Tag Archives: memories

Uncle Harold and the Invisible Wheelchair (52 Ancestors #17)

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Harold Young was many things. Son. Brother. Husband. Father. Railroad worker. Wheelchair user.

He was my grandmother’s brother. As muscular dystrophy took a toll on his body, Uncle Harold eventually became confined to a wheelchair. Sometime after Grandpa died, Uncle Harold moved in with Grandma. In many ways, I think that caring for her younger brother gave her a sense of purpose.

I don’t remember Uncle Harold not in a wheelchair. For some reason, however, I wasn’t scared of it. Maybe it’s because it’s the only way I knew him, so it didn’t seem unusual. Maybe I was fascinated with the apparatuses that he used, including a hydraulic lift that Grandma used to move him from his wheelchair and into bed. But there’s something else that probably explains why I wasn’t scared of Uncle Harold or his wheelchair:


Uncle Harold loved to play games of all sorts. He played a mean game of Yahtzee. Think your set of 5s is going to rule the day? Hardly. He could roll 6s like you wouldn’t believe. Going to Grandma’s and playing with Uncle Harold was always a treat.

Uncle Harold died 11 August 1979 and is buried at St. Joseph Cemetery in Columbus, along with his wife Anne and his son Tommy, who was killed by a drunk driver in 1960.

Harold Young (seated) with his sister Adah (Young) Johnson and his son David. 1972.

Harold Young (seated) with his sister Adah (Young) Johnson and his son David. 1972.

Genealogy Note

All of the cousins called him “Uncle” Harold, rather than “Great-Uncle” or “Grand-Uncle.” Keep that in mind when you’re sorting out relationships in your own family. When someone refers to Uncle so-and-so or Aunt such-and-so, it might be another relationship.

Great-Grandma Young Wasn’t Always Old (52 Ancestors 13 and 14)

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The mind’s eye can be like a funhouse mirror. You know that there’s a “normal” person standing there, but the reflection is twisted and turned into something not quite real. So it was in my mind’s eye with my great-grandmother Clara (Mason) Young.

Great-grandma Clara (Mason) Young and me. Photo taken in my grandparents' (Stanley and Adah Young Johnson) back yard.

Great-grandma Clara (Mason) Young and me. Photo taken in my grandparents’ (Stanley and Adah Young Johnson) back yard.

My family doesn’t have many ancestral photos. We’re pretty thin in that department until the 1960s when my dad started taking slides and Polaroids. Though I met Grandma Young, I don’t remember her; she died when I was 3. Growing up, there were lots of photos of her. In all of them, she was an old woman with thinning white hair who wore simple dresses. She was usually sitting and often surrounded by her great-grandchildren.

My young brain tried to fill in the gaps and used the information at hand. Great-grandmother + white hair + frail = OLD. When thinking of Grandma Young, my mind’s eye would fill her in as an old woman.

But there’s another photo of Grandma Young, one that sits on a shelf behind my desk. It’s from around 1903, when she married my great-grandfather Robert Young. In this photo, she is anything but old.

Clara (Mason) and Robert Andrew Young. We believe this photo was taken around the time of their wedding in 1903.

Clara (Mason) and Robert Andrew Young. We believe this photo was taken around the time of their wedding in 1903.

Instead of a simple house dress, she’s wearing something stylish. She has a bow in her hair and a brooch on her blouse, Her eyes are big; her hair is thick. She looks determined, yet gentle.

She hadn’t yet experienced the birth of any of her 10 children… nor the loss of a 2-year-old son. She hadn’t yet seen her home swept away in the great flood of 1913. She hadn’t yet moved from town to town as her husband looked for work.

The mind’s eye can play tricks on us. It’s good to get a different view to get a clearer picture.

How Genealogy Is Like Decorating Easter Eggs

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When I was growing up, decorating eggs was my favorite part of Easter. Mom would get out a glass bowl and fill it with cold water. With a little bit of vegetable oil, the food coloring would float on top. (Science!) Add a few drops of red, blue, yellow, and green, and we had our own floating tie-dye pattern.

