Tag Archives: history

Writing On …

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I admit that I have a love/hate relationship with writing.  I love writing and it brings me a lot of joy.  At the same time, I hate it when I get so busy with other things in my life that I let writing go by the wayside.  It isn’t that I don’t have time.  I don’t make the necessary time.  That must change.  Not a month from now, not a week from now, but today.  As I now have nothing but time, maybe I need to work it into my schedule in a way that is sustainable when the world rights itself again.

It’s strange.  Growing up, I always wanted to live through historic events.  I loved history and wanted to be a part of it.  What I didn’t realize when I was younger is that we all live through history.  The reasons I love genealogy and history so much are the countless stories of ordinaries peoples’ lives during extraordinary circumstances.  If that doesn’t describe these times, nothing will.  If nothing else, I hope those of us who love to write, whether for an audience or just ourselves, take this opportunity to detail our lives in this moment.

I can’t wait for the day when I argue with my mom whether the corona virus epidemic hit in 2020 or 2021.  We will get through this, and I can’t wait for the party when we do!  I do hope it brings us together and closer to God.  I also hope that our society somehow learns patience.  We need to slow down and appreciate what we do have.  Every one of us.

You can find my podcast here

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One Week …

I will never forget Friday, March 13th, 2020.  I teach middle school at a small, rural Catholic school, and we had just had an unexpected day off due to a boiler issue.  Late in the day on Thursday, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer mandated all schools closed as of Monday, March 16th.  Suddenly we were all faced with an undetermined amount of time off.  Not only did teachers and administrators not quite know what to expect, students looked to us for answers and we had none.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.  After school on that Friday, we were supposed to have an after school event for March is reading month, Prime Time Live Friday Night.  Games, dinner, and prizes all cancelled.  Our once full March calendar suddenly free.  Now, our last Stations of the Cross is the last school memory I will have for a while.

I can’t help but think of all my 6th through 8th graders through all of this.  Are they OK?  How do I help make sure they are still learning?  What can I do when I can’t assign any graded work as not everyone has internet access?  I’ve worked my way through a crash-course on creating Google Classrooms, learning by doing.

Oh, the events!  I so looked forward to so many events this spring!  We had one field trip planned to Lansing in May, and I was in the process of booking another to the Michigan Science Center and the Detroit Institute of Art.  We were just beginning the novel Esperanza Rising as a middle school.  Oh, and the poetry unit I wanted to do.  Then there were the professional development opportunities now cancelled.  I looked forward to learning to become the best possible middle school teacher I can be.  I am hoping that I have the same opportunities next year.

Then there are the longer-term questions.  When will we return to school?  What to expect when we do?  When will society return to “normal’?  How will things work with our seasonal family business, which is due to start Memorial Weekend?  In fact, I’ve been splitting my time between trying to round up resources for my students and using this opportunity to get some business done.

Watching and observing how we have all come together as a profession (teachers are the best!), a church, a community, a state, and a country is heartwarming.  Ultimately, we will all become stronger through this adversity.

I will post resources soon!

Love and Loss

Love and Death

Lately, I can’t stop thinking about my life in September 2009 and all the changes it brought with it.  I can safely say it remains among the worst times in my life.  That month, I lost two people close to me, both of whom I knew most of my life, and my ex lost his job at a time when I found it impossible to find one.  The aftermath of that particular month still haunts me with unanswered questions and things left unsaid.

It started with Joyce.  She passed away on September 2nd.  It left me in shock as it was her husband who faced serious health issues at the time.  The thing is Joyce and I always had a special bond.  She babysat me from nine months of age until I was old enough to stay alone.  We always referred to her as the “babysitter,” but she became so much more to me, my sister, and my brother.  The truth is more complex.  She and her husband were essentially another set of grandparents whom happened to live next door.  When it came to grandparents – biological and otherwise – my siblings and I won the lottery.

As an adult, I tried to talk to her about subjects such as infertility and faith, but I never found the right words.  I found her increasing pessimism as she aged hard to take at times, even though she had every right to feel the way she did.  I knew that she would have wisdom to share, but I could never bring myself to ask her the hard questions.  Now, a bit older and wiser, I would love to have those conversations with her.

