Sunday, June 29, 2014

With Your Mother On A Sandy Lawn

With the death of my mother-in-law, Phyllis, in April, has come the not-surprising changes of losing a loved one who has always been there. Even with one in the deep golden years who suffered the maladies of being a smoker for 70 years, death is not a surprise but still brings sadness and loss. Nana’s gained admittance for my husband into the orphan club, where I have been a member since my mom passed in 2004. It also removed the last remaining grandparent from the lives of my girls (and their Washington cousins) and the only one with which they had any kind of relationship, tarnished though it may have been. 

We haven’t yet had the “closure” that will come with burial since, truthfully, we’ve not yet make a decision and so her cremains sit on the entertainment center next the the bowl of chocolate I’m sure she would have enjoyed. The only closure has been the returning of the key to her landlady after we spent a month cleaning out her apartment. She had few belongings and even fewer with sentimental value as she had long since sold off her things when she sold her house then had to replace them with second-hand purchases when she moved into her own apartment. So her passing left us with the usually tawdry duties of paying her final expenses, notifying creditors of her passing and emptying her apartment. Odds and ends were disbursed to the kids. Loads of clothes and tchotchkes were taken to local thrift stores. The rest was carted and piled into our laundry room where we had slowly picked and decided and tossed, whittling the pile down to a few boxes of photos. And in those photos we have found immense value. 

Phyllis had some photos tucked here and there. Mostly from family we know but some, we believe, from people she had met recently. No one we had a connection to. Then...tucked in the back of the closet was a suitcase that belonged to her mother, Helen Weekes Campbell, who passed away in November of 1979 (but returned in the form of Monica, born seven months later).Inside this case were photos..FAMILY photos. Some snapshots.Some professional. Some identified but many...were not. Some we know. Others….Who ARE these people?! Mark didn’t recognize them. Little Nana (Helen) was born in Lynn, Massachusetts. When she married Charles, they moved to California and never really looked back although Helen never lost her New England "accent". She was descended from Stephen Hopkins who signed the Mayflower Compact. She had many “people” but most all were still on the east coast, many on Cape Cod. I started scanning photos into a “mystery family” folder then signed into my Ancestry.com account. 

Mark’s family tree heads off on a few tangents because of the Mayflower history and those records have given me names of “leaves” on unfamiliar branches that I didn’t think I’d ever need but added them to our tree in hopes they might eventually help with confirming other leaves as needed. I found members of those distant families, whose trees correlated with mine and started sending messages via Ancestry, offering up photos in exchange for identifications.First one connection in Nova Scotia - New Scotland, home of the Campbells. Then another. And another. Photos were identified. Others remained in the "folder of mystery". Excited emails were exchanged. The most recent connection started out on Ancestry then, thank Gods for social networking, a friend request on Facebook from Mark’s second cousin, once removed (I’m trusting him on that) who lives in Florida. He proceeded to post on FB some of the photos I had sent, sending out feelers to his cousins. As he said..it started “a firestorm”. Too stinking fun to read the comments and chat back and forth with family, even if it is distant family. Memories of events and of pictures “that grandma had hanging in an oval frame”. The level in my “mystery family” folder is going down as the “old family photos” fills up. 

Of course, these are not MY family. They are names Mark remembers and some I have heard in passing over the past 40 years in conversations with Phyllis. Some, were never mentioned because even she had not met them. In those cases, I suspect the pictures were sent, as some of us do, in Christmas cards to catch up our friends and relations on our lives and those of our children.  The thing is, often we don’t keep those photos and I’m thinking that maybe we should.  We should label them, including the year and squirrel them away in a box for our children to find years from now.  And for THEM to contact distant friends and relations and make connections on whatever comes after Ancestry.com and Facebook. When I’m done with the scanning and identifying, I will bundle up the photos and ship them across the country to the family members who will most enjoy them.  Or maybe….we’ll deliver them ourselves.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

With Arms Wide Open

I know it's been awhile.  Although it may seem to the contrary sometimes, I generally feel that, if I have nothing worth saying, why take your time making you read something not worth reading.  Today, I have something to say.

