Category Archives: Ancestry

Coincidental Joy

There are days when coincidences flood my life. Because we are thinking animals, it’s easy to find a nexus and connections where there are none. Other days, the barrage is so consistent and overwhelming that I feel like I’m the titular character in a Richard Bach novel. I stop and pet a dog and look up to see that owner bundled in warm clothing is someone I once knew. That a new neighbor gives me a stack of t-shirts and one of them is a green Spongebob-inspired one. (That’s a more complicated story.) A stranger writes me on Ancestry to tell me that they read about one of their ancestors on my blog. A DM of words to tell me that something I wrote five years about my personal history gave them hope that anything can become a story and not a constant reminder of pain. Another to tell me they’d read about 400 of my blog posts and told me he didn’t realize that he could just write about anything he wanted to. Or that he could be honest about the things he was not proud of, a couple of which he shared with me. I got a quick peek at what my life would look like in a year. A succession of hugs, causing laughter and a little bit of merriment. Some hugs are built from scratch and others feel like comfort. I won’t detail all the coincidences, but it was a minor crescendo as the day progressed.

I hear the mockingbird, too, in my head. When I wrote this line, A small bird flew up to my feeder, singing as he ate absurdly large suet balls. My window blinds are open, of course, so that I can watch the world whiz by with ridiculous speed out on Gregg. My feeder is less than five feet away from me, directly in my line of sight. My cat Güino is laying on the extra-wide windowsill I installed, even though the air is chilly through the window. I hear him chirp in response to the small bird, though he doesn’t jump to nuzzle and nose at the window as I expect.

I went for a haircut today, too. I sat and joked with the duo of older barbers. I’m guessing they are unaccustomed to rapid-fire humor. Instead of telling my barber how to cut my hair, I asked him to cut mine as if he were doing “The Ugly Bruce Willis special.” I waited. “How the Jason Statham one where he looks like he lost his mind. Can you do that?” And then I relented and told him that my haircut was the easiest in the world. “#1 attachment and do the rest any damned way you’d like.” He laughed. “Well, I guess you’re right. That is the easiest.” When he was done, he started to hand me a mirror to examine the cut. “Are you kidding? Where’s your self-confidence?” He laughed again. “My Grandpa told me that you should never paint a burned house. Whatever happened here, it’s on me.”

As I left, I asked them where the special bottles of spray were. The older of the two said, “What spray are you talking about.” I smiled. “The one that really good-looking men use to keep the women at bay.” They paused and then cackled. “Oh, it’s not for me. It’s a gift for a friend!”

During my errands, I encountered a few more coincidences. At Peace at Home Shelter Thrift Store, at Harps, and even on the drive home. I felt like a special filter had been placed on my brain.

The brooch is one of several I made for my sister. I have a small collection of both meaningful ones – and lunacy-inspired ones, too.

I chose joy today, even though I had a couple of moments that were like running on a treadmill, blindfolded, and in reverse. But I felt myself insisting on pushing aside the indifference and negativity from the world.

Even as I write this, I know I’m going to have a couple of more coincidences happen. I can feel their scratches at the door of my life.

Love, X
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Bobby Dean

He’s been gone 28 years today. He died at 3:33 in the morning. I was awake at that time this morning and took my first drink of coffee as I watched the minute click over. Nothing noteworthy happened unless you factor in the gratitude that I felt for still being here.

He violently tried to mold me into the man he thought he was. In doing so, he achieved the opposite result. And I’m grateful. His legacy is one of addiction, fists, and one of the wildest senses of humor I’ve ever experienced. He was in prison in Pendleton, Indiana, when he was in his 20s, and accumulated countless DUIs, fights, arrests, and violent confrontations. He also found his humanity from time to time and helped other people. I remind myself of those times as often as I can because they were just as much a part of him as the times he lashed out.

I think back to his funeral, with Jimmy and Mike sitting near me. Both of them are gone now. Both of them, unfortunately, absorbed much of the Terry inclination for self-destruction. Though I couldn’t apply the realization properly, I recognized at a young age that I was susceptible to much of the same sort of demons that possessed so many of my family. I learned to dance around them.

