Father’s Day 2014

Last year I posted a Facebook note on Father’s Day in memory of Grandpa Jack.  So I’m making it ‘official’ now by moving it to the REAL BLOG – with a couple of additions/corrections.

The additions I didn’t include originally because they’re not my memories, but my Uncle Dave’s.  Uncle Dave and Grandpa  took several fishing trips to Canada with their church; trips they always enjoyed a great deal.  The church had a group of deaf members, which was nice for Grandpa – he had “peers” he could hang with.

Well, Uncle Dave tells a story of Grandpa and one of these other deaf men on one of these many fishing trips, in the boat in the middle of a lake, belting out “You are my Sunshine”.  VERY loudly and VERY off key – but if my memory of Dave’s story holds true, they managed to sing together, go figure.   But why they decided to sing that song, in the middle of that lake, at that time, remains a mystery.

Uncle Dave also recalls several “heated” discussions with Grandpa when Uncle Dave was a teenager … but when Grandpa had had enough of the debate, he’d just raise the newspaper up in front of his face and say (in that loud voice of his) “I can’t hear you!”  Conversation over!

And a correction – it wasn’t Grandma who was competitive and got bent out of shape in the Great Monopoly game, but Grandpa … and I wouldn’t have guessed that.

So this year, for Father’s Day, some recommendations from me via Grandpa:

  • Greet everyone with a big “HI” and an even bigger bear hug.
  • Play some monopoly – and play to WIN, dang it!
  • Go to church; pray.
  • Spend a Sunday afternoon barbecuing with your entire family in the backyard.
  • Work in your garden; get your hands dirty and your shirt sweaty.
  • Eat some fried chicken (really, in the spirit of Grandpa, you should eat a lot of chicken … like, two entire KFC buckets).  Follow up the chicken with a big ol’ bowl of homemade ice cream for dessert (ice cream must be consumed on a back porch, preferably on a hot afternoon).
  • Sing “You are my Sunshine” even if you can’t carry a tune in a bucket … and do it loudly.


Father’s Day 2013

It’s Father’s Day weekend, so friends are posting recollections and pictures of their dads on Facebook, and the paper is full  of columns and stories about different dads. It got me to thinking about the dads in my life – Skip (I couldn’t ask for anyone better to be Katie’s dad), my own dad (who gave me my sense of humor, and now relishes the role of “G-Pa”) and my own grandpa, Jack, who I miss more than I thought I would.

Grandpa Jack was an incredible eater – the family legend is that he once ate two entire chickens in a sitting (I think it was at a restaurant somewhere in the Ozarks that served “broasted” chicken, whatever that is).  I lived with my grandparents for a few months after college – my parents had moved to Colorado Springs, abandoning me in Omaha – and I recall one evening at the dinner table with meatloaf, mashed potatoes, corn, and homemade bread.  And this was SERIOUS homemade bread; made with wheat and other whole grains and probably some honey; it was the sort of bread that was heavy in your hand but it melted in your mouth.  I think Grandpa polished off half of the meatloaf, a small volcano of potatoes (I’m certain they were served with gravy), several slices of bread (buttered, natch) and two or three ears of corn.  Mind you, Grandpa Jack wasn’t a big man – he stood 5’ 8” at best before age began to rob him of his height – but he was SOLID.

Grandpa Jack might’ve liked to eat, but he loved people.  He greeted everyone with a huge smile, a big emphatic “HI!” and a hug. Total strangers would come up to him and start conversations; he just looked like one of those people you should approach and start a conversation with.  Now, this was always interesting to watch; Grandpa Jack was completely deaf and had been since about the age of twelve.  He would usually smile and nod as the stranger carried on what ended up being a mostly one-sided conversation.

