I wrote this piece on January 22, 2015. I am sharing it again because of yesterday’s post, which reminded me of a 2018 post that was “fathered” by my homage to Carl. I’ll probably repost those 2018 posts later, just to preserve them. Carl was a wonderful man, and it was nice to remember how kind and generous he was, even until the end of his life. I’m grateful I was able to speak to him one last time in November 2014.
As I woke up this morning, I checked Facebook, which is my usual habit. My cousin, Lori, posted that her dad, my Uncle Carl, had passed away. I wasn’t surprised by the news. He was suffering from leukemia and my mom told me a couple of days ago that Carl was on hospice and had been told there was nothing more to be done.
Carl was one of my dad’s four brothers, younger by about seven years. He was a great dancer, very friendly, loving, and warm. For many years, he worked in Natural Bridge, Virginia, running all the tourist attractions. Later, he worked in Luray. Carl had a son and a daughter, eleven years apart in age. He also had five grandchildren, three of whom are now grown and two that are still very young.
Over Thanksgiving in 2014, I sat down with Carl and we had a long talk. One of my other uncles, my aunt’s husband, Bill, interrupted us briefly to comment on a “houseguest” Carl was hosting, a young guy with serious OCD issues who had gotten his girlfriend pregnant. The guy couldn’t live with his girlfriend because she was getting welfare and it was against the rules for her to co-habitate. Uncle Bill said, “Carl, that guy at your house is a POW.” I looked up at him questioningly and he clarified, “Piece of work.”
Carl then started telling me about this young guy who had moved into a spare apartment on his property. He didn’t pay rent and couldn’t keep a job. Carl told me his wife, Betty, could barely stand to be around him. But Carl was determined to help this young fellow. He did all he could to try to hook him up with people who could help him… ministers and social workers, even though the guy wasn’t interested in that kind of help. He let him live in the apartment, even though the guy didn’t pay rent. Carl said the guy did pay for his electric bills and food, at least.
As Carl was telling me about his “guest”, he focused on the positive, saying that the apartment was kept immaculately clean, thanks to the guy’s issues with obsessive compulsive disorder. He liked having the apartment lived in rather than sitting empty. If no one lived there, he still wouldn’t be getting any money for the place.
I got the feeling that Carl just wanted to be kind and helpful, even though many people told him that he was being used and was enabling his houseguest’s irresponsible behavior. Many people told him to toss the POW out on his ass. But Carl wouldn’t do it. He wanted to be a positive force in the young guy’s life.
I have a feeling that Carl’s “POW” is about to lose his free ride. My Aunt Betty has been ill with Alzheimer’s Disease and Carl had been taking care of her. When we saw each other at Thanksgiving time, Carl told me that his wife’s illness was getting worse and they often had the same conversations repeatedly because she would forget. Betty can’t live by herself, so arrangements will no doubt have to be made. That will likely mean that Carl’s POW friend will need to move on. ETA: Aunt Betty passed in October 2018.
I will miss my Uncle Carl. He was a very loving and decent person. He loved his family very much and was always smiling and laughing. He was deeply caring and empathetic, yet he had a fun loving side, too. I wish I had access to my wedding photos. I have a hilarious picture of him at my wedding with a red rose between his teeth and a big toothy grin. Every time I saw Carl, he was happy to see me. He always gave me big bear hugs and he loved to just sit and talk and tell stories. He told a funny story at my dad’s memorial just two months ago. I will always treasure that memory and am grateful that he was able to spend his last holidays with his loved ones instead of in a hospital room.
I am not a very religious person, but I picture my dad up in heaven, waiting to show Carl the way to the rest of his loved ones who passed before him. Four of Granny’s nine children have gone home now.
The featured photo is of the ceiling at Mount Stuart House in Scotland. Below is what I wrote about the photo in my original post about Carl’s death.
This is a picture of the ceiling at Mount Stuart House on the Isle of Bute in Scotland. Bill and I visited there in 2012. We had a wonderful little Scottish lady giving us a tour and she was a great storyteller. She told us about how the house was used as a Naval hospital during World War I. As she was telling us about the house under this beautiful ceiling, she talked about sick and injured military men, waking up to see that ceiling. She said, in her delightful Scottish brogue, “One look at that and you would surely think you’d crossed the bar!” I like to think that Carl and my dad both saw something amazing as they slipped away beyond the bar… Maybe they saw something even more amazing than the ceiling at Mount Stuart…
This morning, I woke up to a delightful surprise from one of my cousins. He sent me a private message with a photo that was taken during the summer of 1981. I smiled with instant recognition, as I gazed at the picture of me, at age 9, with a bunch of my cousins and a friend of my cousin’s family.
Years ago, on my original blog, I wrote a blog post called “Family Reserve”. It was about a couple of relatives I lost in 2015. The post’s title came from a Lyle Lovett song by the same name that seemed appropriate. I wrote in those posts how I came to discover Lyle Lovett– courtesy of Mormons, no less. Maybe I’ll repost those old memorials today, since I’m referencing them in today’s post. Anyway, his song “Family Reserve” reminded me of my own family… but since I already used that title in another post, I decided to use part of the chorus as the title for this one. If you don’t know this song, and can abide Lyle Lovett’s music (and I certainly can), I would encourage you to listen to this great song by him.