I was Bobby Dean’s accidental namesake. Not too many years before he died, I killed off that part of me, both in name and spirit.

It probably saved my life. Walking around with the people close to me calling me X was a constant reminder that I could choose my own way. While I have stumbled with the best of them, I’ve managed to keep my sanity all these years.

But through the arc of time, I still feel stirrings of Bobby Dean inside of me. Some of that is hard steel. Some of it is limitless humor. He taught me to take hard, unexpected punches and to swallow the blood, even if I did so through tears. At 54, things look entirely different to me. I don’t judge him as harshly as I once did. Being human has taught me that although I will never eclipse the stupidity and violence of some of my dad’s actions, I have that part of Bobby Dean inside of me. It is strangely comforting, even as I strive to be his opposite.

Were he alive, I would love to sit and have a coffee with him while he smoked a camel. And to talk to him about the sister I didn’t know I had. As reprehensible as the behavior was that led to her creation, it’s hard to fault the universe for the result. She’s a kind human being and proof that Bobby Dean could contribute to the creation of a stellar human being. If we met again, I don’t know whether we would hug or trade punches. Or both. But I do know that I would be overwhelmed. I can now see him as a person apart from being my dad. There was so much I could have learned from him; he was a mechanic, electrician, tiler, carpenter, painter, welder, gunsmith, outdoorsman, and farmer. If only he had acquired the skills to be loving, his life would have been ideal.

He, of course, hasn’t changed. He made his choices and left his footprints. He had his chance and walked the Earth. My understanding of him has changed. He would laugh at me and tell me to put my boots on and go out and get the punch in the face. He would also call me his favorite curse word: _ _ _ _ s u c k e r. Then offer me one of those horrible peppermint Brach candies that he loved.

Out of all the lessons I learned from him, one he didn’t even know he was teaching, is that we all need people and love. To find a way to get past what we’ve done and who we think we are. If we’re alive, we can use the steel and even the heartache to turn away from the things that make us lesser.

To Bobby Dean. Dad. Troubled human being.

Love, X
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P.S. Below are more pictures, some of which I amateurishly colorized. All of the images used in this post were originally in black and white.

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Dad in 1963. He was about 19.

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Dad standing on a horse, of course.

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Dad with Goldie, somewhere around 1974-75. He was 31, which blows my mind to consider.

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My sister Marsha, brother Mike, me. Seeing it in color changes everything.

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Me as a toddler. The picture looks strikingly different in color!

From An Old Soul, With Love

Among the things I once did a LONG time ago was to find and gift used vintage holiday cards. Not only is the artwork a surprise and delight, but it brings me nostalgia for times I never knew.

This Xmas card is postmarked on Dec. 21, 1909.

Now, years later, I love using my genealogy ability to find either the receiver or sender and look back at their life. If I wanted, I could find one of the descendants of William Early. William, to whom the postcard was sent. I could unravel the entire biography for the sender, Bessie McGivern of Galesburg, Illinois. She aged into a beautiful woman. I found several pictures of her.

I don’t know the sender’s and receiver’s connection.

But I love that I COULD find out if I wanted – to crack open a spider’s web of connections throughout history, time, and geography.

So, when I see used vintage cards, I don’t see relics or dusty, useless reminders.

When I give them, I’m giving something of myself; the admiration of life shared. You might not know it by looking at me, but I feel a kinship to some of the old ways. Of writing, of postcards, of delayed communication. If you get one from me, I’m also reminding you that life is fleeting and that one day our lives will be footnotes, memories, and details.

I see art.

I see life.

I see footprints of those who preceded us, much in the same way we’ll precede those who follow.

Time. Love. Connection.

Love, X
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P.S. *You’ll note that back then, “Xmas” was completely acceptable, before disinformation spread to lessen its beauty.

