Category Archives: Memories

Of Bowling and Visiting Family

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bowl-signI come from a family of serious bowlers. Mom, Dad, my aunt, and uncle had a team that bowled on Sunday nights for years. Dad bowled in several leagues. (In fact, he asked that Mom try to have me on a night that wouldn’t conflict with one of his bowling nights. I’m not sure if I complied with that request!) My cousins were also serious bowlers, some of whom competed in traveling leagues during their teenage years.

My cousin Kevin was going to bowl in a weekend tournament in Louisville, Kentucky. This was a decent drive from our hometown of Columbus, Ohio, but definitely “do-able.” Our grandma, the dear, sweet lady that she was, got very excited when she heard that my aunt, uncle, and cousin were going to Louisville.

“Oh! While you’re down there, you can visit your brother Ronnie!” she told my uncle Alfred.

Nice idea, except that my uncle Ronnie lived in Fort Myers, Florida.

Grandma was a dear, sweet lady, but she was a bit geographically challenged. When someone in the family is traveling to Kentucky, we still joke that they should go down and visit uncle Ronnie.

Why Don’t I Do This More Often?

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A few weeks ago, I mused about recording family stories and how we need to just do it. Thegenealogygirl took the message to heart and flew to Spokane, Washington just to interview her grandma and other family members. In her “Trip Report in Brief,” she poses the question, “Why don’t I do this more often?”

Mom at the Mackinaw Bridge, 1958

Mom at the Mackinaw Bridge, 1958. We’ve been going to that area for vacation for years.

Indeed, why don’t any of us do it more often?

Sometimes a blogger participating in the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks will ask me if it’s ok to skip a week or they will apologize for a post being “so short.” (I’ve been guilty of that one!) My response is always the same: Write what you can. Anything you write is more than what you had before.

It’s the same with our stories. Any story you capture — however you capture it — is more than what you had before.

Genealogy, The Walking Dead, and a Proud Mom Moment

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My daughter and I both love “The Walking Dead” on AMC. When she was getting ready to head off to college, one of the things she sad about what that we wouldn’t get to watch “The Walking Dead” together. Skype to the rescue! Most Sunday nights will find us in front of our respective TVs and laptops, watching it “together.” (It’s especially fun when there’s a 4-second difference between our two TVs.)

She has also been to more cemeteries than most people her age. (Some moms take their little girls to Build-a-Bear. I took mine to cemeteries. Don’t judge.)

Confederate tombstones, Camp Chase Cemetery, Columbus, Ohio. Photo by Amy Crow, 8 Oct 2004.

Confederate tombstones, Camp Chase Cemetery, Columbus, Ohio. Photo by Amy Crow, 8 Oct 2004.

The March 9 episode of “The Walking Dead” featured the characters Daryl and Beth. Early in the episode, they walk through a cemetery. (Yay! A cemetery!) They stop to look at a tombstone; all the audience can see is the back of it.

The tombstone they’re looking at appeared to be white marble and was shaped like the ones here at Camp Chase Confederate Cemetery. Wanting the zombie apocalypse to be historically accurate, I said, “That better be a Confederate tombstone they’re looking at.”

My daughter, via Skype, replied, “Yeah. Union tombstones would be rounded on the top.” She’s exactly right.

It was indeed a Proud Mom Moment.

[UPDATE: See this post for a quick primer on Civil War tombstones.]

My First – and Almost Last – Time I Sledded: Or, Why I’ll Never Be An Olympic Luger

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Central Ohio isn’t known for its winter sports. We usually don’t have enough snow on the ground long enough to do anything with it. So when there was good snow cover one Saturday morning when I was 7, my dad decided to take my middle sister and me sledding. It was the first — and nearly last — time I was ever on a sled.

The service road at Hoover Dam, February 2014.

The service road at Hoover Dam, February 2014. When snow covered, it really is a good sledding hill. Just watch out for the curve.

It seemed that every other family in Columbus had the same idea that Saturday morning. Every hill we went to was packed with snowsuit-clad kids carrying sleds. (Central Ohio also isn’t known for its abundance of good sledding hills.) At last, we found a hill that was untouched: the service road at Hoover Dam.

It is a really nice hill. It goes from the parking lot all the way down to the base of the dam. (I’m not sure if there was a “No Sledding” sign there then like there is now.) Picture the road with snow on it and you’ll see why it was so appealing.

There was just one problem: That nasty curve in the road. Remember, I’d never been sledding before, so negotiating a curve wasn’t something that Dad was comfortable letting me try, even with guardrails on both sides. Especially considering that the hill to the left wasn’t there in the early 1970s; it was pretty much a tree-filled ravine.

