The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You – Part 1
Somehow, I always sensed family ties to Texas, but until fairly recently, I didn’t realize how strong that connection remains. Growing up, I knew that Grandma Reid lived in Texas with Grandpa Russell during World War II. In fact, they married in Mission, near McAllen and the border. After training at Moore Field (near Mission), Grandpa Russell served in the Army Air Corp in Fort Worth. Grandma worked as an ice box riveter, eventually telling me stories about her experiences at Plant 4. I couldn’t get enough of the stories or the era. Unfortunately, I couldn’t simply ask.
Or at least I didn’t feel I could. Grandma and I always had a great relationship, but some things didn’t require words. During their time in Fort Worth, 1943-1945, Grandpa Russell, and later, my dad’s older brother Eddie, made up Grandma’s family. My dad and aunt wouldn’t be in the picture for years yet.
Sadly, both Grandpa Russell and Eddie passed away long before I could meet either. I felt bringing up and asking questions about Grandma’s life in Texas would be unnecessarily cruel. Yet, she did tell me a few stories, and I consider myself lucky. Grandma remained a part of Grandpa Russell’s family long after she remarried. It is through her that I gained a sense of what Grandpa Russell and Eddie were like and learned about the Russell family.
During the year I lived in Houston, I finally visited Fort Worth. I drove by the factory where Grandma worked. At a mile long, it continues to impress. What struck me most was the courage it must have taken for two young adults to leave rural Arenac County, Michigan and their family farms for the unknown of wartime Texas. While it is true that Grandma lived in Hamtramck, Michigan with family prior to moving to Texas, neither she nor Grandpa Russell had family in Fort Worth or even Texas. They, of course, were far from alone. Sacrifices made by the Greatest Generation, at home and abroad, will never fail to inspire me.
One of my favorite Texas stories is the story Grandma told of meeting her manager at Plant 4 for the first time. He went on about how wonderful it was to have someone with experience riveting in Detroit. In reality, his speech left Grandma terrified. She did have experience riveting in Detroit – true – but it completely differed from what she was now being expected to do. Who knew there were so many different types of riveting? Fortunately, she learned quickly.
After the war, my grandparents eventually moved back to Michigan and the Russell farm. Still, those experiences stayed with Grandma. In June 2002, as I prepared to leave for Austin, I said goodbye to Grandma at the canoe livery. Always the joker, one of the last things she said before I left was: “They’ll call you a damn Yankee, you know.” I brushed it off. In 1943, maybe. 2002? Never.
Well, Grandma proved to be correct. The first words words I heard in Texas were: “Damn Yankee, huh?” After landing in Austin, I loaded up my rental car with all I needed for the next six months. Predictably, in the era before GPS and Google Maps, I became lost on my way to my new apartment complex. I pulled into a supermarket and asked for directions. Of course, as soon as I opened my mouth, the nice man I asked responded jokingly “Damn Yankee, huh?” We laughed as he gave me directions. Yes, my time in Texas started off well.
When I think of family history and Texas, I tend to think of Dad’s family. His parents married there. Uncle Eddie, born in 1945 in Fort Worth, truly was a Texan. Well, there is history in Texas on Mom’s side as well. It is murkier, and I wish I knew it better.
Mom’s maternal grandparents, Bion A. Hoffman and Beatrice Smith, divorced during the 1930s. While my great-grandmother regrouped and went back to school to become a teacher, Grandma B. and her sisters lived with their grandparents in Lincoln, Nebraska. While I am not exactly sure when, Bion, or as my mom knew him, Grandpa Pat, eventually moved to Houston. In fact, he died in Houston in the late 1980s. While I can’t confirm this, I believe he ranched. If it is true, it makes perfect sense. Bion came from a long line of ranchers and farmers who moved west and eventually settled in Nebraska. Hopefully one day I will be able to confirm that my great-grandfather ranched near Houston.
