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2013: A Look Back

2013-clockThis blog has been unattended for so much of the year that a 2013 retrospective seems pointless. But, my life and my research were not as inactive as the blog, so there are still many things to remember about this year before launching into a new one. I’ve blown the dust off of the keyboard and will make a valiant effort to continue my yearly tradition of looking back before moving on.

Despite the lack of genealogy blogging, this year I’ve discovered more genealogically than in any of the almost 25 years I’ve been researching. There’s a lot to say about it if I ever get the time to write! I “met” many cousins this year both in person and virtually. Finding and meeting cousin Bob was actually one of my unfulfilled 2012 goals! His grandfather and my great-grandfather were half-brothers from the same mother. Not only is he a wonderful person to know, he gave me a ton of cool genealogy things. First, there were many photographs – including a photo of my great-grandfather and his siblings as children with their mother. I never thought I’d see what my great-great-grandmother looked like, so that was the best present of all. I also learned her death date. Cousin Bob also gave me two albums that belonged to my great aunt that are worthy of several blog posts.

Another cousin I found was Judy. We haven’t had the pleasure of meeting in person yet, but we’ve shared many emails. Judy’s grandmother and my great-grandmother were sisters. Besides some great photographs of that side of the family, she had a wealth of information from her aunt that confirmed the origins of my Miller family. There is also a wonderful first person account of immigrating to the United States which was a joy to read just weeks after discovering the record of this family immigrating. There is still much to sort out on this branch of the family – and much to write about.

Cousin Lunch!

Cousin Lunch!

But wait, there are more cousins! One on my Pater side found me and we hope to meet in 2014. From this same side my mother and I enjoyed a “cousin lunch” with my grandfather’s first cousin, her daughter, and granddaughter. We had a wonderful time and wondered what took us so long to get together. The last time my mother saw her second cousin and mom was only about 45 years ago!  To round out my list of cousins for the year was a more distant Polish relation who found me through this blog. Despite the “degree” of cousinhood, the story of how are two lines are related was fascinating and soap opera worthy.

Besides all of the cousin meetings, I has the great opportunity to research in Salt Lake City for a week in August.  I discovered many records – surprisingly, many were from the late 1700s in Poland which is a time period that often does not have records. I found records for many 5th and 6th great-grandparents. The very best part of the research trip was confirming the Czech origins of my Miller family in Poland.

The year 2013 was a great one for the availability of more online Polish records. I was able to view records dating back to the early 1800s for several ancestral towns and find my 2nd great-grandmother’s death record in 1900 in Warsaw. This online availability is unprecedented and certainly makes researching Polish records much easier than ever before.

Finally, the other new genealogical information came through DNA matches. I was able to confirm a 3rd cousin and 4th cousin DNA match!

As I said, it was a busy year for genealogical research for me as well as a busy year for life in general. In the “real world” of relatives, there were some family deaths. In January a very dear friend of the family died – Frank was not related to me, but always was and always will be in my heart as my uncle. Later in the year, my Uncle Ken passed away as well – fortunately I spoke to him about six weeks before he died after a long absence. Both uncles will be missed and I will always cherish the memories I have of them. My mother’s first cousin Sandy passed away this year as well. I hadn’t seen her in a long time but I remember her humor and creativity with fondness.

CIMG2857My nieces and nephews continued to grow into great kids. My oldest niece graduated high school and started college, while the younger one made her First Holy Communion. The boys started playing t-ball much to my delight.

2013 was a year in which I had lunch with a movie star, finally went to a Phillies game, toured some Finger Lakes wineries, put my father into a nursing home, said good-bye to the only boss I’ve had for the last decade when he retired, celebrated my aunt and uncle’s 50th wedding anniversary, and was furloughed from my government job for six days for the first time ever.

It was a very musical year in which I attended more live concerts than I ever did in my life. I saw amazing performances by Train, Gavin DeGraw, The Script, Matchbox Twenty, the Goo Goo Dolls, and Italian superstar Eros Ramazzotti. It was great! I also saw several theater performances including An Ideal HusbandJesus Christ Superstar (for the upteenth time), and two very different and equally enjoyable renditions of one of my favorite plays, Much Ado About Nothing. I also read a lot of great books (among them The Hangman’s Daughter series, The Bookman’s TaleWill in the World, and Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore). May next year’s entertainment be as much fun!

It always feels like there was never enough time spent with family and friends. But we tried, and 2013 had many fun lunches, dinners, parties, happy hours, and visits. I met new family members, made new friends, and cherished all the “old” family and friends just a little bit more. I’ve ignored my readers, if any of you are left, as I’ve ignored this blog. I think I still have more to say, though, so if you’re still out there…2014 may involve more blogging as well as more writing, more researching, more learning, and – most especially – more living. Happy New Year!

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Five Years

My Aunt Donna's blog is 5!

My Aunt Donna’s blog is 5!

Tomorrow is the 5th blogiversary of What’s Past is Prologue! If blog years are anything like dog years, that’s a really long time. I’m humbled every year that I’ve managed to entertain, inform, and help others since I started this blog to entertain, inform, and help myself. I’ve found cousins, I’ve made friends. In five years, this blog has been viewed over 182,500 times and readers have left 1,665 comments. In 2012, I had 45,320 visitors (an increase since the previous year) for an average of 124 per day. And to that there’s only one thing to say about those statistics – thank you for visiting!

My five top posts (as in most visited) in 2012 were written in previous years. The top two posts written in 2012 were:

My personal favorites over the last year were:

I hope you had some favorites, too. I was semi-successful at keeping up with regular posting barring the occasional vacation or unexpected hospital stay and I have plans to continue for many more years. And after FIVE YEARS I finally changed the theme ever-so-slightly – do you like the brand new look?

Thanks to all of my readers and all of the great friends I have made through this blog. Maybe I don’t write just for me anymore – I write for you, too!

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2012: A Look Back

Another year has come and gone! That means it’s time for my annual look in the rear view mirror before I look forward to all that 2013 has to offer. In some ways, this was a tough year for my friends, my family, and myself. My father was in and out of the ER and nursing homes more times than I can remember and my mother was occasionally sick too. Several of their close friends are suffering from serious illnesses. My parents’ house was in a state of disrepair for months due to a leaky pipe. There were several deaths this year: two co-workers, the mother of one of my best friends, two of my college professors, and a distant cousin who frequently commented here on this blog. I had some relationship disappointments and ended the year with a rather unexpected major surgery. But, despite all of the bad stuff, I managed to maintain a positive outlook and be grateful for all of the good things in life. And there were many, many good things…

My great-grandmother!

My great-grandmother!

Genealogically speaking, I didn’t devote that much time to research but I managed to make some great finds with the little time I did spend on it! I continued to find Polish records online including my 5th great-grandparents’ marriage record from 1820. The release of the 1940 census was long-awaited, and even though it didn’t reveal anything I didn’t already know it was a lot of fun to find my parents and all of my other relatives. I was thrilled to receive my great-grandmother’s naturalization papers and see her photo. The biggest surprise of the year was learning that my 2nd great-grandmother, Elizabeth Smetana Miller, immigrated to the U.S. and lived here for over 20 years before her death in 1944. I think I’m still surprised by that discovery! I had the opportunity to meet my 2nd cousin Carl and his sons from the Bergmeister side. I also got to meet Bill, a “cousin of my cousin” who is descended from the sister-in-law of one of my dad’s uncles. Finally, a surprise phone call from my father’s 76-year-old cousin – one I didn’t know existed – allowed me to connect her via telephone with her 67-year-old half-sister to share memories of the father that neither knew well (one due to divorce, the other due to his death at a young age).

I had a few personal goals for the year, but I only made progress with three of them. They were: have a more positive outlook, cultivate my relationships with friends, and get back to exercising. My new outlook, old friends, and five months of regular exercise all helped considerably when I was faced with my first-ever hospital stay at the end of November for a colon resection. It’s funny how things work out that way…

My nieces and nephews

My nieces and nephews

Looking back over the year, I was rather successful at trying to have a good time. I had many fun lunches, happy hours, and dinners with several different friends. I even cooked a bunch of dinners at my house and I was amazed every time that somewhere along the line I learned to cook without realizing it. I spent several holidays over at my brother’s house and spent some good times with my nieces and nephews watching Star Wars, going to the beach, and just having fun being silly. I finally broke the bad record of previous years and made it to the beach not just one day, but three different days! I hope my beach is still there since Hurricane Sandy hit that part of my state really bad in October. I finally made it to a Phillies game, attended a special event at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, saw my favorite Gene Kelly movie on the “big screen” again, and “won” an online auction to have lunch with my newest celebrity crush (we’re still scheduling the big event). I surprised myself by taking 10 undergraduate college credits in a subject I despise during a 7-week period, and despite spending one week in Europe and one week in the hospital I somehow managed to get a 3.55 average.

My travel time was limited this year, but I did go to Georgia twice for work as well as two new places: San Antonio, TX and Phoenix, AZ. The only trip I took for personal travel was special: after about fourteen years of promises, I took my 17-year-old niece on her first trip to Rome, Italy. It was trip #5 for me, but that didn’t make it any less special. We both had a great time and I hope it was as memorable to my niece as it was to me.

The Pointkouski chicks learning to cook in Italy

The Pointkouski chicks learning to cook in Italy

I like to remember my “entertainment” favorites every year as well as personal events. The two television shows I fell in love with this year will always be among my favorites because they’re just that good: Firefly and Leverage. Yeah, I don’t know what took me so long to find them either. I went for long periods without taking the time to read anything, but then I managed to read about 33 books between Memorial Day weekend and the end of September and found a lot of great authors in the process (Chris Ewan, Mark Mills, Pam Jenoff, Michael Curtis Ford, Sarah Jio, Isabel Wolff, Karen White). I especially enjoyed John Scalzi’s Redshirts, Kate Morton’s Forgotten Garden, and Felix Palma’s The Map of Time. In the world of music, I loved Matchbox Twenty’s new album, North, especially “Sleeping at the Wheel”. I also really liked P!nk’s “Blow Me (One Last Kiss)”, One Republic’s “Feel Again”, Lifehouse’s “In Between the Raindrops”, Sara Bareilles’ “Gonna Get Over You”, and Train’s “Feels Good at First”.

