Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Odd Jobs

I've had perfectly normal jobs in my life: computer guy, short-order cook, construction worker, you know, the usual. 

By the way, doing construction work in Miami in the summer is no walk in the park. On this one job, I was doing concrete form work on a high-rise in Sunny Isles very near Haulover Beach. It was white sand and white cement with no hint of vegetation or shade. Golly, it was hot. And the sun was blinding. There are no photos of me in my little shorts and boots and tool belt with a hard hat but this photo is an approximation of what I looked like. Yes, it's just an approximation. If I wasn't already tanned, I would be post haste. Did I mention it was hot? 

But there have been a few jobs that were out of the ordinary. How many of you out there have been the Security Guard at an airplane tire factory? Yeah, I didn't think so. Why was it so important to have a security guard around tires? Because these tires cost maybe $10,000 apiece and the factory was in Miami.

The drug dealers who flew their contraband in from South America and used Miami as their base had to get their tires somewhere and they already had the infrastructure for theft, so... Why spend $50,000 for a set of tires, when you could get them free? Consequently, I guarded them. I must have frightened the heck out of the dealers because I was never attacked.

I've mentioned before that I'm a 'super-taster' with a very heightened sense of taste and sense of smell that goes along with it. When I went into the factory to make my rounds, I had to cut my way through an unusually fetid stench. It was one of those odors that gets onto you and stays with you so as you walk by, people turn to see what died. 

I went back a few years later to take a photo of the Thompson Aircraft Tire factory, but as you can see from the photo, it wasn't just gone, it was gone! Nothing would even grow where the factory was. I imagine the stink had dissolved the place, got into the ground and... that was that. In 10,000 years, it will likely look just the same.

My very next job took me outdoors, you know, to clear my sinuses. I became a Rodman on a surveying team. Yes, that's an actual job title, stop laughing and look it up! The Rodman handles the equipment for the survey team and holds a calibrated pole to nail down distance and elevation. This was actually a cool job, fresh air, exploring to find hidden markers, hacking through jungles with a machete to clear a path for the surveyor. Yes, of course I cut myself with it, everyone did, but at least I didn't have to go to the hospital. 

The thing that made my reputation with Schwebke-Shiskin, however, was as a result of my distaste for working in wet clothes. We were out in the Everglades surveying a canal and I had to swim to the other side with my calibration stick. So I stripped down naked and swam over. I am a native of Miami, so going into a canal was no big deal but the team thought it was the coolest move they'd ever seen. 

After that, I was 'Fearless'. "Send 'Fearless', he'll take care of it!" Sometimes you just have to do what you have to do.

 Far and away the worst job I had only lasted a week. I answered an ad to assist a chemist in Hialeah. The place had a tiny office up front and much larger warehouse and shop. I go in and the guy hands me a one page recipe and instruction sheet and tells me to go to work. The recipe was for hair relaxer to straighten 'naturally curly' hair. The instructions went all the way from raw materials to filling cases with finished product. One page. No problem! I can do this! I worked in an airplane tire factory!! The fact that I didn't recognize the place can be attributed to the fact that the movie 'Mad Max' wouldn't be released for years. I don't have a photo but this image is close.

The centerpiece of the room was a cauldron that would scare the crap out of Macbeth. Dumping all the 'ingredients' into the horrid pot being very careful to get the proportions correct (sure!), I stirred it all up with a canoe paddle. Gingerly, I filled several million bottles with this noxious concoction being ultra careful not to get any on me (it burns! it burns!) because I hoped one day to have children. Then I slapped the labels on the bottles and filled the cases. There were people out there who bought what I had created. Think about that! It's also highly likely there are still unopened bottles out there on store shelves somewhere. Waiting. Waiting.

I have tried over the years to forget this darkness, but sometimes, in the middle of the night when it is quietest and blackest, it all comes to mind and my hair straightens a little.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Growing, Growing, Grown

I'm still not absolutely certain what I want to be when I grow up.

Yes, I know I'm running out of time, but decisions like this are hard! They seem so... permanent. I recently updated my job history and have determined that I've worked for eighteen different companies, not counting duplicates and self employment. For those eighteen companies, I've had twenty-five different titles and thirty-nine different 'jobs' or different sets of responsibilities.

I don't know if that's a lot or just average. Furthermore, none of these jobs were what I had started out to do, which was to be a History Teacher. I wonder if I would have liked that. I'll never know because we had no money and I was desperately trying to work full time and go to school full time and I pooped out on the whole deal.

