27 November 2009

A mystery I probably can't solve...

Earlier today I was scanning some old family photos. I took one of my great uncle, Royal Hoefler, out of its frame and behind it I found an apparently uncashed, but endorsed check for 10 cents made out to A.W. Dunn from the assistant Treasurer of the United States in Chicago, Ill.

The check isn’t dated, although there is a line for a date that apparently wasn’t filled in, but the check has a picture of William McKinley on the left side of the front. The name of the payee (“A.W. DUNN”), the amount (“TEN CENTS--”) and the voucher number (“238522”) are filled in by some sort of machine-generated type. The signature of the disbursing clerk who signed the check looks like “GeoG Box.”

There was a George G. Box who was serving in that role in the office of the secretary of the Department of Labor (in Washington, DC) in 1913 (according to the Official register of the United States, 1913, published by the U.S. Bureau of the Census), but by 1918 (according to the Report of the United States Housing Corporation, December 3, 1918, 1919) had moved on to become treasurer for the United States Housing Corporation.

So presumably the check was issued before 1918.

Royal was from Pine City, and with a little research I was able to determine that "A.W. Dunn" was most likely Alexander W. Dunn, Clerk of District Court in Pine City back in the early 20th century.

Royal Hoefler died of a ruptured appendix at age 21 in 1932, and according to a family tree on Ancestry.com, A.W. Gunn died the year before.

The check clearly had been folded in quarters for a time--one idea that crossed my mind is maybe Royal was carrying it around with him for some reason and had it in his pocket when he died--but guesswork is pretty much all I have.

So why Royal--or some other member of the family--would be in possession of that check, why it was endorsed (but not cashed) and what the connection between him and Gunn may have been are questions we may never answer. How it ended up behind the photo of Royal (who played football for the University of Minnesota and is shown in uniform) and why, may be a mystery we can't solve.

26 November 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

My mother sent around a nice Thanksgiving greeting this morning, so I figured I'd answer her note with a brief one of my own.

As often happens when I'm left to my own devices, my handful of comments quickly grew to something more like an essay--or at least a reflection on some of the things I'm thankful for, not just on this particular day, but year 'round.

While this may be less of general interest, it does touch on some folks whom other members of my extended family will recall, so I decided it might be worth posting here a slightly edited version of what I sent to Mom.

Mom wrote:
To all my family, near and far, I wish you ALL peace and happiness and love! May God always
watch over you and your loved ones and guide you in the path He has created for you. On this
day I remember those who have gone before us...especially Bumpa and Nanny and my Grandma
and Grandpa Brown, Aunt Mayme and Aunt Fran, and my godmother and dearly loved Beth.
I also remember Brian, who gave his life in the service of our country before he was even 20 years old. God's blessings on ALL of you!

Hey Mom--

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you as well. Please pass that along to the whole bunch up there. I hope Nick and the Nebraska boys all arrive safely. Hard to believe we haven't seen them for a holiday since that Thanksgiving you all came up to East Lansing back in 2001.

Interesting about Thanksgiving being the time when you remember those who've gone before us. Along with the cooking all day, it's become that for me, as well.

Sometime after Dad died, I started going outside after Thanksgiving dinner to smoke a cigar in his memory.

I soon realized that cigars also reminded me of Uncle John--I remember him smoking them pretty regularly back in the sixties, in the days when he and Aunt Eva would come down from Two Harbors in the summer and stay upstairs over at 1019.

And even though he never smoked, Grandpa soon found his way into those reminiscences as well.

I think it's because the three of them were the strongest influences on me and how I've tried to live my life and shaping my understanding of what it means to be a father and to be a man.

I know none of them were perfect--I still remember how stunned I was to hear Karen complain about Uncle John as a dad when she "ran away" to Stillwater a couple of times in her teens--but each of them was an example for me in his own way.

Like any kid growing up, I focused on the good I saw, the things I liked and wanted to be like, and the things I thought and hoped I had in common with each of them. So when people ask me who my role models were or who my heroes were, I always list those three.

It would be hard to explain all of the things and all of the ways that they influenced me, but I can try to sum them up.

Dad gave me the art talent (and the writing, although I suspect I get some of that from you, as well) that's carried me through my life, along with the understanding that creative work is something you have to work hard at in order to make a living. It's never really a very secure career, but you can carry it with you anywhere you go.

As tough as it can be sometimes, it's not just pounding nails, it's something that's a part of me, that comes from somewhere inside. And because it's personal like that, and something I enjoy doing, the "work"--even at times when there are long, seemingly endless hours of it--always has at least a small element of doing something I WANT to do and that I ENJOY doing. When I look around at my colleagues over the years, I know that's not a common a thing.

I never would have been a freelancer if not for dad. All of those money-making schemes he came up with under the auspices of Blue Dog Enterprises and the office he made of the front room at 1110 were there as examples for me when the St. Croix Boom Company first offered me work painting signs and designing flyers. Sure, I already had a job at the Lakewood, but the way I understood the workings of the world, that didn't preclude me taking on additional work. Heck, it seemed almost EXPECTED.

