Friday, January 27, 2006

Mental Switches

When you've done genealogy for 30+ years and you have amassed over 7900 names in your database of people you are related to by blood or by marriage, you can react to names seen in the newspaper with echoes of recognition that you can't place. One of my daily habits is to scan the obituaries for family names. The previously mentioned 7900 individuals involve over 1700 different surnames, so after awhile any surname can ring a faint tinkle of a memory.

I have a lot of extended family living in the Austin metro area, so I do find quite a few obituaries in the daily paper that ring that bell of recognition. If the person is in my direct line of family, I can generally place them quickly. It's those related lines that can give me whiplash over the morning cup of coffee as I try to remember where that surname fits into the family web.

One such case happened just after the holidays. A lady named Wunneburger died. Nothing in the detail of her obituary sounded familiar. But I kept thinking I should cut out that item and put it in the folder of things that need to be filed. I remembered quickly enough that one of my great-granduncles married a Wunneburger, but I had acquired a little bit of data on the wife's family and this particular Wunneburger did not seem to fit into that family. I cut the item out anyway, still puzzling over why I felt I needed to hang onto it. I thought I might email a cousin who was involved with the Mobley/Wunneburger connection and ask her if she knew who this woman was.

A few days later, when I was putting some new data into my Family TreeMaker database, I decided to check and see if I had put any additional data in the program that I had not printed out and incorporated into my notebooks. When I inquired against "Wunneburger", it suddenly fell into place. I had remembered the Mobley connection to the Wunneburgers, but I had forgotten that my Lentz line had intermarried with the Wunneburgers as well. It turned out that this woman's mother had been a Lentz, who had married a Wunneburger, and whose marriage I had dutifully entered into my database somewhere along the way. I had known nothing about their children until this woman's obituary came along. The obituary had listed her parents' names, but not her mother's maiden name. Somewhere in my subconscious, the connections had been made and I had known that I needed to retain that obituary for my records.

People sometimes ask me how I can remember all the data I can readily recite about the family history. I'm not sure, but 30 years of research and record sorting and data input have created a lot of shortcuts in my memory. I might not be able to give you a precise date for someone's birth or death, but I bet I can tell you the approximate years and locations of those events for all of my direct ancestors for several generations. At any time, I am juggling ideas for where to look next to find that missing census record or marriage license or grave for probably a dozen or so individuals. And I have little memory flags that go up when I hit a familiar name, telling me immediately which lines they probably connect to.

I've often marveled at the mind's ability to map. I will confess to having blind spots about certain areas, but for the most part I can remember how to get to pretty nearly anywhere I have ever been. And when I am stymied by road construction or accidents, I can almost feel the brain circuits backing up and pondering alternate routes. And seconds later, I might have one or even two viable routes mapped out without knowing how I arrived at the conclusion. It's almost magic and I continue to be amazed at how quickly and efficiently the brain does its thing.

It's the same with genealogy for me. The family maps have been traced and re-traced many times through my memory circuits and the solution will sometimes leap out at me even when I didn't know I was working on the problem. Even though I carry along a laptop and can refer to my family database, my mind will generally have the correct family isolated before the computer finishes booting.

They say that mental activity is the greatest tool to fight senility. I certainly hope that is so, because my brain is constantly running those genealogy queries against my mental database and will hopefully do so until my heart gives out. I'm hoping to hit 101, like Mr. Lane. That will give me another 50 years to collect relatives. My body may be flabby, but my brain should be in good shape. It gets lots of exercise, thanks to my hobby.

Genealogy. It's a good mental health thing.


Thursday, January 26, 2006


You know him, even if you don't know that you do. The notice was in the paper this morning that Charles Lane turns 101 today. Wow. And what a career he has had. Check out the list at the Internet Movie Database by clicking on his name above.

You have seen him as the crotchety clerk giving Lucy a hard time when she went to get her passport. He gave her a hard time as the accountant Ricky hires to get their finances in order.

You have seen him (if you're old enough) as Homer T. Bledloe in Petticoat Junction, always giving trouble to the Shady Rest Hotel. He was the old man that James Garner picks up along the highway in Murphy's Romance. He has been innumerable characters in innumerable movie and television appearances, always playing some irritable old codger or contrary government agent. He was honored at an awards show last year, at age 100, and remarked that he was available for work. He's a lot like the Energizer Bunny. He just keeps going.

Obviously he won't be with us much longer. He will be one that won't get the big hour-long retrospectives when he goes, but his contributions to the entertainment industry have been significant. I, for one, will miss him when he goes. He always added flavor to any production he was a part of.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Lane. You've done good.