My cousin, name of Bruce, could not have known that I still have many vivid memories of that day at Tank Hollow, as well as the ones that surrounded it. I had just had a birthday, and Bruce and his brothers, all of whom were adolescents, had traveled from Texas to Virginia with their parents to visit other family members. Because they lived in Texas, I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with them when I was growing up, even though my family almost always has a family reunion at Thanksgiving. For three years of my early childhood, we lived in England, so of course we didn’t go “home” for the Thanksgiving party. Prior to our time in England, I was too young to remember what we did. We were in Ohio before England, but I was a baby then, having moved to Ohio when I was about six months old.
When we came back to the States, I slowly got to know the relatives I never spent time with. And in 1981, I was acquainted with the “Tolley Boys”, as they were called– four sons of my Uncle Ed and his wife, Nancy. They came to visit my parents first, in Gloucester, Virginia. At the time, two of my sisters worked at Busch Gardens, which is located close to nearby Williamsburg, so we had a bunch of free passes. I remember we all went there for the day and had an absolute blast, even though I lost my wallet. The “Tolley Boys” were like my big brothers. They treated me like a princess, and of course, I ate it up. It was not a normal or usual thing for me to be treated like that.
After their visit to my parents, Ed and Nancy were going to be visiting Natural Bridge, Virginia, which is where the “family homestead” is. My grandmother lived in the house that has been in our family since 1935, along with my Uncle Brownlee, and his wife, Gayle, and their two kids, Justin and Suzanne. I don’t remember why, but there were other family members there that summer. Nancy and Ed took me with them to visit Natural Bridge. Later, my parents came to get me.
Below are some much more modern photos of Granny’s house. It’s been fixed up a lot since 1981. My Uncle Brownlee was extremely handy, and he really made the house a showplace before we lost him in 2019.
I remember that trip was so much fun! I mean, I got in trouble a couple of times… but Uncle Ed was a really fun uncle in the early 80s. He knew where all the best swimming holes were, and he liked hanging out with us kids.
One day, we all got into the back of my Uncle Brownlee’s pickup truck and rode to a place he called Tank Hollow, in Natural Bridge. It wasn’t very far from where my great grandmother lived (she died the following year, in 1982). As a matter of fact, I think we visited her on that trip. I seem to remember her house as a brick structure near a creek, much as Granny’s house is. There are lots of creeks in Natural Bridge, as it’s in the mountains and near the James River. Edited to add: I see there are other falls in Virginia called Tank Hollow– in a place called Cleveland in Russell County. Please note, this is not the same place— I think Ed called the falls “Tank Hollow”, because they were located off of Tank Hollow Road in Natural Bridge. I don’t know if the falls we went to even have an official name.
Tank Hollow was in the woods, and it consisted of a waterfall that overlooked a murky pond. We were all wearing tennis shoes, because of all the rocks and such. Next thing I knew, we were all jumping off the waterfall into the cold, mountain pond. I remember being so enthralled by the experience. The waterfall seemed huge to nine year old me, and I felt so brave jumping into the water and swimming in the creek. It was one of those days when I experienced “pleasant exhaustion”. You know, when you play so hard that you wear yourself out… That’s how it was that day.
I remember the next day, we all went to the James River. We made homemade fishing poles with sticks and string, baited hooks with worms, and fished in the middle of the river. I don’t remember why, but I recall Uncle Ed threatening to spank me for some reason. He never did, but I do remember the threat. I probably mouthed off one too many times. I also remember my Aunt Nancy threatening to send me home. Still, that was also a fun and memorable day, spent with a bunch of my cousins. Ed and Nancy had driven a big Suburban, and it got stuck in the mud.
Here are a couple of other memories from that trip…
Granny’s house was located next to a “hollow”, that had once been part of the original property my grandfather bought years earlier. I remember we weren’t supposed to go walking “down the hollow”, because it was no longer owned by our family. Brownlee once lamented to me about that, because it really was a heavenly piece of property, with two creeks that met each other and flowed to the river.
Anyway, sometimes we would walk down the hollow. I went with my cousins, Jeff and Jeff. One Jeff was the son of my Aunt Doris, and had once been my neighbor, as we had lived in Fairfax County for two years before we moved to Gloucester. The other Jeff lived in Natural Bridge with my Uncle Carl and his wife, Betty, and very little sister, Lori. Natural Bridge Jeff was telling the other Jeff a really dirty story. It was the kind of story that adolescent boys tell each other. Of course, I was nine, and eager to grow up. I heard the story, laughed with them, and later repeated it to two of my younger cousins, then aged 7 and 5.
My Aunt Gayle overheard me repeating the story I’d heard from my older male cousins on that walk. She promptly “blessed” me out, as she put it. She told her kids that I had a “dirty mouth” and they shouldn’t listen to me. I remember crying, because I didn’t know I’d done anything wrong… She later apologized to me and said her kids “didn’t know what to do with that stuff”. Hello? I was only nine years old myself. I didn’t know, either. 😉 Oh, I probably knew it was “forbidden” stuff, but I was still just a child in need of guidance, right?
