Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Small World of Indexing

Earlier this year I wrote about a volunteer program called Indexing.  Today I was working on knocking out my goal for 2013 (only 1 month left!), and ran across a person I knew in the documents that I was randomly assigned.  That has happened only a few times in the tens of thousands of records that have passed my way.

The records I tend to index are Hungarian language births-marriages-deaths.   The program allows volunteers to pick their project from about a hundred choices, and the above is challenging yet within my capabilities.  Yesterday I saw that Cascade County Montana obituaries were being indexed, and since a large part of my Grandfather's family settled there, I downloaded a few batches of those for a change.  

Immediately, familiar names showed up--not necessarily relatives, but people who had settled near my people in the coal mining settlement of Stockett Montana.  And then I saw the name Barney Bubnash in the obituary of  one of his  step-siblings.  Barney's parents had both been married multiple times, so he had plenty of steps.  He was my Dad's second cousin.  I never met him but we talked on the phone before his death.  

In 2012 when the big push was to index the 1940 Census, I was randomly sent a batch of Montana census pages.  Entering data line by line down the page I was momentarily startled to see a family I had known well.   There was my friend Claire in 1940 with her first husband and her son Bruce.   In the mid-60s I babysat Bruce's children who lived 2 houses away from me.  Years later Bruce's mother Claire was my neighbor.

Amazing that I would see anyone I know or know of, given that over a billion records have been indexed to date.   This link will take you to the indexing home page.   Watch a couple of the short introductory videos and give indexing a try!

a typical Hungarian-language parish record

Friday, November 29, 2013

A Few of My Favorite Dorky Music Videos

Feeling lazy today.  If you want a smile check out these links to music videos that for one reason or another are excessively dorky.  I don't sit around all day surfing youtube.  When I was laid up for months after surgery one day I was tired of reading and watching movies on my computer.  Instead I watched youtube videos of some great old songs . . . and not so great music videos.  They made me laugh when I really needed it.

A very 60's music video . . : It's the Sign of the Times by Petula Clark; the gal in the orange hat is really into it
I have loved Petula Clark since grade school for her upbeat music, perky personality

Ride Captain Ride: see a guy rocking out in a zebra suit with Buffalo Bill fringe (only not as classy).  Give this group some credit for not lip-synching!

Shoulda Been a Cowboy: Toby Keith wearing the world's Best.  Mullet.  Ever.

Toby Keith is proud of his mullet, and he should be

As Tears Go By: Marianne Faithfull was only 15 in this video.  She rose straight up out of her grave to lip-sync her most famous song for us.  Me thinks she would rather be back 6 feet under . . .

Thursday, November 28, 2013

God Bless

I was thinking about people who made a difference in my life and these folks popped into my mind, and I thought to myself, "God bless so-and-so, because of [fill in the blank] that they did to impact my life."  They are by no means the only people who have changed my life for the better.

Verdell McQueen, Melba Kelly, Mary Shelby--3 humble elderly ladies who lived in Meridian Idaho back in the 70s when it was still a country farm-town.  They sought me out, helped me with my children, or in the case of Verdell, told me flat out how I should be raising my children.  And Blanche Berg who did the same in Beaverton.  Wish I had taken the time to know them better.

Tim Davies--He was in Newhall Ward when I joined the Church.  I became involved in dance festival that year (1973), which was to be held in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.  My folks were very unhappy that I was now a Mormon and there was plenty of tension about it at home.  No way they were going to attend an activity put on by this crazy church I had joined.  Tim was selling tickets to the event and unknown to me, went to my house that very day of the event and got my folks to buy tickets.  They attended.  And they loved it and were impressed by every aspect of it.  And my life became better.

Janet Butterfield--Janet has heard me say this, and I'll say it again: Janet, you saved my life.  Or at least my mental / emotional life.  When I had 2 very small boys, the younger developmentally disabled, Janet suggested we trade children on a regular basis so we could each have a break.  My DD son was not easy to take care of and though people were kind, no one else stepped forward to give me that kind of relief.  When Janet's baby died I was able to give back a little.

Sherilyn Lemon--She was a whirl-wind of energy and accomplishment.  She had to be, with 4 children under the age of 6.  One Sunday she noticed I wasn't at church, and when she found out from Craig that I was home recovering from a miscarriage, she left the meeting and came to my house to see what she could do for me.  Who does that?  The next day Sherilyn was over vacuuming, doing laundry, helping w/ my little boy.  And doing the housework in about a fourth the time it usually took me.  I learned from her that my own time and energy were underused, and that acting immediately to assess a need--without second guessing ourselves--is the way to be.

Carolyn Cook--one of the people who I feel completely comfortable with.  We have many common interests and each of us is willing to adjust our schedules to do something together, whether it's hiking or family history or travel.  A few weeks we got this crazy idea to take advantage of a give-away of old folding tables where she attends church.  We put 8 of them in my van and toodled around delivering some to other people to store in their garage.  That way, when any of us have a gathering, we have access to 8 tables without having to squeeze all 8 into our garages.  We do kooky things like this.

Eleanor Price--She was my Mom's best friend from her childhood.  Eleanor was the "safest" adult in my childhood.   No matter what dumb thing I did, Eleanor always had a smile and a kind word for me.  Even her mellow voice was like a pleasant smile.  I believe that just maybe maybe maybe, she was seeing the real me, with some actual potential, hidden behind my foolish, dorky exterior.

