The Last Father’s Day

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

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

Home sweet home. The farm in Indiana.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The look on his face would be worth it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He had no other visitors.

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

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

Thanks Dad.

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

Yep, that was Dad.

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

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

That was always Dad.

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

That was Dad.

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

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

Yea, that was Dad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had always known.

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

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

Dad was of course sweating, not crying.

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was the last Father’s Day.

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

And the last time I ever visited Rockome.

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

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

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

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

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

Your name is Frank Sadowski Jr.

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

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

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

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

You have it all.

Enlistment

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

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

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

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

You enlist in the Army.

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

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

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

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

The Letters

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

Hello Dad,

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

All my love dad,

Frank

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

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

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

The homesickness is dripping from your every word.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then:

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

Your loving son,
Frank

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

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

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

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

It wasn’t your time to go. Not yet.

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

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

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

Wouldn’t that have been something!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okinawa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are left to wonder what that might have been.

Honoring Your Memory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cornerstone of Peace Monument

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

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

By mdid with Flickr Creative Commons License

Thank You

72 years distant.

From a lifetime and half a world away.

Let me say those words.

Thank you.

Did anyone ever say them?

At your funeral maybe?

Your body languished for 4 long years.

Someplace in Okinawa.

Before you reached your final resting place.

Returning home a fallen hero.

I wonder.

Was it even you in that wooden box?

Covered by a flag.

Thank you.

Those words seem obscenely inadequate.

I don’t know if you can hear them.

I don’t know if you will somehow know.

I need to say them anyway.

Thank you.

Thank you for your service.

Thank you for your bravery.

Thank you for your ultimate sacrifice.

Your life…your love…your dreams.

You gave them all.

The hearts of those you loved died that day too.

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

How many you would have saved.

Had your light not been extinguished.

Too early.

Way too early.

My heart grieves your death.

But oh so grateful that men like you lived.

At all.

At all.

To light the way.

Through the ages.

Your candle held high.

A fine example.

Honor, bravery, integrity.

Thank you.

You are not forgotten.

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

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

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

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

wdytya-season-7

From the press release:

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

This season’s celebrity contributors include:

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

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

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

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

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

levar-burton

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

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

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

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

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

The Desert News provided some additional coverage here.

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

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

2-25-2017 Update – Unfortunately, LeVar’s keynote is no longer at the above link.  I checked the Rootstech site as well as YouTube and was not able to find it elsewhere.  You might check again in the future.  If you find a copy someplace, please let me know and I’ll update the link.

9/11 at 15 Years

9-11-rubble

I don’t want to remember, but I can’t forget. Those arches and palisades that would be beautiful architectural pieces in a cathedral but are horrific in the rubble.

I didn’t want those images seared into my psyche forever, but there they are.

It has been 15 years, and there is certainly nothing to celebrate – except for the heroism that followed this horrific, inhuman attack on America.

Those two things, the most horrific scenes I have ever seen paired with the most incredible examples of humanity I have ever witnessed. I guess it takes a tragedy to make heroes – and this was a tragedy of immeasurable proportions, never experienced before, and thankfully, never again since.

9-11-firefighter

Before I go any further, let me say that not only does my son work in the line of public safety, but so do many of my family members, friends and former clients.  Many went to New York to help in the following days and weeks.

As I listened to this horrible event unfold on the radio, driving to a public speaking event at the Michigan Municipal League Conference, I couldn’t help but think of the police officers, firefighters and EMTs that would be responding and by virtue of their chosen profession, would also be in harm’s way. I said a silent prayer for them. In the end, 343 firefighters, 71 law enforcement officers and 55 military personnel would perish in addition to almost 3000 innocent people on planes and in buildings struck by the terrorists. And that’s just the immediate count, not counting those who died later, and continue to die, as a result of those attacks.

As I listened, I had no idea, absolutely no idea, of the magnitude of the devastation that would follow. When the towers collapsed, I was physically ill, because I knew what that meant. I prayed everyone who would die, died quickly. What a terrible prayer to pray.

I stopped at a gas station to fill up, take a break and see if they had a television, because I wasn’t sure I believed what was on the radio, although the descriptions were incredibly graphic and I could tell that the reporters were in shock themselves.  I guess I didn’t want to believe it was true. The clerk at the gas station didn’t even notice me walk in, because she was absolutely glued to a small television.  I joined her and we stood, motionless, in stunned silence.  It was true, and was getting worse minute by minute.