Today was a cop funeral.  There was a funeral cortege that stretched from the Boardwalk in Santa Cruz to the HP Pavilion in San Jose.  There were flags flown from fire trucks.  Salutes from fellow officers.  There were police officers from across the country in cars and on motorcycles.  There were bagpipes.  I didn't know Butch Baker or Elizabeth Butler, officers of the Santa Cruz Police Department but I knew cops like them.  I KNOW cops like them.  I know Santa Cruz.  I know Santa Cruz Police Department.  I know their badge numbers, 172 and 105 because I DISPATCHED those badge numbers.  Those were numbers that belonged to officers I knew, people that meant something to me.

All of the publicity from the time of the horrific shooting barely more than a week ago clutched at my heart as I read Facebook posts and Twitter feeds from media and from people I know who knew them. People whose hearts were breaking.  People who didn't know them also feel that pain because they do the same job every day that those officers did, the same jobs they were doing when their lives were taken.  I also thought back to my days as dispatcher and some of the more memorable calls, all of which paled to the job those dispatchers did on that day.  What put me over the edge, what brought me out from behind a curtain of unfamiliarity was a reference on Twitter to the dispatchers. Mark Woodward, @NativeSantaCruz on Twitter tweeted: "I've listened to police scanners for years but was not prepared for what just happened".  I knew at once what he heard.  This FINAL CALL went out....the End of Watch for Sgt. Butch Baker and Detective Elizabeth Butler called by a Santa Cruz Police Dispatcher who knew them both.  I found the recording on YouTube and listened.  As she ended her call.."Santa Cruz clear....KMA233"., I cried.  I heard those FCC call letters I recited dozens of times every day.  That girl is tough. Of course she is, she's a dispatcher.  Tough.  Cool.  Calm.  I cried.  I cried for two people I didn't know.  I cried for the people who know them. I cried for the people I know who do that job every day with little respect.

I know  that, for the next week or so, the officers in Santa Cruz will receive hugs and respect and offers of coffee and lunch which, of course, they are not allowed to accept.  The citizens will go back to their lives, their jobs.  They'll go back to speeding to work and cursing the cop that gives them the ticket.  They'll go back to growing dope and teaching their children that cops are the bad guys... unless and until someone tries to rip them off  at which time, of course, they will call for help.  As for the cops?  They will have taken their black ribbon and "thin blue line" from their Facebook profiles.  The flags will once-again be raised to the tops of the flagpoles.  Life will return to patrolling their streets and taking reports and investigating crimes.  They will be even more aware than they were two weeks ago, however, of their safety.  They will be more vigilant about wearing their body armor.  Their husbands and wives will breathe even more deeply a sigh of relief when they walk through the door safely each night to kiss their family and do it again another day. To quote Sgt. Phil Esterhaus..."be careful out there."

NOTE: My titular reference was for James Durbin who sang that Creed song at the funeral.


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Your Cash Ain't Nothin' But Trash



On this City Council Agenda for this week, I noticed this.  

ORDINANCES/RESOLUTIONS
10. Solid Waste and Mandatory Garbage and Recycling Collection Ordinance Amendment Bill No. 858-C.S. Recommendation: Waive reading, ready by title only, and adopt Bill No. 858-C.S., an Ordinance of the City of Eureka amending Title V, Chapter 51, inserting Sections 51.34 through 51.38 and renumbering previous Sections 51.34 through 51.37 to Sections 51.39 through 51.42 pertaining to Solid Waste and Mandatory Garbage and Recycling Collection
.

It is just one more chapter in the saga of the mandatory garbage collection we are forced to pay for in the City and it continues to PISS ME OFF!  I sent this off to the City Council today but doubt it will get any more attention than my concerns did when the previous Council passed the mandatory trash ordinance that made the City of Eureka look like Bin Town.