I Brought A Knife To a Gunfight

The picture is one I struggled to colorize. The girl behind the first row of boys is my mom Carolyn. This photo looks amazingly different with color. She looks amazingly different too; no matter what happened to her later in life, you can see for that moment through her smile and radiant eyes that she was happy.

I wrote something a couple of weeks ago that someone posted anonymously. They asked me to write something personal about life. Instead, my piece was about the tendency to let time gauze over the harsh parts of our stories. While I have no children, I was allegedly once one myself and I learned all the wrong lessons. Most of them didn’t translate into adult behavior or mechanisms to a good life. Earlier this week, I was telling a friend about my chance to skip my senior year of high school and attend John Brown University. It was difficult to attempt to explain that such an opportunity was an impossibility, given my homelife.

While all my missteps and stupidities are mine to own, I do find myself understanding my parents a little more now that I’ve stumbled in lesser ways than they did. It’s harder to be quite so judgmental after recognizing that intentions and actions often don’t coincide. I was no match for them; they were both immature adults pantomiming their lives. That’s not an accusation; it’s a realization.

That my mom had it in her to be as vibrantly happy as she was in the picture softens my criticism of her as a person.

“I brought a _ to a ___fight” was the encapsulation of my childhood in that piece of writing.

Love, X

Much Ado

The picture is of me in 1985 at graduation. My Uncle Buck was so proud of me. As reticent as he generally was, he somehow managed to tell me that he was glad to be there to see me finish high school, something neither of my parents did. Mom got her GED when she was much, much older. She worked for Brinkley schools and somehow motivated herself to do it.

I have a FitBit now, another thing in a long series of things I thought I wouldn’t find interesting. I was wrong! The biometrics and mindfulness parts of what it provides are astonishing. This is something I obviously should have had back when I had to try to learn how to sleep again. The app doesn’t appreciate the fact that 6 hours is a great benchmark for me for sleep, or that I need an 18-hour notification window. I am fascinated by sitting in silence and breathing, watching my heart rate fall twenty-five beats per minute.

In the last couple of days, Ancestry provided me with yet another reminder of how tenuous life is. A friend of my dead wife Deanne had searched for her to reconnect. They were friends for several years back in the nineties. They lost touch. The friend, as so often happens, sought to reconnect with Deanne now that she’s older and appreciates the value of friends, especially ones who went through things together. She was heartbroken to discover that Deanne had died in 2007. I shared my 10,000 pictures of Deanne’s life with her through my OneDrive account. I’m sure there will be a lot of memories floating in her heart when she dives in. It’s one of the reasons I’ve kept my Ancestry account active. I’ve become the curator and biographer for so many friends and loved ones. I take the time to share the meaningful pictures there and document their lives. It is the least I can do to leave such memories for others to enjoy for as long as the internet survives. And the pictures? What sweet treasures, ones we often fail to appreciate and give them air to breathe and be seen.

Love, X
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Secrecy

Yesterday, my long-lost secret sister Carolyn met my remaining sibling Marsha for the first time. I met my long-lost sister on New Year’s day this year. To imagine that she’d meet my other sister Marsha seemed unimaginable to me a year ago. I can’t describe how strange it is to think about how much was hidden. For years, I caught hell from some of my family for pursuing ancestry and DNA; most of them were compelled to silence me due to a misguided sense of family honor. Considering the things I already knew combined with the things I’ve forensically learned through research and stubbornness, I still don’t know what they were protecting. Like many families, the things I unearthed would fill a book. It’s amusing to me that their attempts to discourage me convinced me that there MUST be something they were hiding. It turns out, there were several “somethings.” To know that some of them kept the truth of a sister hidden astonishes me. Part of it for some of them was racism and shame; my Dad took advantage of a young black girl. After she was born, he fled Monroe County, as if he could escape the past. Luckily for all of us, the result of Dad’s misbehavior resulted in a fantastic human being, one who had a big family herself, full of love and stories.

Without bitterness, I still feel that if they would have spent 10% of that energy protecting us from the monstrous actions of some of my family, our paths would have been significantly brighter.

