Author Stephen King learns about his relatives’ progressive past

 

Finding Your Roots returns this Tuesday night on PBS. I prefer this show over Who Do You Think You Are? Henry Gates, Jr. is a fantastic host: witty, friendly, caring. He makes a point in his research to uncover common themes between two or three different people’s family trees. For instance, Tuesday’s show is called “In Search of Our Fathers,” and focuses on three celebrities (I posted the incredibly moving Gloria Reuben preview on my Facebook page) whose childhoods all lacked fathers. With three different people to cover, FYR doesn’t resort to the filler moments WDYTYA bookends each commercial break with. Henry Gates, as you can tell from the video, checks in with his guests while he tells them their family’s story creating genuine moments between them. Sometimes I feel like WDYTYA tries to force emotional reactions on camera.

Anyway, I’ll be watching. If you catch the episode, leave me a comment. We’ll talk.

Connecting with My Grandfather

I’ve never met my grandfather, Ralph. My father didn’t really know him either. He was an alcoholic and he abandoned my dad at the age of 8. I assumed that was all there was to know.

Dad only told one story about him. The story took place on the roof of what would become my childhood home. After years of repeatedly disappointing my father, he was trying to reestablish a connection. Ralph chose to reconnect by helping my father build our house.

CCC working
CCC men dig a ditch.

It was 1970. Ralph was in his mid-60s. He and my dad were putting the roof on the house. While they were hammering and tarring, Ralph started talking about how the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) ruined his life. It was the reason he lost his job, and the reason he started drinking. The CCC was part of President Roosevelt’s economic recovery plan for America during the Great Depression. It allowed the government to hire three million men to build roads, plant trees, and dig ditches across the country between 1933 to 1942.

The story has always confused me. How could a program whose sole purpose was to hire millions of people put my grandfather out of work? I had no idea.  I decided to look into it, hoping to understand him a little better.

In the 1930 census, I found him listed along with my great-grandparents. He was working for a county in Iowa as an assistant engineer three years before the CCC began. Mystery solved, I thoughtThe CCC, being a national program, must have made the County guys, like my grandfather, obsolete. Roosevelt formed the CCC; Ralph lost his job.

In the 1940 census, I found this:

Screen shot 2014-09-15 at 3.54.32 PM

So, my theory was wrong. My grandfather wasn’t let go when the CCC started. He kept his job well into its heyday. Not only that, somewhere along the way he had picked up a wife and 2 daughters I didn’t know about. Holy cow!

Using phone directories (which listed peoples’ professions alongside their addresses back then), I find out that Ralph was let go as an engineer sometime in 1941. With that information, I had to form a new theory: the CCC must have finished all the work a county engineer would be hired to do. When the CCC started to disintegrate, the county probably realized there was no more work for my semi-educated 36-year-old grandfather.

I say semi-educated because the censuses consistently list Ralph’s highest level of education as 8th grade. ‘Engineer’ was just a title; he didn’t have a degree.

In 1942, Ralph was divorced from Gladys, broke, lacking purpose, and living in Flint, Michigan. The directory states that he was running a pool hall there. Before, I would have blamed him for allowing himself to be near the alcohol in the pool halls, accelerating his and his second family’s self-destruction. But I realize now that if I had lost both my job and my family in less than a year, I might start drinking, too.

I don’t like that he took such a long time to get his act together, but I’m grateful that he eventually did it. That he was there in 1970 on that rooftop with my dad. That he tried and succeeded to connect.

(l to r) Bill James, Eva Burns, Ralph James
My grandfather is the man on the right.

Get Well Soon

Everything hurt—chewing, coughing, breathing even—so between the nurses’ questions about pain levels and decreasing dosages, I occupied myself by staring at the television. The Streets of San Francisco was on. Steve Keller was chasing a bad guy across a parking lot. Rosalyn, my wife, must have gone down to make a call, and I was alone when Albert walked into my room.