2012 brought me back to Rome - those coins thrown in the Trevi really do work!

2012 brought me back to Rome – those coins thrown in the Trevi Fountain really do work!

Last year I said I was ending the year a lot happier, healthier, and content, so that’s how I started this year. Although spending the last month recovering from surgery has been a struggle to stay happy, healthy, and content, I think I’m on track to a much happier, healthier, and contented new year. And the world didn’t even end this month as “scheduled”! What’s on tap for next year? Well, there are more ancestors to find, cousins to meet, birthdays to celebrate, dinners to enjoy, friends to cherish, places to travel, books to read, people to meet, photographs to take, blog posts to create, music to play, exciting things to discover, and family to love. That, my friends, will make for a very good year!

Happy New Year to all of my family, friends, and faithful readers! I wish you peace, joy, love, and good health in 2013!

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History:  gossip well told.  ~ Elbert Hubbard

Partners in crime: Nancy and I, probably up to no good, at National Honor Society induction during junior year (fall, 1983).

I was a teenage car thief.

Or so the story goes. That isn’t quite exactly true, but it seems to be how the story is told years later!

In my girls-only Catholic high school,my friend Nancy and I were probably known more for what we didn’t do than what we did. We didn’t smoke. We didn’t drink. We didn’t cut class, hike our uniform skirts halfway up our thighs, and we didn’t even wear makeup.

Nancy and I were good, polite, studious young ladies who got mostly straight A’s. Boring? Well, maybe to some, but we both also happened to have a great sense of humor and a mischievous streak, so we certainly weren’t bored. And, after all, the great thing about a devious mind in a goody-two-shoes body is that you rarely ever got blamed for your own mischievousness!

In junior year, we both had the good fortune to have Mrs. Campbell for history class (we called it “World Cultures”). Not only was Mrs. Campbell very smart (little did we know then that she was a future Jeopardy contestant) and an excellent teacher, but she was fun, too! Mrs. C had a sense of humor and a mischievous streak that rivaled ours in addition to a penchant for really bad puns. Let’s just say that Nancy and I learned a lot from her.

One day Mrs. Campbell broke off into an off-topic tangent about a student who attempted a  practical joke on her and failed. With a daring twinkle in her eye, she declared, “NO ONE has ever fooled me!”

Seated on the left side of the room, I immediately turned to Nancy a few rows to my right and raised my eyebrow. Nancy discreetly caught my gaze and nodded. The game was afoot! With a silent shared glance and only the faintest hint of a smirk, Nancy and I were thinking the same exact thing: “We’ll see about that, Mrs. C!”

After class, we wondered what joke we could play on her. We quickly realized it had to involve her car in some way, for the car had become a frequent detractor from our daily lesson plan. The Campbell’s bought a brand new car, and it was a complete lemon. Never in the history of American car production had a brand new car had so many mechanical failures. They were at their wits’ end in trying to get help from the dealership.

“We should steal it,” I said.

Nancy looked slightly shocked, yet amused, and gave me a questioning look.

“Well, not really steal it…just, you know – move it. If her car wasn’t where she parked it, she’d think it was stolen!”

Nancy smiled, “That’s perfect!”

Yes, perfect, until it dawned on us, both National Honor Society scholars, that neither of us could drive yet. Our friends who could drive thought we were absolutely insane and wanted nothing to do with our devious plans.

Time for Plan B! In the end, Plan B doesn’t sound like much at all – but, history is more about how things are remembered than what actually happened. Our classmate, Deena, worked in the main office during our class period. She would enter our room with a (forged) note for Mrs. Campbell that would tell her to call the dealership about her car – urgently! That’s right, kids, there were no cell phones in the mid-80’s!

This simple message was merely meant to invoke her ire – at the car, not us – and send her into a brief tizzy of humorous car-related stories which would have the side effect of getting us off the day’s lesson plan for the rest of the period until we revealed the joke.

See, we were not quite comedic geniuses yet, just lazy history students.

On the appointed day (my fuzzy memory thinks it was possibly April Fool’s Day) and the designated time, the note arrives. Mrs. C read it and looked quite distressed. She then did something we didn’t expect – she said she’d be right back and bolted out of the room!

When our note-delivery girl returned with the second note that said something to the effect of “just kidding”, Mrs. C still wasn’t back yet. Deena saw her in the hallway talking on the pay phone. Those who knew of our plan asked us what was going on: “Who’s she calling?” Others laughed and said, “You’re both dead!”

She couldn’t possibly be calling the dealership, could she? Maybe moving her car was a better idea after all.

She returned to the room, breathless – not from the short walk to the classroom, but from all the talking she had just quickly done on her call. She was about to explain what happened when she noticed that Deena standing in the front of the room. Deena handed her the second note while backing towards the classroom door and simultaneously trying to give a death-stare to Nancy and me on our different sides of the room.

That second or two while Mrs. Campbell read the note seemed longer than waiting for the bell to end Sr. Cherubim’s class.

Then… she laughed! And then said, “Oh my God, I have to call my husband!” and ran out of the room. She quickly returned and was dismayed that his line was busy. She explained that she called him about calling the car dealership because something else was wrong with the car. By the time she finally did get in touch with him – before our class was over – he had called not only the car dealership but also the Vice President of General Motors to discuss the lack of quality of their new vehicles and their poor customer service.

Fortunately, Mr. Campbell was as easy-going as his wife and they both actually laughed at our little prank. They thought the car dealership needed to be told off anyway, and we just prompted them to do it a little faster.

My memory has faded on the detail of how Nancy and I were identified as the perpetrators, but either we openly bragged about it or she immediately guessed from our sheepish grins. I think she actually admired us after that for our brave initiative. Mrs. C was so cool that by the end of junior year, Mr. and Mrs. Campbell agreed to chaperone four friends and me on a trip to Rome after we graduated – and she kept her word!

No cars were harmed or even touched in the prank, yet forevermore Mrs. Campbell called Nancy and I her car thieves. And that is how I got my class out of a history lesson one day and went down in Archbishop Ryan High School for Girls history as a teenage car thief.

How Mrs. Campbell signed my yearbook in senior year: Dear Donna, You have a great future as a car thief.

Our prank made it into our senior yearbook as a caption on a photo of Mrs. Campbell teaching class!

Left: Nancy and Mrs. C at our friend Mary’s graduation party, June 1985. Right: Mrs. C and me expressing our dissatisfaction with the hotel in Rome, July 1985.

[Written for the 122nd Carnival of Genealogy: School Humor]

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Continuing the weekly Family History Through the Alphabet Series… Q is for Questions! My genealogical research would be nonexistent if I hadn’t asked questions. Euripides once said, “Question everything. Learn something. Answer nothing.” That, my friends, is sometimes what I think genealogy is like because we ask questions, find some answers, and end up with a lot more questions.

As a young teenager, I remember asking my maternal grandmother, who we called Nan, some simple questions. In retrospect, this marked the beginning of my future as a genealogist and family historian. I asked her questions about her parents: What were their names? Where were they born? When did they come here? What were they like? She told me some answers. They weren’t necessarily correct answers, but they were answers! 

After college I began researching my family. My Nan was no longer living, so my questions went right to my parents: When did your parents get married? Did they ever talk about their parents? When did your grandparents die? Where did they come from? I dutifully recorded their answers. Then I researched some records…and I found answers in spite of my parents’ answers, which led to more questions: Why didn’t you tell me you had great-grandparents in this country? Why didn’t you tell me about Aunt and Uncle so-and-so?

Their usual response: “Oh yeah, I forget about that!”

One would assume that genealogical records would provide concrete answers, yet inevitably the records led to tons of additional questions. Why isn’t she with the rest of the family on the census? Why can’t I find him on the passenger list? When did they immigrate? What was her maiden name?

Family history research is all about the questions – and finding some answers. But in some ways the questions are more important, because without them we would have no impetus for research, no reason for the quest. Answers are wonderful, but ironically every nugget of information leads to even more questions! I found you, now who were your parents?

Genealogy can be a greedy quest… Here’s to all the questions, and hopefully one day finding all the answers we can. I will close with one of my favorite quotes from poet Rainer Maria Rilke. The quote has absolutely nothing to do with genealogical research. But since it deals with questions, it is highly appropriate:

…have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903
in Letters to a Young Poet

 [Written for the weekly Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge]

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After writing about libraries this week I began to reminisce about the “olden days” of genealogical research. It wasn’t entirely a fond reminiscing either. There used to be a lot of waiting involved in research – mail a letter, wait for a response. Or send away for some records, wait for a response. Or even worse – wait for a day to make a research trip to the archives, and slowly scroll through microfilm to find your answer.

The internet changed all of that waiting for the most part, and it took away whatever patience I had left. Everything is instant now. If a question arises about a movie, historical event, a sports statistic, or just about anything, gone are the long debates over the correct answer.  Google it, declare the winner, and move on. Handwritten letters? Even email is too much anymore – we settle for text messages.

With genealogy, so many records are online and instantly accessible that when something is not online that waiting that used to seem normal now just seems long. Very long. I’ve grumbled about the waiting game before and I bring it up again because I’d have a lot of good fodder for new blog posts if only some of the genealogical “things” I’m waiting for would only arrive. I can’t remember waiting for this much information since the early days of my research. At the moment, I’m waiting for:

  • A naturalization file from USCIS  for my great-grandmother that I never thought to look for until recently. In it may be the solution to my biggest mystery – her birthplace. They did the index search quickly. But the record request? Not so much.
  • A visa file from USCIS for my great-grandmother’s sister-in-law that may provide clues as to the family left behind in Poland. Again, the index search was quick. What I want is there somewhere.
  • A death certificate from the State of New Jersey for someone who died in 1944.  The name of that someone is the same as one of my 2nd great-grandparents. The name is a bit common, but there were enough coincidental facts about this particular person that made me wonder if my 2nd great-grandmother did indeed immigrate to the U.S.  If I ever get that death certificate, I may actually know if it’s her or not.
  • My AncestryDNA results, the first genetic genealogy test I ever had. Lord only knows what that will reveal.

