Tag Archives: reminiscences

Going West

Long before the popularity of genealogy website, ancestry.com, family history was one of my favorite pursuits. Some might call me a devotee, but the honest truth is it’s more of an obsession, a positive (though time-consuming) addiction.

Why genealogy, you may ask? How will I write the “great American novel” when I’m distracted with genealogy?

Well, I’ve already wrestled with many of life’s burning questions:  who am I? where am I headed? who is John Galt? And I’ve managed satisfactory answers for myself. The single nagging unanswered question persists:  from where have I come? My compulsion has been to develop an understanding of who my ancestors were.

I grew up in St. Louis, my dad’s hometown. My mother hailed from Philadelphia and after WWII moved to St. Louis to marry my dad and raise their family. A post relating to my Stricker origins is here.

The unattainable was, of course, what captivated me. My mom’s the last survivor in her family. (Read more about Ruthe here, here, and here.) She had one sibling (who died before Mom was born). Mom was five years old when her dad died (he suffered mustard gas poisoning in WWI). She was twenty-four when her mother died.

In the days before Ancestry, I’d visit my local library laboriously combing census records on microfiche to uncover whatever I could find about Mom’s Philadelphia West forebears. She’d grown up knowing scant details about her dad; from the 1910 Census we discovered he had a sister (long since deceased) whom Mom had never known existed!

West_Frank abt1930

One of my fascinations with genealogy is a quest to discover the unique experiences of these real (though departed) individuals. They’re more than names on a family tree and the summary of their vital statistics is hardly a start. Yes, a gravestone gives evidence of a life once lived, yet rarely provides more than a hint (if any) of that person’s totality. Did he like to joke? Was she witty or plain? What were their struggles?

Here’s my great-grandfather Franklin Pierce West (1853-1935) whose story illustrates how this puzzle presents itself. Some of my mother’s early recollections include Frank serving briefly as a father figure to her. (He died when she was nine.)

To get some perspective on who Frank was, the backstory is crucial. Frank’s father (Samuel P. West, 1832-1864) died at Spotsylvania Courthouse (VA) when Frank was barely eleven. In time, Frank, his two brothers and a sister, grew up and went on to have families of their own. But there’s an underlying turmoil that the various census records fail to expose.

Frank married Julia Boyle (1857-1903) in 1876 and they had four children, two of whom died as infants. The 1880 US Census shows the couple together, having already buried their firstborn. No 1890 US Census information is available for them. In 1900, I’ve been unable to find a census listing for Julia, though she didn’t die until 1903. Frank is listed living with his younger brother (and family).

Where are their two remaining children? Bethesda Home (a charitable institution?) in Springfield, Pennsylvania lists two children who are close matches, but that information is far from conclusive. The 1910 US Census shows Frank and his now adult children are reunited in the same household; under Frank’s marital status, there’s a “D” for divorced.

Did Frank and Julia legally divorce? I’ve found no records to support it. I can surmise there must have been a serious rift though. After Julia died on New Year’s Eve 1903, she was buried in the same burial plot as her parents.

Even when records exist, they’re often incomplete. Relations who might have fleshed out the frame have gone to their graves with the answers. Nevertheless, the mystery motivates more exploration, not less. As I research, I find new possibilities and eliminate others. It is (I hate to admit it) a quest without end.

So far, though, I haven’t discovered a connection to John Galt. I’ll let you know if that changes!

Natural Beauty

If I could give my adult daughters something precious today, it would be an understanding of their own unique beauty. I’m so thankful Dove soap provides an objective voice to the ongoing discussion of beauty. We can all learn from it!

Were a forensic artist seeking to paint your portrait based only on your verbal description, what features would you mention?

Do you feel the inevitable ravages of age? Fighting the onset of crow’s feet? Bags under your eyes? Do you notice dark liver spots beginning to cloud your once-clear skin? When was the last time you looked in the mirror and didn’t scowl? [The affects of age always seem most prominent in my face.]

If I were sitting for the forensic artist’s sketch, I’d mention the obvious facts (color of my hair, eyes, etc.), but then I’d probably focus immediately on the downturn of my mouth. It distresses me! Whether from gravity, tiredness (or unconscious habit?), when my mind is engaged in thought, the corners of my mouth relax into a natural downward grimace! Horribly unbecoming, so I try to compensate by remembering to smile often.Grandma Edith Stricker 1

Because she smiled a lot, my grandmother’s mouth was seemingly punctuated by multiple parentheses, the redundant folds formed by smile wrinkles. To me, her face seemed so serene, utterly peaceful and content. (When I became an adult, I learned she’d undergone electroshock treatments.) She died when I was only 12, but I’ve never forgotten her loveliness.

