Category Archives: Biographical

04032014 X Ancestry.com Revised Ethnicity Estimate

Ancestry.com continues to revise its dna methods. I know that I should participate in other sites DNA sequencing too, but so far I haven’t done so. No extremely close relatives have popped up on their system yet, although a 3rd cousin has emerged, albeit without a corresponding family tree attached.

Although I haven’t been able to pin it down, I very much suspect that a couple of my great-grandparents might not be related to me at all genetically. At each generational level, I’ve found significant personal turmoil that usually indicates that genetics might not equal a family tree relationship. It’s not that I’m pointing fingers – they lived their lives as they had to or wanted to. I don’t like the temptation to gloss over people’s tendencies to marry more than once, have children out of wedlock, move away from one’s children and so forth. It was common in previous generations and it is still affecting our family trees today.

I’ve written before that the best way to start ancestry is to assume that perhaps most or all of what you think you know might be mistaken. It makes it easier to swallow when you have royally messed up in several ways. We are inextricably tied to our genetic markets. (A story this week involved a white supremacist attempting to establish an all-white town, only to be confronted with DNA evidence that he is significantly “black” genetically. I love this kind of story, not only because the gentleman in question got his comeuppance but also because science and genetics intervened. )

The picture above: my mom is on the right end, holding my cousin Cheryl.

The picture above: my mom is on the right end, holding my cousin Cheryl.

The picture above: my maternal grandfather on the left, my cousin Cheryl in the middle, and my great-grandmother on the right. In the back are my Uncle Melvin and cousin Barry.
The above picture: my grandmother Nellie on the far left, with her siblings.
nellie aunt betty and unknown girl

The above picture: my grandmother Nellie on the far left, my aunt Betty to her right.

(Many thanks to my cousin Cheryl who gave me many more pictures to cherish and share with family and the world.)

The above picture is Bobby Dean Terry

The above picture is Harold and Wayne Cook.

The above picture is Carolyn Terry.

 The above picture is Raymond Cook

Burial and Pallbearers For Mom

 (From September 2013)

One unusual aspect of my mom’s funeral was that the funeral home my sister used defined the utility of the word “pallbearer” literally. As the brief graveside service ended, the funeral director called upon the pallbearers to lift the casket with straps and put my mom and her casket into the dug grave. Many people were shocked or surprised by this. It caught me off guard, even though I had seen the grave the night before and as the service started: there was no platform or lifter, which seems to be almost a requirement by today’s standard.

My sister chose the funeral home that mom had found that would allow her to be buried at a greatly reduced price. It was tremendously less expensive. Up until very recently, I had thought that mom was still going to be cremated. Part of mom’s growing reluctance for cremation was a result of one of my aunts talking to her about her particular beliefs about burial and cremation. To be honest, I wanted mom to be cremated – and not only because I hate the entire concept of burial as we do it today. I kept telling my sister that since she was the one who stepped up to care for mom as she was dying of cancer, it would ultimately be her decision. I’ve written before about how appreciative I am of my sister’s recent efforts:

Before I forget, too: mom was late for her own visitation. The hearse and her body had went to the wrong place. Another admission: my wife and passed the hearse on the roadside on the way to the Lutheran church. My wife conjectured that it probably was mom in that hearse on the roadside. I stupidly said, “There are 100s of hearses in Monroe County.” This is the point where I eat a plate of crow for being absolutely, totally wrong. (It had in fact been mom’s hearse…)

Not to pour salt on anyone’s feelings, but mom had told me repeatedly that she didn’t want a viewing. She got one, though. I do not know how to say it with decorum or in good taste as there is a strong taboo against saying it – but mom looked terrible in the open casket. I’ll spare you the details and you should use your imagination. But even as I saw her hair above the rim of the coffin, I knew that it was going to be bad. I don’t blame the funeral service or my sister. Mom’s appearance in many ways was a slap-to-the-face reminder about how literal death is and how viewings can be. With a closed casket, maybe we could have been “spared” the shock of it. But why should we want to be spared? Cancer is a destroyer. Mom died a hard death and making a herculean effort to “restore” her is almost blasphemy to me. For those in attendance with beliefs in the afterlife, it should not matter, for if the body is truly just a vessel, it doesn’t matter in the slightest whether ANY restoration was done. I know I sound like an old stooge, going on about the artificial facade of most funerals. Whatever helps the family. But I can only react and comment as myself. I wish mom had been cremated and if not, that she had been buried without being exposed again to the world. But at least those parts were more honest than many I’ve witnessed. As tough-minded as I am, I think I might be haunted for a while, thinking of how startling mom’s appearance was.

5 of my sister’s 6 boys and my nephew Quinlan lowered my mom into the grave. The oldest boy had to step aside, as he almost slipped in. I tried to get over to the grave before they went sideways with the coffin but by then one of the boys had stepped hard on the edge and righted it as they lowered it into the ground. I forgot to mention that mom’s coffin didn’t have a liner or vault. Many people think that these are required for burials in Arkansas. They aren’t – nor should they be. Mom’s coffin went directly into the ground. It didn’t have a special seal or gasket, either.