While I didn’t fall in love with Houston – or even like it much – one good thing did come out of it all. Even though my sister and my brother-in-law met at Michigan State, they fell in love in Houston. Spring break 2005, my sister decided to visit and bring a “friend.” It didn’t take me long to figure out that there was more to the story. My nephews can honestly say that their parents fell in love in Texas. My family may be firmly rooted in Michigan, but there are also deep Texas ties.
Over the last several weeks and months, I have finally recognized how important writing and reading is to my quality of life and my sheer happiness. No joke. If I have a writing project, I am happy. As a student, I loved writing assignments. Even if I didn’t love the subject, the book, or whatever it may be, I could always count on myself to do well.
Some of my earliest and best memories of elementary school are of creating “stories.” As I learned to write, my “stories” became less picture/drawing based and included more writing. I love the fact that writing plays such a prominent role in my earliest educational memories. By the way, I still can’t draw.
What I’ve come to realize over the last week or so is that I didn’t value my early writing much. When I say early writing, I am not talking about childhood or even adolescent writing. Those journals are safely tucked away never to see the light of day. No, I am talking about the writing I did from 2005-2012. During that time frame, I published dozens of throw-away articles for a now-defunct website called Associated Content. As a writer for Associated Content, I wrote articles on all kinds of topics – reviews, how-to, and more – for a small upfront payment and then residuals. Page views mattered! After a couple of years, the site sold out to Yahoo!, which eventually shut it down. Even though I had ample warning and could have saved my hundreds of articles, I didn’t. I didn’t care enough. The content just didn’t interest me enough.
While I don’t regret not putting in the time and effort to save my work with Associated Content, I do regret not saving my JamsBio work. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much notice. JamsBio, a now defunct online magazine, paid writers to discuss their memories as it related to music. I only wrote ten blog posts, but it was the most fun I ever had “working.” Even though I wish I had those articles, the ideas planted by writing those pieces live on. I will eventually write something similar here.
The reason why all of this came to mind lately is due to different projects I am currently working on. I just wrote my first piece for the Macbeth Post and had my first podcast published on Spartans Helping Spartans. In fact, I am in the middle of writing a series of posts on study abroad for Spartans Helping Spartans as we speak. All wonderful stuff that I will share here.
That’s just it. I need to share some of my other work here. There is an infamous piece I wrote on the Witchy Wolves of the Omer Plains for Michigan’s Otherside. It is probably the earliest writing I did online or close to it. I’ve toyed with the idea of a rewrite, but people keep finding it and sharing on Facebook. Then there are a handful of articles I’ve written for the Huron Shores Genealogical Society Genogram. I’ve long meant to share them here permanently. I just haven’t taken the time to do it yet.
As writers, we need to take care of our work and not let it become lost to time. I wish were better at taking care of my own work. On a fun note, I came across an old online journal dating back to 2003. Interesting doesn’t begin to describe it. It brought back memories long since forgotten. It is time for me to take better care of my own work.
Ah, Texas. Where do I even begin? First, there is my own history in both Austin and Houston. To make a long story short, I adored Austin and hated Houston. Go figure. My Texan friends tried to warn me. Either way, I spent just under a year and a half in the lone star state, and everything that happened during those times (Austin and Houston) still shape who I am today.
First, there was Austin. In 2002, I worked at Applied Materials as a co-op from June to December. I hated it at first, but soon, it became all I wanted after graduation from MSU: good job, good friends, and good music – maybe love. It really was as simple as that. As much as I enjoyed all the wonderful times I had there, the near catastrophes are what really stick in my mind.
On July 24th, 2002, I survived a major car accident: a moving truck turned in front me of while I had a green light. While I walked away from the accident with a broken big toe and metatarsal (that is how hard I braked), along with a few minor scrapes and bruises, any passenger probably would have been killed. Considering that I used to haul my brother around in my 1989 Grand Prix all the time, that shook me. What if he had been with me?