The only 'career' I had exposure to as a child was seeing my teachers at school, so that's the direction I went. There weren't too many doctors, dentists or bankers that traveled in our circles, just mechanics, milkmen and maids. Nothing wrong with any of those but I just wanted something new and exciting. Yeah, right.

There are stories about people who decided what they were going to do when they were perhaps eight years old and then proceeded single-mindedly toward that goal. Well, they're better people than I am. However, I've never heard of a person saying, "Oh, I knew since I was eight years old that I wanted to be a mid-grade actuarial at a life insurance company somewhere in the mid-west." 
Over the years, I did conceive of my ideal job. After briefly considering shepherd and lamplighter, I finally realized all of my aspirations were satisfied in a single job function: Towel-boy. What a great job! You sit in a little grass hut and hand out towels to sweaty, often partially drunken tourists. There's no overhead, no long-term debt, no sunken costs, no performance appraisals to do and when you're out of towels, you're done for the day! "You want a towel? Great! You want two? Better! Here, take the whole stack!" It is unclear that I could get hired now. Tourists want young, glistening towel-boys, not old, hunched-over towel-men.

As my children were making their own career decisions, I was always working too much to be conscious of the angst of such developments. But I love to ask my grandchildren what they're going to do. I get great answers, too: Princess, Saloon-Singer, Hand Model. I think that last one is brilliant. You can come to work unshaven in your jammies, just leave the chainsaw in its box. 

It will be very interesting to see what they actually decide on. Perhaps Medicine. Perhaps Science. Perhaps working in a salmon cannery on the west coast. As long as they're happy.

I hope one or both of them consider engineering. Engineers can do anything! And there are a hundred different kinds. The job I used to have as 'Programmer' is now 'Software Engineer'. Engineers know stuff and they can make stuff do stuff that the stuff doesn't want to do. I love that.

Here's an example. TiVo was the first real digital video recorder. We've been using them for 15 years and have grown very dependent. Our current box is quite intuitive and has operated flawlessly, but we just went through a major power failure and Internet loss. When the power came back, our TiVo wouldn't boot. O... M... G!! When I stopped crying, I looked for solutions and tried them all to no avail. 
Finally one person (undoubtedly an engineer) suggested taking the cover off and running a hair dryer on the memory chips for a minute. No, I'm not making this up and having been around computers for nearly 50 years, this was a new one on me. You might as well have suggested painting my face, chanting and rattling chicken bones. That would have seemed more reasonable than drying the hair on my memory chips. But it worked and TiVo has been working perfectly ever since.

You GO, Engineers!

Monday, September 4, 2017

Not Dead Yet

No, I'm not dead yet. But reaching the age of seventy (70) is at the least evocative and viewed by some as pejorative. When we were growing up, my brother Dave and I never considered that we might someday get old. In my family, the culture did not include foresight or even planning. What was happening now would always happen and the way things are now is the way things will always be. It may have been their Depression-era lives or lack of formal education that contributed, but my parents did not discuss college selection criteria, career options, money management or instruments for retirement saving.

So we just got jobs and worked, because that's what you did. I was working pretty much full time (along with going to school) by the time I was sixteen. Being big for my age, or any age for that matter, I just lied and said I was eighteen. Who knows whether they believed me or not? It was a different time. No one checked. ... ... No one cared. Like I said, it was a different time. But there I was, sixteen years old and working alone, on the overnight shift, 9 PM to 7 AM, with the drunks and the delivery people and the tired ladies. 

I've written about working at Royal Castle before, cooking hamburgers and eggs, washing dishes and cleaning toilets. The reason I'm bringing it up now is because of the dream I had last night. I was in Royal Castle Number 2 which was actually the very first one. But the company did a little renumbering trick because the store downtown had to be Number 1. But Number 2 was a small store, just a lunch counter with maybe eight or ten stools. It had been there since 1938 so it was old AND tired. I could clean that store all night and you could hardly tell.

Number 2 was in a section of Miami called Little River because a little river named Little River ran through it. I love that word flow: Little River, LittleRiver, littleriver. The store was built along NE 2nd. Avenue when it was still referred to as West Dixie Highway. Once upon a time West Dixie was a very busy highway leading to downtown Miami. But now it was 1963 and other roads had taken much of the traffic. 

Working there, then, I didn't realize that I had been born a mile and half away at Northwest Hospital on 79th. Street or that the place my family was living when I was born was only a half mile away. Later, my remarkable genealogy skills uncovered that my father, grandmother, and aunts and uncles had lived and worked in a number of places within the same half mile. Additionally, the bar where my mother and father met (hey, no judgment here) was within that magic half mile. So, no one told me... it's a thing.