Looking now at this picture of her, I’m struck by the facial similarities between her and my dad (in his later years). No question she was his mother and he her son!

I’ve always aspired to reflect a measure of that sweet serenity I saw in my grandmother’s countenance. She radiated the love and joy of the Lord, an inner beauty quietly communicated with every smile and gentle touch. Would she have seen it herself or be thinking only of wrinkles and crow’s feet?

Giveaway Winner Announcement

Thanks to those who entered your names for our book giveaway. The winner’s name was drawn early this morning. The giveaway prize, if you remember, was a copy of the book on the left.

Congratulations to Nancy at ______@aol.com for winning this giveaway. Actually, I will be sending Nancy two copies (one to fill out and one to give away) of A BOOK ABOUT ME within the next two days.

I also will be sending two copies of the book to One Thrifty Gurl for her to give away in one of her upcoming giveaway events. OTG graciously included notice of my giveaway on her blog. Thanks!

Now, if you’re wishing your name had been drawn, we will be scheduling future giveaways. If you don’t want to wait for the next giveaway, copies of the book are easily purchased. Print this order form, complete it and mail (with remittance) to the address at the bottom of the order form.

Or, if you’d rather download the form before printing, here’s the download link.

Thanks for your entries, and we look forward to more giveaways in the future.

Once Upon A Time Stories

It’s Tuesday, January 31, 2012! That means, at 11:59 p.m. this evening, I will be choosing one of my blog’s subscribers to receive a copy of A BOOK ABOUT ME (which really isn’t about me). If you’ll read my blog posting Fifteen Minutes a Day, it will provide specifics for entry into this giveaway, then decide whether or not to throw your name in the hat for a copy of the book.

For now, as a reminder about the giveaway, I thought I’d provide a little more information about the book itself.

It may be purchased via Amazon. As you can tell from the picture of the front cover, it’s spiral-bound. Inside are pages (one for every day of the year) on which YOU can write your personal story.

To give you an understanding of how the book is organized, here’s a reproduction of the Table of Contents.

Beginning with January 1, each day poses a question or questions and provides fill-in boxes where you can write your answer. (It works something like a diary, but don’t worry. You can start writing wherever you like — it’s your book! You can even take time to ponder a question before writing your answer in the space provided.)

Each month focuses on one particular aspect of life. Here’s what the first pages of January look like. Continue Reading →

Turn Out the Lights

From the time I married my soul-mate in December of 1969, I knew I’d either become a football fan or a miserable football “widow.” I chose the former. I learned the game, the players and whatever behind-the-scenes NFL scuttlebutt others talked about in my workplace coffee-break room.

In those early days, we lived in Dallas, and with Tom Landry at the helm of the Cowboys, we became enthusiastic fans. We identified with “America’s Team” before the rest of the world knew them by that name.

It was never simply a question of wins and losses nor my competitive drive desiring for “my” team to stay on top. Becoming a Cowboys fan also meant I became knowledgable about other NFL teams. When the Cowboys played the Redskins, I needed to know something about the history of that rivalry. If they played the Steelers, the Broncos or the 49ers, I learned the facts and lore that contributed to my enjoyment of each game. Continue Reading →

Tribute to Lewis

I can’t remember my first exposure to the writings of C. S. Lewis. (It may have been an early reading of Till We Have Faces.) Before ever having read one volume of the Narnia series, I encountered this myth retold. Did I understand the story? Probably not; maybe I identified with Orual’s ugliness? Something about it captured my youthful imagination.

One hundred and two years ago (in far-off Belfast, Northern Ireland), Mr. and Mrs. Albert Lewis welcomed their younger son into this world. Today, I gratefully celebrate Lewis’ life and work. Though I never met him, I have a vivid personal memory of his passing.

I was in junior high school, a disappointed student returning home from school earlier than expected because the school party and dance scheduled for that Friday evening (November 22, 1963) had been canceled at the last minute. (Not a fan of JFK, I admit I was miffed. Why cancel a party in Missouri when Kennedy had died in Dallas?!)CS Lewis Time Coverj8cov1101470908p Continue Reading →

One of My Heroes . . . RIP

Today is my Daddy’s birthday. Were he alive, Norman would be celebrating 88 years.

My dadHe was the first man who won my heart. He wasn’t a perfect man, but he loved my mother and did his best to provide her and their children a good life. Never having finished the eighth grade, he made his way with hard work and perseverance.

Norman served in the Army in World War II, one of the many who landed (and survived) on the beaches at Normandy. The emotional trauma of D-Day took its toll and he suffered what (in those days) was termed a “nervous breakdown.” Refusing to be sent home, he received hospital treatment and drove a supply truck back and forth to the front lines until the War ended. Continue Reading →

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