Almost all secrets come out, even 1/4 of a century after someone passes away.

I feel proud that my insistence and curiosity led me to find a sister I never knew I had. She’s smart, humble, and funny. My brother Mike missed the chance to meet the new sister Carolyn. His demons got the best of him. I’m hoping my new sister provides my sister Marsha a template for finding meaning and direction – and for building a new kind of relationship to sustain her.

Most of my family is gone, many of them chased and hounded by addiction into the grave. Soon enough, all of us will be stories and memories.

I’m tickled that I kept my curiosity sharpened; it led to yesterday.

No matter what comes of it, I count finding my new sister as one of my best accomplishments in life. People having access to their stories and truth is essential to make a good life.

Love, X
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An Ongoing Revelation

It’s difficult to explain to other people the sense of interest, curiosity, and intrigue that envelopes me when I’m presented with another opportunity to find someone’s father, mother, or long-lost friend. It’s a solitary sort of entertainment, one that both focuses my mind inward and outward.

Even when it doesn’t go well, the initial few hours of pursuit and detail make my mind blossom like bits of ignited gunpowder. It feels as close to how I imagine one’s mind should always feel as I can imagine. Tiredness and disinterest fade away into impossibilities when one’s mind is trapped and ignited like that.

I started the day like most others. An acquaintance told me he’d mentioned my love of family research to a friend of his. He handed me a slip of paper with scant details scribbled on it. I quickly put it into my wallet, not so I wouldn’t lose it, but rather so that I wouldn’t be tempted to take a quick look. Such ‘quick looks’ usually escalate into an immediate and profound interest that keeps me distracted.

Some of my best memories are ones encapsulated in a quest to help someone find someone or something dear to them. I’ve had a few failures, as well as a few that led me to bad news for the person wanting me to inquire. I was wildly successful a few times, even if the person I found didn’t want to be outed.

This afternoon, I started my quest to align my scattered skills sufficiently to invoke the magic and inexact science of educated guesses and deliberately go into doubtful deadends. Over the years, I’ve definitely discovered that my mistakes tend to yield impressive results. Even results that aren’t what I’m looking for sometimes. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on the wrong path and realized that I found another way to find information; had I not made a mistake, I wouldn’t have learned.

I won’t lie, though. The payoff is a rush. Finding the proof, the person, the thing. That’s sublime. Like genealogy, it’s a skill I never imagined that I would find valuable.

I was on the phone with a total stranger a little bit ago. Our paths would have never crossed, and part of his family’s remarkable story would have remained a mystery to me. Thanks to him, I will learn more about history, geography, and human nature.

These stories accumulate in my heart and mind.

As for the stranger today, he inadvertently revealed a lot of truth about his life and family. Singular statements and admissions invariably contain unspoken truths. That’s always the case when someone is listening with interest and fascination. Some parts of his story sounded unlikely. Because they sounded unlikely, I knew they were true. There are parts of his story which could easily be the subject of a book or movie.

I shared a few things about my life, too, especially how DNA ripped away the facade of privacy and secrecy.

I already find myself writing fictionalized versions of all those lives in my head.

The Most Beautiful Stranger In The World

Paul walked the aisles of the crowded flea market, looking at the trash and treasures piled everywhere. He agreed to do a flea market crawl out of reluctant obligation. His girlfriend Jessica loved browsing and prowling the dusty aisles of old buildings. “You never know!” she repeatedly admonished him. He never said it, but he thought in his head, “Yeah, I never know how much time I might waste.” Paul loved some of the things he found but tired quickly of the prowl.

They’d returned to his hometown for a long weekend. Though he had no plans to attend his Aunt Jill’s funeral, he did agree to return to go to visitation at Crowley’s Funeral Home. Jessica took the opportunity of their visit to ask to see downtown, all two streets of it. There were four flea markets in that small area. Paul imagined that the number of flea markets would soon reach a pinnacle, as most of the older population were dying rapidly. No one wanted their stuff filling their attics and cupboards.