Getting a grown man and his 7-year-old daughter on a tiny sled isn’t the easiest thing in the world. Finally, we situated ourselves sitting up, bobsled-style, with me in the front and Dad in the back. Dad was going to steer using the ropes that were attached to the front of the sled. (Looking back, I don’t know why we thought this was a good idea.)

My sister started down the hill first. Then Dad and I pushed off. It was exhilarating. The crisp winter air hitting our faces, the butterflies in our stomach when we hit a bump… and then, the ice.

There was a patch of ice at the top of the curve. My sister had managed to miss it, but Dad and I hit it square on. We went out of control and straight into the guardrail. Without it, we would have gone down the ravine. Instead, Dad and I were pinned under the bottom rail.

Dad’s legs took the brunt of the impact. It is amazing that he didn’t break his legs as we went under the guardrail or his hand from shielding me from the collision.

My sister made it back up to us just as we were dislodging ourselves from under the guardrail that had saved us. Later, she told me that all she could think when she saw Dad was, “Oh God. I only have my temps. Please let him be alright so I don’t have to drive home.” (We’ve teased her about that ever since.)

After assessing the damage to ourselves and the sled, we decided that we had had enough sledding for one day and opted to go home. (Yes, Dad was in good enough shape to drive, much to my sister’s relief.)

The ride back home was quiet as the three of us thought about our misadventure. As we pulled in the driveway, Dad finally spoke. “Don’t tell your mom.” Really? My sister and I nearly tackled each other getting in the house first to do exactly that.

So as I watch the luge and skeleton on the Winter Olympics, all I can think of is my first time sledding… and how I’ll stick with curling.

Just Go Do It. Now.

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RootsTech 2014 focused heavily on story. Judy Russell, the Legal Genealogist, told us in her keynote that oral history can be lost in just three generations, if not passed down in a deliberate way.

Three generations.

The name of this blog is “No Story Too Small.” I firmly believe that no story is too small to be recorded and to be cherished. I wish I knew the answers to Judy’s questions. I wish I knew if my great-grandfather could swim or what my great-grandmother’s favorite toy was.

You might be like me and keep saying, “Yeah, I really need to <x>.” Interview parents and other relatives. Label the photographs. Write down some stories.

We know we should. We know we need to. Yet, we don’t.

We allow ourselves to fall into the trap of telling ourselves that we’re too busy. We allow ourselves to think that the task is too big. We allow ourselves to think that we don’t know how or that we don’t know where to start.

We allow ourselves to be complacent.

We have to stop that. Now.

Grandma Johnson was the keeper of the stories in our family.

Grandma Johnson was the keeper of the stories in our family. She was also a good cook.

We’ve all seen the sad reminders of how short life truly is. I lost a cousin last fall; he had been ill for years, but his death was actually sudden and unexpected. Todd Hansen of BYUtv’s “Story Trek” told about a man he interviewed and got his life story; the man died the next day. A good friend of mine lost his father earlier this week.

Those losses seem to happen to someone else. Until they happen to us. And they will happen to us.

The task of recording your family’s stories may seem monumental. The key is to start. That’s all. Just start. But you have to do it, and you have to do it now.

So stop reading this post and go do something about it right now. Go call a relative and ask what was their favorite birthday present ever. Pick up a photograph and label it. Write down how you learned how to drive. It doesn’t matter what you do or what format it takes — just go do it. (As soon as I publish this, I’m going to email this photo to my sisters to see if they remember what the occasion was that they were cooking with Grandma.)

Seriously. I mean it. Stop reading this and go do something about your family’s stories. Right now.

The Grandfather I Barely Knew: Ralph F. Ramsey, 1907-1984 (52 Ancestors #6)

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In a perfect world, I would have known him better. After all, I was a teenager when he died. There should have been lots of opportunities to get to know my Grandpa Ramsey. But it isn’t a perfect world.

I won’t get into the reasons why I rarely saw him, even though he lived only about an hour away. The reasons now aren’t all that important.

My Grandpa, Ralph F. Ramsey, on a rare visit to our house, 1971.

My Grandpa, Ralph F. Ramsey, on a rare visit to our house, 1971.

Ralph F. Ramsey was born 7 December 1907 in Perry County, Ohio. (I can always remember his birthday since the Japanese decided to celebrate it in 1941 by bombing Pearl Harbor.) The memories I have of him is that he was a quiet man and I remember him smiling.

He married my grandmother Della Starkey on 22 May 1929. Together, they lived in the sprawling metropolis of Glenford (population: less than 500 at its peak). After her untimely death, he married Wilda Leckrone.

Grandpa was a shovel operator for Central Silica. It’s funny — he’s one of my few non-farmer ancestors and even then he worked in dirt.

