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Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Unattached Aunt


I have been sleuthing around to figure out where Fannie Ginders fits in the family picture. She sparked my curiosity when I was studying this photograph of a family group in Rockford, Illinois in 1931 with her in it. The others are some of the descendants of three Andrews brothers: Charles, Harry, and Ernest. Harry and Ernest are in the center row with their wives; Charles had already died but his widow, Cordelia, sits at the right side. Mamie Ginders is married to Harry, and to the left of him sits Fannie. Mamie must be my link to Fannie.

I look them up in the 1930 US Census. There is Harry, the head of the household. His wife is listed as Mary S. Mamie must be a nickname. Their daughter, Mae, a librarian, lives with them (in the picture, Mae is sitting on the grass second from right). Their son, Charles F., lives there too; although he is 24, he has no profession, but the education column has a tick mark in it. I assume he is attending the university, because 11 years later he is a partner in his father’s law firm (in the photograph he is standing in back, third from right).

And there is Fannie. She is a secretary at the knitting factory. She is the sister-in-law of the head of the household. She is the younger sister of Mamie. The sisters report that their father was born in Illinois; their mother in Canada.

I look back through the same family in 1920, 1910, and 1900. In 1920 Fannie was a bookkeeper in the knitting company. In 1910 she was a stenographer there. Same for 1900. Their father’s birth place changes to England in all the earlier censuses. Their mother’s birth place remains Canada.

I see that Fannie must have come to live with Mamie and Harry early on in their marriage—she might even have lived with them from the outset—and she lived there apparently until her death, but I cannot find any record of her death. Even with all that employment, she is not in the Social Security Death Index. Did she die before getting a Social Security number? Most working people in those years did not get one until after 1940 and many not until after 1950, although they were available from the mid-1930s. I have no death date for Mamie either. I know they both were living when Harry died of a heart attack in 1941.

Their mother, Julia Ginders, lives with them in Harry’s household in 1900, eight years after the marriage of Harry and Mamie. Julia reported that she had been married 29 years and was widowed, but after going through the censuses thoroughly, I realize she meant that she had been married 29 years before the census was taken—because her husband was dead by 1880, when the girls were still small.

She says she immigrated to the U.S. from Canada in 1878, 22 years previously. How can that be? She had two little girls by 1878, both of whom always reported that they were born in Illinois. I see from comparing all the census records that nobody in the Ginders family bothers much about getting their dates and ages consistent from census to census. It makes a genealogist’s life a little tougher! I’m going to assume that Julia came from Canada to Illinois in 1870 or before.

In 1880 Julia lives with her father-in-law, Henry Ginders, and her two little girls. I now have a grandpa, but I do not know Julia’s husband’s name. I find Henry in 1870 with his wife, Sophia, and a 30-year-old son, Joseph. Maybe this is the missing husband and father!

I look for Henry Ginders’s immigration record (he reported he was born in England). I find him and Sophia arriving in New York on April 19, 1851, aboard the Blue England. (I think that is the name—it was hard to read.) In addition to young Joseph, they have a son two years older, George, and a daughter two years younger, Fanny.

Then I find them in the 1841 England Census in Billingborough, Lincolnshire, minus Fanny. Little Joseph is age 1, George is 3. The census that year was taken on the night of June 6, 1841 (unlike the U.S. censuses which go on for months and months).

I look for them in the 1851 England Census because it was taken on the night of March 30, 1851, 20 days before they left England for America, but they were missed. I know they left from England—the port of departure was Liverpool—but where did they stay before they left? Hm.

Now I have two possibilities for the missing Ginders husband and father: George and Joseph. I search for George in later U.S. censuses, and there he is with his own wife, Mary, on a farm a few miles from his father’s in 1880. They have four children of their own. So our man must be Joseph. He disappears after 1870, completely. He must have married Julia about 1871, had Mamie in early 1872 and Fannie in late 1873, and then he must have died within the next six years. His mother, Sophia, must have died in that same time too. I wonder if there was a plague or something in that part of Illinois in the 1870s.

The early life of Mamie and Fannie Ginders becomes a little clearer. Their father dies when they are quite young, and they live with their mother and their grandfather. Perhaps Mamie becomes used to taking care of her little sister Fannie from very early on; maybe their mother is busy nursing a sick and dying husband. Maybe she also nurses her mother-in-law, who dies in the same time period. In any case, it all makes the Ginders sisters inseparable.

Otherwise, this is another chapter in a long story of the unattached woman who needs to be given a home by kind relatives because she is not in the position of gaining her own. Fannie is probably a role model for her niece, Mae, who never marries either and who becomes the city librarian in Rockford.

Here’s to the unattached aunt. She is often the one whose life forms those puzzle pieces that go missing all too soon, but I will not give up. I will rescue the Unattached Aunts from obscurity! May they regain their rightful importance and may we never ignore them.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Heinz: In Memoriam

Heinz died this morning. I say “died” because he actually passed away from us all gradually over the past ten years since the passing of his wife Kathleen, and today is the day his body finally stopped keeping him from going on. I want to chronicle my memories of Heinz.

When I first met him, the first thing he did was to teach me to say his name correctly, if I wasn’t going to use “Chris,” which is what he changed his name to, when he gave up on Americans ever getting his first name right. “Heinz,” he told me, does not have a long, drawn-out z sound, does not have a long e sound, and should always be clipped, the way Germans like their speech. Long i vowel as in “high,” short z like a “ts” at the end. His name is Heinz Christian Christiansen, so he began calling himself Chris.

But let me go back. Heinz was born in northern Germany near the Danish border while World War Two was raging. When he was quite young, his parents divorced and his mother remarried a man who was rather brutal with the children. Heinz remembered not having enough to eat when he was young. He had an older sister and at least two brothers (I cannot remember how many brothers, but one was older and one was younger than Heinz). When the end of the war came, all the national leaders gathered in Heinz’s town to sign the treaties.

Heinz was a member of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He liked going to church. When he was a teenager, his older brother went to the Bountiful, Utah area to live, sponsored by a couple who lived there. It was not a success, and Heinz’s brother was returned to Germany in some degree of disgrace. Heinz had wanted to go to America too, but the couple who sponsored his brother were soured on the idea because of the trouble they felt they’d had.

Then a missionary from the U.S. arrived in Heinz’s town, Keith Wahlquist, who seemed to take an interest in Heinz. By this time he had left school and was in an apprenticeship program, and he had spare time every evening that he mostly spent with the missionaries whenever they’d let him. Keith let him come with them a lot. Heinz asked Keith if Keith’s family might be willing to sponsor him.

Keith’s family living at home consisted of his widowed mother, a younger brother, and a maiden aunt. He also had an older sister and brother, both of whom were not living at home, although his sister was there a lot. He wrote home and asked. His aunt was very interested in sponsoring Heinz, so the necessary paperwork was completed, and Heinz just had to finish his apprenticeship before he could go. Keith was due to be released from his mission in April, and his aunt and he arranged together that he would do a little traveling around the continent while he waited for Heinz to finish the first week or so of June. The day came, and Keith and the eighteen-year-old Heinz sailed off on their ship to New York.

Mabel met them in New York. Heinz knew by then only about five or ten words of English, but he enjoyed Mabel taking them around her favorite big city and treating them to a Broadway show. Then she flew home while the two young men took the train across the country.

He became a member of the Wahlquist family. Keith’s aunt was like a mother to him and he a son to her.

As soon as they arrived, Keith’s mother, Ruth, welcomed Heinz into the family and, being an educator herself, and the widow of an educator, and the daughter of educators, she enrolled him at the local community college. Now Heinz had not been to school for years, and he didn’t speak English yet, but he spent the summer watching television and learning as fast as anybody could.

He did well. He served a two-year LDS mission to Austria. He graduated from college, then he went on to get a graduate degree, then another graduate degree, and he became a college professor. He married Kathleen and they had four beautiful children, three boys and a girl. He became a U.S. citizen along the way. He left the teaching profession to join an educational travel consortium, where he led tours to Europe and to Israel and the rest of the Middle East. He returned home to visit his mother and siblings fairly often. His children did well.

He served long and faithfully in the Church of Jesus Christ. He was a bishop and then a stake president. He worked for a number of years in the Orlando Florida Temple.

We visited them a few years before Kathleen died, and we had the greatest time. He loved showing us around and joking with our son who was still young then, and talking about the topics of the day or about religion or philosophy or history, our favorite subjects. He gave us a little olive-wood box from Israel out of his display cabinet where he had treasures from many places.

They visited fairly often, and we always enjoyed their company. After Kathleen died, Heinz called Keith a lot to talk about things. He went over and over all the implications of making a decision to remarry, and we felt his choice, a childhood friend who had moved to the States with her family when she was an adolescent, was a good one. It proved to be better than merely “good”—Elke was and is the best, a saint. She took care of him when early Alzheimer’s took him away much too soon.

We have been missing him for several years now. On his last visit to us, he sat by Keith and the only sentence he had formed in months he spoke to Keith: “I like you,” he said.


We like you too, Heinz.

