Random Thoughts of a Disordered Mind


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Dividing up treasures

Half of the silver

My mother, sister-in-law, and I all chose the same Towle Old Master silver pattern. I never married but didn’t let that stop me getting pretty things. We grew up using the silver every night for dinner, not saving it up for only special occasions, and I wanted to be able to do that in my own home. My mom bought me some place settings from estate sales, I bought some, and my grandmother would sometimes give me a teaspoon or fork for my birthday.

I gave 4 of my place settings to my oldest nephew when he got married, but have rarely used any since moving to Texas. I added mine to my mom’s set carefully wrapped up in anti-tarnish cloth when I moved here, but it’s not doing anyone any good just sitting in a drawer. So as part of my house transition, I decided it was time to pass it on to the next generation. Not being a fool, I checked with my brother and sister-in-law to be sure what I wanted to do was equitable.

Today I spread all the pieces out on the dining table and started dividing them up. There were actually almost 16 of everything, which was more than I’d realized. Each of my nieces will get 8 place settings. But then there were the odd things that I never had in my set (spoons for iced tea and soup, little individual butter knives, pickle forks, etc.) and larger serving pieces that were a combo of Old Master pattern (large spoons and fork, pie server, gravy ladle) and miscellaneous pieces that I’d inherited from my grandmother and great-grandmother. I randomly divided these between the two piles.

Most of me is happy that the new generation will have and use these, and hopefully will think of us when they do. But part of me wants to cry to part with these pretty silver things that I never use but know where they came from and (mostly) what they’re for, including the tomato server and sugar sifter. I just love them. But it’s not fair to them to be wrapped in a drawer and ignored. So I will polish them up, wrap them carefully in anti-tarnish cloth, and pack up to give for holiday celebrating – and hope that the pretty things don’t get mangled in a disposal. But if they do, well, my mom did that as well. It’s just stuff, even if it’s shiny.

I’m keeping a few things, though. I just couldn’t part with the silver sifter or the little sterling swords for appetizers or the baby set to give when the next baby is born. But most of it is divided up, hopefully fairly. Next decisions will involve silver and silverplate bowls and platters. I do not need two intricate silver breadtrays, Revere bowls, or the well-and-tree platter. I think the nephews are getting silver for Christmas, too.

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It’s Been a Year

Bill Myers, Emerald Bay, 2012

Daddy died a year ago tomorrow. I’ve been marking the days this month of where we were a year ago – not crying, not anguished, just aware. I’m remembering how difficult his last month of life was, with diminished mobility and speech, increased confusion, and his confounded stubbornness that he was getting up even though his legs couldn’t hold him, that he was going home even though I couldn’t care for him here.

He ended his life in one of “those places” that he swore up and down he would never be in. When we explained to him that’s where he was, and that if he didn’t like it, he should have seen the places we didn’t take him, he wrinkled his face, saying, “Pffffffffft.” They took good care of him there, though the sight of the mattress around the bed in case he fell out in the night really threw me.

Daddy asked me in a window of lucidness where his grandparents were buried, and what did his will say, and was it finalized. He wanted to know things were in order, and he told me that it had been a good life and that dying wasn’t a bad thing. He went downhill from there.

Holding Daddy’s hand

I’m grateful to Hospice. Whenever I see Hospice nurses in blue scrubs out and about, I want to run up and hug them and say “Thank you.” Sometimes I do, which they may find odd, but especially now I have excess emotion and they made such a difference. They spoke gently but with blunt honesty about what happens to the body when it starts to shut down, about how our perception of it was just that; his body was doing the business of dying. That meant it was hot, that breathing changed, that he probably wouldn’t talk much. But that he wasn’t in pain and would at some level hear us even when he couldn’t respond. I sang “Amazing Grace” and “You Are My Sunshine” to him, and was with him when he died.