Dear Mr. Mayor and City Council,
Although I receive the agenda, I admit to being remiss in not following up on this amendment earlier.  It may be too late to make a difference but I have something to say:

This amendment will make it possible for people taking recyclables from the recycling bins to be cited for same.  Here is my problem with this concept:  From my understanding, trash is fair game.  If I have been paying attention to a million episodes of Law and Order, a warrant wouldn’t even be required for police to go through my garbage because it is just that: GARBAGE. 

If the theory here is that the recyclables are OWNED by Recology, I object.  I PAY Recology because the City Council forces me to do business with a private company.  Now, Recology is having the City police PROTECT the recyclables so they can get even more?  What is up with THAT?  And, as I asked the City council members when this was being proposed, how does my husband get the City Council to require HIS business be the only motorcycle shop in town?  Is Recology paying some sort of fee for this pleasure? 

Personally, I produce very little trash.  I pay to have my garbage can emptied of a single small bag of garbage each week.  My recycling bin is put out maybe once in six weeks and is full of cat food cans and wine bottles, none of which are CRV.  BUT, if I put CRV out there and some transient with a need for a pack of smokes is industrious enough to go through it, so be it; it does not belong to Recology until they haul it away.  If someone is looking for a reason to stop the transients, I don’t think protecting the interest of a business that is already being handed a pretty financial package by the residents of this City is the way to do it.

I totally and thorough object to my being forced to pay a private company as it is.  I REALLY object to their financial interests being protected even further by the Police Department.

Yours truly.....

UPDATE:  I had a nice phone conversation with Eureka Deputy Public Works Director, Miles Slattery who was forwarded my letter from one of the Council members (or perhaps ALL of them).  I SWEAR I've exchanged emails with him in the past but...perhaps not.  This conversation was informative for me.  One very important point he made was that the City, as part of their bid contract with Recology, retains the ownership of the items placed in the recycling bins.  Those funds (which last year amounted to $32,000) offset the costs and reduces the rates paid by the residents - that would be ME.  So any removal of items from those bins will not go towards that offset.  He did verify that the contract for trash hauling was put out to bid in 1997 and Recology (previously City Garbage) won the bid by a hefty margin and is reviewed regularly but will not be put out for bid again until 2020.

He did remind me that I could apply for an exemption (which I tried when this started and was rejected) based on my recycling/composting practices and that it likely would be approved.  That process has to be repeated for each fiscal year.  

Truthfully, I've grown to enjoy the convenience of the recycling bins as much as I am agitated by the trash bins so may just have my husband get the exemption at work and have him bring HOME his small amount of shop trash and fill the home can. Mostly, I was impressed by the actual response I got and the adult conversation I had with Mr. Slattery.  When the mandatory trash service was initially implemented, I tried to absolutely no avail to discuss the concepts with the Council members.  I got a stock "thank you for writing" note from Virginia Bass and a two page, unrelated diatribe from Jeff Leonard.  None would respond to my specific concern.  At least the current council had the decency to pawn me off on to a competent City staff member.  

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Got the Sun On My Shoulders and My Toes in the Sand

 Beautiful autumn afternoon.  A break away from the office with thoughts of a much rougher ocean on the other side of the country.  Grateful for the peace and quite of our little Bay.  
 I headed to King Salmon; closest beach to campus so easy to get a nice walk and still not spend too much time away from the office.  I parked on the road outside Gil's parking lot and walk along the tiny jetty to the beach.  As I walked, I was joined by thousands of sandpipers (variety unknown to me) swooping overhead in that way they do, in their amazing ballet, mysteriously able to travel en masse bobbing every which-way without collision.

 I did catch them resting in a cluster as I walked along the shore, huddled tightly ...until they were disturbed, perhaps by me or perhaps by the urge just to fly.
 I could have watched them all day.
  Then they disappeared.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

We Are Family


The search for family history in Wisconsin continues:

A trip to Milwaukee, when one has never been, can hardly be considered a waste of time but, for the purpose of this trip, it offered no information for me.  Since I had found nothing more on Uncle Charlie in the Milwaukee Public Library, we opted for a trip to Appleton which is where he had lived and worked.  Appleton was much closer to our Green Bay base so the decision was easy.  Charlie was a baker and I found a number of newspaper articles from the mid-twenties describing problems with his neighbors who were none-to-pleased to find out he had been granted permission to expand the bakery he was running from his home.

