Friday, March 27, 2009


I live on the north side of the Ohio River, in the southern part of the state. This area is a mixture, you know, because ‘way back in the mid-1800s, Germans by the boatload crossed the ocean and headed this way. Once they got here, they proceeded to spread their names all over the land, names such as Weinzapfel and Gitleheimermeister. Well, maybe not the last one, but you get the idea - some real funny names. It was enough to make our old dead grandpas roll over in their graves.

Then, along comes that nasty old War Between the States over on the far side of the river and some people from Kentucky decided to pledge their allegiance to the place where the Germans now lived. They, too, jumped on boats and came a’calling. So, now we have people who say “Guten Morgen” and others who say “Hi y’all” ... all in the same neighborhood. On top of that, we got the “Guten Morgen” people eating their pig’s knuckles, burgoo and pork brain sandwiches and the “Hi y’all” folks savoring their catfish and hush puppies. Talk about a mess!

Well, as folks are likely to do, they intermingled. And thereafter they populated this village with little Southerners with German names! Now we had Weinzapfels eating catfish, doing hee haw dances and we also had Southerners drinking beer out of steins and using German slang. Lord a’mercy! I tell you, it’s enough to make you down right confused about who you are.

And you know what? I just heard that a whole bunch of Italian people are coming in this direction. I sure hope they are bringing their pizza and ravioli with them. Then we will really be whistling Dixie in all kinds of accents! No wonder they call this area Heavensville.

Monday, March 23, 2009

For Genealogists Only

Those of you who know me know that I am a genealogist. Not just on weekends or vacations, but an every day genealogist - in and out, through and through, forever and always. This didn’t happen overnight. It started innocently with just a question or two and took years of nurturing and seasoning to reach my current condition.

From the very first moment of wondering about my ancestors, I have been consumed with learning what they did, where they did it, and why they did it. “It” could be almost anything; if “it” was about them, I wanted to know. For those of you who don’t understand this malady, you may as well go on and do something else. You will be bored reading my story.

Maybe it is a case of simply being nosy, but I think curious is a better word. So, I am curious - very curious - and the only way to satisfy this curiosity is to find out as many answers as possible. That is what I have been doing for the last 40 years. Yes, 40 years of searching through musty records in courthouse basements and tramping across fields, up and down hills, often through wet and knee-high weeds in search of old family cemeteries. When genealogy gets hold of you, it gathers you up and takes you on the ride of your life. Don’t even try to fight it; it won’t work.

As a beginning genealogist, I schemed to think of ways to slip in a brief stop at a battlefield, family cemetery, or courthouse during a family vacation. After a while, it just seemed normal to include these little side trips on our agenda. In fact, I believe the family began to expect a part of our trip would be to some remote place. They thought it was to satisfy mom, but they were learning too. My children grew up becoming acquainted with our country’s history by visiting the places where our ancestors reared their families, fought their battles and buried their dead. We traveled to far away states searching for information, experiencing history where it happened. I hope it meant more to them than reading about an event in a textbook.

In years past, you could spot a genealogist because we always had a notebook and pen. Today we still carry these items and that’s really the only equipment you need to get started, but a laptop and digital camera are awfully handy too. Times may be different, but the quest is the same - to learn about those who came before us and, in doing so, to learn our place in the world - the place where our roots are located and the place we can call home, whether we have ever resided there or not. We even have our own special language - containing words such as testate and intestate, sources and citations, DNA and dower rights. If genealogy sounds like something you would like to do, come on along. Grab your notebook and pen and let’s go!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Learning Experience

Rearing children is a risky business and is not an occupation for the faint-hearted. Just when you think you’ve mastered the job, up pops something totally unexpected. I guess, though, you could call rearing children a learning experience.

My son is hard headed and always has been, being well acquainted with baseball bats and hammers. One summer day, while hammering a stake into the ground to erect his dad’s old Boy Scout tent, he brought the hammer a little too far back and down to take aim. His big sister, being chief caregiver of the family, ran inside to tell me what had happened. With blood streaming down his face and dripping onto the ground, his only comment was “I thought I was sweating a lot.” I learned something that day - hammered heads bleed a lot.

Then there was the time he got hit by a bat while playing baseball during recess at school. The principal called and my husband promptly drove our offspring to the Emergency room. Later, after getting our daughter from school, I raced to the E.R. to check on the little fellow, fearing all the while that the doctor would have dreadful news. There he lay - most of his forehead bandaged, a weak smile on his face and then he spoke, “Mom, do you have anything to eat in your purse?” I learned another lesson that day - getting hit with a baseball bat makes you hungry.

