Hello Black Sheep, it’s been a while…

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PD_0161You may recall my recent proclamation:  “Sis Hit the Jackpot.”  Toward the end of last year Sharon managed to score a half dozen tubs full of “stuff” from an elderly Aunt’s house.  So far the “yield” has not disappointed.  All sorts of photos and memories are crammed into the boxes within boxes.  The other day, gold was struck in the bottom of Tub #3.  It was there that a cousin we had lost was suddenly found and accounted for.

Danny’s disappearance from our home state (and pretty much the face of the earth) was explained with the contents of a worn legal sized envelope.   A wad of old newspaper clippings from the 60s unfolded the story of what must have been a terribly painful chapter for one branch of our family. 

Mom note: I don’t think Aunt SueEllen cared a wink about “concealing” this family skeleton.  I really believe she just never got around to looking through this insurmountable pile of “stuff.” Besides, I don’t think “Danny” ever won any familial popularity contests.

At first glance under current  standards of morality, the whole ruckus seemed kinda silly. Danny hadn’t fallen into a mysterious sink hole or been filched by space monsters, he was in fact removed (relocated might be a nicer way to put it) for his own good.   To a modern observer, banishment could seem like an “over reaction” on the part of his staunchly Republican, cigar smoking, politically influential and highly conservative dad.  But once put into context the horrific story became crystal clear.

Let me explain

Revealed on those crumbly old pages was that daddy’s little darling was involved in one of those “Hippy sit-in protest things.” It was a distasteful act~ rife with disrespect of his family and their social standing.  But hey, come on, he was barely out of his teens. And, granted, this took place at Dad’s Alma Mater~ which Danny probably wasn’t smart enough to get into on his own merits (and thus rode the coattails of his father’s Magna-Cum-Status).

So what if Danny’s little “episode” was embarrassing to his family and mocked all that assured him the right to behave so ridiculously in the first place?  How could it have possibly been made into such a big deal?  Well, for that we look to the back story and the facts of the matter:   Danny’s father was very big in politics.  And as the History Channel now tells us the Cuban Missile Crisis  actually panned out to be a big deal…

Seriously?  Danny’s family all lived on farms in Indiana for Pete’s sake.  The Indy 500 sure was a far cry from Fidel’s rockets or those Kennedy boys.

The simple truth was that Danny was in a little deeper than a disruption at the country club. Seems ol’ Danny had always been quite the loose canon.  Growing up he could have been easily described as a boy of privilege who never really appreciated what had been handed to him.  He left small town Indiana for the fancy far away University at a time in history when free love and “self expression” squared off with a nasty oversees war. In those times the emotional gauge of our nation was running  hot.   Hair was long and even “peaceful” tempers were short.  The Indochina “conflict” in Vietnam was  devouring young men by the thousands. Meanwhile many of their own high school classmates were safely in dorm rooms on campus protesting for “peace.” Everything and everywhere was a powder keg politically.

Danny wanted a little attention, a shot at campus fame.

When he decided to join a league of “enlightened individuals who sought peace for the downtrodden” he was pledging allegiance with a bunch of other rich kids who were flirting with the 1960s era equivalent of the Taliban.  The “sit in” that they orchestrated at their prestigious University garnered national attention.  What soon followed involved arrests and charges of treason and other not-so-nice accusations. Danny put his own life and that of his family in real danger.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first time Danny had made a “scene.”  He had rolled past several earlier brushes with the law. Petty little embarrassments like possession charges, under age drinking and reckless driving and motorboat operating.

Within family circles there were always whispers of some darker happenings too~about some poor girl at a party and Danny being…well…Danny.

I recall seeing him once when he was “secretly” within our state boundaries for my Great Grandpa’s birthday.  When I asked one of my young aunts who he was she commented:

“That’s Danny, he’s a real Creep. Stay clear of him if you know what I mean.” 

I didn’t know what she meant, but it sounded bad, so I took her at her word and stayed glued to my Dad’s side for the duration of the day’s festivities.

Turns out that my Uncle was able to pull some strings and cut a deal with the FBI.  Yes, I said that.  It went that far.  Indiana didn’t want him around, so it was agreed that Danny would be better suited to a life outside of the Hoosier state.  As far away as land could separate him, his dad sent him off to a remote little coast to set up trade as an asparagus farmer.  Back to his agricultural roots.  Somewhere far enough away from everybody else that he would have to “sit” pretty loudly for anyone to notice he was protesting something.  It was for his own good.  It kept him out of prison.

Stupid kid.  Powerful Dad.  Lucky break.  Sort of.

There are many ways a parent can lose a child.  All of them are dreadful.  No matter what the situation is, no matter how quick or protracted, the pain of losing a child  is said to be immeasurable.  I think that loosing one to their own hurtful decisions, choices, or madness is probably the worst loss of all of the unthinkable tragedies. No amount of help ever helps, they just keep on that troubled path, almost like they are made for hurting themselves and everyone around them.  As I see it, to be cast out by your family,  to be written off and sent permanently away, must bitterly sting at your marrow.  But to be the parent who is forced to take that desperate action, well…that truly must hold down the floor in one’s own earthly corner of hell.

After we found this info in the box, I did quite a bit of Google searching to see if there was any additional info around.  Crazy as it sounds, a bit of the court transcript is posted on the internet.  Also, the bunch of nuts he was running with at the time apparently still host “reunions” from time to time.  At least one of the guys involved is an avid blogger~go figure!   As far as I can tell, Danny’s still farming asparagus on that remote coast.  So Karl Danny, if you happen to read this and feel you want your side of the story told, it’s solely up to you cousin…you know what they say~

Maybe someone should write that down…

A Rose is a Rose Gladys

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Well, well, well…

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The subject of “names” is a rather touchy one in some factions of the family…around here anyway.  I was named “Kathryn” as a political move.  I had enough Grandmothers on all sides with that name, in various spellings, and at various positions (first, middle, patron saint, baptismal) to make most of them happy.  I was not the first grandchild on either side of my family, but I was the first granddaughter on both sides!  Another of my illustrious firsts.

When I went to school, there were 7 little girls in 1st grade at Perry Elementary named Kathryn in some form or another.  So, probably, their families had the same sort of “thing” going on.  If this had been a big school, then Cathy, Kathy, Kathryn, Cathleen, Katherine, Katy, and other Kathryn would have been insignificant.  However, this was a farming community.  The schools were small.  The 4 feeder grade schools that lead to my high school produced a grand total of 265 in my senior class.  By the time we all converged in the spiffy new Middle School, I had lost count (and interest) in how many other girls had “my” name.

My brother though, had it a bit rougher with family names.  Ours is a long line of “traditional” men’s names.  The first born pretty much was going to be a Junior, and if not a Junior (or 3rd, or 4th) then perhaps would be named after the other Grandpa, or a middle name.  My brother didn’t get a chance at something modernish…like Scott or Brian… point of his birth, the options available were Frank, George, Earl, Henry/Harry or the scandal of picking a meaningless name out of the air…like Bobby.  They did not choose Bobby.