So the dream had me at Royal Castle Number 2 early in the morning out in the street. But that was actually more of a memory then a creative dream. The way the night shift worked was pretty standard. As the bars closed there would be a steady stream of drunks coming in for their %$^#@ eggs to try to sober up enough to drive home. The deliveries of fresh buns and doughnuts would start after 4 AM, but before that was a quiet period where sometimes the store would be empty. 

If I was up to date on my cleaning, I would step outside and stand in the middle of NE 2nd. Avenue and feel the Miami-morning fresh air and enjoy the shocking quiet. It was far enough away from Biscayne Boulevard that you couldn't hear cars at all. What you heard was a few exhausted insects and the low buzz of some fluorescent lights. Up the block I could see the darkened marquee of the Rosetta Theater where the mother of my friend Richard Scanlon had taken us in 1958 to see 'The Vikings' with Kirk Douglas. There was no life around me, I was absolutely alone. I could see into my store and there was the counter behind which I labored. If I was tired enough (I was still in high school) perhaps I could even see MYSELF behind the counter if I squinted a little. 

The gentle reader is probably thinking, "There he goes again, unstuck in time like Kurt Vonnegut's Billy Pilgrim in 'Slaughterhouse Five'". But I'm not unstuck, I'm stuck. I never expected to live this long... ... ... good thing I planned for it. Whee!


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Civil Air Patrol

There are major disruptors in life. Disruptors being events like a death in the family, loss of a job or moving your home. 

Our house in Carol City
The first such disruption in my life (that I remember) was in 1960 when we moved from North Miami, Florida to Carol City, Florida. Those towns were only a few miles apart so geographically, it wasn't far but psychologically for me, it was huge. My family moved into a house that we actually owned and didn't rent, so this was really and truly ours. Of course, I also left all my friends behind and no one had yet invented Facebook or email or even the Internet at that point, so I may as well had moved to the moon. The move also meant a new school and all the angst that accompanies such a change.

It didn't help that the move happened well into the school year, so I was introduced into groups that already knew one another. Fortunately, we did know one family in the area, the Wissers who had been family friends for years so gratefully, there was at least one connection to stability.

One of the oil tanks Deb's Dad built
While all this was happening, my wife's father was finishing up his work in Guayaquil, Ecuador where he was building oil storage tanks. When he moved his family back to the United States, see if you can guess where they ended up. Yes, even though they had moved from Ohio to Ecuador, when they came back, there they were in Carol City!

And then, in one of those bizarre coincidences one reads about in the comics, my future wife and I attended the same school, Carol City Junior High, at the same time - for about three and a half months. I have the mental image of the two of us crossing paths in some hallway or of her pushing me out of the way to get a drink of water from the fountain.

Carol City Junior High
But there was no meeting, no premonition, no nothin'. We did not meet then, not for another eight years, actually, even though we lived on the same street 169th Terrace, we were ten blocks apart and you know... ten blocks is a long way. So I was left to my own devices and they were pretty limited.

Somehow (!) - I don't mean to be vague, I just don't remember - somehow, I was introduced to the Civil Air Patrol. Many people don't even know it exists, but the Civil Air Patrol is quite important in the aviation world. It is the official United States Air Force Auxiliary and does things like search and rescue missions, disaster relief and the training of cadets where such training prepares them for an introduction to the US Air Force.

Unfortunately, all this happened during a period of almost no family photography. Twenty or fewer photographs a year leaves a lot of gaps. I compare this circumstance to what my grandchildren enjoy. They have had at least ten photos of them taken every day of their lives. They have tens of thousands of photographs of each of them along with hours and hours of high definition video. There is no gap in their growth or the sequence of events in their lives. Things are different now.

Civil Air Patrol Seal
But I have no photos of me in uniform, or on the flights I took, or of the events I attended. Oh, well. We met in the evenings at Carol City Junior High and learned the discipline of marching in formation, the basics of aerodynamics, flight theory and military structure. It was only the adult members who participated in search and rescue, but we actually got to fly!

We had training missions in light aircraft like Cessnas and Piper Cubs. But my most memorable flight was in a Douglas DC-3, one of the most famous aircraft ever built. This was a twin-engine airplane first introduced in 1935 that was so stable and so well designed that there are still DC-3 aircraft in active service.

Douglas DC-3
Let that sink in for a moment. They stopped production in 1942 and they are still operating regularly seventy years later. Not just for show, but working, seventy years later. I'm very proud to have had the opportunity to fly on that aircraft.

