Week 24 – Father’s Day

Week 24 is all about fathers. I considered writing about my grandfather’s mysterious father, but like my Mother’s Day post, I find I can only write about my own dad.

I do not remember a time before knowing my dad. You’re probably reading this, and thinking, “well, duh!” But the dad I’m talking about is actually my stepfather. He entered my life when I was just 3 years old, so despite having my biological father in my life, my stepfather has always been the man I think of as Dad. I very rarely refer to him as my stepfather. Just about the only time I use the ‘step’ qualifier is when I’m talking about genealogy. It makes it easier for people to understand which man I’m talking about. Most people who know me well know that I nearly always say ‘father’ when talking about my biological father, and ‘dad’ when talking about the great man who raised me. The reverse is also true. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve heard Dad call me his stepdaughter. I’ve never felt less than his daughter. Some stepfathers complain about having to provide for another man’s child. Especially when the biological father is not willing to pay support. Not my dad. Not once did he complain about paying for clothes, shoes, or even orthodontics.

Even before he began dating my mother, my dad was a part of my life. He was our neighbor, and lived across the street with his parents. We lived on a quiet dead end street, and everyone knew each other. After my mother and father separated, Mom began dating the cute guy across the street. On August 6, 1978 they were married. I was not quite 6, and so happy. I remember at the rehearsal, I was so excited that I hugged my soon-to-be stepfather around the legs. The minister kindly said that he knew I loved my new father, but that I couldn’t hug him like that during the ceremony the next day. I don’t like to post a photo twice, but I have to share this photo of the wedding day again. My love for my dad is clearly evident.

Dad has always been a hard worker. When I was young, he went back to school in order to become a CNC Machinist. As a CNC Machinist, he makes intricate machine parts. I still don’t understand how he can make calculations to a fraction of a millimeter, and have everything come out right. Once, he brought home something he had machined. I’m sure it has a proper name, but to me it was an oversized nut and bolt. I don’t know why he had made it, as it was not typical of the things he machined, but I loved it. It sat on our bookcase for many years, and I loved unscrewing the nut from the bolt, and screwing it back together again. Even as a teenager, I’d sit in the recliner chatting on the phone, absentmindedly spinning the bolt, and marveling that my dad had made it. Most Sundays in the fall, Dad would head out to the woods with his father and brother, and cut wood for the winter. Dad would come home with his pickup loaded with logs, and I’d run outside with my work gloves on, ready to help unload the truck and stack the wood in the garage.

Dad always had a big vegetable garden. Each spring, he’d plant row after row of delicious veggies. Corn, cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, summer squash, to name just a few. Some years he planted pumpkins. If I recall, those had a tendency to take over the entire backyard. Occasionally, I’d beg for a particular crop. One year it was carrots. Dad said they wouldn’t grow well, but I pleaded and he relented. He said the carrots were my responsibility. I was delighted to be put in charge of the carrots. I was given a small section of the garden and planted my seeds. I was so excited when the lacy green leaves first started to appear. I’d go out in the afternoons and pull out the weeds. When they were ready for harvest, my carrots were short and fat instead of long and skinny. Dad had tried telling me that we didn’t have the right soil for carrots, but I had been determined to prove him wrong. An early lesson proving Dad is usually right. No matter what was growing, I loved spending summer days with Dad in the garden.

Even our vacations were work for my dad, but like the woodcutting and gardening, I think it was work he enjoyed. Most of our family vacations were camping trips. Dad would do the driving, set up the tents, and do most of the cooking on the camp stove. Not to mention building the campfires and prepping fresh, green sticks for s’mores. He also played the role of tour guide, driving us to see the sights.

When Dad was 32, he stopped drinking alcohol. He began doing more hiking, and before too long he and my mother had hiked the New Hampshire Four Thousand Footers – 48 mountains with elevations of at least 4,000 feet. What an accomplishment! They were both recognized by the Appalachian Mountain Club at an annual event. There was an awards banquet, patches for their backpacks, and certificates of achievement.

My dad has always been there for me and has set the example of how to live a life of integrity. He has taught me so much. I still remember my first time riding my two-wheeled bike down the street without the training wheels. And there was Dad holding on to the back of the bike til I got my balance and confidence. Dad was also beside me when I drove a car on the road for the first time. When I finally ventured out of the parking lot where I had been practicing, he was a calming presence in the seat next to me. Thanks to Dad I know to water outdoor plants after the sun goes down, how to change a tire, the importance of family, all the rules of baseball, how to properly cook and eat a lobster, and many, many other important life skills. I could fill an entire book with stories about my dad’s great qualities, and things I have learned from him, but this is supposed to be a short blog post…

Happy Father’s Day, Dad! And as Gramps (Dad’s father) would say, “ I love ya and I ‘preciate ya!”

Week 20 – Another Language

The prompt for week 20 is Another Language. Most of my ancestors are from English speaking countries, so I do not have many records that are in other languages. I do have French Canadian ancestry, and some fairly recently discovered Italian, so I have definitely felt the frustration of trying to decipher records that were written in an unfamiliar language.