Paul meandered through the maze of trinkets and what-nots until he spotted Jessica an aisle over from where he stood. He pantomimed tapping at his wristwatch, the one he never wore. She shook her head “no.” She held up five fingers. Though it meant five minutes to a normal person, Paul resigned himself to at least thirty more minutes of browsing. He nodded and walked all the way to the back of the crowded flea market.

He saw her face immediately, propped up against a plate. Her picture was printed as an 8 X 10 black and white picture, taken decades ago. Though the picture was a bit water-stained at some point, it didn’t conceal the set of her piercing eyes or the subtle smile on her face. Her lips filled toward the center, and her curly hair framed her face perfectly. Paul had rarely seen such a picture capture beauty like hers.

He picked up the photo and looked at the back. He first noticed that a small photo was glued to the back. Next to it, the name “Loretta” was scrawled with immaculate handwriting. The picture on the back showed Loretta slightly in profile. Her face was angular, defined, and revealed a slender neck. Paul found himself enraptured by the image. A slight smile framed her lips, a smile that seemed to be reflected in her eyes. Somehow, he also knew that Loretta was smart and had a wickedly sharp sense of humor.

Paul flipped the picture over again, taking a long second look at the front. He sighed. He walked back to the front, where the cashier stood inattentively. She looked up as he approached.

“This item isn’t marked,” he said, showing it to her without handing it over.

The cashier pointed to the sign by the register: “Unmarked items or items missing a price cannot be sold without the permission of the owner of the booth.”

“I’m in town for a couple of days. I really need this picture,” Paul said, surprised by his own words.

“No can do!” the clerk replied.

Paul thought a minute. “Look. I will give you twenty dollars for this picture.”

The bored cashier showed a bit of interest by arching her left eyebrow.

“I can’t. No exceptions,” the cashier said, her voice rising.

Paul didn’t miss the implication. “My apologies. I meant that I will give you forty dollars for this picture.”

“Sold,” the clerk said and laughed. She would have been irritated to know that he probably would have given her a hundred dollars.

Paul took out his wallet and handed the clerk forty dollars.

A few minutes later, Jessica appeared from the bowels of the byzantine flea market. She found Paul standing next to one of the long glass curio countertops, leaning over it and peering at an old photograph there. She leaned in and craned her neck around his elbow.

“Isn’t she gorgeous?” he asked her without looking. Jessica nodded. She found herself admiring the stranger’s face. She was a classic beauty, one that defied time. Paul flipped the picture over and showed Jessica the smaller image on the back. “Loretta,” he said, his voice taking on the tone of someone lovingly reading a poem.

“Okay, weirdo. Let me pay for this old watch, and we can skedaddle.” She smiled at Paul, who ignored her. His eyes were still locked in on the picture. “Don’t forget to bring the picture of your new girlfriend with you, Paul.” He didn’t hear her.

Jessica teased Paul a dozen times about taking another look at the pictures throughout the afternoon.
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Saturday afternoon, Paul and Jessica arrived at Crowley’s a bit early. Paul wanted to be able to arrive comfortably and watch people as they walked up. He needed cues and reminders for some of the family. As for the rest, he wanted to prepare himself for the inevitable comments about his long absence from home, questions about his family status, along with the other obligatory comments people make at funerals.

Mr. Crowley stood by the main entrance. Paul assumed he was at least ninety years old. He knew everyone in town, though, and a lot of secrets that would shock people. There were times when his failing hearing led him to answer questions that people hadn’t asked him.

Paul shook his hand enthusiastically and introduced Jessica. To his surprise, Jessica hugged Mr. Crowley, who turned red and smiled. Mr. Crowley directed them both to enter the building. Inside the vestibule, Paul picked up an announcement and handed it to Jessica. The music that always fills such places echoed strangely inside the main door. Paul hurried through.

In front of the long room, he noted Aunt Jill’s casket, adorned with a variety of flowers and a picture of her, one he had seen in someone’s living room when he was younger. Aunt Jill had been a beautiful young woman. Seeing her as a young woman in the memorial photo gave him a sense of deja vu.

