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Month: August 2019

Connections

Recently I was asked to write up something in honor of a cousin who I’ve gotten to know in the last few years. I finally got around to writing it up this morning, a bit ahead of the deadline (meaning I can’t post this until after August 23!) Here’s the core of the piece I wrote but expanded into a look at today’s society.

Today on Facebook my cousin, Dan, posted a bit about finding out that Tennessee Williams is a 5th cousin. He may be closer related to Dan than I am!

It’s all about connections. In this crazy mixed up world we live in now, it’s the connections that make it all worthwhile.

Back some years ago I found a DNA match to a guy named Dana Ward who was not a southerner. As a half southerner / half yankee, I figured he was related to me through my Maine family so I believe I contacted him first. We couldn’t see the exact relationship then but realized that he was a southern cousin instead. My Elam family was massive – making me related to possibly all Elams in the US now. Elams intermarried with Wards, a good bit closer to my family branch than other Elams. We are both descendants of Thomas Jefferson’s family (directly for me his uncle, not TJ). I was living in Charlottesville, Virginia, at the time so we pretty much said we have to visit each other. Dan never made it back to Virginia while we there but I certainly made it to Maine.

Since then I have been graciously hosted by Dan in Maine twice. We have a lot in common – but mostly the insane idea of chasing our far flung families to see what we can dig up. Now that we live in Maine, we’ve already seen Dan and Julia once and plan on getting together for more fun, food and “family” in Unity.

We still aren’t completely sure how we are related but it really doesn’t matter. It’s those connections that save me. It’s finding my Maine cousins and moving north that has saved me. It’s knowing that no matter where I go, there is a cousin lurking in there somewhere.

In Dan’s case, that cousinship helped me to further my research and find friendship out in the countryside of Maine. His constant genealogy work continues to prod me to continue, to remind me how important these connections are.  

Expanding on that theme from my birthday essay above, I can link these connections with a few truisms of our life today.

When I was growing up, it was all about family. There were 10 first cousins with my sister as the oldest and me as the next to oldest. Sis watched us all coming into the world as she is seven years older than I. I remember the other cousins starting more with one 8 years younger. I baby sat some for the youngest ones.

There were a few family reunions I attended and still can’t remember who any of those more distant relatives were. It was a little surreal to have old folks saying hello ’cause they knew who I was and remembered my birth! But I had family.

My son, an only child, with only 2 first cousins at all and none from my side of the family, was raised as a military dependent. Which really means he was raised to be independent. There was no family and no one besides me for him to rely on during his pre-teen years. I didn’t realize how much this made his life so different from mine. When he was about 4, we were living on base in a housing area of mostly 3 and 4 bedroom homes. Which means we were in a 2 bedroom due to less children in the household. He had only one friend who also didn’t have a sibling. One day he was visibly upset. Being a very non-verbal child, I had to dig into the problem. He finally asked me why everyone else had a brother or sister. He was very sad, unusual for him.

He didn’t have the family I had and have grown away from. In that particular circumstance it also made him different from our neighbors. Today it’s actually getting common to not have all those cousins around with society becoming more transient and families moving to get jobs.

One thing I loved so much about the military was holidays. We were usually not near family so we had to do new things to compensate. I had a wonderful time inviting young people to come to my table, to join with us as we made new connections overseas.

I started my genealogy work some years ago kinda by accident. I wasn’t looking for connections at the time. I was indulging my desire to get away from an untenable living situation that I could not walk away from. It was my escape at first.

Then I went ahead and got a DNA test and started getting matches. Mostly Yankee matches. 2nd and 3rd cousins – and even reconnected with one of my Yankee first cousins I hadn’t talked to in decades. I found many cousins from Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts; one came south on his way to his North Carolina home to meet in person. Most I met just through the tree on Ancestry.com and not in person.

Once I decided to write a book on the Wilsons of Maine, I started a new path and many new connections. I found, in the end, that I’m related to half of southern Maine and found how much of my identity was rooted in New England food and customs, handed down from my Bostonian great-grandfather. I traveled to Maine and fell in love – no, that’s not really correct – I felt like I had come home.

I established new connections, found new friends and family, and moved to Maine last summer. I am home now because I went looking for those new connections as many of my ‘new’ cousins have also done, thus leading to their journey on Ancestry.com.

If we are going to talk about what’s wrong with today’s society, this needs to be part of the discussion. We need connections and they are continually being destroyed in this century. So my question to you is, have you found new connections? Have you made an effort to find what floats your boat in a non-selfish way? Who do you call family? Who and what sustains you?

It’s the Day After

I had a great day yesterday at the Maine Highland Games. It’s not a fantasy organization but immersion in all things Scottish is fun and speaks to my multiply Scottish ancestors. But then that was yesterday.