I wanted to send for some marriage license records from the City of Philadelphia and write to a potential cousin, but I don’t want to wait for even more mail to arrive. Genealogy-wise, each of these things will be rather exciting (except maybe that death certificate if it’s not the person I think it is). Each will probably give me something to write about here besides the Family History through the Alphabet challenge. But for now, I wait. And wait. It reminds me of the old days…but I’m too used to the new days to call them “good”!

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Flying High

Flying high somewhere between Italy and Philadelphia, April 2006.

Sometimes when things become ordinary I forget how extraordinary they are – like flying on airplanes.  It is so easy to get anywhere in the world by simply buying a ticket. It’s so easy that I forget that flight is a relatively new phenomenon. It was only about a hundred years ago that commercial flight became available, and while that may seem like a very long time ago, in the grand history of the world it’s practically yesterday.

My immigrant ancestors spent two weeks on a ship to get to America in the early 1900s.  I often wonder what they would think about the fact that I can reach their homelands today in about 8 hours. While there have been many, many inventions since they lived and died, I can’t help but think that air flight might be the one that would amaze them the most.

Although flights became available in my grandparents’ youth, it was something that only the rich could afford. None of my grandparents ever flew on an airplane. My father took his first flight in his 20s – a very short hop to Birmingham, NY for training for his job.  Even though he traveled the world as a sailor in the U.S. Navy, that short flight remains his first and only.  My mother has only flown two roundtrips in her life, and the first was not until she was in her early 50s.

My brother and I got to experience the joy of flying a bit more often – and, despite the hassles of baggage, security lines and searches, screaming babies, and long periods of waiting and boredom, it is still a joy.  My brother first flew courtesy of the United States Marine Corps and has been on several trips on his own since then. My very first flight at the age of 18 was a doozy – a long, crowded, transatlantic charter – to Rome, Italy! I didn’t know any better at the time, but looking back with more wisdom that flight was horrendous with turbulence almost the entire time.  Having never flown before, I just thought it was a lot like riding a bus with the bumpiness and I was as happy as can be.

It would be seven years before my next flight, but since then I’ve had the good fortune to go on many.  My job occasionally requires me to travel by air – some years I’ve only traveled once or twice, but other years I’ve been on a dozen trips. I’ve also been very fortunate to fly for some of my vacations, so over the years I’ve become a rather experienced frequent flyer. But all that time up in the sky or waiting in airports makes me forget just how amazing it is to board an airplane, magically rise 5 or 6 miles up into the sky, and safely land far, far away from my home just hours later.

On one work trip, I sat and listened to the flight attendants go through the safety information for what felt like the thousandth time in my life.  After a long wait, I just wanted to get where I was going and the charm of being on a flight had long since worn off.  That is, until a child seated near me exclaimed, with all of the wide-eyed wonder only accessible to children, “Look, it’s a tiny table that opens up!” As he squealed with delight at the discovery of the tray table, I had to smile myself – yes, this flying thing and everything associated with it is pretty amazing, isn’t it?

While my trip to Rome was exciting because it was the first, and a vacation to California at age 25 was exciting just because it was a vacation to California, it was a flight when I was 28 years old that gave me a different kind of euphoria – it was my very first flight alone.  I was flying to Denver, Colorado to meet friends flying in from elsewhere. To this day, I remember waving good-bye to my father and walking through the security checkpoint – and at that moment, I felt a sense of exhilaration and broke out into a large smile. I was about to fly somewhere I had never been, I was all alone, and I thought it was the most wonderful feeling in the entire world!

As I said, my job has required me to take a fair amount of flights.  I’ve experienced some very long ones and the longest was a trip to Seoul, South Korea.  I think it took about fifteen hours, and I was very blessed that I was allowed to take First Class (a rarity in Government travel unless the flight exceeds fourteen hours!).  The shortest flight I’ve ever taken is a tie between either Norfolk or Boston – both are about 20 minutes in the air. However, one flight to Boston was so bumpy due to bad weather that it actually felt longer than the trip to Seoul! I also had a very short flight from somewhere in Florida to Pensacola, and an encounter with turbulence almost sent the world’s tiniest beverage cart flying down the aisle towards my center-of-the-back-row seat.

A U.S. Air Force C-130 military transport plane. Taken at Schriever AFB, Colorado Springs, CO in February, 2003 as my teammates board the plane.

My friend Leona and I aboard the C-130, February 2003.

The most unique flights I’ve ever taken were on military aircraft. I had the privilege of flying on an Air Force C-130 from Colorado to Nevada. The flight was equipped with standard military seating, also known as “tactical configuration” which is what they use to jump out of airplanes.  There was no need to worry about my seatback being in an upright position, because military seating does not mean the standard rows of seats in a commercial airline.  Instead, there are four rows of seats going down the plane lengthwise, and the seats are made out of webbing.  So, it is the equivalent of sitting in a lawn chair for the entire flight. But at least we didn’t have to jump out of the plane…

Another military flight was far different, though. I was in a leadership program with about 50 other civilians from around the country, and one week we had to fly to several locations in North Dakota, Alaska, and Tennessee.  Rather than attempt to get commercial flights for all of us, we had a jet at our disposal piloted by a flight crew of National Guardsmen.  Since we had the flight all to ourselves, they were the most enjoyable flights I ever took. And I even sat in the cockpit part of the way from North Dakota to Alaska! Now I know for a fact that pilots have the best view of all.

This was way, way better than flying on a C-130!

The pilot was cool, but he wouldn't let me fly the plane.... Taken somewhere between North Dakota and Alaska, April 2003.

The view is one of my favorite things about flying. I have seen many awesome things from the air, and they are no less impressive at that height.  In fact, they were likely more impressive as seen from up above than from on the ground.  My first and only view of the Grand Canyon so far was from a plane about 30,000 feet in the sky – and even at that distance, I could not believe how big and beautiful it is.  Similarly, I had never seen the Mississippi River before – except from the air. I did not realize how big it is – and if it looked big from that high up, it is definitely wider than I ever imagined.

Other awesome sights from the sky include the Norfolk Bay Bridge Tunnel where you get an incredible view of the disappearing road as it goes underwater – and then reappears.  I’ve seen a close up view of the skyscrapers of New York City, and I’ve even flown over Citizens Bank Park during a Phillies game.  The single most incredible sight was during that “private” flight to Alaska.  The pilot was granted permission to take the plane as close as possible to Mt. McKinley. It was a beautiful, clear day and the pilot announced that he was going to take us for a closer view. The friend next to me and I were leaning over in our seats to look out the window.  “Is that it?” he asked, pointing to one of the mountains. I didn’t know.  “Maybe,” I said, “it looks pretty big.”  We were looking down at some mountains trying to determine which one Mt. McKinley actually was when suddenly this massive mountain appeared next to the window at eye level.  In fact, we had to look up to see the top of it. We both said simultaneously, “Wow – that’s it!” I’ve seen many mountains from the air, but I have never seen anything quite as big as that one.

Mt. McKinley from the sky...awesome! Taken in April, 2003.

What’s my favorite view from the sky? I have two.  First, I love looking out and seeing a brilliant blue sky and a carpet of clouds. I know that everyone below those clouds is having a cloudy, dreary, and rainy day. But from my view, the sun is shining! It reminds me that life is all a matter of perspective, and sometimes from a 30,000 ft. view things don’t seem quite as bad.  Next, my favorite site is the view as the plane approaches home. It is fun to go away, and amazing to see beautiful sights from the sky. But I really feel like I’m flying high when I come home again.

My ancestors never got to experience the wonder of flight – but did they feel that same “coming home” feeling when they saw America for the first time?

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Tomorrow will mark the 4th blogiversary of What’s Past is Prologue.  I don’t know what surprises me more – that I’ve been blogging for four years or that I still have some ideas left!

I didn’t post as often as I would have liked to this past year, but I still managed to garner 39,000 visitors! I’m very grateful to everyone that stopped by to read, look around, comment, and/or write to me with kind words.

Some of my top posts this year in terms of visits were ones written a while ago. This past year I had 9,700 hits on Philadelphia Marriage Records Online (June, 2008), 1,500 on Bavarian Main Street (June, 2009), and almost 1,400 on Fotomat…What’s That? (November, 2010). Some posts written this year that had the highest number of hits were Finding Polish Records Online from January with 1,060 hits and The WDYTYA Drinking Game from February with almost 800 and also was the most commented post with 30 comments. I have to say, that post was the most fun I had (on this blog) all year!

Besides the drinking game post, my favorites from the last year were:

Research Resources:

My Family Research:

Personal Reflection:

Once again, thanks to all of my faithful readers and friends.  When I started this endeavor, I had no idea where it would lead. But so far, I’ve really enjoyed the ride. I’ve made some great friends, learned how to write better, organized my research, and found many cousins.  As my one of my favorite actors once sung, “Who could ask for anything more?”

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2011: A Look Back

In the nearly four years I’ve been blogging, I have written a retrospective on New Year’s Eve looking back at my personal year. What fun stuff did I do? What genealogical finds did I discover? What worked? What didn’t? I may be the only one that reads this particular post every year, but it has become a rather meaningful tradition in my life. Last year, I called 2010 a “year of transition”…I guess I have arrived at wherever I was going, because I end 2011 a lot happier, healthier, and content.

Genealogically speaking, I’ve connected with so many cousins over the last few years that I didn’t think there were any left to find.  But there were!  This year I made several new connections. On my mother’s maternal side, I was “found” by my second cousin Tricia and her mother Mary Jane. On my mother’s paternal side, I had fun talking to my first cousin twice removed – yes, my grandfather’s cousin! Although my grandfather would be 100 next year (if he hadn’t died at age 60), his cousin Ed is a robust 83 and even uses Facebook!  His granddaughter, my third cousin Catie, scanned some photos for me that I had never seen before including my grandfather’s brothers and my grandparents. Finally, I connected with a cousin on my father’s paternal side. While I know tons of cousins from his maternal side, I didn’t think I could find any from the Pointkouski side. Fortunately, my dad’s first cousin, Marilyn, found me!

