Childhood memories

I was born in a house my father built. This is not to say that my father drew up the architectural plans for the house, that he dug the basement or poured the cement for the foundations of the house. Nor did he raise the walls, shingle the roof, or install the plumbing and electrical work. My parents paid professional workers to do all these tasks; they oversaw the work and even suggested two or three small refinements to the original plan. But it was their house from the beginning; no other family had ever lived there before, and no other family has lived there since.

The land was a gift from my mother’s parents. In 1939 they purchased a farmhouse and three acres of land from the original farm. Their plan at the time was that their son and their daughter would each be given a quarter of the property to build a home. This plan was fulfilled; so my nearest neighbors growing up were my grandparents next door and my uncle and aunt and cousins behind us. For legal purposes, my parents were required to pay some money to my grandparents to acquire the land. My father gave my grandfather a ten dollar bill the day the papers were signed to transfer the property; at the end of the ceremony, my grandfather secretly returned the cash to my father, telling him, “You need this more than I do.”

Not only did my father really build the house; I was not really born in the house. I was born eleven miles away, in the maternity ward of a hospital. The family doctor my parents chose practiced in that hospital, not in the hospital located in their hometown, which was much closer to their house. My birth certificate lists my legal birthplace as one town, but my genuine hometown has always been the house where my parents lived when I was born, the town where I grew up and went to school, the town where I was baptized and confirmed, where I attended church with my parents, where I played outdoors with the neighborhood children or alone, where I learned many of the things that I know and remember today.

Winfield had 567 residents in 1940, the year after my grandparents moved there. I had a railroad station, a tavern, and a tuberculosis sanitarium that would become Central DuPage Hospital. By the time I was in school, in 1970, the village had grown to 4,285 residents. Today the population approaches ten thousand Winfielders. The hospital is the largest employer in town, along with the school district and some stores. For the most part, Winfield is a bedroom community; workers live in Winfield but drive or take the train to their jobs in other places. Wikipedia lists a number of famous people who have lived in Winfield: professional athletes, writers, artists, and the like. My name is not yet on that list. Also missing from the list is Colonel Robert McCormick, whose mansion is just south of the village. McCormick once owned the Chicago Tribune. His estate has become a museum commemorating his life and remembering his service with the First Infantry Division of the United States Army. The property also includes flower gardens, picnic grounds, and a display of tanks on which children have climbed and played for years. The McCormick Estate is called Cantigny—technically pronounced “canteen” for the place in France, but always given the obvious three-syllable designation by those of us who lived nearby.

Wikipedia also mentions Schmidt’s pond, from which ice was harvested every winter to sell to families during the spring and summer and fall. Peter Schmidt dug the pond and began the ice business, but my mother knew it as the Klein pond and I knew it as the Enders pond, since the land changed ownership over the years. In the late 1980s, I met two women in Chicago who had traveled out to Winfield and visited the Kleins when they were girls, long before I was born. The pond was across the street and on the other side of the creek from the house where I lived.

My mother attended a one-room schoolhouse. I went to the same school years later, but several wings had been attached to the original structure, and a new Middle School was built across the street while I was a student. I walked to school every day regardless of the weather, went home for lunch and returned for afternoon classes, and walked home again at the end of the day. The walk was short; I had to walk farther to catch the bus that took me to high school after I graduated from eighth grade.

I cannot go home again. Our house was built in a flood plain. A few years ago it was bought by the local government and leveled. Other than the school and Cantigny, not much remains from the village that I remember. Things change. People change. The landmarks of my childhood live on only in memory. J.

A grief observed

Wednesday afternoon I received word that my sister had died.

She was in her mid-sixties, generally in good health. She was vacationing with family—her husband, daughter, son-in-law, and three grandchildren. Tuesday night she was not feeling well, and she decided to lie down. They said that they would take her to a fast-care clinic in the morning if she didn’t feel better. But she never woke up.