In spite of the few negative incidents that happened during that visit, I remember it to be a really fun time and a happy memory. For many years, I remembered going to Tank Hollow and fantasized about visiting again and swimming there. Years later, I asked my uncle about it, because I didn’t even remember where it was located. I said I remembered it to be a big waterfall we jumped off of a bunch of times.
I clearly remember Ed saying, “That was Tank Hollow. And the waterfall wasn’t that big.”
I had such a hard time believing that, because I remembered it to be huge from my memories as a nine year old child. One day, during the summer of 1993, I visited my relatives in Natural Bridge, and we went to Tank Hollow. I was there with Aunt Gayle, and my cousins Justin and Suzanne, and one of Justin’s Army buddies. Sure enough, I saw that Ed was right. The waterfall was a lot smaller than I remembered it. But we jumped off it anyway. Somewhere in storage, I have photos from that day, not that I’d necessarily want to look at myself in a bathing suit, even when I was 21 years old.
When Bill and I were dating on Labor Day weekend in September 2001– the week before 9/11, actually– he came down to Natural Bridge and met my extended family. I took him to Tank Hollow, which now seemed even less impressive. The water was even murkier than it was before, and I wondered if there were snakes there… that thought hadn’t crossed my mind at all, when I was a child, or even when I was a younger woman. I also took him to another local swimming hole called Straw Pond, and we went swimming there, and at Cave Mountain Lake, a park area with a lake where we used to go when I was a kid… I loved it then, but saw it through different eyes as an adult.
Then, we went to Goshen Pass, another special place in my past, as I remember having my sixth birthday party there, with members of my huge, extended family, and my Granny giving me Sweet Honesty perfume in a bottle shaped like a sheep. Goshen Pass is a beautiful place, and it’s probably where Bill and I realized we were in love. We had a magical day enjoying the gorge. Then, the following week came 9/11. Bill was in the Pentagon– in the area that was hit by the jetliner. When he survived, we realized we should probably go public. It wasn’t long after that that we were engaged.
Natural Bridge has always been such a special place to me. And yet, I haven’t been there in almost nine years… I never thought I’d stay away for so long, nor would I have ever expected to feel “weird” about being there now. But, I have to admit I do feel weird. So much has changed since those days in the early 80s.
My Aunt Gayle still lives in Granny’s house. I hope it will never leave the family, because it really is a magical place, and there’s so much family history there. The road it sits on is actually named after my grandfather, Lloyd Tolley, who used to run a store there that sold basic essentials.
In fact, in the old wax museum (which closed in 2014), there was a wax depiction of one of my distant relatives– my great great great Uncle Archibald “Bar” Tolley. I think his nickname was actually “Bear”, but because of the Scottish-like hillbilly accent in those parts, it sounded more like “Bar”. I see another blogger has written about him here, and a bunch of my apparent relatives are chiming in. He was famed for hunting and killing a lot of bears, and was said to be known for his honesty and “salty” tongue (so that’s where I get it).
By coincidence, last night, I was reading about “Bar” Tolley, and figuring out how we’re related. I can see his father, Ezekiel, was my 3rd great grandfather, and his brother, Thomas Milton Tolley, was my great great grandfather. So, that would make Archibald “Bar” Tolley my great great great uncle, I guess. 😉 It’s so funny that he was immortalized in the Natural Bridge Wax Museum! The link leads to a video someone made about it. I’m so glad I took Bill there over that special Labor Day weekend in 2001.
Well… it’s always a delight to see old photos and remember things through rose tinted glasses. I do have some fabulous memories of when I was a child. We did have a lot of fun, especially during those less “regulated” times. Or maybe it just seems that way to me, because I was a kid, and I wasn’t worried about the things that worry adults of every age. I’m grateful that my cousin, Bruce, shared that long ago photo of us on that awesome day in the summer of 1981. I miss those times… and those people.
Here are the lyrics for Lyle Lovett’s old song, “Family Reserve”:
When I saw the ambulance screaming down Main Street I didn’t give it a thought But it was my Uncle Eugene He died on October The second, nineteen eighty-one
Now my uncle Wilbert They all called him Skinner And they said for his younger ways He’d get drunk in the morning And show me the rolls of fifties and hundreds He kept in the glove box of his old gray Impala
And we’re all gonna be here forever So mama, don’t you make such a stir Just put down that camera And come on and join up The last of the family reserve
Now my second cousin, his name was Calloway He died when he’d barely turned two It was peanut butter and jelly that did it The help, she didn’t know what to do She just stood there and she watched him turn blue
And we’re all gonna be here forever So mama, don’t you make such a stir Just put down that camera And come on and join up The last of the family reserve
And my friend Brian Temple He thought he could make it So from the third story he jumped And he missed the swimming pool only by inches And everyone said he was drunk
And there was Great Uncle Julius And there was Aunt Annie Miller And Mary, and Granddaddy Po And there was Hannah, and Ella And Alvin, and Alec And he owned his own funeral home
And there are more I remember And more I could mention And words I could write in a song But I feel ’em watching And I see ’em laughing And I hear ’em singing along
We’re all gonna be here forever So mama, don’t you make such a stir Just put down that camera And come on and join up The last of the family reserve
I woke up at 5:41 am this morning, after having had a vivid dream about a southern town somewhere near where I came of age. I don’t remember much about the dream now. Sometimes, I wish I had Bill’s discipline, when it comes to recording dreams. He writes his down and sends them to his Jungian analyst. They talk about Bill’s dreams every week during their video chats.