Margie Scorup--I attended BYU as a brand new Mormon, and it was culture shock, believe me.  Margie taught me how to be a Mormon.  Typical was one evening at a residence hall meeting when the group decided to sing I Am a Child of God.  Not having had the benefit of Primary where I would have learned this song I never heard of, Margie sat next to me and whispered each phrase in my ear so that I could sing along.  It's symbolic of all her "tutoring," as she walked with me a step at a time.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

There's Nothing Like [the View of] the Cheap Seats

No, I did not misquote Alabama in the title of this post.  Love their song though, especially the line, "there's nothing like the view from the cheap seats!"   Reminds me of some of the Dodger baseball games I attended a very long time ago.

This post concerns not the view FROM the cheap seats, but the view OF the cheap seats.  Cheap in this case means free.  And though they were singing about baseball, this is about football.   And we had to work for these free seats by doing card stunts.

Back in the day BYU passes for the card stunt section at football games were free, the original cheap seats.  And they were on the 50-yard-line.  Yeah we sat on hard wooden benches but the vantage point was as good as it gets.

To get the passes we had to show up to the Wilk Ballroom at 7 a.m. on a given Saturday to sign up.   The passes were good for for the entire football season.  We were given basic instruction on how the card-stunts work.   In a typical game we might do 5 or 6 stunts by following directions written on big poster paper and held up for us to see.  The poster had a picture of what we were creating with our cards.  Our stack of 5 or 6 colored cards stayed under our benches until needed.  Of course, we could never see the stunts ourselves.  I trust they were colorful and dynamic when viewed from the paying seats across the field.  Most of them were words or short phrases pertaining to football, but I remember one that was a marriage proposal orchestrated by a guy who sat with his girlfriend on the opposing side of the field.  We didn't know until after the game that we had just asked an unsuspecting gal if she would marry the guy sitting next to her.

I couldn't find a photo of a BYU stunt, but here's one from UCLA:

I'm pretty sure we never did anything close to this intricate American flag stunt:

Here's the link to that nostalgic song,
The Cheap Seats

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Best Cookies Ever!

While I was growing up our family regularly got together with a group of people who, along with my Mom, called Holyoke Massachusetts home.  These folks had transplanted to Southern California, or were frequent visitors from the East.   The regular attendees were:

  • Mom's closest friend, Eleanor Prentiss, and her husband Bob Price and son Bobby
  • Eleanor's aunt Peg Prentiss and her husband Al Frank
  • Peg's widowed brother Jimmy Prentiss (visited from Holyoke) (Jimmy had been married to my Grandpa Ashe's cousin)
  • Peg and Jimmy's widowed sister Mary Prentiss Murray and her daughter Margaret Murray
  • Ray Flynn, a survivor of World War One's Lost Battalion (visited from Holyoke)
  • our family of 6

The group usually got together at Eleanor's because it was closer for her elderly aunts and uncles than our place.  My siblings and I and Bobby drove the adults crazy with our loud boisterous horseplay in that cramped boxy house.  We knew all the nooks and crannies for games of hide and seek, the bounciest beds to jump on, the most fun TV shows to watch.  We laughed enough to make me wet my pants.  When the Prices put in a swimming pool where a small neglected orchard stood, we really had a blast on those southern California hot summer days.

All of us got together around major holidays: 4th of July, Christmas and Easter, and in between.  The menu never varied.  Summer gatherings were barbeques.  Christmastime meant lasagne, Easter-time was lamb with mint jelly.  And it was on the Price's color TV where I watched the annual broadcasts of Peter Pan and the Wizard of Oz--and the 1969 moon landing on my Dad's 48th birthday.  

Once the swimming pool was built we went to the Prices more often in summer, and all the attendees helped out by bringing parts of the barbecue.  Hamburgers, hot dogs, chips, salad, pop, dessert.  Our family brought fresh-picked corn on the cob from a farm along the way.  We often brought fresh home-baked cookies.  What strong and wonderful memories these are.  

OK, the fresh home-baked cookies.  One summer Saturday Mom and Dad were bustling around preparing for an afternoon to-do at the Prices.  We were assigned to bring a batch of cookies for dessert, and Mom asked me to take care of the baking while she was out doing early morning errands.  Out came the baking equipment, the canisters of flour and sugar, the eggs, butter, and chocolate chips.  I creamed the butter, sugar and vanilla.  Added the eggs.  Added the salt.  Time for the flour.  I opened the canister of white flour, and holy cow, it was awash with tiny beady black bugs, the dreaded weevil.   Yikes, what to do?   Mom wasn't home to ask.  Our only supply of flour was infested with bugs, we were leaving in an hour, and those cookies had to be mixed and baked.  So that's what I did.  

Well, when it was time for dessert after the barbecue, you would have thought those chocolate chip cookies were made by some fancy schmancy downtown bakery.  Everyone raved about them!  The old folks couldn't get enough, and gushed that these were hands down, the best cookies they had ever tasted.  What could I do but mumble a brief thanks, flash a weak smile and get the heck out of there and into the deep end of the pool . . . 

I kept my secret ingredient quiet for over four decades.  Now you know how to make the very best chocolate chip cookies ever!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Our Version of Poverty

We were our own brand of poor in the early years of our marriage (1974).  Never "no food on the table" poor. I don't mean to insult people who are seriously suffering from want.   But neither were we the obnoxious hand-wringing "oh dear, we can afford to dine out only twice this week" brand of "poor."   Maybe twice a year for us then.  At McDonalds.  With a shared small fries and ice water.

our car was the same model and color, but way less posh than this one

We drove a metallic blue 1966 Chevy Impala station wagon that Craig's folks gave us.  As in "free."  Otherwise we would not have had a car.   But we had a car.  Yet  . . .