“Look at you. That contraption you’re in makes you look like a robot. You ain’t auditioning to be the next ‘Six Million Dollar Man,’ are you?” He was talking about my back brace. He stopped a few feet short of my bed and waited for a reply. His bell-bottomed slacks cinched below the volleyball of his belly and pooled at his loafers. He looked ridiculous.

But instead of telling him so, I dryly said, “You should have called an ambulance” and moved my eyes back to the tv.

“You know why I didn’t.”

“They’re medics, not policemen. All they would have asked you to do is point to where I was.”

Albert had been in and out of jail since I was the size of a quarter: theft, public intoxication, child neglect. He didn’t like policemen, so after watching me fall off the roof, he got in his car and drove until he found someone else to deal with me. Yet another example of my father’s problems taking priority over my well being.

“I’d have had to file a report, wouldn’t I?”

“People don’t know about your record unless you tell them, you know. I can’t believe you just left me there. What if I’d died?”

“Stop being over-dramatic. You were breathing. You hadn’t broken anything. Rosalyn was only down the street, so I went and got her. I figured she’d want to ride with you.”

I had been re-roofing the house. Albert was there helping me as part of a reward system we’d worked out. He started calling me about five years ago to apologize and ask to be a part of my life. I eventually gave him the chance to prove it. He sobered up; I started acknowledging his presence. He managed to stay out of jail for a year; I invited him to dinner, and so on. It had taken him three years to work up to being my assistant carpenter.

“You should have forgotten yourself for a second and called a damn ambulance.”

“You only fell fifteen feet. And you got here, didn’t you? Besides, you’ve always been good at taking care of yourself.”

“No thanks to you, Dad.” I sneered. “I had to learn to take care of myself because my parents were too lit to feed me. You know, I was talking to Carol a few weeks ago and she told me this cute story from when I was young. Seems she found me on a kitchen counter one morning chowing down on some dry spaghetti noodles. When I asked her how old she thought I’d been, do you know what she said?”

Albert was so silent that, even through my anger and the pain medication,  I registered the tinkling of a commercial jingle playing on the television. I’d never brought up the bad years before; he didn’t know how to respond.

“She said I was five months old. Have you ever heard of a baby so young being able to climb onto a countertop? I must have been pretty motivated to get up there, huh? Bet I was hungry, and I bet I had to learn real quick that in order to stop the hunger I needed to climb counters and open cabinets. So, fuck you, Dad, for teaching me the hard way that I only have myself to rely on.”

I don’t know if it was the anger, the concussion, or the medication, but a wave of nausea overtook me. I grabbed the bed pan. When I finished, I saw the back of him turn out of my room. It was just like him to leave when someone was holding him accountable for something.

 
*****
This story is very loosely based on family folklore.

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*Respectful and constructive criticism is always appreciated.

The Creeper of the Family Tree (revised)

Sums it up pretty well.
Sums it up pretty well.

A few times a week, especially when I’m feeling groggy, I’ll jog up and down the stairwells of my office building. Each time I hit the bottom landing I’ll turn down into the little-used basement and lay on the floor for my jack knifes, squats, and pushups. I like that it’s cool and quiet down there, but mostly I want to spare my co-workers the mental image of me huffing and puffing while doing lunges.

The drawback to exercising in the basement is that it’s within earshot of the back door of the building. Many people take their cellphones to the bottom of those steps to make a call, or they’ll pause there to finish conversations with co-workers before going back up to work. As a result, I find myself overhearing a lot of strangers’ conversations without their knowledge. A few of them have actually screamed when I’ve emerged from the basement and crossed between them mid-conversation. Since mine is not the only company in the building, these people don’t know me as anyone other than that weird guy that’s running away from whatever suspicious thing he’s got going on in the basement.

In other words, I’m the inadvertent office creeper.

Me, after a workout
Me, during a workout

And sometimes, I must admit, I feel like a creeper when I’m researching my family: shining lights into dark corners, uncovering tawdry secrets, sniffing out facts about strangers to whom I happen to be related.