I have vivid dreams, too, but I don’t remember most of them for long. Maybe I’m genetically less inclined to remember my rapid eye movements. It’s possible that this is a family trait.
Several years ago, I submitted samples to 23andMe and Ancestry.com. I started with 23andMe, because it seemed to be the more health focused of the two. It also had no ties to Mormonism. Some people may not know this, but the LDS church is big into genealogy. It’s so that members can “baptise” their dead family members who were around before Mormonism was. That way, those dead people can choose to be LDS in the afterlife.
Living members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints go to temples and do proxy baptisms for dead members of their families. Some also do “temple work” for dead celebrities, too, although they’re not supposed to do baptisms for people who aren’t relatives.
I know that, historically, descendants of Holocaust victims got pretty angry with the Mormons for “dead dunking” their family members murdered during World War II. Frankly, I find that practice pretty offensive, especially for people who died in the Holocaust because they were Jewish. These were people who literally died horrible, gruesome deaths for their beliefs. It’s beyond tacky to do a proxy baptism to allow dead Jewish people to be Mormons, as if they were wrong all along.
Faithful church members who do proxy baptisms for non-related people will simply shrug off the thought that they’re being offensive. They say that if the church isn’t true, it doesn’t matter if they “dead dunk” Holocaust victims. The ceremony is meaningless.
If you’ve been following this blog, you may already know why I don’t like Mormonism. These days, I’m somewhat less vitriolic toward the church than I once was. I still don’t like the church’s doctrine because I think it’s harmful to some people. My husband’s ex wife used it as a “reason” to alienate Bill from his daughters. She got everyone to join the church. Then, when Bill realized he didn’t believe in Mormonism, she told his daughters that he wasn’t worthy to be their father. He wouldn’t be going to the Celestial Kingdom because, when he ultimately resigned his membership, he turned his back on the “one true church”. Never mind that she’s not going there, either.
Ex has now apparently given up on Mormonism. It doesn’t suit her purposes anymore. However, Bill’s daughters are still believers. Younger daughter is particularly faithful. I also know that the church, which Ex had once tried to weaponize, was very helpful in helping younger daughter escape her mother’s clutches. I’m grateful to church members for that… and I know there are good people in the church. Nowadays, I try to be less negative about the LDS church, even though I still don’t like the doctrine. In fairness, though, I’m not a very religious person, anyway.
Ancestry.com has no legal ties to Mormonism, but it was founded by church members who, no doubt, tithe. I know that church members can be very persistent in tracking down inactive members. I don’t like to support organizations that make pests of themselves, especially religious organizations. After some time, I changed my mind about Ancestry.com. It probably happened when Bill started talking to younger daughter again, and she proved that she isn’t completely brainwashed.
After I changed my mind about Ancestry.com, I finally did a DNA test with them. The results were very interesting. DNA wise, my results were very similar to what 23andMe found. Both tests have my DNA down as extremely British and Irish. There’s a slight discrepancy on some of the other DNA predictions. 23andMe has me down as having a little Finnish and Spanish ancestry. Ancestry has me with Norwegian, Swedish, and Welsh. However, on both tests, my DNA has me as well over 90% British and Irish. Ancestry.com breaks it down even further, indicating that my DNA is (at this writing) 56% Scottish. No wonder I feel so at home there!
One of the other advantages to Ancestry.com is that there’s a ton of genealogical data there. Recently, a lot more data has become available for my own family origins. I’ve been updating my family tree accordingly, finding little historical twigs from people who came from Switzerland, Sweden, The Netherlands, Germany, and France. Earlier test results on the DNA tests had indicated that I had some origins in those countries, too. The results change as more DNA is added to the databases. For example, at one time, 23andMe indicated that I had Swiss DNA. Then it changed, and the Swiss connection went away. But based on my family tree on Ancestry.com, I do actually have some Swiss family members.
Neither test shows that I have much French DNA, but I’ve found French people in my family tree. Ditto for Germany… I actually know for sure that I have some German relatives. However, when it comes to my DNA, the connection isn’t as clear. Maybe that’s why I’m so short! I think it’s helpful to remember that the DNA analysis traces all the way back… not just within the past few hundred years.
So far, all branches of my family tree go back to about 1500 or so, which may be when people started keeping records. But the DNA goes back much further than that. It’s pretty mind boggling, if you think about it for too long. Bearing that in mind, it makes sense that my DNA would be overwhelmingly British and Irish, even though I can spot random other Europeans in my family tree. That French and Swiss DNA would be a tiny contribution, compared to the huge number of Brits who went into making me. 😉
And now, you may be wondering… what does all of this have to do with my post’s title? Well, now I’ll explain.