My parents had just the two of us. Our mom died a few years ago, in her eighties. Our dad is still alive, ninety-four years old and still doing well. We were close at times, more separated at others. In her teen years, she went through a rebellious stage that led to a lot of fights between her and our parents. She didn’t finish college, but met a man there and married him. They lived in his childhood house and hometown for a few years; then he was offered a better job and they moved to the suburbs of a larger city. At one time, their house was a summer vacation stop for my household. They then also became the hosts of the family gathering at Christmastime—usually focused on the weekend between Christmas and the New Year.

Those family gatherings became less and less comfortable each year for the past several years. Our political convictions were diverging and becoming firmer. Walking into their house was stressful, hearing CNN at high volume (because my brother-in-law has become hard of hearing) and being forced to endure the propaganda much of the time we were there.

Then came COVID. My sister was proud of the way she kept her immediate family—from her aged father to the youngest grandchild—safe in a “family bubble.” Those of us outside the bubble felt bad for my dad in particular, as he was denied the opportunity even to take a walk in his neighborhood and visit with the friends he recently had made there. Of course the traditional Christmas visit was canceled in 2020. Then came the vaccines, and fitness to visit the family was defined according to vaccine status.

Social media was the worst. My sister shared every meme that came her way if it promoted wearing masks, staying away from other people, or getting shots according to the mainstream-media-approved schedule. She also reposted messages promoting socialism, “woke” politics, and general government control over people’s lives. I was already being careful not to risk my job by sharing messages on Facebook that could be seen as contrary to my employer’s standards of decency and correct-think. I didn’t want to engage in a Facebook war with family, so I developed the habit of scrolling over her posts. Once, when my cousin asked me why I wasn’t saying much on Facebook, I told her that staying away from Facebook was good for my blood pressure.

I feel twinges of guilt that I allowed politics to create a rift in the family, that I didn’t try harder to keep in touch and to find ways to bridge the gap that had appeared. At the same time, family connections are a two-way street, and I remind myself that her stubbornness created at least fifty percent of the separation. To be honest, the sense of relief that came from knowing that we would not be spending time at her place during Christmas 2020 signaled that allowing such a separation may have been healthier than struggling to bridge the gap, to seek common ground, to hold the family together in spite of our contrary convictions.

One of the rules of our American culture says that one says only good things about the dead. My sister truly was a loving and caring person. She sacrificed endlessly for the good of her family and her church. She worked hard to provide the people in her life with many things that she felt would be good for them. Even if her service was as much a burden upon those being served as it was on herself, she always meant well. She will be missed by many people, and I am among those people.

Some family members are part of our life through the accident of birth. Other family members we choose as we pas through life. In either case, the day finally comes when death separates us from the family we love. For my sister, that separation came swiftly, without extended pain and suffering, and for that I am glad. All of us left behind are sorry to see her go. We are comforted by the promise that she now is among the saints, waiting in Paradise for the Day of Resurrection. We are comforted by knowing that we will rise again to live forever in the kingdom of our God, reunited as members of his family, and celebrating together at his heavenly feast. Today’s sorrow is passing, but the joy of heaven is forever. Today’s regrets darken the night, but a new Day will dawn. At the resurrection reunion, full harmony will prevail and all painful differences will be forgotten. The glory that will be revealed far exceeds the troubles of today. J.

Giving thanks

This Thanksgiving I am thankful for many things.

I am thankful to have food available—tasty food, healthy and nutritious food, food in great variety, for a family feast and later a light supper and the next day delicious leftovers. I am thankful for clothing and shelter—shelter with flush toilets, with hot and cold running water, with control over the temperature of the air in winter and summer and every day of the year, and with a wide variety of entertainment available at the push of a few buttons. These are not the greatest blessings I enjoy, but they are blessings all the same, and I am thankful.

I am thankful to live in a nation based upon liberty, a nation that protects its citizens from violence, a nation that shows compassion to those in need. I am thankful to live in a nation founded upon ideas and not upon military victories or the power of one ruler. I am thankful for freedom to think as I wish, to speak as I wish, to write as I wish, and to gather with like-minded people. I am thankful for freedom of religion. I am thankful that other people are free to disagree, even to insist that we have too much freedom, and that such opinions can be discussed and debated among ourselves.