While I didn’t write as many posts about my genealogy research as I would have liked, I did make quite a few discoveries. I found my Piątkowski 2nd great-grandparents’ marriage record from 1863 online and now I’m in hot pursuit of their birth records. Through my newly found cousin Marilyn, I discovered the married name of my grandfather’s missing sister! More to come on her soon…  I also found an obituary that filled in missing information on a branch of the family and discovered a reference to my 4th great-grandfather in a German newspaper from 1813!

One of my big projects this year was launching another blog! The Catholic Gene was born from the many friendships I had formed with other genealogists.  Though many of us had different ethnic backgrounds, we all shared the same Catholic faith.  I thought a blog would be a great way to collaborate and write about how our faith has intertwined with our family histories. Ten authors, four months, and sixty posts later, I’m proud of the result and I hope next year is even better.

Some of The Pointer Sisters at Jamboree!

I had fun at two genealogy conferences this year.  The first, the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree, was tons of fun.  It was great to hang out with many of my online friends – and we didn’t miss an opportunity for fun, that’s for sure. I think the hotel staff is still talking about the piñata incident…  In October, I met more friends and attended the conference for the Polish Genealogical Society of Connecticut and the Northeast in which I gave a presentation for the very first time. My second speaking opportunity came just two weeks later at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Speaking about genealogy was something I wanted to try for a while, and both presentations went well.

The highlight of my year was my trip to California with Lisa Alzo. In addition to going to Hollywood (okay, just to Burbank, but we did drive to Hollywood thanks to Denise Levenick) for Jamboree, we spent time in the San Francisco area with Kathryn Doyle and Steve Danko. Despite a chilly Golden Gate Bridge, a freezing Stinson Beach, and a rainy Napa Valley, we had the BEST TIME EVER! All that laughter was good medicine!

In some ways, my theme for the year was improvement. For example, my cooking improved considerably and I’ve added chili, roasted cauliflower, and pork chops to my repertoire. In the world of home improvement, I started off the year with a mostly new kitchen – including a much needed heated floor – and ended the year with a completely renovated bathroom – including a much needed expansion.  Work improved – I’m in the same job as last year with the same tasks and same people, but I enjoyed it more.  Some relationships improved, too, as I learned about forgiveness, trust, and having fun.

I spent time enjoying my parents’ company, and I also enjoyed watching my niece Natalie dance and my niece Ava read to me.  Nephew Nick likes to sing out loud, and nephew Luke gives the best hugs I’ve ever received.  2011 was the year of an earthquake and a hurricane two weeks apart, neither of which “did” anything but stir up the local news media.  The Philadelphia Phillies stirred up the entire city…only to fall short in the end.  Get ‘em next year, guys, I’ll be watching!

I kept myself entertained this year by catching up on older television shows: Mad Men, The Tudors, Big Bang Theory, and Castle. Train provided the soundtrack to my California trip with Save Me, San Francisco and Kelly Clarkson’s Stronger matched my mood.  The world lost a great singer I had always hoped to see live, Cesaria Evora.  I read a ton of books, but once again I failed to keep track of what I read.  I do remember Anne Fortier’s Juliet, Karen Harper’s Mistress Shakespeare, and Kate Morton’s The Distant Hours. Donald Miller reminded me to live a good story in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.

All in all, 2011 had its moments once I stopped to think about it. What does 2012 hold in store for me? I’m not sure, but I am certain about one thing – I’m back to enjoying the ride.  Here’s wishing all of my family, friends, and readers much happiness in the new year!

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Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity.  ~ Voltaire

Growing up, I ate dinner with my entire family – mom and dad, my brother, and my maternal grandmother (Nan) – seated around the same table eating a home-cooked meal.  I didn’t realize there was any other definition of “dinner”. I went to a friend’s house once and learned that there was such a thing as canned ravioli.  Fascinated at first, I was quickly repulsed after a taste. It sure wasn’t what Mom or Nan made.

As much as food made with love played a role in my life, the comfort of a family dinner came more from the family than the dinner entrée itself.  All the food was great (well, except for liver…I don’t wish to discuss it to this day, nor smell it). Specific memories are few, perhaps because all of the food was great and we tend to remember extraordinary events more than the ordinary.  And even though she never seemed to measure anything, use a recipe, or do the same thing twice, certain foods I’d call Mom’s specialties because they were always so good.  The legendary chicken soup, for example.  She made it just like Nan – and I am still not successful in trying to duplicate it. Mom’s roast chicken, stuffing, and mashed potatoes were the best.  From my younger years, I also remember that Nan’s homemade noodles for the chicken soup and her “dumplings” were extraordinary.  If the cooking gene is passed on through mitochondrial DNA, I may have a fighting chance of becoming a good cook one day.

Thanksgiving at the Pointkouski’s in 1994 with some of Mom’s standard best cooking. L-R: Mom, Lou, Dad, Lou’s mom Marge, Mr. & Mrs. S.

I never knew I had it so good – Mom made some of the best food I ever ate. I’d usually watch her cook and occasionally attempt to figure out how something was being made, but there was one thing that always got in the way of writing down a recipe – Mom never did the same thing twice.  If I’d ask how much of an ingredient just went into the pot, she’d look at me as if I had asked a question in a foreign language.  She didn’t follow recipes – she just cooked. “You’ll understand one day when you have to cook,” she explained.

But there is another category of Mom’s cooking that is even more memorable than the everyday favorites she made – her one-hit wonders.  While not using recipes is great for creativity, it sometimes makes it difficult to repeat a good thing exactly the same way.  She might make the dish again, but sometimes it didn’t taste quite as good as the first time.  Three one-hit wonders stand out in my memory as those special creations whose exact recipes were never to be duplicated again.

First, the cream puff.  It was December, 1985, and I had just finished exams for my very first semester of college. It was a Tuesday evening, and I was looking forward to watching Moonlighting when Mom decided to make some pastries.  As a treat, for no apparent “reason”, Mom made cream puffs.  The pastries were light and fluffy; the cream was oh-so-creamy and rich.  Simply put, the joy I felt about successfully ending my first college semester, a fun episode of my favorite show, and the expectation of a Christmas holiday was delectably combined into a food – this cream puff.  I don’t remember why Mom made them, but I certainly remember how good they tasted.

Mom’s next one-hit wonder was rather different from a pastry.  I have no specific memory of when or why, but I was in my 20s or early 30s when she decided to make her own eggrolls.  Lots of vegetables and chicken or shrimp were chopped, rolled, and fried.  The “recipe” was simple – but no matter how many times we made them after this first time, they never seemed to taste the same and were merely good instead of achieving the greatness of that first batch of eggrolls.

Finally, my Mom usually made me a cake for my birthday.  My cake of choice is always chocolate with vanilla frosting.  The frosting was always confectioner’s sugar with butter and maybe some cream cheese.  Sometimes she used a boxed cake mix, but one year she made the cake from scratch and used cocoa powder I had brought home from London and gave her as a gift.  The result was the ultimate re-gifting – while all of her cakes were good, this cake was The Best Birthday Cake Ever.  I think my parents and I almost ate the whole cake in one sitting.  Again, we don’t really know why it tasted the way it did – far be it from Mom to pay attention to ingredients she was throwing in the bowl.  But I can still remember feeling a childlike delight at the result.

Eventually I moved out and learned that in order to eat, I’d have to cook.  And as it turned out, Mom was right – you don’t need recipes once you know your way around a kitchen.  I should have known – are mothers ever really wrong?  In the years since, I’ve managed to make a few meals that have become my own personal standards and I’ve had a few one-hit wonders of my own.  My cooking may not always be as good as Mom’s, but I won’t stop trying!  Fortunately I can still call her for advice when I’m in the middle of destroying making something for dinner.  It’s like having my own personal “lifeline” with Julia Child on the line – “So, how do you know when the fill-in-the-blank is done again?”  Her answer?  It’s always right.

Written for the 108th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Food!

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The Date I Was Born

This week’s Saturday Night Genealogy Fun (SNGF) at Randy Seaver’s Genea-Musings is all about the Date You Were Born.  Suddenly I was on a trip down memory lane…not to the day of my birth, but to my freshman year of college when I had to write about the day of my birth.  What did I find out?  Read all about it below – but first I will answer Randy’s specific challenge.  He asks:

1) What day of the week were you born? Tell us how you found out.

I was born on a Wednesday.  I found this out when my parents told me!

2) What has happened in recorded history on your birth date (day and month)? Tell us how you found out, and list five events.

I was born on the 67th day of 1967 (that’s March 8).  On that day in history, there are a lot of events listed in Wikipedia.  None of them, however, are earth-shattering historical events that are talked about centuries later. It appears that my birth might be the most exciting thing that ever happened that day (ahem). Here are five of the more interesting other events that have occurred on March 8th:

  • 1775 – Thomas Paine’s “African Slavery in America,” the first article in the American colonies calling for the emancipation of slaves and the abolition of slavery, is published.
  • 1817 – The New York Stock Exchange is founded.
  • 1917 – International Women’s Day protests in St. Petersburg contributed to the February Revolution and ultimately led to the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II, ending the Romanov dynasty in Russia.
  • 1979 – Philips demonstrates the Compact Disc publicly for the first time.
  • 1983 – President Ronald Reagan calls the Soviet Union an “evil empire”.

3)  What famous people have been born on your birth date?  Tell us how you found out, and list five of them.