Today I spent time with someone in my community who is facing the same situation with a parent who probably doesn’t have a lot of time left. Because of my experience with Daddy, I was able to talk about convening a care coordination meeting with the facility staff, and bringing Hospice in early to help the transition, because Hospice staff bring additional skilled eyes to evaluate and support both patient and family. We also talked about cremation, and what services a funeral home provides, and how obituaries get to the paper. Things to get in order BEFORE there is a death, because so much happens then that it’s hard to keep track of details.

Daddy gave me that present of understanding this end of life stage, and the ability to talk about it calmly and with compassion. I miss him every day, though I don’t miss having the house climate be too hot for me or the TV volume up so loud I can hear it anywhere in the house. He was a kind man who loved his family with all his heart. People here speak so fondly of him that it sometimes brings tears to hear about random acts of kindness done that made a difference. That’s a pretty good legacy.

I’m holding on to the image that was on the prayer chain when he died, that “Bill is driving around the golden streets of heaven in a golfcart with his beloved Peg.” That’s Daddy. I love you, Daddy. And I miss you.

Bill, Anne, and Tom Myers
T-Bar-C Ranch, 2012


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2019 Research Project Progress Report

That certainly sounds impressive, doesn’t it? But the short answer is, there is no progress because I haven’t been working on it. At all.

My big plan for 2018, which I completed, was to produce a bound book of Ancestors of My Brother from my FamilyTreeMaker data and give it to him for Christmas. Done, in 6 copies – one for him one for each of his children, and one for me. It’s gorgeous.

The plan for 2019 was to make research binder pages with full-page images to be printed and added to binders by some undetermined division of surnames. Each person/section would be supplemented by original documents and photos in acid-free page protectors, all properly identified. Sounded good. Didn’t happen.

What I have is a FTM database of just under 2,000 names with data collected over almost 50 years of research, which was massively cleaned up last year in preparation for the 2018 project. Time well-spent. I also have acid-free boxes divided by great-grandparent surname with original documents or copies such as death certificates, cemetery deeds, wills, letters, and military records. And photos – tho the tiny photos are being handled in another way. Yeah, lots of options. There’s also lots of correspondence, some of it dating back to the early 1970’s, from long-deceased relatives with seeds of information, and from cemeteries and churches with information covering multiple family members.

Also in the boxes are lots of random things, mostly outdated or replaced in digital form such as handwritten transcriptions of census records or abstracted land-deeds, and ancient family group sheets full of mis- or incomplete information. Some serious weeding of all of this was needed.

This week I started going through some of those boxes, weeding and sorting as I went, putting things in lovely clear acid-free sheet protectors and then putting THEM in a binder. I got through material for the Heginbothams, McCormicks, Cookes, Morrisons, and Flanders, which are all maternal lines. Next up are the boxes for my paternal lines, which have way more stuff to look at. But this is important.

What’s also important is coming to the realization that I do NOT want to make research binders with text, group sheets, original documents, etc. It’s a lot of work and I just don’t want to do it. What I want to do instead is make more printed & bound books with full-size photos and documents now in FamilyTreeMaker (which includes census, vital records, newspaper articles, city directory images, etc.). I’m thinking one book of ancestors for each of my grandparents, and one book of descendants for each set of grandparents.

All of these original documents that I’m carefully putting in acid-free storage can still go into binders by surname. I might organize them differently – not by individual person but by category of document, since several people in the same family appear on one page. Everything must be labeled, identified, and dated – because I’m the only one right now who knows what all that stuff is.

The goal is to make sure that all of the research I’ve done and all the material I’ve collected gets organized in a format that will be useful to me and to other family members who might refer to it when I’m not around to explain it.

So that’s the plan.


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Newspaper Finds

Last night I did random searches at Newspapers.com, looking up people I’ve checked before. Repeating an identical search can bring different results, since new papers are added and as older issues are digitized and made available.