We also served as guides during air shows especially at Opa-locka Airport which was right next door to Carol City. Then, during the Cuban Missile crisis, we spent days preparing food and other packages for servicemen and other possible survivors of the imminent nuclear war. I wonder what ever happened to all that stuff we put together since the war never took place.

While I was with the CAP, I became First Sergeant, where I learned a little about leadership. Being part of that group was a good experience. One high point was an awards ceremony we had at the McCallister Hotel in downtown Miami. They bused us down there and thrust us into an adult environment, I was about 15 at the time. The waiter comes around and asks us what we want to drink, so naturally I order a scotch and soda expecting to get hit upside the head. But he doesn't even blink and brings it with everyone's cokes and 7-Ups. Of course, all the cadets want a sip and of course no one liked it. It was scotch and soda.

I never joined the Air Force, I went into the Navy instead. You can read about that elsewhere in this blog-thing. But a sure reason (other than my commanding presence) for becoming First Platoon Leader in the Navy Boot Camp was what I had learned about leadership from the Civil Air Patrol. How about that!       

Bob Deeter (right) Me (left)
Update March 12, 2018 - Regarding the coincidence of my wife Deb and I both attending Carol City Junior High long before we knew one another, I checked to see where our home rooms were. It turns out I was in Room 214 and she was in Room 216. So, it's not an absolute certainty but a pretty good bet that we saw each other. I do remember this one girl tripping me...

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Listening to the Past

It's been a busy year. Aren't they always? This was a year for working around the house to prevent it from falling into shards around our feet. Deck work, garage work, basement work, replacing ovens and microwaves and washers and dryers. You know, annoying stuff like that. Stuff that gets in the way of the important work like... genealogy.

But once in a while, you have to do a little 'maintenance', or water and wind will damage your genealogy materials and no one wants that.

I had been on a pretty good run scanning my photographs, I had made it all the way to 1989. I was feeling pretty good about my progress, but you know what happens when you get cocky. A few years ago, my father-in-law had passed away and my daughter had inherited her grandparents' photo albums. 

She has begun the monumental task of scanning them along with the postcards and recipes and other such ephemera. As she's been doing those as well as her own original photos from her school days she has been passing the completed digitized files along to me. Then I fold those photos into the date-sequenced master digital photo albums I've been keeping. 

Well, that sounds easy, you may think. Not bloody likely! Dating and identifying photographs was not a trait widely shared in our family. Once in a while, certainly, but only enough to be tantalizing.

From another direction, my brother who is MUCH older then I am (although slightly better  looking) began passing me the digitized files of his slides which date back to 1965. And then to add a topping to that cake, my sister-in-law very graciously allowed me access to her photo albums and suddenly I am awash with a target rich environment.

After a brief bout with catatonic immobility, I asked my family which of the thousand things on my list to do next. My daughter's sound advice was to do those things which will deteriorate first and possibly be lost. Pretty good advice, huh?   

So I reluctantly stepped away from photographs and into the loving embrace of analog recordings. The oldest items were some reel-to-reel tapes previously owned by my father in-law. 

In November 1966, he had purchased an Astro-Science Concertone 804A Tape Recorder. This 47 POUND machine was used by his family for years but it had gone silent the last 10 years or so. When he died, I brought it home with his remaining tapes which were mostly music, but a couple marked 'family'. So I had stored it all away for a few more years thinking I would have to get the tapes digitized professionally as I had my own old tapes. 

When I turned the Concertone on and it didn't work I wasn't surprised. However, further examination revealed the flywheel had been locked with transport screws. Once free, it started right up and operated like brand new. A nearly 50-YEAR-OLD machine without a single computer circuit in it and there were the 40-plus year-old voices sounding fresh and new! But why send the tapes away, if I could convert them myself? So, I downloaded a free audio product called NCH WavePad and digitized them. Fortunately, I had all the right connecting wires so I didn't have to buy a thing. It had all just been waiting there for me.

Next, I turned to a pile of cassette tapes. For a few years, my mother-in-law had gone through a phase of taping her phone conversations with her relatives so others in the family could hear them as well. These tapes were even easier to convert, also using WavePad.  

The last big hurdle was VCR tapes. There were vacations and school function hiding in there that went back to the eighties as well as some work-related tapes that I had appeared in. The solution I chose here was Diamond One Touch Video Capture which is an inexpensive hardware and software combo. I just dragged one of my old VCRs up next to my computer, sent the video signal through the little hardware converter and was able to see the image on my computer screen and used it to know when to stop and start. Since I had only eight or so tapes to convert, this worked well for me. I'm sure some people have hundreds and it wouldn't work as well for them.