We rarely drove it because gas was a whopping 40 to 50 cents a gallon.  So, we walked or cycled to school and other places.  Weekly grocery shopping exercised our car.   We shopped at Storehouse Market on Second West.  It was the original warehouse-style grocery store, extremely basic.  Concrete floors, dark gloomy clammy atmosphere, canned and packaged goods still in their cases, and produce that had mostly lived out its useful life.  Oranges were 5 cents a pound, a third of what they were elsewhere, but I had to pick through a mountain of them to get 20 good ones.  Bananas were 9 cents a pound, always, as advertised on a permanent sign outside the store.   Decades after graduation we happened to pass by Storehouse Market on a visit to Provo.  Bananas were still 9 cents a pound.  It was the same old sun-faded sign, too.
the remodeled Storehouse Market--photo probably taken in the 90s

We found other unique ways to save pennies here and there.  Our telephone was a party-line, but at least we had a phone.  A party-line was shared between several other people and was half the cost of a private phone line.  Occasionally when we picked up the phone to make a call, a stranger who shared our line would be using it.  We could listen into their conversation if we wanted to (but we didn't want to).  And how quaint is this?  To save a ten-cent stamp when bill-paying, Craig rode his bike 3 miles downtown to the utility company to pay in person.

In those college days we usually had a nickel left at the end of the month.  Seriously folks, we came in barely under our $195 per month budget.  Rent was @ $90-something, food @ $60-70 per month, we had some small insurance costs, utilities, rare fill-ups for the car, super rare clothing and shoe purchases, and college textbooks and supplies.  And what did we do with that nickel at the end of the month?   We bought one soft ice cream cone at the Wilk.  To share between us.

In 1976 we were heading home to Southern Californa for a visit, and there was the problem of paying for gas.  We advertised on the ride-board and 6 students responded to share in gas costs.  One of those was leaving college for good with her mountain of stuff to take home.  We drove the 650 miles with 3 people in the front seat, 3 in back, and 2 stretched out in the way-back, recumbent on top of that gal's stuff.   Seatbelts?  The driver, yes.  AC?  "4-and-80", which means: open all 4 windows and drive 80 miles per hour.  Without those 6 students to pay for the gas we would have had to take out a loan to get home.

My most pathetic memory of our "poverty" involved my senior thesis.  I splurged on a package of quality paper (50 sheets), borrowed a typewriter, and went to work transforming my rough draft.  Near the end it became apparent I was going to run out of paper, maybe by 2 or 3 sheets.  To spend a couple of dollars to buy another pack just for a few sheets was out of the question.  I dug around in my old notebooks and found 3 sheets of cheap yellowed typing paper and used those.  It didn't make a difference in my grade of course, but my pride was dinged, and I wondered if the prof thought I was a dope for marring the beauty of my thesis.

For decades I saved $$ on groceries with coupons.  Couponing has experienced a resurgence, and it seems that the younger generation thinks they invented the technique, but no, it's what got us through the lean years back in the day.  Everything that we could buy on clearance, or at least on sale, we did.  I sewed my kids' clothes using remnants that were marked to half off.

My friends and I became experts at gleaning produce from local farms.  If we went for cherries or apples or pears and they were 5 cents a pound cheaper if we picked our own, that's what we did.  One day Janet and I went to a commercial orchard looking for a deal on peaches.  They had culls not good enough to send to the cannery, but for $3 per bushel (half price), we picked through them and came home with more than enough for both our families.

We still live cheap, even though it's no longer a necessity.  It's always a satisfaction to me to buy something marked down to half of the clearance price, or to buy the slightly bruised bargain bananas.  Some things never change.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

An Arranged Marriage

when I think of arranged marriages I think of Tzeitel and Lazar Wolf and how the family wiggled out of that one 

That sounds so quaint--"an arranged marriage."  It  conjures up images of lace-bedecked veiled brides meeting their husbands for the first time at the altar. What a priceless experience to have been a fly on the wall on those occasions. Would the bride's expression on seeing her husband for the first time have been:

Relief?  (he's dreamily handsome and/or prosperous)
Revulsion? (the local skirt-chasing seducer)
Dismay and disgust? (weighs 300 pounds and/or intolerable BO)
Terror?  (previous wives died in mysterious unexplained circumstances)
Despair? (a passel of motherless children)
Crushed and crestfallen? (60 years old)

In my family "an arranged marriage" was a reality only two generations back from me. My own Grandmother, my Baba, was given away by her brother to my Grandpa, an immigrant Pennsylvania coal miner. Here are the earliest photos we have of them, from about 1918. They were married in 1912 but lacked money for a wedding photo.

John Bubnash
Suzanna Csornej-Maczko

Baba was not put off by her prospective husband. She had seen him around her home village in Eastern Europe. He was  handsome, five years older, and earning about what could be expected for a young 20s little-educated Slavic immigrant. Baba did not want to marry. She was barely 16; in the old country she wouldn't have married until age 19 or 20. She had been in the US for only six months. She worked a menial job and loved the power and independence. But her brother Michael was responsible for her, and had his own family to support. When Grandpa approached Michael to ask if he could marry Michael's sister, Michael gave consent and made arrangements, and there was not a thing in the world Baba could do about it. In Michael's defense, he was simply carrying on an old-country tradition. He knew of John from home and that he was a decent fellow.

