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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Broken Branches in the Family Tree

What a strange week I've had, one filled with family ghosts from a century ago. Their words, deeds, thoughts, and even a photo showing the face of a key player in a dramatic tragedy, someone I'd never seen, appeared with ease. It was as though they'd all been waiting for me to come along to release them and let them tell their stories. So fresh and real is the presence of my ancestors right now, that time means nothing.

It's a long story, one I plan to write a book about. It all began with some tattered and incomplete newspaper clippings discovered after both my grandparents were dead. I thought it had ended with me on my hands and knees looking for, and finding, my great-grandmother's unmarked grave. But no. The mysteries remained. Yet in less than a minute of looking at microfilm in the Tacoma Public Library's Northwest Room, I'd found another lengthy article and the complete versions of the rest. My family's tragedy made the news in Tacoma for weeks in that certain year. Those discoveries, along with others at the court house, and on the internet, especially in the Washington State Digital Archives, led to many more. All will become additional chapters in the family saga.

I sat in the library that day with a new friend and fellow researcher, Northwest author Lawrence D. "Andy" Anderson. I'd purchased his amazing book, "In the Shadow of the Mountain: A History of Early Graham, Kapowsin, Benston, Electron, and Vicinity," almost two years earlier. Now some strange coincidences, and a mutual acquaintance, had brought us together. Because of his interest in the area in which part of the story occurred, and having been caught up in the intrigue, he kindly offered to educate me on archival research. I showed him an old group photo I knew nothing about and he recognized three people in it. Now he's in deep, as excited as I am to uncover more information.

Today I called my mother's elderly first cousin on the East Coast. I've been keeping her abreast of these developments, since her father and my grandmother were both innocent children living out this drama, orphaned when their mother died. She told me a story I'll never forget. One day, when her parents were newlyweds, someone knocked on the door of their house on Vashon Island, here in Washington. Her mother opened it to find one of the people involved in this family story standing on the porch. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. Please forgive me," he said. She screamed. Her husband ran to her side but the man was gone. The next day they received a telegram saying this person had died, in New Jersey, just before he appeared to them.

I might have been more amazed had it not been a week full of these kinds of revelations. After Andy and I spent the day at the library, I came home obsessed with it all. I thought so much about my great-grandmother, whose high-collared dress and Gibson Girl hairdo frame a beautiful face with haunting eyes, in an old portrait I have. She seems to speak to me. I asked her to lead me in the right direction. Little did I dream I'd learn so much in one week, how many clues would fall into my lap. That night, just before bed, I realized something that stunned me; out of 365 possible days of the year on which I might have researched her life, that day, was the anniversary of her death. I hope she'll soon rest in peace.

Copyright 2009 Candace J. Brown

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans' Day - words from a Civil War Veteran

In 1909 a Union Army officer named Philip Cheek published a history of the Sauk County Riflemen, another name for Company A of the 6th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, in which both he and my great-great-grandfather served. It was part of the famous "Iron Brigade." His words still deliver an impact.

My ancestor joined in 1861, at the age of 20, during the early and passionate recruitment campaigns that swept over even the rural areas of Wisconsin with their tidal wave of patriotism. Now a century has passed since he was wounded in the leg at Gainesville on the evening before the 2nd Battle of Bull Run. The account of that time, as his officer and fellow soldier Philip Cheek wrote it, haunt us yet, 100 years later.

"The regiment advanced in line of battle across a field. Soon we heard a rip-rip, but did not fully realize the situation until the boys began to fall. Philip Hoefer was the first one hit in our company. We finally reached the assignment. "Halt! Right dress! Ready! Aim! Fire!" and the old 6th gave a volley that awoke a cheer from the other three regiments and a corresponding yell from the other side. And that yell. There is nothing like it this side of the infernal region and the peculiar corkscrew sensation that it sends down your backbone under these circumstances can never be told. You have to feel it, and if you say you did not feel it and hear the yell you have never been there."

Most of us have never been there. We may hear of, but cannot truly know the particular horrors of war. The weapons and technology may have changed in the past century, but mankind has not. When we see the flag waving in Tacoma and elsewhere on this Veterans Day, remember all those brave Americans who have fought for our country and still are fighting today. A great many of them have experienced these sensations, and worse. May all those of us who "have never been there," remember to offer our heartfelt respect and gratitude to all the veterans being honored today, as well as the active-duty soldiers still risking their lives. We know they will not all come home.

Here is how Cheek ended his book:

"No man liveth to himself alone. Not for themselves, but for their children, for those who may never hear of them in their nameless graves, have they yielded life ...

Blessed be their memory forever."

Catching a Rainbow

This is no fish tale. It was the biggest rainbow I'd ever seen. I don't mean a trout. I mean a complete and perfect, faintly double semi-circle of radiant colors that, from my vantage point, arched in full glory from the Narrows Bridge to Vashon Island. Maybe you saw it too, if you live in Tacoma and happened to look west on Tuesday morning, Nov. 10. I opened the front curtains about 7:30, expecting just another rainy morning, and there it glowed before my eyes like a necklace of jewels.

