, I’m incredibly grateful to have had Bob’s presence in my life. I’m glad I told him that, in so many words, and thanked him for being an inspiration to a whole generation, or two, of young people.

I know he’s no longer suffering, and knowing Bob, he’s still close by, silently encouraging us.

In fact, I strongly suspect that indeed he has seen the quilt – including my block that I signed, “Your Campbell Cousin.” I know he would have smiled, in spite of himself. I think he secretly forgave me for that Campbell thing long ago.

He’s probably quite amused that his funeral is on hold due to this virus, although I’m sure his family is not.

But I have news for Bob – it’s not lights out. Not at all. In fact, the illuminating light of Bob’s life will continue to shine for a very long time – through the generations by virtue of the thousands and thousands of people he helped, those he encouraged to DNA test who are one step closer to unraveling the mystery of their own ancestors and the young people who look up to him as a role model and (grand)father figure.

That’s one heck of a legacy, one we all can and should aspire to.

Rest in Peace, Bob McLaren, Sir. Well done.

I know you have flown to the McLaren homeland, Creag an Tuirc.

McLaren homeland

By User:JacobiteMacLaren, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41255504, Balquhidder from Creag an Tuirc, the gathering place of the Clan MacLaren

Condolences, Memorials and Family Contact

Bob’s funeral plans are on hold for now due to the pandemic.

Those who wish to share stories or pictures of Bob over the years may either comment on this article, send photos to me via e-mail at roberta@dnaexplain.com and I’ll post them in this section of the article along with a description and your comment, so long as I have permission from the people in the photo.

I told Bob’s family that they are welcome to use download and use any portion of this article for his service or any other purpose that brings them comfort.

To contact the family directly, send an email to Bob’s son, Sean at sean.r.mclaren@gmail.com.

To send cards, Bob’s address is given on the Clan McLaren website, here. I do not know if anyone will check Bob’s personal email again, so I would not suggest reaching out that way.

Contributed Memories

From Ally Woods in California:

Sir MacLaren will always bring a smile whenever I hear his name …

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam

McLarenn and Ally Woods.jpg

From Marie in New Zealand:

Scottish Gaelic

Caud ye the door laddie – snak it my loon
Breng o’er  a cher and Sett Doon man, Sett Doon
It’s ainly but richt that yer  Kinfolk shud courl
To gie ye advice Tae gang oot in this worl’

Means:

Close you the door laddie – snib it my loved one
Bring over a chair and Sit Down man, Sit Down
It’s only but right that your Kinfolk should care-at-all
To give you advice to go out in this World

My best to you Roberta –
On losing a fine friend who would have heard and kenned / known this from an early age.

 

OMG, Mary Tan Hai is Found – 52 Ancestors #275

Late last night, the son of my mother’s dance partner, Mary Tan Hai, reached out to me after googling his mother’s name during the time she danced in Chicago and found my 52 ancestors article about Mary and mother dancing together during WWII.

Except, her name really wasn’t Mary Tan Hai. It was changed from something I never knew until last night to protect her from being sent to a concentration camp during the war.

If you recall, I wrote about my mother’s professional ballet and tap dancing career during WWII, here. Mother’s dance troupe partner and good friend, Mary, was Japanese. Her family was interred in the Japanese Detention Camps here in the US. Mary couldn’t communicate with them or her Japanese identity would be discovered and she would be sent away too.

In order to protect Mary, they changed her name and the dancers protected her within the troupe. Mary “became” Chinese. There was no record in the troupe of her Japanese origins, just in case. I don’t know if mother ever knew Mary’s true name.

My mother was born in 1922. After Mom’s fiancé was killed in action, she left the troupe and eventually lost track of Mary, but never forgot her best friend and roommate. She talked about Mary and wondered what happened to her. I presumed when I wrote the article about Mom’s dancing career that Mary had long-ago passed. I searched, but I couldn’t find anything about Mary Tan Hai anyplace. Now I know that’s because that wasn’t her real name.

I was wrong. Mary wasn’t deceased.

Mary’s family is “gathered round her”, her son wrote me last night, as she prepares to pass over. Mary and Mom will reunite soon. Oh, the stories they’ll have to tell. The hugs they’ll share!

Even though I’m at RootsTech today, I quickly found a table on the Expo Hall floor, downloaded the photos from my own blog to my laptop, colorized the photos at MyHeritage, downloaded them and mailed the newly-alive colorized photos to Mary’s son.

A few hour later, I receive a lovely gift in return that I never imagined. Mary, as it turned out, had a photo album with pictures of mother I had never seen. I am forever grateful. After I sort through what I received, I’ll be publishing that information soon.

I’m so glad to know that Mary married, to a serviceman it turned out, had a family and a long, wonderful life. Perhaps Mary can still enjoy these photos, and if not, I know, based on the thank you note that her family is.

Thank you so much MyHeritage for providing this AMAZING tool to allow us to connect and share and remember. For everyone who is interested in colorizing photos, the first 10 are free for people without a MyHeritage subscription, and unlimited free colorization of photos if you do have a subscription. I’ve provided instructions here.

Now, take a look at these beautiful colorized photos!

Mother, Mary Tan Hai and troope

Mother is middle row right. Mary is back row right, just above Mom.

Mother, Mary Tan Hai and troope colorized

Mother and Mary Tan Hai

Mother and Mary Tan Hai colorized

Mary Tan Hai

Mary Tan Hai colorized

Mary Tan Hai gazebo

Mary Tan Hai gazebo colorized

Mother, Mary Tan Hai lawn

Mother, Mary Tan Hai lawn colorized

Mary Tan Hai well

Mary Tan Hai well colorized

Mom, Mary Tan Hai peeking

Mom, Mary Tan Hai peeking colorized

Update: Mary’s beautiful obituary can be found here. Thank you to her family for the notification.

______________________________________________________________

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Dear Dave: You’re Featured in a Book – 52 Ancestors #274

Dave and I for blog

My Dearest Brother, Dave.

You’re either famous or infamous, or both. That’s not news to you though! You’d be pleased about both, or either.

Yep, Libby Copeland tells our story today, including the secret you never knew, in an article published in the Washington Post. I wish you were here to read it with me, but I’m guessing you’re getting a good chuckle right about now from over yonder.

Miss you, love you,

Sis

Libby’s article offers a different perspective on DNA testing and family. DNA giveth, but for me, DNA could never, ever, taketh away.

Dave walks with me and makes me brave, something I need especially on days like today when I prepare to speak to thousands of people over the next few days at RootsTech with cameras rolling. He is still with me, always beside me. Sometimes laughing at me, forever protecting me. He left a hollow place in my heart that can never be filled.

Libby Copeland did a masterful job of telling our story in her book, The Lost Family, and I am forever grateful. Her book (which you can order here) includes stories from other genealogists that I’ve written about as well, including my friend, Rosario, here.

Today’s Washington Post article is found here. Kleenex warning!

If you want to read more about Dave’s amazing story and our journey, my earlier articles are here, here and here.

DNA Testing Sales Decline: Reason and Reasons

If you’re involved in genetic genealogy, you’ve probably noticed the recent announcements by both 23andMe and Ancestry relative to workforce layoffs as a result of declining sales.

Layoffs

In January, 23andMe announced that it was laying off 100 people which equated to 14% of its staff.

Following suit, Ancestry this week announced that they are laying off 100 people, 6% of their work force. They discuss their way forward, here.

One shift of this type can be a blip, but two tends to attract attention because it *could* indicate a trend. Accordingly, several articles have been written about possible reasons why this might be occurring. You can read what TechCrunch says here, Business Insider here, and The Verge, here.

Depending on who you talk to and that person’s perspective, the downturn is being attributed to:

  • Market Saturation
  • No Repeat Sales
  • Privacy Concerns
  • FAD Over

Ok, So What’s Happening?

Between Ancestry and 23andMe alone, more than 26 million DNA tests have been sold, without counting the original DNA testing company, FamilyTreeDNA along with MyHeritage who probably have another 4 or 5 million between them.

Let’s say that’s a total of 30 million people in DNA databases that offer matching. The total population of the US is estimated to be about 329 million, including children, which means that one person in 10 or 11 people in the US has now tested. Of course, DNA testing reaches worldwide, but it’s an interesting comparison indicating how widespread DNA testing has become overall.

This slowing of new sales shouldn’t really surprise anyone. In July 2019, Illumina, the chip maker who supplies equipment and supplies to the majority of the consumer DNA testing industry said that the market was softening after a drop in their 2019 second quarter revenue.

Also last year, Ancestry and MyHeritage both announced health products, a move which would potentially generate a repeat sale from someone who has already tested their DNA for genealogy purposes. I suspected at the time this might be either a pre-emptive strike, or in response to slowed sales.

In November 2019, Family Tree DNA announced an extensive high-end health test through Tovana which tests the entire Exome, the portion of our DNA useful for medical and health analysis.

In a sense, this health focus too is trendy, but moves away from genealogy into an untapped area.

23andMe who, according to their website, has obtained $791 million in venture capital or equity funding has always been focused on medical research. In July of 2018 GlaxoSmithKline infused $300 million into 23andMe in exchange for access to DNA results of their 5 million customers who have opted-in to medical research, according to Genengnews. If you divide the 300 million investment by 5 million opted-in customers, 23andMe received $60 per DNA kit.

That 5 million number is low though, based on other statements by 23andMe which suggests they have 10 million total customers, 80% of which opt-in for medical research. That would be a total of 8 million DNA results available to investors.

Divide $791 million by 8 million kits and 23andMe, over the years, has received roughly $99 for each customer who has opted in to research.

We know who Ancestry has partnered with for research, but not how much Ancestry has received.

There’s very big money, huge money, in collaborating with Big Pharma and others. Given the revenue potential, it’s amazing that the other two vendors, Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage, haven’t followed suit, but they haven’t.

Additionally, in January, 23andMe sold the rights to a new drug it developed in-house as a potential treatment for inflammatory diseases for a reported (but unconfirmed by 23andMe) $5 million.

It’s ironic that two companies who just announced layoffs are the two who have partnered to sell access to their opted-in customers’ DNA results.

My Thoughts

I’ve been asked several times about my thoughts on this shift within the industry. I have refrained from saying much, because I think there has been way too much “hair on fire” clickbait reporting that is fanning the flames of fear, not only in the customer base, but in general.

I am sharing my thoughts, and while they are not entirely positive, in that there is clearly room for improvement, I want to emphasize that I am very upbeat about this industry as a whole, and this article ends very positively with suggestions for exactly that – so please read through.

Regardless of why, fewer new people are testing which of course results in fewer sales, and fewer new matches for us.

My suspicion is that each of the 4 reasons given above is accurate to some extent, and the cumulative effect plus a couple of other factors is the reason we’re seeing the downturn.

Let’s take a look at each one.

Market Saturation

Indeed, we’ve come a very long way from the time when DNA was a verboten topic on the old RootsWeb mailing lists and boards.

Early DNA adopters back then were accused of “cheating,” and worse. Our posts were deleted immediately. How times have changed!

As the technology matured, 23andMe began offering autosomal testing accompanied by cousin matching.

Ancestry initially stepped into the market with Y and mitochondrial DNA testing, but ultimately destroyed that database which included Y and mitochondrial DNA results from Relative Genetics, a company they had previously acquired. People in those databases, as well as who had irreplaceable samples in Sorenson, which Ancestry also purchased and subsequently took offline permanently have never forgotten.

Those genealogists have probably since tested at Ancestry, but they may be more inclined to test the rest of their family at places like Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage who have chromosome browsers and tools that support more serious researchers.

I think a contributing factor is that fewer “serious genealogists” are coming up in the ranks. The perception that all you need to do is enter a couple of generations and click on a few leaves, and you’re “done” misleads people as to the complexity and work involved in genealogical research. Not to mention how many of those hints are inaccurate and require analysis.

Having said that, I view each one of these people who are encouraged for the first time by an ad, even if it is misleading in its simplicity, as a potential candidate. We were all baby genealogists once, and some of us stayed for reasons known only to us. Maybe we have the genealogy gene😊

But yes, I would agree that the majority, by far, of serious genealogists have already tested someplace. What they have not done universally is transferred from 23andMe and Ancestry to the other companies that can help them, such as MyHeritage, FamilyTreeDNA and GEDmatch. If they had, the customer numbers at those companies would be higher. We all need to fish in every pond.

Advertising and Ethnicity

The DNA ads over the last few years have focused almost exclusively on ethnicity – the least reliable aspect of genetic genealogy – but also the “easiest” to understand if a customer takes their ethnicity percentages at face value. And of course, every consumer that purchases a test as a result of one of these ads does exactly that – spits or swabs, mails and opens their results to see what they “are” – full of excited anticipation.

Many people have absolutely no idea there’s more, like cousin matching – and many probably wouldn’t care.

The buying public who purchases due to these ads are clearly not early adopters, and most likely are not genealogists. One can hope that at least a few of them get hooked as a result, or at least enter a minimal tree.

Unfortunately, of the two companies experiencing layoffs, only Ancestry supports trees. Genealogy revolves around trees, pure and simple.

23andMe has literally had years to do so and has refused to natively support trees. Their FamilySearch link is not the same as supporting trees and tree matching. Their attempt at creating a genetic tree is laudable and has potential, but it’s not something that can be translated into a genealogical benefit for most people. I’m guessing that there aren’t any genealogists working for 23andMe, or they aren’t “heard” amid the vervre surrounding medical research.