This male child has always marched to the tune of a different drummer. When others walked, he ran; when others slept, he was awake. From his earliest days, he wanted toys that made noise, had wheels and could be driven or pushed. I should have known right then he would end up on a race track. Just barely 16, he started racing - on a track, in a car and against drivers much older and with a lot more experience. I believed him when he promised me he would not go faster than 40 miles per hour. Hummph! He never explained that he would only do that in the corners, but on the straightway, it was hell bent for leather to reach the next corner so everyone could cram their cars into a tiny space and then fight each other again to get to the next corner. The lesson of the day - racing is all about speed; it’s not for the old and weak.

I hope those frantic days are behind us now. My son grew up and has become the responsible adult I hoped he would be in spite of a hammered and battered head and zipping around a race track. These days he is more inclined to work in his garden or take his dog, Keystone, for a ride in the Jeep and his racing is confined to watching it on TV. And not a day too soon, if you ask me. I’ve learned just about all I can take.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Spring's A'Coming!

I’m happy as a clam! It is almost time to start digging in the back yard. Yesterday was a dreary, drizzly day so my outdoor plans were put on hold. However, it was a perfect day to visit the garden department of a home building center. Half of the county must have had the same idea as the store was full. Maybe everyone else is tired of winter and anxious to get spring started.

My purpose was not to buy plants, but I could not resist the perennials and herbs right inside the door. It took about 10 seconds for me to choose two kinds of lavender and a pot of rosemary. One of the lavender plants is the ordinary kind so often found in herb gardens and flower beds. The other is a bit different but still smells lavendery. Both have those pretty little purple flowery heads.

I don’t have a lot of garden space, but made one bed around the raised deck last year and planted iris, Shasta daisies, columbine, lamb’s ear and echinocea (coneflower). I plan to fill in with moss rose around the steps and add the lavender and rosemary wherever I can. This may not be a conventional garden, but the flowers and colors are appealing to me and I especially love the old fashioned flowers. The most pleasure, though, is in digging. I love to dig. There is something therapeutic about it. Maybe I should include a sandbox in my backyard landscaping.

My sister-in-law in Pennsylvania introduced me to dolichos lablab (sometimes known as Egyptian pea vine) last year and I had pretty good success with seeds planted next to the privacy fence. They climbed up to the top of the fence and provided a nice, showy display of purple flowers and pods, which rattled when the breeze caught them. I collected the seed in the fall and will plant them after the danger of frost has passed. This time I’ll plant them closer to get a thicker display. I have never seen lablab seeds locally, but did find them at the Burpee site.

I know the calendar says spring arrives March 20th, but what’s the harm in giving it a poke in hopes it will come just a few days sooner. Besides, the weather forecaster says it is supposed to be 70 later this week. Armed with my trowel, I’m ready!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

County Fair

4-H was a big part of my life while growing up. My friends who lived on farms raised cattle or had other farm projects and those of us who weren’t farm kids had food or sewing projects. If 4-H had included genealogy projects back then, I would probably still be a member.

As soon as school was out, we began preparing our entries and looking forward to the county fair, which was usually in the latter part of the summer. The fair lasted about a week and we were there all day, every day. We planned what we would wear, including those new, fashionable Bermuda shorts with knee high socks, all in anticipation of the most exciting event of the summer.

Once the fair started, we would park ourselves on the bales of straw which formed the outer boundary of the cow barn. That is where we ate our lunch, flirted with the boys and watched other fair goers. Sooner or later, every visitor was bound to pass by and we were ready to wave, squeal out a greeting and be very teenagerish. We got a first hand look at who was together and who was not. This was better than keeping up by telephone any day.

Our county fair was an old-fashioned one. It had lots of exhibits, but no carnival rides. There was a special program every night with the most important program, of course, being the crowning of the county fair queen. Each queen contestant had a sponsor and it was considered an honor to be chosen as a candidate. The winner of the county fair contest went on to be a contestant for Indiana State Fair queen. Now, that was big time!

My only foray into queen contestanthood started off very nicely. All of the contestants gathered in a room in a concrete block building on the fairgrounds for a pep talk and some instructions . We were given directions on walking gracefully without loping or swinging our arms like gorillas and how to stand in our high heels with our toes pointed just so. This was not always easy, especially for the girls who were more accustomed to driving a tractor than wearing high heels.

