family


29
Dec 20

Today, some history and a big bike ride

Slept in this morning to the agreeable time of 9 a.m. That had not been my intention. The original plan was to begin the day in the dark, just to get a moving start on the day. Manufacturing enterprise!

But it was after 3 a.m. this morning and I was still manufacturing insomnia, so that played a big part of the sleeping in. The cat, the cat, woke me up. I took him downstairs, so he would not be a distraction. Put him on the cat tree. He promptly went to sleep. Jerk.

I went back upstairs and was wide awake.

So it was a late breakfast/almost-lunch. After which I helped planned dinners since The Yankee was going to the grocery store. Planning out the shopping list is the second worst thing we do every two weeks. Going to the store is, I think, the most annoying thing.

I listed off four or five things and felt like I’d at least contributed to the effort. Manufactured enterprise, finally! Probably she was hoping for 10 or 12 items to add to the list.

While she went to the store, I vacuumed. I tried to vacuum. It was quickly apparent that our over-engineered Dyson was stymied once again by the necessity of sucking things up through the system’s intake port. There’s a little button on the side of the over-engineered Dyson which usually fixes the problem caused by running over something more than 3/16 of a micron. But the button on the side did nothing. Well then. Turn the whole thing off, having its many over-engineered elements break down into their constituent parts in my hand in the process. Turned the vacuum over and realize that my wife, who I’m fairly sure used the vacuum last, actually killed someone with this appliance and tried to dispose of the evidence by the ol’ vacuum-it-up method.

So I performed surgery on the vacuum, cutting out just gobs of hair from the roller where everything is meant to begin, but really ends with this machine. Gobs of hair. I was fully prepared to be grossed out by finding a scalp, while wondering who had been to the house, and what happened to their service vehicle, and how I’d managed to also miss any authoritative followup visits.

Finally the vacuum was cleaned up and freed to suck up debris to an impressively average degree. Kitchen, library, dining room, foyer and living room would now pass inspection, if necessary.

Who inspects things these days?

Just as I finished with the floors The Yankee returned from the grocery store. I confronted her about what I’d seen, and admitted I might now be a willing — or at the very least, an unwitting participant — in something nefarious. (But also clean!)

It was a delightful interplay of conversation, the sort of thing you live for, while you’re putting groceries away. We have a system for that. We bring them both in from the car. She stands at the fridge and I present her all the cold stuff while making silly statements about the haul. When the fridge and the freezer are stocked she stands by the large cabinet where all the dry goods go. The cats, meanwhile, try to climb in the bags, chew on the plastic or sneak into the cabinets.

After everything is stocked, of course, comes a round of furious hand washing.

Then we take Clorox wipes and clean the handles to the fridge and the freezer, the little silver knobs on the cabinets, the door knobs to the garage, the sink fixtures and the button that closes the garage door.

This is my favorite part of the grocery system. Maybe the scientific understanding continues to conclude that contact issues aren’t the biggest concerns with Covid — which, hey, one less thing! — but I’m keeping this part of the system in place. I didn’t come into this thing a germophobe, and hopefully, I won’t emerge a germophobe. But I find that simple act of wiping things down to be a romantic gesture: we are taking an extra step to keep each other safe.

That’s always worth doing.

Here’s something I wonder about. Consider how the family name is an identifier. You might be a Jones, but you are also a Morrison, each of your biological parents family names. You inherited the genes and the good habits and you inherited the names. Now, consider your two grandmothers. Depending on the size of your family, how often you see people, whether you attend family reunions and the like, you might also consider yourself an Adams and a Williams, as well. What about your great-grandmothers maiden names and their own biological families? Are you also an O’Toole and a Glenn? And how far back with this should you go? Biologically it’s all there. But eventually, after just a few short generations for most of us, you probably don’t even know the names.

And it probably doesn’t matter. Names are just identifiers, after all, and only one of them at that. Besides, by the time you get interested in this stuff you probably have a somewhat decent handle on who and what you are. Sure, it’d be nice to have seven generations of medical history to fall back on, but those 19th century diagnosticians were only so helpful.

Anyway, I’d like you to meet Michael. He’s from the commonwealth of Virginia. Lived briefly, perhaps, in Kentucky. He was also a resident of northeastern Alabama for a time. Not sure when he arrived, but he was there in 1822, making his branch of my family tree one of the last to arrive in the state. He moved again and shows up in Illinois in the 1830 census. He died there some years later and is buried in a small, discrete, country cemetery. I discovered him on the web this weekend. And if the Internet is to be trusted (Bonjour!) he would be one of my great-great-great-great-great-great grandfathers.