"You HAVE to come see this," I yelled to my husband. He already had. I stood there mesmerized for probably a full minute before I thought to grab my camera. But this rainbow, wouldn't fit in the "net" of my lens. I could only catch parts of it. And even as I fumbled, running out onto the wet front porch in my bare feet, it began to fade, "the big one that got away." Like so many of life's most perfect moments, it came and went too quickly. Maybe I should have forgotten about the camera and just stood there and savored every second.

I found a rainbow when I expected only rain. It made me think about the importance of keeping our eyes open to beauty, and keeping our hearts open to the little unexpected gifts of joy that come our way. I hope some of you saw it too, and agree with me that it was worth all this rain. Maybe, instead of rain, we should choose to expect rainbows.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Jazz, Scandinavians, Art, and Aliens - the Northwest Has it All

Anyone who dares to whine, "I'm b-o-r-e-d," doesn't belong around here, where we like to have FUN. So "get a life" and get out and about. This post on Good Life Northwest offers a few ideas of things to do this week and weekend.

First of all is the jazz. For those who read this on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2009, get on down to Seattle's Pike Place Market area TONIGHT and take in a great jazz trio at the Pink Door restaurant. Wednesdays always mean a fine time there with the best Italian food and Casey MacGill's Blue 4 Trio. This week though, band members Mike and Matt aren't available so Casey has invited two other great local musicians: Ray Skjelbred on piano and Dave Brown on bass, performing with him from 8-11 p.m. If you read this too late, too bad. But you might still be able to catch the First Thursday Band (guess when) on this first Thursday, Nov. 5, at the New Orleans Creole Restaurant in Seattle's Pioneer Square. Hear Ray Skjelbred and Dave Brown again, playing in this swinging quartet while you dine on flavorful New Orleans and Creole food in one of the city's oldest buildings. Check out all the portraits of jazz greats that cover the walls.

Even if you miss these two performances there's still the Lance Buller Trio at Maxwell's, 454 St. Helens Ave. in Tacoma on Sat. Nov. 7, 8-11 p.m. He plays a hot horn, sings, and makes you laugh. A proud citizen of Tacoma, Lance is known far and wide.

Treat yourself to an exhibit at the Tacoma Art Museum called "A Concise History of Northwest Art," featuring works from the museum's collection covering the decades from about 1880 to the present. It just opened and runs through May 23, 2010. I plan to go, so watch for my review here soon.

Don't forget the exhibit called "In Search of Amelia Earhart," at Seattle's Museum of Flight. Whether or not you saw or enjoyed the movie "Amelia," you'll love the exhibit. I wrote about it here last week, and it is as exciting as promised. You don't want to miss this opportunity to see over 100 artifacts including an actual part of the missing plane. Click on the link, if you don't believe me. And there's more going on...

This Saturday at 2 p.m. the Museum of Flight offers a lecture that's "out of this world." Dr. Woody Sullivan, a University of Washington astronomer will speak in the William M. Allen Theater on several topics related to the possibility of life on other planets, including the search for Earth-like planets, the likelihood of life on other planets within our solar system, and SETI, an institute focused on the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. He's been involved with SETI for three decades and is the man behind the SETI@home project. Although the interest in extraterrestrial life is nothing new, now scientists can carry out experiments and research. Check the Museum of Flight website for details. The lecture is free with admission and part of the museum's celebration of the International Year of Astronomy 2009.

Need some fresh Pacific Ocean air? Head out west to Ocean Shores for the "Jazz at the Beach" Dixieland Jazz Festival, with nine bands featuring the music of America's great "Jazz Age." While you're in Ocean Shores, enjoy the coast. No matter what the weather, it's always good for the body and soul to be there, hear waves and seagulls, and breathe all that oxygen.

Speaking of waves and seagulls, that makes me think of our proud local Scandinavians whose ancestors helped shape Pacific Northwest culture. My own Danish great-grandfather was a pioneer on Vashon Island. All the Scandinavian countries will be represented at fun events this weekend and next. Experience the Northwest's Nordic heritage at the Scandinavian Festival in Bellingham. Presented by the Nellie Gerdrum Lodge #41, of the Daughters of Norway, this festival draws an eager crowd every year for Scandinavian vendors, live music, a cafe with traditional foods, a bakery full of delicious pastries, and hourly door prizes. The festival runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Fox Hall at the Hampton Inn hotel, 3895 Bennett Drive. Admission in ONE DOLLAR.

Next week you can attend another fabulous festival, the Nordic Fest in Langley, on Whidbey Island. Find Scandinavian sweaters, jewelry, traditional foods, live entertainment and more. This event is presented by the Ester Moe Lodge # 39, D.O.N. Time: 9:30am – 3:30pm, at the South Whidbey High School Commons, 5675 Maxwelton Road.

See why I call it GOOD LIFE NORTHWEST? Now go enjoy yourself.