With that freedom of religion, I am thankful to know the God who created all things and still upholds them by his power. I am thankful to know the God who tells us why he made us, yet who pays our debt when we fall short of his plans and rescues us from evil, even from the consequences of our own rebellion. I am thankful to know the God who calls us to repent and to believe, then gives us power to do those very things through his call. I am thankful to know the God who gathers his people around his promises, keeps us in the true faith, and promises eternal life in a perfect world to all those who hold to that faith. These blessings outshine all others.

I am thankful that my employer pays me not to come to work Thursday and Friday but allows me to observe the holiday of Thanksgiving with family and with the congregation. I am thankful for a four-day weekend in which I can sleep late some mornings, accomplish some tasks around the house, do some reading and some writing, and maybe even start unpacking decorations for Advent and Christmas. At the same time, I am grateful for those people (including two of my daughters) who will be working during this holiday, caring for those whose medical needs do not take a holiday. I am thankful that professionals will be available if needed should a problem arise. I am thankful for the man who came to our house Thanksgiving evening several years ago because our carbon monoxide detector was sounding an alarm. He checked for gas leaks and other dangers, and he correctly determined that the detector was at fault. I am thankful that we were not in danger that day, and that we did not have to wait for the holiday to end before we knew that we were safe.

I am thankful that family will gather and will celebrate the holiday of Thanksgiving together, even if some members will arrive late to the celebration. I am thankful that we will be able to enjoy each other’s company and that we will also be able to contact those who are living elsewhere and share the joy of the holiday with them. I also am thankful that, when the weekend is over, the children will return to their various homes and living spaces and I will once again have a quiet house for reading, writing, and other leisure activities.

I am thankful for my online friends in the WordPress community, those who read my blogs and comment on my posts, those who leave their likes, those whose blogs I read and enjoy, those who share a piece of their lives online and are willing also to let me share my thoughts and experiences with them. May each of us, however we observe and remember this holiday, find joy in giving thanks and have a pleasant and enriching holiday weekend. J.

Birth announcement

My first grandchild was born this week. Mother (and father) and baby are all doing well. Those who are interested have already been given information about length and weight and time of birth. These statistics are less important than the report that all are in good health. (Time of birth is especially arbitrary, given the reality of time zone and of Daylight Saving Time.)

I am careful not to say that I became a grandfather this week. My daughter and her husband are firm, and rightly so, to say that their daughter has been a person for some months as she developed before birth. They celebrated their first Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day this spring, and they have gently corrected those people who suggest that they became parents at the birth of their daughter, as if she was less than a person prior to being born.

I was not able to be there this week for the occasion of her birth. But several members of the family will be making the pilgrimage next week to be present when she is born again in Holy Baptism. (I am prepared to give a Biblical explanation of infant baptism to anyone who is interested, but that is not my reason for writing this evening.) The baby will meet her family and no doubt be passed from one person to another. Not all the family can make the trip this month; other family members hope and plan to visit later in the year.

The trip there and back will take several days, so after the coming weekend I will have a short vacation from blogging and other online activities. I could find ways to remain active online, but I am choosing instead to take this vacation. It will be good for me to be free from social media for a few days, and I’m sure that I will catch up with anything important once I find my way back home.

Meanwhile, this weekend I have some writing to do—some continuation of blogging themes, and some other writing that needs to be done. I will even take some work with me—writing to read and edit and prepare for publication, as time permits during the trip. You can expect a flurry of posts in the next three days or so before Salvageable falls silent for a time. God willing, I shall return.

Meanwhile, my family and I celebrate the gift and miracle of new life. J.

Memorial Day

The history and significance of Memorial Day (or Decoration Day) is complex. For centuries, people have decorated the graves of soldiers with flowers, flags, and other tributes. Naturally, following the carnage of the Civil War, commemorations were made at the graves of soldiers, whether Federal or Confederate. At least twenty-five cities claim the honor of creating Memorial Day to remember all Civil War soldiers. By 1868, the custom across the nation had developed that May 30 was the day to remember soldiers who lost their lives on Civil War battlefields. Gradually, the custom expanded to include all soldiers who died while in battle, including all the wars and military actions in which the United States has been involved.