All told, I’m not surprised that the two companies who are experiencing the layoffs are the two companies whose ads we saw most often focused on ethnicity, especially Ancestry. Who can forget the infamous kilt/leiderhosen ad that Ancestry ran? I still cringe.

Many people who test for ethnicity never sign on again – especially if they are unhappy with the results.

Ancestry and 23andMe spent a lot on ad campaigns, ramped up for the resulting sales, but now the ads are less effective, so not being run as much or at all. Sales are down. Who’s to say which came first, the chicken (fewer ads) or the egg (lower sales.)

This leads us to the next topic, add on sales.

No Repeat Sales

DNA testing, unless you have something else to offer customers is being positioned as a “one and done” sale, meaning that it’s a single purchase with no potential for additional revenue. While that’s offered as a reason for the downturn, it’s not exactly true for DNA test sales.

Ancestry clearly encourages customers to subscribe to their records database by withholding access to some DNA features without a subscription. For Ancestry, DNA is the bait for a yearly repeat sale of a subscription. Genealogists subscribe, of course, but people who aren’t genealogists don’t see the benefit.

Ancestry does not allow transfers into their database, which would provide for additional revenue opportunity. I suspect the reason is twofold. First, they want the direct testing revenue, but perhaps more importantly, in order to sell their customer’s DNA who have agreed to participate in research, or partner with research firms, those customers need to have tested on Ancestry’s custom chip. This holds true for 23andMe as well.

Through the 23andMe financial information in the earlier section, it’s clear that while the consumer only pays a one time fee to test, multiple research companies will pay over and over for access to that compiled consumer information.

Ancestry and 23andMe have the product, your opted-in DNA test that you paid for, and they can sell it over and over again. Hopefully, this revenue stream helps to fund development of genetic genealogical tools.

MyHeritage also provides access to advanced DNA tools by selling a subscription to their records database after a free trial. MyHeritage has integrated their DNA testing with genealogical records to provide their advanced Theories of Family Relativity tool, a huge boon to genealogists.

While Family Tree DNA doesn’t have a genealogical records database like Ancestry and MyHeritage, they provide Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA testing, in addition to the autosomal Family Finder test. If more people tested Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA, more genealogical walls would fall due to the unique inheritance path and the fact that neither Y nor mitochondrial DNA is admixed with DNA from the other parent.

Generally, only genealogists know about and are going to order Y DNA and mtDNA tests, or sponsor others to take them to learn more about their ancestral lines. These tests don’t provide yearly revenue like an ongoing subscription, but at least the fact that Family Tree DNA offers three different tests does provide the potential for at least some additional sales.

Both MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA encourage uploads, and neither sell, lease or share your DNA for medical testing. You can find upload instructions, here.

In summary of this section, all of the DNA testing companies do have some sort of additional (potential) revenue stream from DNA testing, so it’s not exactly “one and done.”

Health Testing Products

As for health testing, 23andMe has always offered some level of health information for their customers. Health and research has always been their primary focus. Health and genealogy was originally bundled into one test. Today, DNA ancestry tests with the health option at 23andMe cost more than a genealogy-only test and are two separate products.

MyHeritage also offers a genealogy only DNA test and a genealogy plus health DNA test.

In 2019, both Ancestry and MyHeritage added health testing to their menu as upgrades for existing customers.

In November 2019, FamilyTreeDNA announced an alliance with Tovana for their customers to order a full exome grade medical test and accompanying report. I recently received mine and am still reviewing the results – they are extensive.

It’s clear that all four companies see at least some level of consumer interest in health and traits as a lucrative next step.

Medical Research and DNA Sales

Both Ancestry and 23andMe are pursuing and have invested in relationships with research institutions or Big Pharma. I have concerns with how this is handled. You may not.

I’m supportive of medical research, but I’m concerned that most people have no idea of the magnitude and scope of the contracts between Ancestry and 23andMe with Big Pharma and others, in part, because the details are not public. Customers may also not be aware of exactly what they are opting in to, what it means or where their DNA/DNA results are going.

As a consumer, I want to know where my DNA is, who is using it, and for what purpose. I don’t want my DNA to wind up being used for a nefarious purpose or something I don’t approve of. Think Uighurs in China by way of example. BGI Genetics, headquartered in China but with an Americas division and facilities in Silicon Valley has been a major research institute for years. I want to know what my DNA is being used for, and by whom. The fact that the companies won’t provide their customers with that information makes me makes me immediately wonder why not.

I would like to be able to opt-in for specific studies, not blindly for every use that is profitable to the company involved, all without my knowledge. No blank checks. For example, I opted out of 23andMe research when they patented the technology for designer babies.

Furthermore, I feel that if someone is going to profit from my DNA, it should be me since I paid for the sequencing. At minimum, a person whose DNA is used in these studies should receive some guarantee that they will be provided with any drug in which their DNA is used for development, in particular if their insurance doesn’t pay and they cannot afford the drug.

Drug prices have risen exponentially in the US recently, with many people no longer able to afford their medications. For example, the price of insulin has tripled over the last decade, causing people to ration or cut back on their insulin, if not go without altogether. It would be the greatest of ironies if the very people whose DNA was sold and used to create a drug had no access to it.

Of course, Ancestry and 23andMe are not required to inform consumers of which studies their DNA or DNA results are used for, so we don’t know. Always read all of the terms and conditions, and all links when authorizing anything.

Both companies indicate that your DNA results are anonymized before being shared, but we now know that’s not really possible anymore, because it’s relatively easy to re-identify someone. This is exactly how adoptees identify their biological parents through genetic matches. Dr. Yaniv Erlich reported in the journal Science November 2018 that more than 60% of Europeans could be reidentified through a genealogy database of only 1.28 million individuals.

I think greater transparency and a change in policy favoring the consumer would go a long way to instilling more confidence in the outside research relationships that both Ancestry and 23andMe pursue and maintain. It would probably increase their participation level as well if people could select the research initiatives to which they want to contribute their DNA.

Privacy Concerns

The news has been full of articles about genetic privacy, especially in the months since the Golden State Killer case was solved. That was only April 2018, but it seems like eons ago.

Unfortunately, much of what has been widely reported is inaccurate. For example, no company has ever thrown the data base open for the FBI or anyone to rummage through like a closet full of clothes. However, headlines and commentary like that attract outrage and hundreds of thousands of clicks. In the news and media industry, “it’s all about eyeballs.”

In one case, an article I interviewed for extensively in an educational capacity was written accurately, but the headline was awful. The journalist in question replied that the editors write the headlines, not the reporters.

One instance of this type of issue would be pretty insignificant, but the news in this vein hasn’t abated, always simmering just below the surface waiting for something to fan the flames. Outrage sells.

For the most part, those within the genealogy community at least attempt to sort out what is accurate reporting and what is not, but those people are the ones who have already tested.

People outside the genealogy community just know that they’ve now seen repeated headlines reporting that their genetic privacy either has been, could be or might be breached, and they are suspicious and leery. I would be too. They have no idea what that actually means, what is actually occurring, where, or that they are probably far more at risk on social media sites.

These people are not genealogists, and now they look at ads and think to themselves, “yes, I’d like to do that, but…”

And they never go any further.

People are frightened and simply disconnect from the topic – without testing.

If, as a consumer, you see several articles or posts saying that <fill in car model> is really bad, when you consider a purchase, even if you initially like that model, you’ll remember all of those negative messages. You may never realize that the source was the competition which would cause you to interpret those negative comments in a completely different light.

I think that some of the well-intentioned statements made by companies to reassure their existing and potential customers have actually done more harm than good by reinforcing that there’s a widespread issue. “You’re safe with us” can easily be interpreted as, “there’s something to be afraid of.”

Added to that is the sensitive topic of adoptee and unknown parent searches.

Reunion stories are wonderfully touching, and we all love them, but you seldom see the other side of the coin. Not every story has a happy ending, and many don’t. Not every parent wants to be found for a variety of reasons. If you’re the child and don’t want to find your parents, don’t test, but it doesn’t work the other way around. A parent can often be identified by their relatives’ DNA matches to their child.

While most news coverage reflects positive adoptee reunion outcomes, that’s not universal, and almost every family has a few lurking skeletons. People know that. Some people are fearful of what they might discover about themselves or family members and are correspondingly resistant to DNA testing. Realizing you might discover that your father isn’t your biological father if you DNA test gives people pause. It’s a devastating discovery and some folks decide they’d rather not take that chance, even though they believe it’s not possible.

The genealogical search techniques for identifying unknown parents or close relatives and the technique used by law enforcement to identify unknown people, either bodies or perpetrators is exactly the same. If you are in one of the databases, who you match can provide a very big hint to someone hunting for the identify of an unknown person.

People who are not genealogists, adoptees or parents seeking to find children placed for adoption may be becoming less comfortable with this idea in general.

Of course, the ability for law enforcement to upload kits to GedMatch/Verogen and Family Tree DNA, under specific controlled conditions, has itself been an explosive and divisive topic within and outside of the genealogy community since April 2018.

These law enforcement kits are either cold case remains of victims, known as “Does,” or body fluids from the scenes of violent crimes, such as rape, murder and potentially child abduction and aggravated assault. To date, since the Golden State Killer identification, numerous cases have produced a “solve.” ISOGG, a volunteer organization, maintains a page of known cases solved, here.

GEDmatch encourages people to opt-in for law-enforcement matching, meaning that their kit can be seen as a match to kits uploaded by law enforcement agencies or companies working on behalf of law enforcement agencies. If a customer doesn’t opt-in, their kit can’t be seen as a match to a law enforcement kit.

Family Tree DNA initially opted-out all EU kits from law enforcement matching, due to GDPR, and provides the option for their customers to opt-out of law-enforcement matching.

Neither MyHeritage, Ancestry nor 23andMe cooperate with law enforcment under any circumstances and have stated that they will actively resist all subpoenaes in court.

ISOGG provides a FAQ on Investigative Genetic Genealogy, here.

The two sides of the argument have rather publicly waged war on each other in an ongoing battle to convince people of the merits of their side of the equation, including working with news organizations.

Unfortunately, this topic is akin to arguing over politics. No one changes their mind, and everyone winds up mad.

Notice I’m not linking any articles here, not even my own. I do not want to fan these flames, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the topic of law enforcement usage itself, the on-going public genetic genealogy community war and resulting media coverage together have very probably contributed to the lagging sales. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention that while a great division of opinion exists, and many people are opposed, there are also many people who are extremely supportive.

All of this, combined, intentionally or not, has introduced FUD, fear, uncertainty and doubt – a very old disinformation “sales technique.”

In a sense, for consumers, this has been like watching pigs mud-wrestle.

As my dad used to say, “Never mud-wrestle with a pig. The pig enjoys it, you get muddy and the spectators can’t tell the difference.” The spectators in this case vote with their lack of spending and no one is a winner.

DNA Testing Was A FAD

Another theory is that genealogy DNA testing was just a FAD whose time has come and gone. I think the FAD was ethnicity testing, and that chicken has come home to roost.

Both 23andMe and Ancestry clearly geared up for testers attracted by their very successful ads. I was just recently on a cruise, and multiple times I heard people at another table discussing their ethnicity results from some unnamed company. They introduced the topic by saying, “I did my DNA.”

The discussion was almost always the same. Someone said that they thought their ethnicity was pretty accurate, someone else said theirs was awful, and the discussion went from there. Not one time did anyone ever mention a company name, DNA matching or any other functionality. I’m not even sure they understood there are different DNA testing companies.

If I was a novice listening-in, based on that discussion, I would have learned to doubt the accuracy of “doing my DNA.”

If most of the people who purchased ethnicity tests understood in advance that ethnicity testing truly is “just an estimate,” they probably wouldn’t have purchased in the first place. If they understood the limitations and had properly set expectations, perhaps they would not have been as unhappy and disenchanted with their results. I realize that’s not very good marketing, but I think that chicken coming home to roost is a very big part of what we’re seeing now.

The media has played this up too, with stories about how the ethnicity of identical twins doesn’t match. If people bother to read more than the headline, and IF it’s a reasonably accurate article, they’ll come to understand why and how that might occur. If not, what they’ll take away is that DNA testing is wrong and unreliable. So don’t bother.

Furthermore, most people don’t understand that ethnicity testing and cousin matching are two entirely different aspects of a DNA test. The “accuracy” of ethnicity is not related to the accuracy of cousin matching, but once someone questions the credibility of DNA testing – their lack of confidence is universal.

I would agree, the FAD is over – meaning lots of people testing primarily for ethnicity. I think the marketing challenge going forward is to show people that DNA testing can be useful for other things – and to make that easy.

Ethnicity was the low hanging fruit and it’s been picked.

Slowed Growth – Not Dead in the Water

The rate of growth has slowed. This does not by any stretch of the imagination mean that genetic genealogy or DNA testing is dead in the water. DNA fishes for us 365x24x7.

For example, just today, I received a message from 23andMe that 75 new relatives have joined 23andMe. I also received match notifications from Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage.  Hey – calorie-free treats!!!

These new matches are nothing to sneeze at. I remember when I was thrilled over ONE new match.

I have well over 100,000 matches if you combine my matches at the four vendors.