So, now the delicate, fragile, soon-to-be-lost stuff is done! Yay! Now I can return to photographs with a (relatively) clear conscience. Happy 2016!   

Friday, December 26, 2014

Now and Then at Disney World

I mentioned in a previous post that the last time the family visited Disney World, we took the opportunity to 're-create' some of the photos we had taken in previous visits. In some time travel stories, it is a major plot point that someone going into the past MUST know the geography of where the traveler is going. You wouldn't want to show up inside the wall of a building that used to stand in that park you're traveling from. Nope.

That makes Disney World a pretty good destination because, while changes are made, generally, it is pretty stable. They're not going to take out the whole Magic Kingdom and start over. And if you did go back to 1971, as you can see in this photo, you would find things were a little sparse in places. Florida hadn't had the opportunity to fill every inch with vegetation yet. 

So we went over the forty-two years of Disney World photographs we had last year and chose some to re-create.

Here is Deb from 1972 on the left and 2013 on the right standing on the bridge by the castle gate in the Magic Kingdom. You can see they added some pointy things to the rail to keep people from sitting on it and some filler in the holes to keep children from falling through. Thanks, Walt.

This one is Deb on the bench by Cinderella's statue in the courtyard of the castle. In 1972 on the left, she's holding our daughter Leah while she naps and on the right in 2013, she's holding our granddaughter, Grace. Looks like the same bench!

And in this photo in the little courtyard by the first aid station by the Crystal Palace, Deb is holding Heather while Leah looks on in 1977 on the left and 2013 on the right.

And in that same little courtyard, the same three people pose first in 1990 on the left and 2013 on the right.

Over in Epcot, a random photo of Deb, Leah and Heather on the bridge leading to France was easy enough to reproduce. 1990 on the left, 2013 on the right.

It wasn't so easy in England since they had removed the little chairs and tables, but we made do. 1996 on the left, 2013 on the right. My, how the hedges have grown!

We had to push people aside in Germany, but once I cleared a space, everything worked out. 1987 on the left, 2013 on the right.

We tried everything to find the same flower in Mexico, we had the staff searching in their storage area, but no luck, but Heather had NO trouble locating the hat. 2004 on the left, 2013 on the right.

Not everything worked out, however. We wanted a shot at our favorite table in Columbia Harbor House in the Magic Kingdom, but they had turned it into a serving station. I was going to pull the station out and move a table in, but my family stopped me because they wanted to come back to Disney World at some point. Perhaps next time. 2004 on the left and 2013 on the right.

And, yes, of course there will be a next time! Yay!

Thursday, December 26, 2013


It is a common occurrence to hear of people making New Year Resolutions and then either never achieving their goals or keeping their resolve for perhaps an hour.

I have solved this conundrum by waiting to compose my 2013 resolutions until now. This provides me with a pretty good shot at some sort of achievement. I realize there are a few days left in the year for me to mess up, but I'll chance it.

1. Post a Blog Entry

Well, I achieved the heck out of this one, didn't I? Here it is in all the glory I can muster.

2. Stay in the Main Building of the Grand Floridian

My family has been to Disney World a lot. I mean a LOT. We were there in October 1971 the month it opened. Both of my daughters were only a year old when they first went, so technically, they've been going all their lives. And we've stayed at the Contemporary, the Polynesian, the Disney Inn (when it existed) and even the Swan and others.

But our favorite, and the place we've stayed the last four times is the Grand Floridian. But, we had never stayed in the main building with the restaurants and the monorail attached. This year, our daughter surprised us with this resolution-achiever. For those of you who have dined at Victoria and Albert's, it is such a pleasure to get there just by taking the elevator. Of course, now we're spoiled rotten... but, oh, well!

3. Recreate Certain Photos

It is a popular craze now to recreate classic photos and see how people have aged and deteriorated. There are places in Disney World that are exactly the same as they've always been, so we used our trip this year to recreate some of the thousands of Disney photos we have. The results will be the topic of another blog entry.

4. Get a New Video Camera

The video camera I had works JUST FINE! But like me and everything else based in technology, it's old now. It takes beautiful images, but it stores them on mini-DVDs. That's right, those little round things that you have to buy, store, document, load into the camera, initialize, finalize, pry out and store again. And they only hold about a half-hour of video. So, after watching one particularly troublesome finalization process, my wife suggested (!) that it was time to look into a new camera. Naturally, she was right. Now, I just turn it on and it's ready to go, for about five hours of HD video.