Beginning in 1971, Memorial Day has been observed on the last Monday in May. The three-day weekend has become, in the United States, the unofficial beginning of summer, which then ends at the beginning of September with the three-day weekend of Labor Day. Many communities still have parades on Memorial Day, and generally ceremonies are held at cemeteries to mark this holiday. (I remember marching in the high school band to two cemeteries each Memorial Day.) But for many families, the weekend is marked with outdoor gatherings and meals, generally with little thought of military matters. I grilled hamburgers and bratwursts for the family last Sunday as part of our Memorial Day observances.

Often people confuse Memorial Day with Veterans Day (November 11) and with Armed Forces Day (the third Saturday in May). Memorial Day specifically remembers soldiers who died while serving the United States. Armed Forces Day salutes those who currently are serving in the armed forces. Veterans Day thanks those who served in the armed forces and survived their military career.

In my family research, I have discovered numerous veterans but no one who died while serving in a military force. Last weekend I used my Facebook page to honor three veterans—my grandfather, my uncle, and my father—and no one corrected me with the blurring of holidays. Here are two photographs I shared last weekend: the first was taken by my grandfather at Camp Hancock in Georgia. It shows Lieutenant G. M. Kuntz and Lieutenant Nygeberger with a World War I rifle and was taken in 1918. The second picture, taken by my uncle in Banneaux, Belgium, shows a World War II tank and an unnamed soldier. My uncle landed in France on D-Day plus 2 (June 8, 1944) and saw action in France, Belgium, and Germany.

We remember and honor those who died while defending our freedom and battling against the enemies of our country. We promise that their sacrifice will never be forgotten. J.

We used to home school

After twenty-five years of service, the Salvageable Family Home School has closed its doors. That’s not bad news—we celebrate the high school graduation of our youngest child and the successful educational paths they all have chosen.

All have been accepted into colleges. All who are not currently enrolled have completed their Bachelor’s degrees in four years or less. They graduated with honors. Two went on to complete Master’s degrees. All of them are currently employed, even during the virus crisis.

Our decision to home school was not made lightly, but in a sense we were led into it. At the time, I was associated with a church that had a private school, and our children were aware of school children outside the house at various times. They were interested in school, and they were mentally ready, but their birthdays put them just past the starting age as set by the state. I knew that schools sometimes made exceptions regarding those dates, but the school leaders said, “If we make an exception for you, we have to make an exception for anyone else who asks.” They did offer a compromise—two years of half-day kindergarten meant for four-year-olds before entering the full day kindergarten meant for five-year-olds. We declined.

We knew a family in the neighborhood who homeschooled. Two of their daughters sometimes watched our children. They were doing well, and we took advice from them. We agreed that we would evaluate the situation year by year and not commit to home schooling all the way through high school. Little did we know that we would be educating our children for the next twenty-five years.

Starting with a book called Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, we began to assemble a home school library.  Saxon Math met our needs in that department, and we found other books that did the job. The summer after we started home schooling I had a job offer and we moved, so there was no pressure to put our children into the church’s school. From time to time we participated in home school cooperatives, but it often seemed that we could accomplish as much at home as we could gain from a cooperative.

One advantage of home schooling is being able to work at the child’s pace. Students who pick up a concept easily do not have to wait for their classmates before moving on to something new; students struggling with a concept can have extra explaining and practice before moving on without hampering anyone else’s education. Also, no time is consumed traveling to and from school or waiting for a bus; that gain in time allows more instruction, more leisure time, or more time to contribute to family chores. Life skills such as cooking and laundry become part of the educational plan. Interesting conversations at mealtime are part of home schooling, and field trips are easy to arrange with little or no planning required.