Within minutes, a couple of dozen people had entered, each saying hello to Paul if they recognized him. Most attendees were well over retirement age. Paul did his best to pretend that he recognized them all. Jessica, who seemed to have magically acquired the ability to make personal connections, helped him by hugging each person who approached. Paul didn’t know she was such a hugger. In a quiet moment, he asked her about it. She smiled and shrugged. “I love people, Paul.”

At the moment Paul assumed that everyone had arrived, the door opened, and he felt his heart leap to see Aunt Jill’s partner, Betsy. Betsy had watched Paul countless times when he was young. She and Aunt Jill were together before such things were acceptable. Though she was with his Aunt Jill, Betsy always kissed him on the lips when she saw him, something that used to cause his mother a bit of grief. After pecking him, she always cackled with glee and winked at him. When he turned eighteen, she casually told him that she didn’t know she liked women until she met his Aunt Jill, who stole her heart. But that she hadn’t forgotten to appreciate a good-looking man.

Betsy slowly walked toward him, already smiling. He instantly felt glad that he’d answered her phone call a couple of days, asking when he would arrive in town. Paul bent toward her, and she put her hands on both sides of his face and kissed him thoroughly on the lips. Had he not pulled away, Betsy might have kissed him for five seconds. She laughed, looking at Jessica. Jessica also burst out laughing. “You must be Betsy!” Jessica said and moved to hug her. Betsy caught Jessica off guard, too, and gave her a kiss on the mouth. At that point, all three of them burst out laughing, which drew everyone’s attention around them. Jessica took Betsy’s right arm and wrapped it around her left arm, standing with her.

Once their laughter subsided, Betsy said, “I wish your mother were here, Paul. I can’t believe she’s been gone for all these years. She died too young, just like their momma.” She nodded toward the casket. “We had a good life together, even when people didn’t appreciate our kind. Your momma told us to keep our heads up and to love who we wanted to. And we did.”

Jessica looked at Betsy inquisitively. “Paul doesn’t have any pictures of his grandmother, Betsy. Did Aunt Jill look like her?”

“Oh lord, girl. You won’t believe it! I have some pictures in the car. Our friend Bill drove me. I’ll have Bill fetch them for you.” Betsy got distracted by another visitor as she looked around the room for Bill. He saw her craning her head and started to walk toward her.

“I’ll be back in a minute, Jessica. I forgot the pictures in the car.” Paul turned to exit the building from the service entrance on the side. Jessica followed Betsy toward the front pew and kept an eye out for anyone needing a hug. She discovered that a few did.

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A few minutes later, Paul returned, carrying a leather folder with the pictures he brought. He was chewing furiously as he walked up to Jessica, who laughed at the absurd mouthful he displayed.

Between chews, Paul managed to tell her that Mr. Crowley’s brother Earl insisted on giving him a handful of his homemade beef jerky before coming inside. Paul also told her he ate a ton of the stuff when he was a teenager and worked for Earl at the hardware store. “Better his beef jerky than his wife’s dipping snuff,” Paul said.

Paul and Jessica went to sit on the front pew with Betsy.

“Earl is here, I see,” Betsy said and winked. Paul nodded, trying to swallow the last of the jerky.

Betsy pulled a handkerchief from her black purse. He noted she had a cigarette case inside. She saw him looking and said, “That’s where I keep my gun. People see it and assume it must be cigarettes.” She handed Jessica the case. Jessica opened it. She laughed. The cigarette case contained a tiny .22 single-shot pistol. “Betsy!” Paul exclaimed, unsure what to say.

Betsy shrugged, took back the case, and stuffed it back inside her purse.

She unfolded the handkerchief and uncovered several pictures stacked together. “Let me see,” she said as she moved her fingers across them.

“Here it is. This is your Grandmother Mary, Paul. Quite the looker! You can definitely see my Jill and your mom Rosie in her face.” Betsy handed the picture to Jessica, whose mouth dropped open. The confusion on her face was unmistakable.

