Monthly Archives: February 2013

Family Ties

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I received a fat bundle of papers in the mail last week, from my mother’s cousin, Marilyn.

I met Marilyn – along with two other cousins I didn’t know existed – at my mother’s funeral.

According to my sister, Brenda, Mom was not hiding these relatives from us (or, as I wondered, hiding us from the relatives). She says we were probably just not interested. Or we have forgotten.

I don’t know.

If I forgot, then I certainly thoroughly forgot, because I have absolutely no knowledge or memory of Marilyn or the other two cousins.

Anyway, Marilyn has been working on a family history.

I am interested.

She is willing to share all the information she has. From me, she would like the names of my mother’s children, with dates, birthplaces, names of husbands and wives, children and grandchildren.

She had asked Mom for this information, she told me, but my mother was a busy woman.

It turns out, Marilyn had first spoken to my mother about it in 1961, at my grandmother’s funeral.

Here she was – 50 years later – at another funeral, with the same request.

I’m happy to know this doggedly persistent and extremely patient woman is my relative!

I’d love to see those qualities in my own personality!

So far, no.

In any case, I am trying to fulfill her request for names and dates and latest generations. Already 18 months has passed since the day I assured her I’d get right on it.

I’m still tangled in the details of whether to type (a long, slow process for me!) or write out the information. I’m going over options on how to format it so that it’s understandable. I’m trying to  remember to pin my sisters down on the birth-dates and places of their grandchildren. Marriage dates…divorce information…step-children and their children…before I know it, another 50 years will have gone by!

And there will be Marilyn, kindly telling my children what a busy woman I was.

Though it’s taking me awhile to get the information together, I’ve wasted no time in going through the bundle Marilyn sent to me.

It’s fascinating to read!

Beyond Marilyn and the other two cousins, I had dozens of relatives living close to where I grew up. Some names sound vaguely familiar, but I don’t remember them beyond that. I had no idea that my grandfather had brothers and sisters that lived well into my adulthood!

I’ve gotten to know my great-great grandfather, Joseph. A small time thief, Civil War veteran, “opium eater and hard drinker”, Joseph defended himself in a couple legal matters, so his words were transcribed and saved in court records.

“In the first place I acknowledge that I did wrong in doing what I did, but I was entirely ignorant of the crime attached […] I did not think about it as much at the time as I did afterwards.”

“I am a man of no learning at all. I have a large family. I have always worked hard for a living. I never refused to obey an order given to me. I have always done my duty. I have tried to do what I could to put down this rebellion.[…] All I have to say is to ask as far as is consistent with judgement and principle, what mercy you can give me in this case.”

My great-great grandmother Sarah, Joseph’s wife, applied to the government for a Widow’s Pension, and later appealed the decision.

“I am 62 years of age, occupation: housekeeper, post office. I am the widow of Joseph W. Carpenter, who served as a private in Company “A”, 6th Michigan Infantry from March ’62 til March ’65, and then being sick and unable to work, enlisted about April ’65 in Company “A”, 8th Michigan Infantry and was again discharged in April ’66.”

Sarah wasn’t asking for much. She acknowledges that seven of her eight children were over the age of sixteen at the time of her husband’s death in 1874. Only little Nora was home, and seven years old. It appears that Sarah raised her family without aid from the government, and only started looking into it in 1889, possibly as a means of survival in her old age. She assures the court that she was legally married, that Joseph was her only husband, and that she has not “cohabitated with any man as his wife since his death.”

“Prior to my husband’s enlistment he was called as sound a man as there was in the community […] he was not sick at all ’til after his army service.”

“My husband used to doctor himself a great deal.”

It feels strange to read what other have to say about them, in these court transcripts.

“He was a very intemperate man and would dissipate whenever he had money, but in those times men would drink without being considered intemperate.”

“His habits both before and after the service were of the very worst. He was a drunkard […} and I fail to see how by any possible theory his habits can be eliminated in considering the cause of his death.”

“He was not a steady man […], but was considered a good worker when he did work, but he was rather of an indolent disposition.”

“They were in a destitute condition and doctors did not like to go and see him.”

“I have known his widow all of these years […]. She is considered a woman of good character. She has no home or means of support.”

The claim was denied.

I find myself – by turns – impressed, embarrassed by and defensive of these people that lived so long ago.

Obviously, they are family!

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Be In Love With Yr Life

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That title is thanks to Jack Kerouac, from a list of 30 points he noted to achieve creative success.

Good advice!

The entire list was pretty inspiring, from “the crazier the better” to “accept loss forever”.

I like this one best, though.

“Be in love with yr life.”

It’s simple. Profound. Easy to achieve.

In fact, I am quite successful at this particular rule.

I – yes, me, with list after list of un-kept resolutions, un-met goals, heart-ache and heart-break; me, with un-paid bills, disobedient dogs, an unfinished house and a broken-down car; me, who probably complains too much and indulges in self-pity far too often – am absolutely – wildly – in love with my life!

I have a lot to be thankful for, many things to be happy about…but that’s not really the point. If it were a tally sheet, with good and bad both noted, it would probably be a fairly even score. The older I get, the more losses there are.

Still, I’m thrilled to be here.

Every day, challenging or not, happy or not, here for the experience.

In love with my life!

I Don’t Do Emoticons

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I don’t do “high five”s.

Well, every now and then, if I can’t avoid it, I do.