This day of the week, Sunday, tends to start out as a low news day with folks posting religious messages on Facebook and a true lack of US based news. I started off the day tussling with a friend who posted a video clip from the Daily Caller. I really didn’t care what grains of truth were in that YouTube clip because I’m positive sure one of the reasons for the degradation of trust in reporting is due to this type of website. Any news source that promotes (and even creates) conspiracy theories is exercising its right to freedom of speech. I believe our duty is not allow that kind of discourse into the mainstream.

I have a number of folks as Facebook friends who are quick to post crap. Yes, utter crap. I have tried to gently tell these folks that the piece in question is either false, misleading, inflammatory or click bait. I find myself then hiding these folks so that I don’t have to see their posts but allow these folks, some of whom are treasured friends, to see my posts and be able to interact with me.

I know that as a former English teacher, reporter and writer I tend to be a bit … uh, gee, what’s the word? Strongly opinionated? Draconian? Tyrannical? But see, here’s the legitimacy – I know of what I speak.

If we pass along rumors, if we allow false, misleading information to invade our fun spaces like Facebook, then we are complicit in reducing trust in today’s media. The present president glories in doing just this for just this aim.
“Stick with us. Don’t believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news. … What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.” CNN July 25, 2018 (yeah, I know “liberal” but a quote is a quote even from them”)

How do we reclaim the national narrative? Is it possible to do that? I don’t have any kind of provable answer to those questions. I just know that allowing this type of “fake news” into our friends and family time on Facebook makes this worse.

Of course, historically, this is nothing new. It’s part of the mob mentality, the rumor mill. But rumor mills have consequences. For example, while in high school a friend accepted a date request from a black teenager. He was a good friend and we all really liked him, but it was 1966 in Georgia. At the time, my mother was working for the Action agency which covered much of north Georgia so she was constantly interacting with folks from other counties. Two days after the date was agreed on, mother came home saying my friend was in danger. Men from other counties were coming in talking about the date and saying the girl was pregnant with the black man’s child. Two days! In two days, the rumor mill created a situation that endangered both teens.

That’s the power of rumors or “fake news”. The Salem witch trials fall into this category. Lynchings fall into this category. Mass shooters quoting the president fall into this category.

We may have freedom of speech in this country (just be careful who you say what to) but with that freedom comes responsibility. A responsibility not addressed in civics classes, not talked about on Facebook, the rumor mill of all rumor mills.

My own husband is fond of proclaiming various bits as fact. When asked he never can remember where he read that or what proof actually exists. I tell him “precise speech”. It’s what makes things (news) real.

Violence…by Men

The last 24 hours has had an over-sized impact on me. No, I’m not talking about just the latest shootings.

My 17 year old miniature pinscher has been fading for over a year now and on Friday her kidneys had shut down. As always, making the decision to thwart nature and let the vet handle it was traumatic. This time was worse because it is obvious that we can no longer physically or financially manage pets. It is the end of a lifetime of pet ownership.

Saturday morning was rocky with both of us trying to keep it together and, for some reason, something in the news started me thinking about violence in general. A memory surfaced from earlier in the week where a man of some age, a white man, stated that the world used to be great. One of the last things he mentioned in his pontification was about school yard fights. He was very circumspect in his word choice but what he said was that problems were taken care of outside after school. In other words, fighting was okay and it solved problems.

Now I was raised in a family with socieatal aspirations – we were kinda told we were like southern aristocracy which is silly cause we’re just talking farmers for heavens sake. But my mother and grandmother were all about acting like a lady and denying anger. Mother would tell me to not be angry – especially at others – to feel sorry for those who angered me. I never saw a physical fight between females and did not witness any of the guy fights except those brief scuffles that broke at school. Those fights ended quickly when teachers intervened and students were sometimes suspended for those actions.

My childhood did include playing war – influenced by glorious WWII movies. We set up skirmish lines and threw dirt clods. My brother was my best friend and I was a gasp! tomboy. I played alongside the neighborhood boys on the football and baseball teams. I never saw any fighting or even arguing until we had a new family to move into the neighborhood later on.

That family of bullies, mother and children, were a sudden look at meanness and violence that my mom and the school authorities really didn’t cope with very well. The bullying was pretty much considered to be a non-school issue even when it occurred at school. My brother’s new watch was never retrieved from that neighbor.

Fast forward to high school when I visited my first cousins in Ohio. The girls talked about school fights – with other girls. I was aghast.

At under 5′ 3″ and 110 pounds, I was never going to be a physcial person without a lot of martial arts training so of course I learned to manage life without resorting to hurting someone else. I hurt myself often enough while trying to manage my natural anger; I even cracked my hand by beating on the steering wheel once while angry with my son. It never occurred to me that harming anyone else was okay under any circumstances.

But men are raised differently. Rough physical sports, one on one or team, are considered to be part of being a man. My husband wasn’t raised that way but he was captured by martial arts early and has spent a lifetime in physical activity and training. He has never deliberately hurt someone in anger. He could kill a person easily but has always chose to avoid conflict. An oppositional reaction to the violent society of men.