Monica and Alton wandered the weekly Farmers Market while I hit the adjacent library, combing through Polk's City Directories for bakery addresses as well as more info on Charlie.  No luck beyond 1930.  What the heck?  He wasn't in Appleton and he wasn't in Milwaukee.  Now what?!  I WAS able to find and print the obituary for an aunt whose birthday had evaded me, giving me fodder for Ancestry.com searches so the trip was not a waste.  While we further pondered the expanding (or at least NOT diminishing) mystery of Charlie, we headed to neighboring town, Neenah to make the first of many cemetery visits to my aunts and uncles.  I had already been given the general vicinity of the "drawers" where I would find my Aunt Betty and Uncle Bernie so Monica and I began wandering.  In the process, she spotted the familiar last name of one of my cousins - Charlie's daughter!  The stone had both birth and death dates of her husband but only her name, indicating she was still alive, information I hadn't been able to confirm and was excited to learn.  

After a quick trip south to Oshkosh to take a picture of little Alton in front of the water tower wearing locally named overalls, we sat alongside the Fox River, watching dragonboat races, eating cheese curds and pondering our next move.  Through the miracle of the smart phones, we found a phone number for Alice and, at Monica's urging, I made the call.  How do you announce yourself to a person who doesn't even know you exist?  Happily, Alice recognized my mom's name and invited us to her house but, truthfully, I was a little concerned that she did so since we may NOT have been who we said we were.  I'll allow her own children to do THAT scolding.

When Alice answered the door, it was clear we were related and she said the same...we laughed at our similarities and, when I took my mom's photo albums out, she marveled at how much my mom and her older sister looked alike.  Since my mom was the youngest and Charlie was the oldest, his daughter and his youngest sister were just three weeks apart.  It turned out that Alice had only minimal contact with her father from the time she was born as her birth coincided with their divorce proceedings.  She had little information and we were careful to not bring up dirt I had unearthed but, when Monica asked just the right question, she casually mentioned that Charlie had changed his name.  He what?!  "Alice, this is HUGE!". That tiny piece of information made a world of difference to this trip and the research I was doing.

It turned out he had returned to Appleton for the last few years of his life, information known only by one of my aunts.  Alice was only told at the time of his death.  Charlie had chosen a new name from one he saw on a sign, presumably to keep himself off the radar of creditors. His new wife and son had taken the new name and Alice, when asked where he was buried, suggested we try the tiny community of Medina (Ma-DY-nuh), where his wife's family had lived. 

That night, I checked the Find-A-Grave website and confirmed there were relatives of the second Mrs. Charlie buried in Medina.  The next day, we decided we would start at the cemetery in Medina, then to neighboring Hortonville cemetery should we not find Charlie at the first.  Medina was a leisurely twenty mile drive on a beautiful little two-lane highway 96 and we had no problem finding the town's cemetery.  We wandered the rows and easily found the missus, with her new name, but were still trying to find Charlie when a car pulled in and parked near us.  A nicely dressed lady, fresh from church, walked over to us and asked if we were looking for anyone in particular.  It turns out she was the secretary of the cemetery and knew everyone in town.  When I told her, she knew exactly who I was talking about.  She knew Charlie.  She knew his son, Jack.  She knew Jack's son "who lives in the white house over there around the corner...".  "Wait, I have Jack's phone number at my house; I'll be right back".  With that, she drove off, leaving Monica and I standing there, stunned.

As we waited, surrounded by the grave stones of the residents of this town, it occurred to us that some were OUR family members.  That name change started a new line of a new family, forever breaking their link to the family name but their blood was our blood.  As we pondered this, the lady we now knew as Evelyn returned.  She popped out of her car along with a young women.  "I got Jack's number but I did one better...I brought his granddaughter."  Seriously?  This beautiful young lady, about Monica's age, was really Jack's granddaughter.....my uncle's great-granddaughter? We hugged.  We laughed.  We agreed to meet at the town's tavern, once run by her mother's family, for lunch.  