We surely miss you.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Tribute to EEJW

Over the past weekend one of my favorite relatives-by-marriage passed away suddenly. I’ll miss her very much! I think it is odd that I never did mourn and grieve for my father the way I feel about other people who have died since then. Perhaps it is because I feel him nearby so often, and I almost hear his voice on the edge of my consciousness at times especially when I’m doing something that both he and I loved: genealogy. “Look in that direction,” he seems to be saying, and I follow the direction and find what I was looking for—or I find something else that I maybe should have been looking for all along.

This relative who passed away last Saturday morning was a great lady. She was the one who listened to my troubles when I was first married and trying to negotiate my way through the land mines of step-motherhood; she had raised her own six children and taken in a dozen or more others who for one reason or another needed surrogate parents or simply a place to crash for a period of time. She was used to being the go-to person who helped out people who were hurting.

It was more than simply her natural talent—she had trained as a nurse and had gone for advanced degrees later in her life, and she was always either dispensing medical or emotional advice of the wisest kind.

She was one of the most organized people I have ever met. She was one of those who did the major portion of work for the larger family reunions. No matter what committee you were put on, you could always ask her about your responsibility and she’d know what it was you were supposed to do and would have an idea on how you could accomplish it.

She was always ready for any occasion. Every Christmas we drove to the cemetery near her home to put flowers on the grave of my husband’s first son, and often we dropped in to see her and her husband (my husband’s cousin). No matter when we came, she would have something ready to give us as a Christmas present, even if it worked out that we had to go there two weeks ahead of Christmas or the week afterward.

I got to edit her husband’s life history, which he published for his posterity and any of the rest of us extended family who were interested. A lot of us were interested! She figured largely in the story, and what I learned of her impressed me more and more. I knew she was generous; I learned the bounds of her generosity extended farther than I could think. I knew she was smart; I learned she was wise beyond my imagination. I knew she had faith; I learned more of the rocklike quality of her faith.

The virtuous woman in Proverbs 31 has nothing on this queen among women.

“Good night, sweet [lady], and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”

Friday, August 20, 2010

More Space Issues

Yesterday it rained cats and dogs around here for two hours or more. At one point it was raining so hard that I could barely see the trees one yard over from our back yard. I went around the basement, making sure no water was backing up into our window wells.

This morning we took our dog for a walk and came upon flood evidence. We traced the pattern of loose ground-cover bark lining one end of our street and followed it over the curb, through the grass, and across the upper driveway of a neighbor’s house. It continued through the gravel of their side yard, and then it sloped back down to the street again across the next yard. Across the street from that, we followed the line across the lower driveway of the house on the corner, and through a corner of their yard.

Several years ago we had a hard rainstorm similar to the one yesterday, only I think it was worse, because several of our neighbors’ homes were flooded in that same area where we saw the evidence today. At that time, experts were called in who determined that the culprit was partly the recent installation of speed bumps on our street. Suddenly rainwater was backing up along one of the speed bumps and not getting to flow into the storm drain. It flowed through yards and into basements instead. You don’t take the space away from flowing water on the street!

Civil engineers determined that the speed bumps had to be modified at the gutters, made lower. Of course, now drivers move to the edge of the street to cross this one especially, and today we were nearly run down by a driver determined not to go over the speed bump in the center of her lane, but to use the gutter instead, only that was where we were walking. She was mad at us! If only we had been on the sidewalk.

Alas, the sidewalk space right there is squeezed between a fence along its inner edge and low-growing branches of flowering plum trees on its outer edge—or I should say overhanging the entire space. You can’t walk, you have to stoop and go single file. We took to the street. The driver aimed at us and swerved at the last moment as we jumped under those blasted trees. Stupid driver. Stupid trees. Stupid civil engineers. We all want the same spaces.

Ah, the pleasures and hazards of a morning walk.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Pet Peeves

Yesterday morning as we were walking our dog, a friend of mine drove by and stopped her car to say hello. We couldn’t have been speaking for a minute when a man in a pickup truck stopped to lecture us about blocking traffic. He had been driving past the other direction and not only did he have room to pass, but a third car passed us going our direction at the same time. I’m sure he was upset about suddenly having to move to the far side of his lane as the other car swung out around us, leaving us a lot of space. So my pet peeve? People who lecture other people. It isn’t that I haven’t wanted to do the same thing; I just don’t do it. What is the point? To relieve your feelings of being wronged, of course. Do you ever get the satisfaction of someone saying, “Oh, of course you’re right, I did a really stupid thing there and I really must pay you for it. Name the price of your understanding and forgiveness.” Ha ha.

Continuing with things on our walk that irritate me, I have to put people’s sprinkling systems as one. A lot of them seem to spray the sidewalk, almost as much if not more than the lawn or gardens they are supposed to be watering. Not only do they waste water, but my pet peeve is being forced out into the street unless I feel like getting soaked.

The sidewalk encroachment thing is one of my pet peeves. To start with, cities are taking more and more of our sidewalk. Do you remember when you were a kid and three of you could walk abreast down the sidewalk? Not anymore! Sidewalks are shrinking. You’re lucky if two of you can walk abreast, even kids, and if you have a large dog with you, it doesn’t work at all.

Then people let their vegetation grow all over the sidewalks, so you’re dodging tree limbs, being thwacked by large bushes, and stepping on vines and flowers. The really mean people plant rose bushes next to the sidewalk, and you get scratched if the people don’t keep them well trimmed back (to get scratched by my rose bushes, however, you have to step off the sidewalk into my front yard).

There was one yard on my walk—and I can’t avoid passing it no matter which route I take—where the tree limbs grew downward so low that nobody but a little kid could duck low enough to get by. You either had to walk on their lawn or out into the street. I kept threatening my walking companions that I was going to carry pruning shears one day. Then one day, a couple years after I started complaining, suddenly the trees were all pruned. On another corner, there was a vine that grew thick and stiff branches over a fence and out over the sidewalk, low enough that I couldn’t duck under it. I wanted to prune that one too, but it died. I did not poison it, but I was thankful.

Then when I am driving, I’m on the other side of the issue, because people who walk out in the street irritate me. I am not irritated if they stay by the side of the road, but they seem to like to walk down the middle of the street. Like those people and their dog yesterday who had the gall to stop in the middle of the street to talk to the driver of a car passing by! How could one not resist giving them a piece of one’s mind?!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Making Space

Continuing to ruminate about the space in my life, I have come to the conclusion that I really must do something about my materialistic nature. I have started by throwing away papers. No! Not original vital records! These are papers from my one-time career as a college English instructor, now many years in the past. I still have lesson plans, handouts (even dittos, all purple and smeary!), final papers written by my technical writing students if I thought the subject they had chosen was one I might want to pursue later on, grade books, and reams of notes.

I have all the materials I put away when I abandoned my PhD dissertation (having been kicked out of my program after I’d done everything but write the final paper, a long story for another day, or not)—it sits there ready for me to finish writing if I ever felt so moved. I will never feel so now, I’m positive! I have files of notes for books I once thought to have written, which I cannot imagine doing now. Out! Out! It’s all going in the recycle bin! I am keeping only some things that will help me if I should ever want to write my life story with details . . . a big IF!

Next, I’m going to attack the bric-a-brac I’ve collected over the years. I have collections of this, collections of that, tons of kitschy souvenirs from everywhere I’ve traveled, boxes of craft stuff, bags of yarn I *might* someday crochet into gifts for people who won’t even appreciate them. What am I ever going to do with it all? I can’t display more than I already have, or I’ll be in serious danger of creating those stacks of things that topple over on pack-rats and bury them until somebody wonders why the newspapers are stacking up and the mail hasn’t been collected. Ok, that’s not funny, but I’m being serious here. I don’t want my home full of junk. I don’t want to have to suddenly downsize. I want it to be easy to pick up and move to a little condo when we cannot take care of a house and yard anymore. Or on the other hand, easy to invite others to come live with me and take care of me in my old age!

After my birthday I was feeling rather ancient and needing to prepare for my doddering future. Maybe though, I have a little time left. Like several decades. To clean out my stuff and clear some space, I’m going to need every second.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Spaces

We were having a conversation last week about space. Some of it comes out of this thing of being the sandwich generation and supporting the generations behind us and before us, and some of it comes out of reading in the newspaper a couple weeks ago that archives across the country are destroying their holdings to make room for new inventions. The article was shocking to me as a genealogist: I believe in the sanctity of original records! They say they are keeping “representative samples” and dumping the rest, the very idea of which makes me gasp with horror. What if my ancestors are not in the representative samples? I’m sure that’s what every single genealogist is asking. I hope at the very least that these archives have already had all their holdings microfilmed.

I’m worried about the space I need for my copies of the sources that prove my genealogical research. My husband and I have records all over the house. There are photographs in frames, photographs in file cabinets, photographs in binders, and stacks on bookshelves. We have certificates in frames, certificates in file folders, certificates in binders, and stacked on bookshelves. We have cases of cassette tapes with the voices of our relatives who have passed away. We have some transcribed. We have diaries in drawers and on shelves. We have family Bibles here and there. We have compiled family histories in various places around the house.

We have these dreams of getting them all gathered into one place in the house and organized. We keep identifying things we need in order to meet this goal. Another bookcase. Another file cabinet. Maybe we need a room dedicated to family history. Yikes.