Without advanced tools like triangulation, Phased Family Matching, Theories of Family Relativity, ThruLines, DNAPainter, DNAgedcom and Genetic Affairs, I’d have absolutely no prayer of grouping and processing this number of matches for genealogy.

Even if I received no new matches for the next year, I’d still not be finished analyzing the autosomal matches I already have.

This Too Shall Pass

At least I hope it will.

I think people will still test, but the market has corrected. This level of testing is probably the “new normal.”

Neither Ancestry or 23andMe are spending the big ad dollars – or at least not as big.

In order for DNA testing companies to entice customers into purchasing subscriptions or add-on products, tools need to be developed or enhanced that encourage customers to return to the site over and over. This could come in the form of additional results or functionality calculated on their behalf.

That “on their behalf” point is important. Vendors need to focus on making DNA fun, and productive, not work. New tools, especially in the last year or two, have taken a big step in that direction. Make the customer wonder every day what gift is waiting for him or her that wasn’t there yesterday. Make DNA useful and fun!

I would call this “DNA crack.” 😊

Cooking Up DNA Crack!

In order to assist the vendors, I’ve compiled one general suggestion plus what I would consider to be the “Big 3 Wish List” for each of their DNA products in term of features or improvements that would encourage customers to either use or return to their sites. (You’re welcome.)

I don’t want this to appear negative, so I’ve also included the things I like most about each vendor.

If you have something to add, please feel free to comment in a positive fashion.

Family Tree DNA

I Love: Y and Mitochondrial DNA, Phased Family Matching, and DNA projects

General Suggestion – Fix chronic site loading issues which discourage customers

  • Tree Matching – fix the current issues with trees and implement tree matching for DNA matches
  • Triangulation – including by match group and segment
  • Clustering – some form of genetic networks

MyHeritage

I Love: Theories of Family Relativity, triangulation, wide variety of filters, SmartMatches and Record Matches

General – Clarify confusing subscription options in comparative grid format

  • Triangulation by group and segment
  • View DNA matches by ancestor
  • Improved Ethnicity

Ancestry

I Love: Database size, ThruLines, record and DNA hints (green leaves)

General – Focus on the customers’ needs and repeated requests

  • Accept uploads
  • Chromosome Browser (yes, I know this is a dead horse, but that doesn’t change the need)
  • Triangulation (dead horse’s brother)

23andMe

I Love: Triangulation, Ethnicity quality, ethnicity segments identified, painted and available for download

General – Focus on genealogy tools if you’re going to sell a genealogy test

  • Implement individual customer trees – not Family Search
  • Remove 2000 match limit (which is functionally less after 23andMe hides the people not opted into matching)
  • DNA + Tree Matching

Summary

In summary, we, as consumers need to maintain our composure, assuring others that no one’s hair is on fire and the sky really is not falling. We need to calmly educate as opposed to frighten.

Just the facts.

Other approaches don’t serve us in the end. Frightening people away may “win” the argumentative battle of the day, but we all lose the war if people are no longer willing to test.

This is much like a lifeboat – we all succeed together, or we all lose.

Everybody row!

As genealogists, we need to:

  • Focus on verifying ancestors and solving genealogy challenges
  • Sharing those victories with others, including family members
  • Encourage our relatives to test, and transfer so that their testing investment provides as much benefit as possible
  • Offer to help relatives with the various options on each vendor’s platform
  • Share the joy

People share exciting good news with others, especially on Facebook and social media platforms, and feel personally invested when you share new results with them. Collaboration bonds people.

A positive attitude, balanced perspective and excitement about common ancestors goes a very, very long was in terms of encouraging others.

We have more matches now than ever before, along with more and better tools. Matches are still rolling in, every single day.

New announcements are expected at Rootstech in a couple short weeks.

There’s so much opportunity and work to do.

The sky is not falling. It rained a bit.

The seas may have been stormy, but as a genealogist, the sun is out and a rising tide lifts us all.

Rising tide

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Fun DNA Stuff

  • Celebrate DNA – customized DNA themed t-shirts, bags and other items

May Your Holidays Be Filled with Light and Love

Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Solstice, whatever you celebrate, here’s wishing you the very best.

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May the joy of the season lift your spirits.

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May you find and celebrate your roots.

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May you illuminate the souls of others.

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May you rejoice in the timeless beauty of Nature.

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May you journey under the hand of Divine protection.

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May you always find light to guide your way home in the darkest hour.

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May you be blessed with memories to sustain you all the days of your life.

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May your heart be filled with light, peace and love.

Surviving the Holidays

When children are young and lives are vibrant – with Santa visiting, gifts around the tree and family arriving for festive gatherings, the holidays are wonderful.

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But that’s not the case for many people, nor is it necessarily the case for those same people later in life.

As the lights of the people in the photo of that family gathering wink out one by one, the family shrinks, especially if the family does not expand to include new members – not that anyone can be replaced. Lingering sadness often replaces joy.

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Eventually, these people who were once young and eagerly awaiting Santa and grandparents mature into people who have sustained significant loss in their lives.

I know. Not only are my parents gone, but so are my cousins and siblings. Their children are busy with far-away lives of their own, with little connection and even less in common.

Flickering holiday lights become painful reminders of what has been lost, and of the people now absent from the holiday table.

If you’re not one of those people feeling blue, it’s easy to offer well-meaning platitudes such as, “Well, focus on what you do have,” but that’s not always possible nor helpful. On the receiving end, it feels like a rebuke, a criticism and is inevitably the end of the conversation.

Unfortunately, those types of well-meaning comments only make things worse, because they, intentionally or not, infer that the person is somehow substandard, ungrateful or not trying hard enough.

That’s often as far as possible from the truth.

Some pain is hidden, not put on display for others to see. Internal family strife – marriages hanging on by a thread – painful memories of being omitted from or forgotten at the holidays.

There’s little more painful than being the only family member at a gathering to not receive a gift of some type – not because you’re unliked, but because you’re simply inconsequential – irrelevant. Forgotten. My mother always kept an “emergency gift” in the house for the situation or someone showing up with an extra guest.

No wonder people dread holidays where they feel obligated to show up, smiling, all the while making themselves vulnerable for more painful memories in the making.

For some people, these memories stack up like a hay mound, While they push them aside most of the year, unwelcome memories come rushing back in November and it wouldn’t take much to push the person over the edge. The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

The political divisiveness within the US these past few years, and especially recently, regardless of which “side” of it you’re on, is brutal. Families forever divided. Worse yet, what used to be some level of politeness and decorum has pretty much disappeared as can be seen in any social media thread on FaceBook.

Those words and attacks are cumulative and hurt too.

Reading and seeing hatefulness targeted at people, things or principles that you love is further depressing – as is a steady diet served up daily of the same.

Then, there’s the literal coldness, darkness and greyness of the season. No color other than grey and white if you live in the north.

Companies make cutbacks in December, trimming the budget for the upcoming year. It’s very difficult to celebrate not knowing how you’re going to eat or make the house/car payment next year.

With all of this combined, it’s no wonder that depression and suicides increase during the holidays.

People are hurting.

What Can You Do?

How can you help or at least not make things worse for someone? Remember, people are very good at hiding the fact that they are suffering – so you may be entirely unaware of the negative impact of your comments or actions.

Historically, there has been a great deal of shame associated with mental health issues, including depression – having been viewed as a weakness, defect or character flaw. During the past few years, words derisively thrown around like “snowflake” have made things even worse. Since when did name-calling with the intention of making someone feel bad convey any benefit at all?

But guess what? It’s up to every single one of us to make a difference and assure that love wins.

Please reach out to caregivers, the elderly, people who live alone, who are disabled or live in precarious circumstances.

If this is you, and you’re the one sufferring, please read on. There’s help here – for others to be more cognizant and help for you too.

20 Things

Here are 20 things you can to do help yourself and others get through this tough time. Please feel free to share and post this article widely.

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  1. Live Love – The number one thing you can do is to say and demonstrate to your family and friends that you love them. And yes, actions speak louder than words.

You never know which time will be the last time you get to do that – but inevitably, one time will be. Don’t lose the opportunity. Share love in your own way.

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If you can’t say those exact words, that’s OK. Tell them by finding a song that represents how you feel about them and send them a link or post on their social media timeline. (Ok, maybe “You’re So Vain” is not a good idea.)

A few years ago a friend told me that this video, Humble and Kind, by Tim McGraw is how they think of me. I cried. Notice that all these years later, I still remember her kindness, what she said, my sister of heart. She will never know how much I needed that on that particular day.

My life is so blessed to have her in it, and when I feel down, I play this song and remind myself that she loves me. And how much I love her. Then, I feel better.

Music touches our souls in ways nothing else can.

2. Soften Your Words and Count to 10 – People are on edge at the holidays and sometimes say things they don’t mean. That means you and other people too. We’re all guilty on this one.

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Softening your words won’t hurt you one bit, may well help someone else and avoid unintentional hurt feelings.

For example, it’s probably not a good idea to refer to someone as an idiot. Even if that’s your honest opinion, it does not need to exit your mouth. Something in that vein is not going to be well received and you’ll  alienate them along with other family members, probably forever.

Don’t let frustration or anger cause you to say things that aren’t helpful. I count to 10. If that doesn’t work, I count to 10 again, more slowly, breathing deeply with each number. If that still doesn’t work, I probably need to leave, at least long enough to gain perspective. Sometimes that means forever.

Consider alternate ways to convey what you have to say that is loving, more likely to actually be “heard” and unlikely to push the listener away. “You seem really unhappy lately. I’m really concerned about you. What’s going on?” is a much more positive and caring approach than, “What’s wrong with you, you’re acting crazy?”

Can’t do that? Then silence might be a good option and less damaging than toxic words that can’t be recalled. Unfortunately, there is no rewind and it’s even easier to err on social media than in person.

At one time or another, we’ve all been on the receiving end of something like this. Hateful words really hurt.

If someone hurts you, especially repeatedly, consider several of the solutions later in this article.

3. No Manipulation – We’ve all seen it – the passive aggressive manipulator in the family.

bait

That’s bait to draw attention to themselves and to get your goat. Avoid them if possible, and if not possible, don’t bite. If they are making you angry, you’re not in control of you anymore and they are in charge. Learn to recognize this behavior so you can avoid it.

I always think of my Dad’s Hoosier farmer advice. “Never mud-wrestle with a pig ’cause you can’t win. You get muddy, the pig enjoys it and the spectators can’t tell the difference.”

Don’t take the bait.

4. Find Your Happy Place – If you’re feeling stressed, find music that you enjoy and that is calming. Make a playlist. Singing along can be downright joyful.

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Intentionally find an activity to calm yourself. (This excludes drinking alcohol😊)

Transport yourself to a feel-good place of beauty, even if it’s only in your own mind. The power of the mind is amazing!

5. Make Nice Noises – A customer told me about “nice noises” years ago. At first, I thought she was disingenuous, but then I realized this was actually a brilliant coping strategy in situations that can be awkward but that are NOT personally endangering or violating. Like when you get stuck beside someone you really don’t want to interact with.

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Just smile, nod, take a bite of something and make nice noises. Politics is not a “nice noise,” just in case you were wondering. Generally, neither is religion.

Conversation hint: Ask about something THEY enjoy. They will love you and it gets you off the hook for saying much at all.

6. Draw the Boundary Line – This one can be tough, but you absolutely need to.

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If lecherous Uncle So-And-So intentionally grabs your behind (unless you are his wife or partner and behind-grabbing is acceptable in your relationship in that venue), all bets are off. Say what you need to say (NOT nice noises), with dignity and grace, and remove yourself from the situation, and probably the premises. Do not go where Uncle So-And-So will be in the future.

Full stop.

This occurred in my family. My (step)Dad playfully grabbed my Mom’s behind while passing behind her as she was cooking a holiday meal at the stove. She turned around with a cast iron skillet ready to wallop him, thinking it was his brother who was in the house and had inappropriately touched her in that manner in the past. She stopped herself just in time, stammering that she was sorry, she thought it was Uncle So-And-So.

My Dad knew in a heartbeat what was happening and asked my Mom directly. She affirmed. I walked in the door right about then, a teenager. Dad turned and asked me if So-And-So grabbed my behind. Startled, and not knowing what was happening, I shook my head yes.

Uncle So-And-So was in the living room. My Dad retrieved So-And-So and went outside where they had a rather noisy discussion that I desperately wanted to hear. Mom would not let me crack the kitchen window open to listen, and the bathroom window was painted shut.

Uncle So-And-So left, never to return to another family gathering.

Dad asked Mom and me why we didn’t tell him before. We explained that we didn’t realize Uncle So-And-So was doing that to each other too, feared we might not be believed nor did we want to rock the boat and cause family drama. In other words, we just wanted to get through the day. As a teenager, I was terribly embarrassed on several levels too.

If I had that to do over again, I would have dealt with this in an entirely different way, drawing a very firm boundary, and much sooner. Ah, the benefits of age and hindsight.

Mom apparently had drawn that line and thought Uncle So-And-So had violated said boundary. Of course she had no idea that he was inappropriately touching me as well or there would have been hell to pay.

Thank goodness Dad caused the situation never to occur again. HIS boundary worked.

7. Give Yourself a Mental Vacation – If your family is accepting of or makes excuses for Uncle So-And-So’s behavior or is otherwise toxic to your wellbeing, reconsider your relationship with those family members.