When the first plane hit the World Trade Center, I assumed it was some small privately owned plane that made a grave error.

When the second plane hit, I knew it was something much worse. I called my husband immediately, who works in an industry very concerned with security, and he was already “in motion,” so to speak. He wanted me to turn around and come home. I kind of thought he was nuts, and I didn’t. Later, as all of the gas sold out of stations, I wasn’t sure I could get home.

I know this makes no sense, but I wanted to know where my family was. I wanted to gather them to me, regardless of their age. I wanted us to be together, because as the nightmarish proportions of that day unfolded, I think we all came to realize that we had no idea where the next shoe would drop, that there were many shoes, and we were suddenly all vulnerable and at some level of risk, as were our loved ones.

I called my elderly mother.  She was sobbing and wanted to know where I was.  I told her to pack a bag, take the cat and all the cat food she could buy, fill her car with gas and go to my brother’s who lived an hour distant.  I didn’t want her to be alone, no matter what happened.  I was 6 hours and 2 tanks of gas away and I wasn’t sure she could get to me, given that we didn’t really know what was happening.  She would be safe with my brother.

The traffic on the interstate was horrendous on my drive to the conference. In fact, it was dead stopped. Apparently people had been so dumbstruck by the news that they stopped paying attention to their driving and had a series of accidents. I could certainly understand that. I drove cross-country, taking the back roads in the beautiful sunshine.  It seemed so wrong for such a terrible day to be so beautiful.  In fact, it all seemed impossible and surreal.

I gave my presentation at the conference, which was normally packed, but on that day, was very sparsely attended. I could tell that no one’s mind was on what I was saying at all. My mind wasn’t on what I was saying either. Finally, we all went out to the lobby and watched CNN together. And we cried. We shook our heads in disbelief as we watched those images over and over again, waiting for the next piece of horrific news. We hugged. Men and women alike. It was the most somber group of people I have ever been with, all funerals included. Each person there served a municipality, and we all knew that anyone could be next. Who would be next? What did we need to do? What could we do?

Air traffic ground to a halt. Never in the history of aviation have such drastic measures been taken. Our skies were eerily silent and fighter jets replaced normal commercial air traffic, especially for those living near borders and “high value targets.”

Never has America been so unprepared for an attack, with no warning, on our own soil. In Michigan, bridges and tunnels were closed due to concern over safety and the fact that some of our bridges lead to other countries. Some bridges are just exceedingly long, and none were prepared for the possibility of terrorism.

Terrorism. What a terrible word. A dark soulless word.

9/11 was the day that terrorism was introduced into our collective psyche in a way that no one alive on that day will ever, ever forget. Terrorism, unfortunately, at one level or another, has been a part of our lives ever since – not only in the US, but also in Europe and other parts of the world. It has spread like a deadly disease – the Zika virus of  radicals bent to destroy us.  They tried to break us, but they failed.

Terrorism also called us all to be patriots. And we answered in such numbers that there were no American flags to be purchased, anyplace.

9-11-newsweek

It galvanized us in our resolve to be Americans, to be brave, and not to be held hostage by terrorists, terrorism or fear. Yes, we live our lives today, still in a heightened state of vigilance, but we do live our lives. They inflicted a grave injury, but they did not and have not won.

Thinking Further Back

As we approach this black anniversary, I realized that there are few things that have had the level of impact on my life, aside from personal anniversaries like births, marriages and deaths, that 9/11 has had.

Another event that probably falls into that same category was the assassination of President Kennedy. That was the day that Americans collectively lost their innocence and 9/11 was the day we became enmeshed in a war that won’t end in our lifetimes. We can’t even see the enemy. They don’t wear red coats anymore.

Vietnam, not a day, but an era, was also very defining for my generation.

On a more positive note, defining moments in my lifetime include the election of a black President and the nomination of a woman by a major party for President. It doesn’t matter whether you like these particular politicians or not – the very fact that our country and society has progressed to the point where people who couldn’t even vote 100 years ago now can and do lead our country is incredibly iconic and liberating. We have gone from “Hell no” to “maybe” to a token “yes” to “absolutely” within two or three generations – mostly within my generation. When I was a child, girls could only be secretaries, waitresses, teachers or nurses. My, how things have changed.