Monday, January 23, 2006


I've been revisiting my childhood recently. At least so far as the literary aspects of my childhood. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas I picked up a book on CD that I remembered fondly from about the 6th grade or so. Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott. And the past two weeks I have been listening to another childhood classic, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith.

I wondered at first if I would really enjoy listening to Little Women, because I remembered it so well. I must have read that book a dozen times and watched the movie adaptations another dozen times. But I rediscovered whole sections of the book that I did not remember. You know how it is. When you re-read books, you end up skipping the long descriptive parts and skip ahead to the good parts. I'm so glad that I re-experienced the entire book as an adult. I can appreciate those long narratives now. Louisa May Alcott was a gifted writer.

I was a little hesitant to re-experience A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I did not remember it as clearly, but I did recall that as much as I enjoyed the story, it was frequently depressing as Francie Nolan comes of age in the squalor and poverty of New York slums. But I have found myself enthralled anew with the imagery and characterization that Betty Smith created. I realize why I was so drawn to the book when I first read it way back when. I saw myself in the character of Francie. I, like Francie, always felt like an outsider in school. I, like Francie, discovered that books allowed you to escape your boundaries and experience other worlds. I, like Francie, found it hard to make friends. We both were especially close to our younger brothers and felt obliged to watch out for them. I guess the best books are those where you find yourself.

How nice to discover that books of your childhood are every bit as good as you remember them. And how nice to listen to the stories from an adult perspective. You catch so many more nuances of the writing.

I wonder if young girls these days read Little Women and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I hope so. It would be a shame to miss such well-crafted novels. They are works of art.


Thursday, January 19, 2006

It Just Ain't Fair

Say you're a man. You want a pair of jeans. You are, say, waist 33, length 35. You walk into a store, pick up a pair of jeans with those size markings, don't bother trying them on, pay for them, go home, put them on and away you go. (What am I thinking? You probably send the wife to pick them up and avoid the store altogether.)

Say you're a woman. You want a pair of jeans. You are say, size 14, average height. You walk into a store. You pick up 25 pair of jeans marked with those sizes. You try on every one of them. Two pair out of 25 fit. Twenty-two pair are too small. One pair is too large. Of the two that fit, one is the right length, the other is too long.

To add insult to injury, the lighting in the dressing room makes you look like you have hepatitis. The mirrors make you look like a beach ball, even if you are anorexic. Which I am not.

It's a conspiracy. Give me five minutes alone with the man in charge.

It just ain't fair.


Monday, January 16, 2006

Girl's Day Out

Well, sometimes I can just be so durned stoopid.

I decided two days ago to use the morning of this Monday holiday to go out to Ridgeway Cemetery and grab photos of a few graves that I somehow had missed spotting on numerous visits in the past. I made sure to check my camera to be sure the batteries did not need charging, made some idle notes to take along about the folks I was looking for, called my faithful companion Xana and off we went.

It's about twelve miles out to the cemetery, and the drive out there is one of my favorites. Curves, gentle hills and pine trees all the way. We were feeling pretty good about life. Just before we got to the Ridgeway turn, I decided to take a small side trip to Dixon Prairie Cemetery to get a photo of the cemetery to submit for the main cemetery page in the Find a Grave database. We parked, I got set to take my picture, and realized what I had not thought to check. My memory card was resting inside the laptop, back at the house. My extra, insurance memory cards were sitting on my jewelry armoire. My little backup keychain camera was dead as a doornail, apparently needing a new battery. I was without means to take any pictures.

After spitting out a few choice words (gently, so as to not upset Xana, who keeps constant vigilant watch on Mom's moods), I came up with a solution. I drove the extra 4-5 miles to Paige, found a Chevron station and bought a disposable camera to use for the day. I was put out with myself, but pleased that I came up with an alternative approach that saved the trip.

So long as we had gone that far out of the way, I decided to wander a bit further down the road and get a photo of the gate to the Friendship Cemetery. That decision made Xana's day.

In a field just a few yards away from the cemetery were two donkeys. They were a striking sight, as one was all white and the other was mostly black. As I was returning to the highway after making my picture, I pulled off on the side of the road, lowered the window, and snapped a couple of pictures. Xana was intrigued by the weird creatures. She growled and barked at them, which had the effect of getting them curious about her. They ambled over to the fence to take a closer look. Like two kids, they proceeded to put on a show, butting heads and braying loudly. It was well worth the stop and made the whole detour worthwhile.

We got back to our original plans about 15 minutes later. (On the way back, we passed a shop named "Essence of Paige". If you've never been through Paige, let me tell you that I can't think of any reason why I would want to stop and acquire any essence of the place. I guess I'm going to have to make a point of stopping there sometime and learning what exactly passes for "essence of Paige".)