Hint: It’s often situations like this that underlie holiday depression surrounding loss. We grieve not only people we love and lose, but also situations and people that turn out to be different than we thought. We grieve what we thought we had along with unfulfilled possibilities. In a way, it’s the death of the living.

The “loss” should be borne by Uncle So-And-So, not you, but that may not be the case. Spend time with the people who are good to and for you.

If you need to terminate relationships, create something new for the holidays – even going someplace different entirely.

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The Caribbean is nice this time of year. I could walk on the beach alone on Christmas Day without a second thought. There are much worse things that your own company on your own terms.

8. Start a new Tradition – This year, we began a new tradition and celebrated the feast day of St. Lucia to celebrate light emerging from darkness.

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Of course this speaks to the winter solstice as well. This lovely tradition is practiced in Sweden (you can see a video here) – and now in my family too.

Next year, we’ll sing as we walk the labyrinth with our candles, perhaps with lovely snow.

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The labyrinth won’t always be in our family, but I hope we are creating wonderful memories while it is.

9. No Bullying – Avoid the bully and avoid being the bully. Bullying is not always physical. Learn what constitutes bullying, recognize the signs and commit to avoiding it in relationships.

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Many people don’t realize that there is a fine line between teasing someone and bullying them. Be cognizant so your well-meaning behavior doesn’t slide into something you don’t intend. Hurting others, human or animal, isn’t fun.

If you see bullying, intervene in the best way you can.

10. Be a LightWorker – Reach out to others who need assistance or can’t help themselves. Giving back is a wonderful way to elevate your spirits.

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Someone once said, “When times of darkness arise, look for the lightworkers.”

We all have days when we need to seek the lightworkers, and other times when we can be the lightworker.

11. Pitch In – Offer to help with family holiday gatherings.

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That might include cleaning in advance, decorating, cooking, having the gathering at your house, hosting the gathering at a restaurant, purchasing food, shopping or anything else to be helpful. Often the best memories aren’t as a “guest” but as an involved family member, laughing and chattering as you do things together.

12. Give of Yourself – Defocus on money and gifts. Think about gifts of time or involvement.

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Give someone a gift of a day helping in the yard, a day helping to downsize, a lunch out together at a favorite place, their favorite meal frozen into lunch portions, a class together – something that says, “I love being with you.” For older people especially, these gifts mean the world.

Consider gifts such as pet supplies, a gift card for prescriptions or a fruit box delivery. If your loved one is a genealogist, maybe a DNA test or a subscription to a service like MyHeritage or Ancestry that can bring them pleasure every day. These types of gifts keep on giving and improve the life of the recipient throughout the year.

13. Gift Heirlooms – As you get older, consider giving heirloom items such as Christmas ornaments, jewelry, mementos and such to the next generation, along with an accompanying story, of course.

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Spread the love.

14. Practice Gratitude – Tell people why you appreciate them.

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“Aunt Susie, you always make the best pie,” or, “You’ve always been such a positive influence in the lives of my children.” You don’t know when your words may lift someone from a dark place.

15. Be a Compassionate Listener – If someone tells you they hate the holidays, there’s a reason (or two or three.)

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Don’t try to tell them otherwise or why they shouldn’t feel that way. Just listen and be supportive. Sometimes the question, ‘What can I do?” says it all – conveying that you care.

16. Be Kind & Share – All creatures, all the time, not just at the holidays.

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Need and humanity know no season.

17. Don’t Drink too much. Just look what it did to Kermit!

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Never, ever, drink and drive. Not even “just one.” You can read more here and here

So many regrets are born of celebrations gone awry. Tongues loosen, social filters are lost and reflexes while driving are impaired. Seriously, sometimes you need every second possible behind the wheel. I’ll spare you the convincing photo of my now-deceased friend’s car.

You can help by being a designated driver or calling an Uber.

18. Practice Self-Care – Cry if you need to. We all do. Then go to the gym or engage in a physical activity requiring movement to get the endorphins flowing.

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Pamper yourself. Take a walk or a bath. Rub wonderfully scented lotion on your skin. Treat yourself to your favorite meal. Buy flowers, bubble bath or maybe lavender oil.

What do you really enjoy that makes you feel good?

19. Remember the Animals – Pets depend on humans, even those who neglect or abandon them. They have no choice. Animals feel confusion, fear, emotional and physical pain, coldness and hunger.

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Make a difference in the life of a sentient being that came to depend on someone who betrayed them and can’t help themselves.

Thousands of animals die in shelters and worse every single day. Don’t purchase pets as gifts. When the time is right, save a life – rescue an animal in dire need.

This isn’t entirely altruistic, because while you will literally save your furry friend’s life,  you will also be amply rewarded all their days an this Earth. An animal’s trust, loyalty and love is undying and will lift you up. I promise.

20. HALT Depression and Suicide

The holiday season is a really, really tough time of year. People we think of as strong are fragile. We, as humans, are all more or less fragile all of the time.

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Depression is the darkest of places, with no light, hope or escape. It’s like descending into the cave of doom entirely alone.

People who commit suicide don’t necessarily want to die, they just want the pain to stop. People who consider suicide feel like there is no other viable way to relieve their pain.

They often feel like no one cares or that people may care, but they are beyond or unworthy of saving. They feel that the situation in which they find themselves is both devoid of hope and irreversible.

If this is you, on the cliff edge – HALT.

Surviving HALT.png

HALT reminds us to take a deep breath, a step back and ask ourselves if we are feeling too:

  • Hungry
  • Angry
  • Lonely
  • Tired

It’s very easy to get spun up and upset about something and these 4 factors cause our emotions to spiral out of control.

Depression is a black, devastating hellhole – but, please, don’t do anything that can’t be undone. Instead:

  • Eat something
  • Walk, run, go to the gym or someplace to release anger or pain in a non-damaging way. (My friend calls me the weed terrorist because I weed the garden when I’m upset.)
  • Talk to a friend, suicide helpline or just go someplace to be among people.
  • Go to bed or take a nap.

Pretty much everything looks better in the morning.

If you’re considering harming yourself, or you know someone who is, please reach out and seek help. You and they are not alone.

It’s better to be “nosey” and wrong than right and too late.

Suicide Prevention Resources

Suicide Prevention Helpline – 800-273-8255 (veterans press 1)

Text – 741741

1-800-SUICIDE or 1-800-784-2433

LGBTQ Suicide Hotline (Trevor Project) – 1-866-488-7386

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) lists resources, lifelines and crisis centers worldwide

Deaf Hotline – 1-800-799-4TTY

Facebook groups:

Surviving Facebook help.png

Please share this article widely. You just never know who could use a little help.

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The Farewell Tour – 52 Ancestors #264

Sometimes, you just need to say goodbye.

Call it closure, resolution, moving on, or what have you.

Some things just need to be done.

This door closed, ever so gently, but not before wandering around one last time.

Smiles, tears, laughter and oh-so-many memories – along with an amazing surprise.

I did it all in the summer of 2018.

Recently, my daughter-in-law mentioned that my grandchildren are interested in where grandma grew up.

When I drove away for the last time on that Sunday morning in the summer of 2018, I had no intention of ever returning.

For two days, I did a driving “Farewell Tour,” which I’ve now transformed into two articles. Not only is this for my grandkids, but I realized, especially since my family left no descendants in the city where I grew up, it’s especially important for me to document my memories.

Otherwise, they die with me. Mom’s already gone.

Perhaps your family would enjoy a similar article about your memories.

Return to Kokomo

I left Kokomo, the town in which I was raised, almost 40 years ago now, for all the reasons that seem so familiar in my ancestors’ stories. Better opportunity, education, higher wages, hope for my children.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that this wasn’t just a relocation, but a huge fork in the road. Actually, more like a sharp turn than a curve.

I not only left the location behind, but the culture, the people and everything that went along with it. Good and bad.

Until my parents passed away, I returned fairly often, so it didn’t seem like a dramatic departure, more like a new job with different scenery.

However, I slowly grew distant from all things Kokomo. After my stepfather, then my stepbrother, then my mother died, there was nothing left to go back to – so I didn’t.

By that time, everything having to do with Kokomo was about death and loss – estates, attorneys and battles. Deceit and lies. Not good memories.

Reunion

My high school class hadn’t been terribly active in terms of reunions. There was a 10-year reunion, which I attended.

Kokomo 10 year reunion.jpg

I had just finished my master’s degree, was working in research and was proud of my hard-won accomplishments. I hadn’t stopped to realize, until I arrived at the reunion, that I couldn’t afford senior pictures – and I hadn’t kept in touch – so my nametag literally had NOTHING on it except my name.

I was incredibly glad to see my friend Kim who had finished her medical degree, against astounding odds. Back in the summer of 1970, she and I had studied together in Europe on a scholarship. I don’t know about her, but that experience had changed my life forever.

The 20-year reunion in 1993 occurred on the same weekend that my (now) former husband had a massive stroke.

I think there were other reunions after that, but the years following that stroke consumed every ounce of my time, money and patience. I happened to be in town for one other reunion, dropping in briefly, but I don’t recall when.

Then, in 2018, classmates began planning an informal get-together at a local craft brewery. Alright, my kind of event.

Plus, there were a few people I would really like to see. What happened to them? Would Kim be there?

I hadn’t been back to visit Mom and Dad’s graves for several years. They weren’t, and Kokomo wasn’t, on the way TO anyplace. I thought a combined trip to visit Mom and Dad at the cemetery and meet-up with my classmates would be fun.

What I didn’t realize was that I would be taking a trip down memory lane.

Literally driving into, and through, my past.

And…that this would be my last trip.

My own version of a rock star Farewell Tour.

There is truly, truly nothing to go back for now.

The tiny tendrils that initially held me have dropped away one by one.

Now, I’m free.

The Cemetery

No trip home is complete without a trip to the cemetery. My only immediate family in Indiana lives in cemeteries now.

I wanted to visit Mom’s and Dad’s graves, even though I know they “aren’t really there.” Their physical remains are, and that’s as close as I can get for now.

Kokomo Mom cemetery.jpg

They rest side by side but with separate headstones. My stepfather’s first wife is buried beside him. I always laugh, thinking about him between both of his wives keeping a watchful eye on him.

Kokomo Mom and Dad cemetery.jpg

I know this sounds bizarre, but I took my small car quilt and had a picnic with Mom and Dad.

My stepsister who died as an infant and my stepbrother who died in 1999 are buried there too, as well as the father of my friend, Peggy.

Kokomo Gary cemetery.jpg

I stopped and bought flowers for all of them.

Peggy

Peggy was my long-time friend. Our mothers had worked together and we were close friends in high school, and after.

We hung out, got into trouble together (oh yea!), and eventually supported each other on our life’s journeys as we both experienced joys and tragedies – pretty well summed up by the phrase, “life is what happens when you’re making other plans.”

We visited each other in multiple states across the county.

Kokomo Robert Hotz cemetery.png

Peggy saw my Facebook posting that I was planning to visit Mom in the cemetery in Galveston, and she replied that her dad was buried there too. I found his grave, recorded two videos for Peggy so she or another family member could find it in the future, and left flowers on her behalf.

Little did I know that Peggy, who lived in Alaska, would pass away just a few months later, in January 2019.

I’m incredibly glad I recorded Facetime live at her father’s grave and posted it on her timeline for her family – albeit with a quivering voice. It was such an emotion-filled day for me.

Kokomo Peggy and me.jpg

Mom, below at left, with Peggy and me at Highland Park in Kokomo having a picnic the last time were all together, about 20 years ago.

Peggy and I never did tell mom all the stories. I don’t think she would have appreciated them – certainly not in the way Peggy and I did.

Kokomo Peggy me Mom.jpg

The Kokomo Speedway

After I left the cemetery, I drove south from Galveston past the Kokomo Speedway – a hangout of mine at one time.

Kokomo Speedway.jpg

I never raced at the Speedway, a dirt sprint track.

My racing days began on drag strips and ended a few years later when I rolled a Datsun 240Z while pregnant.

Kokomo Datsun 240Z

My Datsun looked a lot like this one that’s for sale today, except mine was “souped up” with spoilers, an air dam, pin striping and different tires – not to mention a roll bar which is probably what saved my life and that of my unborn child.

Truth be told, I didn’t actually roll the car racing, but doing doughnuts in a vacant shopping mall parking lot one Sunday morning after a snow. I spun into the snow bank (more like a mountain) left by the plow, slid up the bank with enough momentum to flip the car. I can’t tell you how mad I was at myself – not to mention I couldn’t get out of the car until someone noticed my predicament and called for help. That was long before the days of cell phones, but I digress.

I decided at that point that maybe racing, at least for me, probably wasn’t such a good idea anymore. Having children changes your perspective. The only thing, other than the car, that had been hurt was my pride, but it was a close call. Too close.

My favorite events at the Speedway as a child were the figure 8 races, often on the 4th of July when racing was accompanied by fireworks. The stands were always full that night.

A lot has changed here over the years. I wouldn’t have recognized it as the same place.

B&K Rootbeer Stand

Kokomo B&K.jpg

Right down the road, the B&K Rootbeer stand looks almost exactly the same. Memories of frosty mugs served on trays hung on the edges of rolled-down car windows as we parked under the drive-in canopies. The canopies appear to be gone, but the building itself remains, although didn’t appear to be open.