And Grandpa’s conversations with Grandma remain fascinating to me. When most people think of sign language, they think of the big, sweeping hand movements and finger spelling that you see when there is a sign interpreter at some large, public event. Grandma was also deaf, and she and Grandpa had this odd, shorthand sign language they developed in their 60+ years together.  Grandma would be in her recliner and Grandpa in his, side by side, with Grandma making (what looked to me) ever so slight movements with her left hand and Grandpa making similar signs with his right.  They carried on entire, lengthy conversations this way.  And oh yes, they would fight – my brother remembers one highly contested Monopoly game (Grandma did NOT like to lose).  Jason says, “You should’ve seen those fingers FLY.”

Grandpa Jack adored his family; I am the second of seven grandkids spread out over more than a dozen years, so I got to watch Grandpa interact with the youngest of my cousins. I have lots of memories of Grandpa playing with all of us kids – chasing us through that big back yard behind the tiny house on Spaulding Street under the shade of the huge maple trees – and of course LOTS of hugs.  And ginormous bowls of homemade ice cream on sultry, humid Omaha Sunday afternoons on the back porch.  Grandpa Jack spoiled all of us, although part of me suspects he was looking for a cohort when all of the Oreos were suddenly gone.  🙂  But you could always count on Grandpa Jack to be around to help – sometimes with mixed results (asking Grandpa to help move large objects or to assist with home improvement projects was a somewhat iffy proposition – he always gave it 150%, but ‘grace’ and ‘precision’ weren’t always his friends).

Grandpa was also a man of faith – a simple faith, but a strong one.  I remember a picture of Jesus on the wall of their house and a small wooden cross on a bookshelf with the words “Jesus Saves”.  When Skip and I were “church shopping” in Des Moines, Grandpa’s two criteria were 1) Do they teach from the Bible? and 2) Does the pastor wear a robe?  #1 had to be “yes” and #2 “no” and that was all Grandpa needed.  Grandpa would probably be tickled to know these are the criteria Skip applies to churches we attend today.  Grandpa gave me one of his Bibles and it’s one of my most treasured possessions.

Grandpa Jack usually smelled of sweat and hard work – he was forever doing something around the house or in the yard, particularly in his garden, although I think his adventures on the roof gave my mother more than a few scares.  Christmas Eve meant Grandpa going to bed right after the presents were opened, so he could be to work at the Peter Pan Bread company bright and early the next day.  For all my grandparents accomplished –raising four kids, working outside the home – with a disability in the days long before the Americans with Disabilities Act – I am constantly amazed and in awe.  But a lot of that speaks to Grandpa Jack’s work ethic, his love of family, and his faith.

Grandpa Jack is now just memories – the glasses held onto his head with the elastic band that went from ear to ear, with the ever so stylish ‘flip up’ sunglasses that clipped over the lenses.  Grandpa’s tendency to pronounce words exactly like they looked – and always in an extremely loud voice, due to his deafness.  There was one Mother’s Day in Omaha when he and my mother were discussing the use of “niger seed” in a bird feeder.  I’ll let you draw your own conclusions as to how exactly that sounded.

While he wasn’t part of my life every day, he’s in my blood and in my history.  I hope on this Father’s Day that my brother and cousins will stop and remember Grandpa Jack and his influence in our lives.  And maybe see a little of Grandpa Jack in themselves, or looking back at them from their own children – I know I see Grandpa Jack’s smile in Katie every time she meets a new friend.

Happy Father’s Day.


My birthday, my family tree, and why I’ll never be running for public office

I’ve never met or even been remotely acquainted with anyone who shares my birthday (April 24).  I know of no fewer than three people who share a birthday on April 26, and even Katie has already encountered two other kids with the same birthday as hers.  (Now that I’ve put that out there, no fewer than 15 people will comment that their great-aunt’s sister’s husband’s cousin once removed has a birthday on April 24.)

But what has happened TWICE on my actual birthday is I’ve gotten an email from a distant relative, looking for genealogy information.  Genealogy is one of those things I pursued several years ago – you know, before adding my own sapling.  It still interests me, I just don’t have the time to pursue it; genealogy is a hobby that requires a lot of dedication and patience.