The wedding occurred July 20, 1912, at the Byzantine Catholic Church in Clairton Pennsylvania. Rocky bleak times plagued this family: frequent moves as mines closed and workers were laid off, poverty, strikes, drinking, the death of a child, my Grandpa's peevish ways, overloaded lives when they ran a farm when Grandpa still worked a full shift at the mine, black lung, and the worst, Grandpa's crippling accident at Colonial #3 mine at Rowes Run Pennsylvania. That was the last day he ever worked as a miner. He was hospitalized for nearly a year, and paralyzed for good.

For the next 15 years Baba took care of her almost home-bound, almost helpless husband. The strenuous daily work took its toll, and it never got easier. Grandpa's health further declined when cancer took over his life. He died in 1966, 54 years into their arranged marriage.

Almost 30 years later I sat in Baba's kitchen, my cassette recorder running, asking questions about her childhood in the old country, and her experiences as a immigrant with a large family during the Depression and two world wars. In a very matter-of-fact tone she related the hardships of her life, and then focused on the intense and tedious care of my Grandpa in the years of his disability leading to his death.

After a lengthy pause she said, "Oh, how I miss him . . . "

Saturday, November 23, 2013


For 3.5 years (until this past June) I was a Cub Scout Bear den leader.  I loved it, and enjoyed taking the boys on monthly field trips, especially the historic ones.  The photo below shows the Imbrie House, which is a couple of miles from where we all live. It was build about 1866 and housed the Imbrie family for over 100 years, before it was converted into a restaurant. The Cubs are always speechless when they are shown the "birth and death room," a long narrow room on the north side of the house where, surprise, family members were brought into and led out of this world.

About 20 years ago the McMenniman brothers bought the place; if you're not from here you haven't heard of them. They buy up old schools, houses, and other historic buildings (sometimes saving them from the wrecking ball) and convert them into restaurants, pubs, guesthouses. When they bought the Imbrie place it was in reasonable condition but not large enough to be a successful restaurant venture, so they built a large building behind the house for that purpose (it has an 1800s appearance). There was also an octagonal barn on the property that was in a sad state of disrepair. They fixed it up nice for use for parties and wedding receptions. They created beautiful grounds that connect all the different buildings.

One structure they built new is the brewery. Not being a drinker, I didn't even know they had one, until this one day with the Cubs when we opened the door of what I thought was another barn. And voila! There was the brewmaster with his contraption going full steam. Of course the boys could not go inside, but the brewmaster invited them to watch, and then he gave them very complete lessons on how to brew beer. It was rather amusing, because not only were they wiggly 9 year-old boys, but they were wiggly 9 year-old Mormon boys . . . who now know how to brew beer.

my grandson on the left and his Cub Scout den

Friday, November 22, 2013

50 Years, Yet it Seems Like Yesterday

I realize everyone is on the bandwagon writing about JFK this week, this month, this year. My memories of that day have been written about here.  And here are my two cents for today.

Everyone maintains that they grew up in turbulent times. For my parents it really was a turbulent childhood, what with the Depression and then World War 2. My childhood had its storms of race riots, the nagging dread of nuclear war, the abhorred Vietnam War, Watergate, etc. My children observed the attack on 9/11 and its fallout that has colored the past decade.

But the assassination of a president is a ghastly experience for a country to endure. Thank heaven we have not gone through that again in the past 50 years. President Kennedy's aura of youth, vitality, exuberance, and vision for a stronger America infected even those who did not vote for him (like my Mom), and Jackie had something to do with that. The day of his death and days following were the nightmare that wouldn't go away. Questions remain about what really happened in Dallas on November 22 1963, questions that cannot be answered. And folks still wonder, what if?  What if he had lived to complete his term, and a second following?

And then less than 5 years later, Martin Luther King was gunned down, then 2 months after that, Robert Kennedy. Talk about turbulent times. Talk about fear of  the future  . . .

The future became the present, times improved, sank, then recovered. And sank and recovered again. Americans really are a resilient people. We want better for our children than what we have had. And despite all the horrendous times of the past and present uncertainties, I believe we've delivered.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

An Gorta Mor: The Great Hunger Survivors (part 3)

One Family in the Aftermath of An Gorta Mor

To relate the plight of the Catholic Irish during the famine to my own ancestors, meet my families: Toomeys, Dunns, Doyles, Sheas, Griffins, Ashes, Murphys, Sheehys, Sheehans, O'Sullivans, O'Donnells, O'Connors, Cavanaughs, Kennedys, Brosnahans and Wrens. Survivors of the famine from each of these families fled to the US either during or after the crisis. A few Ashes headed to Australia. All but the first two surnames are prevalent on County Kerry's Dingle Peninsula. There were no death or burial records kept in their 19th century parishes, so no way can we differentiate between those who died in the famine, and those who survived but remained in Ireland.

A few English landlords paid the Atlantic passage for their Irish Catholic tenants; others cleared the land and left the tenants to fend for themselves. They died in droves, meeting their end in roadside ditches, in the ruins of their cottages, and in workhouses. For decades after the famine years survival was precarious in Ireland, so in addition to the one million who died from the crop failure, Ireland bled another two million to foreign shores over the next 50 years.**  I have no idea how these famine survivors were able to scrape up passage money, except I do know my Doyle's story, and their method is typical of the 19th century Irish immigrant.