Being a genealogist, I think regularly about the lives of my ancestors, and the 52 Ancestors stories that I’ve been writing allow me, really, force me, to think about their lives individually. I ask myself what things in their lives would have been defining events that shaped their lives, meaning culturally or historically, as opposed to those personal milestones and dates that we typically associate with genealogy.

Some of those milestones stand out as not only life-changers for the ancestors in question, but events that precipitated changes that reverberated down through the generations and changed future lives too. The biggest difference is that that news was carried by Paul Revere on horseback, a town crier or a pony express rider, not by CNN, the internet, cell phones, texts, messages, Facebook and e-mails.

There was no immediate notification across the country, so the news was slower to spread, and reaction took much longer. There was no mass shock. But then the problem couldn’t spread itself by airplane either. Of course, the news might have been much less accurate by the time it reached the most distant cabins and was generally “old” by the time it arrived.

As I write my ancestors’ stories, I try to look for these types of events in their lifetimes. Several come to mind and I’m sure there are many more that could be added to this list:

  • The French and Indian War
  • The 30 Years War
  • The Inquisition
  • The London Fire of 1666
  • Indian Raids on Various Frontiers
  • The Acadian “Grand Derangement” or Removal
  • The Revolutionary War
  • The Civil War
  • The War of 1812
  • The Enslavement of Native People
  • The Genocide of Native People
  • The Trail of Tears
  • The Emancipation of Slaves
  • World War I
  • World War II
  • The Holocaust
  • The Atomic Bomb
  • Women’s Right to Vote
  • The Introduction of Antibiotics
  • The Introduction of Electricity, Telephones, Radio and Television

I asked my mother, before she died, which things had the most profound personal impact on her life and she said that wiring their house with electricity and World War 2.  Those answers didn’t surprise me, except that I hadn’t realized that at one time, she had lived in a home without electricity.  Mother’s fiancé died in WW2 and that clearly changed the entire path of her life.

I ask myself, how did these types of events affect the lives of my ancestors? Did they change their lives by virtue of direct involvement, like fighting in a war, or did they change their lives by virtue of a cultural change, like electricity in homes?

Did they too live in a time of terror?  Did tragedy make heroes of them?

Who were the heroes? Who sacrificed? Whose lives were changed and how? Who died for the cause?

I wonder if they, like us, 15 years later were still living in a “state of heightened vigilance.” I know those types of event changed many forever.

Never Forget

The experience of 9/11, for those even remotely involved will never be forgotten, and for many, especially in New York and for the families of the victims, it doesn’t even fade.

For those of us more remotely involved, being supportive from a distance in whatever capacity we could, those images remain and will remain forever seared into our psyche. Only death will remove them.

We all grieve and mourn in our own way and time. This is the memorial quilt that I started but could never finish, because, well, I just couldn’t.

9-11-quilt

Perhaps it’s time to finish this now and title it, “They Didn’t Win.”  What do you think?

I wonder which images remained for our ancestors for the duration of their lives? How did they cope?  I wish they had told us, written something about their life and times.  While these memories remain vivid for us, anyone under the age of about 20 has no personal memory of this event.  If we don’t tell our stories, and record them for posterity, they will forever be lost.

Where were you on 9/11?  Which images remain for you?  What is your story?

The Death Watch and Harkening Back

Have you noticed that I’ve been a little quiet lately? My publishing goal is for one genealogy related DNA story each week, typically a 52 Ancestors article, and one other technical article as well. I’ve been a little shy recently, and will be a for a little while longer.

In my world, August has been a brutal, brutal month.

I have trouble with August anyway, truthfully. August 26th is when my father was killed in an automobile accident when I was 7, and my dearly beloved step-father died over Labor Day weekend 31 years later. Those kinds of deep wounds never heal entirely, they simply scar over a bit and we remember them with both sadness and fondness forever. But in reality, we never forget, either the person or the pain of their absence – or the circumstances surrounding their death. In the vernacular of days gone by…the death watch.

In early August, this year, we received news that a family member had been diagnosed with cancer after a routine colonoscopy. Now, that could even be construed as good news, if you’re a glass-half-full person, because it means they found the cancer early enough to do something about it. In other words, while cancer is horrible and terrifying, finding it early increases the survival odds dramatically.