My late father’s maternal line has a good bit of French Canadian. When I started researching these ancestors, I made a list of translated keywords that you would expect to find on a birth, marriage, or death index. Son, daughter, mother, father, born, married, died, etc. I also included the names of the months, and common prepositions. I’ve found my list invaluable, as it saves me from running to Google Translate for every other word. I’m so easily distracted, and know that every time I look at anything other than the record I’m working on, there is a great possibility that I’ll fall down some other research rabbit hole.

Even armed with such a list, foreign records can be so hard to figure out. Most of the records I’ve looked at have been online. So, in addition to the strange language, the image maybe be poor. And the archaic handwriting! That can be hard enough to read when the document is in English. Let’s not forget spelling errors. If a record is in English, I at least have a chance of detecting a spelling error. They’re near impossible to spot when dealing with a different language.

My mom’s ancestors are primarily Irish, and I haven’t found any documents written in the Irish language. Yet… Though, I have found some that were written in Latin. Mostly church documents, as you might expect. I find those easier than the French. I took a year of Latin in High School, and though it was nearly 3 decades ago, I remember much more of it than I would expect to. The tricky thing about the church records is that the given name of each person is written using the Latin equivalent. Some are easy to decipher; Elisabeth for Elizabeth, Marcus for Mark, etc. Others require looking up. Thank goodness for the internet! Otherwise, I’d likely never figure out that Coemgenus is Kevin or Jacomus is James.

My Dad’s paternal grandparents were both from Poland. I have had no luck (so far) finding Polish records online. The changing boundaries in Eastern Europe in the 19th century don’t make searching any easier. And don’t get me started on the creative spelling of names by the record keepers. Having seen some of the documents, I’m almost relieved I haven’t come across any relating to Dad’s family!

Closing the dash far too soon

Genealogists often speak of “closing the dash”. The dash they’re talking about is the one on a gravestone between the persons birth and death dates. It usually falls to the family historian to record the date of death in family records. We refer to this as closing the dash. Earlier this week, a beautiful life ended much sooner than it should have, and I find I cannot remain silent.

When I was younger, I thought that the people involved with drugs were of a certain type. You’d hear about someone overdosing, and assume it was a longstanding addict who finally took a little too much. Sure, there were exceptions. I always think of Len Bias, the basketball player who overdosed on cocaine while out celebrating being signed to the Boston Celtics. Everyone close to him said that he had never tried cocaine before; that it was just that once while out celebrating with his friends. I was 14 when he died, and I think it was his death, more than any lecture I received from my parents, that kept me away from drugs. I’ve always been afraid that with my luck, I too would die the first time I tried anything.

A few years ago, I saw a documentary about young adults from Cape Cod who were all struggling with opioid addiction. Nearly all of them were good kids, from good homes. Most of them had sustained an injury that they were prescribed prescription painkillers for. Once the prescriptions dried up, they turned to illegal drugs to lessen their pain. The documentary was eye-opening and quite sobering. It haunted me for weeks. At the time, I only personally knew one person who had overdosed. A friend of the family had chronic pain from a childhood illness and from a car accident he had as an adult. He had turned to prescription narcotics to ease his pain and died from an overdose.

There are countless stories of famous people who have died as a result of overdoses. These stories come to light because of the celebrity of the person involved. It seems when a celebrity dies, unless they’re older or have a known illness, it is automatically assumed that the death must’ve been drug related. One of the saddest celebrity deaths in recent years was that of musician, Tom Petty. He died of an overdose of prescription pills. Many of the news reports left it at that, and people shook their heads at another rocker living the high life and paying the consequences. The more thorough reports told the full story. They told of his need for hip surgery, and the excruciating pain he was in. They told of his desire to finish the concert tour he was on before scheduling the surgery that would have hopefully put an end to the pain. They pointed out that it was likely he timed his dosage wrong, or accidentally took the wrong combo just to try to get some relief.

Earlier this week, a young woman left her grandmother’s house for a night out with her friends. High school graduation was at the end of the week, and the teenagers were going to let off a little steam. She laughingly told her grandmother that she was going out to “party hearty”. Her grandmother told her to be sensible, and she said she would. The following morning, her friends found her unresponsive. She was taken to the hospital, and was gone before her mother could arrive.

I don’t know how this happened. Was this a one time thing, or had her drug use been going on for a while? All I know is that parents have lost a child and are going through what no parent should have to face. This past Wednesday, the Rhode Island House Judiciary Committee voted on new legislation that would enable drug dealers to be charged with murder and face the possibility of a life sentence if a person were to die from the drugs they sold. Her mother appeared before the Committee just 2 days after losing her daughter and read a statement in support of the legislation. She was interviewed on the local news, and this grieving mother bravely told the story of her beloved daughters death. I cannot imagine having that strength.

Olivia was just 18 with her whole life ahead of her. She was about to graduate from high school. She talked of traveling the world, and I couldn’t wait to see where life took her. A fatal choice put an end to all of her possibilities. My beautiful, smart, funny, loving cousin Livvie is now a statistic.

The Len Bias story is not an urban myth. You CAN die even if you only try something once. There is no one ‘type’ that is involved with drugs. This epidemic is hitting everyone. If you lose a loved one to drugs, do not remain silent. Speak up. Tell their stories. Tell your stories. Let everyone know that it CAN happen to them, and how it will affect those left behind. Let’s end this.