Darling Gramcracker, ever sensitive to my needs as an individual in this sea of Kathryns, gave me a unique and extended name to claim as my own.  Or, possibly, she told me this was my full name because she also had a wicked sense of humor and loved having me say it and seeing the reaction of strangers.

She crowned me:  Kathryn Elaine Martha Elizabeth Gladiolus Rose Mousy Get-Along Johnson.  Gramcracker always called me Goldie for short.

Until I got in trouble for “fibbing” in Kindergarten  I was convinced and unquestioning of my full name.  As a matter of fact, I wondered why the other kids had such common and plain middle names. Being “cut down” to the reality of Kathryn Elaine was a real bummer.

Surnames though, can be a whole different matter.  My Balkan grandparents brought their old country name along when they crossed the pond.  Those who I refer to as the Urbanski clan, are actually owners of an unspeakable (literally, no one can pronounce it) name which when translated from Slovene to English means “putrid smell.” With hopes that this was just another example of the family sense of humor, I quietly wondered if this wasn’t a joke.  I had visions of my “huddled masses” Granddad standing before the man at Ellis Island and when asked for his name…making a smart- assed remark back at him in Slovene~ only to be countered in hilarity by the immigrations agent who made it official.  No such luck.  The international white pages online lists a handful of families both here in the US and back in the Balkans living with the exact same surname…spelling and all.  No denying it.  Sigh (or would a “sniff” be a more accurate expression here?).

Sadly, they buckled to the mounting pressures of anti-German and anti-immigrant sentiments that swept our area around WWI and “Americanized” their name ~ neutralized it actually.  I see myself writing “sadly” but under my breath I am saying “thank God they changed it!” I can’t imagine writing that 5th grade report for school about my heraldry, and revealing to my prepubescent peer group that I was not the glamorous K.E.M.E.G.R.M.G. Johnson, but in fact Miss Kathryn Elaine Pukesmell.

Ask around your family, are there any naming patterns, revisions, or scandalous translations out there?  Maybe take a few minutes and run down one or two nicknames of relatives.  These can be as commonly used as Kassie for Kathryn, or as ornery as a brother who called a sister “Twin Piggies” for an entire lifetime…that’s another story :)

Recipes of the Family

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1223122211 Easter is just around the corner.  Last year was kinda fun, as my sister and I dragged out box after box of old family photos and held a full out scanner fest.  But as the Bunny fires up for egg painting this year, my nerves feel a bit jumpy already.  I will once again be challenged (expected, assumed. pressured) to bake the traditional Slovenian treat for our family…the Potica.  For those of you with no Balkan heritage…it’s “Po-teets-zah.”  For me, it’s a  Panic Attack. Now this is by no means the first time I’ve made the Potica.  It’s been my job now for several years since my Grandma quit baking it.  Apparently this skips a generation, so my aunts and mom just crowned me Princess Potica and before I knew it…I was in charge.So,  I make it for each of the big family celebrations, and then, kind of like Jesus, I take a beating for it.  Let me clarify that ~  I make the complicated yeast and nut delight, and then sit back and listen to everyone else critique it, and wax poetic over the Poticas (the real Poticas) of days gone by.

How I haven’t spent a holiday in jail yet I do not know.

Oh, I get it.  I really do.  I understand why I am the one who is saddled with the honor of carrying on an old country tradition.  I can bake. And I am really good at it.  I had my own coffee house for several years, and baked everything that went out the door.  But the problem with Potica (and in your family it could be aunt Nell’s potato salad) is that there is only one right way, one right recipe, and one right presentation that can be accepted and deigned as perfect.  Unfortunately, no one who went before me actually wrote the damn recipe down for “the real Potica“, exactly as they made it “when it was perfect“.

Let’s revisit that last line:  I want you to experience it as I hear it each time I offer up a Potica.  Say it for yourself aloud

with your nose crinkled up,

as if you are chewing an adult aspirin,

and it is stuck to the back of your tongue and you only have scalding hot coffee available to wash it down with..

now say the words.. like the real Potica, when it was perfect….

Is there a tear in the corner of your eye as if you have just been deeply harmed and dissappointed?  Good.  You’re getting the general tone of voice they use for Potica critiqing.  We can continue now

When my oldest daughter was receiving First Communion, we had a little ceremony a couple of days ahead of time, where each family was to involve their child in baking a loaf of bread and then bring it to church with all their classmates and their families for a special blessing of the loaves.  For Caitlin, I thought it would be cool, and perhaps more special to her if together we made Potica.  Since this was a sort of last minute thing, I went to the internet and trolled for some recipes.  This was the first time I had actually seen the word spelled out.  Luckily, I hit a site where the pronunciation was spelled out phonetically so was close to how I had “searched” for it (this was way before Google).  I looked through until I found a recipe (in English) that sounded about right.  We sifted, kneaded, rolled, filled and baked with delightful anticipation.  The smell in the kitchen was heaven.

Blessing of the loaves day was probably a little traumatizing for Cait.  Many of my Mom friends had chumped-out (having never baked bread before) and had purchased the frozen, thaw and bake stuff.  Their loaves were glorious mounds of buttery gold crusts. The Pillsbury Doughboy bakes up like a champ every time.   Our Potica (and yes we made 2 just to have a shot at choosing the best looking one to show off at church) looked like hemorrhaging cinnamon raisin bagels glopped together.  Not stellar.

After that “experience” I started checking around within the family for a good recipe.  Oddly, no one ever seemed to be able to put their hands on one.  That was probably 20 years ago.  Eventually,having learned my lesson, I gave up asking. Clearly, some family things are strictly on a “need to know basis.” As the older women in my family line all began passing on to their reward, the Potica making pool got smaller and smaller.  When Grandma Jean announced that she would be taking up residence in a rest home, suddenly, the baking baton was passed on to me.  Sans the recipe of course!https://mail-attachment.googleusercontent.com/attachment/u/0/?ui=2&ik=c938b848b0&view=att&th=13d4b54c1cdf29ca&attid=0.1&disp=inline&realattid=1428966306534653952-1&safe=1&zw&saduie=AG9B_P97KCkApex4osVHcNqmwSUW&sadet=1362768577902&sads=CSugN6PAQNmqCrhJScUqOdomaAA&sadssc=1

 

Luckily, my friend Karen gifted me with this well worn and dearly loved cookbook that had belonged to her Aunt Udi.  Udi had been the Potica maker for her family.  Karen naturally had no idea which of the more than 2 dozen recipes for the bread was Udi’s favorite, so I have been baking my way thru the book holiday after holiday.  With of course, all the feed back I can stand.

I’ll be on version #18 soon, wish me luck

Cures for Headlice and Other Maladies

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           PD_0056

           Ew yuck~ There I said it~ Lice !

Recently my husband came home and confessed that he had let a coworker in on my secret removal method.  I was stunned!