It was here that I remember, on a very nervous first date, saying something that caused my date to accidentally snort his rootbeer up his nose – and back out again. I desperately tried not to laugh but it’s difficult to pretend rootbeer running out of someone’s nose isn’t happening. And yes, there was a second date. Meet Eddie – you’ll see him again.

I’ll let you in on a secret. Eddie would one day be at my wedding. But not as the groom – as the best man. Now THAT’S a story:)

A block on further down the street was a local favorite – of teens and adults both – for entirely different reasons.

Ray’s Drive-In

Even the sign at Ray’s Drive-In is the same today.

Kokomo Ray's.jpg

As teens in Kokomo, we “drove around,” meaning we piled into cars – mostly owned by our parents – and cruised through several locations popular with teens. We wanted to see who was riding with whom. Who was sitting “close” to whom? Were girls sitting right next to boys on the bench seats, with no one in the passenger seat? If so, they were a couple. Or were they a couple and NOT sitting side by side? Were they arguing? Who was absent from cruising meaning they might be on a date?

Inquiring minds wanted to know!

So much to observe and interpret – and of course we didn’t want to miss ANYTHING!

Kokomo Ray's drive in.jpg

Ray’s Drive-In, just a block from B&K Rootbeer remains a drive-in today. Ray’s was famous, literally, for their huge elephant ear tenderloin sandwiches and their frozen custard. I’m drooling just thinking about it. They are still on the menu.

Kokomo tenderloin.jpg

I discovered after moving away that these fried tenderloins are a regional treat. Translate – you can’t get them elsewhere.

You also can’t get another regional favorite, Sugar Cream pies, and try and I might, I CANNOT get them to taste right.

Northwest Park

The next stop on the teen cruising circuit was Northwest Park, a half mile or so west of Ray’s on Morgan Street.

Kokomo Northwest Park.jpg

The last time I visited Northwest Park, in the 1970s, I played frisbee in a field of grass that you can barely see behind the tunnel of trees that had just been planted at the time. They were about 3 feet tall. You always remember things the way you saw them last, so imagine my surprise.

North-N-Tavern

Driving east on North Street, I passed this *historic* tavern, pronounced “North End Tavern.”

Kokomo North-N-Tavern.jpg

Some places are iconic. I’ve never been IN this tavern, but it has always stood on this corner, and has never looked great. It was always a known “trouble spot,” not where kids gathered, but regularly on the police scanner on weekends. It was close to the north Delco plant and several smaller factories that paid lower wages.

What’s that old saying. “In good times, people drink, and in bad times, people drink.” This neighborhood watering hole seems to prove that adage.

If I was going to go to a bar in Kokomo, it was going to be one with music, preferably a live band. Drinking wasn’t my thing, but music certainly was.

For the most part, when I lived in Kokomo, my time was consumed by college, family, work and children.

Quilts

I learned to quilt at home and in the Missionary Circle at church, but I wasn’t a quilter, per se, back then. Things have changed!

I was thrilled to discover that a quilt show was being held the same weekend as the reunion. In fact, that might have been the tipping factor to convince me to go😊

Kokomo quilt show.jpg

When my Mom married my stepdad, we moved to the farm. The farmhouse had been constructed by the Amish who lived quite prevalent within the community.

Kokomo Amish quilt.jpg

Amish are prolific quilters and maintain beautiful gardens.

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I learned to love flowers in Kokomo. Rose of Sharon blossoms remind me of the beauty of flowers blooming their hearts out on the farm.

Kokomo farm quilt.jpg

In fact, farm life and flowers often appear as a theme in my quilts today, influencing the choice of fabric, design and color selection.

Not everything in Kokomo was beautiful though.

Universal Steel

Kokomo was an industrial, automotive, manufacturing and steel-town. Many people from Kentucky, Tennessee, western Virginia and West Virginia moved north to work in the factories, creating a microcosm of all things Southern. This explains my accent. My father’s family was from Tennessee and we didn’t know we had accents. We talked just like everyone else!

Kokomo Universal Steel.jpg

Many factories sprang up, as did an entire secondary layer of service industries. While I was in college, I worked at Universal Steel, a recycling steel company where I gained experience outside of college on computers. My first management job, I was responsible for their entire system that managed everything from inventory to accounting to payroll.

To make life interesting, episodically the “frag” machine that shredded cars would blow up if the gas tank wasn’t entirely empty, often causing the office building across the “yard” to lose power. That’s death to computers and caused no end of problems for me.

Computers and education were the path to a better life. Hard to believe my professional computer science career started here, a place where I had a flat tire almost daily.

It was Universal Steel that sent me to classes at the Burroughs training center in Detroit. From there, I was on my way.

Wildcat Creek

Creeks and rivers were central to the lives of our ancestors. I didn’t realize it, but the Wildcat Creek, located only a block or so from the house where I was raised was ever-present in my life too. I could literally see it between the buildings in the distance.

You’ll notice throughout this article many references to Wildcat Creek.

Kokomo bridge over Wildcat.jpg

Shortly after arriving in town the day of the reunion, I met with my classmates for lunch at a restaurant located on Wildcat Creek, a couple blocks from where we went to high school. From the parking lot, I could see the old iron railroad bridge. Today walking trails span the banks of the Creek.

Kokomo bridge.jpg

I’m amazed this old iron bridge still exists. It was old when I was young. At that time, only railroad tracks crossed this bridge. Today there’s a pedestrian path.

Kokomo Wildcat.jpg

Wildcat Creek was never beautiful. Slow-moving and green – it was never inviting. Yet, it holds such good memories – mostly because of the parks along its length. The Wildcat flooded often. Where you can’t build structures, you build parks.

Foster Park, along the river, was where David Foster, an Indian trader first located in a cabin reportedly belonging to Chief Kokomo. I waded along the riverbanks here as a child.

I walked with boyfriends as a teen.

The older part of town is found along the creek. To the north, on hills above the floodline, the historic Victorian homes. To the south, the older, less opulent homes that were sometimes flooded.

I started my driving tour when I left the restaurant after lunch.

Ghosts of Places Past

The main drag east and west on the south end of town was Markland Avenue.

Kokomo triangle building.png

Stopped at the corner of Markland and Main, I spotted the old triangle shaped factory building, located along the now-defunct railroad track, so important to shipping in the late 1800s and early 1900s when these factories were built.

I hadn’t thought about his oddly shaped building in years.

Kokomo Weldon building.png

Elwood Haynes, automotive pioneer, built factories and brought industry to Kokomo. Many buildings like this one, scattered throughout town, harken back to that time.

Kokomo Haynes.jpg

When I lived in Kokomo, these buildings housed smaller factories that produced supplies for the automotive industry. The structures have been repurposed several times since then.

Kokomo interurban.jpg

This one was at one time a maintenance facility for the interurban railways, or trolleys. They were gone by the time I lived in Kokomo. Today, this building appears to be used for storage.

Kokomo manufacturing building.png

Driving down the street, you can see the ghosts of businesses past in the long triangle-shaped building along Main Street.

I had a boyfriend, we’ll call him “R,” who worked either in this building, or the next one south, now gone – then Kolux. I used to walk the mile and a half or so from home and meet him when he got off work in the summer. No AC in those buildings, so he was always drenched with sweat. No mind – I didn’t care. We’d roll the windows down in his red 65 Chevy SuperSport 4-on-the-floor, also with no AC, and drive to Ray’s Drive-In or B&K Rootbeer for refreshments.

Kokomo Corner PUb.png

Across the street to the right, my favorite pub still exists – even though I drank very little. Always a factory town, the Corner Pub was a family place, famous for their steaks and drinks. I always had one, just one, Apricot Brandy Sour. They certainly had the best plate-sized New York Strip steaks in town at the time.

Yum!!!

Mid-States Electric

A few blocks on south at Defenbaugh and Market, I found the building that was once Mid-States Electric, a supplier to the automotive manufacturing industry, where Mom used to work.

Kokomo Mid States.jpg

Mom’s office as the bookkeeper was just inside the door sheltered by the right canopy, which didn’t exist at the time.

Mom ran the office in addition to being the bookkeeper. Inger, Peggy’s mother, sold light fixtures when they added services for builders. The lighting showroom was in the door under left canopy, above.

Kokomo Mid States side.jpg

The electronic parts were stocked in the rear where the contractors entered, the red area today on the side, above.

I remember the old Coke machine back there. Cokes were 5 cents each, in glass bottles that you slid out of their row.

Mid-States’ claim to fame was that one or more of their parts were incorporated into the early space capsules through Delco Electronics which manufactured some of the components.

After my father’s death, and before Mom met and married my stepdad, she eventually dated the owner of the company. Let’s just say that didn’t end well. It seldom does for the woman.

Thankfully, it did end and as a result, Mom landed a better job elsewhere a few years later.

Kokomo Mid States parking lot.jpg

Looking north from the parking lot, I can still see the old factory water towers in the distance.

It wasn’t a short walk to our house, probably a couple miles, but I walked it often. We didn’t worry about kids being kidnapped back then.

Mom worked at Mid-States for at least a dozen years and I worked there as well from time to time on Saturday mornings to help out and earn some spending money. Mostly, I carefully addressed envelopes by hand and did filing.

Kokomo Delco.jpg

Mid-States was a supplier to Delco Electronics and was strategically located a block away. The huge Delco plant was 3 or 4 blocks long and as wide. Imagine my surprise today to find green grass and nothing else.

Kokomo Delco tracks.png

Ghosts of train-tracks past, partly paved over, leading now to nothing and no-place.

Kokomo rust belt.jpg

Delco may be gone, but many old factories are still in use. This is the water tower I saw from the Mid-States parking lot, now part of an automotive recycling facility. It may have once been Kokomo Opalescent Glass, now located nearby.

Pictures like this graphically explain the term, “rust-belt.”

Kokomo Opalescent Glass

Kokomo Kokomo Opalescent.jpg

I remember Kokomo Opalescent Glass Company quite fondly, the current factory shown above.

Kokomo Opalescent trash.jpg

In business since 1888, they produce amazing art glass and it’s quite affordable in the gift shop. I do own a couple of pieces.

Kokomo Opalescent plate.jpg

I bought this plate in the 1970s at the Treasure Mart.

Kokomo Opalescent ashtray.jpg

Of course, ashtrays are out of vogue today, but that wasn’t always the case. This ashtray, about 5 or 6 inches across,  has an interesting backstory.

Mom was a very attractive lady.

Mom Graduation color

Kokomo Opalescent Glass Company purchased electronics from Mid-States Electric. A man named Bill was the vice-president and sales manager, at least eventually.

Bill paid an awful lot of attention to Mom. He brought her gifts, and when a dog bit me on the playground at school, he bought a goldfish for every hole the dog’s teeth left in my hand. Of course, he didn’t give the fish to ME directly, but took them to Mom.

I do recall that Mom and Bill had a couple of dates, but something happened and not only was she angry with him, but avoided him henceforth. Whatever happened, she was madder than a wet hen.

All I know for sure is that she was NOT discussing this with me.

In 1966, Bill made her a custom one-of-a-kind ashtray.

At that time, every home had ashtrays sitting on the tables.

Kokomo Opalescent bottom of ashtray.jpg

I didn’t realize Mom had labeled this until I flipped it over just now to see if anything was written underneath.

Today, this graces my desk, holds my thumb drives and makes me chuckle thinking about the memories.

I would like to have purchased another piece of Opalescent Glass while I was there. I was hoping for a colorful butterfly signifying metamorphosis.

Kokomo butterfly.jpg

Maybe something like this.

Now I wonder if I could talk them into making a double helix. That would be stunning! Hmmm.

Kokomo-Opalescent-trash-2.jpg

Unfortunately, the gift shop was closed, but the factory was operational. I found the trash while walking through the parking lot.

Kokomo Opalescent yellow.jpg

This is the trash heap. Just wow!

This was one of my favorite parts of my Farewell Driving Tour. Beauty is where you find it.

Highland Park

Driving back past the building where Mid-States Electric used to be, west on Defenbaugh Street, with the railroad tracks down the middle of the street for the full length, to Highland Park.

Today, the tracks only run for a couple blocks and then center flower containers that form a median barrier are located where the tracks used to be. The tracks became useless when Delco was no longer at the end of the line.

Kokomo Defenbaugh.png

There’s still an essence of Mom there – both in that building and in Highland Park where she often took me as a child.

Highland Park

There were three main parks in Kokomo.

Northwest Park, the “new” park where I played Frisbee and the pine trees are now tall. We already visited there.

Foster Park, along the Wildcat Creek downtown, which we will visit shortly, and Highland Park, in the south part of town.

Highland Park was by far the largest with lots to see and do.

Kokomo Highland Park shelter.jpg

Today, both Old Ben and the old Sycamore stump are housed in this building. When I was young, the Sycamore stump stood outside and Ben had a small building that vandals broke into and damaged Old Ben’s horns and tail.

Who is Old Ben, you ask?

A mammoth, iconic steer.

Kokomo Old Ben.jpg

I know his name is “Old Ben,” but I distinctly remember everyone calling him Big Ben – because he was HUGE!

Kokomo Old Ben sign.jpg

Ben doesn’t look bad for being over 100 years old now.

Kokomo Old Ben side.jpg

I remember marveling at Ben as a child, pressing my nose against the window to get a better view.

Kokomo Sycamore stump.jpg

This Sycamore stump, housed in the same building, is massive too – more than 57 feet in circumferance.