The other side of the space issue comes up when we think about gathering our family history in one place. It is that we have room in our house and therefore we share our space with extended family members. Sometimes we have had one or another of my siblings living with us. We have taken in my husband’s sister when she had a long illness and couldn’t go right home from the convalescent hospital. Our children and parents have lived with us off and on for years. We really enjoy having our family members come and stay for a while and then go home again. That’s honestly the best-case scenario, considering that I’m basically selfish with my space.

However, then I start thinking about how things were in my or my husband’s families about a generation ago, when people ran into trouble, and the answer is that they took their relatives in and had them live with them. And people did not have the space to themselves that people today think they need. One of my best friends took me to her childhood home, a small house in an old neighborhood, and it had only one bathroom. My friend comes from a real “baby boomer” family of nine children, six girls and three boys. She greatly enjoyed explaining how all six sisters managed getting ready in the mornings with only one bathroom.

But it was done. We all seemed to share in those days. My siblings all shared rooms with each other, as did my husband’s siblings. Why does everybody think all children need their own rooms these days? Why were people, up until the recent economic downturn, all trying to buy gargantuan homes with not only separate bedrooms for everybody, but separate sitting rooms or, well, I can’t call them “family rooms” if they aren’t really for the family to be together, can I? Do we want family unity or what? I wonder if we need more space or less?

So space is the thing I wonder about today. Do I need more of it, or less? How do I share the space I have? How do I use it wisely?

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Encyclopedia Is Down for Repairs

I knew there was a good reason for me to be writing a journal and a blog. One of my family just came downstairs and asked me to look up the week of March 25, 2010 to fill in a blank space in their journal. I feel like an encyclopedia sometimes. However, I am rather hit-and-miss in my encyclopedic ability to answer all questions put to me. In fact, the older I grow the fewer questions I can answer with satisfaction.

This past week I was asked if I could come up with a topic to present at a big family history and genealogy symposium slated for October. I looked through the list of topics that had already been approved for presentation and thought, There is NO WAY I am qualified to present anything! They all looked like professional dissertation topics to me. I know a little bit about a lot of things to do with genealogy, but I don’t know enough about anything in particular to teach other people. I have taught classes, but my students are all supposed to be beginners. This symposium looks to me like it is targeted at people like me, people who dabble in research and organizing records and doing lots of things loosely connected with the subject, but who need to be taught deeper levels of involvement.

I hope I haven’t just wasted this summer. I have spent most of the month of July writing my half of a genealogy course that I was asked to teach with a friend of mine. We have been training people to help other beginners. It has been a lot of fun to do, and I have had to learn a lot more myself. We teach every Thursday night, so I spent two or three days each week immersed in preparing, then a fourth day recovering.

I suggest to myself that I’ve wasted time because it occurs to me that my spare time could have been spent pursuing accreditation as a genealogical researcher, something I’ve thought about doing for a long time. Maybe I had better not spend too much time thinking and writing about it, maybe I had better just do it before my encyclopedic brain diminishes any further.

Monday, July 12, 2010

A British Comedy

I have some favorite BritComs that I watch nearly every night. I like their sharp humor. I like the accent. I like the class consciousness that I don’t have to deal with here. I don’t like the way they portray Americans though. All Americans in BritComs are stupid. They swear often and offensively. They are rude, loud, and frequently childish. And no matter where they are supposed to be from, they all seem to have that Midwestern television accent which is so odd when they are supposed to be from Boston or New York or the South.

I’m revisiting the idea of class consciousness here though. I’ve met people who seem to think it matters how much education you have. They insist on asking. Then they seem to assume you are superior when you have more education than they have. It doesn’t matter that you know full well that they are smarter in every way than you are and that they have acquired some really valuable knowledge outside the classrooms you were stuck in for waaay too long. Some people try to upgrade their education—I’ve been hearing too many people saying they have a PhD when I know they didn’t finish. They tack on the letters “ABD” which stand for “all but dissertation” and hope the letters make people assume more than is the case.

When I was in Britain for some of that long, long period of schooling, I encountered the class consciousness one hot afternoon on a hillside in the Lake District. We were eating lunch, taking a break from Wordsworthian scholarship, and a professor from a British university started asking me about my day. Someone had let on that I was working my way through, and the winter term before, it had gotten pretty hectic because I was holding down two jobs while taking a full load of classes. Every day I got up pretty early, rode my bike up to the campus and balanced attending my classes with teaching the two classes the graduate office had allotted me. At 3 pm I had to be at the newspaper office where I was working as a proofreader and paste-up artist four hours a day. I rode home and did homework and graded papers until late. I got little sleep but had a great time anyway. I was rather proud of my efficiency and sense of enterprise that term.

However, one of the British university students was amazed at my tale. He made it clear that the idea of a university student actually having to work was not quite the thing. The next few days he made sure that everybody he talked to knew how to treat me in the future. One of the students from Belgium ate lunch with me the day after the next and told me to never mind the treatment I was getting. She said anybody with sense would admire me, but she didn’t think the particular Brit student who had tormented me would ever be able to understand. She made me feel much better, and I got the class thing into perspective again.

Now I like to watch it in action in the comedies. They know how to laugh at themselves, that’s for sure.

I wonder if I can get people here to laugh about their silly ideas of who is worth what. People are who they are, no matter how much education they have, what their jobs are, or what their parents were able to afford to do for them. Worth has to do with one’s interior, with who one is and how one treats other people.

Any other definition is farce.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Golden Rule

The Golden Rule is something I’ve struggled all my life to implement in my character, with a sad lack of results. It is not that I don’t love others; I do believe that as God is our Father, we are all brothers and sisters on earth, and as such I love people in general. I also love specific people, but I don’t serve people often or very well.

People around me love to help others. Part of me wants always to say no to offers of help, because I think something’s wrong with me if I cannot handle whatever life throws at me. I know that attitude isn’t logical, but we’re talking emotions here—instincts and core values and upbringing—stuff that is down so deep that you don’t question it unless it’s really starting to wreck your life. Or if it goes against what you learn is true, like the Golden Rule.

Part of me wants to say yes, because I have slowly learned the value of giving to other people. It is still hard to be on the receiving end, even when I know I am saying yes only for the sake of the good it does for other people to be able to help someone else, especially when I know I have frustrated my friends to their limits by saying no too many times.

Gradually I learned not to turn people down, and I have reaped a bountiful harvest of great dinners and snacks to the point that I feel the balance has become significantly one-sided. Now I am doing all the receiving and hardly any of the giving. I do help with dinners for people whenever I’m asked, but I feel that I should not have to be asked.

Case in point: one of my friends told me that in her morning prayers she always asks to be put in the way of someone that day to serve, and it always happens. Her stories are remarkable. I wish I had stories like that, but I never pray for and then watch for the opportunities, do I? That same friend told me that a woman we both know goes around our neighborhood finding out little or big needs among our neighbors and then doing something about meeting them, always anonymously (except that my friend found out and spilled the beans to me). I haven’t told anybody else though. Let her keep it up; it obviously is something that needs to be copied and multiplied. I have a couple friends who keep making me bread, soup, goodies, “I-made-too-much-for-dinner-can-you-use-this?” casseroles, and now I almost never say no. I feel greedy.

I need to feel guilty is what I need to feel. Guilty to the point that I start paying it back, paying it forward, serving others to whatever is my capacity until my capacity grows larger so I can do more. Something that holds me back is the old nervousness at the idea that someone might be as reluctant as I was to accept the service. Should I worry about that? Logically, I should not, but I do.

It is the same nervousness that takes hold of me when I think about asking any of my friends if they are interested in learning more about the LDS Church—because when I joined, it was after an initial resistance and reluctance to become associated with people that lots of other people didn’t like. However, when I compare that to the happiness and the many, many blessings that are mine because of joining the LDS Church, I wonder why I don’t want to share it with others. Logically you would think I would want everyone I knew to have the same great gift that I’ve been freely given.

I suppose I have such a vast core of selfishness in my character that the Golden Rule can barely penetrate my thick skin. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” If I keep chipping away at the crust, some day this might be characteristic of me, but it may take eons, miracles, the entire power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I know He can help me, but can I make myself ask?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Electronic Books vs. Bound Books

People are telling me they think bound books are going to become obsolete. Nonsense, say I!

Ok, there are some advantages to electronic books, so I will concede a few points:

• You can use the power of the computer to find a passage quickly.
• You can store thousands of books in relatively little space.
• The pages don’t wear out with use.
• Every book weighs the same—the reader is relatively light weight.
• The reader fits into a purse or pocket more easily than most books do.
• New technology is being developed all the time to improve the electronic readers and the books.
• Certain e-readers allow you to read in bright sunlight.

But look at these huge advantages for hard copy books:

• Books are easy for anybody over age four of any ability to learn to use.
• Your eyes don’t get as tired. The difference between 150 or so dpi on the electronic reader or computer screen and 1200 dpi in a book is pretty significant over time!
• You can read a paperback in the bathtub or pool or wherever, without risk of destroying the book if you accidentally get it a little wet.
• Books depend only on your muscle power to work, not on electricity.
• You can read any book in almost any weather.
• You don’t have to wait for a book to boot up, you just open it.
• You don’t have to learn any fancy shut-down routine for a book, just close it.
• You can flip back and forth between widely separated pages with ease and spontaneity.
• Good-quality books are durable, given reasonable care (they don’t crash or suddenly become unreadable because the file got corrupted).