At that point, I did what quilters do – I set about making a “care quilt” for the family member, Mary, with help from my quilt sisters – to let her know the family is thinking of her, to send positive energy her way, to let her know she is loved and to give her something to take with her to the hospital, rehab, chemo…whatever. Being wrapped in a quilt is being wrapped in love. Need a hug, grab a quilt.

I’m glad we made the quilt and shipped it when I did, because little did we know time would be so short.

Mary with quilt

The Dentist and Never-Ending August

Have I ever mentioned how much I hate going to the dentist for dental “work?” Well, I do. It almost never goes well and there is always some complication. That could partly be due to a car accident many years ago, but whatever the reason, it’s always some flavor of quite unpleasant.

So, of course, I was on the way to the dentist’s office when I received the text on August 9th that subsequent scans indicated that the cancer was more advanced than originally thought, but that surgery was scheduled for the 17th. Not good, but still hopeful. I was a bit shaken, understanding how unsettling this news must be to her immediate family members.

A few minutes later, standing IN the dentists lobby, I found out that my friend’s house had burned to the ground that morning and her son did not escape the fire and perished. The terrible irony is that my friend is a firefighter. I will also say that thankfully, Andrew, her son, did not burn to death, but died of smoke inhalation. I know, that is small consolation but it is some. Additionally, I later discovered that the family pets perished as well. Needless to say, it was a horrible, horrible day that rocked this entire community.

I had what I think is known as a meltdown, right there, in the lobby. Thankfully my friend works there. They graciously rescheduled me because the dentist cannot work on a sobbing blob.

The next few days were consumed with trying to figure out how to help. How to help the family who lost everything in the fire. How to help my family member with cancer and the other family members caring for her.  How to be useful but not in the way or overbearing.

And truthfully, I felt like a zombie. I spent some time with my friend’s daughter and her fiancé who had escaped the fire. Loren, the fiancé, had tried to rescue Andrew, but a middle-of-the-night fast moving fire offers very little opportunity to do anything – even to escape yourself. The family members who survived barely escaped – with maybe 30 second to spare. If not for Loren, they wouldn’t have escaped either.

And so, two more quilts were delivered, and I am still finishing the third.

A four quilt week, in total. I never, ever want to live to see another four quilt week. But I wasn’t done yet.

My cousin’s husband had a stroke. This isn’t a distant cousin I’ve never met, but a couple we’ve traveled with. We saw them last fall at a reunion. Yep, a fifth quilt is in the works.

On the 17th, Mary, the cancer victim, underwent surgery which, as they say, did not go well. She was consumed with cancer and died eight days later, August 25th. Needless to say, this was not the result we expected and two days before her death, optimism and hope turned to resignation and immediate family received the “come now” call. Thankfully, most of the family did make it in time, by the skin of their teeth, and she retained enough consciousness to know they were there.

Mary had asked for her quilt to be brought to the hospital. The quilt was doing its job, bringing her comfort.

Andrew’s memorial took place in the midst of all of this, and I discovered that another friend had lost both her husband and father within the past few months, on Christmas Day and Father’s Day, respectively.

And of course, the anniversary of my father’s death was mixed into this painful brew.

Is August ever going to end???

The Death Watch

I’ve been thinking a lot about death this month. It’s OK to laugh at this slight understatement.

My last ancestor story that was published, about Daniel Miller, recounted that his death, on August 26th, was probably unexpected. (I told you August was a rough month.)

Unexpected. The norm then. Aside from accidents, few deaths are unexpected today.

My ancestor Joseph Bolton reportedly got up from the breakfast table and walked out to the fields to work and died of a heart attack. That’s rare, very rare today. He was probably having warning symptoms long before that fateful and fatal attack, but had no way to recognize them, and nothing to do medically in 1920 in Claiborne County, Tennessee if he had.

At that time, most deaths weren’t protracted. Today, it’s a different story.

The following death information was extracted randomly from a dozen chronological Claiborne County, Tennessee death certificates from 1917 beginning in May and ending in late June. 