In the mail on Saturday, the Discover magazine arrived with blaring headlines of Gun Violence! Sighing, I chose to go to a movie to get away from the doggie sorrow and those headlines. We ended up at the last Fast & Furious sequel or I really hope it’s the last. I liked the early ones but this one wasn’t just different, but more along in the line of another violent comic book story with super heroes. Again, written to appeal to the 15 year old brain that every man seems to keep inside, including my non-violent husband.

In my extreme boredom during the movie, I actually pulled out my phone (a first) to light upon the news of the shooting in El Paso. We were watching the same violence on the screen of an air-conditioned movie theater in Augusta, Maine.

My husband is a former cop, a shootist, hunter and holder of at least 13 black belts. My biggest challenge during our move last year was to get him to reduce the amount of ammo and guns to help pay for the move and reduce the weight. He’s been a gun lover since his early teens and grew up in a gun society of Georgia as we all did back then.

But all this emphasis on “gun violence” is driving us to distraction. One of the worst things about America today is how we just want to blame someone else for what goes wrong. Children are too often not raised to accept responsibility for their actions and blaming guns for acts committed by humans is a sign of modern insanity to us.

That gun did not shoot itself. That gun is a tool of law enforcement and the military. That gun is a source of joy and contentment for shootists and hobbyists. That gun represents self-protection for me even though I really don’t like it. That gun did not commit that crime nor did it cajole that shooter into killing masses of people.

The guilty party is nearly always white and male (and relatively young). Why in the world are we not talking about male violence? Men kill women in this country at extremely high rates. We even had a local husband murder his wife only blocks away from us some months ago. The red flag laws are designed to get guns, those tools, out of the hands of others who may be contemplating violence. We approve of those laws.

If they aren’t killing their wives or girlfriends, they are killing other men in acts of rage in Walmart parking lots like last weekend in Auburn, Maine. Or they are running with gangs and terrorizing neighborhoods. Male violence.

The commonality is not just guns but it is men. Those men who were taught to resolve problems behind the school house, mano o mano. Those men who are driving the millions of sales of comic book derived, horribly violent movies. Those men who are standing in the crowds at their son’s games, screaming obscenities and threatening violence in public. That’s not just a lack of civility but speaks to me of a break down of society.

Why are we blaming the guns? What is it that makes people think the guns are the root of the problem?

Incidences in Japan come to my attention this year. Japan has strict gun laws. I lived there for nearly 3 years and I can attest to the differences in their society and ours. For one it is almost completely homogeneous. It is also very patriarchal. It is not a society I would choose to live in. They have greatly reduced gun deaths through gun control. (This article describes this in detail.)

But they have problems, too. Just last month a man set fire to a anime studio staffed by mostly women, killing 33 people. Knife attacks have also resulted in multiple deaths. So yes, reduced deaths from guns. Yay! But the killing still goes on.

The commonality is men with a grievance (usually imagined). Today’s immigration and racism accusations and debates is no question triggering these men to commit violence. Their tools of choice are guns. Even in the United States, women are still more likely to poison their victims. They aren’t shooting up malls.

So why? What is wrong with our society? It’s not guns. Guns were a major part of life for southern and rural men for many decades. You may not remember the gun racks on the pickup trucks but I certainly do. The guys weren’t any nicer then, they were just more confident in their place in society: at the top.

In my household, instead of demanding new gun laws (well, actually I have a different idea of what gun laws need to be enacted but that’s another discussion), we are asking why? Why did that young man feel he had the right to take lives indiscriminately? The answer is either grudges at work, towards a particular woman, towards women in general, towards people of color, other religions or countries of origin.

They are feeling emboldened. Part of it is the vicious news cycle from all media outlets and social media. Part of it is the breakdown of marriage and intact families (but not for the reasons you may ascribe to). Part of it is simply just the fact that all of the above blames everything but the individual for what’s wrong.

Stop blaming guns for the actions of these men. Stop screaming about gun control. Instead let’s negotiate on gun control; let’s enact some federal laws to streamline and pull states into some sort of conformity. Let’s do some reasonable things about guns.

But please, let’s talk about our men, the failure of our society to prepare these men for full adulthood, the failure of the ruling men to acknowledge we have a problem. The ERA still languishes, women are still fighting for equality, the disabled are still shunned and even mocked on a national stage, people of color are still fighting racism which is entrenched in our society if not in our minds.

In the end one of the most horrific deaths I’ve come close to was in Charlottesville where I lived til last year. I didn’t know her personally but folks I know did. Heather Heyer died because a man lost his temper and drove into a crowd. He didn’t need a gun. He wasn’t carrying a gun. He was attending a right wing rally to promote white male supremacy.

So let’s talk. Let’s stop screaming. Let’s look at the source of the problems. That begins on the playground and back behind the school house.