Category Archives: Personal

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

Ancestry DNA Test

(Written in 2012)

Ancestry.com recently entered the DNA/ethnicity business. For $100, you can have a DNA sample analyzed to determine your ethnicity and possibly find others out there who might be related.

Keep in mind too that ethnicity doesn’t mean what most people generalize it to mean, especially when geographical isolators are used to help you identify your origins.

I was very interested in the getting the results. While it wasn’t exactly what I had expected in terms of information, the process taught me several inter-related things. The results will expand as more and more people participate in this particular system with ancestry.com.

Unlike many, I didn’t worry at all about the privacy aspect. What most people don’t realize is that your DNA is EASY to collect – and anyone can get a sample of your DNA if they wish – and have it tested. This includes your mom, ex-girlfriend, boss, or worst enemy. It’s just a reality now.

Ancestry also allows you to connect with genetic relatives, if you wish. This part is quite interesting, too. It requires some effort to understand. I’m so used to generalizing, like most of the rest of the world, that I have to train myself to stop being sloppy when I’m thinking about genetics and how it works.

There are several other services out there now which offer similar services. 23andMe and Family Tree DNA are two of the most reputable. I’m going to use one of those in the near future, too.

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.

I Admit to Not Being A Great Driver

Most people state that they are better than average drivers. Statistically, this can’t be the case. With males, it is nigh on to impossible to get one to admit that his driving ability is anything short of Indy 500-ready at all times.
Not me. I have to remind myself to be mindful. I don’t consider myself to be a good driver at all. 
(Unless my insurance agent is reading this, in which case I am the best driver west of the Mississippi.) 
I also wish all the vehicles I drive had rear video cameras that I could easily see on the dash. How normal people feel confident as they speed, seemingly oblivious to the imminent death on all sides, is a mystery to me.  Seeing a wide angle shot of traffic as it approaches would be the single best thing for drivers at my skill level. Could someone surprise me with a retrofit at no charge? Thanks, and your children will be safer for this way if you do. 

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.

Nothing Great Without Something Bad

When I attended Southwest Junior High, the one smart thing I did was to enroll in band. It contributed as much to my preservation as anything else might have. Band opened doors for me, allowed me to participate in something without being athletic and gave me an opportunity to look, learn and listen to some great people. Like nothing had before, I could socialize and watch the workings of normal people. Don’t get me wrong, I had plenty of normal people around me – just not ones I could interact with socially. Band allowed me to listen closely to others and see that my situation in life wasn’t normal by any definition.

The point of this post isn’t so much about how important band turned out to be for me but to demonstrate how life always seem to come in give-and-take doses for me.

One year, the band director Mr. Morris managed to get me a scholarship to band camp. Whether he paid for it out of pocket or someone else donated the money, I can’t be certain.  What I do know is that there is no way I would have ever been able to go were it not for his involvement. It would have never occurred to me to even ask mom and dad for the money. The band camp was held at the U of A campus in Fayetteville.

It was one of the best weeks ever in my life, even including being trapped along on an elevator for a couple of hours.

When I came back home from band camp, instead of going to my house, I went over to my paternal Uncle Buck’s house. I was still on a mental high from everything I’d seen and experienced during my time away at band camp. It seemed like life might be worth experiencing and that people didn’t all think I was weird.

Mom and Aunt Ardith were of course drinking even when they drove over to pick me up. I could smell the beer just getting into the car. They continued doing more of the same when we got back to my aunt’s house. I went back to Jimmy’s bedroom on the other side of the house to play around on Jimmy’s console computer and watch television.

I don’t know how much time passed but horrific screaming interrupted my thoughts. It was my mom, screaming my name at the top of her lungs. It sounded like someone was pulling her tonsils out with a fork. Jumping up, I flung open the bedroom door and ran down the hallway.