I couldn’t believe that:

1. he had admitted that it had ever happened in our house… and

2. that he really remembered something I’d done about 20 years ago.

I have a huge abiding love of old books.  I am especially drawn to Etiquette and “Women’s issues” titles.  I believe the oldest in my collection is from the 1830s, which isn’t ” but a wee youngster” compared to lots of my Euro-reader’s own family bookshelves…but when you consider that most of them were received as gifts or rooted out at tag sales…I’m living pretty large antiquarian- biblio-wise.

One of my absolute favorites is called

  The Science of Women 

Mulierology 

for the Maiden, Wife, and Mother

Mom Note:  This was,  as far as I can tell, a compilation put out by AB Gehman in 1888.  A man by the name of Thomas William Herringshaw claims to be the founder of this “Science of Women” that he named Mulierology, but as far as I have been able to discover, it is pretty much a made-up word, and there’s a little controversy over who it really is attributable to.

Modern in it’s time, Mulierology  gave advice to females in any condition, age or marital state.  A lengthy chapter describes the birthing of babies and the wise use of a heavy packing of goose grease to the traumatized tissues both on the interior and outer surfaces of the mother after birth.  Ew.  No wonder women died so frequently of  postpartum infections.  What genius conjured up goose grease as a “healing salve” for peritoneal tearing?  TW Herringshaw do you really want to take credit for that one?

There’s also a pretty hilarious discussion of birth control at the end of the volume.  I am especially fond of the description of the withdrawal method.  It is described as a leisurely paddle down the river, and then a gentle drifting and going only along as the surface takes the canoe, gently ebbing on its way in its own time.  The book goes on to caution though ~  This method is easily spoiled by turbulent thrusts and raging action against the current until one goes over the falls.  Mom is paraphrasing, I start laughing so hard everytime I read this, my eyes tear up and I can’t see well enough for an exact quote.

Not even kidding.

The “itches” as head lice (or probably any other creepy crawler living where it should not be) acording to Mulierology is to be relieved by frequent and hot suds baths followed by application of a sulfur paste to any immediately affected area.  All bedding, clothing and head wear must also be taken into clear air and sunlight, swept vigorously and then all brushes and combs treated with a sulfur powder.  This can also be mixed with water and taken internally in extreme cases

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Nice to know

Fortunately (?) for my kids, I had no patience to sit around grinding up match tips to glean sulfur (I don’t know of a good 1800′s apothecary here in the Midwest).  So after weeks and weeks of waging war on these nuclear-bomb resistant pests, I devised my own method inspired by stories (tales of horror actually about dirty buggy families of my childhood).  No, I didn’t douse the kids in kerosine or gas.  But I sort of thought along those lines. Using a big box fan to blow the fumes away from their little faces and with towels held in place to protect their eyes, unloaded a whole bottle of hand sanitizer on each one’s itchy head.  I slapped a shower cap over each little noggin, waited a good half hour and then combed out the dead critters and their grossly engorged triple-sized swollen egg nits right out of all those blonde curls.  Honestly, do not try this at home.  I don’t think the kids remember the itching, but they sure remember the stinky fan treatment to “get the mice outta their heads.”

Like I said, that was years ago.  I figured the statute of limitations had run out on that Mommy Dearest moment.  Then home comes Daddy, feeling quite proud of himself for sharing the true and absolute “Mom Method for Removing Mice from Heads”  I think I’ll write a book and call it “DeMicerology : the Science of a Mom who Snapped after Weeks of Ineffective Lice Treatments”

I’m sure my kids are huddled together right now whispering…Maybe someone should write that down…

Uncle Joe

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   untitled-holytrinity According to Parish records from Holy Trinity Church, John and Mary Urbanski had 10 children.  Of  10, only 2 girls and 2 boys survived to adulthood. Francis, Joe, Annie and Mitz were born , christened,communed, confessed and confirmed as Urbanskis.  Suddenly, around 1915, they all became “Casters” an Americanized name, and a generic term describing John’s occupation at the time.    The ugliness of anti-German sentiment had overtaken people’s everyday lives and had crept  along the National Road  and deep into Indianapolis.  Suddenly, old street names like Germania were changed from German words and towns-names to  more “appropriately” American ones like Belmont Avenue.   Coinciding with the German hysteria, the KKK was recording its biggest membership surge since the days of the old South.  Thus being Catholic, being immigrants, sounding German (colloquially called Hunkies ) while speaking their Slovene native tongue all became rather lowly and dangerous.   Our  family was among many who changed their surname to blend in.  In those early years of the 20th century, being different or being “less” was both a social hindrance and potentially treacherous.

Mom note: somethings just never change…

Neighborhood assimilation centers were set up to help all children and adults learn to be more American and to turn their backs on the lives they had left behind in “the Old Country”. The Ku Klux Klan was deeply entrenched in the small counties ringing the big city of Indianapolis, and there was a simmering contempt for anyone or anything that may have been in allegiance with the Kaiser.

John and Mary were raising their children in between the country folk to the west, and the eastward cultured city dwellers just across the White River bridge. Considered West Indianapolis at one time, their small neighborhood was now called Haughville named after the metals manufacturers plant located there by Haugh Brothers in the 1880′s.    Soon Haugh’s foundry was joined by the modern refrigerated packing business Kingans and the immigrant workers flooded in to take the jobs and simple frame housing.  They had been recruited and imported from their bergs and villages in places like Slovenia, Serbia, and Croatia. That’s how the Urbanskis had come to Indianapolis and that’s how they earned their daily wage too.

 Grandmother Mary saved every penny she could spare to buy up boarding houses.  For years  the parlor floor in the family’s own house was  “bedded up” for newly arrived workers who needed temporary lodging.  They had taken the long transatlantic ocean liner trip, paid in full by “the Company”,  made a connection by train and found themselves in Haughville on John and Mary’s floor…working in the mill, or the packing house, renting a space on the floor to sleep on, and in turn,  saving every penny they didn’t drink to bring their families over too.

Joe wasn’t the oldest of the children, but he was probably the tallest at about 6′. He was athletic and tough,a simple and hard-working man who chain smoked and stirred cream and sugar into his coffee in ritualistic trance-like manner. He played bush league baseball and was the big hitter on Holy Trinity’s men’s team. When he was 18, Joe was drafted into the army. When his hitch was up he joined again to serve in the place of his brother who was about be wed. I often wonder if he didn’t rejoin just for something bigger to do than spend his life running gutted pig carcasses from the slaughter hooks into the cold lockers at Kingans. After all, being big and strong, that’s likely where he would be headed for life.

Note: he is the tallest in the center of the back row in the photo. 