For instance, early on in my research I found the names and whereabouts of two relatives that had fallen away from the family. Exhilarated by my discovery, I immediately reached out to them on Facebook, but my enthusiasm was not reciprocated. They politely asked me not to contact them again. I was crushed. It hadn’t occurred to me that they wouldn’t be equally enthusiastic, nor had it occurred to me that they’d associate me with the grudge they held against our common relative. I didn’t understand their immediate dismissal at first. I’m not to blame for what happened to them, I thought, and the past is past.

But it’s not.

Let’s face it: families are messy. There’s a lot of baggage there, and genealogists like me make a hobby out of rifling through it like the NSA at security checks. My relatives’ rejection helped me to understand that my research and my feelings of connection to familial strangers could be construed as intrusive and stalkerish.

Their rejection also reminded me that our past is directly tied to our present. For some people, like my two relatives, the consequences of past events can be so raw for so long that an enthusiastic Facebook message might make the pain of an entire childhood resurface. I realize that now.

Then it occurred to me that if researching my living family members can stir up bad feelings, maybe it’s ticking off my dead ones, too. What if my research is just bringing up long-forgotten resentments and shame in the afterlife? What if they’re sitting together in an all-white hotel conference room right now throwing fast food wrappers at my image on the afterlife’s version of a television?

Most of my ancestors sought and successfully led quiet lives. They were solid, modest Midwesterners living as best they could in the capsules of their time. Maybe they weren’t the kind to like attention. I wonder if they find my stories about them ostentatious. I wonder if they’d rather not be researched by me at all. My devout Baptist and Methodist relatives probably wouldn’t agree with my life as a gay man. If they were living, they might have ignored me, disowned me, or sent me off to a ‘conversion therapy’ camp.

Obviously, I hope not. I hope they see my creeping as interest in their lives. I hope they appreciate that I’m trying  to understand and learn from them. I hope they recognize that their lives are inspiring me to be grateful for every moment of my own quiet and solid Midwestern life.

(I pulled this from my archives and submitted it to two very gentle editors for their feedback and guidance in yeah write‘s Silver Lounge. Thank you, Christine of trudging through fog and Rowan from textwall, for helping me see this post in a different light. Click here to read the previous version.)

 

I didn’t want to be related to him anyway.

Everybody wants to be related to someone famous and if they can’t be, then they want someone they know to be related to someone famous so they will always have an interesting story to drop at parties.

My last name is James and I have brothers. It was inevitable that people would tease us about our latest train robbery or shootout with the sheriff. Our neighbor—a short, greasy man who always had a pack of cigarettes ready in the pocket of his t-shirt—would put his hands up whenever he saw one of us. Every single time he saw us. For years. I always wondered why he carried the joke on so long. It’s probably that he enjoyed the idea of knowing people who could be related to famous people.

Another inevitable consequence of having my last name is being asked if I’m actually related to those 19th century hoodlums. I have to admit that it’s the first thing I looked up when I started my research. How could it not be after decades of politely laughing at a neighbor’s joke as though I’d never heard/seen it before? It’s also the first thing family members want to know when they find out I’ve been digging around in our past: Are we related to anyone “good”? It’s probably the first thing anyone looks up when they start their genealogical inquiries. I imagine the ones who actually uncover a celebrity in the family tree must feel like a miner felt when he found yellow sparkles in his pan.

I’ve mentioned before that my dad’s family tree was sparse before I started filling it in. So I had to start with my grandparents and work my way back. That research eventually revealed that my ancestors lived in Harrison County, Missouri—a very rural county on the state line with Iowa. At the same time, Jesse lived just three counties away in Clay County, Missouri. With that knowledge, my heartbeat quickened. It was possible. Not many people lived in that part of Missouri at the time, therefore, families could spread out further with the acquisition of land for farms.

