Friday, April 30, 2010


Probably my favorite pastime in Turkey was looking for items that were not "run-of-the-mill" tourist trinkets but were things used in the course of a day by "run-of-the-mill" Turks. I brought home lots of little goodies, one of which is the cane shown above.

I purchased it on one of my forays into the highways and byways - I think this time maybe it was in the interior of Turkey somewhere around Sile or Catalhoyuk. Why did I want a cane? Because I saw it, or one like it, being used by a man in the town and I had a Turkish speaking friend ask him where I could purchase one like it. What drew me to it was that first of all it was a very substantial cane, and although hand carved, it definitely wasn't a show-off cane. I might call it folk art - but I don't think it even fits that description. It is a functional cane with a bit of hand-carved decoration on it. I brought it back to the US when we came home and it has always had a place of honor next to my living room door where everyone can see it.

Does it have a use? Absolutely, though not because I am in need of it, yet. Our first use of it was to carry with us when we took our dog Bucky for a walk at night. We lived in a fairly safe neighborhood so I wasn't thinking of it as "protection" for myself but just to have in the event of meeting some stray dog and needing to break up a dog fight. That never happened, for which I was very grateful. The Southern California love affair with pit bulls hadn't started yet.

I gave it to my father to use as he got older. He had started falling down and absolutely refused to use a walker. He was living in an assisted living home and I thought perhaps he would like to show this cane off to the other residents and thus camouflage his need of using it to help his walking. He was such a prideful man that he would rather have fallen flat on his face than admit he used a cane. But at least it was there to serve the purpose if he ever relented. (He didn't).

Upon his death I brought it back to my house, where it has sat pretty much unused and unnoticed behind the door.

You all know that we live in a big senior complex that has lots of walking space. I admit that I think a lot about walking but have a hard time prying myself off the computer to do much about it. However, one thing I've noticed recently is that many of the women who walk in this area now carry a cane, umbrella, golf club or a big stick when they walk around. The only reason I can think of this new trend (which actually doesn't look very trendy in the way a Coach purse looks trendy) is that not too many weeks ago our apartment manager delivered a memo to each apartment that said something to the effect that in light of the dire unemployment figures and the economy in general, crime has risen and all residents are urged to keep their front door locked, their porch lights on all night, and to keep their eyes open even in the daylight when they are walking around our development.

About a year ago I decided I needed a can of pepper spray to keep on my key ring, "just in case." About a year earlier than that I had decided that while I have never been a fearful person as far as going out at night, that I would specifically stop going to shopping areas after dark.

So I have decided that if I ever work up a mindset that exercise will be fun and beneficial to me (the latter I already know, but the fun? Unlikely) - and maybe necessary, then I will have my club of choice ready to take with me. One whack with my Turkish cane would have the effect of being clubbed, believe me. It is a heavy, solid wood and it would make even a raging pit bull see stars. I hate to think this is what we have come to here in Southern California, although it is not only here that has problems like this. Jer has a golf club in his car if he cares to use it. And of course in the meantime the cane is still going to sit beside my front door; if anyone tries to force their way in we'll be ready for them.

But my ultimate goal is to use that thing myself if and when it becomes physically necessary. I think I'll have to shorten it a bit, but unlike my father, I'd be far more embarrassed about falling down than using my really lovely Turkish cane, even if it isn't all that sylish.

Monday, April 26, 2010


So there is good news…..and there is bad news. Sometimes it is hard to figure out which is which.

Stephen Hawking is still alive and well, lecturing and thinking up new things, and I do think this is good news. Now unfortunately I can’t understand anything he has been thinking about, being that it has to do with mathematics, in which I am a total, complete dunce. But just as I had to believe that Einstein knew what he was talking about, I tend to give Hawking the benefit of the doubt too. He is a man with a brilliant mind, a British astrophysicist who has not let his awful physical affliction (a neuro-muscular dystrophy related to ALS), defeat him.

But the bad news is that in a new documentary Hawking goes on record as saying that he is almost certain that alien life exists in other parts of the universe and uses a mathematical basis for his assumptions. "To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational. The real challenge is to work out what aliens might actually be like."