Back in the 1950s, Grandpa and my mom drove to Alabama to pick up Mom’s cousin who was getting out of the Navy. (I think I have that detail correct. Note to self: call Mom and find out who it was.) They stopped at a roadside rest along the way and there were people taking a survey, seeing where people were coming from and going to. Keep in mind, Grandpa lived his entire life in Glenford or just outside of it. So how did he answer the question, “Sir, where are you from?”

“I’m from Thornville, Ohio.”

Thornville? Grandpa never lived there a day in his life.  Later, my mom asked him why he answered that way.

“Because I figured he’d never heard of Glenford.”

(Yet, somehow, this highway worker from Alabama might have heard of Thornville? And we wonder why there are weird answers in things like the census.)

It was because of Grandpa that I flew for the first time. Mom and I were on vacation in Florida with my oldest sister and her family. We had all gone together in their RV; Dad couldn’t join us because of work. The night before we were going to head home, we called Dad… and learned that Grandpa had died. There was no way we could drive back in time for the funeral; Mom and I flew home the next morning.

Grandpa Ramsey – a quiet man, sported a crew-cut, and always made a perfect pot of coffee without ever measuring. In a perfect world, I’d have known him better.

52 Ancestors – #1 Adah Young Johnson (1904-1979)

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It seems appropriate to begin the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge with the ancestor who first got me into genealogy: my paternal grandmother Adah Young Johnson.

The Young family, 1909. L-R: Adah, Robert (holding Harold), Clara, and Ralph.

The Young family, 1909. L-R: Adah, Robert (holding Harold), Clara, and Ralph.

Grandma was born in Reynolds Store, Virginia in 1904, the oldest child of Robert and Clara (Mason) Young. The family moved back to Washington County, Ohio (Robert’s birthplace) sometime before Grandma’s brother Ralph was born in 1907.

Grandma married Stanley Johnson (my Grandpa) 24 June 1922 in Ross County, Ohio. They were married 49 years (until Grandpa’s death in 1971).

She was an awesome grandma. (It sounds cliché, but it happens to be true.) She could cook and she she could sew just about anything (including my mom’s wedding dress). She always had time for her grandchildren. I loved going to her house. We’d play games (Yahtzee was a favorite) and read books. Sometimes I accompanied her to her little Methodist church where she’d help set up for communion. (The smell of Welch’s grape juice brings back memories of her.)

Grandma reading to me, 1970. I have no doubt that she read to me all of the books that I was holding.

Grandma reading to me, 1970. I have no doubt that she read to me all of the books that I was holding.

Grandma was one of the kindest people you could ever meet. She truly lived by the motto, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” The closest that any of us can recall her saying something less-than-nice was the time she dropped by our house unexpectedly on a Sunday afternoon. Mom and Dad invited her to have dinner with us, and she did. After the meal was finished, Mom said that she was sorry, but she hadn’t fixed any dessert. “But I do have orange sherbet.” To which Grandma replied, “Then you don’t have any dessert.” (We think of her whenever we have orange sherbet!)

Though she probably wouldn’t have called herself one, she was a family historian. She was the keeper of the family Bible, the family photos, and the family stories. I remember going to her house shortly after “Roots” had aired on tv. She pulled out the family Bible and explained to me who all of the people listed on the yellowing pages were.

Not only did she keep the family photos…. She labelled them. Her descendants are still thankful! She also did a series of cassette tapes where she told stories from time she was a little girl until the time she met Grandpa. Yes, she recorded her memoirs! (See, I told you she was an awesome grandma!) Included in there was her recollection of the Flood of 1913 that swept away her house in Marietta, Ohio…  and how she once locked her grandfather Mason’s second wife in the outhouse.

Grandma died 22 December 1979. It was ironic that she died then, as Christmas was her favorite time of year. She loved to decorate and cook and make presents for all of the grandkids. All of us went to her house on Christmas evening. How all of the cousins, aunts, and uncles fit into that tiny house, I’ll never know.

Grandma was a dear, sweet lady. She nurtured all 14 of us grandkids with her love and kindness. I shall always be thankful for all that she was and for inspiring me to climb our family tree.

Grandma, I miss you and I love you.

Santa Claus and the Magical Cardboard Fireplace

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I grew up in a fairly-typical three-bedroom, post-WWII era house on the east side of Columbus. It wasn’t spacious, but it was comfortable. It was a wonderful house to grow up in. It lacked one thing, however: a fireplace.

(It also didn’t have a basement, which made me very nervous during tornado warnings, but that’s a story for another day.)

