Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Travels with Cath Part III

I am finally home after 2 weeks away, and it is very good to be here.

That said, I had a grand time with my cousins at the end of my trip. I spent the weekend at the Virginia home of my cousin Jim and his wife, Carrie. They have a very nice house on some very nice acreage – and a primo back deck, which is where we sat and talked most of the time. The weather was warm and the hospitality even warmer.

We spent quite a few hours with Jim’s parents, too (his mother, Dot, is my Dad’s first cousin), and it was wonderful to see them again and to enjoy their company. I’d forgotten how much fun that family is! I think we laughed most of the time that we were together.

For part of Saturday afternoon we stood around Dot’s beautiful grand piano and sang the beloved old hymns that we grew up with. There is nothing like the harmony of family members, and that was really a treat for me.

Over the course of the weekend, Dot graciously opened up her treasure trove of family history and photographs, which had been left to her by our Aunt Ethel (who was truly the keeper of the family history during her lifetime). Both Jim and I inherited the family history “gene” from Aunt Ethel, and we came away with a lot of information for the family tree. Aunt Ethel, God bless her, labeled nearly all of the photographs that came her way, and she had some photos that dated back four and five generations of the family. Jim and I spent a few hours scanning those photos into the computer so that they’d be preserved for posterity.

We also discovered that the more things change, the more they stay the same. There were unexpected pregnancies in the family, divorces, lost family members, an invalid (Civil) War veteran – you name it, we had it. In a way, it’s comforting to know that life really is something of a continuum, from generation to generation. Everyone has mishaps and screw-ups. And by the grace of God we can triumph and thrive in spite of them.

We have lots of leads for the family tree now, and I’m enjoying the research. There is so much online! I even found my great-great grandfather’s Civil War pension record; cost me $1.95 to download a copy – cheap, when all is said and done. It’s not just finding out the names of the folk and filling in the family tree -- it’s more about filling in the events of their lives and getting a flavor for how they lived. That’s the exciting part of family research! That’s the essence of the connection with people we’ve never met but with whom, for better or worse, we share the family traits and traditions.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Travels with Cath Part II

So, now I’m in DC – one of my all-time favorite cities. And it’s raining – just like it was in NJ.

In the interim between Jersey and DC, my husband and I traveled to what I affectionately call “the middle-of-nowhere, Pennsylvania” to see my mother. Mom moved to Lock Haven in the mid-70s and has lived there for the last 35 years. In that time, I have seen the town change and grow more charming as people have moved in and renovated so many of the lovely old houses. The architecture in this small town is actually first-rate, and a walk in the neighborhoods is very pleasant and very interesting. The addition of the picturesque walking path along the river’s levee adds to the attractions of the town. And we thoroughly enjoyed our stay at the truly beautiful Carriage House Bed and Breakfast, just a half-block from the river.

Mom lives about 10 minutes outside of town – in a tiny, tiny house on the side of a mountain. The place is modest but becomes quite beautiful in the Spring. (I took pictures and will upload them when I return home to Idaho next week.) Our April weather was gorgeous – cloudless skies and warm temperatures – her property never looked lovelier to me.

The visit was bittersweet, though. Mom has pancreatic cancer and is losing weight. She isn’t in any pain yet, thankfully, but if she doesn’t stop losing, I don’t see how she will last past this Fall -- at 5’2” and 95 pounds, she’s very underweight. Having said that, I also know my mother’s legendary will power – she could live for a very long time yet, conceivably, on will power alone.

My brother and his wife made the long drive out from New Jersey for an afternoon, too – so Mom had both of her kids in the same place at the same time for the first time in 12 years. My sister-in-law made Bolognese sauce and I supplied the gluten-free pasta so that we could have a spaghetti dinner together. Afterwards we walked up the hill to see the neighbor’s horses and walk off our dinner. Mom turned back about halfway because she was tired, but she insisted on returning home by herself. So my brother and sister-in-law, my husband and I continued on up the hill, turning around frequently to watch my mother’s tiny figure disappearing down the road toward her house. Of course she is still completely capable of walking on her own, but we worried anyway. Later we all just sat around talking and looking at some old photographs (I took a bunch home so that I can scan them into my computer).