My next step was to look through Jesse James’s family tree, which was easy because his lineage is well documented. All I had to do was look through the surnames and the locations of births and deaths to see if any matched up with my ancestors. I quickly discovered a surprising fact about Jesse James: his family was deeply inbred. Among his and his wife’s eight grandparents, there are only five last names. Yech. And in those five surnames I didn’t find a single match with my family except for the obvious one, which cut off any hopes that I could call the most famous outlaw in American history (arguably) my uncle.

To be honest though, that’s pretty much what I expected. I’d read that most of Jesse James’s family changed their name out of shame after his crimes reached the front pages of national newspapers. The fact that my family kept their last name while living in relatively close proximity has always made me doubtful of any connection.

I cling to the very slim chance of a very distant relationship. Tracking his family’s and my family’s migrations across the U.S., I see a pattern. Both families immigrated to Virginia: mine to Spotsylvania County and Jesse’s to nearby Goochland. Then they’re both found in Kentucky (my family eventually strayed across the river to Ohio) and then they both settled in Missouri. All of these moves to different states happened at around the same time, so it could be that the clan moved as a unit.

When I told my family that there was probably no relationship, they didn’t seem disappointed. But they don’t show any enthusiasm when I tell them of the other connections to famous people I’ve been trying to prove. For instance, we’re most likely sixth cousins (four times removed) to Eli Whitney, the inventor of the cotton gin; and it’s well documented that Susannah North Martin, one of the women hanged during the Salem Witch trials, had a daughter that married into the Peasley family of Vermont. Chances are strong that that’s the same line of Peasley in our family tree. I mean, how many different Peasley families could there have been in Vermont in the 1820s?

Yeah, I suppose those connections aren’t as interesting. But they’re not as inbred either, so that’s a plus.

Erosion

It was true. Some women just weren’t meant to be mothers. Enid saw it on the preoccupied faces of the women sitting around her. She knew they were all the wives of boatmen. They had that look about them—eyes like two emptied glasses of vodka. A lingering smell of sadness. She also knew that they were in the bus station awaiting the arrivals of their husbands from the river. She knew these things because, up until today, she had been one of them.

A woman dressed in purple sat next to Enid. The woman had been staring at the Arrivals board and sucking air between her teeth for the better part of an hour. Her plum hat bobbed with every intake of breath. When her giggling children ran back to her, she shushed them before they could explain that the station clerk had neighed at them like a horse. Enid felt the woman’s mood pull at her and repeated the words her pastor had told her to comfort her sensitivities: Happiness is a distasteful emotion to those still awaiting its arrival.

Enid was determined not to wait for happiness any longer. She was on her way to family. She took a swig from the flask in her coat. She looked from the iron-clad clock hanging from the ceiling to the Departure board to her children sitting on the other side of her. Adam gently swung his legs and Delia whispered something kind to baby Laurie lying in her lap. They could tell something was different. Their father had only been gone a week and they were already back at the bus station.

Berl, Enid’s husband, worked on a Mississippi steamboat shoveling coal into its coffers. He did this day in day out from St. Louis all the way to New Orleans and back again. Not an easy job, but steadier than most. It’s the job that kept them in the disintegrating Missouri town away from family. Seemed like every week Enid heard about another family packing up and moving north to the factories. She’d noticed the dwindling of the merchant’s stock over the past few months. No more lace for dresses, no more flowers for Sunday supper. Slowly and steadily, she witnessed the people of her town march away like ants in a rainstorm. The newspapers called it a depression.

A few weeks ago, Enid had confronted Berl about how bad things were getting at the house. His leaving her with the kids for months at a time was wearing on her. Friends no longer visited; they’d either moved away or were busy with kids and extra washing. She had cried all the way through her practiced speech. She knew she sounded unreasonable, but she needed to tell him that the life he gave her was not one she wanted. He yelled and condescended: Things are the way they are till they’re not, he had fumed. If I can work the ovens 16 hours a day, you can certainly wash a few diapers and make a few dinners. It burned her up even more that his reaction was exactly what she expected.