Using the same page in Wikipedia, I discovered these five others with my birthday:

  • 1495 – John of God, Portuguese-born friar and saint (d. 1550)
  • 1841 – Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States (d. 1935)
  • 1922 – Cyd Charisse, American actress and dancer (d. 2008)
  • 1959 – Aidan Quinn, American actor
  • 1945 – Micky Dolenz, American musician (The Monkees)

If we could get all of the musicians born on 3/8 together, we’d have an interesting group with members from The Monkees, The Eagles, Three Dog Night, Iron Maiden, and Keane.  One can only imagine what that would sound like…

As I said in the beginning, I wrote an essay about the date of my birth for an English composition class in my freshman year of college.  I found it in my files after seeing Randy’s challenge.  The date I submitted it was January 22, 1986 – almost exactly 25 years ago.  I was 19 years old and still had a lot to learn about writing, life, and myself.  But my teacher, Mrs. Bonnie Balcer, loved the essay and many others that I wrote.  She praised  my writing and encouraged me so much that I credit her for my decision to abandon the ill-conceived idea that I wanted to be a teacher, and instead I majored in English.  Twenty-five years later, I still have a lot to learn about writing, life, and myself.  But I’d like to thank Mrs. Balcer, wherever she is, for pointing me in the write direction.  (In looking for this essay, I also found one from my first semester of graduate school four years later. I wrote about my recent exploits in genealogical research. The title of that paper? What’s Past is Prologue.  Yes, I will have to reprint that essay here as well…)  This would have been a lot easier to reproduce here if it weren’t for the fact that back then I wrote on a typewriter

This is the Day the Lord Has Made…Me

Wednesday, March 8, 1967 was an ordinary day in the lives of many people.  No major headlines graced the front page of the New York Times, no scientific breakthroughs were made, and no events of great historical importance took place.  Despite the mundaneness of the day, it was one of great significance to my family and me; it was the day of my birth.  However, the world only celebrates one’s birthday if he is very famous, so the world continued its life as I began mine, neither of us concerned with the other.  Looking back on that day, there were many interesting occurrences besides my birth.

The pages of the New York Times were filled with news about Vietnam.  The North Vietmanese attacked an American zone for the second time in a week.  Senator Robert F. Kennedy suggested that, in order to see if North Vietnam was sincere about wanting to negotiate, the United States should end bomb raids.

In the United States, Washington, D.C. seemed far removed from the Vietnam crisis.  The big problem there was a dispute over where to house diplomats in the city. Those uninterested in that quarrel may have fancied the rumor that Press Secretary Henry Cabot Lodge might resign. People all over the U.S. may have been happy to see that Jimmy Hoffa was finally put into prison after ten years of escaping the sentence.

Besides all of these headlines, Roman Catholics of the world were told by the Vatican that only sacred music was permitted for use in Church.  Because I grew up alien to the pre-Vatican II days, it was interesting to see the Church still receiving the impact of Vatican II at the time of my birth.

Two stories particularly resembled issues of today. One concerned abortion, an issue on which people take sides today. But in 1967 there was no question – abortion was illegal unless the mother’s life was endangered. The New York State legislature rejected a bill that would make the law more lenient. Because of the 15 to 3 vote, the state was criticized as trying to “abort abortion”.

The second familiar issue was nuclear disarmament. The U.S. and Russia proposed a treaty to ban the spread of nuclear weapons, but India felt it discriminated against non-nuclear countries. India also wanted joint action against the proposal. In a modern world that is still trying to achieve disarmament, it is evident that the treaty never came to life.

Another fascinating section of the paper was the entertainment section. Because faithful viewers protested the cancellation of Gunsmoke, it was returned to the air. The TV listings for the prime time hours of the major networks resembled the daytime schedules of independent stations today. Popular shows were Lost in Space, Batman, Green Acres, Gomer Pyle, Perry Mason, and The Beverly Hillbillies.  Today’s hit, The Cosby Show, was far from Bill Cosby’s mind as he enjoyed fame with I Spy. One facet of 1967 television was exactly the same as today – the soap operas. Some were General Hospital, Days of Our Lives, and Guiding Light, all of which can be seen today.

Coke is another part of our culture that is still around today, and it was in the headlines in 1967 as in recent months. There wasn’t any talk of “New Coke,” “Old Coke,” or “Coke Classic” though. The news concerned the price, which was scheduled to go up from 10 cents to 15 cents a bottle. If Coke’s price doesn’t best reflect the economy, the price of gold does – a mere $35 an ounce.

As anyone can see, the world of 1967 is both different and similar to the world of 1986. Many changes have occurred in the past 19 years, although not all of the changes were good. The world still has little concern for me, as on that cold day in March, and at times I have little concern for it. We’ve both grown a lot, but I can’t say if we’ve both “grown up.” I’m glad I did.

#

Why, oh why didn’t someone give that newborn baby her weight in gold?

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Meeting Great-Grandma

Playing Ancestral Roulette for Saturday Night Genealogical Fun (SNGF) this week got me thinking about great-grandmothers – that is, about meeting your great-grandmother.  When I was in high school, my friend told me how lucky I was that both of my grandmothers were still living – he never knew any of his grandparents since they died before he was born.  My own father only met one grandparent, his paternal grandfather, but he died when my dad was six years old.

Sometimes longevity, child-bearing, and luck kicks in and a child’s life overlaps with that of their great-grandparent’s.  I realized that we seem to have a streak running in my own family for four generations.  The overlap was too short for the child to remember the meeting, but one can only imagine how special it must have been for the great-grandmother to hold their grandchild’s child.  I’m not able to see if this streak goes back more than four generations as I do not have all of the death dates for all of my ancestors.  For now, it applies to four generations born in the United States:

  • My grandfather, Henry M. Pater, was 2 when his great-grandmother Francziska Anna Wojciechowska Pluta died in 1914 at the age of 74.
  • My mother, Anita Pater Pointkouski, was almost 3 when her great-grandmother Antonina Rozalia Pluta Pater died in 1938 at the age of 75.
  • I was 5 when my great-grandmother Elizabeth Miller Pater died in 1972 at the age of 80.  She died on my brother’s 13th birthday.
  • My niece was 2 when her great-grandmother Margaret Hermina Bergmeister Pointkouski died in 1998 at the age of 84.

Ava meeting Pearl, 2005.

I’m always impressed with family photographs of multiple generations.  I have no photographs of any of the above children with their great-grandmothers.  But I do have one of my younger niece.  Although she was born long after my grandmothers had died, she had one great-grandmother from her mother’s side (she died at the age of 89 when my niece was almost 2).  Although I wasn’t present when this photo was taken, I do have a fond memory of another time when these two ladies met.  My niece’s great-grandmother could not see very well, but she got close to my niece and talked softly to her.  My niece was smiling; her great-grandmother was beaming.  Although we were all to young to remember meeting our great-grandmothers, I often think of this woman’s smile as she held my baby niece.  And I know it’s the same smile, and the same love, that all the great-grandmothers before her gave to their great-grandchildren.

Did you meet your great-grandmother?

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2010: A Look Back

For the past few years I’ve enjoyed taking time on December 31st to reflect on the previous year.   I look forward to the new year and always make big plans on what I hope to do, or learn, or accomplish.  But I always feel that before I can move on, I want to take one more look at the preceding twelve months and remember what I did, learned, and accomplished.  2010 was definitely a year of transition for me.  I am not yet entirely certain what it is that I am transitioning towards, but I know that it looks different from what I thought I knew.  I can also see how far I’ve come and how much I’ve changed within.

In my world of genealogy, it was a year of highs and lows much like my personal life.  The genealogy highlight of the year was attending the NGS conference in Salt Lake City –  spending hours researching in the library and meeting all of my blogging friends was wonderful!  Later in the year, I visited Ellis Island for the very first time with genealogist friends and we had a great weekend in New York City.  In my research, I found some success on my Piątkowski line by finding my great-grandfather’s birth record in Warsaw.  Polish birth records from the early 1800s helped me fill in the names of eight 4th greats and four 5th greats.

In February, What’s Past is Prologue was named as one of Family Tree Magazine’s Top 40 genealogy blogs, and later in the year it was nominated for 2011.  But, this blog became one of my “lows” because I just didn’t write often enough.  Sometimes it was a result of being busy with fun things in my personal life, but other times it was because I was at a “low” and just didn’t care enough about genealogy or anything else to put any words on paper.

In my family, my mother had a milestone birthday as she turned 75.  Earlier in the year we had an enjoyable lunch with two of our Zawodny cousins.  My nieces and nephews continued to grow (literally, as the oldest is now quite taller than me) and they brightened my days every day I spent some time with them.  My friendships changed this year when some of my closer friends were kept distant for various reasons and some of my newer friends got closer.  Through Facebook, I found an old friend – and didn’t realize how much I missed him until we were back talking and laughing like the old days.

My travels were limited this year, and it was my first year without a trip to Europe in quite a while.  Other than Salt Lake City and New York, I had a few work trips to unexotic and unsunny locations – but one included a first-time visit with Jasia that was so much fun!  Every year I promise myself that I’ll get to the beach more than once.  And I can’t believe this is the third year in a row where I admit I had only ONE beach day.  At least if I could only have one day there, this one was very memorable!

I kept myself entertained throughout the year with the usual assortment of fun dinners with friends as well as movies, books, and music.  Early in the year a new friend helped remind me of how much I enjoy movies as he introduced me to several I had missed over the years.  I’m a big reader, but this year I really seemed to read a lot – so much that I wish I had kept a list of all the books.  In fact, if I had spent all my reading time writing a book myself, it would have been finished in no time!  Sheri Fenley got me started on the Outlander novels by Diana Gabaldon –the first was written twenty years ago, and now there are 7 rather lengthy novels.  I blew through all seven quickly this summer – about 7,000 pages!  Other favorite discoveries were thriller authors Gayle Lynds and Christopher Reich, and Sarah Dunant’s Sacred Hearts.  I tried to set the tone for my year in January by reading Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project and James Martin’s The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything.  Both will be re-read soon so their messages can sink in a little better!