One concern some people have about home schooling is “socialization”: how will home schooled children learn to make friends among their peers? Home school cooperatives are one answer, church activities are another, and organized athletic events are a third. Several of my daughters took up Irish dancing and have reached the championship level. Moreover, not only in my family but in other home school families I have known, the children are more natural at socializing with people of different ages. They have not spent their days in a room with one adult and a couple dozen children their age.

Not every family should home school. Doing so requires a massive commitment of time as well as a financial investment. Public schools and private schools provide a valuable service for our communities. The irony has not escaped me that we finished home schooling at a time when many families are having their first experience of home schooling. Most will return their children to the public or private schools as soon as they open, but some families—including the students—may be finding value in home schooling. They may be considering continuing the home school experience even when schools reopen. For those in that position, I offer encouragement and best wishes. J.

Photographs and genealogy

Years ago, when I first saw this picture in the family collection, it puzzled me. I knew that the little girl to the left was my grandmother, and I suspected the other two children on the floor were her brother and sister. I assumed that the man to the left was her father and that the woman in back was her grandmother? But who is the other boy in the room? My family and I dubbed him Heathcliff, remembering that he joined the Earnshaw family by adoption when he was a young boy (Wuthering Heights).

This spring I’ve had the opportunity to go through family photographs and also to research my family tree. I deduced that this picture was taken Christmas 1905. The extra boy is a cousin to my grandmother. These same people were still in the same household at the 1910 census. The grandmother, by the way, is the mother of my grandmother’s mother, mother-in-law to the man in the picture.

Here’s another picture of the same family taken a few months earlier. The younger woman is my great-grandmother; she died in June of 1905. The man with the cigar is probably Heathcliff’s father, and the two additional girls are Heathcliff’s sisters.

Why are those sisters missing from the Christmas picture? According to the 1910 census, they were boarding at the Chicago Industrial School for Girls. Later records show that both grew up, had jobs as clerks, and got married.

 

Here’s Heathcliff and his sisters—possibly taken at their school. On the desk is a cube with the date: Wednesday December 27. Historians, archivists, and genealogists love clues like that hiding in photographs. (December 27, 1905, was a Wednesday.)

And what became of Heathcliff? He also got married. He and his wife had a son who lived only three months and a daughter who eventually grew up and married. In 1917, when Heathcliff registered for the Great War, he was a clerk supporting wife and mother (possibly mother-in-law). In 1920, he was living with his wife, in-laws, and infant son. In 1930, though, he was divorced and living alone in Chicago. October 1930 saw him incarcerated at Leavenworth, Kansas—I have no idea why. By 1942, when he registered because of the second World War, he was back in Chicago, working for Keller & Sons. He died in 1959, at the age of 63.

“Heathcliff’s” real first name was the same as his father and his grandfather. By coincidence, my wife and I chose the same name for our son. After skipping several generations, it’s nice to have the name return to the family, even though the previous holder of that name was a crook. J.

 

Explaining cousins

From time to time I’ve noticed fellow bloggers expressing confusion about distant cousins. They will write something like “my second cousin twice removed (whatever that means).” As a professional historian who also assists with genealogical research, I am here to end your confusion.

People who share the same mother and/or father are brothers and sisters. People who do not share a parent but share at least one grandparent are first cousins. (Often, when we say “cousins,” we are referring to first cousins.) People who do not share any grandparents but share at least one great-grandparent are second cousins. People who do not share any great-grandparents but share at least one great-great-grandparent are third cousins. Tracing the human line back to Adam and Eve (or at least as far back as Noah), all people on earth are cousins to some degree, whether they are first cousins or thousandth cousins.

As for the distinction of “once removed” and so on: my first cousins’ children are my first cousins once removed. My first cousins’ grandchildren are my first cousins twice removed. My second cousins’ children are my second cousins once removed. My second cousins’ grandchildren are my second cousins twice removed. And so on. In other words, the levels of removal are differences in generation, even if (as is the case with me) you are closer in age to your first cousins once removed than you are to their parents, your first cousins.

