On March 24th the governor of Washington State declared the “Stay Home. Stay Healthy” mandate. Here we are over 300 days later, fatigued, depressed, foggy, frustrated…and now hopeful. Hopeful that the pandemic will end this year, and America can get back to work. The second half of 2020 I began to read the daily “briefings” of American Historian Heather Cox Richardson. Her writings have helped me to place events into a perspective I would not have been able to do so on my own. It’s helped me, might help you, the link is at the bottom of the page.
John Oliver also makes me smile. I like his analogy of last week feeling like a person finishing a marathon, after breaking the ribbon and about to celebrate an official comes up, shakes your hand, and says, “Did you know that one million dogs are euthanized in shelters every day?” Just give us ONE DAY to feel the relief. PLEASE, just one day for those that survived the four year attack on America by Americans, can we have ONE day of hope?
Outside of politics I’ve been thinking about an old friend that passed away a few years ago. Jim joked about being a curmudgeon, but he really was a good-tempered easy-going old guy who had a divine level of dad jokes at the ready. There was an absence of family men in my upbringing. Mostly appeared as unreachable, or two dimensional. Grandpas lived in other states, my father had sleeping fits, and my uncles were loud, swearing, sons of bitches that belched loudly and with great showmanship at the Thanksgiving table upsetting the aunties. Life has a beautiful way of balancing itself. If you are missing a family relationship, say a sister, parent, or, heck, a whole family, somehow life brings you a family. I do not know how it does it, but it is so welcomed. Jim was welcomed into my life as an adopted grandpa. We met at a poetry open mic. Here is the one photo I have of us, taken at his first book launch.
He supported my work, greeted me with a smile, asked me what I was up to in my writing world, shared with me what he was marveling at that day. A wonderful gentleman. I believe it would be egotistical of me to think I was special to him because he treated everyone this way. All people and everything about this world were special to him. He passed “into the cosmos” in October 2019. I do not know how much support I gave him, but he helped me more than I was able to ever share or express to him.
My poem “Leaf Tattoo” was one of his favorites. Often when I see a leaf tattoo or now, the little buds of a new leaf on the branches, I am reminded of his kindness. I’m thankful for people like Jim. I’m glad he appeared in my life, and for other “adopted” family that visited, albeit, only for a short time. They are true treasures.
Leaf Tattoo You can you feel it In my city The change of air as wind folds in fall’s weather.
Orange leaves appear on the sidewalks of Holly Street. No worms to dance them back to soil.
Cement laden, laid on the roadside in random patterns leave a tattoo, imprinted on the stone. Five pointed stars a tree hand pressed by feet and rain bleed orange ink for all to see.
By winter the marks wash away By spring, bright green babies wave at us from their mother’s arm borne back into our memory.
The other day at work I had the unusual job of sorting through donated Christmas decorations. The donations came from the husband of a woman that supported the organization. She, unfortunately, passed away over the summer. The widower was now in a convalescent center. A friend of his helped him collect their old Christmas decorations and deliver them to us to be donated to families in our housing program. It was shared that this gesture of giving was in honor of her love for Christmas and desire to help others. Very kind.
Late Friday afternoon I set up a staging table to sort through the five boxes of decorations, dividing them up into containers for delivery later that day. Some items were in better shape than others. With each item I wondered, perhaps, it held a special place in someone’s heart and memory. These were precious to someone at one time.
A couple of times I felt myself getting spooked out by it, I’ll be honest. Especially when an ornament was broken and had to be thrown away. However, reason dominated the afternoon. “Decorations are not HOLY,” I told myself, “items that require special handling.” They are not Mezuzah’s for example; old or broken Mezuzahs MUST NOT be thrown away but buried.
“Even though it is the scroll that is the mitzvah, the case also becomes holy because it is used for a Mitzvah. Therefore the case should be brought to a genizah – that is a place where holy items are brought to be buried in the Jewish cemetery.”