It was very difficult to photograph with the close proximity and glass. The stump was actually a phone booth when I was a child and probably 20 people could have easily fit inside.

Kokomo Sycamore stump sign.jpg

Nearby is an old shelter that used to house a well.

Kokomo shelter.jpg

We pumped water with the handle on hot days when I was a kid.

Kokomo shelter well.jpg

The stonework is original, but the well is now defunct.

Kokomo Highland Park me mom.jpg

When I was a child, the main playground area had 2 sections. One was smaller and fenced. When I was about the age in the photo above, the officer on duty approached mother and suggested that we needed to play in the smaller fenced area. I was “too dark” for the white playground, on the “non-colored” swings and merry-go-round.

Of course, the smaller fenced area’s swings and other items weren’t nearly as nice. They were the “colored” area – and the sign said as much.

Mother was furious. I now realize that in part, she didn’t want anyone to see me playing in the “colored” playground because I could not have attended the “white” school where we lived. In fact, we couldn’t have lived where we lived either. So being sent to the “colored section” was about a lot more than appears on the surface. As a child, I clearly didn’t understand. I just wanted to play.

We left, despite my protests, and I don’t recall that mother and I ever went back to that particular playground.

It was only shortly thereafter that desegregation was legislated and the issue disappeared, at least officially, as did the secondary playground which then became a special protected area for young children.

Highland Park is a park because it’s low, sits in a bowl of sorts, floods often and you certainly can’t build there

Across from the main playground area today are many picnic tables scattered along the length of the creek as it zigzags through the park.

Kokomo Highland picnic tables.jpg

Unfortunately, the curved iron table legs stick out beyond the edge of the seats as the iron curves up underneath the seat. Many years ago, Mom got her foot caught in one while carrying a dish at an Avon picnic, fell, and broke her pelvis in 3 places. I would think they would have changed the design, but looking at Google maps today, I noticed it’s still the same.

Kokomo picnic tables curved.png

Maybe a lawsuit would have hastened a safer design, but mother would never have done that. I made that suggestion to the powers that be, and didn’t even get so much as an “I’m sorry.” Not exactly heartwarming when your mother is hospitalized and incapacitated.

Amazingly, she eventually recovered.

Kokomo HIghland bridge.jpg

This footbridge leads to a small island skirted on all sides by the creek. As teens, we used to cross onto the island and sit on the banks of Kokomo Creek. People driving by can’t see you, but they can see your car in the lot.

Intrigue!

Kokomo Highland island.jpg

Kokomo Creek is much more inviting that Wildcat Creek, in part because it’s shallow and there are no polluting factories.

Kokomo Creek.jpg

As kids, we used to catch crawdads here in conical shaped paper cups after having Sno-Cones at the concession stand, still standing in the distance, above.

We never kept the crawdads – always let them go. I never wanted to hurt a living creature. The fun was in the wading and catching! There is no joy in killing.

Kokomo Creek socks.jpg

Looks like kids still take off their socks to wade!

Back then, there was a child-sized amusement park too.

Today, the child’s train and other children’s rides are gone, but they were so much fun at the time.

Kokomo Highland train.jpg

That’s me in the second car with the pigtails above, and right behind the engineer, below!

Kokomo Highland train 2.jpg

The train used to run along the banks of the creek from one end of the park to the other, blowing its whistle. I don’t know when the train disppeared, but it was gone before I had children.

Kokomo Highland ferris wheel.jpg

This little child-sized ferris wheel was so much fun, and not frightening at all. You could only ride if you were age 5 or under.

I was so disappointed when I was too big.

I vaguely remember another picture that I didn’t find in mother’s box of photos.

Near the old Sycamore stump was a small children’s play area. There were a few swings and 3 slides of varying sizes. You can see several of these pieces of now-known-to-be-dangerous playground equipment in this article, but the slide I’m referring to is the second photo into the article.

It had small edges about 3 inches tall and a hump near the top. The author calls it the “metal slide of doom” and I can vouch for that.

I climbed to the top of the BIG slide, sat down, and started sliding, only to hurtle over the side from the top, falling onto the ground with a dull thud.

I vaguely remember hearing my mother scream, seemingly distant, then nothing.

Apparently my father ran up to me and snatched me up off of the ground to him – terrifying my mother even more, in case I’d broken my neck.

Kids are pliable, and I, thankfully had broken nothing.

However, I forever thereafter hated slides. Still do.

I rememer once after that having to climb back down the steps, with kids in the way.

I never did THAT again either.

The Covered Bridge

Kokomo Highland Vermont.jpg

Indiana is the land of covered bridges. Thankfully, they disassembled this bridge in the countryside and brought it to Highland Park instead of tearing it down.

Kokomo Highland Vermont 2.jpg

Today, it graces Kokomo Creek near ancient trees.

Kokomo Highland Vermont inside.jpg

Couples used to hold hands and sneak kisses in the privacy of the bridge.

I remember. (Teehee.)

Kokomo HIghland Vermonth entrance.jpg

Today, I’m alone here with my memories.

Kokomo Highland Vermont me.jpg

A time traveler of sorts, peeking backwards.

Kokomo Highland Vermont knothole.jpg

Viewing life through the knotholes is somehow fitting.

Kokomo Highland creek by bridge.jpg

The park was also on the teenage cruise path, because there were several places that couples could park their cars and take walks.

Mom sometimes ate lunch here on her Avon route, and I used to come and sit at the picnic tables and pen letters to my merchant seaman penpal, Robin.

The other end of the park sported a dam and a pond.

A little later, back at my hotel, I realized I had forgotten to drive to that part of the park. I returned, because I wanted to take one last walk there.

The Dead, Raised

The sunshine was warm and lovely, with very few people. I parked the car and began strolling along the creek, lost in thoughts of old friends and exciting times like when I slipped off the algae-covered dam into the creek and emerged, both abashed and completely drenched.

Of course, I was in trouble because I wasn’t supposed to be ON the dam in the first place.

Kokomo Highland pond.jpg

I see the geese are still residents. I used to feed the geese and have fond memories of coming here when I was pregnant, walking my rescue dog, a small Sheltie named Lady.

Kokomo Highland geese.jpg

These geese are VERY tame.

One time, Mom, me and a very handsome boyfriend named Eddie brought popcorn one Sunday afternoon to feed the ducks.

Eddie wanted to impress both of us, but he could do nothing to convince a duck to eat out of his hand. He tried calling, talking, chasing – but absolutely nothing worked.

Mom sat down on the ground, and within a minute or so, the ducks were not only eating out of her hand, they were in her lap.

Several ducks!

Then the geese joined in. Eddie gallantly rescued Mom from the Great Goose Ambush. Or maybe I should say that Mom allowed herself to be rescued😊

Of course, that rescued Eddie’s hurt pride too.

This is the park where Mom, Peggy and I were last together.

Where Mom tripped over a picnic bench leg and broke her pelvis when she was in her 70s.

I was lost in memories here, having drifted back in time, when I noticed someone else in the distance. Other than the two of us, this part of the park was empty, and I didn’t want to disturb her.

Kokomo Highland singer.jpg

The other person was playing a guitar and singing. Lovely, just lovely. And Carly Simon too.

You’re So Vain

“You probably think this song is about you.”

One of my favorites from my years in Kokomo and seemingly written about a beau.

“You gave away the things you loved…”

Be still my aching heart.

Then, Janis Joplin. Me and Bobby McGee.

Music speaks to my soul which was experiencing a full range of emotions.

The tragedy in Janis’s voice, and life, mirrors my feelings about Kokomo perfectly.

Tears welled into my eyes and slipped down my cheeks.

I needed to cry.

My life there was so hopeful…until it wasn’t anymore.

“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”

Oh God.

“I let him slip away.”

This truly, truly harkened back to my life there.

“I’d trade all my tomorrows for one single yesterday.”

This lady’s voice was hauntingly familiar.

I closed my eyes and strolled quietly along the water, hoping that she wouldn’t see me and stop singing.

My heart needed this.

Many of my Kokomo memories are extremely sad. Soul searing.

I stood completely still, eyes still closed, letting her aching voice float me back in time.

She finished that song, and another.

Then she stopped and didn’t start again.

Kokomo Highland Carla.jpg

I opened my eyes to see that she had stood up and was walking towards me, slowly, hesitantly, gingerly.

“Uh-oh,” I thought.

I wrenched, lurchingly back to the present.

She peered at me questioningly…and said my name. Not Roberta, but Bobbi, my nickname used among friends.

I was utterly stunned, but stammered, “Yes. Yes, but who are you?”

“Carla” she said.

And together, we both blurted out, “what are you doing here?”

Kokomo Highland me and Carla.jpg

We grabbed each other, hugging and crying.

Carla was one of my best friends in high school.

We had lost track of each other entirely – 45 years ago.

In fact, at the last reunion I attended, I had been told that Carla had passed away, so imagine my shock!

I thought I had seen a ghost and it took every ounce of self-restraint to NOT blurt out, “but I thought you were dead.”

I presumed she was here for the reunion too and was SO VERY GLAD because I had lost track of nearly everyone, and I knew that a couple of the people I really wanted to see, like Kim, weren’t attending.

“What reunion?” she asked.

She was in town to visit her brother.

We sat and talked for some time, catching up. Time flew. I told her I was going to the reunion and where it was being held. Thankfully, it was not a reservation affair, so she could attend too. We traded information and I told her I hoped to see her that evening.

I still can’t believe how fortunate we were to be brought back together again for that instant in time. The stars aligned.

Truth truly is stranger than fiction.

What a beautiful gift.

But now it was time to go.

Continental Steel

Leaving Highland Park the back way took me past the old steel mill, now defunct, vacant and a hazardous waste site.

Kokomo Cabot site.jpg

This toxic land probably reaches a mile in each direction. A solar farm occupies part of the acreage. The once loud, booming steel mill now eternally silent.

Kokomo Cabot field.jpg

I remember, as a child, riding by the steel mill in Mom’s car and peering inside to see if I could see the red-hot molten steel being poured from huge vats.

Kokomo Continental.jpg

At night, liquid metal cast an ominous orange glow over everything. It was both exciting and frightening, seeing the eerie orange men, just feet or inches from molten death.

The entire neighborhood for blocks in every direction had layers of gritty grey dust that constantly permeated everything – for decades.

Kokomo Steel Inn used to be.jpg

Across the street where this building stands today was a tavern that catered to the steelworkers called, you guessed it, The Steel Inn.

More than one wife went to retrieve her husband from the Inn’s clutches on payday. They cashed checks!

Many Kokomo husbands and fathers worked at “the mill.” The pay was good, even though the work was hot and miserable. In the end, those families lost their pensions due to corruption and mismanagement.

The Seashore Swimming Pool

Kokomo Seashore.jpg

Driving on north toward Foster Park, the old Seashore Swimming Pool is now known as Kokomo Beach.

Kokomo Seashore 2.jpg

The Seashore was one of my favorite places. I remember it as huge, of course.

We bought a season pass so I could swim daily in the summer. I walked to the babysitters in the morning, then to the pool after lunch, walking home when the pool closed at dinner.

These were some of my best memories of Kokomo. I loved to swim and bake in the sun by the hour.

Kokomo Seashore me.jpg

I swam and dove and danced.

Of course, I avoided those “metal slides of doom” 😊

Kokomo Beach.jpg

Kokomo Beach has a lot more to offer today than when I was a kid, but we loved it just the same. Summers were hot and the water was cool.

Kokomo Beach 2.jpg

Not to mention that the pool was also on the teenage circle cruising tour to see who was talking to whom and wearing what. Or not wearing what. Bikinis were in, but I wasn’t allowed to wear one! I did however “adjust” my two piece a bit. Ahem.

At that time, you could drive around the entire pool in a circle, half on the street side, the other half being the circle driveway that also passed the dance hall.

I tell you what – that open air dance hall with the juke box was HOT, and I don’ t mean the weather, and only accessible from inside the fenced pool. However, those crusing by could clearly SEE the dancers and watchers through the chaink link fence.

Anyone who was anyone made an appearance there, preferably daily between Memorial Day and Labor Day when the pool was open. And if you were wearing a very cool bathing suit, all the better. If you were a guy, you fed the juke box quarters to keep the girls dancing. Mostly, girls danced with each other, except for slow dances. Very few boys had the self-confidence to dance quite so openly. Except one boy whose mother was a dance teacher at Arthur Murray. He could dance up a storm!

Mother didn’t want me to go IN the dance hall, but she really couldn’t keep me out since she was at work. In the dance hall? Who, me? Noooo, must have been my evil twin!

A pedestrian bridge now connects the pool property to Foster Park, across the Wildcat Creek, but when I lived here, we had to walk the long way.

Kokomo Beach walk.jpg

A beautiful fountain has now been installed in Wildcat Creek, definitely improving the appearance.

Kokomo Beach bridge over Wildcat.jpg

This was a welcome surprise as I walked across the pedestrian bridge.

Kokomo Wildcat at Foster Park.jpg

Looking up the Creek, I can see the bridge over the main North/South street, Washington, in the distance. Across Washington Street used to be a long-abandoned gravel pit with a high fence. That place with its rusting abandoned equipment was ghostly and frightening.

I mean, what if you fell in and couldn’t get out? No one would know. You would die there. No thank you.

Today, the gravel pit has been filled in and there is nothing but mostly-forgotten memories and grass where residents walk their dogs.