If some event causes a hand to be in the air, facing me, waiting for me to smack it with the palm of my hand, I do. I always wince. It never feels authentic.

I never, ever initiate a “high five”.

I was never comfortable with “groovy”.

I was a child of the sixties; I knew the language. I could say “cool” with exactly the right amount of nonchalance to convey the fact that whatever I was responding to was fantastic…but that I was way too cool to let it show. “Far out” was reserved for those occurrences that deserved a bit more enthusiasm. “Bummer” was appropriate for times and happenings that were sad, unfortunate or boring. I still use these words and phrases, though it causes my baby sister to smile at the quaint, “old-fashioned” sound of them.

“Groovy”, though, always seemed contrived. I felt it would be the right word if I were ever on the verge of a drug-induced trance, but since I didn’t do drugs, it never felt right.

A friend asked, a while ago, why I couldn’t just respond with a “You GO, Woman!” to a bit of good news she’d told me. Two other female friends had given her that exact response, I was told.

I said things like “Great!” and “Oh, that’s wonderful!”. I may even have thrown in a “Far Out!”.

Evidently, “You GO, Woman!” is not something I’m comfortable with, either.

Finally, I don’t do emoticons.

I don’t do the little bobble-head ones that grin or wink.

I don’t do the mixture of punctuation marks to create smiles or frowns, winks or hugs.

I knew a man who would push and push: sarcasm and insults and under-handed comments, until I finally called him on it. Then he’d say, “Well, hey, I was only joking around!”

Sometimes those little smiley faces seem to be doing the same thing.

As if a colon combined with a half-parenthesis will take away the sting of a hurtful comment.

I suppose they come in handy.

There have been a few times when the meaning of my words on the page were misconstrued. It’s hard to sort out. What words made it seem that I was unhappy? What did I write that gave the idea that I was angry?

It’s hard to convey the subtleties of human language with the written word. Was that humor? Sarcasm? Was it done in friendliness or was it mean-spirited?

I think smiley faces were invented to solve those problems of miscommunication.

I just can’t do it.

It’s kind of like the exclamation point. After a while, it seems like every single sentence needs one. If not an exclamation point at the end of this statement, then why does that other statement deserve one? Is one sentence less deserving of enthusiasm?

If I were to start using emoticons to let readers know how I’m feeling, I would need them everywhere.

“Yes, that last sentence sounded a little bland – no exclamation point, even – but no, look here, I’m still smiling!”

Nope, I won’t.

The Color Of The Sky

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“None of them knew the color of the sky.”

That’s the first line of Stephen Crane’s short story, “The Open Boat”.

When the world is reduced to the small vessel, the ocean and the sky, desolation and hopelessness are apparent from the start.

With little to work with: a small life boat, the sky, the water and a few characters, Crane turns this short story based on true events into a masterpiece of hope and despair. The flat, motionless ocean, a glimmer of light from the sky, a word or gesture between kindred souls…carry the reader along in weariness, discouragement, hope and sadness.

I think of his first line in the dismal days of this season on this small island.

Sunshine is a rare commodity on Beaver Island, most winters.

There’s something about the water temperature compared to the air temperature that keeps us frequently cloaked in haze,this time of year. The sky is most often some variation of  gray. The sun, if visible at all, is a pale glow through the mist.

Snow covered, the woods take on the limited palette of a faded photograph.

Everything is gray, or nearly gray. There is a leaf that clings to branches through the winter. In the autumn, it’s pale orange is one of the least impressive of all the colors offered. This time of year, that bit of orange hanging from dark limbs is often the only bit of color in the view.

Humans, too, are in the throes of winter.

We walk carefully out on paths covered with snow or ice. We talk cautiously, as conversations seem able to turn quickly into tense discourses. We get excited over new faces on the streets. We appreciate the sun when we see it. We get out with skis or snowshoes or sleds when we can. Otherwise, we keep plodding on.

Winter is here.

Spring is not so far away.

New Paths

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I’m awake before dawn this winter morning, the first day of February, with too many thoughts to sleep through.

A couple inches of new snow fell here on Beaver Island, the night before last.

We’d had a warm day, a little melting and considerable wind before that.

The path I followed down Cotter’s Trail, created by tramping through the snow twice a day, had been obliterated.

No deeply patterned tracks from my winter boots.

No paw prints, large or small, in the fresh snow.

There were no traces of rabbit or deer or coyote.

No patterns showing the route snowmobiles took.

Just pure white, unblemished snow all the way.

Beautiful!

A little intimidating, too.

I thought of the distance between footfalls, the curve of the new path we were creating and whether my tracks looked as if I were walking “pigeon-toed”. It seemed like a lot of responsibility, being the first one down the trail.

I feel that I’m making new paths in my life, as well.

That has happened before, off and on over the years.

I like to think of myself as a fairly steady person.

I don’t jump in and out of relationships. Friendships are forged for a lifetime. I’m pretty steadfast in whatever job I am doing.

It doesn’t feel like I’m digging a hole, just traveling the same path each day, until change is upon me.

Whether the need for change comes from outside forces or from within, it comes with a whole host of varied emotion.

There is the realization that I have, in fact, dug a little rut by following the same route for so long. It takes a little extra effort to veer from the path.

There is exhilaration, excitement, that adrenalin flow of new adventure and new possibilities.

Finally, there is anxiety.

Whether it’s an untouched canvas, a different job, a new friend or an unblemished snow-scape, I want the marks I make to be good ones.

That’s why I’m up before the sun this morning.