The embroidered caricature ornaments of Mr. and Mrs. Clause or a broken snowglobe with a water-bubbled Frosty, arms full of presents, do not require special disposal like sacred communion wine and baptismal water. Leftover blessed communion wine and the vessels used for serving MUST be washed in a sink that empties out into the ground.
“A piscina is a shallow basin placed near the altar of a church, or else in the vestry or sacristy, used for washing the communion vessels. The sacrarium is the drain itself. Anglicans usually refer to the basin, calling it a piscina. For Roman Catholic’s sacrarium is a “special sink used for the reverent disposal of sacred substances. This sink has a cover, a basin, and a special pipe and drain that empty directly into the earth, rather than into the sewer system”
Religion fascinates me. All these different rules, detailed rules, stifling rules, people make up for the brand distinction. Of course, at the root of many religious rules is the respect for the object and what it represents, such as the Word of God or the Blood of Christ. So, how do you categorize a ripped 1978 cross-stitched fabric wall banner of a geriatric man with fancy cherry-red lips proclaiming “HO! HO! HO!” that hung on a wall 23 days a year for 42 years? CAN it be thrown away, in the trash, to the landfill? Why yes it can—and it does.
The newsletter for Peninsula Sanitary Service, Inc (PSSI) and the Stanford Recycling Center located in Redwood City, CA, USA, reported Americans throw away 25% more trash during the Thanksgiving to New Year’s holiday period than any other time of year. The extra waste amounts to 25 million tons of garbage or about 1 million extra tons per week!
PSSI and SRC suggest some rules: reduce, reuse.
If every family reused just two feet of holiday ribbon, the 38,000 miles of ribbon saved could tie a bow around the entire planet. If every American family wrapped just 3 presents in re-used materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields. The 2.65 billion Christmascards sold each year in the U.S. could fill a football field 10 stories high. If we each sent one card less, we’d save 50,000 cubic yards of paper.
It is a delight for all non-profits to receive donations of any size shape and configuration. After going full circle in my thoughts I was happy that this family decided to donate their Christmas decorations to less fortunate families. Standing over my staging table, I wondered at the stuff, so much stuff. I sorted through each shoebox, bag, and large plastic containers of Christmas ribbon and plastic snowflakes, Christmas candleholders, Christmas ornaments made of glass, plastic, ceramic, tinsel and yarn, Christmas tree toppers, Christmas banners, tree garland, Christmas wreaths for the table and front door, Christmas votives and Christmas coffee cups. Whoever wanted a bag of evenly distributed items, they was ready. I tossed out the few old and broken and passed forward future memory makers.
Here are some 2020 ornaments that caught my attention. Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas! Hope you are safe, warm, and bubbled up with folks you can tolerate.
OK, I’ll admit it, for the last two years the most I did in my DNA search was to send out four identical, short, thought out letters to the last four known address of my birth mother. All four were returned “Unknown. Return to Sender.” I began to wonder if I will EVER reach her and started to measure how important it is to me. In 2016, thanks to distant cousins on the Rogers and Rowland side of the family, I attained two complete family trees going back to the 1700s. The information holds great gems. Is it enough?
This month—I have an update.
BUT FIRST A RECAP…
As you may remember from previous posts, my birth mother, Joan, attempted to arrange an adoption through a local Church in the last month of the pregnancy. Something fell through and the arrangement did not take place. Sometime in January 1968 a foster care worker connected “Baby Girl Tames” with the Farnand family, a young Seattle couple who were recently told they were unable to have children.
In 2016, after taking a 23andMe DNA test in 2014, I find three “cousins”: one from the Rogers, one from the Rowland branch and one from (presumably) my Latin blood fathers side. Two of the cousins are the genealogists of the family. They unload full family trees going back to Wales, England, some photos, stories, and suddenly—an orphan has a history! I was numb from it all. In a fog for many months, processing the information and delighted to have “people.” However, not all the news was without tragedy.
In part six I discovered that in 1964, outside of Dallas, Texas, four half-siblings were killed in a murder/suicide car fire by my birth mothers estranged husband. Mom disappears from records and timelines, reappears in Seattle, 1967 to give birth to me, “Baby Girl Tames.”