5. Add a 20th Year of Financials to Quicken

For those of you unfamiliar with Quicken, it is an application that stores and analyzes your financial data. I have been keeping all of my finances on Quicken for 20 years now. And by 'all', I mean every single transaction in banking, credit cards, cash and any other way. This allows me to budget with a fair degree of accuracy and remember things from 20 years ago. If I want to recall when and who replaced my water heater, or trend my electric bill over the last 20 years, it's a snap.

6. Reach a Financial Goal

I have more time to watch my financials now and I have diversified so much, I never expected to reach a particular goal in one of my categories that I had set over 10 years ago. Well, 2013 turned out to be a bit of a surprise and I reached that out-of-reach goal. Yay!

7. Buy Bicycles

My wife and I used to have bikes years ago and when I was at Penn State, my bike was my primary means of transportation since we only had one car. So after talking about it for a couple of years (we don't like to make any rash decisions), we bought some nice comfortable Specialized bikes. It's true, you don't forget how to ride and it turns out tooling around the neighborhood is a lot of fun and good exercise. The trick will be making sure we can ride occasionally during the winter.

8. Exercise the Snow Blower

This is the fourth winter we've had a snow blower. The first season, we used it once, then for the next TWO YEARS it sat unused because the Delaware Valley never produced enough snow to even crank it up. This year I was going to HAVE to start it just to keep it in operational order. But no worries, the first predicted dusting of snow turned out to be ten and a half inches. I just put some gas in it and whammo, it started right up. Now, hopefully, it can rest for two more years.

9. Stay in the Willard

The Willard Hotel in Washington is one of those national treasures you just have to visit. It's a hotel where Lincoln lived for heaven's sake and
now it's an Intercontinental which makes it even better than it was. Every President since Pierce has been there along with every other famous person ever. The term 'lobbyist' comes from the people who used to meet in the Willard lobby and make deals. Mark Twain wrote a couple of his books while staying at the Willard.

We'd been there to visit on other trips and had their famous mint juleps at the Round Robin Bar (where Walt Whitman used to drink) but never actually stayed. Well, it's just as great as we imagined and right in the middle of everything just a block from the White House. 

10. Restart my Photo Scanning

After you scan for a while, you get a little scanned-out. I have 40,000 (estimated) more photos to scan and it gets a little daunting to think about. The Disney Trip this year got me restarted because I had to scan all the Disney photos across the years so we could do our recreations (see #3 above). But I'm going again now and all the way up to the birth of our first daughter. Yay! Here's Deb bringing Leah home from the hospital.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Daughters

I am pleased to know something of my genealogy, my... 'family tree'. This knowledge is in sharp contrast
to what I knew when I started a limited quest back in 1975. Following the death of my mother, I asked my father questions about his family hoping to get a grip on his side of my ancestry.

Unfortunately, if you look up the phrase 'close-mouthed about family matters', one of the first images is a photo of my father, Leon David Kleylein b. June 29, 1903, d. Dec. 29, 1992.

I didn't discover until years later the really good reasons he had for being so reticent, but that was no help getting me started at all. For example, I didn't even know my own grandmother's maiden name until the discovery of a marriage record in the Maryland State Archives twenty years later.

My daughter, Leah, was poking at me for information about my family and I literally had nothing to offer but about twenty names of relatives. I guess we could have turned to the Internet, but there were only about 10,000 primitive websites and newsgroups (remember newsgroups?) in 1994. It is estimated that in 2012, the number of websites will reach 582 million. Several of them will be about genealogy. (!)

So, instead, in those dark ages, we
launched a succession of trips to the Maryland State Archives in Annapolis and the National Archives in Washington DC. Microfilm became a close friend. And so it came to be that on December 29, 1994, it was determined by means of a marriage record that my paternal grandmother's maiden name was Harrison.

Now, it is seventeen years later and I have 11,148 names in my family file with 7,467 of them connected to my grandmother Hallie Violet Harrison.

Hallie was born Oct. 9, 1886 in Mt. Airy, Carroll Co., Maryland and died Sept. 9, 1971 in Miami, Dade Co., Florida. As research went on, it became clear that she is related to nearly everyone in Maryland. It's a very close-knit state. Apparently once you move there, you often stay.

In the case of my Harrison connection, it's been nearly 400 years in the new world. Hallie's mother (my great grandmother) was Sarah C. Watkins. Sarah was a direct descendant of James Watkins who sailed with John Smith.

Yes, that John Smith of Pocahontas fame, the John Smith who founded Jamestown in 1607, a full thirteen years before those latecomers finally got to Massachusetts on the Mayflower. I picture my ancestors waving to them from the shore.