Shortly before or after Joyce passed away – that time frame is still fuzzy in my mind, even though I am fairly certain it all happened within days – my ex lost his job.  He just came home one morning when he should have been work, completely devastated.  It turned out that the company he worked for at the time slashed their workforce by 20%.  Only a few months prior to the layoffs, I had hoped to work there as well.  They never filled the position I so eagerly sought.

In fact, nothing I did during the years 2006-2009 seemed to matter much.  There were openings in my field.  Unfortunately, those positions would remain forever unfilled or I would be competing against someone with 20 or even 30 years of experience – for an entry-level job.  There simply were not enough jobs.  Period.

As cruel as it sounds, I wish I would have known then that things weren’t meant to work out for us.  My ex and I spent years trying to make it all work.  It never did.  As soon as things appeared to be getting better, something would happen to force us to start back at square one.  Out of all the years we were together – 2004-2014 – we both held jobs only one year.  One year out of ten.  The rest of the time, one of us remained unemployed, even though both of us held college degrees (three between us) and had plenty of work experience, not to mention looked continuously  for jobs in our fields.  Still, both of us were far too stubborn to give up.  After all we had been through together, it took two years of our relationship essentially unraveling before we finally had had enough, although the end wasn’t nearly that nice or simple.  I haven’t looked back.

Just when I began to adjust, one of my oldest and dearest friends passed away.  To this day, I think of him all the time.  I came home from work only for Brian to tell me that Derrick passed away.  It is the closest I’ve ever been to experiencing shock without physically being in shock.  Derrick and I went back so far I can honestly say I have no idea when we met – elementary school or possibly earlier; I don’t know.  What matters is the fact that I don’t remember life without Derrick prior to September 25, 2009.  We experienced so much together from elementary school to college.  I tried to capture our memories here.

First, nothing prepares you to lose a good friend who happens to still be in their 20s.  Nothing.  I didn’t know how serious his issues were.  Now, of course, I’d like to think that I would have been able to help in some small way.  Second, when you are unable to attend a close friend’s funeral, it does affect you – family or not.  I still remember trying to keep it together because I had to work the day of his funeral.  Later, I still found it difficult to be around his great aunt E.  Memories came flooding back as soon as I would see her.  I became so uncomfortable that I didn’t see her nearly as often as I should.  Now that she is gone too, I regret it.  Finally, I still see Derrick and I sniping at each other 50 years in the future, somehow managing to end up in the same nursing home.  Frankly, I feel cheated knowing it is simply not possible.

Ten years later, I am not the same woman.  I’ve experienced more loss in those years – and a lot of happiness.  I know myself better and worked hard towards new dreams and goals.  Still, when I think of those awful days of September 2009, I’d like to think that Joyce and Derrick both somehow know where I ended up.  I can only imagine the conversation Derrick and I would have had in the aftermath of my awful breakup with Brian.  He had been so happy that I’d finally found someone.  I can also imagine how happy Joyce would be to know that I am now a teacher and how deeply her faith affected me.  To Derrick and Joyce, I still love you both.

The Price of Love

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The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You – Part 2

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My Grandpa Russell sent this postcard from Moore Field near Mission, Texas to Julia Suszko (Grandma) in Hamtramck, Michigan in 1943. They later married in Mission, Texas – May 1943. Finding this postcard among family pictures answered a lot of questions about Grandma’s life between graduating from Sterling High School in June 1942 and marrying Grandpa by May 1943. I am so close to answering my questions!

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.

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My Russell grandparents in front of their rec home in Fort Worth, Texas ~ 1943

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.

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Consolidated B-24 Liberator – Consolidated Aircraft manufactured the B-24 in Plant 4 in Fort Worth, among other locations. This is likely the type of plane my grandmother worked on.

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.

The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You – Part 1

Texas

Projects Old and New

School

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.

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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.

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The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You – Part 1

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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 …

Texas