The soundtrack for the first half of my year was Dan Wilson’s Free Life.  Although it wasn’t realeased this year, his haunting melodies and lyrics soothed my spirit considerably.  Two albums that were released this year that got me moving and singing were Hanson’s Shout it Out and the Indigo Girls’ newest live album, Staring Down the Brilliant Dream.  Through a unique series of happy accidents, I attended an Indigo Girls concert in October, and it was the best concert I have ever attended.  Most of their songs have brilliant lyrics that are more poetic that anything I studied in my English literature classes.  I eagerly awaited new releases from two of my favorite groups, the Gin Blossoms and Sister Hazel.  Surprisingly, both albums disappointed me.  In a completely different end of the musical spectrum, I saw John Michael Talbot perform for the first time in about twenty years with my brother – listening to JMT and spending time with my brother both brought back some memories of the old days!

My “year of transition” brought me many new things.  I started the year ending a long-term relationship.  I took a chance and started a new one, which didn’t last, but despite the ending I wouldn’t change a thing.  At least I took a chance, I had fun while it lasted, and he introduced me to quite a few things that are now a part of my life even though he is not.  I’m ending the year enjoying satellite tv, Boddington’s and Palm beers, a mold-free basement, a heated kitchen for the first time in eight years, and my acne resurgence is under control.  Sometimes things don’t turn out the way you plan, but (to quote a Semisonic album), I’m feeling strangely fine.

Some people devise a “word” to guide them through the next year, almost as a mantra.  I’m too long-winded for one word, so I thought of a few phrases to remember next year to help me be the person I want to be.  Yesterday I wrote about my genealogical goals; I have an even longer list of personal goals that I’d like to accomplish – which, if I’m having enough fun, may actually prevent me from getting to any genealogy goals.  My vision for 2011:

reach out – create – don’t wait – breathe – don’t give up

Bring it on!

Counting down from ten it’s time
To make your annual prayer
Secret Santa in the sky
When will I get my share

Then you tell yourself
What you want to hear
Cause you have to believe
This will be my year

~ This Will Be My Year, Semisonic

 

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The following article first appeared on July 25, 2009 for my The Humor of It…Through a Different Lens column for Shades of the Departed.   footnoteMaven has graciously allowed me to reprint my Humor of It articles here on What’s Past is Prologue.  I’m currently on hiatus writing this column for Shades, but I encourage you to visit the latest edition of the digital magazine (The Mourning Issue) for some excellent writing and photography!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Other than hearing the songs I listened to in high school on the “oldies” station, the one thing that truly makes me feel old is not being understood by children. It happened one day while out on a drive with my nieces. We passed a tiny shack on the side of the road that sold water ice, and they found it hysterical because it was so small.

“It looks like a Fotomat!” I exclaimed.

No recognition appeared on their faces. “A what?” asked the 13-year-old.

“You know, the little Fotomat huts…” But then I realized – no, she doesn’t know. By the time she was born, Fotomats were already a thing of the past – as extinct in the photographic world as daguerreotypes and box cameras. It was time for a history lesson.

“The Fotomat was a little shack, usually in a parking lot of a shopping center, and you would drive up to the window and drop off your film to get developed.” I explained this with the sincerity of a lesson on Ancient Rome or the Civil War.

Kodak Fotomat – 1960s courtesy of Roadside Pictures http://www.flickr.com/photos/roadsidepictures/59812776/

“Film? Like a movie?” she asked. “What do you mean by ‘get developed’?”

This was going to be harder than I thought. “Ah, it was in your camera – like a memory card. Getting prints made was called getting it developed.”

Suddenly I was nostalgic for that little blue building with the yellow roof that sat in the middle of the parking lot of the supermarket. What I remember most about the Fotomat experience is the one thing lacking in today’s digital world – the anticipation. One of the best things about digital cameras for me is the ability to instantly see your shot on an LCD screen. Instant gratification! As great as this is, and as useful in photography, sometimes the things worth waiting for were better. Well, maybe not better – but different. And there’s something to be said for that anticipation!

I began taking photographs with my own camera at the age of 11, and since you couldn’t see them as you took them (unless you had a Polaroid, of course), it was always interesting to see how your photos “turned out”. Or in some cases, what was on that roll of film. In your family, did you ever find a roll of film in a drawer that appeared to be used, but no one ever knew what it was from? Well, all you had to do was drive up to the window at the Fotomat, drop it off, and wait a day. You’d get to see your pictures when you picked them up!

I was fascinated by these little huts. Did they actually develop the film in there? How? If you worked there, what did you do when there were no cars in line? And how do you fit a bathroom in there?

The first Fotomat drive-thru kiosk opened in the late 1960s in Point Loma, California. By 1980, there were 4,000 sites throughout the country. Customers could receive their prints in one day, but when the first film developers began to offer prints in one hour, Fotomat was doomed. It’s ironic, because today I would have assumed that the thing that killed it – 1-hour developing – would have made it viable. After all, in the 21st century people like to spend more time in their car than at home. They can buy and eat breakfast, visit the bank, pick up prescriptions, get lunch, buy some groceries, get the car washed, drop off their dry cleaning, and pick up dinner without ever leaving the car. So why wouldn’t Fotomats work today? Drop off your memory card and pick up your prints in an hour! I think it would work, but the shacks were too small – especially for film developing, which was a more complex process than printing digital photos today.

By the mid-1980’s, the familiar huts were gone. The one I used to use was torn down long ago, but in some cases the huts were recycled into other uses from selling snow cones to cigarettes. The most creative re-use I’ve found so far is as a chapel! Imagine that – a prayer shack!

Copyright 2008 Michael Poulin http://www.dyingindowney.com

After we stopped at the former Fotomat for water ice, my nieces learned all about what photography was like when I was growing up. I was proud at having done my duty passing down my memories of bygone things. The 13-year-old was going to tell her friends about the weird customs of their parents. “Okay,” she said, hoping I’d stop talking about the past. “I get it!”

The 4-year-old suddenly joined in the conversation. Nodding her head, she looked at me and asked matter-of-factly, “But why didn’t you just print the pictures at home?”

That would be a lesson for another day – let’s go take some photos instead!

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Two years ago (nearing the end of my very first year of blogging), I wrote “Things I’m Thankful For on My Genealogical Quest”.  Nothing has changed since then – I am still very thankful for each of those things that have been helpful to me as I research my family’s history!  You can read the specifics about what they are and why I’m thankful at the original post.  I’m still very thankful for those things for all the same reasons.  But, there is even more to be thankful of!  In the spirit of gratitude as we celebrate Thanksgiving, and in keeping with the genealogy theme of this blog, I’ve found Ten More Things I’m Thankful For on My Genealogical Quest:

1.   Ancestry.com – Genealogical records are now available on many different online sites, but the biggest of these – at the moment, anyway – is Ancestry.  I found many of my original discoveries at NARA, but thanks to digitization efforts and Ancestry’s interface, I can find them again and so many new discoveries easily and quickly.  The subscription costs more than I’d like to spend, but so far it’s been worth it to have easy access to so many records (and I could access the free version at the library if I wanted).

2.   Digital cameras – what does this have to do with genealogy, you ask?  Today’s digital cameras can do so many things.  Not only can I use it to photograph the family houses, cemeteries, towns, and workplaces – as well as all the new cousins I’ve met – but I can use the macro feature to photograph documents, microfilmed images, and even other photographs.  Don’t leave home without it!

3.    Genealogical Societies – Genealogical societies are one of the best sources for locality-specific or ethnicity-specific information.  I found a lot of unique record sources through the Polish Genealogical Society of America’s databases, resources, and publications.

4.    Genealogy Conferences – I attended my first one this year, and what fun it was!  Not only is a conference a great opportunity to increase your knowledge about a myriad of research-related topics, but it’s also a chance to make new friends that love genealogy as much as you do!

5.    Genealogy Blogs – While I included “the geneablogging community” in my last list, this time I mean the blogs themselves versus the bloggers.  I’ve learned so much from genealogy blogs!  Blogs are a wonderful and free resource for learning about research methods, records, online tools, and more.  Even a “personal” family history story can benefit you if you recognize a technique someone else used in their research that you hadn’t thought about.

6.    The COG – The COG, otherwise known as the Carnival of Genealogy, is the biweekly/monthly opportunity for genealogy bloggers to write posts on the same theme.  Everyone writing on the same topic?  What sounds like a recipe for boredom becomes a delicacy of creativity!  Especially in the hands of the COG-chef herself, Jasia, who organizes the entries and somehow keeps coming up with interesting topics after all these years.  I started blogging after reading other bloggers’ COG entries, and many of my fellow bloggers have said exactly the same thing.   I am thankful to participate in it, and I’m thankful to read all of the other entries.  And I can’t wait for the special 100th edition in December!

7.   Genea-friends who help me research – They shall remain nameless because they’d be embarrassed otherwise (you know who you are), but there are at least a half dozen genealogy bloggers that have helped me with research.  These tasks have included such things as traveling to a distant library to find some obscure book, looking up a record on microfilm, copying pages out of reference books, looking up an online record that I don’t have access to, and providing me with free translations of foreign-language records.  Do they do these things because they love research so much?  Well, that might be part of it – but they do it because they are my friends.  Some I have met in person, and some I am still waiting to meet.  But I love them all – not just because they do such nice things for me, but because they are simply wonderful people.  I am so grateful to have great friends!

8.   Genea-friends – The research they do belongs in a special category, but so does the friendship.  I met several friends this year that were previously just email addresses, Facebook friends, and bloggers.  Now they are dinner and travel companions and the nicest bunch of people I ever met.  And the funniest!  Here’s to more good times! [Photo above is from an actual genea-friend dinner this year.]

9.   The Immigrants Came Here – While I included this as a part of thanking my ancestors in the last list, I have to reiterate how grateful I am that eight individuals made the life-changing decision to leave their homelands forever and travel to the United States. Because of them, I am an American.  And for that, I am very thankful.  I am very proud of my ethnic heritage and I love learning about the countries from which they came.  But I love my country, and I am thankful for all of the blessings and freedoms that I have because of where my family moved.