We were alone at Ridgeway, which meant Xana could run freely among the graves. I love that cemetery because it sits off the highway, down at the end of a gravel road. You are too far away from traffic to advertise that you are a solitary woman in a remote place and if somebody does decide to head that way, you have plenty of time to hear them coming and scoot back to the safety of your car. Nobody bothered us and we proceeded to look for our heretofore missing gravesites.

We found everyone we were looking for and then some. As many times as I have walked that cemetery, today I found two more cousins, their husbands, and folks nearby who were probably their in-laws. I found some Dunkin graves that I did not know were out there with the Mobley kin. I visited great-grandaunt Molly Hodge. And I found a grave that caught me off guard.

There is a story in the family of Cage Christian, a Georgia-born boy who married a daughter of great-great-granduncle Hezekiah Mobley. They lived in the McDade area, during the time when McDade was a wild and woolly little burg. The story differs, depending on who is telling it, but basically it involved a group of vigilantes who were running in the area. Some would have it that Cage Christian was one of the vigilantes and got crosswise with his companions. The family story is that he was invited to join the group, declined, and when word got out about some of the group's activities, he was accused of being the snitch.

Whatever the truth may be, one day Cage and his wife Mary Ann were out riding and were confronted by a group of men. When Cage stepped down off his horse, he was shot dead while his wife watched. Mary Ann would never remarry, living out the rest of her life keeping house for her brother Joe and taking care of various orphaned nieces and nephews.

I did not know where Cage Christian was buried. One version I found in a local history account had him buried outside the fence of the McDade cemetery because he was not acceptable for burial inside its boundaries. Until today, I had accepted that story.

Today, I passed by Mary Ann's grave at Ridgeway and just happened to glance inside the iron fence adjoining her grave. On all previous trips to Ridgeway, I am fairly certain that the grave has been unmarked. Today, a relatively new marker had been added for Micaja Jesse Christian. All this time Mary Ann has rested beside her husband and I had no idea he was there. It was a pleasant surprise to see that someone (one of my cousins I'm certain) has chosen to place a memorial for the man who history has probably judged inaccurately as one who lived outside the law.

For a trip that started out with my mentally kicking myself, it became a really good genealogy exercise. Xana was happy with her outing, too. It was time well spent for this holiday morning. All's well that ends well. (As for the pictures, I used up every one of the 27 exposures and dropped the camera off at HEB. Two days from now, I should be in business.)


Friday, January 13, 2006

Getting Ready

Today we cast Cindy and Lana in the roles of Lucy and Ethel in the episode "Getting Our Passports". Well it wasn't quite like that. Neither of us had to consider stowing away in a trunk because we couldn't find our birth certificates. We didn't almost miss the window for getting our application in due to riding around Town Lake loaded on dramamine. But we (that is, I) did hit one snag in the department of passport photos. It took three tries to get one that was acceptable. The government wants you to wear your glasses in the picture and mine insisted on creating glare that made me look addled. Lord knows I don't need any help in that direction, so we kept trying until we got a winner. I look like a dumpy little old lady, but at least I don't have x's where my pupils should be.

So all systems should be go come October when we depart for a seven day Carribbean genealogy cruise. No, we don't have ancestors in the Carribbean. We will be attending genealogy flavored classes and presentations when we're not sightseeing in the Virgin Islands and the Bahamas. There's a great slate of speakers scheduled, we're requesting a cabin with its own balcony and we will be doing anti-hurricane dances as the time approaches to sail away.

That's one of my New Year's resolutions down. I've toyed with the idea of getting a passport for a couple of years and the process is finally in motion. Now I start working on getting the fence for the dogs and the window shades replaced.

And, just for the record, my first resolutions for the year are having positive benefits. My back is feeling so much better and my feet aren't hurting nearly so bad. I'm actually glad that I made myself go see doctors. First time in five years that I haven't had subliminal pain to deal with. I may very well have to eat my words about doubting chiropractors.


Tuesday, January 10, 2006

I Have a Paper Problem

The real problem is that I'm good at shopping. I buy ahead and I look for bargains. And the post-Christmas sales are hard to pass by. So far I've picked up ornaments, wrapping paper, gift bags and other Christmas related doo-dads for at a minimum of 40% off regular price.

Yesterday, I suddenly remembered that I had not yet stopped by the Office Max on 5th and Lamar for a post-Christmas look-see. It's not the handiest of the Office Max stores, but for some reason they have really good clearance sales. And they always have some leftover Christmas printer paper, so I make a point to stop there after the season.