I’ve heard a tale or two of Joe in his younger rougher days.  Especially one about him and some buddies getting into a fist fight with some men from “somewhere else” passing by the corner tavern. All was regular Saturday night fun, when one of the outsiders added a 2×4 into the fray and started swinging. In Haughville it was considered “off-limits” to use weapons in a fist fight…a real sign of ungentlemanly behavior.   By the time the cops arrived, the crowd had disbursed and a half-dozen guys were laid out neatly along the gutter.  Bloody and semi-conscience the “strangers” were helped to their feet and sent on their way back toward the bridge.  To the frustration of the officers,  the tavern was filled with only law-abiding citizens enjoying an evening out. As a matter of fact, they were all having such a lovely time singing and carrying on, none had even noticed a ruckus outside on the steps.  The interlopers never bothered to visit Haughville again… with or without their 2x4s .

 Joe discharged from the army after a couple of tours.  He had spent most of his time driving big supply trucks across the swampy roads of the Philippine islands.  Sometimes, at Grandpa’s he would start stirring his coffee and speaking about the giant black snakes… hundreds of them that would be all over the lonely roads at night when he was driving convoy.  He talked of how they must have needed the heat left in the road to warm their cold blood at night. Sometimes he described the thumping sounds of them hitting the bottom of the big trucks.  ” The sound never let up some nights, like all the snakes in the world were there in the Philippines.” I hung on every one of Joe’s words, and had the nightmares to prove it!

Headed home, Joe had saved up some money and following the wisdom of his  mother began buying rental properties.  He had small homes and duplexes and eventually bought a couple of small neighborhood apartment houses built-in the old style of shops below and rooms above.  One of the buildings was home to the laundry and dry cleaning store his sister Mitz ran.  Being in a good location (between the businessman’s downtown and the upscale homes of the Indianapolis old North Side) Mitz’s shop cleaned and starched clothing for local celebs and politicians.  After actress Frances Farmer was “treated” for her nervous breakdown (famously via a frontal lobotomy) she came to Indianapolis and hosted a television program on one of the local stations.  Aunt Mitz did the movie star’s alterations and cleaned her delicates for years from her shop in Uncle Joe’s building.  I’ve never been clear on whether it was Mitz or Joe who owned the business.  I would speculate that it was there when he bought the building and he let Mitz run it as a way to support herself.  I couldn’t even say whether or not she paid a dime in rent.  Uncle Joe rarely talked about such things

Joe kept all the rentals as his investments.  All of John and Mary’s kids were desperately frightened of being poor.  Saving money and saving stuff (anything that could some day be useful to someone in the family) was always top priority for them. But he also worked for the Indiana University Medical School as a night watchman until he retired.  A family joke (or maybe it was truer than others wanted to admit) went that Joe guarded the cadaver room for 30 years and didn’t have a clue what was in there.

I mostly remember him as generally very quiet and reclusive.  We saw him at Grandpa’s occasionally on weekends before he went in for a night shift.  He would pull into the drive in his massive dirty ivory Plymouth Fury. His car windows were legendarily coated in an amberish vaseline-thick goo from years of collected cigarette smoke.   If I saw him coming, I would run to the kitchen drawer where Grandpa kept Joe’s ashtray (it was like a beanbag on the bottom) and scurry to get a spoon out for his stirring.  I delighted in watching him swirl the pale sugary coffee and cream soup he made in his cup.  I listened to the funny old world way that he spoke (he held the accent and manner of speech of the old country that my Grandpa had worked so hard to erase from his own speech) and watched him punctuate sentences with his hands.  Uncle Joe also had the largest nose I had ever seen on a person.  It was just like Jimmy Durante…but since Jimmy was on tv and in movies he really didn’t count as a real person.  Uncle Joe had a real-live Schnazola that was mercifully never passed on to the next generation.

When he died years ago, it was as a “confirmed” bachelor.  He is buried at the Catholic Cemetery,but I do  not recall a mass for his funeral. After his retirement from the night watchman’s job, he really had little to do and fell into the staid habits of a reclusive old man.  He must have had a heart attack and died without much suffering.  He was found after lying dead alone in his home days later. Only his German Shepard dog was with him.

I think of him whenever I stir my coffee :)

Photo at top of page from the Holy Trinity Parish Diamond Jubilee celebration book:

Slaves To No One, written by James J. Divita

Duck and Cover !

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 PD_0033 ...or Why I use “As Told By” pages in my family histories

The other day on Facebook, I found myself in the middle of a simmering fight that seemed to be headed toward a full-out embroilment.  It involved my sister, an aunt, her dead father, and his long-dead immigrant parents – the “Urbanskis.”  I clicked “exit” and went grocery shopping.

  Days later when queried about my sudden disappearance from the on-screen skirmish, I feigned a “virus” that shut down my computer.  Thank goodness for cyber illnesses!

I don’t know if it is a common thing to have so many mule headed people in one family, or if we are just gatekeepers of the stubbornness gene.  But over the years, one writer’s trick in my bag has saved me many times over ~ “As Told By” pages.

It’s my theory that our memories are odd fuzzy filters steeped with emotions and previous experiences.  Our individual point of view is dependent on the “back story” written within our own heads.  This is shaded heavily by how our own experience in similar or imagined situations has panned out within roughly equal settings and/or participants.  Sometimes, it’s as simple as an unquestioning acceptance like~ “That’s what Dad said.  It is true and reliable.”

Some of the touchy subjects I run into as a researcher can easily cause an old wound to open or a fresh feud to start.  Rather than take an obvious side (the factual one) I try to draw a neutral line in the sand.  Using the “As Told By” heading honors the vantage point and belief of all who care to chime in, but still keeps the pot at a simmer instead of boiling over.

I do have to be clear here~  I believe that ALL sides are the truth.  I know that sounds nuts.  But I believe everyone because everyone’s individual story is factual in that it IS a part of how SOME of the family members believe that it happened.  Yep, we are the keepers of the crazy gene too.

Let me put it another way

These stories are all true in the sense that they are and were believable.  They are factual from each “Teller’s” point of view.  I report them as told by so that one version isn’t lost to the shadows by the others.  It’s easy to let others draw their own conclusions. I also think this lack of “side by side comparison” is how family secrets get blown out of proportion, or lost forever.  I guess I can understand a little bending of the facts.  While searching out Uncle Tony’s tenure in the French Foreign Legion…I found he actually spent those 6 years in Sing Sing for embezzlement…whoops! So, rather graciously I allowed Aunt Bertie  her “As Told By” and I had mine when she no-longer needed to hold on to a “variation of the records.”

My own beloved Gramcracker spoke of cousin Barabara’s nuptials as a “Shot Gun Wedding.”  Gram raged on about this for several years until time took her memory and she forgot to be mad at Barb anymore.   It was always her insistance that “No One Has Ever Shamed This Family~ Ever ~ until Barb!” that she took to the grave with her.  It seemed really important to her that she had descended from an unbroken chain of  poor but purely chaste women.

I elected to sew my own lips tight, and to seal up the file on Gramcracker’s own Grandmother who had miraculously birthed an 8# baby only five weeks after she and Grandfather married upon their arrival here in the US.