When Nicole arrived, she was soon followed by her mother and the four of us spend several hours filling each other in on family history, previously undiscovered by either side.  She had no idea that her great-grandfather was born with a different last name or that he was one of nine children.  We had no idea that Charlie's son had also grown up to be a baker and he had worked at that very tavern when he was married to Nicole's grandmother.  And Nicole knew where Charlie was buried.  I got names and dates to add to my family tree and, after lunch, we headed to the Hortonville cemetery to finally visit with my uncle.  

The visit ended up being somewhat anti-climatic because there was no stone to mark Charlie's final resting place.  There had been a temporary marker but, since he had passed in 1969, the marker had become brittle and was nowhere to be found.  Nicole had been there before and knew where he was so I spent a little time wandering the bare lawn, finally at the end of this search.  I had figured out where my Uncle Charlie ended his days and our journeys both ended in Hortonville, Wisconsin.  

The next morning, found us on the road east, heading to Eau Claire, the city where my mom was born and raised.  Mark and I have seen much of the country's perimeter but the midwest had never been on the radar except for the fact that it was my mom's home.  The four-hour journey across a state was beautiful.  Flat.  Farms.  A bald eagle.  The changing colors of the trees that warmed my soul almost as much as the ocean.  In Eau Claire, we tracked down the rest of my family's graves, including my grandparents whom I never met.  In the process, we drove around the same town my mom had driven around with her friends.  We couldn't find the family house but found out since that the house was renumbered so that will be a visit for another day.

On the return trip from Eau Claire, Monica again urged me to make a phone call, this time to Jack.  He at least at been warned about us by his granddaughter who had called while we had lunch.  He gave me directions to the house and, in their home on a very dark Wisconsin highway, I made the acquaintance of another cousin, one whose name had been changed when he was six years old and who had no real information of his father's family.  Again, I shared my mom's photo album and plan to make some copies to send him.  

When I started making plans for this trip, it was pipe dreams.  I had originally planned to stay in Eau Claire but changed to Green Bay when it because obvious that finding my Uncle would require research in that eastern part of the state.  I came for family.  I found family.  I had planned to go alone to eliminate the need to drag others along which I attended to the drudgery of library research.  I invited Monica and Alton to ensure I ventured out to see some sites outside of the library and maybe try a midwestern microbrew.  It proved to be a good decision since Monica encouraged me to take chances with making those phone calls and Alton, like all babies, was a great ice-breaker.  Although he won't remember the trip, the photos we took were memorable and he'll know he was a part of it. 

Monica decided that the word for this trip was "serendipity".  The serendipity of her spotting the grave marker with Alice's name.  The serendipitous visit from an angel named Evelyn who stopped by the cemetery to see what the work party of the day before had wrought and, instead, facilitated a family reunion.  There was also a black swallowtail butterfly that fluttered by us at the cemetery that Monica plans to add to the ink butterflies she collects.  Serendipity indeed.

Friday, September 21, 2012

I Belong To You..You Belong To Me

Sitting in a motel room in Green Bay, Wisconsin pondering the plans for our first really somewhat normal day.  It should have been yesterday after a Wednesday night arrival. Unfortunately United had other plans.  

I lean towards patience with companies that function at the mercy of weather and such but sitting in Cleveland, awaiting our last hop to Wisconsin, only to be told our flight was cancelled because the crew had "timed out"? Really?  A half hour before takeoff and you figure this out? There were eight of us and we were tired. To the airline's credit, they bought us a night at the Howard Johnson but when the "shuttle" arrived at the curb, it proved too small for all of us, let alone luggage and the stroller/car seat contraption that the Toppings are dragging about plus one seat didn't have a seatbelt..."no no no...it's good" "But there's no seatbelt and my son needs to be buckled in'.  'No no no...it's good". "NO!...I'll put in the other seat".  "OK OK OK..that's good".  So Monica rode to the motel sitting in the seat with no belt.  We slept fast and were up prior to the crack of dawn for a seven o'clock flight replacement to Green Bay, then had our rental car and were checked into our real hotel by nine in the morning.