10.   My parents – I’m very thankful for my parents and for the fact that they are still here to continue to tell me the stories about their parents and grandparents.  I’m taking notes so that their grandchildren will know those stories, too.  I love you, Mom & Dad – thanks for all you’ve given me!

~ Happy Thanksgiving! ~

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A Killer Chair

You can’t deny laughter; when it comes, it plops down in your favorite chair and stays as long as it wants. ~ Stephen King

When it comes to family pictures, we rarely look at the “rest” of the photograph – that is, other objects appearing in the background with our smiling faces.  But sometimes when my family looks at photographs from our younger days, we’ll comment on a particular piece of furniture, or the wallpaper, or some appliance that brings back memories.  Just as unlabeled photos don’t tell the whole story to future photo viewers about who’s who in the picture, those objects in the background often have stories behind them that are not usually told.

One object that appears in our family photos over the last several years is a chair.  It looks like a nice chair: leather, wingback, regal-looking.   But, if you know the whole story, it’s more than a chair.  I’d describe it to my nieces and nephews as The Chair that Almost Killed Your Mother and Me.

My brother originally bought The Chair.  When he moved in with his then-fiancée, the chair moved with him.  But their condo was rather small, and their new house was in the process of being built.  Since I had just purchased a house, lived alone, and owned little furniture, I had some room to spare.  Could I hold the chair at my place until the house was ready?  It seemed like a good idea at the time.  After all, it was a nice chair and not ugly, and I had the space.

But what do I know?

My brother is tall, fit, and muscular, but he must have been busy that day, so he sends my future sister-in-law over to my house with the chair.  She’s 5’2″.  I’m taller, but probably weaker.  It was up to us ladies to get the chair settled into its temporary home.  Getting in the door wasn’t a problem, but it overwhelmed my living room and the other rooms on the first floor still had unpacked boxes.  But then I had an idea.  We’ll call this the Critical Error.  Where I really wanted the chair was up in the bedroom – we can get it upstairs, right?

Yeah, right.

In order to adequately describe the events that followed, I have to digress from the story with a description of the layout of my home.  The upstairs – a master bedroom, bathroom, hall, and some closets – used to be the attic of the house.  The former homeowner renovated and added a stairway in the best place possible, which wasn’t necessarily the most convenient place possible.  The stairs are narrow, and there is no banister on the “open” side.

Lacking all sense of reason, my future sister-in-law Alleah and I decide to carry the chair upstairs.  I grabbed the top end and backed up the stairs, while Alleah lifted the up the other end from the lower stairs.

This worked well…for about five steps.  The chair didn’t fit up the stairs.  Let’s ignore the fact that neither Alleah nor I owned or heard about a thing called a “tape measure”.  We were stuck.

I tried to maneuver around the stuck chair to help from the bottom end, but in the process I lost my grip.  In what would have scored a 10.0 in the Olympic Comedic Stupidity Event, I performed an amazing partially controlled falling leap over the side of the staircase, rolling over and landing on my back in the middle of the living room floor.  Even a Russian judge would have given me a high score for that spiral leap.  Even though it hurt, I was laughing hysterically.

Meanwhile, back on the stairs…the Killer Chair followed gravity in the proper downward direction.  Unfortunately, Alleah was in that direction still trying to hold on to the chair.  As I lay laughing, her own laughter at my predicament quickly turned into the realization that the Chair had pinned her to the wall at the bottom of the stairs.

Naturally, as I also realized this, it made me laugh even harder, still laying on the floor.  To this day, Alleah remembers that I had a photograph of Pope John Paul II on the stairway that, in her teary-eyed state of laughter, appeared to be staring at her mockingly from the safety of the wall.

Now, this was truly a crucial event in my sister-in-law’s life, for the Chair was attacking her in the region that would become the womb to my three future nieces and nephews.

If we had filmed this event, we’d have more hits on YouTube than Susan Boyle.

Eventually, I was able to move, but it took the strength of both of us to move the chair, and Alleah was still laughing too hard to be of any help to herself.

We swear The Chair did it on purpose in retaliation for being moved.

Well, needless to say, it never made it to my bedroom.  After regaining our composure, the chair was unceremoniously thrown down the stairs into my basement, where it remained until their house was ready for it.

When it had to be moved again, the move was wisely handled by my brother and her father.  We had enough of The Chair, with bruises and scars to prove it.

We find it rather ironic that today the kids have another name for The Chair: Daddy’s Prayer Chair, for it is where my brother spends his prayer time.  Little do they know the history behind the chair and the other names it has been called by their mother and their aunt.

What untold stories lurk in the background of your photographs?

A family portrait around The Chair, years after it tried to kill me and my sister-in-law. She was wisely keeping her distance from it by taking the photograph instead.

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“Each cup of tea represents an imaginary voyage.” ~  Catherine Douzel

Like scores of tourists before me, I was discovering the beauty of the Côte d’Azur.  I was on vacation, it was sunny, and Nice was as beautiful as everyone said it would be.  But it was hot, and sometimes you even need a break from vacationing too hard.  After walking the promenade and the narrow streets of Vieux Nice all morning, a sidewalk café beckoned.

Although the meal itself wasn’t memorable, the sense of relaxation brought on by food, wine, and pleasant weather was.  So we lingered to enjoy the light-headed buzz of wine in the afternoon, the so-very-French annoyance of the waiter, and the throes of tourists meandering down the alley that was masquerading as a major thoroughfare.

Breaking the peacefulness was the arrival of two white-haired British ladies good-naturedly complaining about the heat, the French in general, their tour group, and each other.  They collapsed into the empty chairs next to ours, and since this was Europe, the empty table was approximately one inch away.  This forced intimacy at European cafés makes it impossible to either maintain your own privacy or try not to eavesdrop on your neighbors.

The ladies, as much in need of a rest as we were an hour before, ordered some tea.  As the waiter left the table, one of the women griped about the sorry state of tea in France.  “Oh, I do hope it’s not dreadful like that tea this morning.  You just cannot get a good cup of tea here,” she snipped.

As a tea drinker myself, I couldn’t resist joining their conversation.  “I know just how you feel,” I sympathized. “I haven’t had a decent cup of tea since my visit to your country five years ago.”

We became fast friends.  The ladies were from Northern England and were spending a long weekend in Nice with a tour group.  We were in the middle of  my first trip to France, with the Riviera sandwiched between a visit to the Rhone area and Paris.  They joked with us about not understanding the Scots’ English; my friend regaled the ladies with his stories of living next to a farm in New Jersey.

As they enjoyed their tea, or tried to,  the woman seated next to me looked wistfully into the distance as if thinking about earlier vacations of her youth.  “I’ve been to Jersey once,” she declared matter-of-factly.  “It was very nice there!”

Her friend shook her head and spoke up in a much louder voice usually reserved for addressing the hearing disabled or others who don’t speak your language.  “No, dear, he said NEW Jersey,” she yelled.

The first woman was not bothered by her friend’s comment and smiled instead.  “Well,” she said, “it was new back when I was there!”

The four of us laughed loudly, making our ever-hovering waiter wince.

After the ladies finished their tea, they wandered back down the street trying to find their long-lost tour group.  They were a comedy team in motion.  We never exchanged names, and we didn’t capture the moment with a photograph. But their humor and joie de vivre certainly captured our hearts.

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The House Rules

“It may only be four walls and a couple of nail kegs, but it will always be home to me.” ~ Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House

~ ~ ~

“If you can’t make it better, you can laugh at it.” ~ Erma Bombeck

~ ~ ~

It doesn’t take many years of living before you realize that everyone has some unique aspect to their personality.  Whether you call that trait an idiosyncrasy or a quirk, it is some small characteristic that seems perfectly normal to oneself, but it will drive others insane.

Houses can be a lot like people  They also have unique personalities – and those quirks that come along as personality baggage.  In fact, houses have rather forceful personalities – you abide by the house rules, or else.  That’s the only way a house will work.

The house in which I grew up, and where my parents still live, has plenty of unique little oddities.  If walls could speak, the other houses on the street would have called ours names.   If you got to know our house’s personality, you would have definitely called it a “freak”.   The house had several things about it that were strange, but because we lived with these weird things and got used the house’s behavior, its peculiar personality seemed quite normal to us.

For example, the oven wasn’t like “normal” ovens, but it was through no fault of its own.  The house, which was built in 1961, had a gas wall oven.  In those pre-digital days, the temperature was controlled with a round dial.  One day, sometime during the 1960’s, my father decided to be helpful.  (Ladies, we all know what happens when men try to be helpful.)  Dad was determined to clean the kitchen, and he chose a rather powerful cleaner (likely ammonia).

My father proceeded to wipe once around the oven’s dial to clean the surface.  By the time his finger completely circled the dial, he noticed that he not only removed grease, but the ink that labeled the dial with the various temperatures.  Which is why I grew up without the knowledge that ovens had actual temperatures; I thought you just turned the knob until it got hot.

Because this original oven stayed with us until I was an adult, the question when baking something was never “What temperature?” but “What time?”  My mother’s answer would be “twenty of” or “half past,” for we imagined the dial as a clock to determine the approximate temperature.  Of course, we never really knew for sure if “twenty of” was really 300° or 350° since we were relying on my mother’s memory of the original, unmolested dial, but that never stopped us from cooking.

Over the years we’d always muse that we could simply go to a neighbor’s house and make a tracing of their dial to ensure we had an accurate reading, for all of the houses on the street were built with the same appliances.  But I suppose it was much more fun to take a wild guess.  And since my mother was an excellent cook, her memory of that dial must have been rather good – we never burnt anything in the oven!  But, now that I mention it, almost every time we used the oven, the smoke alarm would go off – just another little personality trait of the house.

Our kitchen was strange in other ways, too.  The electrical system for the entire house seemed to be located on one circuit breaker – the kitchen’s.  In the summertime, we had one air conditioner in the kitchen window and one in the living room window to cool the first floor.  There were rules associated with the use of those air conditioners – not parental rules or the laws of thermodynamics, but house rules.  For instance, using the air conditioner while the television was on meant that you couldn’t make a piece of toast without turning off something first.  Using the microwave?  You’d better hope that there weren’t clothes in the dryer or you would have to wait.  Using the toaster and the microwave and the coffee pot all at the same time?  Dear Lord, do not flip that light switch on or the whole house would go dead.