The accident itself took place out on 290 just before Applied Materials. I’d been on my way to work, and I later found out that my boss witnessed my crash. Somehow, I had many people looking out for me that day. One witness to the accident happened to be a nurse, and she stayed with me until the ambulance arrived. While I have almost no memory of anything until the hospital – probably due to shock – the Texas State Trooper who came to interview me about the crash couldn’t have been nicer. Then again, the accident clearly wasn’t my fault.
My mom, of course, was on the next flight out. When she arrived, she helped me manage buying a new car and finding a lawyer. We did both in style, and somehow, I negotiated my three-story walk-up sublet apartment in a splint up to my thigh. Mom, forced to drive in a completely unfamiliar city in an era before ubiquitous turn by turn navigation, marveled at how I already knew the streets and layout of Austin in such a short period of time. I still have fond memories of the few days Mom and I spent together in Austin.
Then, approximately a month or so after my accident, still in a walking cast and attending physical therapy, I found out that I could only sublet my apartment until the end of August, not the six months I had been promised and needed. I needed a new place to live yesterday. I panicked for a hot minute – and then rose to the occasion. Fortunately for me, Applied Materials had an internal classified section on their intranet. I started there. In the end, I found a wonderful roommate – a single mom who had worked at Applied for nearly a decade at that point – who owned a beautiful home minutes from work. I am still in touch with Karen today.
I could write almost endlessly about the time I spent with friends, including attending the first Austin City Limits Festival (now an institution), meeting Cheryl, the party we threw for Andy, and so, so much more. As I’ve said before, leaving Austin on a rainy, icy December morning, my heart shattered. Not so much with Houston.
So many friends tried to warn me about Houston. I wouldn’t be happy there. It started off well enough. My senior year at Michigan State, I intended to end up in Texas in any way possible. I made it to second round interviews with Applied Materials. Ultimately, they only took half of the engineers and supply chain people they interviewed. It did not help that my manager left before he could even evaluate me. In the end, I had no one on the inside fighting for me. I also ended up going through second round interviews at Dell. Less than a week after graduation, I ended up at FMC Energy Systems in Houston purchasing parts for wellheads. Frankly, it was a great first job – until it wasn’t. When I initially interviewed, I interviewed with five people in our department. By the time I left less than a year later, only two were still there – one on long-term medical leave. I won’t go on and on about Houston. There isn’t that much to tell: Wrong job, wrong city, wrong time, and wrong man. I think that about sums it up. We headed back to Michigan exhausted and broken.
I intended to write a post discussing my family’s history in Texas, which will now be part two; instead, it became a post describing my personal history in Texas. Looking back, I truly became an adult in Texas. I had some wonderful times, along with my share of disappointments. As much as I loved Austin, there is a reason none of it worked out. If Houston hadn’t ended in disaster and I hadn’t ended up back in Michigan, I wouldn’t have known my Grandpa Buttrick nearly as well. I belong in Michigan, even if a little piece of my heart will always be in Texas.
I didn’t know it at the time, but by running off to Texas, I was participating in a well-established family tradition going back generations.
Stay tuned for part two …
No, I am not talking about the generation that came of age during World War I, although we share many characteristics with that generation. I am talking about my own generation, those of use who came of age in the aftermath of September 11th, 2001. Specifically, I am talking about the Xennial microgeneration born roughly between 1977 and 1983 (1980 here). In my opinion, we are indeed a lost generation.
There are efforts to do away with this microgeneration altogether. It is needed. I don’t fully identify with Gen Xers or Millennials. I have characteristics of both and want to be associated with neither. Many people in my age bracket agree.
So much of it has to do with technology and economics. Most Gen Xers didn’t experience much if anything that the internet and cell phones had to offer until adulthood. They largely had an analog childhood. Millennials don’t remember life without either. Xennials, on the other hand, grew up right along with the changes. Millennials, by and large, had a digital experience growing up.