After settling in and gathering our thoughts, we headed to the University of Wisconsin so I could start some research that will help me locate information on two of my mom's siblings.  No luck on the sister for whom I lack a birth date in order to choose the correct documents on Ancestry.com but I hope to find something when we go to the research center in Eau Claire where the family lived.

Uncle Charlie has proven to be more interesting than expected.  I came across the court documents for his divorce proceedings including the transcript where much dirty linen was aired.  On a high note, the documents included paperwork showing where he was working when wages were attached for child support he skated on....*sigh*...THIS I didn't expect.

When Charlie's brother, my Uncle Joe, died in 1954, the obit referred to survivors and mentioned Charlie as being in Milwaukee.  This was today's project, drive to Milwaukee.  We tracked down the library and searched through death records and city directories with no luck; no sign that Charlie had ever lived there.  The library was fabulous, a glorious limestone building with amazing marble staircases so much like Hogwarts that I expected the stairways to swivel and deposit Harry Potter.  Even the unsuccessful research was worth the trip to this building.

We spotted the original Pabst Brewery so wandered the area a bit to check out the buildings before tracking down a brew pub and have dinner and a tasty ale before heading back to Green Bay.

The title song has been popping into my head these last few days and, after I thought about my family connections, it just fit.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Ain't No Big Thing

Coastal Cleanup.  Third Saturday of September.  An opportunity, an excuse, to get down to the sea and walk.  And pick up trash.   This year, rather than walking the same beach with dozens of other people, I decided I would head to the South Spit.  My occasional lunch-hour walks always produce trash and I presumed there would be fewer people heading that way.  I was not wrong - I was IT.  I had this beautiful stretch all to myself. In the grand scheme of things, not such a bad thing.
 The air was thick.  Drippy.  It got a little difficult to see my way with the spectacles covered as they were.
 I watched these guys huddle.  And land.  And sprint.  And flow.  Amazing ballet, stop on a dime as a group.

I have found that this beach collects most of it's debris high up.  As folks come to "appreciate" the serenity, they build lovely little dwellings and leave their trash behind, which is gently nudged by the rising tides as if to prevent its being swept out to be be consumed by the creatures who live there.  This means I have to trudge in the soft sand to find the trash.  Not as much fun as the water's edge where the cold can lap at my toes.

Gratefully, there were no large items.  No big things.  Just many many small ones.  As my bucket got fuller, and I would think, "that's it, nothing else will fit", I would find one more thing and tuck it in amongst the other small pieces.  As I neared the parking lot, I spotted a beer box filled with paper, probably left behind from a bonfire, so finally had to break down and use the feed bag I brought.  

I sorted and counted and will report my findings to be included in the count.  Multiply that by the hundreds of others who were out in Humboldt and California and the northwest and the right coast and we kept a lot of trash out of the ocean.  My final tally:
  • 61 cigarette butts
  • 1 chew can
  • 2 coffee cups/1 lid
  • 5 beverage bottle lids
  • 1 CD
  • 17 pieces of dense foam from floats and floatables
  • 15 pieces of foam meat trays
  • 1 shoe
  • 28 pieces of plastic from buckets, tubs and such
  • 19 pieces of plastic bags and wrappers
  • 9 shotgun "innards"... wadding...whatever
  • 1 cardboard box of paper
  • 1 shoelace
  • 1 bag of poop
I have to say this last one boggles my mind.  Someone took the time to carry a bag to the beach to clean up after their dog.  They picked up the poop.  Then left it.  Thank you people...almost. You were this close to being responsible....



If you didn't make it out this year, it's not too late.  Go out to the street in front of your home or business and pick up the litter there that will flow to the storm drains in the next rain and will end up in the sea.  Look at the cigarette butts and candy wrappers the next time you walk down the street.  They WILL end up in the bay if someone doesn't stop them.  And put the third Saturday in September on your calendar for 2013.