My great-great grandparents Tom Doyle and Mary Murphy, along with Mary's sister Catherine Murphy O'Connor (on the right); Tom is holding a shillelagh, an Irishman's walking stick

Tom Doyle and Mary Murphy of Ardamore Lispole left Ireland several decades after the famine, but distressing times had not gone away. Remember that most of the land in Ireland had been--and was still --owned by English absentee landlords. In the 1870s and 1880s there was widespread agitation over how and when to turn the land back to the natives, and there were localized famines occurring in various areas. The battered economy could not support the rebounding population. I know of one family who drew straws to see which members would have to emigrate.

The Doyles came up with money to send one of their nine children, Bridget Doyle, to the bustling mill city of Holyoke Massachusetts. She boarded there with "old country" friends already settled, and took up the long hours in a cotton mill. If you have seen the production North and South, think of my great-grandmother Bridget. After a time her saved wages paid for her sister Ellen to join her in the mill, and then on the 10th of May 1880, the rest of the Doyles arrived in New York on The City of Montreal, and made their way to Holyoke.

Bridget Doyle, 1856-1897

Thomas ran a saloon and also worked for the city digging ditches. As the story goes, his most prized possession was his shovel which he stored safely under his bed. His daughters treated it as if it were solid gold when they swept underneath the bed, because it was their bread and butter. Tom walked through Hampden Park in Holyoke on his way to work, and always genuflected at the tall statue of a patriotic Miss Liberty which he mistook for the Virgin Mary.

Great-great Grandpa Tom Doyle paid daily tribute to Miss Liberty in Hampden Park

Mary Murphy Doyle was, and still is, called Mama Doyle. Stories passed down say she loved books, and learned to read in a hedge school in Ireland. A hedge school meant that the schoolmaster and students hid out in the country behind the hedges where the English would not see and arrest the schoolmaster. In Holyoke Mary took in relatives right and left, including her daughter Bridget's widowed husband, Matthew Ashe, and his children. She believed in eating healthy and didn't indulge children with sweets. For cakes and candy they had to go to her sister, Catherine O'Connor.

The Doyle Children

Bridget married late--1894, and died young--1897. She lived long enough to give birth to my grandfather on April 15 1897, and then passed away on June 14 from TB, historically the world's greatest killer.

Of the 9 Doyle children, Michael was the most successful; he established a printing business called M.J. Doyle Printing Co. Over the decades he employed his brothers, his children, nieces, nephews, grand-nieces, grand-nephews, cousins, and whoever else needed work.

Some people inherit jewels or priceless artifacts from their ancestors.  Me?  I inherited this wooden ruler from my Mom who as a teenager worked for her Great-uncle Mike Doyle; I also own a few of the books he published

Tom Jr. worked in a clothing store. On a tragic day in 1913 his wife's dress caught fire from the coal stove and she died soon after.
Tom's son John Francis Doyle, a member of the Merchant Marine

John Doyle died in the summer of 1885 of typhoid fever. He was 25.

John Doyle, 1859-1885

Pat Doyle worked for Mike's printing company, as did Steve, the youngest Doyle child.

Ellen and Kate Doyle married other Irishmen in Holyoke and raised families. Kate's son John eventually took over the M.J. Doyle Printing Company. Kate is the only one of the Doyle children who lived long enough for me to know.
me on the left with various cousins, and my Great-great Auntie Kate Doyle Sullivan

The oldest Doyle child, Mary, had married Tom Brosnahan in Ireland before her family emigrated, and remained there for the rest of her life. About half of her children eventually settled in the US.

So there you have it. An Irish Catholic family forced out by drastic circumstances, who then made good in America. I don't believe in coincidences or accidents of history. The calamity of the Irish Famine sent faithful energetic immigrants to American shores and look what they have done. They made ours the greatest country in the world. They gave me the great gift of a home in the USA.

**and by 1940, the nadir of the famine effect, the population was down to 4 million, half of what it was in 1841

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

An Gorta Mor: The Great Famine (part 2)

The Great Irish Famine has been over for 160 + years.  But memories are long and bitterness remains.

Besides suffering and dying on their home turf, thousands of Irish died on the voyage to America, and some even after they arrived.  There is an island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Quebec, called Grosse Isle.  It was the landing place for tens of thousands of desperate ragged families, many of whom were afflicted with typhus, a companion to severe famine.   5000 immigrants are buried on Grosse Isle, those who were either DOA or crawled off their ship and died.

These dirt-poor Catholic immigrants were shunned in America for their destitution, strange speech and customs, and for their religion.  They were crowded into ramshackle tenements where tuberculosis, history's greatest killer, stalked them so diligently that few entirely escaped its clutches.  At least 3 of my 8 Great-grandparents died of TB too early in life, and my Grandfather, a first-generation American, had the disease.

Within the last 10 years memorials have arisen dedicated to remembering the anguish and misery of the famine victims of so many decades ago.