I confess that I am a paper junkie. It started innocently enough when I started helping a friend get out a monthly calendar to his family. Plain white paper was boring after a few months, so I started picking up colored papers. And then theme paper. His calendar had hearts in February, shamrocks in March, Easter eggs in April, flowers in May, etc.

Then I started the family newsletter to share my genealogy finds. Another good excuse for obtaining different paper to dress up my dry research articles. The boxes of paper on the shelves in my office began to grow. I got tired of trying to find the paper I wanted for whatever project I was working on, so the paper moved from cardboard envelope boxes to clear shoeboxes from The Container Store.

Whatever the occasion, I can provide a theme paper. Birthday, Halloween, summer, spring, fall, winter, happy hour, seashore name it, I got it. Paper with curved edges, paper with imbedded sparkles, paper containing banana (no kidding), parchment in several colors. I have a regular smorgasbord of paper at my fingertips.

Anyway, I stopped by Office Max at 5th and Lamar yesterday on my way home and hit the jackpot. All their 100 sheet pack Christmas paper was marked down from $6.95 a package to $1.50. I picked up 6 packages in different designs. Not bad, I thought. I decided to go check out their other clearance area in the back of the store. Halloween, Thanksgiving and autumn papers were waiting there. Another 300 sheets of paper, plus matching envelopes. (Have I mentioned the envelopes? They have their own box.) That's 900 sheets of paper I toted in this morning. The bad news is that I've run out of space in my storage boxes and will have to buy at least one, possibly two to hold this newly acquired treasure.

I feel a little like that poor guy in the commercial. To paraphrase, "I'm in paper up to my eyeballs. Somebody help me!". On second thought, touch my paper and there will be trouble. It's mine. All mine. You can't have any....


Saturday, January 07, 2006

Joy Riding

I've been hard at work entering family burial information at Find A Grave. I'm about half-way done, I would think. Earlier this week as I was working on recording the graves out at the Cedar Creek Cemetery, I was reminded that I needed to get a photo of cousin Beulah Martin's grave. All of us are getting a little stir crazy lately, so I suggested that Mother and the dogs ride along with me today on a good old-fashioned cemetery hop. Or, as my father would call it, visiting the shut-ins.

Going anywhere these days is quite an endeavor. I have to load Mother and her walker or wheelchair. I always take my laptop along, for possible reference and to ensure that I have a copy of my family files off site when I'm not at home. The puppies are still learning how to travel, so they ride along in their travel carriers rather than loose in the car. So both travel carriers had to be loaded. Then there was my purse and my camera. And the bottle of water for Mother and the Diet Coke for me. Then I had to chase Mojo down, because he hates motor noices and he didn't much cotton to the idea of getting in the car.

We finally got off about 10:30. Off we sailed to Cedar Creek. Puppies whining in the backseat. Xana in paroxysms of joy in the front seat. It was a beautiful day for a ride to the country.

The Cedar Creek cemetery is completely fenced with chain link, so I was able to let Xana run around the cemetery while I snapped the necessary pictures. Once business was taken care of, I let the puppies out of their carriers for a little romp. They had a grand time frisking around, peeing on the odd curbstone and chasing each other among the graves.

From the cemetery, we headed back to the highway to find some fast food. There's a new Sonic just past the turn off to Union Chapel. We indulged in hamburgers for us and popcorn chicken for the dogs, then headed home. The whole outing took about 2 hours and when we got home Mother and the 3 dogs conked out for naps. It doesn't take much to tire them out. It was a nice change of routine for all of us.

I always find it restful to visit country cemeteries. In a remote corner of the Upper Cedar Creek cemetery, someone had hung a windchime from the tree above a grave and the breeze provided a tinkling melody while I watched the dogs having their run. A tractor was operating in the pasture next door. When I stopped briefly at the Lower Cedar Creek cemetery, a small group of cows ambled across the road, and I had to step carefully over a cattleguard to get one of the pictures I was after. I would much rather ramble around in the country than hang out in the city any old day.

Even after I got home and discovered that both of the puppies had been sick in their carriers and that Xana had shed copious amounts of white hair in the car and Mother had dropped her french fries and ground them into the carpet, it didn't spoil my sense of calm acquired by a visit to the shut-ins.


Thursday, January 05, 2006


Texas 41 - USC 38

Even though I thought it was a losing battle, I stayed with the home team to the victorious end. Glad to admit I was wrong to doubt them. Way to go!

The babies thought their mommy had lost her ever-lovin' mind. I've not whooped over a football game in a couple of decades. Thought I had forgotten how.