And Barb? Of course she had a dog in this fight too.  In her “As Told By” she tells the story of her wedding in a very different light.  She did wear white (because she didn’t want to upset Gramcracker …epic failure there) and went down the isle looking a bit more voluptuous than her tiny frame usually was.  But she also told the story of young love and a beau who was about to “ship out” during the Vietnam War years.

As for the Facebook fight?  Well, that was a new one on me.  I’ll have to look into it.  In the meantime

maybe someone should write that down…     :)

Sis Hits The Jackpot!

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wpid-1217121515.jpgIf I were to face facts, I would admit that my little sister kicks my researching rear-end.  Daily.  On a regular basis.  Any day of the week.  Hands down, always.

Just before Christmas, Sharon hit the Jackpot.  She unearthed (pried from the clenched and unrelenting fists of) the tower of family history crowned jewels from another relative.  This was one of those “oh sure, I’ll keep that old crap and get to it someday” sort of piles.  A burden to some, but to a Family History Hound…food for the soul, ambrosia…heaven on earth.

Sharon has been busy over vacation “Gedcom loading” and sifting like a good genealogist.  I ran thru it like a cat in a litter box.  I wanted first dibs on all the photos and newspaper clippings.  Why would anyone care about the famous “Fat Twins” who appeared many times on Hee Haw (a silly television show where country folk whooped it up and poked fun at themselves), I am not sure, but there was a clipping in box#3.  Who was Mildred Ecke ?  She died November 15th, 1934 and apparently was someone who Grandpa cared enough about to save her obit.

For my sister the good genealogist, information is what was swaddled in those boxes.  For me, it was more like a mountain of questions and riddles.

Titillating.

What an incredible gift at year’s end.  We each got what we wanted.  In 5 very untidy boxes and one (yes, I am serious) picnic basket, all the sorrow, glory, tattling, whispers, and funkiness needed to keep us both busy for months, maybe years.

Hats off to Sharon, she loaded this all into her little bitty Dodge, by herself, and sped off to the “cave.”  That’s what she calls her office / family history library.  I get to dig thru it and share the thrill of the expedition vicariously as I listen to her tell the tale of her “score.”

It’s in gentle and capable hands now.  And she is a good “sharer” so it will be available and sorted soon.  My sister has already put a lot of thought into which local history society will be receiving the original documents once she has processed it all tidily.

Interesting…It would have never occurred to me to share with strangers.

Hmmm. 

So I would love to know, how do you feel about sharing your “own” discoveries, clippings, papers, documented photos and the like with an organized (and funded) Society?  Have you done this?  Considered it?

I have to admit that once again, my sister the researcher has taught me a lesson.  Dang it!  I think she just kicked my B-Hind again!

Happy New Year!

Mom

 

Honest Abe and Too Many Jimmys

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PD_0153Today’s date is 12-12-12.  If we weren’t all being consumed with Christmas Shopping and the looming end of the Mayan Calendar, we would probably be a bit more frothed up about this.  It’s a heck of a day for marriages (as I hear the Las Vegas quicky chapels are doing big business today).  Apparently lots of C-section babies are scheduled for today too.  I’m kind of excited because it’s my real Birthday. However, that also means that my driver’s license expires in a few hours.  Whoops!

Which brings me to my point.  Last month during our write-a-thon, the theme for November 10th was family “Legends.”  I was also reminded that this year commemorates 100 years since the sinking of the unsinkable Titanic.  So, have you looked into any of those “legends” in your family story stash?

In my own family, Uncle Jim was a Lincoln Lawyer.  Meaning, that he had learned “lawyering” as an apprentice.  Not from a formal education.  Also, it was cool because Uncle Jim was reported to have been in  practice , and perhaps though not a partner, a contemporary of Honest Abe.  He was not assassinated like the President, so Jim was able to practice well into his 80s.  He used to scare the B-Jeebers out of any boy brave enough to go to Sunday dinner with my family.  Invariably, Uncle Jim would get the kid cornered, furrow up his profuse wiry white brows and query : “Young man, what sorts of plans have you laid out for your life?”  With his courtroom voice and icy stare, I don’t think a shotgun would have made him any scarier !  Jim retired just shy of 90 and died a few years ago barely missing his 100th birthday.

So, in circling back, yes it is my birthday today.  I won’t say how old I am, but I will admit to flirting with 50.  I thought that Uncle Jim’s story was fascinating all of my life.  Until one day, as I happened to do a bit of math.

Jimmy was sharp as a tack and still practicing law when he met and interrogated my husband in 1980.

Hmmm. 

I called my Mom.  “Are you sure Uncle Jim knew Abe Lincoln?”  She assured me that it was true, and that she knew that having been told by “everyone” in her family.  In fact, “everyone” knew this about Uncle Jim.

Hmmm. 

So, in 1980 while he was questioning my eventually- to- be husband, he was 80-something.  Abe had been dead for more than a hundred years.  But, “everyone”  knew that Uncle Jim had been practicing forever.  I remember my head swimming with cyphers.  I gave up trying to understand and just laid his file off to the side.  Of course I had to be wrong.  “Everyone” knew the Lincoln link.  And please note that this all happened long before anyone considered that Abe Lincoln was a Vampire Slayer.

One evening while helping my son with his Social Studies homework, my curiosity was peaked once more.  There in the Civil War Chapter I saw the date of birth, date of death and other stats of ol’ Abe.  The next day I dug up Uncle Jim’s folder and took another run at the conundrum.

Turns out that my Great Uncle Jim was named after his Great Uncle Jim, who was an attorney, who did clerk his way into law, and was a cohort of Abe in that they were born 2 states apart in roughly the same year :)

I’m not saying it was a popular ending to the story, but at least now “everyone” knows which Jimmy they’re talking about.

 

Not Playing with a Full Deck

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imageThis is by far one of my favorite tricks to get organized. 

Inspired by the hall trays in Victorian homes for calling cards, I came up with Character Cards.  Whenever I “add” a new relative to a family branch, I make up my own little version of a collectible edition trading card.  I call them my Character Cards.

Each family has their own ever-expanding “Deck.”  The Decks only get larger, because unlike real live families, no one gets discarded (buried).  In most cases, I have figuratively dug them up :).

I have a specific list of info that I want to chase for each Character.  These are the same old things one puts on an ancestry chart : dates and places of major life events, occupations, spouses, a parentage note etc.  I also include on my hunting and collecting list an “image.”  I really like having pictures.  So, in some cases where none is (yet) available, I will opt for some other image to represent the person and their statistics.  It can be anything I can connect to the real person.  For one uncle I have a scan of a lock of hair found wrapped in tissue paper marked “Tommy’s first hair cut.”  Eventually, I hope to find a photo, but until then he is represented as a little yellow curl.

I do not put original items on my cards.  I only use scanned images and I simply tape them on with cellophane tape.  I can pop a whole collection into my purse and head off to the cemetery, history center, or out to do drive- by house photos.