The other night I followed one of the matriarchal lines and got back to that picture. He was born in 1751 in colonial Virginia. He was drafted into the militia twice. He was at Yorktown, where Cornwallis surrendered. Turns out my great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather helped guard an estimated 500 British prisoners after they quit the field.

He died at 93 in a part of Illinois that, even now, is quite rural. The history of the community doesn’t even go back that far, so it was surely isolated when he was living. That photo, if it is indeed the man, would have been taken sometime in the first five years of the Daguerreotype style of photographs, and he would have been between 89 and 93 there.

You can find digitized versions of these guys wills. To my daughter I leave some land and my pony. To my son I leave some land, and a new sword. To my other son, I leave the land he now lives on and a skillet. That sort of thing. It seems Michael’s father, another man named Michael, sold some land to George Washington’s father. But I bet everyone said that after a time.

I looked up the place where he’s from in Virginia. It’s a nice bit of countryside not far out of modern Washington D.C. I traced his family lines back a few more generations to Ireland. The man that departed the old world for the new apparently left a wide spot in a narrow road outside of Dublin for the wilderness of Virginia. If you keep going farther and farther back on the genealogy pages you learn they were Anglo-Irish. There are a few Sirs. One was a Chief Justice of the Common Pleas for Ireland.

And you can keep clicking, farther back, and farther back, and farther back still and, eventually, time has no meaning and they all came from the Normandy region of France and, before that, some dude who lived in 8th century Norway.

At what point do you start questioning the validity of a well-intentioned, random genealogy site, anyway?

Michael, who’s family name I’d never heard mentioned in relation to my own, until Sunday night, is buried just three hours away from where I’m writing this. Perhaps one day next year I’ll go see the little cemetery where he was laid to rest. I’ll never know what prompted him to move from the places he was in to the places he wound up — people directly engaged in the research have done the heavy lifting and have only found so much information. I’m just skimming websites. Probably the usual reasons: they thought there was something better there at the time.

I got off my bike on the trainer this evening and stood in a puddle of sweat. It was my sweat and no less gross because of it. I was happy to get 30 miles out of my legs tonight.

After 132 miles this last week and 300 miles this month, I am feeling a bit fatigued. These numbers aren’t impressive. I’m a wimp.

I’ve been running a spreadsheet since early November, charting my progress for the year, relative to previous years. At the bottom of the spreadsheet I started doing math. You should only do math of this sort while in the most awkward conditions, but I was in a chair, and so goals were set. And then another, and another. Ultimately, five 2020 goals in all.

The first was always the next century mark, a goal that kept changing every few rides, giving the gratification of achievement and progress. Second, I wanted to set a new personal mileage best for the year. I blew right by the old mark, as I knew I could once I looked at the math.

Up next, I wanted to move mmy annual average from 10 years of bike riding over the median. Crushed it.

So I am now aiming at the fourth goal, getting beyond a big (for me) round number. Then, I’ll aim for a mileage mark that raises my annual average of the last decade to a nice even number. After tonight I have 10 miles and 48 miles to go, respectively, to hit those two marks.

Which is a good reminder to set goals. Acknowledging them makes them achievable, even late in the game.


26
Nov 20

Happy Thanksgiving

It’s a little silly how we concentrate, today, on the things that we have in abundance. We should do it every day, all year. And maybe you do, and this is just me. But I could do it more.

We went for a morning run, the now traditional turkey trot.

It was, of course, a neighborhood run, an unofficial trot, if you will. It was still good to get outside to do it, and I only survived by thinking of the food I’d get to enjoy this evening. And the food was wonderful. We made a delicious turkey breast that cooked and cut nearly perfectly. The Yankee found a new recipe for sweet potato casserole, messed up the proportions for the toppings and we found that we preferred it that way. I had some of my mother’s patented and traditional dressing:

We had green beans, just to change the color scheme of the plate.

Did a video chat this afternoon, and phone calls and more video chats this evening. And this is what I am abundantly thankful for: while we were not today with the rest of the people we care about, they are all safe and healthy and happy. That’s our greatest abundance.

I hope you and your family are safe, and that you have a lovely Thanksgiving.


20
Oct 20

A note from there, to here

The family and holiday questions will be tricky.

Here, we’re simply decisive about Thanksgiving. Others’ plans are starting to enter the national dialogue: Anthony Fauci is telling people to not do Thanksgiving now. His kids are at all four corners and the travel would make it a bad idea. The CDC, it seems, is gearing up to push these unpleasant messages.