The last time I felt like this was along about 1970.


Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Stand By for Hell to Freeze Over

Believe it or not, I'm actually watching the Rose Bowl this evening. I do not usually spend my time watching sporting events. I occasionally tune in for a minute here or there of a college game that I find of interest, but I can usually find something more important to do. LIke watch the grass grow in the front yard. (Just kidding, sports fans.) I'm just not a sporty person.

And I also am of the opinion that I'm a jinx. It seems like every time I actually try to watch a game (usually a college bowl), the team I'm rooting for gets stomped in the ground. I watched Texas get slaughtered by Notre Dame so many years in the Cotton Bowl that I completely lost interest in what was going on in the college football arena. But it's been a long time since Texas was in the running for No. 1, so here I sit, hoping that I'm not ruining their chances by daring to watch the game.

Hell was already beginning to get a little frosty for other reasons. For years I have avoided doctors, only dragging myself in when it absolutely could not be avoided. And yet, this week I have voluntarily seen both a chiropractor and a podiatrist. I'm beginning to get a hint that the chiropractor may get my poor back whipped into shape. I'm optimistic that my feet will soon feel better, too. In both cases, I was blaming arthitis and in both cases, it turns out that I actually had physical damage causing the pain. So much for self-diagnosis.

Now Hell will surely freeze over if the doctor decides I need cortisone shots in my feet and I actually let him follow through. I don't do needles. I'm a little uneasy, because he looks big enough to sit on me if need be. I'm hoping that the medication he's prescribed does the trick and we don't have to find out.

Well, wonders never cease. And you can teach an old dog new tricks. But right at the moment, it doesn't look like Texas is going to pull it off, so I may have to swear off football again. It's just not in the cards for me to root for a winning team, I guess.


Monday, January 02, 2006

Getting Straight

Well, today was the first adjustment at the hands of a chiropractor. I've had mixed feelings about chiropractic medicine all my life, but I've finally caved in. That knot in my upper back just won't go away and I'm willing to try anything that might help. Many of my friends at work swear by their chiropractor. According to the evaluation I've received, in about 8 or 10 visits I should be in a position to decide whether to swear by or swear at mine.

The diagnosis is that my right hip is a little out of whack. Which has made my upper back go out of kilter. Which has caused my neck to get out of line. The good news is that "it's not in bad shape at all" and in a few months I should be "dramatically better". I'm hoping he knows his stuff because I'm tired of having that sensation of a hot poker hit the middle of my upper back as soon as I start cooking or cleaning. Or walking. Or lying down. Or breathing.

It's interesting. After having my hip twisted and sharply shoved more into place, I stretched out on the table that looks like an implement of medieval torture. After a mini tilt-a-world sensation, the doctor made an adjustment to my upper back. That was fun. For about 15 minutes, I wasn't convinced he had done anything. Then the headache set in, the hot poker jabbed between my shoulder blades and my hip made some rude comments. So he definitely hit the right places.

Always a glutton for punishment, I'm really looking forward to Wednesday. Not only do I have adjustment number two scheduled, I'm also going to a podiatrist for the first time to see what he has to say about my painful feet. In between, I'm getting a massage. I may not be able to move at all on Thursday. It's hell being a little old lady.

In other news, King Mojo has proven without a doubt that he is 100% rat terrier. Every day he gets a little closer to his goal of supreme dictatorship. It's a hoot to watch the little boy stretch his wings and assert his superiority over all his subjects. Let me just say that there is not one thing I do, not one single thing, that is not supervised, criticized and found wanting. And the back of my legs are covered with nose prints. If he weren't so cute, I wouldn't stand for it. Sure.

"you are getting very sleepy..."


Sunday, January 01, 2006

Ring out the Old, Ring in the New

So long 2005. Good riddance.

I have mixed feelings about 2005. On the one hand, it was full of stress and distress. I lost my beloved Bebop to old age in April. I lost my cat Maggie to unknown sources in July. I lost cousin Ray in December. I watched and worried during the hurricanes, not only for the displaced humans, but especially for the poor animals left behind during the Louisiana evacuation. I watched my parents' health decline.

On the other hand, my own health has seen improvement as I continue to stabilize following the wild hormonal swings of peri-menopause. Despite the losses and stresses of the year, I feel better than I've felt in several years.

I gained two bouncing babies who have provided a source of continuing love and entertainment.

My genealogy muse has returned after a lengthy vacation and I'm raring to go find more dead people.

So there was good and bad in 2005. Whatever 2006 has in store, I hope the positive outweighs the negative. Full steam ahead!

Xana, Mojo & Coco
My babies