First, this cool article about my grandparents from the New York Daily News (Brooklyn Section), Sunday, 17 April 1927:

Daily_News_Sun__Apr_17__1927_
Daily News (New York, New York), Brooklyn Section, Sunday, 17 April 1927, p.265, col.1 ; digital access, Newspapers.com, accessed 29 June 2018.

Second find: this short classified ad from the Asbury Park Press in 1920, placed by my great-grandfather:

Bungalow

Asbury Park Evening Press (Asbury Park, New Jersey), Saturday, 24 Jan 1920, p.9, col. 3 ; digital image, Newspapers.com, accessed 29 June 2018.

I have a photo album of pictures taken in what we think is Ocean Grove, New Jersey, about 1922. But given this ad, and reviewing newer information found about the people in the photos, I believe they were taken in the summer of 1920 at the “bungalow” located from the ad. Here we have my great-grandmother Charlotte McCormick Flanders (right), next to her mother Alice Heginbotham McCormick. Next to Alice is her son, Charles McCormick and his wife Mildred Hartt McCormick. Taking the photo was probably my great-grandfather, who does appear in other pictures in the album.

McCormicks-at-Ocean-Grove

I’ve been off my game in the ancestor profile writing campaign after the death of my father, but I’m still commited to writing about those who came before me. Look for more stories soon – there’s a long list of people who need to be written about!


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52 Ancestors – #17 Peel Cemetery in Bear Grass

Some of my ancestors are buried in small private family cemeteries out in the country; others found their final rest in crowded historic New York cemeteries. Some have elaborate headstones to mark their passing; others are in unmarked graves, while still others have stones that are no longer legible, worn down by time.  Many others are lost or rather, have not yet been found.

In August 1979, I drove around Martin County, North Carolina, with my grandmother, Susie Lanier (Keel) Myers, and her sister Mary Magdalene “Maglene” (Keel) Taylor. Our quest: the family cemetery behind the old family homestead farm, which I now know is the Peel Family Cemetery in Bear Grass. Their mother was Sarah Annis Peal and this was where “her people” were buried.

KEEL Susie and Maglene - August 1979 - Williamston NC

Susie Keel Myers & Maglene Keel Taylor, August 1979, Williamston, NC

Aunt Maglene was deaf as a post and sat in the back seat of the big green Pontiac as we drove. Her sister, my grandmother, kept up a loud conversation with her in her thick Southern accent about points along the way. “No, Sister, that’s not where he was born, it was over yonder behind the school on the road next to the farm.”  Since I had no idea where we were or where we were going, it was hard to follow the conversation. And they argued about almost everything so I wasn’t sure what to believe anyway.

Grandmama turned down a dirt road next a farm house and headed back to a wooded area. “Should we be going this way? It looks like someone’s home,” I said. “Oh, it’s alright. We’re family,” she replied.  We pulled up and parked next to the woods and walked inside a quiet sheltered area with a few old tombstones poking through piles of leaves under the shade of tall trees. It didn’t look like a cemetery at all.

PEEL Stanley - Tombstone - NC Beargrass-1902

Grandmama and Maglene got very quiet as they walked, obviously looking for something that they were not finding, and asking each other where “the stones” were. “What stones?” I asked, since I saw some standing, all for people whose names were new even if the stones were old. “Our brothers and sisters.”  These old ladies in their late 70’s were looking for the graves of their seven dead siblings who died in infancy, who they knew were buried in this place, but who couldn’t be found. They were shaken.

But clearly the graves hadn’t disappeared overnight. “When were you here last?” I asked them, which started a competitive conversation about cemetery visiting, only to reveal that the last time either of them had been to this family cemetery was over fifty years before when their grandmother Jane Elizabeth (Stalls) Peal was buried there in 1921. I remember wondering who they thought was going to care for the graves if they didn’t do it; clearly no one else had thought of it, either. This was a private family cemetery, not a publicly maintained one. If family didn’t care for it, it wouldn’t – and obviously didn’t – happen.