We’re about to hit a third Covid case peak any minute now. Maybe a travel holiday makes a fourth? No thanks. My worry, and may it go unrealized, is that we see bad numbers by the third week of December based on Thanksgiving. Christmas is already going to be maudlin in that not-normal way, but it’s potentially going to be like that under the specter of “We were that dangerously impulsive over dry turkey?”

There are two primary problems. Say I get a cootie in my day-to-day professional life. Say I took it to people who didn’t have the cooties. People who are older, who have worked hard to stay healthy. I would, of course, never forgive myself for endangering people I care about. That’s the personal problem. The other is travel. For some, who’s family is just across town, getting there probably doesn’t expose yourself or endanger an entire community. Simple car ride, done. To see my mom, that’s somewhat more risky. I’m gassing up at least once, making a bathroom stop or two, and picking up take out along the way. If you were getting on a plane, doing rest stops, making big travel plans, running travel errands, having to hit restaurants along the way? Wholly different model.

Recently, TSA cleared a million travelers for the first time since the spring. Eventually we get to a critical point of mass. People bring their behaviors, their errors, their accidental transference, and it adds up. That airplane the sick guy is on, the people on his flight potentially take the cootie home to others. From the airport bar where he waits for his connection, someone catching a red eye pick it up, and takes it home to their aunties. Same for the guy making the drinks at the airport bar.

It’s not just my trip, but every joker out there doing the same thing, its compounding interest.

If big events — like Sturgis and political rallies and Rose Garden announcements — are super spreaders, then the next level is the travel spreaders set, the micro-event set. I might be coming from a hotspot to a cooler place. Or vice versa, pending my return. Consider whatever your bunch normally does, 25 people in a house the family outgrew two generations ago? No thanks. I’ll give my thanks from afar.

It boils down to degrees of selfishness. I could do Thanksgiving. Or I could try my darnedest to not risk myself, or others, getting sick.

The more vigilant I am now, the slightly more confident I can be that I’m not gambling with the health of my family if I properly isolate myself before Christmas: I have been cautious.

Which is what the holidays should also be right now, cautious. I can continue to be cautious for myself, and others.

Not everyone can stay in as much as I’m able. I appreciate that. Not everyone is built for it. Introverts will inherit the earth. But I can make the considerable, deliberate choice to not travel, to limit my time in public, for a greater good.

My employer has taken great steps to create a proactive safety culture (and an astoundingly successful one, so far) and is spooling up massive amounts of testing to that end. My job isn’t especially forward-facing after we’ve scaled down on-campus operations and I am diligent about limiting my time outside of the house. It’s worth honoring those efforts and my good fortune.

I am fortunate. I can limit time out to help avoid making a lot of stupid, human mistakes. (Just two so far!) It doesn’t guarantee my health, but it reduces my risk. I have been afforded, and undertaken a great many steps to help create, a fair degree of safety. None of that means I feel especially comfortable risking someone’s health at Thanksgiving.

Like all spring and summer, this remains an easy and small and helpful thing we can do right now: avoiding the unnecessary. Sadly, the usual holiday routine falls in there too. It’ll be harder and bigger and families will feel fractured, but nevertheless, it’s the helpful thing we can do.

The considerate thing.


23
Jun 20

We’re going (eventually) to the circus in this post

Hey hey, it’s Tuesday. (Right? Tuesday? Still a day? Still named after the Old Germanic and English god of war? Yeah? Yeah.) Tuesday! How’s your Tuesday!

I kid, of course. The days of the week are still easy to maintain. I’m solid on the month. No idea of the date, and, sometimes, I’m having brief mental lapses about the weather. Lunch seems to come later and later.

Tyr, the old god of war, wouldn’t care for that. He once ate an entire ox by himself. He was with Thor at the time. Thor ate two.

Struggling with the time of day for a PB&J, can go directly to the proper Nordic poem. That, apparently, is where I am today. Some literature professor somewhere should be very proud.

Tyr gets short shrift. Loki basically emasculated him. He lost an arm in a symbolic sacrifice and that’s one of his two most notable (and known to modern scholars) achievements. The other is his last battle, where he and the opponent both died. That’s a Tuesday.

I was looking through old newspapers for some family names, just to see what would turn up. There are a lot of simple farmers in my family, so the mentions, particularly among the branch I was searching last night, are a bit thin. But the advertisements around them are kind of interesting. Shall we?