My sisters and I would take turns dipping the eggs. This wasn’t done willy-nilly. No, we had to examine the swirls on top of the water, maybe blow on it to mix up the colors a little bit more. We’d look at it from different angles, trying to figure out the very best place to submerge the egg.

Every now and then, an egg would turn out exactly how we envisioned it. But more often than not, we’d be surprised at how it ended up. Sometimes we would be pleasantly surprised… and sometimes not. Occasionally, there would be an egg that just wouldn’t turn out at all.

So it is with our genealogy.

We look at our ancestors and we start to dig into their lives, looking through the swirls of records they left behind. We often have ideas about what we’re going to find. We envision them living in a certain place, associating with certain people, engaging in certain activities.

Sometimes we’re right. Sometimes an ancestor will be exactly as we envisioned. But more often than not, we find something surprising. It can be a good surprise or bad surprise. And, occasionally, there are those ancestors that we can’t seem to “decorate” at all.

The afternoons spent coloring Easter eggs with my sisters are some of my favorite childhood memories. We’d laugh, we’d help each other, we’d bicker. Even though the eggs rarely turned out exactly as we envisioned, we enjoyed each other’s company and it was a lot of fun getting there.

Just like genealogy. Our ancestors are rarely exactly who we envision, but we feel more connected in the process. And we have a lot of fun getting there.


Thank You, Roy G. Biv

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Test tubes and other recipients in chemistry lab

Photo by Horia Varlan. Used under Creative Commons CC BY 2.0 license. No changes were made.

My high school chemistry lab violated the laws of time. Two periods of chemistry class lasted years. Every day, I expected to walk out of the lab and find that the school had crumbled around us, swept away by the eons that had passed while we were in that class.

I enjoy science. Chemistry could have been an enjoyable class. It should have been an enjoyable class.

It was not an enjoyable class.

The teacher had a way of droning on and on…. and on. He also had a remarkable talent for making students feel particularly stupid. He would ask very pointed questions — often off topic — and would get a smug, yet gleeful, look on his face when the poor kid didn’t get it right.

The room had two long lab tables with black countertops and cheap built-in storage underneath. Each table had stations with sinks and burners. We sat at desks that were attached to the lab tables. I sat about 4 seats back.

One day, the teacher was droning on and on…. and on… about something. I may or may not have been talking to the kid sitting across from me. Suddenly, there was the shortest of pauses in the droning, followed by a much louder, “And we all know the colors of the spectrum in order, don’t we, Amy?”

Suddenly, every pair of eyes in the class were on me.

Some part of my brain must have been paying attention to the droning. Without missing a beat, I looked up and responded, “Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet.”

My chemistry teacher didn’t quite know how to react, especially since it wasn’t a topic even close to what we had covered in class. All he could muster was, “Yes. Very good,” and returned to his droning.

The bell rang at the end of the first period and the class got up for our 4-minute respite before the second epoch of chemistry class. As I was walking out to get a drink of water, the teacher pulled me aside.

“How did you know the order?” he asked me in a rather puzzled tone.

“My dad taught me ‘Roy G. Biv’ – the name is the colors in order.”

My teacher shook his head. “Wow, I didn’t think anyone remembered Roy G. Biv.”

My dad remembered and he taught me. On that day in my junior year of high school, I was very thankful for Roy G. Biv.

Rainbow in northern Michigan

Roy G. Biv in action. Northern Michigan, October 2014. Photo by Amy Crow.

Stanley Johnson: The Grandfather I Mostly Remember (52 Ancestors #51)

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I was blessed to know both of my grandfathers. Stanley Johnson, my paternal grandfather, died shortly after my 5th birthday. Although I didn’t have nearly enough time with him — there’s never enough time — I have some wonderful memories.