Well, Smith and my tenth great grandfather James also sailed up the Chesapeake into the Maryland area. Watkins Point on the Chesapeake is named for my ancestor.

Just a few years ago, we could have celebrated our... whaddayacallit... quadricentennial? Don't forget, the King James Bible hadn't even been published at that point, it was a long fricking time ago!

There's no documentation that James Watkins, my ancestor, had any interaction with Pocahontas. This isn't an actual photograph of her, by the way. I can tell you with a fair degree of certainty that if she DID look like this, history would have gone in a markedly different direction.

Which leads us to what I will never have in the genealogy world. It is demonstrable that I will never be a Daughter of the American Revolution.

Not that I don't have lots of connections to the American Revolution. The Harrison ancestors arrived soon after the Watkins ancestors along with Lewis, Moxley, Carter, Fitzgerald, Randolph, Saffell, Waugh, Becraft, Norwood, Holland, Shipley, Stevens, Lucas, Chamberlaine, Landon, Burwell, Smith, Ludlow, Isham, Beverley, Peyton, Gassaway, Lamb, Tydings, Green, Beall, Hungerford, Howard and more.

Two of my direct ancestors, Kinsey Harrison and Jeremiah J. Lewis were soldiers during the war. Two other directs, Jeremiah Watkins and William Shipley took the Oath of Fidelity. And one direct ancestor, Nehemiah Moxley Sr. has a very special place.

Everyone is taught
about the Boston Tea Party, patriots dressing up like Indians and throwing tea into Boston Harbor because of unfair taxes. Well, on October 19, 1774, Maryland patriots addressed this issue differently. In Annapolis Harbor, the 'Committee of Observation' (sounds like a terrorist group, doesn't it?) which included Nehemiah had the brig Peggy Stewart, along with a ton of tea on board, burned right down to the waterline.

This seems to me a bit more direct and confrontational than some wimpy costume party with folks dressed up like Pocahontas, but what do I know? I wasn't there.

So, sure, I can be a Son of the American Revolution many times over but that doesn't really have the cach
é of the DAR. But my daughters... they can be daughters and Daughters!


Friday, December 30, 2011

Conscious Conscience

I'm afraid this post might annoy some people but that's what I do so I can't help myself.
My theme today will have to contradict one of my favorite people, Thomas Jefferson who is only one of the greatest thinkers EVER!

Sorry, Tommy.

And I really do think a lot of him. I carry my camera in a black leather bag that I bought at the Library of Congress in Washington. The inscription on the bag is one of my favorite Jefferson quotations: "I cannot live without books."

Apparently, he could for a little while at least. After the original Library of Congress was burned during the War of 1812 (thanks, Britain), Jefferson sold his entire library of 6,487 books to the United States to start a NEW Library of Congress.

It is no accident that the main building of the Library of Congress is called the Thomas Jefferson Building.

So it pains me to contradict one of Jefferson's most famous writings, that "... all men are created equal..." Sorry, but they're not. Not even if you throw women in there, too.

One cannot simply select someone at random and have them play linebacker for the Green Bay Packers. Most people would be killed during the first play. Not just because of the missing years of experience and training, but they just wouldn't be physically capable of that kind of punishment. If it were me, it wouldn't be my helmet that comes off, it would be my head.

The same is true of advanced mathematical thinking. Some people can perform such specialized cognitive leaps and stretches and others... can't. One branch of humanity is not necessarily better than the other, just different. But certainly not equal.

You can't just pluck someone out of a crowd and make them the leader. I've actually seen that tried and the results are usually a dismal failure. To be a good leader, you need empathy, strength and well... for lack of a better word, leadership. Arrogance, bluster and bullcrap can get you by for a while (I proved that), but you can't fool everyone forever.

But before some of you gentle readers respond by saying, "But Jefferson was saying men are equal under the law." Yeah, right. That's why some people can steal ten million dollars and get six months of house arrest and another person can steal groceries for their starving family and get thirty years of hard time. Give me a break.

We know enough
about genetics now that we know our DNA has an awfully lot to say about what we're going to be like. Eye color, propensity toward certain diseases, muscle density, etc.

But I believe the most important differentiating factor among humans is their level of conscious development. Are we conscious of what is going on around us? Are we conscious of the future results of our actions? Are we conscious of the impact that our words and deeds have on the lives of others?

I'm convinced that there have been times in my life when I have been completely unconscious. Living, working, sure, but living life like a goldfish. Three minutes at a time, with nothing in the past and looking barely beyond my footsteps.

I like to think that I've improved, but who knows. I like to think that my consciousness breakthrough came when I finally realized I was unconscious, but perhaps I'm still not conscious.

