In response to The Daily Post’s weekly writing challenge: “Digging for Roots.”
I think the person I am is greatly influenced by the family I came from. When I wrote my first posts on my blog site a couple of years ago I told about the 30+ yrs. of genealogy research and work I’ve done digging into my paternal grandfather’s past and family. They were Germans from Russia, immigrated from Odessa, Russia (now the country of Ukraine) in 1889. Much of my research and information was used to create my current novel and project entitled, The Informant’s Agenda.
I was blessed to be able to travel to Russia and Ukraine in 1989 to commemorate their immigration to the U.S. and learn all I could about them and their own journey out of persecution and anarchy. I later learned too that their family were once originally from Jewish descent, then later converted to the Lutheran faith. These are the genealogical roots of my family that define me in such a way that makes me proud of my heritage, my faith, and my insatiable drive to learn more. I am so thankful for the opportunity to have made the journey, literally to the country of their origin, and also through the years of time travel with all the resources, books and research materials used so I could learn all I could about them. I have scrapbooks and binders so full of collected documents, records, old family photos, and Ged files that they cannot hold any more. Still I continue the ‘digging’ at times into my father’s side, and also my mother’s side from Germany . It is a legacy I will pass down to my children and grandchildren. It is a ‘dig’ I would not have traded for anything.
Joyce E. Johnson (2014)
One Thanksgiving Day in 1967 my husband and I were invited to spend the holiday at the home of a Hispanic friend’s family. We were nineteen, newlyweds, and living in California while attending college and working, having moved there from the Midwest.
I remember the disappointment when I saw the food placed on the table; tortillas, refried beans, and other Mexican dishes. Because they were not the ‘traditional’ Thanksgiving Day dishes like cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and pumpkin pie we were used to eating every Thanksgiving I was not sure I was going to enjoy this day. We also did not speak Spanish, so could not understand everything said. We felt like ‘pilgrims’ encroaching on new territory. I brought a Pumpkin pie to share, thinking at the time, At least we will have one favorite dish.
Yet, there was no culture barrier that could dampen our spirits, but instead a mutual desire to celebrate Thanksgiving Day. Their smile, graciousness and hospitality made us feel welcomed.
It had me thinking about the first wave of pilgrims in a new country imagining how it was for them as they perhaps sat down at a rustic table in the woods of Massachusetts to share a meal with a group of natives so foreign to them; American Indians. Settlers from far away England and American Indians coming together, each bringing their native foods, sharing their harvested crops, celebrating as one. A new country was born, two groups united for that one day, supping together and giving thanks to God for their many blessings.
While vacationing on the east coast in 1998 we visited the famous Plymouth Rock landmark and the Mayflower II (an exact replica of the original ship the first settlers took on their journey to America) at Plymouth, MA. As we took a self-guided tour of the Mayflower, I was in awe of the sacrifices, ingenuity, and creativity the new Americans had, and the hardships they endured, how they could make their home inviting and hospitable.
The newcomers from England had lost so many settlers to death, disease and hunger. Yet, maybe there was expectation, excitement and celebration in the autumn air for the first of such feasts, gathering, coming together. Neither group could understand the language or culture of the other. The Indians could not have known what it was like for those new settlers to survive the storms at sea, suffer through disease and hunger on their crossing. Neither could the new Americans understand the difficulties and challenges the Indians faced living in a wild, untamed land. Yet, each shared their food and bounty to celebrate perseverance under the cloak of life’s burdens; American Indians, an existing group came, by right to belong, and the other, foreigners wanting to belong, determined to stay and build a new life.
On that day as my husband and I celebrated that Thanksgiving away from home, I realized how much we did have in common with the Hispanic family, and we began to relax and enjoy ourselves with them, and their own “traditional” holiday fare. The aroma of those homemade tortillas and Mexican dishes was tantalizing. It compelled my senses to welcome the experience.
They were not there to act as substitutes for our immediate families, but instead to be an extension to the family we already had of friends made while living in California. They shared the heritage of a people whose ancestors were original settlers of this state with its rich history. They were our hosts. We were their guests; but on that day we came together as friends, and we went away full, blessed and thankful.
Those four years we lived away from’ home’ taught us how to appreciate other cultures, and ethnic people of other nations. There were many other ethnic groups and people from other countries we came to know while living there. Our eyes opened to the ways that are different, but no less important than our own, and our hearts became tender towards those whose lives touched us with a diverse style of celebrating what is special to us all; giving thanks to our forefathers for their sacrifices made to birth a rich heritage in America.