This haunting remembrance is in Toronto Canada:

The president of Ireland dedicated this 14 foot high Celtic Cross in Portland Oregon in 2008

The Irish Hunger Memorial is located a few blocks from Battery Park, New York City, and was dedicated in 2002

Tomorrow, part 3: an Irish-American success story

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

An Gorta Mor: The Great Irish Hunger (part 1)

"They buried us without shroud or coffin.  And in August . . . the barley grew up out of our grave." -- Seamus Heaney

famine memorial in Dublin Ireland

My good friend and fellow family historian, Barbara Hovorka, has said, "People did not leave home when times were good." In a historical sense she means that unemployment, lean harvests, famines, epidemics, harsh weather and military conflict were the catalysts responsible for moving individuals and the masses from one land to another. I can say the reason I'm sitting here in my sunroom in Beaverton Oregon writing this blog post is in part due to the Great Irish Famine of 1845-1850. It drove my Catholic ancestors from the emerald land they loved, to strange bustling shores where they struggled to put down roots.

The Great Famine was set in motion hundreds of years before it occurred, when England imposed itself on Ireland because it knew better than the Irish what was good for the Irish. The Irish plight escalated when the crown bestowed on its loyalists, land confiscated from the natives. Most of those English folks did not want to live in a backward primitive papist land so they became absentee landlords, entirely out of touch with the cruelty and deprivation they caused by collecting unreasonable rents on land the Irish had previously owned themselves.

In their cashless economy, the Irish strove to pay the rent with crops and small animals they raised. It was nip and tuck for them because the acreage they could afford to pay rent on was hardly enough to keep the wolf from the door. And if an Irishman improved his dwelling by building a fence or adding a window say, his rent jumped. Valuable animals, the source of rent, were kept safely inside the cottage. And then, the English expressed deep contempt for what they called a filthy lazy good-for-nothing people living in squalid conditions, conditions that the English themselves had created. Landlords had total power over their tenants--they could turn them out and clear the land for cattle with merely a word.

Bearing the cross of near-starvation was bad enough; the Irish also lived with the Penal Laws which were designed to force conversion to the Protestant Church of Ireland. Shortly, they included restrictions on Catholic ownership and inheritance of land, education, worshipping "popery," owning a horse worth more than 5 pounds, and holding public office. Penalties for breaking the laws included loss of goods and home, and at worst, the scaffold.

By the late 1700s the potato, an American transplant, was thriving in Irish soil, and the population thrived with it. Among the native peasants the potato became the central component of their diet. The island's population doubled between 1780 and 1840 to over 8 million. Then in 1845 and 5 subsequent years, the potato crop was almost wiped out by a blight, setting in motion terrible times from which Ireland has never fully recovered. And thus, the Great Famine launched a great migration.

An old Irish folk song, The Wearing of the Green, laments the barbarous yoke England laid upon them, and the English attempt to purge everything that made an Irishman Irish. The last verse admits that refuge in the USA was their only salvation:

I hear whisper of a country that lies far beyond the sea, where rich and poor stand equal in the light of freedom's day.
Oh, Erin must we leave you driven by the tyrant's hand, and seek a mother's welcome in a strange and distant land,
Where the cruel cross of England's thraldom never will be seen, and where thank God, we'll live and die . . . still wearing of the green.

Just about half my ancestry comes from the Dingle Peninsula, which is on the lower left side of the map, the 4th peninsula up--the one colored bright red that points almost straight west.

Tomorrow, meet the refugees.

Monday, November 18, 2013

My Baby, My Compost Pile

My compost pile is like a baby (without the midnight feedings!).  I tend it carefully, make sure it's fed and warm, that it has a drink now and then, that it doesn't need changing, and when the time is right--when it has proved itself to be ripe and mature--it is released to do some good (I spread it around the garden).

I started composting in Meridian Idaho--we lived there 1978-1984.   We had a half acre with 12 fruit trees, grape vines, and a very large garden.  I subscribed to Organic Gardening magazine, and read it cover to cover every month.  They often talked about this thing called composting, new to me.   I gave it a go.  Our first compost pile wasn't contained.  It was just the place we piled garden waste.  We weren't religious about putting fruit and vegetable scraps in the pile, but then, we had a 3 very small children to tend and other things to think about.

When we moved to our current home we established a garden spot and the compost pile was still only a pile for our waste, which I would turn once in a while.   I never knew there were actual containers you could use to enhance compost development, until about 25 years ago.  Metro (a local government entity) began selling Earth Machines for about $25.  I have 2.  In theory I would be adding to only one at a time while the other stewed and cooked the compost undisturbed.   But we have a huge amount of waste to add, so they both get fed until once a year--in spring--I back off feeding one of them for a month so it can finished "cooking" and be spread soon.

the earth machine (not my photo)

In the fall I add tons of cut up cornstalks, bean vines, pumpkins, and leaves (mulched or not) along with our regular kitchen waste and weekly grass clippings.   Kitchen waste is more bulky when we have corn cobs or grapefruit rinds, so those I quickly cut up with scissors when they go in the kitchen bowl. Any time of year I add cuttings from plants.

Successful compost requires some balancing between carbon and nitrogen.  Never put in a weeks' worth of grass clippings (nitrogen) without balance from kitchen waste and carbon brown matter.  You'll end up with a reeky mat of slimy grass.  If I'm short of brown matter such as leaves I can tear up paper bags and egg cartons or shred newspaper, and adding a shovel full of soil helps too.  If I have too much grass, some gets stirred into the compost bins and the rest spread between garden rows to keep our shoes from getting muddy.