So, this month, I woke up one Sunday morning and decided to try calling a phone number for my mother’s oldest sister.
Auntie picks up. We talk for 30 minutes. Auntie tells me Joan had SIX children after having me.
Auntie is in her mid-80’s like my birth mother. My mother’s sister claims she is unsure if Joan is still living because they haven’t talked in decades, but she believes she may have settled in Florida after marrying a man named Tames or Taméz. She has little other information about my birth mom, except to say she traveled a lot throughout Central and South America, perhaps to calm herself after losing her family in the 1964 horrific event.
So now I am faced with the concept of not only *possibly* connecting with my birth mom but also SIX half-siblings! My sense is that my Aunt made up the story to protect her sister. I am, after all, basically a stranger who calls from out of nowhere asking to connect to my long lost mother. Still, have no way of proving the post-1967 story of my birth mother to be true or not. At one time I consider hiring a private investigator, then reconsider. Why chase after someone who has kept herself hidden for 50 years? Why seek out a family that wants nothing to do with you?
Meanwhile, I grow an internet relationship with my Rogers-side cousin. She has asked me to be added to her tree on Ancestry.com. That site has a family tree focus.
Did you know Ancestry and the LDS church joined officially in 2013, and now hold the planets largest collection of ancestry data, an estimated 16 billion historical records, and DNA collection, supposedly for the purpose of helping the deceased get into the spirit world?
“Many Mormons do family history not only to learn about their heritage but also to find deceased ancestors who haven’t yet been baptized in the Church, and worthy Church members can then be baptized for these ancestors who have died.
When someone dies, Mormons believe a person’s spirit leaves the body. Performing baptisms for the dead is a chance for Mormons to do for those who are dead what they can’t do for themselves.”
Many genealogists, Mormon or otherwise, use this paid site. I’m not Mormon, however, the resources available at Ancestry are tempting. I would like to discover more about my blood father’s side. I have agreed to upload my DNA to the site. With my cousin’s information, we may be able to locate more family members.
Meanwhile, 23andMe continues to send me email alerts that I have “new relatives” to connect with. These people are almost all third to fifth cousins, which in my opinion are worthless connections. I currently share DNA, that’s as much as ONE strand, with 1064 23andMe customers. The site is more about health surveys than creating family trees, although you can create a family tree it’s more informative if you can get other family members to buy the kit and register on the site. The biggest advantage from my perspective is that you may be able to predict the health and features of future offspring.
In addition to learning if I have major markers for various types of diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, and I can also learn if I am prone to sneezing when a beam of sunshine suddenly hits me in the face, known as the Photic Sneeze Reflex. Genetic research is discovering all sorts of new genes for fringe stuff like: Newborn Hair Amount Cleft Chin
Freckles Earlobe Type Asparagus Odor Detection Widow’s Peak Bitter Taste Perception Unibrow Earwax Type
Since I took the first DNA test in 2014, I’ve learned so much, the mother’s line is British, one branch is Mayflower peeps, via the Francis Cooke line. On another line, we are related to the Ethan Allan family and the 19th president, Rutherford B. Hayes. Both lines had large families, and there are many branches, so it is safe to guess I share the connections with thousands of other living relatives. Also, there is an unprovable rumor that we are related to a King of England. Which king? Unknown. Just “a king of England.”
You know what, I’m just not sure I need to know anymore. I know I agreed to join Ancestry, but I mean, wow, I think my brain is full. If a half-sibling reaches out, of course, I’d connect. If my birth mother, whose older sister now has my contact information, calls me, of course, I’d talk to her. I have much to ask, many things to say. But, right now, today— I’m good.
If I learn nothing more from this point forward, I am satisfied with the information on hand. I know my heritage, about 200 years of family tree history, some basic health markers. MOST importantly I have my own blood—my two adult children. The TWO people in the WORLD right now who I KNOW I am related to. They are my everything. I love them to the moon and back. The day they were born, I wondered how difficult it is for any mother to leave her child. Breaks my heart. My adopted father passed away, but I have a healthy relationship with my adopted mother. My adopted brother and I are also close. I have a small family, but they are people I can hold in my hands.