It was the lack of a fireplace that could have spelled disaster at Christmas. Songs and Clement Moore’s “A Visit From St. Nicholas” all talk about Santa landing on the roof and sliding down the chimney. How does Santa do that if the house doesn’t have a fireplace?!

Christmas Eve 1970 reading "A Visit from St. Nicholas" in front of the magical cardboard fireplace.

Christmas Eve 1970 reading “A Visit from St. Nicholas” in front of the magical cardboard fireplace.

Fortunately, my parents are very smart people. It wasn’t practical to build a fireplace, so they did the next-best thing: they got a magical cardboard fireplace. It had a mantle, logs, a “fire,” and — most importantly — a chimney. Somehow, that cardboard tube that didn’t connect to the outside gave Santa an entryway into the house. It was brilliant.

Years went by and the magical cardboard fireplace started showing the effects of time. The flames didn’t flame quite as high; the mantle started to sag. Eventually, it was time to retire those pieces of red cardboard. Now what would Santa do?!

Santa, like my parents, is smart. He knew that our house required an alternate means of entry. When he saw that the magical cardboard fireplace was gone, he did the logical thing… He came in through the front door.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Woody Hayes and the Stolen Black Cap

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The year was 1978 and I was attending my first Ohio State football game. Because tickets for OSU home games were hard to come by even then, my family did what many Buckeye fans do — we went to Indiana. (Say what you will about the Hoosiers’ less-than-stellar football team, but their stadium is nice and the people there are super friendly.)

I don’t remember anything about the game itself (other than the fact that Ohio State won). But what happened at the end of halftime was something else.

Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes (wearing his iconic Block O cap). Photo by The Ohio State University Archives; used with permission.

Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes (wearing his iconic Block O cap). Photo by The Ohio State University Archives; used with permission.

The bands had finished their shows and the teams had taken the field for their warm-ups before the 2nd half. Our seats were about 10 rows up on the 20-yard line, giving us a good view of the field and the sideline. Pacing the sideline was Woody Hayes, wearing his iconic black Block O ball cap.

As Woody was talking to one of the assistant coaches, a young man came out of nowhere, ran up to Woody, and grabbed the cap off of Woody’s head! The next thing you know, the kid ran across the field, through the football players, into the IU band… and was Never. Seen. Again.

What does this have to do with family history? Somewhere, there’s a middle-aged man with a black Ohio State cap, the kind with the Block O. And he’s told his kids about how he stole it right off of Woody Hayes’ head. His kids have rolled their eyes and said, “Yeah, right, Dad.” To those kids, I have this to say: Your dad is right. He stole that cap right off of Woody’s head. I saw him do it.

I Have No Memories of JFK, and Why That Matters

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President and Mrs. Kennedy arriving at Love Field, Dallas, Texas, 22 November 1963. Photo by Cecil Stoughton; downloaded from Wikimedia Commons; public domain image.

President and Mrs. Kennedy arriving at Love Field, Dallas, Texas, 22 November 1963. Photo by Cecil Stoughton; downloaded from Wikimedia Commons; public domain image.

All this week, people have been asking the question “Where were you when you heard Kennedy was killed?” Mom was at home. Dad had the later shift at his service station and was getting ready for work. The milkman (yes, the milkman) had just stopped at the house, making his delivery, when the news broke on TV. Mom and Dad invited the milkman in to watch the news with them. Mom remembers Walter Cronkite breaking down when he announced that the President was dead..

As for me, I have no memories of it. Not because I was too young to remember. I wasn’t born yet.

I’m used to being the youngest in the crowd. I’m the youngest in my family. I’m the youngest of my grandparents’ grandchildren. I was among the youngest in my high school graduating class. Until a few years ago, I was always the youngest in a gathering of genealogists. I’m used to the discussions that revolve around events that I missed. (“Remember that time we <blank>? Oh, that’s right. You weren’t born yet.” Sometimes, I think my sisters enjoy those conversations a little bit too much 😉 )

People have expressed almost sadness that I missed this key event in the nation’s history. On the one hand, it would be interesting to be able to carry on a conversation comparing notes of “where were you.” But on the other hand, there are lots of key events that I — and a lot of my friends — have missed. Pearl Harbor. The 1929 Stock Market Crash. Lincoln’s Assassination. Fort Sumter. The Treaty of Ghent. Washington’s first inauguration. Lexington and Concord.

I look at my great-niece and great-nephews and realize that events that I do remember vividly — things like the space shuttle Challenger and 9/11 — are things they they will only hear about from others. They have no memory of them.

So why does it matter that I have no memory of JFK? Because others do, and they need to record those memories for those of use who don’t. And for others like me who don’t have those memories, we need to record our “where I was” stories for the key events in our lives, so that the youngsters of today — and those yet to be born — will know.