As I wrote further up post, I’ve recently been adding new people to my family tree. Some of it has been truly fascinating. I’ve mentioned many times that I was born and raised in Virginia. Indeed, the vast majority of my relatives were also born and raised in Virginia, starting from the 1600s, or so. My family was in Virginia from the very beginning of its existence.
I can see how they migrated from Scotland, England, and Ireland to Virginia, working their way down from Massachusetts or Pennsylvania, and settling in the Shenandoah Valley or further south, near the North Carolina border. Both sides of my dad’s side of the family are mostly from Rockbridge County. My mom’s dad came from Grayson County. Her mother came from Amherst. However, I did have at least one relative from way back who was born in Gloucester County, which is where I grew up.
All of these discoveries were fascinating to me. But then I stumbled across one that really gave me pause… Behold!
I was updating my tree yesterday, when I noticed that my great grandmother’s ancestry connects her to the Fraser family. The Frasers are a prominent Scottish clan. I know this, in part, because a few years ago, Bill and I were on a Hebridean whisky cruise, and there we met a very obnoxious fellow American. Her last name was Fraser. She wore the Fraser tartan at the two gala dinners. When I met this woman, I didn’t know much about my ancestry. I just knew that I liked the Scots. 😉 Anyway, the American Fraser woman on our cruise was very proud of her heritage and never ceased to let us know about it.
A few years later, I started to pay more attention to my husband’s ex wife’s online antics. Over the past year or so, she’s been claiming that she’s related to a certain aristocratic Scottish family. Now, I have no way of knowing if Ex is really related to this family or if this is another one of her fantasies… I do know she was adopted. I don’t know if she’s claiming ties based on her DNA or her adoptive family. But this is what she’s been posting lately…
Hmm…given that, I now have hope that my stories will make it to print. The method you enjoy…works! Please, just keep doing it; you create lives, no small feat! Remember me, though; it would be a delight to collaborate. I’m a Fraser du Lovat, by the way, & that’s fun!!
The above quote comes from a post I wrote May 16, 2022. Ex was trying to engage the actors on Outlander. I don’t watch the show myself. I just know it’s a Scottish historical romance. Ex is so swept up in it that she’s claiming to be related to a well known Highland Scottish clan, Fraser du Lovat, which has origins in Inverness. I don’t know much at all about the Frasers du Lovat, or any other Scottish clan, for that matter. I never claimed to be of particularly noble breeding myself. But, if I’m to believe Ancestry.com, I’ve also got ties to the Fraser clan… although my ancestor is Sir Alexander Fraser, 8th Earl of Philorth, which is a Lowland clan.
I know from cruising on Hebridean Princess, that Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland run right into each other. We visited the Glengoyne Distillery, just north of Glasgow. The guide told us that the distillery is located on the Highland Line. Consequently, Glengoyne’s stills are in the Highlands, while the maturing casks of whisky are across the road in the Lowlands. It’s considered a Highland whisky, even though the Lowlands are literally just yards away.
Again, I don’t know how accurate Ancestry.com’s family tree suggestions are. I also don’t have any reason whatsoever to believe Ex’s own claims about her ancestry. She has a long history of stretching the truth. She also has a very active fantasy life. BUT… I can’t help but be amused that I apparently have ties to the same big Scottish clan that she’s so proud of… which clearly seems to make her feel “special”. She feels so special that she tweets Sam Heughan on Twitter and claims to be descended from the Fraser du Lovat clan. And I… the hated homewrecking whore (which I’m actually REALLY not)… am apparently related to the Frasers of Philorth. 😉
Of course, all of that was very long ago… and I have other family ties that are interesting for other, and frankly better, reasons. I wish I could look at the whole tree at one time. But now it’s gotten very big and unwieldy. My ancestors were very prolific babymakers. It’s a bit mind boggling to realize that when I die, so will my particular branch of the tree. Oh well. It’s probably fitting that my branch got pruned… I also blame that on Ex.
23andMe just updated their algorithm again. According to them, I no longer have Spanish or Italian DNA. I’m a little bummed about it. Now, instead of Spanish and Italian DNA, I have gone back to having Scandinavian DNA.
Back in September 2017, Bill and I submitted saliva samples to 23andMe. These were my original results.
About fourteen months ago, 23andMe updated again. This time, they said I had Scandinavian DNA to go with my majority British heritage.
But then they updated again… and until a couple of days ago, they had removed the Scandinavian connection and added .7% Spanish, Portuguese, and .5% Italian ancestry. I also went up a trace in British and Irish ancestry, as well as Native American. I could believe the Native American connection, given that my people have been in Virginia for a couple of centuries. I figured at least one or two of them must have gotten with a local. And I could also see the Spanish connection because of the Spanish Armada. There is such a thing as “Black Irish” people– those are Irish folks who have dark hair and dark eyes because they made babies with people from Spain. Also consider that Spain actually isn’t that far from Britain or Ireland as the crow flies… and that they got their dark features from people in Africa. Southern Spain is not so far from Morocco, you know.