Aunt Ardith was straddling mom with her knees by her ribs, using handfuls of mom’s hair to yank mom’s head up and down, hitting it against the RCA console tv. Mom’s head was making a ‘clunk’ sound each time Aunt Ardith threw her head down. Mom was screaming at me to get Aunt Ardith off of her. Aunt Ardith looked at me with murder in her eyes as I told her to let mom get up. Instead of letting go, she asked mom if she was going to shut her f%$%^ing mouth if she did. Mom cursed at her. Aunt Ardith gave mom’s head one final clunk and then got off her.

Mom took several seconds to get shakily to her feet and then attempted to hit Aunt Ardith. Aunt Ardith pushed mom’s fist away and slapped mom so hard her head swiveled and she had to sit down on the floor again, still crying and cursing. My aunt lectured my mom about her need to make everyone mad and start fights.

(Sidenote: I would have never hit Aunt Ardith. Yes, she could be angry at times. But she didn’t hit me in violence or scream at me needlessly. I never saw her hit mom unless mom hit her first or so vilely screamed at her that she was pushed into it. Aunt Ardith was my gateway to normal experiences that most people take for granted.)

Without a word, I turned and went back to Jimmy’s bedroom. In less than 2 minutes, mom stormed into the bedroom, cursing me for letting her get beat up. She screamed at me to go get in the car. Mom was so drunk that she kept hitting the doorjambs as she walked. How we made it home I’m not certain.

Incidents like this one made me doubt the truth of any good moments in my life. It seemed back then that it was impossible to enjoy life without getting a punch in the gut in return. 

Performing Marriages in Arkansas

Even though many people don’t understand it, I had long wanted to be able to perform marriages. After months of procrastinating, I recently finished all the paperwork, went to the courthouse, and became “legitimate,” so to speak. The State of Arkansas decided to allow me to pay the fees and register to perform marriages.

It still seems surreal to me. Literally speaking, I now have minister credentials. It will be interesting to see how a few people respond.   On the other hand, there were a couple of people who never offer anything other than criticism – their derision was to be expected. Those who would be malicious in their criticism are the same people who make weddings sometimes hideous spectacles instead of a simple joining of two people

Part of my reluctance was due to my cousin Jimmy who has been ill for well over a year. He had been putting off getting married. I had told him to let me know when he was going to tie the knot. Although I might be wrong, I think my sudden ability to do weddings might have pushed him along somewhat.

Whether I ever perform a marriage or not, it is no longer a question of getting the details accomplished. I would hope that I might help people see that there’s no need for expensive, complicated weddings. When the hoopla of the event fades, all that is left is the daily routine and, hopefully, lasting love and patience to temper it. Daily life exacts an angry toll on most people.

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

01102013 It’s a Learning Process

Without specifically mentioning anyone, I’ve learned a little over the last week.

People are so insistent on bending circumstances to their particular viewpoint. (Me, included, I am afraid.)

The ability to let things flow without categorizing, judging or condemnation is a rare trait.

As smart as I might ever become, I would rather opt for acceptance and ‘presence’ in people’s lives than being right.

“No one is ever right. Even if they are, they are still often wrong.” – X
 (You can quote me on that one.)

04012014 People Who Make Opinion Certainty

In the Aug 13th, 2011 Scott Adams blog (Dilbert), Scott asks the following:
“…When you hear an argument about a complex issue presented as a certainty, do you reflexively downgrade its value? Or does the certainty mixed with a credible source make it more persuasive to you?…”

To answer the first part, I HATE when someone presents an idea, especially one not demonstrated, as certainty. I can’t stand the type of person who presents the world as a cut-and-dry interpretation. It tends to be about a subject that largely subjective to begin with. Politics, religions, sports – all of these tend to be the largest offenders.

As for the “credible” source part, it does make a difference. I will at least THINK about the idea or opinion if it is from someone who normally seems to be rational and responsible. But if Brad Pitt spouts off about the efficiency of a supply-side economic principle, I’m not listening.

Or if a friend/family member who has never been able to balance a checkbook starts pontificating about what’s wrong with the economy… Of if someone I know who is kind of an ass and preaches anything religious, my eyes roll over.

As I like to remind myself, on any given subject…If countless people smarter than me, some of who have spent their entire lives studying a subject, can’t agree, chances are great that no one can be sure and that it’s mostly opinion.