Economically, Gen Xers didn’t have it easy coming on the heels of Baby Boomers. Eventually most were able to take their place at the table, even if they rebelled at first. Millennials were still young enough during the tech boom and bust cycle, as well as the recession that followed September 11th, that they were able to use those experiences, often felt by parents, to make different economic and career choices. We Xennials were caught in the crossfire just as we were preparing for and beginning our careers. Just as we were trying to recover and establish ourselves, the Great Recession of 2008 hit. Many of us have never fully recovered. My story is a great example of this. Unfortunately, I have always known that I am far from alone.
Nothing prepared Xennials for any of it. We grew up in a time of great economic expansion during the 1980s and 1990s. Of course we did! Baby Boomers were just coming into their careers and purchasing power. They were raising young families: the kids that would eventually make up Gen X, Xennials, and even some older Millennials. In the end, it would not last – and our parents, mainly Baby Boomers, often didn’t have the experience to help us.
Baby Boomers are an odd group. I say that with love and affection because my parents, aunts, uncles, and countless friends are all Boomers. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t a quirky bunch, especially when it comes to money. For example, even though most Boomers found some measure of economic and career success, they are thrifty almost to a fault. They think nothing of spending thousands of dollars on vacations, renovations, and more, but quibble over the price of off-brand ketchup.
When it comes down to it, they can’t help it. They were by and large raised by the Greatest Generation, which experienced most if not all the Great Depression and then the sacrifices of World War II. It may seem ridiculous to us Xennials, but those penny-pinching habits of our grandparents became a part of our parents’ DNA, no matter the economic circumstances they experienced themselves.
I often think about how my own parents started their adult lives, and I can’t help but think of how different the times were. I wonder if my generation could replicate it. That’s largely the problem. We haven’t been afforded the opportunity to truly take our place at the economic and career tables. Our careers and economic lives remain on hold, although that is slowly changing.
Instead, retirement for our parents keeps getting pushed back. We faced absurd college tuition costs while being told that a traditional four-year degree (at least) is the only way forward when it isn’t the answer for everyone. The housing and stock markets crashed just as many of us were about to get our careers going and buy our first homes. Instead, we put off marriage and starting families of our own. In some cases, our lives are still on hold.
Younger Millennials and the generation after all had the opportunity to adjust to new circumstances and realities. We Xennials did not. We seemed to be perpetually at the wrong place at the absolute worst time. That is why we continue to struggle. The rules appeared to change just as we adjusted to the last set. I hope we aren’t completely overshadowed by our parents and Millennials, much in the same way the Silent Generation was largely eclipsed by the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers.
While I still consider us a “lost” generation, I don’t think we need to wander forever. But oh, how I wish we still had the guidance and wisdom of the Greatest Generation! There were so many lessons yet to be learned.
I don’t often talk about genealogy here, but that will soon change. I am fascinated by family history. My love of genealogy is intertwined with my love of reading, writing, history, and of course, my love of family. For me, genealogy brings it all together. Below is one of my favorite articles published in our Huron Shores Genealogical Society Genogram, December 2016. You can find the entire issue here.
Revealing the Truth
Whether we recognize it or not, we all have blind spots when it comes to our family history. As genealogists, it is sometimes easy to overlook the obvious. I experienced such an issue not long ago. The resolution will stay with me for some time. I thought I knew more about my great-grandmother, Leona Clara Forward Buttrick (my mother’s paternal grandmother), than I actually did.
Growing up just outside of my mother’s hometown of Standish, MI, my mother made sure that she took my sister and I to visit her grandmother, whom we nicknamed Great, weekly. We would often visit after school as she lived only a few blocks from Standish Elementary. Those visits stay with me. They inspired my interests in genealogy and history. Over time, Great told me stories of teaching in a one-room schoolhouse and how she met my great-grandfather, Hatley Buttrick. I also learned that her memories of growing up in Standish were not happy ones due to the loss of her mother in 1917.