Quality books will never be replaced by technology. There’s something physically satisfying about a great book with a beautiful cloth or leather cover, a stiff spine, and crisp, clean pages that fall open to your favorite scene. I’m always amazed that on Antiques Roadshow none of the books brings a high price like, say, a painting, or a piece of old furniture. The rarest books are not even close! But to me they are priceless.

That’s why I will never have great heirlooms to hand down to my children. I am rich in my books!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Caltiki and the Elevator

Memory is such an odd thing. Just when you start thinking it has closed the door on early memories, leaving them locked away in a place you cannot reach any longer, someone out of the blue gets in touch with you on Facebook and sends you the password to your shared secret elevator in the bedroom closet with space just big enough for two girls with wild imaginations and a propensity for finding how far they could test the gullible nature of the younger girl across the street.

We were not bullies. No, really. We were scientific, wanting merely to gain information for research purposes. No, really! We would have let her in on the secret, sometime. Really!! We did not mean for her to go home crying, not at all. Nine-year-old girls don’t have a highly developed sense of how far they can go before they’ve gone too far.

One “joke” started with the tv movie Caltiki, the Undying Monster. Made in 1959, it was shown on tv sometime in the early 1960s when I watched it. I was inspired by terror of the monster for years afterward, and Caltiki was a natural when we needed a monster to live in a subterranean duplicate house, reachable only by the secret elevator in my best friend’s closet. We carefully informed our younger friend that we were taking her by special permission to the secret house underneath the ground, which looked exactly like the house on ground level (we lived in ranch-style houses, all one level, and no kid on the street knew anything about basements). We said there was a great secret in the subterranean region that we were going to let her in on.

We squeezed into the closet and closed the doors. I can’t remember what gadgets we used for lights and sound, but we were prepared with our special effects to get the idea across that we were moving downward. We opened the doors. Our skeptical little friend immediately observed that this was the same room we had been in. We protested in our most persuasive manner that it was supposed to look that way.

We crept slowly out of the door and down the hallway. Pausing at my best friend’s parents’ bedroom door, we whispered that there was a monster behind the door, a monster that was blob-like and that engulfed its victims and digested them then and there. We pled for utmost silence in our movements. We slowly, carefully turned the doorknob. Our friend shrieked and dashed back into the safety of the closet in the other room. We stumblingly followed her and pushed the controls so the elevator would take us back to the safety of the ground floor. She said she was going to go home now, and she was going to tell her mother, and we were going to get into trouble for scaring her, and it was all a fake anyway. She dashed out of the closet and put her threats into action.

Oops. I hated getting into trouble, and my mother did not stand for me behaving remotely like a bully. I felt terrible, and I wished that we had not been so apparently convincing. My mother was furious with me. I wasn’t allowed to play with anybody for awhile. I remember thinking I would learn to have this kind of fun without being so convincing in the future, because it had to be more fun if everybody was in on the secret and acted together.

It was the beginning of my education in cooperative, rather than competitive, energy.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Last Reunion

This is the first year in fifteen or more that we have not been involved in an Independence Day reunion with my husband’s cousins. My husband is one of 20 in his generation, the grandchildren of an immigrant who changed his name to Charles. There were 18 grandsons and 2 granddaughters. Last year was the last reunion on this generational level. It’s the end of the era. Most of the cousins are grandparents; some are great-grandparents. One branch of the family tree has nearly 300 people in it. Two have around 100 people. One has only 30. Seven of the cousins have passed away now and interest was waning, especially on that large branch that has its own reunions.

One cousin used to host little get-togethers every Independence Day in his back yard under the huge spreading tree that shaded the entire back yard. We used to go there, sometimes watching the big parade first, bringing our contribution to the pot luck. The host always did sloppy joes. His brother always brewed root beer and made ice cream. Various relatives brought macaroni salad, potato salad, green salad, jello salad, fruit salad, and all kinds of salsas to go with the chips. Somebody brought candy to shoot out of a cannon for the little kids, who spent the first hour in the sandbox, the second hour climbing into and falling out of the tree, and the third hour eating candy. Then it was time to go home and get supper and have fireworks.

Somebody thought we ought to have huge reunions every five years. There had not been one for around ten years and maybe fifteen years before that one when the idea came up. We had two of those “every five years” reunions and then announced the end of the era.

It’s nice to be with these cousins. They are lovely people, all of them. But in big reunions you are usually either worried about the details you were put in charge of, or talking to the members of your own branch of the tree anyway, so you don’t really get to enjoy the largeness of the thing. You take all kinds of pictures and then get home and cannot remember the names of the people in them, and even if you enlarge the image all the way, you still can’t read their name tags.

The smaller reunions were great. You sat around in the shade of that huge tree and actually got to talk in depth with whichever cousins came. The food was always great. The root beer was always perfect. Then time took its toll and the cousins who hosted every year could no longer handle it. It was time to end that era.

We are at loose ends this year, and it is a let down all the way around.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Temper, Temper

I know, I know. I was pretty sappy yesterday about my home life. In the interests of a balanced report, I decided this morning to write about my journey away from my temper.

When I was young, I learned that the prevailing psychological thought was that people who are angry should learn to express it and thereby get it out of their systems. I don’t think that is true anymore. I think instead that people have to learn to control their tempers and replace anger with healthier emotions that take care of the situation in a better way.

I used to get mad at my family regularly. We had a family nickname: “Short Fuse Andrews” that fit me pretty well at times. I became adept at suppressing my anger and pretending it wasn’t there. I was able to suppress most of my strong emotions, not just anger, and it pretty well drove me crazy. I decided to go to counseling when I was an adult to learn better ways of handling my challenges.

One of the things I learned was that suppressing my emotions was not a good thing. But I still didn’t like expressing my anger. One time when I was young, my dad told me that I had the gift of a glib tongue, and when I was angry and taking it out on my siblings, my dad said I was good at tearing them to shreds with my words, and that that wasn’t a talent to be proud of. I still believe that.

There had to be a way to deal with anger without necessarily hurting other people by expressing it. After I had my own family, one thing I learned to say was that I was mad but that it didn’t change the way I felt about the person. I didn’t want my family to think that my temper changed my underlying love for them. I learned that people often think that that is so: that when you’re mad you no longer like the person you are mad at. That’s not true at all. You usually don’t get mad at people you don’t care about. It’s only the people you love who can get to you and push your buttons.

I realized that I had to get over my reactions, since I really couldn’t change the people around me. Initially it takes a lot of effort, but I could control my anger. I could tell myself that although this situation was something that made me mad, I wouldn’t go there. I would think things through. I would say only what would help the situation, not what I know full well would score me points at the expense of the other person.

My bishop once said, “Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?” Since we all know that most of our arguments in retrospect are about stupid things anyway, I thought about how much I needed to be right and decided it wasn’t all that often. Did stupid things matter that much? No.

So what about the things that matter that we disagree on? Obviously, I could control when I brought those things up, or how I responded when they came up without my help. I could think about how to express myself about how I felt on important issues and how to phrase things in non-threatening ways. I thought a lot about my “audience,” about the person I would be discussing these things with, and how to approach the different subjects in ways I knew would be all right with whichever person I had an issue with.

With co-workers, it was a lot harder than with family members. Co-workers are usually a mystery compared to your family, usually unpredictable, unless you’ve known them a very long time. Family you can figure out, most of the time.

The most important element after practicing self control is to practice apologizing when self control fails. The quicker I apologize, I have found, the faster things get resolved and the faster I get back into control of myself. I like things to be calm, so I like the results of apologies that consist half of rue and half an effort to understand the other person’s position. I’ve been rewarded most of the time for quicker apologies, so I have begun not to be afraid of trying that route first when things blow up.

I still have a temper, but much of the time I think it is under control. Maybe some day I will deserve a new nickname: “Calm Views Andrews”

Friday, July 2, 2010

There's No Place Like Home

We were talking last Sunday about the role of women in the modern world. Somebody read a quote by someone else that said women today expect to be able to take more time for themselves, for leisure and a break from their responsibilities.

Is this a generational divide? I don’t agree, and neither did most of the older women when we had this discussion. Do the younger women have a valid case for getting a break from their work? Or are we right that you really never escape your responsibilities—you embrace them and find how to make them fun so that you don’t need to get away.

Somebody said her daughter’s husband had been gone for almost a week on a business trip, and when he came back, her daughter said she wanted a week away like he had had, and the mother said she had been taken aback, thinking to herself, “But dear, your husband was not ‘away’ in the sense you want—he was working.” She said her daughters-in-law agreed with her daughter, that the young woman “deserved” a break from her responsibilities because of her husband’s trip. The mother did not agree but wisely did not say anything, allowing the younger people to learn their own way.

Because I do genealogy a lot, I find myself thinking a lot about women’s roles in the past. Depending on what class you were in, during the 19th century you might have been working every day of your life from the time you could do anything as a small child. Or you might have found yourself bound by rigid societal rules that let you do nothing more than visit and receive callers, write letters, direct the servants, and follow your husband’s rules. If you were luckier, you had some degree of autonomy, whether you were rich or poor.