A meaningful cough from another woman nearby brought Enid back from the argument. Adam was kicking the bench across from him. She grabbed his leg and began singing. My Country, ‘Tis of Thee then I’m Putting All My Eggs In One Basket, Delia’s favorite. In between verses Enid nipped more at her flask. She was just beginning Pennies From Heaven when the clerk’s voice announced that it was time to board the bus. She stood and gathered her things.

“Adam, I need you to be in charge until someone picks you up. Stay put, it shouldn’t be long. Mama’s going away for a little bit; she just needs a break is all. Tell Gamma I’ll be back when I find my peace.” She stepped onto the bus knowing more than her kids’ eyes had followed her out the door. She sat down in a seat just behind the driver—the side opposite the station and finished off her flask.

 

This is new fiction inspired by the prompt “Where have all the flowers gone?” See other answers to the prompt by clicking on the badge above!

The Crime of Writing Tall Tales, My Notes on Bayliss Park

I wanted to jot down some of my research for my story Bayliss Park before I forget what’s true and what’s not. The genealogist in me feels guilty posting something without proper documentation. I’m already wanted by the Genealogy Police for crimes involving my flagrant use of embellishment while inventing my ancestors’ lives.

It started with this funeral notice I found on Ancestry.com for my 2nd great-grandfather:

The funeral of Josiah James will take place this afternoon at 2 o’clock from his late residence near Wickham’s Brickyard in the northwestern part of the city. Friends invited to attend. Mr. James has been here only about three weeks, and he was stout and hearty until Thursday last when he took sick. He came from Harrison County, MO. He leaves a wife, and ten children.

(source: Daily Nonpareil, Council Bluffs, Iowa, Sunday, 02 April 1882, Page 5, Column 1)

Iowa as a state didn’t have a law for keeping death records until 1880, and the law wasn’t enforced consistently until 1924. So I don’t hold out any hope of seeing Josiah’s death certificate and determining what he passed of. Instead, I began looking into what could have brought down a “stout and hearty” man so quickly. He was obviously feeling strong enough to move his wife and six youngest children 150 miles from Missouri to Iowa just a month or so prior.

I found the article below in my process of scanning the newspapers of towns from the time in which my relatives lived there. It’s a great way to gauge a community’s world view and it’s cool for me to think that my forefathers probably read and reacted to the very same pages. Chronicling America, the Library of Congress’s free online collection of historic newspapers, is usually my first stop.

typhoid case
(source: The Weekly Graphic, Kirksville, Missouri, 4 Nov 1881)

“Let others come forward in the same manner at once.” Love it. It’s this kind of demand that makes me nostalgic for a time I never lived in. Can you imagine just leaving money at the WalMart and trusting that it would be applied to the sick man’s cause? Parts of me want to write the story of Arment and Mrs. Rudolph, even though they aren’t family. A clear example of how researching genealogy can inspire fiction.

So, Arment’s story is what sparked the idea that Josiah passed of typhoid fever. The article verifies that the disease was in the area at the time. I learned that it was common for people to contract it while traveling. If it was typhus that killed him, perhaps Josiah’s health was already compromised by the stress of starting new at the age of 54. I’ll never know; so I wrote the story to fill in some gaps. Add to my family’s lore. Genealogy Police be damned.

Olivia JamesIt occurred to me that his wife Olivia was a newly single mother in 1882, after just arriving in a new city. Thankfully, all 4 of their older children were living in Council Bluffs and could support her. Josiah and Olivia moved, it seems, to be closer to them. Still, she must have been a strong woman; it’s this fact that made me characterize her as I did. And that picture of her. I love it, but it initiates so many questions: Why is she sitting in a fancy chair outside? Who took the picture? Why does it look so staged? The interview format was a way for me to explain these questions. For more on Olivia, read my post Delano, Herbert Walker, and Hussein; or The Stories Middle Names Tell.