Foster Park

Named for David Foster who first settled here in 1842, trading with the Miami Indians along the Wildcat, this park was only a block from the house where I grew up.

Kokomo Sycamore house from Foster Park.png

In fact, today from Superior Street along Foster Park, I can still see “my house,” between the buildings. As a child, we used to cut between the houses on the hill where the gravel leads to the lower church parking lot today.

It’s on that hill, walking to the pool one day, that I found a half dollar coin dated 1852 in the dirt.

It was also through this gap between buildings that I watched the Palm Sunday tornado tear across the south part of Kokomo on that devastating Sunday afternoon in 1965, not realizing what I was seeing.

Kokomo Foster Park tennis.png

Here’s roughly the view of Foster Park that I saw from my bedroom window, except from higher and a block further distant. Softballs diamonds were located where the tennis courts are today. Playground equipment is to the left, and Wildcat Creek is just the other side of the drive, in the trees, at the rear of the photo. I could see the Creek from my bedroom window, because the house stood on a hill. When the Creek flooded, it never flooded beyond the park, but it looked like a massive lake.

I played softball in Foster Park (poorly), swung on the swings (joyfully), played miniature golf (terribly), and it was here that I sat in the car with my friends on July 20, 1969, listening to the moon landing.

Kokomo Foster Park tank.png

This tank has “always” been in the park in front of the playground area and kids climbed on it when I was young. They obviously discourage that today.

Foster Park houses the log cabin that was the Girl Scout office. We had special meetings here.

Kokomo cabin Foster Park.jpg

At that time, the cabin was one room and heated only with a large fireplace. I remember the wonderful wood-smoke smell so vividly.

Kokomo Girl Scouts.jpg

It’s apparently still a Girl Scout building with at least one addition. I’m sure it has central heat and probably air too.

Progress.

While the log cabin is still there, many places in Kokomo aren’t.

Lord-Jon’s Tacos

My favorite Kokomo food place, Lord-Jon’s Tacos has been closed for years now. The owners sold the recipe to another local business, and while the tacos aren’t the same, they’re better than *not* Lord-Jon’s at all.

I found a photo I took some years back when I introduced a friend to Kokomo’s best.

Kokomo Lord-Jon's Tacos.jpg

Lord-Jon’s started out in a small restaurant and then moved to a tiny fair-type food trailer when I was a teen. We often drove there for lunch in high school.

There was no eating in, so we often bought our tacos by the bagful, then drove down the street to the A&W Rootbeer. We pulled into the drive-in area, ordered icy rootbeers and ate our tacos and rootbeer. To this day, I still think of those two unlikely food items going together.

I craved these tacos when I was pregnant for my children. Thankfully, they were 3 for $1 at the time.

Later, Lord-Jon’s would purchase two buildings, one on the east side of town, one on the west, and discussed franchising. I don’t know what happened, but not only did franchises not happen, they closed both locations and sold the recipe.

Kokomo Handle Bar.jpg

Today, the Handle Bar in Kokomo offers something similar, although I understand that they’ve now changed hands too. Sadly, each change moved those tacos further from the originals.

Kokomo Tacos.jpg

Just the same, my mouth is watering just looking at these.

We’ve tried to reproduce Lord-Jon’s tacos, to no avail. The tortillas appear to be deep-fried masa flour, but I really don’t know – and no one is talking.

More Memories

Lord-Jon’s isn’t the only thing that’s gone of course.

So are the drug stores, restaurants and groceries that I remember as a kid.

The old A&P grocery store had coffee grinders by the checkouts that ground coffee beans by the bag, dispensing ground coffee back into their own bag. While Mom shopped, I offered to pour coffee beans into the big grinders and push the button for people because I loved the smell. I still love the smell of coffee.

Outside the A&P, in the parking lot, were tie-ups for horses for the Amish families. There were always horses and buggies there. We thought nothing of it.

The “other” drive in restaurant was Frisch’s Big Boy on the south side of town.

Kokomo Frisch's.jpg

You can see the drive-in canopies in the rear in this 1962 phone book ad. This was the southern point of the well-worn teenage cruising circle. Over the course of the evening of cruising, around and around and around, you had to pull in and purchase something at each place, at least once. It was necessary to see who else was driving around. Otherwise, you might miss something!

In Forest Park, the shopping plaza on the west side of town, the Ben Franklin store. In the building to the left, Haag Drug became the Huddle Restaurant and eventually, the Dairy Queen.

Kokomo Forest Park.jpg

Mom’s job after Mid-States would be located about where the National Grocery was in this photo. This photo looks to have been taken in the 1950s or 1960s and Mom worked at Kokomo Land Company in the 1970s.

Upstairs on the second level, we played Bingo. I was pre-school, but I got my own card and was I ever PROUD, especially the first time I got to jump up and shout BINGO. Legitimately – for myself I mean. I shouted bingo all the time. If someone bingoed, they let me shout!

My Jobs

I began babysitting when I was about 10 for the neighbors across the street, with mom nearby. By the time I was 12, I was experienced and in demand.

Kids could work part time at age 14. That was a rite of passage.

Kokomo Hutto Drugs.jpg

My first “real job,” the summer I turned 14 was covering for vacations at the lunch counter at Hutto’s Drug Store.

I was so VERY excited. I learned all about making flavored cokes. Yum!!!

I remember getting my very first quarter tip and how thrilled I was to have a tiny cache of change in the cup bearing my name under the counter at the end of the day. I didn’t know about that part in advance.

Much to my mother’s chagrin, I saved my money to buy my boyfriend, “R,” a birthday present. She didn’t like that at all. I also used to call him from that phone booth out front and ask him to come and give me a ride home. She REALLY didn’t like that. She didn’t like him at all – and as it turned out, she was right.

About 2 blocks down the street from where we lived, Scotty’s Hamburgers opened a couple years later.

Kokomo Scotty's.jpg

I worked at Scotty’s in high school. We always contributed food to the police officers and firefighters.

Kokomo old police station.jpg

The old police station and fire station was just across the street in this old “castle.” The arched doorways housed the fire trucks. The doors were always open, and the firefighters sat just inside or outside on the sidewalk in chairs. They were always ready to leave on a moment’s notice and also loved to talk. Kids visited with them often. At Christmas, they made and collected toys for children in the community and made sure Santa visited everyone.

If you were a child and your toy broke, they could, and would, fix it. They fixed my doll somehow. I was just sure they could fix anything!

I don’t think this was meant as community outreach, but it surely was!

Kokomo praying mantis.jpg

Today, there’s a Subway and praying mantis on the corner.

I don’t know, so don’t ask. (I think it’s supposed to be art.)

One of my favorite places was the Treasure Mart. In today’s vernacular, it was a resale shop. It had a little of everything. Scratch that. It had a lot of everything, except clothes. No clothes.

Kokomo Old Treasure Mart

Located at Sycamore and Delphos, it too was a huge repurposed building. Located on the main drag, it was always convenient to stop by and see what they had.

Across the street is Crown Point Cemetery where my friend, Marianne, was buried following a tragedy that that ended her life, and others, far too soon.

Kokomo Crown Point.png

Cristo’s Club – My Guilty Confession

Ahem, I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I used to love Cristo’s. It was a bar, but more specifically, a dance club type of bar – and I loved to dance.

The difference between Christo’s and other bars was that Christo’s had live music. The only other location within 50 miles with a band was an upscale place beside Delco that catered to Delco employees – which I wasn’t.

Cristo’s could also be a bit “rough” from time to time. I never had a problem, and I did things I would never do now – like leave my purse on the table while I was dancing.

I went there with dates, without dates, with girlfriends – it didn’t matter. I was comfortable regardless.

Disco was in. Eventually, I danced in competitions with a specific partner – one of my college professors.

If I die of lung cancer, it’s because of the second-hand smoke from Cristo’s😊

I wondered, does Cristo’s still exist?

Kokomo Vaile.png

I drove down Vaile Avenue and spotted the old PPG (Pittsburg Plate Glass) plant.

Kokomo PPG.png

Cristo’s was located across from a factory, like most of similar establishments in Kokomo. We’re getting close now.

Kokomo Cristo's.png

This is, or was, it.

The building was in bad shape back then, so I’m not surprised that it’s gone. But what great memories!

Celebrate, Celebrate – Dance to the Music

I suddenly feel like dancing!!!

The Kokomo Tribune

After high school, I worked as a proofreader at the Kokomo Tribune – a building that took up an entire block after purchasing the building on the end that used to be a funeral home. I remember walking through the embalming room before the new purchase had been remodeled and integrated into the Tribune building. There were instruments hanging on the wall. SCARRY!!!

Kokomo Tribune.png

The Tribune was located across the street from one of my favorite places, the library, and believe it or not, I actually checked books out and read them in lulls when I wasn’t proofreading.

The old Carnegie Library was been replaced with a contemporary building in 1967.

Kokomo library.png

When I was 11, I was invited to display my salt and pepper shaker collection in the old library building, just before the new library opened. I was VERY excited, because the newspaper reporter came, took my picture and interviewed me!

When you’re 11, that’s a VERY big deal.

The Post Office building remains across the street from the Tribune, below. I worked there for a few months during the Christmas season one year, sorting bags and bags and bags of mail. I remember seeing the bag being set aside for a special delivery to Santa at the North Pole.

I laugh every time I see this building.

Kokomo post office.png

As teens, we could leave high school to eat lunch. One day on a lunch errand with two girlfriends for someone’s mother, we just happened to be following an old farmer wearing overalls up the steps into the Post Office when his suspenders snapped and his pants fell to the ground, around his ankles.

Quite startled, he tried to hobble up the stairs, but could not with his pants preventing him from walking or climbing stairs.

He had already seen us behind him.

He tried to hobble while attempting to pull his pants back up, but couldn’t do that either.

In the mean time, he dropped the mail he had been carrying. We wanted to help him, but couldn’t bring ourselves to approach him, in part, because we couldn’t control our laughter.

Even funnier were the boxer shorts he was wearing – with large red hearts.

We progressed from laughing to howling.

I can just hear him saying to his wife that he didn’t care, he wasn’t going to let a perfectly good pair of shorts go to waste.

Or, maybe, that was her saying that to him.

In any case, we laughed until we cried and couldn’t breathe. We sat down on the steps because we could not go inside and face him – after he finally GOT inside. Tears streamed down our faces.

Finally, we had composed ourselves at least somewhat, figuring he had exited out the door on the other side. I would have.

We continued up the steps and opened the door, only to run smack dab into him face-to-face.

He hurried out the door. We hurried in and the hilarity began all over again.

We noticed that the clerks didn’t need to ask why we were laughing and they were trying to compose themselves too.

It was a hopeless endeavor.

That poor man. I wonder if he ever told his wife.

I bet he threw those shorts away AND got new suspenders.

The Newspaper Route

College required lots of money, especially when you also have to pay for child care. In addition to my proofreading job, I needed extra income to make ends meet. My husband and I both decided to adopt a driving newspaper route. The routes paid fairly well and only required 2-3 extra hours per day, 7 days per week. The most difficult part was getting up extremely early to pick up your bundles of newspapers at 5 AM on weekends. The newspaper published in the evenings during the week, but in the morning on holidays and weekends.

Kokomo Tribute carrier.jpg

Originally, we shared one route, but eventually, we each had our own. We paid off our car loans, student loans and bought a house.

On Saturday, I would come back from delivering the papers to go to work proofreading for the Sunday paper.

Then, in an instant, life changed.

One October day during mid-terms in college, when the corn was full height but harvesting had not yet commenced, a woman ran a stop sign at a country crossroads.

Kokomo accident location 800W 500N.png

I couldn’t see that she was approaching the intersection due to the corn, and as I began to enter the intersection, she shot in front of me at high speed. I knew I was going to hit her, so I slammed on the brakes, threw the transmission into reverse to slow my speed as much as possible and then it happened.

BOOM!

I remember the impact and my car flipping end-over-end over her car, airborn, into this field. Again and again and again.

When my car finally landed, I was upside down and the front of the car had been crushed into me. I was hanging by my seatbelt with sheet metal and glass all around me. I drifted into and out of consciousness and vaguely remember seeing someone, who turned out to be the other driver, peering into the windshield – then screaming.

It was a pretty awful sight.

Suffice it to say that the neighbors who lived on the corner went to our church and called my parents who lived a few miles down the road. Next, I remember hearing my mother screaming. That would have woke the dead, believe me.

Thank God I had just left my son with Mom because he would have been killed. That was before the days of car seats and he played in the back of my Pinto wagon while I drove the route, delivering papers.

The neighbor had the presence of mind to take my son into the house so that he wouldn’t see me like that.

I survived, obviously, but that accident began a chain of events that would eventually lead to me leaving Kokomo – not immediately – but a few years later.

The butterfly effect.

Let’s talk about something else.

The Gas Tower

Every city has landmarks, and Kokomo was no different.

People could see the gas tower for miles in any direction.

Kokomo gas tower mom me.jpg

The tower was “always there” and for many years, I didn’t realize what it was. It looked like a trash can we had at home, so as a small child, I thought it was just a very large trash can.

Kokomo gas tower 2.jpg

The gas tower stored natural gas which had been discovered in the area in the 1880s. This gas boom encouraged industry and was directly responsible for Elwood Haynes establishing his automobile business in Kokomo.