Name Cause of Death Duration Contributory Cause Duration Comments Death Watch
Nancy Roark Asthma 30 years Acute indigestion 10 days Probably a heart issue 10 days
Demis? Cosby? 7 month child No medical attention 0
Lonie Cosby Tuberculosis No medical attention, mother of child above ?
Esker Brooks Whooping cough No medical attention ?
Shrelda Yeary Dropsy No medical attention ?
Child Fulty Stillborn No medical attention 0
Ansel Ellison Diphtheria No medical attention ?
Alexander Welch Homicide by shotgun Right groin, left side chest 0
James Carr Pernicious anemia 2 years Was a physician ?
Jordon Welch Suicide by shotgun Heart wound 0
Gareth Overton Bowel complication 4 months Tetanus 1 yr 4 months 4 months
James Kivett Drown 0

Looking at these records, it’s easy to see how many of these deaths today would have been preventable, or the disease curable or at least treatable.

When I first started visiting Claiborne County, Tennessee in the 1970s and 1980s, many people still eschewed going to the hospital in Knoxville, about an hour away. When antibiotics were first introduced, people began to seek doctors and medical attention more routinely, but by the time you were bad enough to go to the hospital, it was assumed you were going to die anyway. People gave reasons like “didn’t want the family to be split apart,” but in reality, it was hopelessness. Hospitals, at that time, couldn’t do any more for the ailing family member than the family could do at home, and hospitals were viewed as simply places to go to die. Then, it seemed that going to the hospital “assured your death” and people became even more afraid and superstitious with the stigma of a “wives tale” attached.

Looking at Indiana death records which began earlier than Tennessee death records, we find the following for Elkhart County, Indiana beginning in 1902 where records were clearly kept in alphabetical order:

Name Cause of Death Duration Contributory Cause Duration Comments Death Watch
Elizabeth Miller Inflammation of bowel 12 days Valvular insufficiency of heart Several years 12 days
Harry Miller Typhoid malaria 3 weeks Typhoid ? One week 1-3 weeks
Baby Miller Premature birth 4 hours 4 hours
Jacob Miller Typhoid Intestinal hemo??? ?
John David Miller Senile gangrene 7 months ?
Joni Miller Inflammation of bowels 10 days 10 days
Ruth Miller Malignant jaundice 2 weeks 2 weeks
Solomon Miller Abscess in liver 2 months Probably cancer ?
Rettica Minnich Collapse 10 hours 10 hours
Sadie Michler Bloody flux 11 days Followed by cerebral meningitis 3 days 3 days
Jessie Mitchell Cancer of stomach Don’t know ?
John Mitchell Brain lesion 14 days 14 days
Rebecca Mitchell Old age Dysentery One week One week

In terms of the length of the death watch, Indiana records are more informative.

Today, medicine can “save” many, and I put the word save in quotes on purpose.

Before I say what I’m going to say, I want to be very clear that I am an advocate for medical care, both preventative and remedial. However, sometimes medical care simply extends the death, not extending a useful, meaningful life that has quality.

I was speaking with a physician this past week who is also a friend. She told me that she had “finally” lost her father. She is not an insensitive woman, but it took her father 10 years to pass away. His life was repeatedly “saved,” only for him to go back home to wait for the next medical disaster to befall him. He was immobile, diabetic, had kidney failure and finally died of sepsis. His life had no quality – and the family literally had a 10 year death watch with no hope of real recovery. Should I even mention what that, along with 10 years of 24X7X365 caregiving, did to her mother’s life???

Our generation is the first generation to experience these truly prolonged death watches. In my own family, my 4 grandparents passed as follows:

  • Mother’s mother (1960) – heart attack, death watch 4 days
  • Mother’s father (1962)– liver cancer, death watch about 10 days
  • Father’s mother (1955) – congestive heart failure, death watch probably days to weeks
  • Father’s father (1971) – old age, heart failure, death watch just days

Contrast that to 10 years for my friend’s father, or two years while my brother died of cancer, multiple surgeries and chemo rounds one after another. I surely wonder, in retrospect, if my brother wished that he had foregone all of that and lived just a few months, but pain free and with some quality of life as compared to two years of one bodily insult after another. I guess the price of opportunity and possibility was surgery and chemo.

My other brother spent 18 months on a liver transplant list and then died of liver cancer, without a transplant. My sister had surgery for breast cancer which had returned when she died of a heart attack.

These protracted deaths make for an extremely long and draining death watch for anxious family members who so desperately want the person to be healed, especially if more than one death watch is in process concurrently.

More Deaths Than Births

As my physician friend and I continued to discuss this situation, we were talking about how our generation is the first to routinely experience this phenomenon of the extended death watch.