I kind of enjoyed thinking I might have a dash of spicy Spanish or zesty Italian in my DNA. But, then 23andMe ran their data again and, wouldn’t you know it? I’m not only no longer Spanish or Italian at all; I’m also a tiny bit more Native American.
All of these tests are done at a 50% confidence interval, so chances are excellent that these results are mostly bullshit anyway. What they do know is that my origins are almost 100% European. All you need to do is look at me to know that. I’m actually glad to see the higher concentration of German ancestry, since I know for a fact that I had German relatives from the Rhein and Karlsruhe relatively recently, as in the 1800s. You can change the confidence interval on 23andMe to see your actual raw data if you want to– up to 90%. I have always sucked at statistics, even though I took six classes in the course of my seven years in university studies. What I know is that at a 50% confidence interval, researchers are only 50% sure of their results. The overall results become less specific at 90%, though they are definitely more accurate.
Bill’s results changed, too. He’s no longer got Nigerian roots. Instead, he has links to Ghana, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. I never thought I’d be in an “interracial relationship”, but I guess I am… Looking at Bill, you’d never know he has any African genes, but apparently, he does. He has Dutch ancestry and the Dutch were quite involved in the African slave trade, which means some of them were having sexual relations with African locals.
I can’t help but remember studying slave narratives in my African American and Women’s literature classes at Longwood University and learning about the “tragic mulatto“. That was a fictional character that appeared in literature back in the 19th and 20th centuries… a character that was sad or even suicidal because he or she was “mixed” race and did not fit into either black or white worlds. In the slave era, many white men got black women pregnant. The children that resulted from these sexual trysts were considered “black”, as one drop of African blood supposedly meant a person was black. Naturally, some of them “passed” as white people and enjoyed more privileged lives. It kind of makes me cringe to think about that today, but it was the law in parts of the United States back in the 1800s. The “one drop” rule was never federally codified and is now, thankfully, a defunct law.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t even been 100 years since my home state of Virginia passed the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which made interracial marriages illegal and required all birth and marriage certificates issued in the state to declare a person either “white” or “colored”. Even today, there’s still controversy about racial relationships in Virginia. Just recently, Rockbridge County, which is where most of my family is originally from and where Bill and I got married, was in the news because the marriage licenses issued there required applicants to state “what they were” racially speaking. Virginia was recently sued due to requiring marriage license applicants to list their races. It’s not the first time Virginia has been in the news regarding its attitudes about interracial relationships. Until 1967, it was illegal in Virginia for a white person and a black person to marry. It took the Supreme Court to make the decision to lift bans on interracial marriages.
I’ve spent over half of my life in Virginia, never fully understanding just how racist a past it has. And this is even though I had the benefit of education and a normally functioning brain. What’s funny about these DNA tests that anyone can take is that people are realizing that we aren’t as “pure” as we think we are. People with racist attitudes are finding out that many of them have genetic links to the people they most disdain. We are more alike than we are different. And yet, even in 2019, we have plenty of white supremacists around, proudly showing off their racism to the masses.
I suppose I shouldn’t care so much about where I came from. I find genealogy and DNA testing fascinating, especially since there are so many stories connected to it. I recently wrote about how I found a DNA relative through 23andMe. Her mother was the biological daughter of my great uncle Edward, whom I never knew. He was my paternal grandmother’s brother, and he died six years before I was born. My relative, who writes that I am the only one on 23andMe from my great uncle’s family who has connected with her, explained that her bio grandmother had a “fling” with my great uncle and got pregnant. She was originally from Farmville, Virginia, the town where I went to college and where Virginia’s great teaching college, Longwood University, is located. It’s likely Edward’s girlfriend was a Longwood graduate like me, since she was a teacher by profession.
Bio grandma gave up my DNA relative’s mother for adoption in Roanoke, Virginia, not at all far from Natural Bridge, Virginia– which is where my father’s family is from and many relatives still live. My new relative’s mom had a fling with a man who worked at the Uruguayan Embassy in Washington, DC back in 1944. In 1945, my relative was born. She grew up thinking she was half Hispanic, but she learned thanks to 23andMe, she is actually half Ashkenazi Jewish. Her father, who had “passed” for Uruguayan, was actually most probably someone whose family fled Europe to escape the Nazis.
I love a good story, and this lady is now sharing her story with me. And it’s all because of 23andMe, she’s learning about her mother’s father… a man whom I never knew, but I knew his sister, my grandmother, quite well. I am providing a link to that part of her history, all thanks to DNA testing. Still, I have to admit that having done the test, I have a lot of questions I never considered before… and it’s very interesting to see how the guesses as to what and who I am are changing as more people get DNA testing done. My new relative even found pictures of our great grandparents– Rebecca and Edward Barger– my granny’s mom and dad and her grandfather’s mom and dad. It amazes me that until very recently, making this connection with my relative would have been very unlikely. I wish I could connect her to some of my older relatives, whom I know could answer more of her questions than I can.
Anyway… writing about this keeps me from watching bad TV and eating junk food, which according to 23andMe, I’m probably statistically more likely to do, thanks to my DNA. I’m just kidding. I don’t think they’ve yet made that determination. However, it wouldn’t surprise me if, someday, they did.