Do I need to know more? As my (adopted) Grandmother Mimi use to say, “Let sleeping dogs lie.”
The door at the end of the long hall stands open
The third bathroom is in there
Sent to the room by my mother’s voice
busy behind the door of the second
common bathroom, the guest bathroom
Go use Mimi’s
The faint gold light
from a bedside lamp whispers
as I step twice into the space
Her closet door is open, just a little
Moving toward the closet my arm reaches out
to feel inside
to find her secrets
These are her uniforms
her suits of clothes and character
Rich hand-me-downs with East Coast labels
—meant to impressed me, even at 13
I am too far, too deep, too close to the truth
my ears give a quick check
All family members are engaged
in after dinner conversation
at the other side of the house
No footsteps in the hall
I can quickly look
touch a few
view the hieroglyphs
decipher the ridges
in her shoes
A shriveled fox head snaps at me
with sunken eyes from the top of a fur wrap
I sense the ghost of a guard
standing attention blocking me from the
colors, textures that hang in the back just out of reach
My bladder and a toilet flush down the way
remind me why
Use the bathroom
don’t touch anything
mind your business
As I turn to capture one last look
I see her desk
a round breakfast table
paired by two chairs
with woven wood backs
Yellow chains of jewelry, keys, papers
laid out with books and pens
There’s a tube TV, two large leather jewelry boxes
on the long low dresser in front of the bed between
two dark lamps
Under the bed, I spy boxes of canned soup
Who gets all this when she’s dead?
My aunts will consume anything of value
Strangers at the Goodwill get the rest
I can’t believe it’s been over a year and a half since I have written about my DNA journey. What a long quiet year 2015 was on the DNA front. So many months have gone by with no new leads. It was a tough year and full of distractions. My temp work had me bouncing around between five different jobs. However, I gained new skills and met some interesting people along the way, so no complaints.
Then, in April, 2016, I received this message from Sandra:
I uploaded my information into gedmatch.com and you were the first person on my list. I wanted to contact you because I was wondering how you fit into my family.
I’m not looking for anything from you. I was just curious as to how we’re related. I’m always fascinated finding new family.
Turns out Sandra is my mother’s cousin AND she is the genealogist in the family! She sends me my mothers family tree. For the first time in my life, I have a blood family tree, names, history and stories. It is overwhelming. I’m in a fog for weeks. Stunned actually.
Then, in June, this little gem shows up from David:
fyi, have put dna in GEDmatch and your dna in that database has highest match to ours.
Our ancestry lived mostly in Ohio in the 1800’s.
David and I exchange trees. We compare dates and names
Great That is a match You grandfather our uncle, Byron Rowland, brother of my mom, Gayle Rowland.
No wonder we are such a close match Have much on Rowland ancestry
Music to my ears! If that wasn’t enough David sends me his family findings, a hundred page document that includes more names, more dates about the Rowland’s …and this note:
attached is tree for our mom, Gayle Rowland It is same for Byron Rowland Rowland’s were from Wales
Also, you are a Mayflower descendant
Confused yet? The simple version is that David and Sandra share the same great grandparents, the parents of Gayle and Byron. David descends from their daughter (Gayle) and Sandra from the brother (Byron). Sandra is my first cousin once removed and David is my second cousin.
There are so many families using DNA sites now. 23andMe lists over 1000 relatives for me, even though I only share one chromosome with most. Sandra and David, as distant as we three are on the tree, score head and shoulders above the fray. I am thankful for these two diligent genealogists.
THE HORRIBLE BAD NEWS
Sandra sent the newspaper article with the headline
“Flames in Locked Auto Held Cause of 5 Deaths”
from the Castroville, Texas, Wednesday,
22 Jul 1964 issue of the Dallas Morning News.
My mother married a Captain who served in World War II. They had five children. After the death of their youngest son, my mother, Joan, wrote her husband a letter that she was taking the kids and leaving him. He moved out and went to live with his parents in a nearby town.