Never add bread or meat.  Meat will attract raccoons, possums, and worse.  Bread gets gross and mushy.  No branches or heavy woody stuff or weeds.  Just about anything else goes!  I'm such a compost nerd that I have been known to bring empty plastic bags to a picnic and take home the melon rinds or other organic stuff.  I bring compostables home from my son's house.  And I have picked cores, peelings and rinds out of peoples' garbage to bring home to feed my baby,  my compost pile . . .

 Composting is super satisfying for these reasons:

  • something from nothing (in other words, you create valuable fertilizer from stuff you would otherwise throw away)
  • reduces garbage by a whole bunch
  • I become a scientist by balancing ingredients to create the ideal reaction, and watching it change almost right before my eyes
  • worms are my new best friends; they eat the kitchen waste and poop out fertilizer

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Mighty Mo

My Dad spent several years aboard the "Mighty Mo," the USS Missouri, or BB-63, during and after World War 2. My siblings and I grew up hearing the stories of the ship sailing through the Panama Canal (with only inches to spare), the big guns firing at the Battle of Okinawa, and the drama of the kamikaze starboard attack in 1945. We knew the treaty with Japan to end World War 2 in the Pacific Theater was signed on board the Missouri, on the very date my brother was born 11 years later. Dad had a scrapbook full of Missouri photos and information that I pored over again and again.

The Missouri was active in WW2, Korea, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf War. In the mid-1980s the ship was docked up in Bremerton Washington. Early one Saturday morning my family made the 3-hour drive from Beaverton to take a ship tour. We saw the seal planted in the wooden deck marking the spot where the treaty was signed, and the spot where the kamikaze hit. I craned my neck to look at the conning tower from which Dad spied the approaching kamikaze.

In the mid-90s the decision was made to permanently mothball the battleship at Pearl Harbor near the USS Arizona. In 1998 the Missouri made a farewell voyage along the west coast of the US, stopping in various ports for a last hurrah. The day it docked in Astoria Oregon, I took Steven out of kindergarten to watch the ship cross the Columbia Bar and sail upriver to port. I expected all others would head to Astoria for a tour, and thousands did, but out there on the sandy riverbank we had company.  

Dozens of folks occupied camp chairs planted on the sandy bank of the Columbia River, in the area north of Fort Stevens. The thrill of anticipation was in the air as we all awaited the big moment when the Missouri would appear and glide past us. We spotted it downriver and it approached at a decent clip. When it reached our impromptu viewing section, we all stood in tribute as the majestic ship, guns thrusting skyward, passed on its final voyage. What a memorable moment of pride and patriotism for us all.

I plan to visit the Missouri at its berth in Pearl Harbor someday. 

A bit of trivia: the Missouri was selected for the signing of the treaty with Japan, because then President Harry S. Truman's home state was Missouri.

a modern view of the big guns

the "Mo" gliding through Pearl Harbor on its way back to New York after the war ended; Dad is on board there someplace

The famous kamikaze hit

The plane is barely visible at the top of this famous photo, left of center. The Japanese Zero and the pilot's body broke apart on impact; not much damage was done to the ship and no one else was hurt.  Captain Callaghan ordered a military funeral for the pilot. A Japanese flag was made up, and a rifle salute was given as the body was buried at sea. Dad said that not everyone on ship agreed with Captain Callahan's decision to give a military funeral to the enemy. Dad felt the Japanese teenager deserved the respect given. "He was a human being," Dad said.

I believe this is a view of the treaty signing

Dad's gravestone in St. Nicholas Cemetery, Perryopolis Pennsylvania

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Last Frontier: Inside Passage

After Daniel's hospital adventure we flew to Juneau for 10 days of cruising Alaska's Inside Passage on their state ferry system. On that marine adventure we stopped at well-known sites such as Sitka and Skagway, and the lesser known towns Wrangell, Hoonah, Angoon. We changed ferry boats at various ports. Some were roomier and more comfortable than others. We saw whales and porpoises leaping from the sea next to our boat. Ferry names I remember are the Taku, the Malaspina, the Columbia, the Matanuska, and the Le Conte. Yeah, the LeConte. It's the one I remember best and  I'll get to that below.

the Columbia, one of Alaska's ferries

Sitka's Russian roots goes to show that you don't have to go all the way to St. Petersburg to see onion-domed churches, 3-barred crosses, and gorgeous icons.

St. Michaels in Sitka

Tlingits were the original inhabitants.
totem in Sitka area

Skagway's claim to fame is its history as the jumping-off place for prospectors looking to strike it rich in the 1897-98 Klondike gold rush. The town is a re-creation of that era, with frontier-style false-front buildings, gambling parlors, and even dramatic productions portraying the bawdiness of the era. The 100,000 Klondikers were required by the Canadian government to bring 1 years' worth of food to ward off starvation, and they had to transport it all up the Chilkoot Pass. By themselves. And then dig for ore in the permafrost.

The down side and fright of our Skagway stay was that Daniel was reacting to an overdose of the seizure medicine prescribed in Anchorage. We didn't know why he was so groggy and confused, but on calling his doc in Portland, we figured it out, and switched him to the right dose. He doesn't have much memory of Skagway. Except for winning $300,000 in fake money at the Skagway gambling parlor!