I told them all that I was glad they got to participate directly with the burial. I explained to them that while I don’t believe in burial, I truly believe that burial should have nothing extra involved. It should be just the wrapped body going into the ground – and not because of the needless money involved, but rather to acknowledge that death is real, personal and meaningful in its own right. Much of our processions seem to distance us from our connection to death and the ground. Maybe the pallbearers thought I was crazy for thinking it was all a good thing – but I do – and it was.

Among other things affecting my mom’s passing was the incredible delta heat. It was 100 degrees on the day she was buried. Despite being well into September, both the heat and humidity were at record levels. Everything was baked and even the cologne and perfume applied earlier in the morning had burned into a different, strong smell from the sun.

The church service was very hot, too.  The country church didn’t have the cooling capacity for so many people, especially during record heat outside. Mom’s inside service ended around noon, just about the time the sun started to angrily beat down everything in its way.As in further punishment, my wife had to step into another room and leave me alone for most of the service, as the heat was about to kill her. Before I forget to mention it, I had a mild case of heat exhaustion the day before, on Sunday. I don’t know how close I came to serious injury but I knew afterwards that it had been a close call. I felt horrible for my wife, as I knew she was going to feel guilty for not being there with me.

Sundown the night before, my wife and I had driven the circuit out to and including Upper Cemetery in Rich, Monroe County, Arkansas. The heat was declining, but still over 90. As we drove through the cemetery to the swamp’s edge, the bugs were hitting the car with surprising force. Even as we parked and stopped, the bugs continued to hit the windows, top and doors hard enough to thud. I compare it to walking through a sheet of falling skittles. I jumped out of the car, dozens of bugs, flies, mosquitoes and dragon flies hitting me. I went over to lift the plywood off of the grave recently dug for my mom’s coffin. I wanted to linger and stare at the headstones, but the insects were starting to use me as a landing pad, even though I had only been out of the car for a few moments. I’ve always loved cemeteries and at sunset, they evolve into something magical. At Upper Cemetery at sundown, the ebbing sun hits the swamps and trees in a startling pattern. It is at that moment that I can sometimes feel the line of ancestors behind me, signalling to inhale deeply the richness of the swamp.

Memory of Drunk

Years and years ago, probably in 1975, I learned a great lesson in parenting. We lived in a trailer near old Highway 68 (now 412), on 48th street, where Denny’s, Marketplace, and several large hotels now sit.

My mom and dad had been fighting at my Uncle Buck’s house. (One of the many times…) Mom forced me and another family member into her car to drive us home, a couple of miles away. Normally, I would have spent the night there with my cousin Jimmy. Why mom insisted on forcing me to go, I’m not sure.My best guess is that she did it is because it was the last place I wanted to be – with her, especially driving.

Mom was so intoxicated that I couldn’t imagine staying in the car. Because she hadn’t been able to fight with my dad and scratch that itch she would get when she wanted to fight, she took it out on me in the car. How we got anywhere without killing someone I’m not quite sure.

At one point mom hit something on the side of the road. I don’t know if it was a mailbox, a car or five innocent children. Since I had just listened to a presentation at school, I was now familiar with the word “alcoholic.” Mom was already slapping me and pulling my hair for crying, so I didn’t feel as scared as I normally would.

I called her an alcoholic.

(Hearing grownups at school talk about the evils of drinking made me think about it in a quite different way. People I didn’t know where standing in front of me telling me clearly what I knew to be true – that alcohol could be extremely destructive. It was a revelation.)

The car went silent. Mom’s face froze in a drunken flash of anger. She jumped out of the front of the car and started screaming, opening the back door on my side and yanking me out of the car by the hair. She told my sibling to get out, too. Before mom got back in the car screaming, she tried to kick me. She was so drunk that he foot hit me in the knee instead of my face.

She got in the car and drove off, leaving my sibling and I on the side of the road. It was about 9:30 at night. A few years ago, I talked to my Aunt Ardith about it to see if she would verify any of the story. She remembered it, as mom told her 444 times about the story of the first time any of her kids called her an alcoholic.

My sibling and I had to walk home, in the dark, on busy 68.

Regardless of what anyone might otherwise wish my mom to be known for, her addiction to alcohol will be the predominant memory defining her. Mom was quite capable of being a good person; her love of drinking, however, tarnished everything in her life. She wasn’t a person who occasionally suffered the effects of drinking – drinking was a constant force in her life.

06252014 James Arthur Terry aka Uncle Buck aka Buster aka Arthur (Another Story About Names…)

Al Johnson and James Buck Terry

40th Reunion Picture (Note he used “Arthur” again the picture)

My paternal uncle James Arthur Terry was one of those people who experienced the weirdness of name issues. I always called my dad’s brother “Uncle Buck.” Even though his dad (my grandfather) was also named James Arthur Terry, no one ever put a “Junior” on my uncle’s name. At risk of offending the family revisionists, he did not understand why my birth name had been botched so badly or why my mom and dad added the “Jr.”

Throughout my Uncle Buck’s school years, he used “Arthur” as his first name, even though James was his actual first name. Below is a picture from his high school graduating class. He’s the third from the right on the very bottom.