For whatever reason, I assumed that Leona received training as a teacher in western Michigan where she was originally from and later settled. Her teaching stories involved a one-room schoolhouse in western Michigan. She later married my great-grandfather Hatley and lived in Marshall, MI for most of her adult life, only returning to Standish in 1980 to be closer to her children and grandchildren. I could not have been more wrong. I did not consider that may have continued her education in Standish after graduating from Standish High School in 1921.
When I first voiced my interest in researching my great-grandmother’s education, fellow HSGS member Lugene Suszko Daniels suggested I look in the then newly printed book Arenac County Normal, 1904-1957, written and compiled by the Arenac County Historical Society (2013). At first I doubted I would find anything. While I knew that Normal Schools provided teacher education in the earlier part of the 20th century, I largely associated the Arenac County Normal School with the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, not the early 1920s.
Not only did I find information on Leona Forward’s further education at the county normal school, I also found information on her senior year of high school. I also rediscovered a piece of family history I had forgotten. It turns out that she attended school, including county normal, with her step-sister Barbara Wilson. Ultimately, I purchased my own copy of the book. Not only does it contain pertinent family history, it also contains a treasure trove of local information, including ties to several people I know. Coincidentally, I came across this information as I decided to go back to school to earn my teaching certificate. I am proud to continue to teaching tradition in my family, and I am glad that I was able to fill in the details of my great-grandmother’s educational history. Never pass up the opportunity to search all local resources, even if you think that they may not apply. You never know what you may find.
“Then I understood that in my own life I represented a whole period of American history. That the frontier was gone, and agricultural settlements had taken its place when I married a farmer. It seemed to me that my childhood had been much richer and more interesting than that of children today, even with all the modern inventions and improvements.” – Laura Ingalls Wilder, as referenced in Prairie Fires by Caroline Fraser
Storytelling just seems to be on my mind lately. Recently, while substitute teaching a high school English class, students were asked to respond to a journal prompt asking them to name the best storyteller in their life and what made that person such a great storyteller. As students wrote, I responded in my own way. I thought about what I would write.
Hands down, my dad is the best storyteller I know. Maybe it is the fact that he is a hunter and storytelling is such a rich part of the hunting tradition or maybe he just likes to gab. It could be a little of both. As a young girl, I loved listening to my dad’s stories, no matter what the subject. Throughout my childhood, he told me local legends, none of which I quite believed. In fact, my dad has a reputation for making a story more exciting or scary for his children. When he told me the local legend of the witchy wolves (you can read what I wrote about them here), I truly thought he made it up in an effort to scare me and my sister. Our family happened to be walking in the Omer plains, the supposed home of the witchy wolves, when he told me this story, which added to the ambiance. One of many, dad always seemed to have some story to share.
What makes him such a good storyteller? I am not sure, but I do know that he likes to include elements of truth, humor, and fear in his stories. His best stories include all three. Some of his hunting stories, which always contain more of a human element than anything, stick with me after all these years. More than anything, he knows how to keep interest and seems to always have a story for any occasion.
If there is one thing that I hope to inherit from my parents, it is their storytelling abilities. While children’s love of good storytelling doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, there is a disconnect. They way we tell stories changed. If we are looking to encourage kids to engage more with the world around them instead of the digital world, maybe we should encourage them to tell their own stories and develop their own storytelling abilities and style.
Growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, I am a part of the micro-generation between Gen Xers and Millennials, born between 1977 and 1983, now called Xennials. Those of us in that microgeneration watched our world transition from analog to digital. This is one of the main reasons we are considered our own microgeneration. While Gen Xers largely experienced a largely analog childhood, Millennials are the first true digital natives. As a Xennial, I experienced the transition firsthand. This is precisely why I can relate to the Laura Ingalls Wilder quote above. I may not have experienced the frontier, but I did experience a fundamental change in culture and way of life. I can only hope to tell my story of that transition. All I can do is keep trying.