The death watch used to be characterized by the family sitting by the bed of the person who was going to pass over shortly – usually for hours or a few days, generally after they were too sick to get out of bed anymore. Today, the death watch is very different and often significantly prolonged.

One observation we made is that there just seems to be so MUCH death now. It surrounds us. We realized that this is, in part, because of the lifesaving measures that are underway. We never had these opportunities before, and yes, they do turn into death watches in many cases. But not always. My sister-in-law has had cancer twice and remains cancer free today – 15 years later.

Another observation is that there are a lot fewer births today. That same sister-in-law has 7 siblings, and only one has passed away. My step-father had 12 siblings and my father was one of 10.

By comparison, my sister-in-law had 3 children, I had 2 children that lived, my mother had 2 children that lived, my uncle had 2 children and my other brother had 2 children. Much smaller families today.

By virtue of simple math, in our generation, there are simply more deaths to experience and fewer joyous events like births. The scales have tipped, for now. In the next generation, the balance should be more even, although that doesn’t make the deaths any easier to handle – but there should be fewer of them. That also means fewer family members to love.

Another item of note is that when a joyous event like a birth or marriage does occur, it’s over rather quickly and everyone goes back to what they were doing. Death watches have become prolonged, along with the grieving.  So yes, it does often seem that there is much more death than before, and that the negative outweighs the positive.  In terms of the number of days we are feeling the immediacy of grief through a death watch as compared to the joyful days, the number of grief days has increased while the number of joyful events has decreased with smaller families.  This phenomenon isn’t imagined, it’s real.

How does this stack up in your own family?  How has it affected family members?

Empathy

Empathy, according to the dictionary, is the distinctly human ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

Sympathy is when you feel sorry for another’s misfortune, but empathy means putting yourself in their shoes.

How to we acquire empathy? From experiencing those same things ourselves. Those experiences are what give us the ability to be empathetic. Sitting those long days and nights in an uncomfortable chair by a hospital bed holding a death vigil ourselves – watching the breath becoming shallower and shallower, more irregular as the hours and day pass, until there are no more breaths and the heart beats for the last time – as the last bit of life slips from our loved one and we know they are gone.   Passed over to the other side.

As my husband said, tears welling in his eyes, on a particularly difficult day this past week, “I can’t hear about this without harkening back to my own experiences of when my parents and grandparents passed away.” That’s empathy.  Harkening back.

Empathy is how we know how the other person is feeling, not just feel sorry for their misery. In essence, it’s how we make lemonade out of the lemons we’ve all experienced and continue to experience as humans.

Based on this, the current generation of older adults should be extremely empathetic, helpful, understanding and willing to lend that helping hand.  I find that empathy often increases with age, as people experience more of these events personally.

Empathy – it’s how we know that people need care quilts, and why we make them.  Many times, it’s all we can do.

In Summary

August is nearly over, thank goodness.

Please bear with me as I catch up with my hundreds of unanswered e-mails and write new articles – along with finishing those two quilts and a sixth quilt that is needed now. I’ve used all of my reserve – emotional, blog articles and quilts.

On the other hand, I’m very grateful that I can write these articles and make care quilts. I much prefer this to being the person in need. It’s just that I have not yet figured out how to forego sleep entirely to harvest those extra hours.

There are exciting things that have happened and come my way over the past couple of weeks that I haven’t been able to attend to. For example, I have finally had my 23andMe account transitioned. I need to look at that, along with a new tool developed by a genetic genealogist. I’m looking forward to getting back in the groove. I miss the sanity/insanity of genetic genealogy.

As I said to my husband yesterday, “You got to work.” He replied, “You say that like it is a privilege.” It is actually, especially when you can’t for whatever reason.

Thank you everyone for your understanding during this difficult period and while I catch up from under a seemingly bottomless pile. I’m back at work!

Just One More Summer Sunday….

I wasn’t able to work on my 52 Ancestors story this week, so instead, I’m sharing something different with you.

I started writing “Sunday Stories” years ago. This is my way of sharing history with my family and descendants, the kind of history I wish I knew about my ancestors.  The daily, “what was my life like” kind of history.

I’ve been rather lax lately. My family doesn’t know it, but the 52 Ancestors articles ARE their Sunday stories for right now.  Still, from time to time, I write a separate Sunday story when something strikes my fancy.  This week, I’m sharing my Sunday Story with you in the hopes it will inspire you to do the same.