Hebrews 13:16 (NIV) says, “And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”
Joyce E. Johnson (2014)
While on a vacation trip to Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada many years ago we had reservations at a Bed and Breakfast place, but when we finally got into Halifax after driving all day with stops along all day we were unprepared for this huge metropolitan city during rush hour traffic using only a (print) travel atlas to guide us. Our check in time was for 6:00 p.m., and it was nearing that time. We got lost several times while looking for the B&B. By the time we found it and drove up into the drive right at 6:00 sharp it appeared to be just an average looking residence with children’s toys visibly scattered around its back yard. We knocked on the door several times, but no one answered, so gave up and figured it had either gone out of business, or was a bogus site on the internet.
Frustrated and desperate to find a hotel room we drove around while praying for one to open up. It seemed every place was booked up. We learned later it was the eve of their Canadian Thanksgiving Day holiday, and places booked up. As we came off an exit of the interstate we spotted this inn. We saw their ‘No vacancy’ neon sign lit up, as was the case with so many hotels that night. But, something told me we should stop and inquire. My husband didn’t think it would do any good, but I persisted.
While he went in to ask, I waited in the car and prayed. Soon, he came out, smiling, holding a room key. They told him there was a cancellation at the last moment, and a room had just opened up. With the key, and our luggage we walked up a stairway and down a lit hallway to a warm, clean, spacious room with two queen beds and beautiful antique furnishings. It was perfect, so inviting, even luxurious with its atmosphere. I could hardly believe our good fortune that night. And yet, why not? After all, I prayed there would be ‘room at the inn’.
We were also hungry and wished for a good hot meal. Again, to our unexpected, happy surprise we found a wonderful dine-in restaurant on the first floor, open late and serving their full menu items with the day’s special; roast turkey dinner with all the traditional sides. We enjoyed that meal like none other, had a delicious chocolate mousse dessert to top off the night, and slept like contented, happy kids with filled bellies. Our bodies were at rest, our soul was blessed, and our minds put at ease.
I took this picture of the inn the following morning when we checked out before heading back on the road. Now, I look back fondly on that time when we drove desperately seeking a room that night and this special blessing that opened up for us so that we could enjoy a Canadian Thanksgiving Day holiday weekend.
Joyce E. Johnson (2014)
They left family and friends to fight a war.
It wasn’t for personal gain or glory
they crossed the seas to distant shore
We honor them, their names and story.
They served their country and they served it well.
They’ll be remembered this Veterans Day,
And we’ll bow our heads,
and in reverence pray,
“Let us remember those who died for us,
May God have mercy, and there not be more
young men and women called off to war,”
While holding the memorial program read,
wiping tears for the fallen dead
another flag is lowered and spread
across a casket and the trumpet heard,
“Let us not forget those who toll freedom’s bell
Paying the price, sacrificing all,
for those not among us, and for those who fell.”
The above photos are ones I took at a memorial service for Vietnam veterans and all those (68,000 + ) killed in the war. The ‘traveling wall’ behind the boots, M-16 rifle and helmet of a soldier killed is a smaller version of the real wall memorial to those who fought and died in this war, located in Washington D.C. We saw that memorial and many others while visiting Washington D.C. that were just as moving. The photo of the helicopter is a Huey fighter/gunner type used during the Vietnam war, 1966-1975.
Every year in our town around 4:00 a.m. a group of war veterans from the Veterans Association drive slowly, reverently around town in a truck ringing a large bell in honor of all who died in past wars. The clanging bell usually wakes me up as I hear it passing. It has come to be an expectant sound and annual event on every Veterans Day.
Happy Veterans Day and God bless to all our troops and armed service men and women in uniform. We will not forget the sacrifice made by all for our freedom.
Joyce E. Johnson (2014)
A mist roles in from a cold, dark sea.
Waves kick up, thrashing the British barque.
Wind gusts rip sails from the bowing masthead.
A deep guttural sound bellows to the surface from under the ship’s hull.
She hits rock, breaking apart on impact.
Caught in her rigging she turns and twists in its knotted embrace.
The Annie Maguire drifts, its SOS not acknowledged.
Were there none to hear her distress signals sent?
A bullhorn sounds, and the cone-shaped glow of light emerges.
The lighthouse; a beacon to the capsized ship and crew.
Footnotes: Mystery surrounds the capsized Annie C. Maguire British vessel. Miraculously her crew was saved and rescued on Christmas Eve, 1886, when the ship went aground during a storm, but the ship’s remains were never recovered. You can find images and information on this vessel and story here
Joyce E. Johnson (2014)
This old house
“Kelly, I want you to do a cover story on that old homestead over in Plymouth.” Shauna said.