My family has a big laugh with this…they have always insisted that I don’t quite play with a full deck, and now, well…they have it in writing :)

November 30th or In the Beginning

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So I know this seems to be an odd day to ask this but…Why?

What got you started on this crazy train ? What or who inspired you to take up this cause and perhaps give your ancestors a little brush of the immortal ? We all know it isn’t easy, it is often quite thankless and frustrating. So why on earth do we kooky family history hounds chase the ever-dangling carrot?
I only need to look at this photo to know. It is my Grandmother with my Dad on her lap. Two pieces of the” oldest child of the oldest child” puzzle that have molded a big part of my life. I think she is timeless and beautiful. I remember her warmth and the tenacity that she loved us all with. I want my granddaughter (the oldest child of My oldest child) to know her as well. Today, my send off surprise for you is the beginning of my own family history journey. I want you to really truly begin writing Your story today.PD_0063


  I hope that by reading my “opening chapter” you will be inspired and driven to merrily come along. Thank you for writing November with me…now on to the task!

The Farmer Family Tree a Written Account

I’m a believer.  I believe in God, Country, Ghosts, and Fairy Tales.  And because of this, I also believe in the Never Ending Story of who we are, and who we will be in the years beyond.

I have also come to believe that most of the moments in our lives go floating by unnoticed and without consideration.  Although no one could take an entire lifetime of thoughts and experiences and write them out or otherwise record them, in the following pages, I have attempted to preserve the “essence” of our beloved George and Margaret Farmer.

Writing this account of their lives and those around them wasn’t something I originally set out to do.  I had heard tales for years of a written family history that Grandma Kate had been keeping for all of us.  Before her passing, I nor any of my cousins had laid eyes on this dear Historian’s work.  When she quietly passed away at age 94,  Indiana was staring down the barrels of a looming ice storm.  The skies were deep sullen gray and the forecast was ugly when the phone calls went out to all that Grandma had gone to her rest.

With the weather forecast getting more negative by the hour, we all gathered for Grandma’s wake at the local funeral parlor.  Grandma was one of those dutiful women who always attended funerals of those who she knew.  If the measure of one’s life was the number of attendees for one’s wake, my Grandma had clearly paid her dues.  For most of the afternoon and evening the line of persons waiting to pay their last respects was “out- the -door” long.  Mercifully the bad weather held respected Grandma’s mourners and held off until the line finally eased.

A side room off of the main hall was reserved for close family in attendance to rest for a few minutes and maybe have a cup of coffee or a danish.  After a few hours, I found myself seated near the table with several aunts and cousins (half of my genes are from  a very big and very old farm family).  Seating on folding chairs under fluorescent kitchen lights the subject turned to Grandma’s “job” as the family historian.  Some wondered aloud exactly what sorts of things she had kept track of all these years.  I, among others, had heard we were “royal” way back when.

“I wonder whatever happened to all of that stuff ?” queried one cousin.  Aunt Leslie licked the pastry filling off of her end finger and offered:

Oh I have that whole box.  Your Grandma gave it to me to keep for you kids when she moved into the nursing home.  If you all are interested, I can dig it out and make copies for whoever would want them.

Of course we all nodded, yes, yes we would love to have a copy of what Grandma had written. And then, as I recall, the conversation turned back to the horrible weather we were threatened by, our aching feet and who would be hosting Easter dinner in the spring.

**********

Driving home with my husband and kids that night, we were all exhausted.  A wake for someone like Grandma Farmer was an extra long event.  We seemed to be related to all of Boone, and Hendricks Counties.  Half of Marion and Morgan Counties were there as well.  When we were nearly home the sleet began falling on the windshield.  I didn’t notice so much.  My husband is a seasoned snow and ice driver so I felt safe as we crawled along the interstate.  Besides, I was too busy dreaming of the History book I would soon get to see.  I imagined myself being delivered a dusty tome.  It would be leather bound, over-sized, with hints of gilt work tooled into it and still visible.  I would sit down in my (imaginary) winged back chair beside the roaring fireplace (also a figment) and gently pull back it’s weighty cover.  A beam of glowing light would spring from within the pages and welcome me like a hug from across time.  It would be a transforming moment.  I would be in the presence of my Ancestors!

They would whisper to me which castle to go rightfully claim as mine!

********

I will cut to the chase for you here…several weeks later a large manilla envelope arrived half mauled by the postal service.  I had nearly forgotten it was promised that evening.  As promised, inside was the life’s work of Grandma the family history keeper.  But it was not bound, gilded or illuminated.  In fact the history was a smallish mess of papers, typed on onion skin paper, with carbon sheets between.  It had been started about 50 years before and at some point the original had been photo copied onto thermal (the old style office printers with the roll paper and ink drums) paper, and then again onto standard paper stock by Aunt Leslie.  The pages were in various states of quality, some had thermal marks from paper clips, or smears from being handled too much.  There were handwritten notes and about kids born and added in and spouses marked through and replaced in margins galore.

It was a wreck.

And all it was beyond a wreck was a listing of names, dates and little else.  I had to know more, and once I started researching and finding more…everyone kept looking at me and saying

Maybe someone should write that down….

Familial Oddities

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Hat Club

waiting for the mothership

Every family’s “quirks” and traditions have to come from somewhere.  Around the dawn of the 20th century, our Victorian relatives were into some weird stuff.  Germans really enjoyed their mysticism, mediums and seances.  Some folks dabbled in phrenology, eugenics, and even handwriting analysis.  Granted, the handwriting thing has come to be accepted as a pseudo science, but some of the other stuff?  Whew!

Think about the Victorian fervor for the “language” of flowers.  Then take a look at some old family wedding pictures.  Do you find anything that went rather “unsaid?”  Was  Grandmama hiding any hints or scraps of wisdom in her bouquet?  What did the lapel posy say about the groom?  Coincidence?

In daily living and in researching with my family, I’ve found a few skeletons lying outside the closet door.  Take for instance the skeleton that resided~ coffin and all~ in my second cousins’ front room for years.  Somehow this branch of the family had “inherited” this unusual parlor piece when an aunt died.  It seemed ol’ Aunt Luly was a high mistress / exalted poo-bah of some “unusual” lodge or another.  So, she was the trusted keeper of the the “box.”  I’m not sure who it was, or what the real scoop was…but I saw it.  Often.  And no one who lived there  in the house with it seemed to be creeped -out.  I assume that “Becky” as I will call her/ him / it, was eventually interred or placed with another family once the new cult leader...chairwoman was installed.  For all I know it was plastic, but never the less it was creepy.  They’re all gone now, otherwise, I’d ask.

You may want to bring this up in casual conversation and see where it leads with your family.

Chances are pretty good that you’ll hear tales of at-home wakes and such. They were pretty common in some areas through the second world war era.  My Mom’s family held this tradition in the rural community where she was raised well into the mid 1940s.  In one of my favorite movies ever, my beloved Gone With the Wind, Mrs O’Hara is laid out on the dining room table.  In a more contemporary vignette, the opening scenes of Sunset Boulevard feature Norma Desmond’s beloved pet chimp awaiting the undertaker in her posh Hollywood bedroom.  I’ll admit that it didn’t seem as weird in the Civil War setting.