Years ago, a man named Mickey used to write Sunday Stories about his life in Italy before he immigrated. He faithfully took the hand-written letter to a copy machine every Monday and mailed a copy to each of his children.  Many didn’t even bother to open the envelopes – too busy – just threw them in a drawer.  Some even lost them.  But when Mickey died, all of a sudden those letters became precious, to the point that the kids had to make a list to see who had which letters and if any, God forbid, were entirely missing.

Mickey would have smiled. I don’t know if he had a father’s intuition and knew that’s exactly what would happen – but he told me he knew they weren’t being read when he sent them.  That made my heart sad for him, because I knew how neglected and unappreciated he must have felt.

I saw what happened in Mickey’s family after his death.  It was actually kind of humorous in a sad way – all the frantic scrambling.  I know they all wished they had paid more attention to Mickey when they had the opportunity.

I decided that Sunday stories were a wonderful idea – and it really doesn’t matter that they aren’t read today, even though I hope they are, because I’m writing them for posterity too.  Someday they’ll be read, maybe….and if not…it wasn’t for lack of trying on my part.

Please join me today for “Just One More Summer Sunday” and a peek into life on the farm in the Midwest with my Mom and step-Dad, who I have forever called my Dad.

Just One More Summer Sunday

Summer Sunday

What I wouldn’t give for just one more summer Sunday.

Not that Sunday’s were particularly special on the farm, it’s just that we were all home on Sunday. Even if we had moved to town, everyone came home on Sunday afternoon.  We talked and joked, sometimes played games like gin rummy, aggravation, dominoes and Yahtzee, and did whatever needed to be done.  And we ate, of course.  Life on the farm revolved around eating.

No one ever talked about coming home on Sundays, or planned it particularly, it’s just what we did. It evolved.  Everyone looked forward to Sunday family time to catch up with what everyone else in the family was doing.  It was Facebook face to face.

Sunday afternoons in the summer in Indiana were hot and sticky and uncomfortable. Fans were involved.  Sometimes a completely ineffective electrical fan for the entire house, and always, personal fans being waved back and forth made up of anything that moved air.  Magazines, cardboard, whatever.

So we sweat together. Sweat bonds people, ya know.

We also cleaned green beans together and shucked corn together, sitting on the metal glider under the old maple tree out back, with the corn silk sticking to our hands and arms because we were “moist,” as my mother used to say. Women didn’t sweat, for Heaven’s sake.

We took the kids along and picked out the best watermelon or musk melon from the melon patch that we had planted one Sunday afternoon in the springtime and brought it to the house. If it was particularly large, the child rode in the red wagon to the garden and the child got to pull the wagon back to the house with the melon in tow.  Often, we cut the melon outside to keep the mess out of the kitchen – plus – it was cooler out there in the shade.

We always had a “slop bucket” where any food waste, like melon seeds and rinds, got deposited with a splat. After dinner, we got to go out and feed the hogs who had been looking forward to the slop bucket “treat” since we began the food preparation process.  Hogs are a lot smarter than people give them credit for.  They knew.

Dad had an old red barbeque grill with the paint peeling off from years of cumulative heat. He put charcoal in the bottom and lit it using lighter fluid with enough time left before “dinner time,” which was lunch on the farm, or “supper time” which was late afternoon, about 5, for the charcoal to ignite, burn bright, then burn down to grey ash with the heat inside.  Dad somehow magically knew when the coals were “about right.”  Then he put the burgers on the grill.  It was a long, involved process and you could easily die of hunger waiting!  It didn’t make any sense to me that the coals were better for cooking than the fire, but I’ve learned a lot since then about cooking heat and the fires of life as well.

Before Dad had the red barbeque grill that we got him for one Father’s Day, he had an old barrel cut in half with some kind of grill or wire thing that he had rigged up that sat across the top. Sometimes food fell through the rigged mesh into the charcoal, and you just picked it back up with the tongs and put it back on the grill, after brushing it off of course.  If it was too bad, it went in the slop bucket.  Nothing was ever wasted.

Much of our life on the farm was “rigged up,” but we never viewed it that way. Today I look back at all of those things Dad made personally and cherish them along with the time he took to make them.  Then, they were just life, the way it was and what we did.  Nothing special.