“What’s the matter, honey?” Betsy asked.

Without a word, Jessica handed the picture to Paul, who stared at the picture in surprise.

“What is it y’all? You’re making me nervous!” Betsy seemed to be a bit alarmed.

Instead of answering, Paul handed the picture back to Jessica. He unclasped his leather folder and picked out the 8 X 10 he bought yesterday at the flea market.

He leaned across Jessica and handed the picture to Betsy. She went pale and took a sharp breath. “Oh my!” She turned the picture over and saw the other one on the back, along with the inscription “Loretta.”

Tears formed in her eyes. “Loretta’s middle name was Mary, Paul. This picture was in her living room when she died. We wondered what happened to it. Where did you get it?”

Paul, still in a bit of shock, said, “At the bigger flea market downtown, the one off Main Street. Yesterday. I bought it because I thought it was the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”

Jessica didn’t take offense. Tears were forming in both of her eyes.

Betsy nodded. “Yes, she was. Jill and your mom had her looks and definitely her kind heart. She was the smartest person I ever knew, Paul. That’s saying a lot.”

The three of them sat in silence for a full moment. Betsy sighed.

“Let’s go say our goodbyes to my precious Jill, shall we? Help me walk up there if you will.” Betsy didn’t attempt to wipe away the tears on her face.

As they stood, Paul found himself hugging both Jessica and Betsy. They held the hug for at least thirty seconds.

They walked to the casket, looking at Aunt Jill’s memorial picture on the display stand near the casket. Paul held up Loretta Mary’s picture from yesterday. Somewhere in between, he could picture his mom’s face.

Betsy, her sense of timing as perfect as it always was, said, “When are you two going to be proper and get married? You can’t shack up forever, you know.”

As the three of them looked at each other, they burst out laughing, even as tears rolled from all their faces. Though the onlookers didn’t understand what they bore witness to, everyone smiled.

In the distance, thunder boomed across the sky.

Paul decided he might stay a few more days to keep Betsy company. And to prowl flea markets with his girlfriend.

“Goodbye, Loretta Mary,” Paul whispered, even as he stole a sideways glance at Betsy. She was crying, though a smile was on her face. And he looked over at Jessica, who also cried as she held Betsy against her. He couldn’t remember why he had avoided his small hometown. His whole world was with him at that moment.
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1972 Understood

Meeting my sister answered so many questions. Not all of them, though. Expecting complete answers at any stage of your life is a denial of the fact that as we change, the same answers can ring hollow or fail to give us satisfaction. We often don’t understand our motives or what led us to those choices, even regarding our own lives. Usually, the simple answer is “nothing.” You might be comforted by realizing such a thing. Many people are uncomfortable with the idea that our lives might be a game of pinball, with our choices volleying us across an almost random field. Careful observation of other people’s lives tends to reinforce it, though.

Isn’t it strange that we stridently ask and demand explanations and answers from those who preceded us, even though we well know that there may not be a reason that falls blithely to our hearts?

When we’re young, we falsely believe that the adults and people in our lives somehow have a magic formula for safety and love. Growing up exposes us to the harsh alchemy of people being people, making mistakes, and quite often winging it. In my case, I should stop surprising myself with revelations. At this point, almost any combination of things may be valid. It took me until I was 52 – and in the face of constant argument – to find out that my Dad not only had fathered another child but that he had done so with a girl much younger than he and from a different background. For those of you who understand my hometown’s circumstances, this alone gives ample berth to find credibility in any rumor or suspicion.

It might explain why Dad decided to move everyone to Springdale and Northwest Arkansas for a new life. After he went to Indiana and ended up in prison, he returned to Monroe County to stay. Whether he would farm, be a mechanic, or work one of several other jobs available, he made it clear he was back to stay.

Now, thanks to DNA and an ongoing decision to keep looking, I’ve changed the narrative of how I came to live in this part of the state. Much of my adult life revolves around terrible misbehavior on the part of my Dad. Knowing that I live here due to it changes nothing. Yet, it does make me think about the spiderweb of cause and effect.