I don’t think you were able to do a “get away” from your life back then. I think it’s a 20th-century idea. And I think women’s getaways with each other are a product of the last thirty years. These are nice things to do, if you are not neglecting something like your child or your spouse. I have gone out for the day with a friend, but never at the expense of my family members. I have demanded a time-out when my patience was completely gone, but only for an hour or two at most, that I remember. (It has been years since we have had those kinds of conflicts.)

People keep telling me and my husband that we are supposed to be going out on regular “dates.” We ignore them. We like to do things together, but we like don’t like leaving the others out of the fun. If they don’t want to come along, then we might go out alone together. Even for our wedding anniversary we have a very hard time thinking of something to do. Last time we ended up getting Subway sandwiches for everybody and bringing them back home to eat in comfort and quiet. We couldn’t think of a single thing we wanted to do by ourselves for the evening, so we elected to watch more Murder, She Wrote episodes with the others. Murder and mayhem! Happy anniversary to us!

I suppose if my household were actually full of chaos, mayhem, stress, and strains, then maybe I would want to get away from it all from time to time. If I had a husband who took off to have fun with friends for a week at a time, I would think I too should have the same opportunity. Maybe.

But I think I have a better deal than most people (I hope this isn’t too much bragging). I like my family members. We have a calm and happy life. We don’t have a lot of stresses and strains in our relationships with each other. We enjoy being together better than we enjoy being with other people. A getaway would be nothing more than an ordeal, waiting for it to be over so I could get back to where I like it best.

There’s no place like home for me.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Angela Lansbury

I thought I was philosophical last night; it turns out I was in critical mode. My son was watching DVDs of Murder, She Wrote episodes. I was watching Angela Lansbury act, or watching how she portrayed Jessica Fletcher, reflecting on her performance as compared to her performance as a 17-year-old in Gaslight, which I finally saw this past week, of a smart-mouthed, upstart maid.

Angela Lansbury is my favorite actress. She started out her career as more assured than I could imagine someone that young could possibly be. She was great. She was supposed to be self-assured, to contrast with the psychic disintegration of Ingrid Bergman’s character. Lansbury’s character was supposed to intimidate Bergman’s, and she was completely convincing. Of course this is also due to Bergman’s genius. Lansbury is also supposed to suggest, very subtly and delicately, the maid’s loose morals, and she walks a very fine line in doing so. It is an astonishingly powerful performance.

Another amazing performance is in a movie I don’t really like but am very glad I saw, The Manchurian Candidate. Don’t read this if you don’t want to read a spoiler for this movie. Angela Lansbury is completely amazing in this movie. She establishes herself as a normal mother through at least the first half of the movie, but in concert with the rest of the movie, she slowly lets you see that there is something not quite right underneath, that she has something sinister at her core, and when the complete revelation comes, it is powerfully shocking. She is so totally evil that you can’t believe this is Angela—our beloved Angela!—the enemy agent responsible for directing her brainwashed son to be a murderer. You realize with horror she has programmed him to murder his fiancĂ©e and prospective father-in-law, and that she is slowly readying him to assassinate political figures for her and her organization’s power over the American people.

It always amazes me that she never seemed to get starring roles in any “A” movies, but now it doesn’t matter. Her performances are available to us on video or DVD and we can enjoy her spoiled princess in Danny Kaye’s hysterical The Court Jester, the pitiful Sybil Vane in The Picture of Dorian Gray, and in Samson and Delilah, she plays Delilah’s sister, the first love of Samson, whom she betrays and is accidentally killed by. My next favorites are the movies of the 1970s, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, in which she takes a correspondence course in witchcraft and saves England from a Nazi invasion; Death on the Nile, in which she plays the drunken romance novelist who first realizes who the culprit is and gets killed just as she’s about to tell Poirot; and The Mirror Crack’d, in which she plays Miss Marple with just about the characterization she would give a few years later to Jessica Fletcher. I loved her in the film of Rosamond Pilcher's The Shell Seekers, and in Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris, based on a book I liked as a young girl.

I got to see Angela Lansbury when she performed with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in their Christmas concert of 2001. She was everything you expect: charming, gracious, completely professional, extremely talented, and although she was then 76 years old, she took care to ensure that her voice was just right on every number. (I had gone to see Frank Sinatra on his 75th birthday tour, and he was terrible most of the time—drunk, forgetting lyrics, letting his voice crack, rasping—it was painful to watch.)

Kudos to a terrific performer. Angela Lansbury should have gotten that Emmy all twelve times.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Gout?!

My big toes are hurting. My husband suggested I have gout.

GOUT?!

I thought that was an 18th-century disease of fat old rich men who drank too much liquor. I don’t drink liquor. I am definitely not a man. I am not rich, and neither is the food I eat. I am not old. Middle-aged, okay, but of course I think people used to age much more rapidly than in this century. Okay, I might be fat, but I walk my dog two miles five or six days a week. So no way.

I looked it up on several medical websites. It seems it can attack anyone with problems that lead to too much uric acid building up in the bloodstream, and conditions could leave little crystal deposits in joints, especially the metatarsals. Hm.

I decided to go with my favorite remedy from my quasi-hippie days of the early 1970s: a juice fast. Way back one summer when my friends and I used to spend weekends camping around in the Santa Cruz mountains and eating nothing but “natural” foods and both males and females in our group had long hair and wore hiking boots for 48 hours until time to go back to work on Mondays, we used to do these juice fasts now and then as a way to “purify” our bodies and free up our spirits from all the poisons created by eating meat and dairy products and especially processed food.

It makes me laugh now to think of all our inconsistencies. We bought Welch’s grape juice because it was somehow purer than any other kind of juice. We drank it for 24 hours and then had soup made of nothing but fresh vegetables from the alternative markets in Santa Cruz. I’m not sure how pure our bodies became, but we had great talks about philosophy until the early hours of the morning and then had lots of energy to go hiking again.

Anyway, I decided to drink water all day today and not eat. I have to report that my toes feel a lot better, but is that because of the water, or is it because I have been sitting with my feet up on the soft hassock half the day? Is a water fast as good as a Welch’s grape juice fast? If I wax philosophical in conversation tonight, we’ll know for sure.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Wooster and House

How does Hugh Laurie do it? I have been watching old Jeeves and Wooster videos on DVD and laughing at the inane personality bursting from Hugh Laurie’s depiction of Bertie Wooster. Two weeks ago I started watching him in House, where he plays a character so diametrically opposite Bertie in every way that it’s difficult to imagine that the actor is the same person. Of course he is not the same person at all. He is twenty years older, with twenty years of more experience, twenty years of more understanding of the human condition.

It’s a question almost as inane as Bertie Wooster’s personality. Duh. It’s what actors do. They portray characters who are not themselves. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking there is some correspondence between actors and characters, especially if we’ve been watching too much Harry Potter or too much Twilight or some other series in which the same actors carry the same characters for year after year after year.

It’s hard to watch characters come to life on the screen, watch them over and over until you know their every expression, and at the same time keep the disconnect between the characters and the actors in mind when you see the actors in person, and those same expressions are flitting across their faces.

From actors I make the leap to friends and family. I can study their faces until I know every expression, but I still cannot know them fully. I cannot even understand my own family members, even though I have spent a lot of time trying to get relatives to tell me their life stories with more or less success. People do love to talk about themselves, and I’m one who loves to listen to their stories over and over.

I spent one whole summer listening to my grandpa tell me stories of his life while I took extensive notes because he wanted me to write his biography. Something was missing and I wrote no more than a couple of pages without being able to get a start. It took another fifteen years and his death to allow me to collect the information about him that filled in the hole that gaped for me when I tried to write before. I still did not know what truly happened, and there was a lot I left out, but I did write a decent seventy or so pages that helped people somewhat get an idea of what he did and the way he thought.

Back to actors, you always read in interviews that they hate being pigeon-holed or type-cast in one kind of role, and Hugh Laurie’s divergent creations are a great lesson in not judging people, as well as another proof that nobody can ever truly know anybody else. We cannot even know ourselves perfectly; only God can do that. But we can listen and learn as much as possible—we can mourn over the tragedies and laugh at the comedies.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Dying Branches and Family Trees

I can’t help myself—I have to write about this family I’ve been researching, even though I wrote about them just yesterday. They deserve a memorial, because this branch might be dying out. Here’s the story.

John and Barbara grew up a few streets apart in a suburb of Manchester, England. They were the same age and both sets of parents worked in the cloth manufacturing industry at the very dawn of the industrial age. Probably the parents had started as cottage weavers, but with the invention of steam power and things being mechanized as fast as inventors could figure out a way to do it, they moved into town and began to specialize. John and Barbara had a little schooling and by their mid-teens were working alongside their parents.

Money was probably pretty scarce for the families. John and Barbara were not able to marry until they were 23 years old, and within a few months they spent their hard-earned money to buy emigrants’ passage to New York. Their eldest son was born a few months after they had arrived and had gotten work in a cotton and woolen mill near Philadelphia. Barbara was busy with babies every two years for ten years, and John got work in various mills, moving the family within Pennsylvania, to Massachusetts, back to Pennsylvania, to Maryland, and finally to New Jersey. The boy born in Massachusetts had died when he was about ten months old, so they had four children. The Civil War came along, and John served as a First Lieutenant in the New Jersey 1st Cavalry Volunteers, Company D. Before the war was over, the last daughter was born, six years after her next older brother.