The Swing Set of Doom

Grandpa and Grandma had a swing set in their backyard. It had a two-person swing (basically a porch swing) and a glider. The glider had two vertical poles that attached to the swing set’s cross bar. You’ve probably seen the type. Back in the day, the poles were closer together than sets are today. I mean A LOT closer together. As in “there’s no way in the world a regulatory agency would approve them today” closer together. “How close,” you ask. Let’s just say that they were close enough to allow my 4-year-old head to go through, but not to go back out.

Fortunately, Grandpa remained calm. He lifted me up to where the poles joined the attachment on the cross bar and were a bit farther apart; then he gently pulled me loose. I never tried that again.

The Vague Memories

Aside from the swing set incident, I don’t have a lot of specific memories of Grandpa. What I do have is a sense of his kindness and humor. And from what everyone has told me, those vague memories are right. (That’s what I mean when I say that I “mostly remember” him.)

Grandpa Stanley Johnson with one of my cousins, May 1955.

Grandpa Stanley Johnson with one of my cousins, May 1955.

I also have a strong recollection of him wearing a hat. When I think of Grandpa, my mind’s eye has him in a fedora. I don’t know why I have this memory, or even if it’s accurate. Not many of the photos I have show him wearing any kind of hat. (Though, in fairness, most are indoors; a gentleman wouldn’t wear a hat indoors unless it was for work.)

Stanley and Adah (Young) Johnson, undated photo. One of the few photos I have of Grandpa wearing a hat.

Stanley and Adah (Young) Johnson, undated photo. One of the few photos I have of Grandpa wearing a hat.

This is how I remember him — being happy and fun-loving.

Grandma with "Santa," 1964. My sister didn't know until years later than Grandpa was the one playing Santa. (We assume that Grandma knew.)

Grandma with “Santa,” 1964. My sister didn’t know until years later than Grandpa was the one playing Santa. (We assume that Grandma knew.)

The Other Photo

I’m fortunate to have so many photos of Grandpa. And for as fun-loving as he was, there was one photo of himself that he absolutely despised:


Stanley Linton Johnson, circa 1903.

He hated that picture. My sisters and I, on the other hand, think it’s awesome. (Sorry, Grandpa.)

Stanley Linton Johnson was born in either Ohio or Illinois on 18 September 1900 (still can’t find his birth record) to Linton and Margaret “Maggie” (Kingery) Johnson. He married Adah Young on 24 June 1922 in Ross County, Ohio. He died 11 December 1971 in Columbus, Ohio.

I didn’t have you for long, Grandpa, but I’m thankful for the memories.

Stanley Johnson and his sisters Zelma, Alice, and Orpha, 1965.

Stanley Johnson and his sisters Zelma, Alice, and Orpha, 1965.

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.

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.

Space Heaters and Snow Boots

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My furnace hasn’t worked in over a week. (Before you feel too sorry for me, let me add that I’ve been gone most of that time and it hasn’t been that cold in central Ohio.) It was getting pretty chilly in the house when my parents brought over something from my childhood — the electric space heater.

The space heater we used while I was growing up. I'm surprised this antique still works.

The space heater we used while I was growing up. I’m surprised this antique still works.

Firing up that space heater and seeing its toaster-like elements turn orange took me back to my grade-school years. The family room in the house where I grew up was always cold in the winter; the sliding glass door, which we used as our main entry, probably didn’t help. There were many drawings made in the condensation that formed on it daily. I often wanted to sit on the floor and eat my breakfast in front of the space heater, but was never successful in convincing Mom that the floor was a proper place to eat one’s breakfast.

What I remember most about that heater wasn’t how warm it made me feel while eating my oatmeal. It was how it kept me warm on the way to school.

The walk to school was only three blocks, but it felt like miles when there was snow on the ground. What was worse was when the snow was melting and the sidewalks were covered in a thick layer of icy slush. On those snowy, slushy mornings, I would lay down my boots in front of the heater and point the tops toward those glowing orange wires. If I remembered to do that before I started breakfast, my feet would stay warm most of the way to school.

Funny how even a small appliance can bring back memories. What unexpected things have brought back a childhood memory for you?