This year, on my birthday, I’ve connected with relatives in Alaska and Norway via a great-great-grandmother.  I have very little to go on with regard to Helene Nore; she was married to August Yager, a wagon maker by trade, and they had three children.  While my dad remembers August (my dad, his mother, and August all lived with August’s daughter and son-in-law for a time during WWII), Helene passed away long before my dad was born.

Census records showed August living with his three children in 1910, 1920 and in 1930.  The 1930 census shows Helene living in the Nebraska Institute for the Insane – and when I first saw that, I recalled something from a genealogy course I took – often times menopausal women were committed or institutionalized and it wasn’t uncommon to see Mom, Dad, kids altogether in one census, mom gone the next census, and then mom back with dad for the following census (after all of those hot flashes and hormonal swings passed, I guess!)  But it seems Helene was in the Institute from sometime prior to 1910 until her death in 1936, and one of my new connections has found that August & Helen’s kids were turned over to an orphanage for a while, so things must’ve been pretty bad.  I’ve made feeble attempts to get the records, but am thwarted by privacy laws (yes, even after all of these years … time to sic my brother, the attorney, on this little task, now that my interest is peaked again).

But Helene’s institutionalization isn’t the only odd or unusual story on the family tree.  Several years ago, pre-Katie, I got another birthday email, this time from a woman in Canada.  She indicated that she had a picture that might be of interest to me.  She described the picture as one of three little boys, and on the back it noted the boys were named William (aged 8), Paul (aged 6) and Allen (aged 5), it was taken in Lanark, IL, in 1923 and was signed “your brother, Will”.

I had posted to a message board several years before getting that email, looking for information on a great-grandfather who was adopted by his grandparents.  ‘Adoption’ in the 1870s is sort of loosey-goosey; you pretty much lived with whoever took you in, and there wasn’t typically a paper trail.  I’d posted all of the relevant facts about my great-grandfather, one William Orus Kunce:   spouse, kids, all applicable dates and places.  And I didn’t hear a peep for several years until that email landed in my inbox.  Well, those are the names of my great-uncles, and my grandmother was born in 1923 in Lanark, IL, so unless there was some weird parallel universe out there, this had to be my family.

Notice I didn’t say she attached the picture to the email.

We exchanged a few emails and at one point, I asked one of the boys in the picture was wearing a sailor suit – I have a copy of that picture, and “Billy” is very cute in his little sailor outfit, standing behind his two brothers.  A sweet picture.

A short time later I got an email response with the picture attached.  Billy, Paul and Al were standing behind a Model T in what looked to be a grassy field.  Wearing white robes.  With hoods.

My great-grandfather had taken his three young sons to a KKK rally.

Skip came running into the study when I saw the picture – I’m sure I gasped and let out some OMGs and who knows what else came flying out of my mouth.  To say I was shocked would be an understatement.

I asked my grandmother about that picture, and she remembered it very well, although she didn’t have a copy.  Grandma recalled the time when her mother, Bessie, was sorting through pictures, and Bessie tore the picture into several pieces.  Bessie did not like that her husband had belonged to the Klan, although Grandma told me that William left the Klan upon becoming a Christian.

And … the woman in Canada almost didn’t come into possession of that picture.  She’d met with an elderly woman who shared many Kunce pictures and stories, but the older lady held the KKK picture back until the last minute.  Probably a good call – not exactly something you want to whip out when first meeting someone, although it is a good conversation piece, I guess.

So now I’m back all excited about the family tree game.  Some of it is the thrill of connecting with new people far and wide, and some of it is a little bit of anxiety … other people find out they’re related to Queen Victoria or they can trace their roots back to the Mayflower.  Not me, I’ve got institutionalized people and Klansmen in my tree.

Oh well – public office is overrated anyway.