John decided they must try the West, and he made his way across the country with a wagon train, ending up in Oregon. There he founded a woolen mill in Brownsville, and Barbara and the five children, and several friends who wanted to work in the mill, prepared to join him there. They sailed from New Jersey to Panama, crossed the Isthmus on mule back, and sailed up to Coos Bay, stopping at San Francisco on the way. Sadly, Barbara contracted malaria in Panama and died a few weeks after getting the children safely to their father in Brownsville, Oregon. She was only 38. John lost heart and left the mill. He moved the children to that little town on the Columbia River where eventually his three remaining sons would be buried. He became the town’s photographer. He lived only nine more years, dying when he was only 48.

His eldest son, William, never married. He is the one I talked about yesterday, who worked as a laborer until his death when he was 67.

The next son, Benjamin, had that very odd marriage to Felicia who left him after 31 years and married someone else (I found the second husband after writing about them). Ben and Felicia had two sons, Ralph and Paul. Paul died at the age of four. Ben died at the age of 75. His son Ralph died at the age of 58, leaving two sons. Ralph’s sons, Don and John, died at the ages of 50 and 54, respectively. Wow. Did these men have short-lived genes or what? I don’t know whether Don and John had children. I think at least one of them did, because in the hazy part of my memory when we used to visit Ralph’s widow once a year (our yearly trip across the Golden Gate Bridge!), I think I remember meeting her two grandchildren once, children about my age or a little older.

The next sibling was Sarah, who married Clark and had two daughters and then a son. The second daughter, Beatrice, died at the age of five. The eldest daughter, Claudia, became a music teacher and never married or had children. The son, Clint, was epileptic and cared for his widowed mother until she died at the age of 74. Clint died soon after their mother, when he was 45. He had not married nor had children. Claudia died when she was 79.

After Sarah came Joseph. He’s the one who married for the first time when he was 56, to a woman who was about 50, and they didn’t have children together. He died when he was 81 years old.

Finally there was Laura. She married Ferdinand, and they had two daughters, Beatrice and Ruth. The elder married when she was in her mid-thirties; the younger never married. Beatrice had one son and died when she was 49. Laura died ten years later, when she was nearly 83. Ruth was a nurse and lived to be 83. Beatrice’s son had six children. I’m one of them.

If Ben’s grandsons, Don and Ralph, had children, then they and we are the last of this family. There are probably only eight of us in my generation, and from six of us there are only four more in the next generation. A shrinking branch!

In summary, John and Barbara had six children, seven grandchildren, three great-grandchildren, eight great-great grandchildren, and four great-great-great grandchildren. The trend doesn’t seem to be toward growth in the family tree. Where are all the branches? This tree seems to be growing like a bumpy shrub or something. Maybe the next generation will have only two in it, full circle back to John and Barbara’s generation. And then the tree will disappear. Is that sad?

Naaaaah.

Speaking of dying trees, or not, you should see two of my trees in the front yard. A couple years ago, our next door neighbors left and the man who owned the house came and sprayed the weeds from time to time that summer. He used this powerful herbicide that is supposed to keep anything from growing for years. The wind blows all the time here, and that stuff blew over the little fence and through the west half of the Macintosh apple tree. It hit the new little honey locust tree that our daughter and granddaughter gave my husband for his birthday. By the end of the summer, the two trees looked pretty darned sick. A year ago in the spring, the honey locust looked dead, and the apple tree was having a very hard time of it. It put out sick-looking little leaves that withered but somehow didn’t quite die until winter. We cut off the honey locust and trained up one of the suckers out of the roots to make a new tree. It's skinny, but it's doing well. This spring only half the apple tree leafed out, and those leaves look sick. A local expert told my neighbor to tell us to cut out all the dead stuff and not give up hope. This week we cut out all the dead stuff, and now we have a half a Macintosh apple tree. It looks terrible! We’re hoping to train some suckers to become branches out the west side of the tree. I decided I’d better put fertilizer on it every week—talk to it encouragingly every morning after my walk—you know, whatever I can think of to give it every chance to recover.

Like we did with the apple tree and the honey locust when it looked like they were dead, when your family is severely stressed, you sometimes do something radical and you always pray. If your family is dying out, it might not matter at all. The thing is, families are eternal and so it doesn’t matter whether a tree branch here or there stops growing: you have a responsibility to do everything you can to keep your section healthy while it’s here and then pray that it will reach its full potential in the hereafter.

I’m pretty sure that John and Barbara are proud of the lot of us.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Debunking Family History

One day in Oregon, we drove to a small town on the Columbia River. We rolled in, checked in at our motel, and my sister-in-law and I went out to a cemetery where I had information that my grandma’s three beloved uncles were buried.

I had heard stories of these uncles. They helped raise their baby sister, my great-grandmother. One uncle was supposed to be an operator of a riverboat on the Columbia River. The navigation at the mouth of the Columbia where it flows into the Pacific Ocean is supposed to be very tricky, very dangerous. I had formed romantic ideas of his very dangerous occupation. I don’t remember hearing much about the occupations of the other uncles, but they were all supposed to be extraordinary people.

However, in the spirit of the appraisers on Antiques Roadshow who delight in telling people how wrong their ideas are about their inherited wealth, I found the truth about these uncles and their occupations, and a little bit more.

The uncle who was supposed to have been the lifelong bachelor steamboat operator turns out to have started his working life as a carder in a woolen mill when he was a very young man, and from then on he is described as nothing more romantic than a laborer, or a farm laborer. Uh oh, this is sounding downright dull.

The second of the uncles started out promising: as an 18-year-old he was a fireman on a steamboat on the Columbia River. This sounds like our man. Ten years later he is described as an engineer, but what kind is left to the imagination. Maybe a train engineer? A steamboat engineer? Thereafter he was a fruit tree farmer on the old Columbia River highway near Astoria. He married and had two children, one of whom died young.

Then, twenty to thirty years later, something weird happened, and I wonder if anyone will ever know what it was. In 1900, a census taker came around the farm on June 8th, and he wrote down Benjamin as the head of the household, Felicia as his wife, and their son Ralph, age 19, a teacher. It all looked perfectly normal. But the next week, on June 16th, a census taker inside the city limits enumerated the same family at a different location, with some strange differences. Ben was just “B” and the boxes for his parentage and place of origin are filled with one large word across the page: “unknown.” His occupation is listed as “auctioneer” and it says he’s unemployed for five months. It says he owns the home, but it’s mortgaged. The information for Felicia is more complete, but neither of their birth year boxes contains accurate information. Their son Ralph is listed here as being “at school” and unemployed for four months. I wonder if this all means that the parents had bought Ralph a house in town. If there were no more strange census returns, that’s what I would conclude.

However, ten years later things get a lot stranger. On April 26th, the census taker came around to the farm and wrote down Benjamin and Felicia and all the correct information about them. They had been married 31 years. The third person living with them is Ben’s older brother, William, working as a farm laborer. Now Ben owns the farm outright, with no mortgage on it. Things look pretty prosperous.

The next week, on May 2nd, in Santa Clara County, California, another census taker found Felicia as the head of a household consisting of herself and her son, Ralph, who is a professor at the high school. Felicia is employed as the house mother of the “clubhouse.” What does this mean? Has she figured out how to clone herself? Did she move to California and get a job within six days? What happened to her and Ben?

The next year, she is found on a passenger list for the ship Asia disembarking at San Francisco, having come from Hong Kong, China, and planning to return to Portland, Oregon. Did she and Ben decide she should have lots more freedom of movement? Or was the truth that their marriage broke up after Ralph was grown and established?

The final blow comes on 15 January 1919, when she is reported to have married in Clatsop County, Oregon, groom unknown. I haven’t found a record of hers and Ben’s divorce. He didn’t die until 1927. Did she commit bigamy? Hm. It is quite interesting to come across the skeletons in the closet that the older members of our family never told us.

In January 1920, the census taker finds Ben living in a large rented house in Astoria, where he is the head of the household and says he is single, with 17 people renting rooms from him in a sort of boarding house called “Astoria Land Home.” His older brother William had died three years before.

Their younger brother, Joseph, remains something of an enigma. He escapes being enumerated on the census until he has retired, so nothing is known of his occupation. He did not marry until he was 56 years old, and his wife had been married before and was around 50 years old when they married. They owned a home in Portland in 1920 and were still there in1930. Joseph died in the Santa Clara Valley of California before 1940. His wife died in Portland two years later.

The graves I found were in Joseph’s name. He must have bought the lots when the eldest brother, William, died in 1916. William had no other family. Then Ben died in 1927, apparently still estranged from his son and ex-wife, because he is buried next to his older brother. When Joe died twelve years later, his wife buried him there beside his two brothers, and whoever was left after that buried her there too, in that little town on the Columbia River, several hours’ drive from where they lived most of their lives.

It is not the story I thought I was going to find. It’s a lot more human, and it has a lot of sadness in it.

Monday, June 21, 2010

No Stone

We’ve been cemetery hunting. I decided one rainy afternoon when we held a mini family reunion at a restaurant in Portland that afterwards we would program “Jane” our GPS to take us to the cemetery where my Grammy’s baby boy was buried, the uncle who lived only a couple of weeks. I was curious to see his grave, since when I was a child hanging around my older relatives, they never spoke of Earl and nobody I knew ever had visited his grave.