Looking back at these things now, I can’t believe we lived with the idiosyncrasies that could have been easily fixed.  In the same house today, there’s a new oven with a spiffy digital keypad where you can actually set the required temperature.  The house also now has a central air conditioning unit, which required a new circuit breaker system, so the entire house is no longer routed through the kitchen.  But where’s the fun in everything working as it’s supposed to?  The house may no longer be called a freak, but without the goofy oddities it also lacks charm.

Now I live in my own house, with its own creaks and sounds and issues.  I know what the temperature is for the oven, but after all these years I still have light switches that work something but I know not what.  And please, if you visit, don’t dare flush the toilet if someone’s in the shower!

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Even God Laughed

“There is hope for the future because God has a sense of humor and we are funny to God.” ~ Bill Cosby

My memory for today’s edition of “Memory Monday” is forever linked with the feast of Pentecost, which is celebrated in Christianity next Sunday. Not that this memory actually happened on Pentecost – I can’t even remember when exactly this event happened.  But every single year I sit in church on this feast and listen to the readings.  And every year, I can’t help but break out into a huge grin during the first reading.  The smirk is unstoppable; I just can’t help it.  This is the story of my secret smile.  To some this story may seem irreverent, but I’ve always thought God has a sense of humor.  And if He does, He was likely laughing along with me all those years ago.

When I was between the age of 20 and 24, I had a certain group of friends.  We called ourselves a “prayer group” and we were a mix of single and married 20- and 30-something Catholics.  Each Saturday night, we would gather in each other’s homes for an evening of singing and charismatic prayer, which was followed by socializing and fellowship that cemented our friendships. We were a loosely defined group of 15 to 25 people.  Some people came and went, some were always there, and occasionally invited guests or friends would expand us into an even larger group.

One Saturday night, one of our larger crowds gathered in Debbie’s basement apartment.  We usually spread ourselves around the room in a circle, using all available sofas and chairs as well as the floor. Fortunately, Deb’s living room was large enough for at least 20 of us to gather comfortably.  There was no agenda to our meetings; sometimes we would sing – several members played the guitar for accompaniment, sometimes we would read from the bible or share a story, sometimes we would pray loudly, and sometimes we would sit in silence.  Usually we would do all of these things in the course of our “meeting” – as the spirit moved us.

This particular evening, a quiet came upon the group and we all sat in silence either praying or thinking.  In this deep silence, one member of our party – I will call him Harry (not his real name) – had the embarrassing misfortune to…  Well, there are a lot of ways to say it – “broke wind” or “passed gas” –  he farted.  Rather loudly, and the surrounding silence made the sound seem even louder.

Harry was clearly embarrassed, and he apologized to the group as he blushed a deep shade of red.

To our credit, we remained silent.  After all, we were adults.  But, while silent, we were each desperately trying to keep our eyes on the ground and away from each other.

The sheer humor of the event was simply too much for our friend Sue. She could no longer stifle a laugh and let out a loud cackle.

One laugh was all it took – the entire group exploded with laughter.  As it turns out, farts are as funny to adults as they are to toddlers, and the fact that we were all supposed to be “seriously” praying made it even funnier.

This group had several people with what I call “contagious” laughter – if you heard their laugh, you’d laugh even harder.  We laughed until we all had tears streaming from our eyes.  Every time we tried to settle down, someone else would begin laughing again.

The waves of laughter continued for several minutes.  As the group began to calm down, one man spoke up – Tim.  Tim had a wonderful sense of humor and a penchant for story-telling.  Although he had been laughing along with everyone else, he suddenly had a rather serious expression on his face and was holding an open bible in his hands.  He spoke loudly: “I’d like to share a reading.”

A shocked calm settled over the group.  I, for one, was surprised that Tim, of all people, would bring us back into seriousness and lead us back into prayer.

In the newfound silence, Tim cleared his throat and began to read from the bible, choosing the second chapter of Acts of the Apostles.  He proclaimed: “When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were…”

He had us at “wind”.  We laughed until our sides hurt, and the “prayer” meeting was officially over for the evening.

Thanks to Tim – and Harry – for making me smile every year at Pentecost!

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Telephone, n. An invention of the devil which abrogates some of the advantages of making a disagreeable person keep his distance.” ~ Ambrose Bierce

The telephone was born in 1876.  Despite some minor modifications, the technology generally remained unchanged for more than a century.  Then, without warning, phones became…different.  Nothing makes you feel older than realizing a technological change that occurred in your own lifetime.  Suddenly you can “remember when” and people ten or twenty years younger than you cannot.

In last week’s “Memory Monday” about our address book, I mentioned telephone exchanges – the first two letters of a word that was used for the number-equivalent (Pennsylvania 6-5000 was PE6-5000, or 736-5000).  But I was surprised at how many other things related to telephones that are different today.

For example, I recently watched a movie made in the late 1980’s.  Since I was in college at that time, I wouldn’t necessarily consider a movie from that time period to qualify as a “classic” film, but one aspect of the movie made it seem more outdated than things in films from the 1950’s.  In the movie, the main character was trying to navigate across the country to meet a deadline, and he continually had to call and check-in as he met obstacles along the way that delayed him.  Because cell phones weren’t prevalent back then, he kept stopping at pay phones and phone booths to make the calls.  Today I couldn’t find a phone booth if I tried!

Donna on the telephone, 1979

When I was in 3rd grade (1975-76), the telephone company – for there was only one, and her name was Ma Bell – sponsored a contest for students to design the phone of the future!  We had to draw a picture of it and briefly describe its features.  The majority of our designs focused on one of two ideas: a phone that you could carry with you, and a “video-phone” that allowed you to see who you were talking to and vice versa.  I can’t remember who won or what the prize was, but we had fun designing these future phones.  Imagine taking a phone with you in the car!  It was pure science fiction.  It is amazing how far we have come in such a short time with mobile phones and video-teleconferencing over the internet.

But it didn’t happen overnight.  Take, for example, my very first “mobile” phone in the late 1980’s.  I didn’t really want or need one, but my mother was fascinated by the concept of being able to call me and discover my whereabouts wherever I was.  Thank God GPS tracking came into being well into my adulthood.  So, she invested in a mobile phone.  Well, the word mobile is relative.  It could be carried with you, but definitely not in your pocket.  The phone was in a very large carrying case (around 8”x10”x4”), weighed at least 5 pounds, and the receiver was connected to the heavy base with a cord.  I felt like a Secret Agent with a spy phone, but an agent that was too low on the totem pole to get the good Bond-esque equipment. But it worked, and it was a novel idea at the time.

That first mobile phone seems as ancient today as rotary phones did in my childhood.  My very first paying job was working in the church rectory answering phones and the door in the evenings.  In the beginning, 1981, the rectory had a rotary phone.  I don’t remember if we ever had one at my house, but I had to have used one before since I knew how it worked.  What I wouldn’t give to have one installed in my house and ask my 14-year-old niece to dial a number for me…her exasperation at the slow dialing pace would be priceless!  The phone also had a cord, so she would find it unbelievable that I had to get out of my chair to answer it (I won’t even attempt to explain life without a tv remote to her).

Funny! They still make toy rotary phones! This is my nephew Luke, Christmas 2009, wondering what the heck it is.

I guess even the fact that I had a job answering the phone would be a quaint idea today thanks to answering machines.  In my childhood, an “answering machine” would be defined as someone other than the person you were calling writing down a message.  The only machine-voice I remember hearing on the telephone was when you would call the official number at the phone company to hear the correct time or the weather.  I wonder if they still have these lines operational now that the internet has taken command and control as our sole information source.

One technological improvement that took some fun out of the telephone was Caller ID.  The suspense is now gone – we know who is calling before we answer the phone.  And someone knows when we are calling.  This feature has taken away a fun pastime of our youth – making prank phone calls.  I never made such calls myself, but my brother and his friends made some hilarious calls to unsuspecting strangers.  Today, they would be busted thanks to Caller ID.  So would scores of lovelorn souls who would get up enough nerve to call the boy or girl of their dreams only to hang up when the Dreamboat actually answered – or Dreamboat’s father.

I’m not that old but I remember when you got a busy signal because there was no call waiting, all phones were “landlines”, and there was no need for a “Do Not Call” list.  But I’m young enough to remember my parents talking about changes in their own lives that involved the telephone.  The biggest change?  Neither had a telephone in their house while growing up.  My father remembers that the only telephone in the neighborhood belonged to the corner drugstore.  When it rang, the owner would send him or another boy to run to the house of the call’s recipient.  The boys would sometimes get a nickel as a tip, but the calls were often “important” news such as a death in the family, so it wasn’t a fun task to report the news of a call waiting.

You are at least my age or older if you remember:

  • calling the phone company for the correct time or the weather
  • rotary phones
  • pay phones and phone booths
  • telephone exchanges
  • phones with cords
  • Ma Bell
  • “mobile” phones that you couldn’t fit in your pocket
  • no “answering machines”
  • busy signals instead of call waiting
  • no need for a “Do Not Call” list
  • all phones were “landlines”

You are probably older than me if you remember:

  • party lines
  • talking into a receiver while holding the earpiece up to your ear
  • asking the operator to dial the number
  • not having a phone in the house
  • phone numbers with less than seven digits

You are probably younger than me if you’re scratching your head wondering what all of these things are.  To find out, Google the terms on your G3 mobile device and text the answers to your blog or Facebook.  Or you can actually pick up the phone (please, not while driving) and call one of your old relatives to find out!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

[ I borrowed the "Memory Monday" concept from Greta, and I believe that today she will also post a telephone-related memory.  Read about the Texas Telephone Call here! ]

[ I guess I am getting old, because after I wrote this I realized I already used some of these memories in a post from 2008 called When Times Change! ]

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