So why is that bad? In an April 5 lecture in London he suggested that an alien visit probably wouldn't go well for Earthlings. He posits that a visit by extraterrestrials to Earth would be like Christopher Columbus arriving in the Americas, "which didn't turn out very well for the Native Americans." He speculates most extraterrestrial life will be similar to microbes, or small animals - but adds advanced lifeforms may be "nomads, looking to conquer and colonize."

I read that The Discovery Channel will broadcast "Stephen Hawking's Universe" in Britain next month. I don’t know if we will eventually get it here in the US or not. Furthermore, if we do I’m not sure I will watch it. I likely will not, as I do not like to hear bad news. I tend to wake up in the night and think about them, especially about the longshot of seeing extra-terrestrial aliens outside my bedroom window, which is right beside my bed.

Now I’m not saying I am apt to get nervous about this happening, but I hark back to the mid 1960s when I read the book “Incident at Exeter,” shown above. After reading that book, for several years I could not look out of a car window at night for fear of seeing a UFO hovering nearby. So knowing of Hawking’s prognostications and especially seeing him talk about them is not good for my mental health. In the daytime I can say “Que sera, sera” all I want and put to rest all the stupid things that I think might happen. But in the middle of the night when I wake up and my mind latches on some outlandish thing to mull over, it is a different story.

So I’m truly glad Hawking is still alive and well and thinking big thoughts. That is the good news. However, I am not even going to talk anymore about the bad news.

Saturday, April 24, 2010


Have you ever been sitting out on your patio or porch watching the hummingbirds come to feed and have one come up and stare you right in the face? They are aggressive little things and between the sounds of their little wings and the nose-to-beak closeness of them, you feel like you are shortly going to be attacked. They are so much fun to watch, but between you and me, these little forays into my face are a bit offputting. I would like to get closer, but can't figure out how to do it.

Attempts have been made to bring the little things nearer. The fellow below had an idea and I don't see why it wouldn't work. However, I'm not sure I would be able to sit still enough while the hummers were flitting around trying to figure out just what was going on. I imagine there is a lot of darting and staring before the show gets on the road. I just don't know about this one, although the inventor here seems to be enjoying himself.

This next invention, shown below, was featured in the LA Times this morning. I laughed when I saw the contraption. But what caught my eye was the fact that there is a nice protective shield between the viewer and the hummer, allowing the little guy to get up close and friendly without the possibility of a good poke or two, which is what I always feel a hummer staring at me is going to do. Such unpredictable little darts and thrusts....but with this mask, I think I could do it!

Now this isn't to say I want one of these masks. If I were out for an evening stroll and saw someone sitting on their porch wearing this kind of contraption, I would walk home and tell Jerry I just saw a crazy person. I think I would have to have a whole lot more than a "private patio" to wear one of them. But I can surely see how it would accomplish a close-up and personal SAFE relationship with a hummer or two.

Take a bit of time and watch this most interesting and clever video. Then if you really are into your hummingbirds, you might want to become a customer.

Friday, April 23, 2010


I may not agree with their politics but I certainly agree with their humor.

Today's joke comes via Tom McMahon's blog:

................THE YEAR IS 1947................

Some of you will recall that on July 8, 1947, a little over 60 years ago, witnesses claim that an unidentified flying object (UFO) with five aliens aboard crashed onto a sheep and mule ranch just outside Roswell , New Mexico . This is a well known incident that many say has long been covered up by the U.S. Air Force and other federal agencies and organizations.

However, what you may NOT know is that in the month of April 1948, nine months after that historic day, the following people were born:

Albert A. Gore, Jr..
Hillary Rodham
John F. Kerry
William J. Clinton
Howard Dean
Nancy Pelosi
Dianne Feinstein
Charles E. Schumer
Barbara Boxer

See what happens when aliens breed with sheep and jackasses?


Thursday, April 22, 2010


Now this is a book!