Then, one day, perhaps when Joan was at an appointment, he loaded my four half brothers, and sisters, ages two to ten, into the car. He put them to sleep with exhaust fumes by connecting a hose from the car muffler to a window, then poured gasoline over the car and lit a match. Here is what the article reports:
“Justice of the Peace C. O. Williams of Devine said his verdict of “murder and suicide” was based on the physical evidence investigators had uncovered.
The evidence, he said, included a letter Loessberg had written to his estranged wife in San Antonio and mailed shortly before driving to the pasture.
Medina County Sheriff Charles Hitzfelder quoted the brief, handwritten note as saying: “You have only yourself to care for now.”
Hitzfelder said the car may have been doused with an inflammable fluid. The engine’s air cleaner was off the carburetor.
A rancher and three youths who had been rabbit hunting in the area discovered the burning auto. When found, the vehicle was upright, but had crashed through a fence and sideswiped two trees.”
The Rowland family was in total discord over the horrific murder-suicide. It was 1964, perhaps they blamed Joan? She ran to Seattle to live with a distant Aunt.
We know she married again. She gave birth to me at Harborview Hospital, then, disappeared. Perhaps, I am her only living descendant?
STILL, SO MANY QUESTIONS
Did her husband know about me? Is she still alive? It is possible that she is alive, in her 80’s. I have all the information I need to find her address, find the marriage certificate, to find her phone number and call her. I haven’t done any of that. I just can’t get myself to do anything.
Music presented by the St. James Bell Choir and Chancel Choir.
Thanksgiving poetry & memoir provided by local writing community poets and writers: Susan Chase-Foster, Luther Allen, Darrell Hillaire, Janet Oakley, Shannon Laws, and Carla Shafer.
“Join us to pause and reflect on our blessings and give thanks for all that we have been given. The evening’s monetary offering will go to the Bellingham Food Bank.”
“Looks like a warm evening of reflection and music. Here is what I’m reading.” -SPL
Walking with Family
-by Shannon Laws
In the 1980’s I was a kid growing up in South King County. Two of my mother’s sisters lived nearby. These three sisters kept the family together by organizing the parties for holidays and birthdays. The aunts and my mother rotated the hosting chores, added new recipes to the menus, brought out the best china, crystal and extra tables for Thanksgiving.
My father and uncles seemed reluctant to dress up for it, after all, their football or baseball game was “always” interrupted by invading house guests, but they reacted kindly by adding “color” to every event. These were hard working men, they were a construction foremen, an owner of a plumbing company, a city building inspector and a mailman. They had plenty of jokes and stories to amaze the crowd of child and parent alike.
By the mid 90’s the two sisters moved away and family gatherings all but ceased. One family moved back to the mid-west for work, the other to Arizona for retirement.
When my two kids where toddlers, however they were able to enjoy a few of these events before everyone moved away. Returning home from an Easter dinner my son shared in his cute little five year voice, “Wow, we have a BIG family!”
Somehow after my family dispersed, I found the kindness of new friends comforting. My path has provided me with new aunties, uncles, grandfathers and grandmothers, sisters and brothers. Friends walk with me a bit on the path of life. Company is always welcome, whether there’s a Seahawks game on or not. Life changes.
People, even family, come and go in our world. Some people stay longer than others. It brings tears to my eyes as I type these words; tears of joy & happiness and most importantly—thankfulness.
This video made me laugh! I wish we had Adele back in day.
I’m getting close to the day. The day my 23andMe DNA test will return and I’ll know my genetic heritage. I’ve decided to share the results with my two children first, then my mom and brother, (my father has passed). Then share it here. The story will not end with the results. The social media aspect of 23andMe may potentially link-up the results with relatives. As I stated before it might be boring or a big mess of family drama—let me share my mess with you.
Honestly, a social DNA site freaks me out a little. I used my real name for processing, but a fake one for the profile. My personal photo is a bunch of flowers. I am chicken. Cautious. Nervous. Feeling the need to protect myself, and yet I have to look, I must take a peak into this unknown.