For the sake of honesty, Jefferson must have known he was exceptional. He must have seen instances in his life where others thought to present themselves as his equal and known that they weren't. I have seen these pretenders, those wishing they were something they are not, annoyed by the success of others in doing things they could not.

Jefferson could have shot such men down with an offhand turn of phrase, but instead, he chose to embrace them. He included them and all of the rest of us. We are all equal because we can all exploit the gifts we have as long as we are conscious of those gifts we have and those we do not. By such writing, Jefferson proved that he was more than equal.

See? I told you this post would annoy you. Yay!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Of Anniversaries and Teeth

This is an anniversary of sorts. It has been three years since I've been using this blog tool thingy as a mental dumping ground.
Sometimes the dumping comes rapidly and sometimes there are breaks, but as people do with any good dump, I always come back.

The pressure to write builds up and finally explodes out onto the keyboard and into cyberspace. I have found it interesting (appalling, actually) to note that people all over the world have read entries in this abomination. Often it's the historical or genealogical topics that draw people, other times it's just the blatherings. Clearly, people need more work to keep them busy.

I try to imagine someone who grew up in a vastly different culture than my own (from, say, California) trying to make sense of these scrawlings. I can't make any sense of them, why should they?

I write when something strikes me as it did recently when I went to the dentist.

The lady (I presume she was a lady) cleaning my teeth announced to me that my mouth (teeth included) was 'clean and healthy'. Without knowing my history, she had no idea how hysterically funny that was.

mouth was clean and healthy??
Pbffffffft! I smiled and thanked her while my tiny but hyperactive brain tried to reason how I had gotten myself into such a situation.

Clean and healthy??? Neither of
those circumstances prevailed the first time I ever went to a dentist. I was seventeen at the time and the only thing that forced me into the dentist's tender mercies was that one of my molars had rotted so badly that practically the whole top had disappeared.

You'd think I could
remember his name, but I can't. I recall his office was in Miami (obviously) on NW 7th Avenue somewhere in the vicinity of 135th Street on the east side of the street. I remember that and the fact that he had the hairiest hands of any person (man, woman or child) that I had ever seen even to this day.

This was not the era of gloves, I don't remember any gloves. I remember hair brushing against my mouth and cheek, but no gloves. I'm pretty scarred by the whole experience, I'll tell you! Nowadays, people sue for less.

But Dr. _________ had a saving grace. After he dug out what remained of the root of that once-upon-a-time-tooth, he demanded that I keep coming back until he got my teeth brought into at least the nineteenth century. Fortunately for him (and me) I was working full time at Royal Castle and bringing home the princely sum of $32 a week. Wow!!!

So every week for however many months it took, I journeyed to 7th Avenue to have hairy hands jammed into my mouth. He also taught me about proper brushing and flossing technique. And I'm sorry to admit I was lax about flossing for another five years or so. But now that it's part of my routine, I have to floss every day or nothing feels right.

You may be
asking yourself why I was seventeen before seeing a dentist for the first time. The answer involves frequent use of the word 'no'.

No money, no insurance, no family history of seeing doctors or dentists and in the case of my mother and father - no teeth.

One of the earliest memories of my father is having him disconnect his top 'plate' and then sticking it halfway out of his mouth. Charming. Have I mentioned the scarring? But that's what people did in the days when there were only three channels on television.

So my 7th Avenue doc saved the rest of my teeth. The only other extractions I ever had were the two wisdom teeth I had pulled. Yes, I only had two! Not everyone is blessed with four useless, extra, unnecessary, often painful teeth that come in after all the rest of your teeth have properly set. Actually, a large percentage of people don't develop any wisdom teeth. Consequently... no wisdom.

And all my original silver fillings are long gone, replaced by composite materials that are probably killing me in different, bizarre ways than jamming molten metal into my head.

It has occurred to me more than once that with no flossing, poor brushing technique and a mouth full of less than healthy (OK, rotten) teeth that my breath must have been staggering!

I didn't realize it at the time, but I could have been a super hero! I could have easily dispatched crooks and villains with a single, quick puff of breath. As Captain Plaque, I could have quickly ended the war in Vietnam and gotten Richard Nixon out the White House (relatively) painlessly.

The generation after mine, my kids, have barely had a cavity. They probably wouldn't even get misty-eyed over being told their mouth is clean and healthy. What else? That's just normal.

And with my usual impeccable timing, less than two years after all that dental work I joined the Navy. While in boot camp they went over my teeth again with a fine tooth comb (get it?) and I could have had all that work done for free. But like I said... What else? That's just normal.