We found the cemetery easily. It is one of those that some kind genealogically-minded soul has catalogued and put online, so I had a map of all the graves and the correct coordinates for the one I sought.

It should have been easy: count four rows from Holgate and then five plots in from the edge. But old graves tend to shift or something, and there were several spaces with no stones or signs that they had been used, and they weren’t reflected on the map. It was raining (of course, this is Oregon after all), and I was wearing sandals, and my feet were getting muddy. I couldn’t find any trace of the grave for the baby.

Perhaps my grandparents, just 21 and 23 years old and with a toddler daughter, were too poor to afford a gravestone at the time their baby died. Perhaps as the years passed, and the jobs were scarce, and they moved a lot, and there were more and more children to provide for, it was less and less a priority to mark the place.

A few years ago when I was working and we could spend money on pretty much anything we wanted to, I would have immediately ordered a modest little stone to mark this place. But the economy has tanked, and although they say it’s recovering, I haven’t. I am not working and we are on a very tight budget, and the place will have to remain unmarked. I can’t see my aunts and uncles wanting to buy a marker for the brother they never knew when their parents didn’t mark the place or even visit it.

At least it is recorded on the Internet for those who seek him:
R.I.P. Earl Lester Read, born and died in January 1914.

Monday, June 14, 2010

No Mo' At Mo's

They’ve gone and messed with Mo’s chowder. I think.

After having bowls of chowder at different places this week, I say that Mo’s is scoring at the bottom of the chowder sweepstakes. How sad is that? Mo’s used to be the go-to place for clam chowder in the Northwest. No longer. It didn’t even taste all that good.

For one thing, they put way too much bacon in it. It tasted like bacon, not clams. For another, they seem to use little or no cream. I love cream and should never have it, so I usually know when I’m getting the contraband stuff. The chowder at the Flying Dutchman had cream in it. Definitely! Mo’s I don’t think so.

There were little or no vegetables in Mo’s chowder. Now, Mo’s never had much of a vegetable presence, but a little green onion or a little celery goes a long way in chowder. Nope. Again, the other contenders had some fresh stuff while Mo’s was lacking. Salt is another thing I’m not supposed to eat, but salt-free chowder is bland. The chowder at Mo’s was not salted enough, if at all.

Why did the chowder at Mo’s make me burp all night? The others never did that. I want to eat my chowder and be done with it, not taste it for hours afterward, especially if I did not enjoy it all that much at the time, thank you. Cook it right so that it does not haunt the diners who eat it.

The very best clam chowder has to have these things to be right, in my book: plenty of clams, milk and just enough cream to taste, potatoes, bits of yellow or white onion and green onion, a little celery, some herbs, maybe a secret ingredient or two.

Some people like a tiny bit of shredded carrot, primarily for color. A dash of paprika does the same job. I think Mo’s spices on the top include paprika. Mo’s always puts in a pat of butter after the chowder is in your bowl. It’s exactly the right touch when the rest of the chowder is right too.

Was I having an off day and Mo’s just got unluckily in the way that day? It surely is popular, with lines out the door even when the restaurant on the same street with the same view and the same general menu is nearly empty.

I guess you’ll have to see for yourself. Me, I’m going back to that place where I know I tasted the cream. Nothing like contraband for dinner!

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Fish Are Biting

Why is commercialism and materialism so very dominant in our culture today? Everything seems to be commercialized; everything seems to shout that acquiring material possessions is the be-all and end-all of our existence. This is very apparent when one is touring. Tourists are expected to buy lots and lots of junk, somehow to distill all their experiences into pieces of kitsch or clothing with place names.

Cannery Row in Monterey is one such place. I had no thoughts about what it might be like before going there. I suppose I had been there as a young child, but I have no memory of it. I know it was where the sardine canning companies were located until the collapse of the industry due to overfishing, and somehow I expected something of that history to have been preserved and made museum-like in freezing a time and space that no longer exist. However, if there are any vestiges of that past left, they are hidden in the shadows of the tourist shops, restaurants, upscale clothing stores, kayaking offers, and other commercial enterprises designed to lure the tourists in to spend money. In a way, I suppose, the area is what it always was: the commercialism of the sardine industry that led to nearly making the fish extinct is the same commercialism of the tourist industry, although I doubt they could ever “overfish” the people willing to come and be pleasantly entertained.

The bait is too good.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Spanish Missions in California

All school kids in California spend part of fourth grade learning about the Spanish missions founded by Father Junipero Serra in the 1770s. I learned about them way back in the dark ages when dresses were mandatory for girls and if you were caught wearing shorts under your dress so that you could hang upside-down on the monkey bars at recess, you got sent home. That’s why my friends and I spent most recesses exercising our imaginary horses around and around the fields, galloping, cantering, trotting, changing leads, and all the other horsey things we could find in books, or that some of us gleaned from the rare, high privilege of riding an actual horse. But I digress, as usual.

Now, for those who have known nothing about Father Serra since that last lesson in the fourth grade eons ago, you might be as pleasantly surprised as I was to find out that the Pope beatified him in 1988—isn’t that great? Our own California saint-in-the-making. I had visited a number of the missions he founded, because my parents loved to take us places lots of weekends and for short vacations several times a year. Mission San Juan Bautista was my favorite, not because Alfred Hitchcock set part of Vertigo there although that is now one of the reasons—when I was young and we went there, they had a life-sized model horse in the stables, and I got to get up on on it! Was I thrilled! The only thing that could have made it better would have been if I had been allowed to wear pants, but back then, girls had to wear dresses everywhere except in their own back yards or at the beach it seemed. Mission San Carlos Borromeo (at Carmel) is a new experience for me. Father Serra is buried here. The church is lovely and peaceful; it ranks the status of a minor basilica because of the burial here. I walk out into the gardens, and there are a couple prickly pear cacti with trunks three feet thick, they are so old! There is a cypress tree and a cedar that must have been here when Father Serra was here. They are venerable trees.

Then I turn the corner and see what takes me back to childhood and my youthful feelings of repugnance when I learned the fuller story of Father Serra. Even though political correctness and the awareness of the rights of native Americans was not yet fashionable, I had long been siding with the Indians, as we called them, in every cowboy movie I’d seen up to the age of nine. Those feelings were reinforced profoundly when I learned what Father Serra and his cronies had done to the native Californians. There are thousands of them buried around the mission grounds, but only a few of the graves are marked. It filled me with sadness that these peaceful people had to suffer brutal subjugation at the hands of the Spanish padres. Back when I was a child and learned about the one culture being lost as the other took over, I wished somehow there could have been cooperative coexistence.

I wish it could be so still—that we could appreciate each other. That we could peacefully coexist on this earth while we enrich each other with different ways of doing things, not fighting over which is better.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Trees and Prayers

June 5th.
I was thinking about prayer stories as we were looking at Joshua trees on the desert today. It is a sad thing to me that many people today have never had the depth of understanding that the pioneers crossing those same deserts had, so that when they saw the trees that perpetually hold up their arms, they naturally named them “Joshua Trees.” If people today know about Joshua at all, they think of the battle of Jericho and maybe can hum the song. There is a richness to having the background to fill in the story about Joshua praying with his arms uplifted, and the profound effect it had on the children of Israel.

June 6th.
From that subject I naturally turn to trees in general. I like trees. I especially like trees in California.


We had a fan palm in our yard as I was growing up. It looked like this one. It was a baby when we first planted it, only a couple of feet high. We always seemed to have to pose in front of it for Easter pictures when we were wearing our best clothes, or graduations, or other occasions like that. When we moved, it was a number of feet high. Nothing says “You’re in California” like palm trees, huh? Well, we happened to drive down the street where the house is that I am talking about, and here is the fan palm, very tall and all grown up. I cannot express how strange it was to see this tree, alien and towering. It doesn’t help that the house looks entirely different. The garage has been turned into a room. The big old walnut trees are all gone. The pyracanthus bushes are gone. Only the roof is the same.

The other trees I love about California are the oaks. There are a lot of species of oaks native to California, but my favorite is the valley oak. I love the look of valley oaks dotting golden hillsides. They make me think of Spanish haciendas of the earlier history of California, and I picture romantic scenes of vaqueros on horseback with their saddles decked out in silver dashing about the landscape.


The groves of eucalyptus trees smell to me like my youth. The time they were introduced to California is up for debate, one story being they were brought from Australia by Sir Joseph Banks, a royal botanist with the Cook expedition of 1770, and another story saying it was gold miners of 1849 through the 1850s who brought them. They are now known to cause ecological damage in a number of ways, and it would be better, say the scientists who know about these things, if the eucalyptus groves could be replaced by the native oaks. But I still love that aroma.

But by far the best trees in California to me are the giant redwoods. We are going to see them in a few days. They are the oldest and tallest trees on earth; they are the most majestic of trees in the world. They grow only in the narrow strip of land along about 400 miles of Pacific coastline in northern California and Oregon.

Now that we have seen these trees (obviously I wrote this blog over a period of several days!), I have to explain this photograph. I lay down on the needles at its base and took the picture straight up. The needles are one of the softest beds I think I have ever lain on. I could have easily taken a nap there with that giant standing guard at my head.