In our grand entrance we were to ride on the back seats of convertibles - two girls per car. We positioned ourselves just so, placing a big smile on our faces and prepared to give that queenly wave. There we were - perhaps ten of us representing all of the young womanhood in our county. Perfectly posed, ready to let our fans, especially our moms and dads, admire and adore us.

The convertibles started moving forward slowly, slowly with the contestants waving and smiling. All went well until my carriage hit a rock, a big rock. Big enough to cause you-know-who to lose her seating on the back seat and slide not so gracefully to the floorboard. Too embarrassed amid the snickers to climb back on the seat, the rest of the ride to the stage found me huddled on the floor.

As you might guess, I wasn’t crowned County Fair Queen, but I have my memories of the great event. Those memories are sufficient to remind me why I never again attempted to become County Fair Queen.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Seven Signs of Spring

No matter what the calendar says, I am finished with winter and am looking for signs of spring. The following list is my indicator that spring is near.

  • The chirping of birds when I get the morning newspaper.

  • My cats sitting on the deck with their noses raised to sniff the warm breeze.

  • My internal yearning for fresh strawberries and tomatoes.

  • The “Blop, Blop” of a basketball being dribbled down the street.

  • The vibration and noise of a car radio in the neighborhood teenager’s car.

  • The first tiny buds on the pear tree in the front yard.

  • Seeing the first convertible with its top down.

  • I know it is only early March, but the grass has turned greener the past few days and I can feel the approach of spring. This is my time of renewal and hope after a long, cold winter.

    Thursday, March 5, 2009

    Apartment Life

    After living in houses for 35 years or more, I moved to an apartment a few years back. Living there was an education. My preconceived notions had apartment dwellers as young people saving to buy their first home or the elderly who had downsized and no longer wanted the responsibility of a house. What I found is that those living in apartments, at least in my complex, came in all ages and professions and carried with them all sorts of backgrounds and stories.

    This was a small complex with only 30 apartment units (10 in three buildings) and eight townhouses so it was easy to get to know many of the residents, especially those in my building. Some became my friends and some did not, but all were part of my entry into another world.

    I met a family who had lost their home and business through bad financial choices. Making the most of the situation, they had learned to re-think and re-new their lives through their five years of apartment living. They were the most “normal” of the families I met. Let me tell you about some of the others.

    After meeting a new downstairs resident, Mary, her first words to me were “I’m crazy, you know.” Five minutes of conversation revealed she was telling the truth. Mary’s daily attire consisted of a nightgown and slippers - day or night, rain or shine, inside or outside. When she was confused, she called the EMS, who had visited her at least 20 times during the time we were neighbors. In spite of her craziness, she was a good soul and had the talent of hanging bird feeders from every possible perch and birds would find those feeders within 24 hours. She said she talked to the birds to get them to visit. I believed her.

    Living next to my crazy friend was a fellow who worked for the power company. I thought he was completely normal and we enjoyed many conversations about politics, our neighbors and life in general. Then, one day I came home to find a T shaped metal rod stuck in the ground in front of his apartment. What could this be? Looking at me like I was a bit simple, he explained. He believed, because of the nature of his work, his body was becoming magnetized and to eliminate this problem, he placed both feet on either side of the pole, grabbed the handles and “grounded” himself before entering his apartment. Yeah. Sure. I think he had been spending too much time talking to Mary.

    Undoubtedly the most interesting of the whole bunch was Mickey, a young mother of two. Her youngest, a little boy named Phoenix, was born not long after they moved two doors down from me. She and her family had relocated here from California to be near her husband’s family. I enjoyed visiting with her and she seemed completely normal. That should have been my first clue. When Phoenix was just a few months old, Mickey disappeared and the gossip had it she had left her family, never to return. I knew finances were tight, but had seen no signs of a pending departure. Then, a neighbor, braver than I, simply asked Mickey's husband when she would be back. It seems our young mother was an “adult entertainer” in Las Vegas and would work in a club or casino for a few months, come home to pick up her role as mommy and wife, and then return to work when the money ran out. I wish I had asked different questions when we first became acquainted.

    Living in the apartment was interesting and I believe I learned to appreciate the differences in people. Not everyone in the complex was strange, but all had a story. You just needed to listen to hear them.