Samuel Hurd was the son of a Council Bluffs family. He would have been just 16 when the James brothers probably came down to Harrison County, Missouri, to help their parents move. Later, Sam would marry Lena James (the pictures are really them), as his cousin Martha would marry Lena’s older brother, Noah, my direct descendents. That family tie makes me think the Hurds and the Jameses knew each other well. So it’s not impossible that 16-year-old Samuel helped them move. What is impossible is that Lena and Sam would be courting soon after Josiah passed. Lena was only 9 at the time of the move. I aged them up for the sake of the story.

Bayliss Park

Gentlemen—

The following transcript details three interviews conducted between May 16th and 18th, 1909, in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Only excerpts pertinent to my father, SAMUEL HURD’s melancholic state are enclosed.

Respectfully,
Wallace Hurd

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++

(Interview: LENA HURD, alone, in her parlor on Eighth Street.)

Q6: When did you first regard a change in your husband’s disposition?

Lena Hurd:
Leona JamesThat evening in Bayliss Park. We were walking hand-in-hand by the fountain. Spare me that look, son, long ago your parents were young and carefree. We came across your grandmother sitting alone on a bench knitting. I remember being touched by the sight of her there, so calm just days after Father’s [pause] ceremony. I looked behind me when I felt my hand pull back and found your father rigid, gaping, as if turned to stone by Medusa, yet still clutching my hand. I thought it a jest at first. I waited for him to say something amusing. It wasn’t until I stepped toward him that I noticed a tear falling from his jaw. Mother looked up then, saw our queer tableau. She thrust her knitting needles into a skein of yarn and plodded off—I presume back to the house. I coaxed Sam to a bench to get his bearings, then we walked home, and have never talked of it since.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Samuel Hurd(Interview: SAMUEL HURD, same day, also quite alone. I began by reading his wife’s response to the question above.)

Q1: Do you remember the encounter of which your wife speaks?

Samuel Hurd:
Clear as day.

Q2: Do you remember what upset you so?

SH: The sweater your grandmother was knitting that night reminded me. [He stares at his splayed left hand.]

Interviewer: I don’t understand.

SH: It was the same color red and the same knit as the blanket I wrapped him in. After. The coward that I am chose to stay with the body instead of facing your mother, your grandmother. Not when I knew I was responsible for his death. Just weeks after moving his family hundreds of miles. And your grandmother having all those young mouths to feed.

Interviewer: Respectfully, sir, the typhus took him. He drank bad water is all. Some tainted creek along the way, I expect.

SH: No one else fell, boy! Only men in our caravan. And it was my hand that done it. I’m sure of it. I was the cook. I’d just recovered from the fever myself. Didn’t think twice about making supper until after we’d arrived. A father and son fell soon after, the McDevitts, then your uncle Noah and your grandfather. We were lucky to only lose the one.

Interviewer: If what you say is true, Father, no one blames you for it.

SH: Your grandmother does. Starting that very night on the park bench. The poor woman was mourning her husband’s death in solitude and we come in prancing about like songbirds. Oh, the way she looked at me. As if I were Death himself coming to collect her.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Don't be fooled by her humble expression. This woman is a troublemaker.

(Interview: OLIVIA JAMES, in her side yard on Avenue D. She shucked corn throughout the interview.)

Q3: Do you remember an evening when Father and Mother happened upon you in Bayliss Park?

Olivia James:
I always set [sic.] in the park after dinner, Acey. All of Council Bluffs has occasioned upon me there at one time or ‘nother.

Q4: This was just after Grandfather’s wake. You were knitting a sweater? Mother said it was the day she realized Father’s black mood.

OJ: Now, I do remember one time lookin’ up to see your father eyein’ me right good. He was wantin’ some time with your mother. I had jus’ set [sic.] down and had to get right back up so’s they could court without this old hen clucking about them.