ADOPTED FAMILY TREE
Here is what I know. My adopted parents are mainly of Irish and German decent. My mother and her siblings were the first generation born in America, my father was his families third. I was raised by a working class family in the suburbs south of Seattle, on the wooded plateau of Federal Way.
Around 2009 I got the bug to research the family tree. My dad’s Irish side was a bit beat up from divorce, my grandmothers five husbands and the generational condition of not talking about the ass holes in the family. (Would have been nice if they would of at least saved their name and date of birth.) Mom’s side ended with her great-grandparents, the parents of the ones who made the boat trip over. She knew it all from memory, with the help from a few notes. That tree is a nice big full tree, with many children. However, I couldn’t go past 1880. Using European genealogy sites is expensive, so I stopped there.
I married into the Laws family. While researching their tree, I learned they have a long stake in America. The first, James Laws, came over from England, landing in Massachusetts in the early 1700’s. There was a split of some kind in the family. Many stayed in the Carolinas while others, my ex-husbands side, went to Chicago, then Kansas, then California. Prior to England, I could only guess that Laws was a corruption of “Lawrence” a possible connection to Scotland’s MacLaren Clan.
After contacting the North American chapter they confirmed the surname connection. We joined the clan immediately. It was exciting to learn about tartans, badges and read about the fighting history of the MacLaren. We took the kids to the Highland games in Tucson, found the MacLaren booth and told the kids, “These are your people.” Later we visited the popular Arizona Renaissance Festival & Artisan Marketplace. It felt like “place”. A virtual family I am happy to be a part of, even if by marriage. It is an identified part of my children’s heritage and I celebrate their lives as any mother would.
What if my DNA reveals something unexpected? Of course it will. Do you remember on the TV show “Who Do You Think You Are” when guest Spike Lee learns he is not 100% African?* Blood has no boarders. Do the boxes we check on a form define who we are in society?
Here’s another gem, this one from a usaid.gov job application:
“Ethnicity and race information is requested under the authority of 42 U.S.C. Section 2000e-16 and in compliance with the Office of Management and Budget’s 1997 Revisions to the Standards for the Classification of Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity. Providing this information is voluntary and has no impact on your employment status, but in the instance of missing information, your employing agency will attempt to identify your race and ethnicity by visual observation.”
“Visual observation”―What the hell does that mean?
Lets play a game. Can you guess Keanu Reeves nationality just by looking? Here’s a photo of the famous actor:
He was born in Beirut, Lebanon to an English mom and an American father. His father was born in Hawaii, of British, Portuguese, Native Hawaiian, and Chinese ancestry. You only get to know that information when you get to know Keanu and he shares it with you (or you look him up on IMDB).
“I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin,
but by the content of their character.”
~Martin Luther King, Jr.
Nature and Nurture
My DNA test talks to the very old debate of nature verse nurture. How much of what and who we are is dependent on our upbringing, and genetic makeup.
Saul McLeod writing for Simply Psychology has this to say:
“In practice hardly anyone today accepts either of the extreme positions. There are simply too many “facts” on both sides of the argument which are inconsistent with an “all or nothing” view. So instead of asking whether child development is down to nature or nurture the question has been reformulated as “How much?” That is to say, given that heredity and environment both influence the person we become, which is the more important?”
If you are interested in this discussion, please visit the site (see link below). It is full of intriguing arguments, especially about temperament and the “genius” gene. To much information to share here.
Washington Adoptees Rights Movement (WARM) was my first point of contact for information regarding my birth family. The site also included reunited stories. Some good, some not so good. One reunion I remember was about a daughter and her father that discover they had same mannerisms. They combed their fingers through their hair the same way and liked the same type of food. Makes me curious if mannerisms are genetic.
I am wondering what it will be like to meet any member from my birth family. I wonder if we have the same eyes, smile, and laugh. I wonder if any play the piano, sing or write. My mind is full of wonder. Questions my heart asks, the words go out into the universe like an echo, returning empty.
In part three of my series I will tackle race and religion.