The generational removal can go the other direction as well, but only if the kinship is not closer. For example, the parents of my first cousins are my uncle and my aunt, not my first cousins once removed. But, since the grandchildren of my first cousins are my first cousins twice removed, I am also their first cousin twice removed.

I hope this information is helpful. J.

New cat in the house

“The naming of cats is a difficult matter…” T. S. Eliot

Last week I learned that the Salvageable household would be gaining a new member. A nine-month-old kitten was available for adoption; his sponsoring agency said that he is so friendly that “he never met a stranger.” We have had a vacancy in the household since Beau faded away last spring, so I was quick to approve the addition. Still, fees had to be paid and paperwork had to be filed, and his move-in date was delayed until yesterday. Monday being a holiday, it was a good day to welcome a cat into the house, since members of the family were going to be at home.

The new cat was to be claimed at 1:00 p.m. I waited at the house while another family member went out to complete the adoption. As she returned, she was closely followed by two other cars. Two of my daughters, who are championship dancers, had a holiday event at midday. Expecting to meet the new cat, they skipped lunch with their teacher and fellow dancers to rush home, nearly arriving before the cat had entered the house.

He explored thoroughly and quickly made himself at home. In very little time he was accepting affection, trying out laps, and playing with toys. The only fly in the ointment was the disapproval of our five-year-old, found-in-a-Walmart-parking-lot cat. She hid under the dining room table, hissing and spitting when he got too close. We still believe that the two of them will become friends. In fact, one reason for adopting a kitten was to reduce her loneliness when people are away and to give her more opportunity for exercise. However, even though she was able to accept a small dog in her house for a few hours last week with no emotion beyond mild curiosity, the addition of a playful kitten was jarring to her emotional equilibrium.

The new cat is black-furred with pumpkin-orange eyes. He has a long tail and big feet, all indications that he is going to get a bit bigger and stronger in the next few months. We are probably going to have to buy a squirt gun to enforce the house rules for cats: no clawing the furniture, no jumping onto the dining room table or kitchen counters. (Come to think of it, those actions are forbidden to human family members as well.) Like most young cats, he is playful, curious, energetic, but also eager to receive love and affection from the people in his life.

After supper, we had a surprising revelation about our new cat. My youngest daughter picked up a cat toy and tossed it across the room for him to chase. He scampered after it, picked it up in his mouth, ran back to her, and dropped it at her feet. We have a kitten who plays “fetch.” In fact, he continued that game much longer than any of his previous play periods of the day.

With three other people to meet, I was the last to get much attention from him. To me that comes as no surprise; bonding of humans and cats often seems to be cross-gender (male cats favoring female humans and female cats preferring male humans). So after a while I went downstairs to read, as is my custom in the evenings. Soon the new cat appeared, explored the library, and finally found his way onto my lap. He made it plain to me that he loves me just as much as he loves the rest of the family. For that matter, he woke me up twice during the night to make sure that I still love him and to reassure me that he still loves me.

The biggest challenge, apart from persuading the cats to be friends, is finding a name for the new cat. We agreed that his name must match his personality but also must have dignity. (We weren’t responsible for naming Beau, although we did change the spelling of his name.) This cat had been named Midnight, but we decided that Midnight did not fit him. Nor did he seem to respond to the name. One family member strongly urged the name Fiyero, the reason being that the musical “Wicked” has been in town this month. I was least appreciative of Fiyero, both because I didn’t enjoy the performance of “Wicked”—more about that in another post—and because the name sounds like a car model rather than a cat. Tybalt was strong in the running for a while. My youngest daughter opted for Sir Isaac Newton, and by evening she was already calling him “Sir.” With that inspiration, I suggested that we consider a name from the Arthurian legends. Once that was said, we quickly agreed upon Galahad.

So, now Galahad is part of the family. I’m eager to learn how his first full day in the household has gone, whether the other cat has calmed enough to accept him into the family, and how he deals with people coming and going because they have jobs, classes, and other obligations. I know that Galahad will be a valuable member of the family, even if I will have to close him out of the bedroom at night to allow me to get my sleep. J.