It’s that time of year again. Ever since September 11, 2001, Americans go into memorial mode and recall the day when our country was attacked and life changed forever. I have shared this story before, but since it’s September 11th again, I’m going to write about how I spent that day and where it ultimately led me.
I am a firm believer that good things come out of almost every situation. Sometimes you have to look really hard to see the good in a situation. Sometimes things happen that you wish wouldn’t have happened, no matter what positive effect occurred. In my case, I think September 11th helped me find my way to the altar and, ultimately, a better life. I wish it hadn’t happened that way, but it kind of did…
Flashback to 2001… Labor Day weekend. I had just started my third and final year in my dual master’s degree program at the University of South Carolina. Bill had just been transferred from Leavenworth, Kansas to the Pentagon only a few weeks prior. We were both itching for a change of scenery, so I suggested we meet up at my grandmother’s house in Natural Bridge, Virginia. Prior to that meeting, we’d only had one other in person meeting, back in May of that year. The Army had sent Bill to Columbia, South Carolina on business, like they’d done the year prior. I missed Bill on his first visit, but caught him on his second.
I remember after our May meeting, I wasn’t sure how I felt about him. He seemed taken with me and repeatedly told me that it would be hard to go back to typing since he’d met me. But then all summer, we kept writing to each other. Seeing him again over Labor Day seemed right. He came down, met my aunt, uncle, and grandmother, and we spent a magical weekend together. We visited Goshen Pass and had a fantastic time…
As Bill was leaving Granny’s house, she told me that I should marry him. Granny was, at that time, 95 years old and sharp as a tack. She loved Bill, and after that weekend, so did I. I remember practically floating all the way back to South Carolina. All week, I thought about our amazing Labor Day weekend in Virginia. And then came September 11th.
That morning was absolutely beautiful. The weather was warm and sunny, but not oppressively hot. I wore a short black skirt, bright blue long sleeved blouse, and black tights. Back then, I dressed up most days because I had to look professional. I was planning to actually be a professional, rather than an overeducated housewife. I had to go to my field placement at the Recovering Professionals Program. I was compiling data for a project I was working on when my friend, Jennifer, told me about the first plane that had crashed into the World Trade Center. I didn’t think much of it at the time. She’d heard about it on the radio, so had no visual appreciation for what had happened.
Then the second plane hit.
Next thing I knew, the Pentagon was hit… And I realized that Bill, unofficially my new boyfriend, was at the Pentagon. Bill’s office had just been moved to a different location. It was originally in the area that was hit by the jet airliner that crashed into the Pentagon that day. If they hadn’t moved his office, he probably would have died on 9/11. Then, another plane went down in Pennsylvania. It seemed like the world was ending.
All day long, I wondered if Bill was dead or alive. I was still calling him my “friend”, but I knew we had more than friendship. I’d been chatting with him since November 1999, when we were both making new beginnings. He had separated from his ex wife and I had started grad school. We’d chatted platonically for a few months before he told me about his wife and children. I remember being shocked and sad for him… and, if I’m honest, a little sad for me. I knew I liked him, even in early 2000. But, he was in Kansas; I was in South Carolina; and I never had any intention of ever meeting him offline, let alone marrying him.
But then Ex served Bill with divorce papers at his father’s house over Easter 2000. They were divorced by June 2000. She had a boyfriend living in the house Bill was still paying for, and he was playing “daddy” to Ex’s three kids– two of whom were Bill’s daughters. She gladly took his money every month, but pushed him out of their children’s lives. Bill’s replacement is still married to her and they have had two more children. We hear #3 doesn’t get treated very well at all, but back then, according to her, new boyfriend was practically perfect, and Bill was a bastard who had ruined everything. Ex told Bill no other woman would ever want him. She didn’t know about me.
Fate conspired to have us meet. It was as if the stars aligned for our unlikely union. My aunt’s brother, Ralph, met Bill at a National Guard convention just a few weeks before I met him in person. Ralph is a retired Guardsman as well as a retired Virginia State Trooper. He assured me Bill wasn’t a psycho. I felt safe in meeting him in May 2001 and again in September 2001. By the time Labor Day 2001 was over, I knew I could love him. By the time 9/11 was over, I knew I wanted to marry him.
My mom and I talked on the phone and she told me not to expect to hear from Bill for awhile. Mom is a very experienced Air Force wife, so she was giving me practical advice about Bill, even though she’d never met him and was hearing of my “boyfriend” for the first time. As soon as I hung up the phone, Bill sent me a message on Yahoo! Messenger, letting me know he was okay. He had tried to call me, but the phone number he had for me was one digit off. I swear it wasn’t on purpose that the number was wrong. I probably just forgot it myself. No one ever calls me anyway, even back in 2001, when someone might have a reason to call.
I was very relieved that Bill had survived the terrorist attack, especially since he could have been killed just for being at the Pentagon, and would have been killed if his office hadn’t been moved. And I told him it was time we came out of the closet and told our families we were dating, because if something had happened to him, I never would have been informed. Bill agreed. Weeks later, he and his mom joined my big family at our annual Thanksgiving party in Natural Bridge, Virginia. Bill told him mom he was thinking of proposing and his mom, who was never a fan of Ex, said, “I approve.”