There is something cathedral-like, something divine in a grove of trees. It cannot have been an accident that Joseph Smith was in a grove of trees when he saw the Father and the Son. Trees are inspiring to me.



Friday, June 4, 2010

People and Pigs

I was reading Jane Austen’s letters and came across this statement at the end of the 2 Dec 1798 letter: “My father is glad to hear so good an account of Edward’s pigs, and desires he may be told, as encouragement to his taste for them, that Lord Bolton is particularly curious in his pigs, has had pigstyes of a most elegant construction built for them, and visits them every morning as soon as he rises.”

It reminded me strongly of the P.G. Wodehouse stories about Clarence Threepwood, the Earl of Emsworth, and his prize pig, the Empress of Blandings, and the rivalry he has with his neighbor over whose pig is the best. I wonder if Jane Austen’s neighbor had that kind of relationship with his pigs, and whether P.G. Wodehouse ever read her letters when her grand-nephew first published this particular one, and whether it inspired him to create the silly Earl and his prize pig.

I don’t have time to write more about this just now, but I hope to add something to it later on. I just couldn’t resist sharing it immediately. Doesn't it cheer you up to find people behaving like that? It does me!

Monday, May 31, 2010

In the Great War

For Memorial Day I’d like to talk about my grandfather. I’ve taken all day to put this together. I had to do some research, and naturally, it made me get sidetracked into reading a lot more things than were relevant to this subject, but all of them were interesting!

Grandpa served in the infant United States Air Service, the World War I forerunner of the Air Force. Before 1914, my grandfather and some associates had formed a company to produce the first commercial dirigibles (blimps) in the U.S., and when the country entered the War, they sold their company to the government and received officer training in return. Grandpa and his brother Roger went to France as lieutenants in the Air Service in the spring of 1918. I don’t know what exactly he and Roger did, but Grandpa was based at Issoudun, right in the center of France, and left us a large stack of photographs, among which are definitely some examples of reconnaissance reporting.

Because he was a machinist for the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad company in the decade before the war, I always thought he was part of the large maintenance crew for the aeroplanes, but one photo shows him in a group of pilots, so perhaps he flew on reconnaissance missions. Besides, were maintenance men ever officers? These reconnaissance pilots were incredibly brave, sneaking through the lines and either trying to keep the sun behind them as they approached their target areas, or trying to fly so low that nobody saw them until too late to do anything about it. The US Expeditionary Forces depended on them and their photographers to supply visuals of everything the enemy was doing and all the terrain they would need to cover. I saw a picture of one photographer leaning over the side of the plane behind the pilot, with a long, silver colored box pointed at the ground. It looked nothing like a camera that I recognized, but that’s what it was.

Grandpa became very sick during the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic and was sent to Monte Carlo, Monaco, to recover. I had a photograph that he took of Prince Albert’s yacht, but I cannot find the photograph today to scan and post it.

After the war was over and the brothers’ terms of service completed, they returned to the States. They vowed to each other that they would never fly in an airplane again for the rest of their lives. Roger got over whatever horror inspired the pact, but Grandpa never set foot in an airplane again.

I wonder who has the records of the 2nd Corps, Air Service today? I would like to know more about what Grandpa and Uncle Roger did to defend the free world from the tyranny that started the Great War.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Blow to Genealogists

A friend of mine called me to ask about how to set up a database to store all her current family’s information for their upcoming family reunion. Lots of red flags popped up as she was describing the book her cousin was putting together on the extended family. They were collecting all the names and birthdates and birth places, the marriage dates and places, and the latest death information as well. And not only this kind of usual genealogical information, but also details of people’s awards and achievements, schools, jobs, hobbies, interests, military service, pets, and the list went on and on. It was a great idea—for a pure-minded genealogist, that is.

Unfortunately, nowadays we no longer live in a world where people can publish these detailed records without a terrible risk. There are identity thieves, sexual predators, people enslaved by drugs, people caught by pornography, people entangled in every other criminal activity, and they may be in any family anywhere. Your aunt or cousins may be hiding one from the knowledge of the rest of the family because of shame. And you are going to give them a detailed bio of your whole family? No, that’s not a good idea.

I advised my friend that if she participated in the book at all, supply only names—give no dates, no places, no other information about the family at all, not of any kind. It is a serious blow to genealogists that families have to protect themselves and especially their children, but who could seriously do anything else, given the realities of this world?

There are ways to get around this problem for the genealogist. Mostly they involve doing a lot of research on and talking with the person with whom you think you’ll share genealogy. Then you have to develop a sixth sense for when to exercise caution.

My basic cautions are these: never post anything about living persons online, unless you can be absolutely sure your website is secure and memberships are invitation-only, and you personally know all the members. Never share more than names online when you are reasonably certain of the security, and you know how those names are going to be used. Exchange a lot of emails with a newly-discovered “cousin” who shares your interest in a common ancestor before exchanging current family information, and then only names. Ask your relatives to keep your family out of online genealogies and published collections of descendants of a common ancestor.

These tips will not stop a determined person from obtaining information about you and your family, but they will help you keep your family safe from casual, easy access.

Don’t stop doing genealogy, but do be safe out there!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Flower Show

Every year we decorate the graves of our kin for Memorial Day. Because we have to visit several cemeteries that are miles and miles apart, this usually takes two days, the Saturday and the Monday of the Memorial Day weekend. First we go decorate my husband’s son’s grave. We always put something on his ex-wife’s grave too, ostensibly on behalf of his daughter. It’s a good exercise in forgiveness every year, a tiny gesture that says, Let’s not hold onto the bitterness of the past; let’s enjoy flowers and beauty together.

Then we hike across the hill one row over to decorate his grandparents’ graves. The grandfather used to grow prize-winning flowers. I wonder if any of ours would be near his standard. Probably not! Another row over from them lie the grandmother’s parents’ graves. Then starts the conversation where we revisit the controversies. The grandmother always denied that her father was a polygamist. But his gravestone is engraved with not only his information, but that of his first wife too, and her death date is four years after his second marriage. Nearby is the big gravestone for his second wife, who happened to have been married to a man who died before she married this great-grandfather of my husband. So both of his grandmother’s parents had first spouses, and we always discuss how disgruntled she was because of that fact.

Now we hike over another steeper hill to the final row where the great-great grandmother’s grave lies. She was a member of the infamous Willie Handcart Company of 1856. She was 53 years old at the time, and she was apparently something of a rebel. She had been born not far from Stonehenge in England and had played among the stones as a child. She had grown up, borne an illegitimate child and kept him herself to raise, against all the custom of the time, and she had married instead of being “ruined” as they used to say in those days. When the Mormon missionaries appeared in her town (Bath, we think), she and her son joined the Church. Her son emigrated while she got married and adopted a little girl who was, according to the family lore, the illegitimate daughter of a servant. Her husband died in 1854, so she began to arrange for herself and the little daughter to join her son in America. She joined the ill-fated company and under her breath complained about the conditions. When things got really, really bad and people were dying by the dozens, she is reputed to have sung to herself the refrain from “Come, Come Ye Saints,” only she changed it from “All is well, all is well,” to “Egad, all is bad.” But she and the daughter made it safely, and she lived another thirty years in feisty independence.

From this cemetery (which is 90 miles from our home) we drive to another one 45 miles away. Here we have my husband’s parents, his father’s first wife who died young, and two of his older half brothers. They are all in a row, so I bend and drop our cut flowers, usually irises, but some years also peonies and roses, in each metal vase as we walk down the row, and my husband fixes pots of chrysanthemums on the verge of each stone. My sister-in-law plunks down her little jelly glasses full of pansies that she has plucked that morning. We stand back and admire the flowers. We exclaim in consternation when we realize that the two brothers, both veterans of World War II and the Korean War, do not have flags on their graves as my father-in-law, a veteran of World War I, does. Why were they missed? They have military stones with their ranks and everything on them. The cemetery changed hands from a local family to a national company two years ago. We lament the lower quality of care this cemetery is getting now.

Our last stop is another hour away, a cemetery on the outskirts of a small mountain town. It is always decorated so densely that my mother calls it the Flower Show. Here we have my husband’s other grandparents, and the maiden aunt who helped to raise him and who helped bring the two of us together. There is also her little sister, who died at the age of two weeks back in the early years of the twentieth century when there was nothing that could be done for babies with certain defects. Further down the row on the other side lie this grandmother’s parents, emigrants from Scotland in the early 1850s.

The Scottish grandfather was a successful miner as well as a sheep man, and his headstone is very ornate to reflect his prosperity, I suppose. It is a source of frustration to me that the way it faces makes it possible to take a beautifully clear photograph of his side, but the other side with his wife’s information is always shadowed and I never have been successful in getting a clear picture of that side. I have tried the strategic use of flash, but I haven’t gotten it to work right yet. Either it washes out all definition, or if I aim to the side to make shadows, too much of the wording goes blurry. One of these years I’ll be lucky or maybe I’ll learn how to take pictures in more difficult conditions. Maybe someone will tell me what I’m doing wrong.

It’s a very long day when we do all three cemeteries. Usually we break them up, as I said. This year we did only the first two because of our unusually long cold spell this spring: Monday has to be dedicated to putting the plants in our garden because it’s supposed to be good weather. I think the kindred dead will not mind. They were attuned to the weather in their day too.