My mother joined my husband and me for breakfast at the B&B on our last morning. She eats like a horse still and she relished the scrambled eggs, bacon, potato pancakes and muffins that were served up by Sharon, our wonderful host.

And now I’m in DC, after a rotten Amtrak ride from Newark, NJ. I guess Sundays are a busy day on Amtrak – but if that’s the case, why don’t they run more trains and run some express service rather than just the regional trains? Our train was an hour and 15 minutes late, and the on-board personnel were anything but friendly or even courteous. Amtrak on the East Coast needs improvement.

I’m here for a week of workshops, sessions, and meetings. At the end of the week, I’ll be visiting my cousins in Virginia before heading home to Idaho.

‘Til next time,


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Travels with Cath Part I

Well, here I am in good old NJ again. And it’s raining. But then, it seems to be raining everywhere right now (they tell me it’s raining at home in Idaho, too -- when it’s not snowing, that is).

The plane ride was uneventful – no massive amounts of turbulence, no screaming children sitting behind me (or even anywhere near me, for once). I watched the movie, Marley and Me, without sound. I have a hard time hearing through those airline-purchased headsets, plus they hurt my ears. As it turns out, this was one movie where I’m glad I couldn’t hear the dialog -- because I cried a wee bit at the end anyway. If I’d actually heard the actors speaking the story, I think I’d have been bawling copiously and loudly, which would have been embarrassing on a plane full of people in business suits.

I’d like to hug my own dear pup right now, but my arms don’t reach 2,000 miles. If you see Marley and Me, make sure you can get at your own dog when the movie is over – you WILL want a canine hug.

Had dinner with a long-lost niece (long story – too long for this blog), which I enjoyed immensely. She’s bright and engaging and very articulate. AND… she is the one other person in the family who chews on the inside of her cheek, just like I do.

On the way to dinner I stopped by the family cemetery in Tennent (at the Old Tennent Church). I know my Dad isn’t really there, but it’s nice to stop by his headstone and say hello. One of my cousins tends the family plot and it is looking quite lovely right now -- even in the rain -- with the daffodils in bloom.

While there I checked the death date of my great-great-grandfather, Alexander Trotter. I’m working on the family history and trying to fill in all the puzzle pieces that I can. His wife, my great-great-grandmother Annie (Anna) J. Collins, must have been a pretty terrific woman because at least two of her granddaughters were named after her; one went by the name Annie and the other was known as Ann – but both were named “Anna J.” I knew one of them as my “Aunty Ann.”

Annie and Alexander were immigrants from Ireland in the 1850s. I wish I knew more about their Irish roots, but so far I’ve been stymied in that search.

Their daughter, Sarah, was my great-grandmother. She’s the one whom I most resemble, by the way. Her nickname in the family was Sadie, and that’s a name you almost never hear anymore. Judging from Sadie’s little autograph book (which is in my possession), she was a pious woman from a pious family, with a pretty good grasp on a true Christian faith. I’d liked to have known her, I think. She birthed seven babies, one of whom was my grandfather. She died in 1945, as WWII was coming to a close, and I’m guessing that my grandfather probably missed her funeral since he was in Europe for most of the War. He probably missed his father’s funeral, too, for the same reason – William Henry died in 1943 and Grandpa was already in Europe by then. Sadie and William Henry are buried in Tennent, in a large plot that was reserved from the farm they deeded over to the Cemetery Association. I believe that farm actually belonged originally to Alexander and Annie Trotter, although I don’t yet have proof of that (am working on it).

I won’t be home for another 10 days, so the next blog update will also be from “the road.” ‘Til then….