My Balkan relatives had a gruesome insistence on a photo with the dead family members.  When a loved one passed, their casket would be propped up on the church steps as the poll bearers held the departed in place.  A formal portrait would then be taken with all the close and extended family, and various Club and Union delegates posed carefully around the deceased.  To this day, I know some older folks still want one last photo of their brother, spouse, whoever in their final rest.  Now-a-days though, this is usually arranged in private before other family and friends are let into the room for visitation.

Funerals and death aren’t the only time our ancestors got freaky, but usually these are the traditions that sort of stand out.  If you are ever going thru an attic or antique shop and run across a portrait of a sleeping baby…you guessed it…the baby is dead.  Another one you will see occasionally is a picture of a willow tree with a lock of hair in the frame with the picture, same thing.  A big family gathering photo with a funny looking blob on the wall in the back ground is probably a shrouded mirror, and you guessed again, a funeral gathering.  Sometimes the photo is taken outdoors and if you peek behind a head or two you’ll spot a black crepe wreath on the front door.  This is a signal to passers by that the family is in mourning, so it would be rather respectable to slow the horses and remove one’s hat.

But like I said, it’s not always death that brings out an unusual tradition.  My Grandpa Farmer was a tea-totaling Methodist who had a disdainful and queasy feeling around Catholics and their “idolatry.”  But he made a pretty tidy income on the side “witching” half the wells in Boone county for a fee.  Grandpa would cut a switch (thin flexible little branch) off of a weeping willow tree.  He always selected one with a sturdy “Y” shape for divining wells.  The plain switches were for swatting the be-hinds of unruly grandchildren.  George the Methodist would then hold the top Y ends in his hands lightly in front of him and walk about on the property of the neighbor he was witching for.  When he found the underground well spring, the switch would twitch and that’s where they were instructed to start digging.  In 1965 when my parents built their new house, Grandpa came over and witched the well.  We never went without water.

Tea on the Porch Swing

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Yesterday while out-of-town on a kid errand (our youngest plays a travel sport) we found ourselves near a sort of long-lost relative.  The soccer team was celebrating with a pool party at the hotel, so my husband and I ventured out for a happen-stance visit.
I think my generation, baby boomers, is the last to practice and embrace this tradition.  When we say to each other ” hey, don’t be a stranger!” We actually are extending an open invitation.  Its something I really miss in our daily modern life and family.  We were in the neighborhood ( only a 45 minute drive from the hotel) so we did “drop-in”

 Unannounced, as that is the custom of my fellow “Boomers.”

After some winding around and false recognition (we had probably been lost that way before) we pulled up to the house of uncle Charlie.

Our plan had been to say a quick hello, or to stay for an hour if we weren’t interrupting something.  But the 6 years since we had last visited melted away in seconds and we sat on their beautiful long front porch scanning the crop laden horizon for hours.  While big city newspapers boast of all the news that’s fit to print, we sat in the shade swinging back and forth with cold tea and long-winded updates and re-visitations of all sorts of matters.

This is what I miss and want to hand down to my grandchildren. Unfortunately, it is lost and likely will be gone forever.   This seamless feeling of acceptance, of connectedness and of belonging to a family. I know it can’t always be like this.  It’s just a fact of life that some of us will never get along and “play nice” with all of our relatives.  In truth, if we had not been “in the neighborhood” we probably wouldn’t have made the effort.  But on that porch, on that hot afternoon, with those lovely people who look like my husband, and whom my children half resemble, that was bliss.

Managing the “Help”

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Once the stories start flowing and your paper ghosts are wriggling with life, you may find yourself with a lot of volunteers. Now is the time to be extra creative. Use all the help that is offered ! Rather than seeing enthusiastic volunteers as “Johnny-Come-Lately-Bandwagon-Jumpers,” consider how their eagerness to help could add to the richness of the ultimate end product.  Collaborating this way will make your work an “of the people, by the people” sort of outcome for your family tree.

Think about a special talent aunt Susan can contribute. She might well be the biggest gossip in 3 counties…so use that!  You can always debunk / confirm later.  But for now, pull up a chair, turn her on and let her rip!  Don’t stop with the volunteers who step forward !   Everyone knows there is an unwritten code of honor among thieves, however that code pales to the closed -community of cooks who hold the family recipes!  When buttered up and coddled. cooks may be moved to show heart and dig out family recipes to share.   They could also be put on the task of beating secret recipes out of others within the inner circle of the kitchen.  Artsy types could be put to work designing a cover for the finished product, or Illuminating  pages.  The scholarly would enjoy collaborating  with each branch to create a representative family crest (see  a later posting for info on this). The hoarders (God bless us everyone!) can be assigned to photo finding, or heirloom display.

Get them all working together as a team . Once your dear hoarder has unearthed Grandmama’s wedding china, perhaps there’s a shutter bug just waiting to document those very heirlooms from every angle. Clearly, there’s no reason to pass over your clan”s computer geek!  They could join forces with the children in a google scavenger hunt of mapping and street viewing ancestral homes.   And, if the Saints are smiling upon you, may you find yourself in the fortunate position of being related to one or more retired couples who just love to travel.  If you can engage their enthusiasm and wunderlust they may become the boots on the ground you’ve always wished for to find and photo far away monuments or records.

The more the merrier… really !  However you scheme (or choose to use)  the willing participants,  don’t hesitate when they offer.  Really pull out all stops to let their experience count !  If several family members  become truly vested in this work (with a very specific task assigned) the hype will be bigger and the end result will have broader appeal.

You and I both know that there has to be an invisible lid on this “doling out of jobs” in order for it to work.  Play your hand a bit close.  Be sure to explain that in order for you to be an effective writer and compiler of your collective story, you will need certain things from all of them.  Timelines, confidentiality, steadfastness of the untiring persuer…and all suggestions in written form and sent to your email or mailbox.  You’ve got to be able to focus on the big task and trust that as the adults they are…they will keep noses to the grindstone and complete their mission!  Independent of you.  Ask your mother. .. don’t bug me to death…  tend to your own knittin’… implied but unsaid :)

It’s always a  fine line when families are called to work together.  Delegating  fairly and effectively without being seen as bossy is a dance on the tightrope.  But if you can stand to let them help, you will be rewarded in the end.  After all, families are like…well you know…everybody has one !

Why Bother ?

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REALLY?

I’ve spent years chasing my ancestors thru wet cemeteries, musty boxes and up family trees.  I’ve dug around libraries, attics, and read books and webpages galore.  What I have learned from all this is simple…

no one else gives a hoot if they can’t somehow “relate” to those old names and numbers

Truth is, all that detective and scholarly work is really boring on paper.  My family used to roll their eyes when they saw me coming with yet another binder of “genealogy stuff.”