Brinkley, Arkansas 1951 Senior Class

It wasn’t until he moved away that he started using “James” or “Jim” in any real sense, not when he had a choice.

My Uncle Buck also named my cousin Jimmy, his son with his second wife “James,” but used “Lawrence” as his middle name to avoid any issue with the “Junior” nonsense. My cousin Jimmy didn’t like the name “James” very much and preferred Jimmy. Adding even more oddness to the story, my first cousin Jimmy names his only son Noah James Terry, reversing the first and last names of his aunt’s husband James Noah.

While many people called him “Buck,” much of the Brinkley family called him “Buster” instead of “Buck” or “James.” I can’t remember why those chose yet another name over either of the most common alternatives.

James Arthur Terry and his first wife and 3 kids
James Arthur Terry and one of his favorite trucks, in Memphis, TN

DWIs – A Family Legacy

To begin this story, I would like to mention the fact that many, many years ago, a local attorney suffered serious legal repercussions for being involved in a DWI-fix scenario. Both my mom and dad were listed in the records. That should set the tone for the credibility of this post.  It wasn’t unusual when I was younger for people to be able to make a quiet arrangement with some police or prosecutors. My dad was an avid believer in taking advantage of the process.

(Sidenote: once, my Aunt Ardith found out that m uncle was cheating on her. He left the house and she called the police in anger to report him drinking and driving. She then left to find him. She got pulled over and arrested – while he didn’t get caught. Guess who was already in the drunk tank when my Aunt Ardith was put in jail? My mom. You can’t make up that kind of great, albeit possibly sad, story!)

Both my mom and dad had multiple DWIs. Not all of them became official, of course, but both were arrested many, many times each. As for my dad, he was involved in the death of a relative back in 1970. Dad totaled more than one vehicle while drinking, as did my mom. (My mom seriously hurt a few people during her drinking and driving exploits. As far as I know, she didn’t kill anyone while driving.) Both of them had their licenses suspended and/or revoked many times.

Even though it sounds like hyperbole to say it, I was in a moving vehicle while my parents were drunk dozens and dozens of times. There were accidents with me in the vehicle. Some of the notable ones include one near the edge of the swamp toward Rich, Arkansas, one near the intersection of what is now I-540 and 412, another near Blue Hole in Tontitown, another in downtown Brinkley where the dress shop now stands, one at the edge of a drainage deep along the periphery of a rice field, etc.(On that last one, dad had been driving over 100mph on a dirt road.)

As always, if a family member reads this and jumps into revisionist mode, stop and ask yourself if this how everyone remembers dad? I’ve had family members scoff at some of my stories and memories- their intent is to cast doubt on the truth or to minimize how severely my parents abused alcohol.

I don’t remember being seriously injured myself in any of the accidents, although I remember hurting my hand once, a cut on the back of my shoulder and on my head in another and feeling like I had been beaten after the one by the Blue Hole in Tontitown around the 4th of July one year.

There were many times I was forced to drive, even when I didn’t really know how, by my dad. His insistence on me driving wasn’t a recognition of his impaired ability, but rather as a way to force me to “be a man.” I wonder how often I heard that stupidity of a phrase from him growing up: “be a man.” My idea of what a man is and his are wildly different. Drunk driving certainly shouldn’t be included, especially at night.

I used to get in the car or truck with one or both of my parents and be literally scared to breathe. Like most drunks, they vastly overestimated their driving ability. There were times we drove all the way back to Brinkley with one of them drinking and driving. Sometimes, I was in the bed of the pickup on the interstate, or going through the mountains before the interstate came all the way to NWA. Family members, especially the Cook side, would object to my parents drinking and having me in the car with them, but only be forced to shut up about it.

As my mom aged, she became increasingly hostile at the system that kept taking her license. She wouldn’t acknowledge that anyone had the right to stop her from potentially killing other people on the road. There was more than one DWI in the last years of her life that almost no one knows about. When she died, she had no vehicle – but not for the reasons she offered. (After my mom had almost killed those people out by Highway 49 one night I swore off helping her get back on the road.)

I have never been pulled over under the suspicion of drinking. While I might have one simple drink and drive, I would never consider having more than one and getting behind the wheel. So embedded into me was my aversion that I simply can’t consider it as a sane act. My birthright would demand that I drive frequently after imbibing, but like most things from much of my upbringing, I recognized the idiocy of it early enough to train myself into a different way of life.

People who know me also know that as long as no one is injured, I believe there’s no reason that a person’s first and only DWI should not be completely expunged from their life it is not repeated. It is very easy for anyone to have a lapse in judgment and drive after drinking. (And most of us were hideously stupid when we were young!) My commentary refers to those who have had multiple drinking and driving issues. (Also, to be fair, a LOT of people who should have DWIs on their records were able to pull strings and avoid accountability or even being charged with it. I’ve noticed that some of these people who should have gotten DWIs tend to be the biggest jerks toward other people about their lapses.)

I don’t mean to make it sound like all my family are drunks or drive drunk. But many did.