Uncle John taught me the value of being part of the larger community and reaching out to the people who were part of it. I remember spending a week up in Two Harbors with him and his family back in 1966 or 1967, and how he took me with him everywhere he went. And everywhere he went, people greeted him or stopped to talk--a simple trip to the store took at least twice as long because of all the socializing.

It just blew me away how he'd touched all of those people's lives in some way or another and how glad they all were to see him. So I've tried to become part of each community where we've lived as well--getting to know the neighbors, volunteering at the schools and churches, helping with the Girl Scout troops and activities and coaching softball--to give something back to the various communities of which we've been parts over the years.

And, of course, he was a teacher.

I know you always wanted me to be a teacher, and I don't recall whether I ever told you about the period back in Indiana when I worked as a substitute teacher for a while. I didn't find being in a classroom very rewarding--for the most part the kids were there because they HAD to be, not because they wanted to be. You had to overcome a lot just to get them to engage.

However, it was that experience and Uncle John's influence (albeit indirectly) that sort of propelled me into coaching. That was different, because those kids WANTED to learn how to play ball and function as a team, and those were things I enjoyed and believed in at a fundamental level.

Softball (like baseball) is an unusual sport in that it combines moments of individual accomplishment into an overall context of teamwork and players helping one another. You can't play it well and win without combining those two things. And when you have a bunch of kids who actually WANT to learn how to do that, it's some of the most rewarding "work" I've done--for almost 15 years, now.

And that gets me to Grandpa. He's the one who introduced me to baseball and was responsible for it becoming a lifelong passion in me.

At the time, I was too young to realize what a big deal it was to have a major league team in the Twin Cities, because for me, baseball didn't exist in my life before 1961. So his enthusiasm to watch or listen to the games--surely elevated to a large degree by the Twins arriving in Minnesota from DC that same year--was pretty contagious.

He (and Uncle John) explained the game to me, Grandpa dug out his two old mitts (lost forever when the old shed and garage collapsed) and taught me to throw and catch. So when you guys bought me my first glove, bat and ball for my birthday when I was in first grade, I already knew how to use them.

The other thing about Grandpa was his sense of humor and, the appearance at least, that life wasn't to be taken too seriously. I loved it when he teased us kids, popped out his false teeth or made up stories about "when [he] was a little girl." It was hilarious when he'd make fart sounds in the kitchen and then say "Myrtle, cut that out!" and she'd get so flustered.

Grandpa was another guy who loved to socialize, although most of what I remember of that was him sitting in his T-shirt at the kitchen table at 1019, drinking a cup of tea and chatting up whoever stopped by: the milkman, Barney, my cousin Greg Brown, Bob Reilly, and on and on. I got my lifelong love of tea from Grandpa as well.

One thing that all three of them were responsible for was teaching me to use tools, along with a kind of ethic about WHY. I expect a lot of that had to do with our modest means and the idea that when something broke, you fixed it.

Whether it was Grandpa and Uncle John tackling some job over at 1019 (or Grandpa over working on the plumbing at 1110) or Dad out in the garage in the middle of winter, trying to make some sort of repair on one of those second-hand cars he always drove, the message was clear: It CAN be fixed, and you should know how to fix it.

I sometimes refer to that as the family blessing and the family curse, because it's always harder to call a repairman if you think you might be able to fix whatever it is that's broken yourself.

But most of all, family was important to all of them.

We came together to mark every holiday (and sometimes it seemed like a holiday just because we came together), they worked hard to raise and support their families, and even when family members were far away, they stayed in touch and they kept those links alive.

So I think about all of that (and more) when I smoke my after-dinner cigar on Thanksgiving, and I wonder about what I might have learned from the others who came before me and what parts of them are stamped on my DNA, characteristics that I'm carrying forward without even knowing it.

Of course, those three didn't do it alone. They had families of their own--grandparents, parents, siblings, wives and kids who also played enormous roles in shaping who they were. And along with the DNA, those influences and traditions have filtered down through the years and surely have shaped who I (and all of us in the current generations) have become as well.

Doing genealogical research over the last few years, reading about and looking into the faces in the photos of those people makes makes me realize that parts of each of them and each of their lives live on in me, and will continue forward through my daughters.

While I can't know exactly what parts those are or might be, I'm thankful today--and everyday--for what all of them contributed to making me who I am, and for giving me all of that to pass along to my own kids.

"Black Friday" notwithstanding, Thanksgiving seems to be the holiday least affected by our changing world, still a time for family, still a time to sit down together and to recall the people, places and events that have made our lives richer.

So a Happy Thanksgiving to ALL of you-- both the family members acquired by birth and the family members we've chosen over the years.

I'm thinking of all of you today.