PEAL Mariney J - Tombstone - 1922 - NC BeargrassWe cleaned up what we could and I photographed some of the grave stones we found. I wish now I’d taken all of them, but I was young in terms of genealogy research and it simply never occurred to me. I’ve never returned but wish I could, though I’m not sure I could find it again without my guides in the big green Pontiac. I would bring rakes and tools to clean up the space and clean the stones, and photograph them to share on FindaGrave, which only has two memorials listed as of today. There were no images of the cemetery or of either grave until I uploaded these.

I must add that this Peel Family Cemetery in Bear Grass shouldn’t be confused with the Peele Family Cemetery or the Peel-Griffin Family Cemeter, both in Farmlife, Martin County. There are plenty of Peal/Peel/Peele’s to go around and they are all related if you go back far enough. But my Peel Cemetery is still a mystery.  I want to find the graves of those great-aunts and uncles who died as babies. I know they are there; they just need to be found. I wonder who else is buried with them, lost to time.


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Remembering My Grandparents

I was not quite six years old when my maternal grandmother died of colon cancer in 1960. Mimi had five grandchildren but I was the only granddaughter. They lived an hour away from us, but I don’t have many memories of her because I was so little. I do remember having tea parties with her at her house in Newark using a little metal tea set that was set aside for me.  Her silver sugar bowl filled with silk flowers sits on my bookshelf, and I think of her when I see it.

MYERS Susie and Bill - c1985 - Emerald Bay

Susie Keel Myers with her first great-grandchild, Bill Myers – 1985

Susie Keel Myers, my paternal grandmother, died in 1987 and I have many memories of time with her because I had her longer.  Grandmama flew out to see us carrying bags of frozen creamed corn so she could make Dad his favorite meal of fried chicken with proper sides. Guess she knew Mom wouldn’t have creamed corn sitting around in the pantry (which she didn’t).  When I lived in Virginia, I got a research grant that gave me four weeks of paid time off a year to abstract Martin County land deeds, and I spent those weeks with her.  After dinner I’d sit at the out-of-tune piano in the living room and play old Baptist hymns I’d never heard before, mostly about blood, while she warbled the words in the kitchen. We sat on the front porch drinking sweet tea and reviewing every branch of the family genealogy, forwards and backwards. Every trip I would bring a big paper bag of used Harlequin RO-mances, trading out old ones for new ones. She adored her “stories” and would fall asleep on the couch with one in her hands. Her pincushion is an embroidered heart that hangs every year on my Christmas tree.

Granddaddy, my paternal grandfather, died just before my 10th birthday, and I don’t really remember him at all. We only saw them about once a year at that point, since we lived in New Jersey and the grandparents were in North Carolina. He was a quiet man who kept to himself. Mostly I remember that he was quiet. That’s not much to remember and is kind of sad.

Flanders Bill 1965 retirementPop, or the Original Pop as he’s known in our family (since my father is Pop to a different generation) was my mother’s father. We saw him often while growing up since he was just an hour away. He came for holidays and we spent summers at his house in Manasquan, where most of my memories live. Pop loved to grill steaks and would trim them within an inch of their lives, getting them “just so.” He peeled and fried tomatoes for breakfast, and gave me money to walk down the boardwalk to buy him a morning paper and some crumb buns from the bakery.  When I lived in Virginia, I drove up to spent time with him in his retirement village. We’d watch reruns of Lawrence Welk and look at old picture albums, trying to remember/figure out who everyone was. He was lonely at the end of his life living far from his daughters and having outlived most of his friends and family; he died in 1983 at age 82 when I was 29. In my memory, his face was round and smiling. Whenever I have sparkling wine, I can hear his voice say, “Every bubble is a grape.”

I miss them. And I’m glad I can remember them – not for things they gave me, but for who they were as people and were in my life.  Genealogical research has told me more about them than I knew when they were alive, and I was too young to ask questions.  But they are alive in my memory.