Q5: Father said you gave him a queer look?

OJ: Oh, Acey, I’m sure as shellfish I did. Back then, I could only get away from that house once in a blue moon. It was prob’ly the first time I’d been by myself in weeks.

Q6: Did you notice any changes in Father’s mood after that night, Meemaw?

OJ: They were both so forlorn after Josiah passed. I was glad to see them at ease after an ungodly week of undertakers, corsets, and house guests. Your mother eventually stopped treatin’ me as if I were a crystal decanter, but Sam was never the same again.

 

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Three Box Fans

On the first warm day of the year my mother became a mastermind.

We lived, the five of us, in a peach* house that knelt into the apex of a gentle hill. I use the word hill in the relative sense, though. A hill in eastern Michigan is very different from, say, a Hill in Colorado. When you walked in our front door, you were greeted with a good-sized living room protruding to your left. The kitchen table lay straight ahead twenty paces and a picture window hung just behind it, framing a large backyard stippled with freestanding bird feeders.

There was only one way into the other side of the house. If you turned right when you were halfway to the kitchen, you’d be confronted by a hallway that grew darker before taking a sharp turn into light once more. Doors to a bathroom and two bedrooms stood sentry in the darkness. The light at the end of the hall was from my bedroom— the door was left ajar because I couldn’t reach the doorknob then.

Because of the bottleneck of the hallway, heat would build up in the closed-off bedrooms during the day. It was because of this build-up of hot air that, every few hours, my mother would stop what she was doing in the kitchen to reposition one (or all) of the three box fans in the house. It began as a way to get her family to sleep through those sticky August nights. It turned into her responsibility. A responsibility that eventually glommed onto me when I grew older.

Every night, before us three sons would go to bed, she’d open the front door wide and pry open the stubborn panes in the picture window. She’d put the strongest fan right at the beginning of the hallway so it would blow down the corridor and fill each of our bedrooms, as if they were balloons. The other two fans she’d place in bedroom windows blowing outward. I’ve since named it ‘the flow technique’—sucking the hot air out and replacing it with the fresh air from the main part of the house.

Dad didn’t see much sense in facing fans out windows. He tried more than once to convince her that aiming all the fans inward would cool the house down just as fast and give each of us a breeze. But Mom insisted on flow. This was years before the idea of feng shui was common knowledge. Mom was certainly ahead of her time!

After the first week, Dad no longer argued with her. The bedrooms cooled down in record time. We started sleeping with sheets over us again. That was the best part for me— the youngest—because with sheets covering me I didn’t have to worry so much about midnight monster attacks.

I don’t remember the exact words Mom and Dad used to state their cases, but I’m sure they were very similar to the cases my partner and I have made to one another on these unbearably hot nights recently. He’s learned to just let me keep repositioning the fans. Thankfully, we’ve added an AC window unit to the mix.

 

*Note: my parents still live in the peach house I describe here, although I don’t think it’s peach anymore. I only used the past tense here because I haven’t lived there in over 20 years. Mom doesn’t practice the fine art of fan positioning anymore. They installed central air about a decade ago. I remember when they first got it, Mom said to me, “I just don’t know how we lived without AC for so long.”

The Last Voyager

In my recent post, Dreams As Big As Canada, I tell you a little about what it felt like for me to discover Amos Burg on my family tree. Since finding him, I’ve finished his engrossing biography by Vince Welch called The Last Voyageur, upon which I’ve learned so much about his life. Below are a few pictures of him, his obituary, and one of his videos (silent film, how old school is that?!). Just a few things I want to have handy  and a way to commemorate him on the 28th anniversary of his leaving this world. Here’s to your determination, Amos!

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Amos Burg obituary Sitka Sentinel 16 Jun 1986
Amos Burg’s obituary in the Sitka Sentinel, 16 Jun 1986 (pictures from Oregon Historical Society and Vince Welch’s website)