Mom and I made the hamburger patties inside and put them on plates and took them outside to Dad to grill.  Yes, we used the same plates to bring the grilled burgers back inside, and no one died or even got sick.  We made potato or macaroni salad and cut up whatever vegetables were ripe in the garden.  By August, we had fresh corn to shuck and together, at the table, after one of the children said Grace, we ate buttered corn on the cob, grilled hamburgers and fresh warm tomatoes from the garden.  Life couldn’t have been better.  To us, then, it was just normal.  Nothing unusual or special.

We chatted about what happened during the week, plans for the next week, school, teachers and oh yes, about the crops, what was ripening next, or was wilting in the heat…and rain, always rain, or lack thereof. It was a farm, after all.

The women discussed who was dating whom, who was potty trained, who was sick,  what was on sale this week in town, and church doings of course.

Everyone talked about funerals, births, who bought a new car, or far more exciting, a new tractor, and who was going broke – and in farm country, someone was always going broke.

Oh, and pass me another burger and some of that “mater” too please…

There is absolutely nothing like a plump bright red tomato, fresh picked from the vine, warmed by the sun and sliced, its flavor exploding with the juicy hamburger and a slice of sweet onion too.

Sometimes we had buns, sometimes not – depended on how much we could get at the grocery that week for our $20 bill. Sometimes the choice came down to chocolate or Oreos or buns….and let’s just say that we often ate without buns.

And speaking of chocolate, the best was yet to come. Dad planned ahead and sometimes, on particularly hot Sundays, he would make homemade ice cream for dessert.  He churned it by hand, the churn sitting on the back step.  Actually, we all took turns since it was no small task and your arms got tired really quickly. He always helped the kids and absorbed way more than his share of the work without anyone noticing and without saying one word.

Because making ice cream was a slow process requiring patience, dessert usually happened about mid-afternoon.

We always made banana ice cream. It was Dad’s favorite, so somehow it became the entire family favorite. No one even suggested any other flavor – ever.  That would have been heresy…and besides that…no one even thought of it.

I remember company one time asked about chocolate ice cream and we all just stared at them like they were speaking a foreign tongue we couldn’t comprehend. They said they didn’t like banana ice cream.  Mom told them they would like this banana ice cream, because it was “special,” and that was that.  I don’t know if they liked it or not, but nary another word was spoken about other flavors!

It seemed like it took FOREVER for that ice cream to set up. And the more you had to crank, the hotter you became, and the more you wanted some of that ice cold ice cream.  Sort of seems self-defeating doesn’t it – but ironically – no one ever tried to get out of their turn at the crank.  Everyone thought it was fun – a novelty – at least for a little bit – until your arm got tired.  Then Dad would come over and “spell you for a bit,” because that’s just the kind of man he was.  In reality, we were all “spelling” Dad for a bit, giving him a little break, but we though we were really doing something special!

After what seemed like an eternity, the ice cream would be declared “done,” Dad would crack open the churn and we would finally get to eat the ice cream, whether it was done, meaning set up, or not. Sometimes it was nice and hard.  Sometimes it was more like soft serve and I distinctly remember once when it was almost runny, more like pudding, and Dad suggested we put the lid back on and crank some more.  He got soundly outvoted and we ate the ice cream just the way it was…with one important addition of course…chocolate topping.

But not just any chocolate topping. Nosireeeee…special hot fudge topping.

You know those buns we sacrificed? Well, instead we bought chocolate fudge topping and then we “doctored it up” by heating it and adding both bittersweet dark chocolate and fresh percolated hot coffee until the fudge topping was thick and rich, but not too sweet.  I know, that doesn’t seem to make sense, but it was TO. DIE. FOR.

I wish I had taken some pictures of those days, but back then, picture developing was an expensive luxury and photos were saved for “special occasions,” like when my grandmother’s last living sister, great-aunt Eloise, visited.

Note that by this time, the walkway to the outhouse, visible behind the garage, was semi-paved and Mom and Dad were wearing “good” summer clothes – translated to mean not threadbare and no holes or large stains – at least not that my mother spotted or my Dad would have been sent to change:)

Summer Sunday 2

Even though film and developing was expensive, we did of course take photos at Christmas, birthdays and when we had “special” company, but Sunday afternoon on the hottest day of the summer, sweating, eating burgers and cranking ice cream on the farm was nothing special, so not one picture.

Nothing special at all.

Oh, what I would give for just one more summer Sunday afternoon at home with Mom and Dad on the farm….

Summer Sunday 3