We shall.

We’ll start in 1952. It’s page 11 of the local newspaper, one of the community sections. You’d call it the society pages, but that’s putting airs on too many people. Anyway, I was searching one of my great-grandfather’s names, and there’s a brief mention where his son has returned home for a visit from the service.

It was July, and Sherwin Williams wants you to know that wallpaper is very much in. (Was it ever out?) It’s glamour, glorious, glorious glamour, for those who care. And, to be honest, it’s that last part that led to this brief little collection. For those who care. The rest of you, stick with your wood paneling or your flat drywall or whatever clapboard, newspaper covered shanty you’re rocking at home. For those who care …

It looked like Dwight Eisenhower might earn the Republican presidential nomination. (He would.) There were some pictures from the remains of the Peary march to the North Pole. The month prior Air Force officers got there in a fraction of the time it took the navy man in 1909.

There’s an Asian grocery store at that street address now. That would have surely seemed improbably to readers of this ad, again, in 1952. We ate one block away from there last year over the holidays. It’s a small world in small towns.

This is the same paper, but in 1959. My great-grandfather, or a man who shares his name, gets mentioned he got hit by a bolt of lightning while out in his field. He was not seriously hurt. In 1959, you could have “the cable.”

My great-grandfather never had cable. His daughter, my grandmother, got it … eventually. I remember going out to manually turn the antennae in the yard to get a signal from that station, which still exists today, though operating under different call letters. Cable, in 1959. I’m sure that wasn’t like what we think of today, if anyone thought of cable anymore.

Just above the OWL TV ad there’s an all-text advertisement. It says “Obey that impulse.” It’s urging you to make a long-distance phone call. Says “It’s twice as fast to call by number.” We’re, perhaps, a lot farther away from the 1950s than we realize.

Anyway, that’s July 1959, and there’s a column on the front page set aside for late news. One item is that Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey has declared he’s running for president. (Spoiler alert: Nope.) Also, there was a steel strike on, and all of the economy, bemoans the front page, was under threat. (There was a brief mention of a steel strike in 1952, which was no nearer ending. It was called disastrous.)

There’s also a nice little front page story about a study for a proposed scenic highway. They built it. Did a lovely job. It’s beautiful, and has held that reputation since it was opened. Senator Al Gore, of Tennessee (not him, his father) is mentioned in the story. At the bottom, there’s a mention of a going transportation concern. “Progress on the ultra-modern Interstate Highway System has been good in the rural areas but slow in the large urban areas. When finished there will be 878 mies of four-lane, limited access Interstate Highways in Alabama. A total of 199 miles is now under construction … ”

Some 25 or 30 years later they got there. It’s still marvelous in all of the places that aren’t desperate for expansion.

And from that 1959 television advertisement we drop back to 1944. Still searching on the same great-grandfather’s name. Now, he died, at age 70, before I turned three. I don’t have a recollection of him, I’m sorry to say, and in my mind I can only conjure up the images of him in his old man studio portraits. So it’s pretty wild, to me, to think about him in this way, but his name shows up in a Friday edition of an April 1944 paper as having his name called by the draft board. He’ll soon be 35, but first he has to report to the courthouse. I don’t think he was enlisted.

There were two draft boards working the area. And there’s a front page brief that says victory gardens were badly needed. Also, there’s a mention of a local man who was lost after bailing out of his bomber over Germany. It’d been three weeks, so who knows, and his brother, meanwhile, had been listed as a POW in the Pacific since the fall of Bataan. Their poor family, you think, having to lose them both.

I googled them both. Both men came home and lived long lives.

Anyway, there was a fine little ad floating around all of that, and that’s what we’re here for today. Here’s the fun part of it.

The text helpfully tells you that “just a little care will save your tire,” and, “every turn of the wheel means that much added wear.”

It’s a false memory, I’m sure, but I want to say I remember that. Maybe there was a sign, or an old ghost ad, but all of this is well before my time. There are two offices listed in that 1944 advertisement. One of them is downtown in a place where this sort of building makes no sense. The other is in a town I never go to, but looking at it on the maps, I think that might be the place.

One of the owners testified before Congress about a tax that was going to hurt his, and similarly rubber re-treading businesses. You can read the entire thing in the 1956 congressional record. It was a brief presentation for what was surely a long trip. He was, in 1995, inducted into the Tire Industry Association’s Hall of Fame as someone who “brought lasting fame to the tire, rubber and transportation industries.” I bet he bragged on that to his friends.