A year later, on November 16th, 2002, Bill and I were married at Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia. My dad was a graduate, as is an uncle and several cousins. Another uncle and at least two aunts worked at VMI. It’s about fifteen miles from Natural Bridge, which is where my dad’s family calls home. Just last week, 23andMe introduced me to a long, lost relative whose biological father was my great uncle. He was from Natural Bridge, too. It’s fitting that we were married in Rockbridge County, since that’s really my home, even if I never officially lived there.
Our wedding day was imperfect, to say the least. Although the ceremony itself was beautiful and meaningful, some things went horribly awry. The most memorable SNAFU involved Bill’s dad, who was also his best man, locking his knees and almost fainting before we said our vows. And then, after the wedding, we spent two weeks unofficially married, because somehow our marriage license got lost in the mail. It was put in a mailbox in Lexington just after the ceremony, but the Rockbridge County clerk’s office either never got it or misplaced it.
In 2002, Virginia law stipulated, and still stipulates, that newly married couples have five days to file their marriage licenses after the ceremony. Otherwise, the license is null and void. I was waiting for the official license to get to us, but it never did. Bill called the county clerk’s office and was treated very badly by the staff. Eventually, the county clerk got on the phone and told Bill that even if the license was somehow found, it would not be honored, since it got to them beyond the deadline.
Bill and I went to the court in Fredericksburg, Virginia, which was where we were living at the time. We explained our situation, but they told us there was nothing they could do, as we were already “married”. But we were not officially married, so we couldn’t take care of any personal business. And Rockbridge County was telling us that even if they received our license, the deadline had passed and they would not be honoring it. The court clerk was very uncooperative and unhelpful, and offered no solutions on what we could do to fix the situation. In fact, he became quite belligerent with Bill and accused him of being “abusive” (which is real laugh– good thing he didn’t speak to me).
I was shocked by this turn of events… especially since I’ve always known people in Rockbridge County to be nice and helpful, but then in the wake of our wedding, discovered that there are some real assholes living there. My family has been in that county for a couple hundred years and I am probably related to many people who live there and haven’t left… and a lot of people haven’t left. I’m sure some people think I’m an asshole, too, but I can’t imagine why that clerk wasn’t more sympathetic to our situation. What were we supposed to do? Was he on some kind of power trip?
Fortunately, Bill is used to dealing with assholes and he’s also a very tenacious, yet pleasant, polite, and even-keeled kind of guy. He called Virginia’s Attorney General’s office to find out who the Rockbridge County court clerk worked for. Next, realizing it was an election year, he called both our local representative and Rockbridge County’s representative, explained the situation, and told them that he was a 9/11 survivor. I couldn’t get a new Social Security card, military ID, or any other benefits until the clerk did the job the people elected him to do.
Both representatives lit a fire under the clerk’s ass and after our officiant sent him a copy of the license application, the clerk begrudgingly handed over our official license, albeit with a nasty letter falsely accusing Bill of being “abusive” and admitting that he hadn’t wanted to help him because, basically, his feelings were hurt. Seriously?
I don’t like to call people snowflakes, but that guy must be a big one if my husband hurt his feelings. Wow. I have a feeling that the guy was just angry that Bill didn’t let him bully him and demanded that the clerk do his fucking job. Seems to be a trend in our marriage… People mistake Bill’s kindness for weakness and think they can steamroll him, make threats and false accusations, and take advantage. But I know the truth. Underneath that pleasant exterior beats the heart of a true warrior… and anyone who crosses Bill should remember that he makes his living planning battles. Yes, he’s a super nice guy, but he’s neither stupid nor cowardly, and especially now, he doesn’t tolerate bullies (including Ex).
I won’t even get into what Ex thought of our nuptials. Oh, okay… I’ll say this. When Bill told her he was going to propose to me, she asked if I was LDS. Bill and Ex were “sealed” for eternity and, at the time, he was still Mormon. So she wanted to know if I was going to be joining the fold. He said I wasn’t. She said he must love me very much. She was referring to the idea that Bill was giving up “eternal glory” to marry a “Gentile” (that is, a non-Mormon with no plans to convert). We would not be “sister wives” in the hereafter, and she couldn’t use her position as Bill’s first wife and mother of his kids, or LDS “teachings”, to cow me into submission.
In November, we will have been happily married for seventeen years. They have been seventeen years well spent. Would we have gotten married if not for 9/11? Probably. But I think 9/11 definitely sped things along and forced us to admit our feelings and tremendous chemistry for each other. We’ve had our share of problems from the outside, but our marriage has always been rock solid. We get along ridiculously well, and work as partners.
There were some things in my life that I didn’t do right, but I did find the right life partner. And as horrible as 9/11 was, it did show me that I had found the right man and I didn’t want to lose him. So… while I will always feel somber for the many people who died or were injured due to terrorism on 9/11/01, I will also remember that day as the day my life changed for the better. But I will also always remember that it was also a very dark day, as it took away America’s innocence and, I’m sorry to say, its collective spirit of generosity. I truly hope we get some of that kindness back in my lifetime.
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