The tower was constructed in 1954, 378 feet tall, storing 12 million cubic feet of gas.  Looking back, I realize it was a huge bomb just sitting there on the south side of town.

Eventually, maintenance costs became atrocious – $75,000 per year and a million for a paint job. In 2003, the tower was demolished, leaving a vacancy on the horizon.

I remember when I was about 10, my great-aunt visited. She wanted to see the town, so we drove around while Mom was at work and promptly got lost.

I had her pull over into a parking lot, and as soon as I could find the tower on the horizon, I could orient myself and knew how to get back to something familiar.

While everyone in Kokomo was familiar with the tower, I had never been in the old train depot before the reunion, at least not that I recall.

The Reunion

After changing into my “skinniest” clothes, it was time to join my classmates.

Kokomo Depot.jpg

The reunion itself was held in the old train depot, now a craft brewery, located on North Buckeye. I love the original bricks on Buckeye Street.

Kokomo Depot inside.jpg

The reunion consisted of buying a beverage and sitting on the patio. Given the informal nature of the event, people wandered in and out, and it was impossible to take a photo when everyone was present. Fortunately, we did have a photographer among us (whose name unfortunately escapes me.)

Kokomo reunion at depot.jpg

The less-formal environment was lovely. Clearly, the majority of the 300+ classmates didn’t attend.

I was initially surprised to discover that many of my classmates are retired, until I thought about the factories and remembered that they have 30-and-out retirement plans.

While going to college, obtaining degrees and “living the American dream” of business ownership seemed like a great idea at the time – it’s with no small amount of envy that I realize had I simply stayed in Kokomo and continued working at Chrysler, then I too would be retired today with a full pension.

There is no pension, ever, when you’re self-employed.

Of course, I clearly wouldn’t be writing this blog, or involved on the frontier of genetics – so only occasional tinges of regret about that road not taken.

Kokomo restaurant.jpg

The building across the street from the depot had been transformed into a beautiful restaurant. I would have eaten there, except I wanted either Pizza King pizza or Lord-Jon’s Tacos, or at least a close facsimile!

Unfortunately, Lord-Jon’s Tacos is gone, but Pizza King isn’t!

Kokomo Pizza King old.png

The Pizza King, an Indiana franchise, used to be located in this building on Phillips at Taylor. Mom and I used to order a pizza very occasionally for a special treat. Eddie, that boyfriend I mentioned, used to work here and he would call us if they had a pizza that was burned a bit or someone didn’t pick up their order.

Today, the Pizza King has moved across the street and down half a block into the building that used to be the old Hansel Coal Company that dated from the 1920s. No one has heated with coal in decades and I’m actually surprised that the building remains.

Kokomo Pizza King now.png

Unfortunately, they were closed and I didn’t get pizza after all☹

Kokomo Pizza King pizza.jpg

I grew up on Pizza King pizza, and like Lord-Jon’s Tacos and Ray’s tenderloins, this is the best pizza EVER!

The next morning, I would leave Kokomo for the last time – but I had one last thing to do first. The hardest part of all.

For the rest of this story, click here to read The Farewell Tour: The Morning After.

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Thankful

Perhaps this article will reach you early on Thanksgiving morning while the day is still calm and quiet, before anyone arrives. Maybe you’re enjoying a cup of coffee or tea while you’re pondering, perhaps a little nervously, what the day will bring.

Thanksgiving only comes around once a year to remind us, but I try to think thankfully as a habit, not just when reminded.

I know, I know. It’s difficult – especially right now if you live in the US with all of the hatefulness and divisiveness nationally, and within the genetic genealogy community this past year.

It’s been rough. There is lingering sadness for more civil times.

Sadness is a fact of life, but you can’t grieve without having loved – and that’s the gratitude part of the equation.

Sometimes we just have to be thankful for lemonade and look beyond recent difficulties – focusing on the larger landscape and big picture.

I’d like to share what I’m thankful for.

Expressing what we are thankful for when people visit has the unintended (or intended) consequence of educating the younger generation about our family history while the adults reminisce. Maybe they’ll ask questions about topics that provide an opportunity to discuss ancestors and genealogy – without them realizing that’s what’s going on.

For example, my grandkids like old family photographs, so I’m using those in this article, plus a few leading questions:)

What Am I Thankful For?

What am I thankful for this Thanksgiving Day?

Mom Dean wedding

Mom and Dad’s wedding in September 1972

I’m thankful that I got to spend so many wonderful years with my mom and stepdad, even though they are gone now. They blessed me with memories that make me smile and cry at the same time. How is that even possible?

Thanksgiving Dad

Dad and first grandchild at Thanksgiivng

I’m thankful for those “first Thanksgivings” when we got to welcome a new family member. These memories are priceless today. That little tiny yellow sleeper is in my “special box” in the basement. Wanna guess what else is in there?

I’m thankful that I can look around the room in those old pictures and see my home as it used to be. Not only is this “home” gone today, so is the house and most of the items on the shelves have been scattered to the winds.

I do have a few. Here, let me show you…:)

Last Thanksgiving William George Estes

Last Thanksgiving with William George Estes in 1970 or 1971

I’m thankful for the “last Thanksgivings” because it means there were so many before.

Did you know my grandfather lived to be a really old man? How old to you think he is in this picture?

Dave Estes 2010

Dave, Thanksgiving 2010

I’m oh so thankful that I found my brother, Dave, in 2004, was able to spend time with him before losing him in January 2012. I learned so much about love from this rough, tough guy – even though he turned out not to be my biological brother.

Did you know that Dio, his dog, rode in his semi with him? Did I ever tell you about how Dave got Dio?

Helen and me - Two sisters

Me meeting Dave’s sister

I’m thankful that I was able to find Dave’s biological family. Knowing they had a brother was such a gift for them – and me. I now have a sister-of-heart. Helen brought me a symbolic white rose the day I met her almost exactly 6 years to the day after Dave passed away.

cousin-nancy-farm

Uncle Lore and Nancy at Mom’s in the 1970s

I’m thankful for family traditions, both old and new, and cameras to record those traditions for future generations. This was Thanksgiving on the farm in the 1970s, with lots of people crunched into the kitchen, sitting at card tables. All that mattered was that we were together. Uncle Lore and Nancy are both gone now.

Do you know how Uncle Lore got his name?

Mom only got the Fostoria dishes out for holidays. I had forgotten about that until I saw this photo. Who has those plates anyway?

Thanksgiving Tim

Tim at the Thanksgiving buffet

I’m grateful for the new family members that have joined us, bringing their talent, traditions and blessings with them. I hope we enrich their lives as much as they enrich ours. We have a new holiday tradition.

Thanksgiving new family

Shawn’s family

I’m grateful for wonderful memories of life-altering moments when families are indelibly joined forever. Is there a name for how you are related to your daughter-in-law’s family? We’re all blood relatives to the same grandchildren.

Wedding lobster bride and groom

Now this picture just begs to tell a story…

If you’re thinking there’s a story just waiting to be told here – you’re right and I think Thanksgiving would be a good time to share it with others. What do you think?

Thanksgiving Grandpa and girls

Grandpa and the girls making rolls at Thanksgiving

I’m grateful that my granddaughters like to help grandpa make crescent rolls for Thanksgiving dinner and that they get to spend time with us.

What are your favorite memories of your grandparents?

Girls cookie making

Making cookies is FUN!

The granddaughters are coming in a few days to bake Christmas cookies. Passing those traditions, and recipes, on.

What is your favorite cookie recipe?

Red Umbrella

Having fun on a rainy day along the Rhine.

I’m thankful that grandpa thinks that sitting under a red umbrella with grandma in the rain and carrying the bag of fabric because I hurt my knee is fun. Or at least tolerable. We had so much fun that day! Did you know I broke my leg on that trip?

Thanksgiving fortune cookie.jpg

I’m grateful that Family Tree DNA began testing in the year 2000 because it allowed me to test long-time researchers, then in their 80s and 90s, whose DNA has proven so critical to unraveling our genealogy, sometimes in very surprising ways.

How’s that?

For awhile, I thought that my father might not be descended from the Abraham Estes line, but Uncle Buster’s DNA matches proved that he was. Thank goodness!

Thanksgiving Uncle Buster

Uncle Buster

I’m grateful for the more than 80 family members who have tested over the years in order to further our family genealogy. Many have passed on, including Uncle Buster, above, who is really my first cousin once removed. Is it any wonder families are confusing?

Why do we call him Uncle if he isn’t? It’s a southern thing – save yourself, don’t ask.

Thanksgiving swab

Swabbing as a family during the holidays – but before eating

I am grateful for my family members who have tested their DNA in more recent years, became interested, picked up the research mantle and will continue after the current generation is gone. (You know who you are!)

Oh, you haven’t tested? Hold on – I have a kit right here in my purse…

Thanksgiving Speak trip Whalley church

Speak family tour in Whalley – all the cousins – what FUN!!!

I’m thankful for all of the new cousins I’ve met and known cousins I’ve confirmed thanks to DNA testing.

I love the collaborative research, the discoveries they’ve made and shared with me, and the joyful adventures we’ve embarked on together. My Speak cousins above, in the church in Whalley, Lancashire that our ancestors attended. Y DNA proved our family connection to the Speak family of Lancashire. This was the trip of a lifetime. Well, except for that fire alarm in the middle of the night…

FTDNA triang browser select

Phased Family Matching at Family Tree DNA

I am grateful for the ongoing development by the DNA testing companies to bring us tools like triangulation, Phased Family Matching, Theories of Family Relativity and Thrulines.

Chromosomes are cool! Who do you think you got your hair color and dimples from in the family?

DNAPainter garden

My painted chromosomes at DNAPainter based on segment data of identified common ancestors

I am grateful for the third party tools like DNAPainter, Genetic Affairs, Genetic Families (dnagedcom.com) and GedMatch who provide additional tools. Between them all, I might, just might, be able to break through some of these brick walls yet in my lifetime.

Want to see which pieces of DNA you got from grandma? I made you a painting of your own.

Me as Dutch

“Me” in traditional Dutch clothes

I’m grateful for my ancestors who were:

  • European
  • African
  • Native American
  • Jewish
  • Middle Eastern
  • Asian
  • Muslim
  • Christian
  • Bigamists
  • Catholic
  • Baptist
  • Quaker
  • Sultan
  • Puritan
  • Brethren
  • Dancer
  • Mennonite
  • Acadian
  • Bootlegger
  • Alcoholic
  • Preachers
  • Mentally Unstable
  • Immigrants
  • Refugees
  • Murdered
  • King
  • Queen
  • Pauper
  • Pilgrim
  • Crusader
  • Shipwrecked

Just look at all of those stories waiting to be told. Without every one of those ancestors, I would not be me and you would not be you!

I’m incredibly thankful that I have been graced with the privilege of being the storyteller, of chronicling my ancestors’ lives. They did the best they could with the resources at their disposal in the time they lived.

Did you know that for a long time, women weren’t allowed to own things separately from their husbands? Or vote?

The ancestors I admire most are the ones who stood up for what they knew was right, spoke truth to power, even when it was inconvenient, dangerous, or both.

Just ask Dorothy Durham who had the audacity to show up in open court “on behalf of her husband,” who was notably absent, and place bond for Anne Kelly, a servant impregnated by Dorothy’s son so that Anne would not be whipped and imprisoned for “having a bastard child.”

There is no assurance of a happy ending. Sometimes the price of integrity and resistance is death.

Ask Elizabeth Day, who was murdered. Ask the Native Americans or the Jews in the Holocaust and the Jewish ancestors that my husband can’t find in his family. Genocide wipes entire peoples from the face of the earth and their records along with them.

May their brave, heroic souls rest in peace.

Wedding quilt sisters

Quilt sisters

I’m extraordinarily thankful for my family and my family-of-heart, in particular, my quilt-sisters.

Wedding bride out the door

After literally sewing the bride into her dress

Family-of-heart is your family-of-choice. The people who will literally come over to your house and do whatever is needed to get your house, you and your daughter ready for her wedding.

Lentz Mon Ami wedding

Such a beautiful day

Or get you ready for your own outdoor wedding.

Thanksgiving quilt sisters.jpg

These are the people who have a key to your house, and your heart. Your dog thinks they are family, and vice versa.

These are the people who may literally save your sanity or your life, and we have.

Thanksgiving Connie Quilt

Memory quilt for quilt sister moving away

These are the people who go to the doctor with you, make care-quilts or lovingly offer to take you in when disaster strikes. Like losing your job or that fire at Mary’s house.

They bring over chicken soup when you’re sick – then show up anyway when you tell them to stay home.

You share happy or sad tears, and either is better together.

me mary quilt

They are the ones who will help you hem a quilt for an ill family member at their son’s house. Their family is your family and vice versa.

You develop your own shared traditions, together, over time. Like Christmas Eve…

kathy mary quilt

They are the people whose family you know well enough to collect their handprints to make a surprise anniversary quilt, without the recipient being any the wiser until the great unveiling.

mud buddies

Mary’s gonna kill me for this one:)

Or they’ll play in the mud with you, er, I mean garden. Yep, that’s the garden out back. It looks a lot different today.

mary puddle

Bet you can’t guess who is who

Or splash in mud-puddles, er, I mean, clean your shoes off. You’re never too old to play in puddles.

These are the people who make life worth living, and for whom I’m very, very thankful.

What about you?

What are your thankfulness memories that you could share with your family around the table today?

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

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