Let’s go way back, to 1904. I’ve found a brief mention of a great-great-grandfather getting married. He was 33. His wife, my great-great-grandmother, was 23. It’s a simple one sentence mention. The two names who were “united in marriage.”

This is the top half of one of the ads in that same issue.

I was going to go with the summer rashes advertisement, but there’s just something about “The Highest Class Circus in the World,” and the words around it. Not one so original. Not one so modern. Not one so different. Not one so popular.

There’s a little rhetorical problem with the original-different construction, but that popularity claim is accurate. Apparently The Great Wallace Shows was the second biggest show in the country.

If you saw this show up in the windows of the shops around you, wouldn’t you want to go?

Oh, the wonders that must have stirred in young minds when they saw prints like that. The parents would sigh. Only if we get all the chores done. There were always chores.

I wonder if my great-great-grandparents, the newlyweds, saw the circus when it came through their town.


22
Jun 20

Mondays always have the worst titles, don’t they?

It’s Monday again, and welcome back to the part of the week in which we work on things. We’re still doing that. The emails are flying, the Slack channels are a-flurry. The video chats continue apace.

I had a two-hour student chat on Friday, and what’s more, the students are the one that asked for the meeting.

Hanging out with students is always fun, even when they are work meetings. Some students, when everyone was still living under a more restrictive lockdown, invited me to a few social video chats. That was kind of them. They are thoughtful and fun. And it was great to hear from them, see how they were doing, and to make them laugh. I became the butt of a lot jokes in those chats. It was worth it. Anyway, the video chats on Friday were about work. And going forward there will be more of those as we try to implement the things that will be our normal routines for the fall.

Normal. Routine. Aren’t those some concepts?

I suppose some people have routines that won’t change over much. And all of us will get used to the new rigors and routines soon enough. I’ve had the good fortune to be in my share of meetings to discuss what the new routines will be. The long and the short of it is that it will be odd getting there, weird getting used to it, and then a slow inconvenience we’ll work through.

But that’s what you do. You work through it. We’ll all have it to work through, all of us, in some way or another. We may as well do it with a smile. A smile that no one can see beneath a mask. Better learn to smile with your eyes.

Did you know you can smile with your whole body? When I used to do costume character work, in high school and college, you couldn’t help but to smile for pictures under that big helmet. Pretty quickly you noticed. After some time you manage to stop smiling under the headgear. But then you realized, or if you’re like me, you had to be told, to smile anyway. It comes through in the photos, in your posture, in your attitude. So you may as well smile.

By the way, when I smile, my eyes get small. So if you see me squinting, just know.

Here’s a routine, the cats!

Phoebe has a ‘You shall not pass!’ mentality in the hallway. It’s an effect roadblock. She slows you down by her cuteness, and you’re thrown off your game by a sudden urge to rub that belly.

It’s an even more effective obstacle when she does it on the stair landing. You’ve got to turn to the right, maybe you want to avoid a step, but there’s also this furry little thing.

I’m not clear at all how that’s comfortable, but that’s a cat’s posture for you.

Poseidon got interested in the camera lens.

And he’s always interested in this stovetop cover. I built this to keep the cats off the stove. Now they just sit on this thing. And, apparently, they’ll sit on it anywhere.

I’d moved the cover to another part of the countertop to clean the actual stovetop, and he’ll apparently sit on it wherever. So that was, one supposes, a good Saturday project.

Speaking of Saturday, we went for a walk through the woods, and we ran across a spotted fawn that was completely unconcerned by us. Mom was off looking for a snack and then she came back, saw us and we all stayed a respectful distance from one another.

Saturday was our anniversary, too. We spent most of the day reading through old tweets that our friends wrote that established the precise timeline of events. We looked at the menu for our wedding dinner, the eye is still drawn directly to the typo all these years later, and looked through our wedding photos and the honeymoon book. We made ourselves a crab dinner to celebrate, since we aren’t going out to eat. We listened to Sam Cooke and Al Green while we cracked shells. For a day, it was delightful.

This was right after the ceremony. We got married outdoors, under a canopy, in one of the hottest places in the country on the hottest day of the year. The heat index was 127. I was wearing summer wool. There is no such thing as summer wool. My bride looked beautiful:

(Still does!) After the ceremony was complete and we walked back up the aisle we walked inside a building. The first things she said as we began our marriage were “Oh thank goodness, air conditioning!”

For an anniversary, it should have been a more elaborate day. But, for an anniversary, revisiting the day was also perfect.