In the summer of 1972, we packed up and moved to Northwest Arkansas. It was probably August, not long before school started.

I am convinced that we moved in 1972 primarily because my missing sister was born in May of that year.

If I heard rumors of her when I was younger, they would have been snippets of angry revelation from my Mom or others, probably during a drunken tirade. I did hear hypothetical insinuations, but I don’t recall concrete accusations. Such a truth would have certainly caused a homicide between my Mom and Dad. I have to admit the possibility, though. The existence of my new sister in itself proves that we are all unreliable witnesses to our lives. I used that concept of ‘unreliable witness’ on one of my first blog posts about genealogy. We will never have all the facts of our lives coherently arranged. We can’t trust our memories, much less those around us, who actively conceal and camouflage their lives for one reason or another.

I lived most of my life suspecting that my new sister was out there in the world. She lived most of her life without the answers that could have given her the ability to understand herself better. It wasn’t her choice, but she paid the price and consequences of not knowing. I hate that for her.

I don’t know how life would have looked had Dad been honest with everyone about having another child. He died in 1993, another lifetime ago. My sister was around 21, and I was about 26. His shame or inability to acknowledge his indiscretion robbed other people of a fuller life. I can’t understand how a man who beat his wife and children, went to prison, and killed someone in a DWI accident would have difficulty saying he had another daughter. This is doubly true after his Mom died on May 21st, 1983. My sister turned eleven years old the next day.

I wish.

I wish that people could be open to the complexity of their lives.

Were it my choice, all of y’all who know me well also know that I am no fan of concealment. We’ve done it, said it, and lived it, precisely in the same way that my Dad and others did before we came along. In the future, our descendants will whisper, pry, and discover. You may as well give the painful answers now if you find yourself in any way in the role of a secret keeper.

Somewhere, there is another me, looking for answers and wishing that my sister didn’t have to spend so many years without her truth being exposed.

I wish.

I wish. For me, for you, for us all.

Let’s all shine the lights in whatever direction they are needed.

Two Truths & A Lie

On Father’s Day 2019, I discovered that my ancestry and DNA quest had not been in vain: I found a sister (or we found each other), one whose existence defied any possible expectation. We didn’t meet initially – and then the pandemic struck. We both survived 2020. So, ironically, we met for the first time on New Year’s Day. While y’all were eating black-eyed peas, I was meeting a reflection of myself and wondering about the spectacle of life and how decisions made five decades ago continue to reach forward. Unlike other parts of my life, this has been a reward, one welcomed by both of us. How we got here was the result of other people’s decisions. We still have questions, though one of which is no longer what we might be like in person: Carolyn is as kind, witty, and outgoing as I could hope.


When Carolyn arrived, I discovered that I had met my match for the longest hug ever. I’m also not the baby of the family any longer. I kept telling her that I saw Aunt Barbara is so much of her mannerisms and look, which compliments everyone involved.


It’s incredible how good-looking we both are, isn’t it? 🙂 Due to Carolyn’s presence next to me in the pictures, I realize how much of my Dad’s devil-may-care attitude is reflected in me. I’m still wondering how it is possible that Carolyn is my sister.


I also met her youngest son, who tolerated our hours of catching up on 48 years of missed lifetime as we sat, talked, and pondered into the night.


When I was younger, I suspected that I might have family in the world. I’m still amazed that I kept the hope into my 50s – especially to find someone who seems to be a bit like me, even if she got there from an opposite path.


This strange, strange world holds a few surprises still.


Carolyn and I are the two truths; the lie is that love and truth can be concealed, even in a world convoluted by people’s inability to tell their stories due to fear, shame, or for some other human reason that eludes definition.


Though it isn’t a contest, I am convinced that I won the New Year’s Day contest for the most rewarding.


P.S. You might wait until we hear Carolyn’s opinion; you’d have to be crazy to accept mine without corroboration.

Love, X.

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