Daniel the gambling king with Soapy Smith

At one port where we docked (Hoonah or Angoon) for just quick stop I decided to take a walk in the sun for a half hour. I hadn't got an eighth mile from the ferry when a passing SUV slowed, rolled down the window and a woman said, "ma'am, there's grizzly bears walking around here--did you know that?"  No I did not. I made an about-face and a beeline back to the boat.

what beautiful creatures--from afar  (not my photo)

The SS Le Conte. 4-year-old Steven enjoyed running around the decks of the ferry boats.  One of us would go on the deck with him to keep tabs on his whereabouts. On the LeConte, he ran fast down the side towards the bow, aiming for the point of the bow where he could look out onto the ocean. Neither of us saw the skinny cotton rope stretched across the bow to keep people 10 feet away from the point. Steven hit the rope at full speed across his neck, and was ricocheted backwards, slamming the back of his head on the deck. His neck could have snapped, he could have had a concussion. The horror of what just happened almost immobilized me. The captain had seen the whole thing from the bridge and sent an officer down to bring us up. Steven was ok, just startled and sore. The captain apologized profusely and had us stay on the bridge for a while. He gave Steven a navy corduroy cap with SS LeConte stitched in gold. He let Steven steer the boat. As we approached port Steven is the one who blew the horn announcing our arrival. The captain did everything he could to forestall a lawsuit. I insisted that if the bow had to be roped off that he tie on some red ribbons so this would not happen again.

Highlights of the Inside Passage

  • whales and porpoises jumping around our boat
  • marvelous views of mountains, fishing ports
  • investigating tiny scenic islands, including one that bans gas-powered vehicles
  • taking a private plane tour of the glaciers
a breaching whale in Alaska's waters (not my photo)

Alaska's Flag is undoubtedly one of the best state songs:

Eight stars of gold on a field of blue,
Alaska's flag.  May it mean to you
The blue of the sea, the evening sky,
The mountain lakes, and the flow'rs nearby;
The gold of the early sourdough's dreams,
The precious gold of the hills and streams;
The brilliant stars in the northern sky,
The Bear, the Dipper, and shining high,
The great North Star with its steady light,
O'er land and sea a beacon bright.
Alaska's flag to Alaskans dear . . .
The simple flag of the last frontier.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Last Frontier: the Interior

first day of our adventure

Our best family vacation EVER, was the 3 weeks we spent in Alaska in the summer of 1996. It was Craig's idea to use his month-long sabbatical on a journey to the far north, and he did all the work to create the ideal trip for 6 of us (Blair was serving his mission in Austria).

We flew to Anchorage to pick up an RV that was to be our home for the 10 days we explored Alaska's interior. That's the only way to get around in the oft-frozen frontier of Alaska's mountains and tundra. Traditional lodging can be many hundreds of miles apart. Alaska has created small paved lots adjacent to the two-lane highways that traverse the wilderness. Every time we pulled into one of those for the night, we had plenty of RV company. You wouldn't want to sleep outdoors with a flimsy piece of nylon between you and a furry grizzly mama, or an angry bull moose.

In spending 10 full days on the road we explored only a narrow slice of the state. It's that big. And land features are enormous. The rivers are miles wide, the mountains are counted in tens of thousands of feet, and the broad valleys could hold multiple sprawling metros side by side. We're among the lucky who happened to be looking in the right direction when the clouds parted and Denali made a rare appearance. We enjoyed our time from Anchorage to Fairbanks to Homer and places in between.

Craig and Teresa

the famous pipeline

The highlights of Alaska's interior were:
  • wild animals in Denali Nat'l Park (grizzlies from a distance, moose, caribou, and a wolf)
  • a bald eagle feeding on fish on Homer's beach
  • for Teresa and Craig: traveling to the Arctic Circle
  • for the rest of us: cruising the Tenana River out of Fairbanks; Susan Butcher (multiple Iditarod winner) came out to the river bank to greet our boat
  • the majestic scenery in every direction--a constant overwhelming marvel
  • the unique near 24-hour daylight; one night we comically stayed awake watching for the tidal bore to fill a bay near Anchorage--it must have been an off night because nothing happened
native handiwork near Fairbanks

We stopped at a number of glaciers to stare at the bluest icy blue we had ever seen. Until we actually walked on a glacier I didn't know that the surface of a melting sheet of ice is reduced to sharp ridges, like razor blades. Yeah, we walked on a glacier and will never do again without proper equipment. It's extremely dangerous and the potential for loss of life is not small. One particular glacier was on private property. The dude charged us $10 to drive out to it, and said nothing about the risk. After Daniel cut up his knees from falling on the razor sharp slick ice, I knew it was time to vamoose.  Then I saw the sinkhole. Yeah, a hole in the ice big enough to fall into. You could hear the meltwater rushing underneath the glacier. One slip into that sinkhole and it would be ta-ta to you for a thousand years, Until the glacier melted up to where your body lodged.

after the crisis we waited for a ride to the airport

Our last day in Anchorage didn't go well. We turned in the RV and intended to spend the day in downtown Anchorage until it was time for our flight to Juneau to begin Part 2 of our trip. But in the main square in downtown Anchorage Daniel had a seizure (he had been having mild ones on and off but we had not started him on medication yet (long story)). This one had the appearance of a grand mal. Kind people stepped up to help. We had no transportation, and even if we did wouldn't have known how to get to the hospital. Someone called 911 for us. A woman named Joy Haines sat with our upset girls, and then drove them and me to Alaska General behind the ambulance (Craig and Steven went in it w/ Daniel). The doc there conferred with Daniel's neurologist in Portland, and then dispensed seizure medicine. Only it was the wrong dose which we didn't know for three days, and that will figure in part 2 of this story . . .

Part 2: The Last Frontier: Inside Passage