What to do ~what to do?  Let me tell ya…

We’re all connected with our families, not by pedigree or heirlooms, but through our common stories.  Names and dates have no real pull on our heartstrings.  But the joys and struggles of everyday life in another time can fascinate us like a flickering campfire.

Oh and a little tattling or a dash of dirt dishing doesn’t hurt either! 

Without stories our family tree efforts are just tidy (for some) stacks of paper with footnotes and a few photos sprinkled in.  I invite you to take the next step with me and you will soon be writing an account of your family’s history to be read , re-read  and actually cherished for many years!

Mom’s Monthly Must-Dos for March

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this little cutie is from the image collections available on The Old Design Shop web page

This is not my favorite month.  Maybe its a wee bit’o jealousy because the only Irish in my family’s DNA runs through my husband’s side of the equation.  St Patrick’s Day has always been a fun day of green beer and sheepish pretense.

I’m not Irish, but kiss me or pinch me anyway!  I do have green eyes though…the better to be “pea green with envy” with my dear…

Perhaps my disdainful attitude toward March is more about the weather here in the heartland.  Good Lord what a ride!  I, like many Hoosiers, dream of retirement in the desert, any desert.  A place where the humidity level rarely flinches.  Here, my sinus cavity is under a constant state of attack with it’s little faucet running full on, then suddenly dried up to a painful pinching sensation, only to find a tortured relief in the post-nasal agony of the drip..drip..drip.  Yep, Indiana weather~ if you don’t like it ~ stick around for an hour, it’ll change.

Regardless of the snow, no snow, shorts and t-shirt weather and/or tornado laden skies outside, we Family Historians must push on.  For that end, I offer you Mom’s Monthly Must-Dos for March~

1.  Do something really nice for yourself this month~ begin a little achievement journal.  Nothing big and fancy (unless you just crave that kind of candy…I don’t judge).  This can be as simple as making a to-do list on your calendar at the beginning of the week, and then checking off the “done-did-its” as you go.  It’s a gift to give yourself.  Mark down exciting (to you) stuff that happens on that day:  Found cousin Dehlia’s Christmas card with her contact info under the sofa cushion…bonus…also cleared the underside of all sofa cushions!

During points of drought over the seeker’s field, these can be reviewed to help you re-inspire yourself..  RahRah Me!

2.  Start getting the kids involved.  This is a great time to plan and gather.  Spring break car travel-time looms, or being stuck at home with “bored” loved ones.  Instead of hiding inside your head, invite them to start their own spiffy project. Call in the cousins for support and reinforcement.   If you would like to see a shining example of what a kid’s book can look like click the link and visit Raelyn of Telling Family Tales…all her little book projects are fringed with magnificence.  You don’t have to be this elaborate, just drink it in for inspiration ~ http://tellingfamilytales.com/2013/03/04/when-he-was-young/

3.  Toward the end of the month, send out another “mailing” to let everyone know you are still working on this project (call it the “story of us” or something clever and inclusive).  Include a little crumb of “reactive bait” like a photo, or a couple of little questions (as we did on the Musky fishing trips of February’s Must-Dos).  If you have been lucky enough to elicit a response or two from the last letter binge…build on it.  I find that others are kinda generous with sharing scans of photos, and that they love telling me about how much fun it was “digging thru the dusty boxes with mum” but, they don’t really convey the meat of that to me.

 Human nature

So, I then start feeding back to them…hey, that pic of Granny and Harry, where do you think that was taken?  Do you know about when?  What the heck were they doing there?

Then, it never hurts to throw in something utterly stupid (this is a great technique to get info…everyone loves “correcting” me). Ask a questions that you are sure you know the answer to ~

Say something really, profoundly, ignorant…”Did Harry have any bothers?”  This would be a good one if in fact, Harry comes from a brood of 10-12 assorted gender children, or was the younger brother of a famous prize-fighter, or was adopted as an infant or etc.  You aren’t fishing for muskies, you’re fishing for conversation….clever little darling that you are :)

Have fun with March where ever the weather and the “stupid questions” land you, and I hope you get kissed on St Paddy’s day too!

xoxo

Mom

Hoosier State Pie ~ Official

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This was originally posted on my other blog around Thanksgiving as my son’s team was getting ready to head for the State Championship Football Game (which…spoiler alert….They Won!).  But we all seem to be on a bit of a hungry kick, and I did owe a family story this week…so here goes

It’ll make you Famous!

 

I am officially elbow deep in Thanksgiving Food Prep.  Yes, of course everyone comes to our house for the big Dinner Wing Ding.  This honor falls upon Mom because I am directly descended from two “Large Food” women.  Both of my Great Grandmothers were production cookers in their own right.  Grandma Fern cooked up huge batches of all sorts of stuff, put it on a wagon with the big harvest table, hitched the mules and drove it out to the fields for the “help” each day at “dinner.”

Diminutive Granny Kate (seen above) was a tiny women who was said to be so tough that she could “whip her weight in wild cats.”  I would have never questioned that.  She ran both a restaurant with a full serve tavern, and a huge traveling food concession on the summer fair and carnival circuit.  Grandpa couldn’t help much, he was busy running his Monkey Circus and other side show attractions.

As I slog my way thru a couple gallons of pumpkin pie filling, a mountain of potatoes to get peeled and a stupid Turkey that still isn’t thawed, I thought it would only be right to share a favorite recipe of mine.  It’s called Finger Pie (or Sugar Cream pie as it is known formally as the one and only Official Pie of Indiana).  Everyone loves this stuff.  It’s an easy, yet archaic recipe that you seldom see home made these days.  Why?  Because it will make you famous if you can eat more than one slice in a sitting and not trigger a cardiac event of some sort.

Being named after the wild cat fighter, I like it because it always kicks the @#$ of all the fancy desserts the in-laws bring over.  I’ve even taught my granddaughter so she can wear my food mantel some day.

Here’s finger pie (pay attention Darlene’s daughter-in-law!)

Into a pre-made pie crust (get the Pillsbury, no one is looking) pour in a cup and a half of white sugar.  Sounds good already! 

Add and gently fluff together to stir (with your fingers…derrr!)  3 Tablespoons of all purpose flour. 

Now for the fun.  Add a cup and a half of heavy cream.  Yep, I said it… the real stuff!  Slowly WITH YOUR FINGERS stir the cream and the sugar/flour mixture until the sugar no longer feels gritty.  You really do have to do it with your fingers.  Too much stirring will cause the cream to “whip”….word of the day… and your pie will be awful.  Also, don’t get in a hurry and make a mess, it’ll look bad.

Sprinkle a little Nutmeg over the top and carefully put into the oven (350…you knew that).  Bake the pie for about an hour.  It looks like a science experiment.  The pie actually bubbles and gurgles while you bake it.  Carefully remove it from the oven.  At this point it will still be pretty “sloshy” and hotter than you know what.  The top should have some caramely- brown color evenly across it.  Cool completely before cutting.

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