“That old house? It’s barely standing. No one wants to touch it, not even a real estate developer to determine the property’s worth or potential. They claim there is something strange about it. An old man who looked after the adjoining properties around there lived in it.”
“Yes, the caretaker. But, he died years ago, a very old man. But, there is no death record on him.”
“And his spirit still lurks around the old grounds. That’s what the real estate office says.”
“Well, you said you loved doing stories on places where things happened.” Shauna said, smiling.
Land deeds, surveys, property listings, documents of all kinds were spread across an old map table at the county courthouse. What looked like tea stain marks and scrawled signatures merged together making things nearly illegible.
The house was over a hundred years old. Records showed inhabitants from nearby properties were descendents from the original settlers.
With my camera, door key and copy of the records I approached the house, cautiously.
Tree roots grew up between rotted floor boards exposing earth and weeds, causing the entire floor to buckle in places. I hope I don’t fall through the floor to some gaping hole beneath. Paint was chipped and peeling from walls to ceiling where spiders weaved thick webs for their occupants still moving about. Windows were broken where the ground had shifted under the foundation.
A lone bulb dangled loose from a string of wires suspended just above me as I heard the patter and gnawing of rats or mice in the attic. I hate spiders, detest mice and freak out at the sight of rats.
The ceiling did not look any more stable than the floor looking like it could collapse any moment. I pulled out my flashlight. The descending sun cast shadows across things inside giving it an eerie glow. The furnishings were sparse, all of them looking like ancient pieces from a bygone era. Old, yellowed newspapers with dates so far back… Impossible! Beside them lay recent newspapers, some even with my stories in them. How can that be?
I quickly propped up my flashlight and began going through the pile. There was a scrolled up piece of parchment; a draft… Mayflower Compact?!
Floor boards creaked under heavy steps. The door was pushed open. I jumped, grabbing my flashlight and held it tightly in my raised hand; my ‘weapon’ ready.
“Oh, miss. I’m happy to find you. I read your stories in the Plymouth Sentinel. You tell a good tale. Will you write ours, about our crossing on the Mayflower? Oh, I’m sorry. I haven’t properly introduced myself. I’m William Bradford, governor of Plymouth Colony.”
Footnotes: This is a story of fiction, but the real story about William Bradford, the Plymouth Colony governor can be found here The above photo is one I took from the road we traveled while on a trip back to New England and Nova Scotia years ago. This old house caught me eye, and I had to stop and get a picture of it. I don’t think anyone was living in it at the time. I love taking pictures of old homes, historic buildings and churches and try to find some history on the area wherever we travel, so thought it would be a great photo prompt for this story.
Happy Halloween :)
Joyce E. Johnson (2014)
When I recently viewed a CD of pictures saved from a trip to the northeast many years ago, the memories of places we saw, places we visited in the New England states, and Nova Scotia were fresh again as if happening yesterday. The images in my head could recall details not recorded or seen in the photo, and I relived the trip all over again.
Sometimes when I look back through the years, reflecting on times past I will choose to live in the moment even if short-lived and am thankful that the image, the memory and the moment can be remembered with such clarity. They are good and happy times I like to revisit via my memories and photo albums. Yet, we cannot constantly dwell on our past, only live in the present doing what is important today, and look towards tomorrow with a new anticipation.
Recently there have been new opportunities and areas of service in which God has given new direction for me and my husband in opportunities through our home church. One of those is with elderly people (older than us – :) ) patients, some who suffer with Alzheimer’s and Dementia in nursing homes, rehab centers and assisted living home centers where we have been given opportunities to visit, one on one, or doing chapel services for their center. But, more often it just means sitting down with one who is in a wheelchair, or sitting on the edge of their bed visiting, and sharing time with them, letting them reminisce (when they can remember) about their youth, their past occupation, or places lived. The window of opportunity for them to remember anything is short. For some, they cannot remember at all, and will repeat question after question to us, like asking us again our name and who we are. Their image or memory of things or people is not always clear, but we have made a connection and they are happy, even if it is for a little while. And for us? We walk away feeling blessed, our lives richer for having found meaning in knowing these people.
Looking towards our future? Opportunities will still come, for us all, as long as we have breath. I believe that. And, we hope that we will never suffer the way some have, or go through some of the things they have experienced. One can only take one day at a time, and pray and hope each day and every day in between the past and the future are directed by Him, and we are listening.
Joyce E. Johnson (2014)