The eyecatching cover snagged me as I passed by the “new books” shelf at the library. It is not normally a book I would think to read – but the enticing words on the cover sold me. In case you can’t see well enough in the picture, here’s what the front cover says: The 188th Crybaby Brigade. A Skinny Jewish Kid from Chicago Fights Hezbollah. Below this is a quick review by an author I respect: “A great tale, a Jewish jarhead. It’s a book about war, peace, marriage, the Middle East, titty twister, and Spam. A funny, thoughtful and poignant story.”

Now who could pass up a read like this!

Before I go into a little more detail, I will say that it helps to have some knowledge of Judaism and be willing to accept a few episodes of somewhat indelicate goings-on (this is mainly for old women like me who are from a more prudish generation.) Once you come to terms with this, you are in for a good romp, one that will not only make you laugh but also worry, muse, gasp and cheer. The ending is dynamite.

The author, Joel Chasnoff, was brought up in a conservative Jewish household in Chicago. He attended a Jewish day school, began learning Hebrew at age 5 and says of himself, “I genuinely loved being a Jew.” After several trips to Israel, he decided that it wasn’t fair that “we American Jews called Israel our homeland but left Israelis to defend it” and he made up his mind that instead of just praying for Israel, he would fight for it. So he did.

You need to know that Joel is presently a writer AND a comedian with stage and screen credit. He knows how to write a scene and squeeze every bit of humor (or pathos, or fear, or….) out of it. To his credit, his story rings true, not forced, which makes you not get tired of the humor but just keep wanting to see what preposterous thing is coming next.

I couldn’t put the book down and then was mad at myself when I came to the end of it. The book is a refreshing break from my usual book fare. I hope this fellow keeps up the writing end of his career; I’ll certainly be one of his fans and followers.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


In this morning's newpaper I read an 'In Brief' article, the headline of which said "Immodest women blamed for quakes." Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has predicted a major earthquake is going to hit Tehran and that many of its residents should relocate. Now that is a very strange pronouncement to make, even if you are as knowledgeable as Dr. Lucy, but apparently it was in response to one of the major Clerics of the country stating the increase in earthquakes is caused by women not dressing modestly, which leads young men astray and spreads adultery.

When I read this I laughed and read it to Jerry. He had already heard it on the news, but he did remind me that our religious prognosticators did the same thing when Hurricane Katrina hit. Hagee and others said that this hurricane was punishment for .... all kinds of moral issues but mainly gays and lesbians took the brunt of the blame.

We scoff at others...but we really don't have to look any farther than our own back yards to find that same narrow-minded, supercilious attitude!

Monday, April 19, 2010


I’m ashamed of myself. I put up with things that I shouldn’t. I always have. Don’t know where my tendency to do this came from, but I sure wish I’d get some backbone or some gumption – or whatever it takes to make a few changes.

First, I have a car seat cover that doesn’t fit well. I have put up with it for about a year now. Every time I get in the car, I have to give a mighty tug to center it on the driver’s seat of my car. Obviously I didn’t put it on correctly in the beginning, because there seems to be several loops of elastic that are just dangling instead of holding something down. I have just let them dangle because it looks like putting them around or under or between something is going to be a major job. So I just keep putting up with the scooting seat cover.

The next thing I put up with is a pair of dull scissors I use at my desk. They looked just like Fiskar scissors when I bought them. That was my first mistake, because they weren’t, which accounts for the good price I bought them at. Hence, the edges have dulled rapidly and there seems no reason to pay to have them sharpened. Probably cost more than they are worth. So instead of either doing that or buying a new pair of real Fiskar scissors, I just put up with what I’ve got.

I think you get the idea.

There is another class of things that I put up with because I can’t change. In that class you will find our new low-flush toilet which was installed by our apartment management company to save water but which now takes at least 4 flushes to clear. We put up with it because we have no recourse.

Along that same vein I put up with residents who walk their dogs along our lawn and don’t bother to pick up their poop. (They always do this at night when we can't see it happening.) Oh yes, the rules we all agree to when we sign our lease says that we must clean up any mess our dog makes on the lawn. But there are no poop police around here, and management shrugs their shoulders when asked why they let it happen. So we put up with it and get hunchback shoulders from looking down at our feet as we cross our lawn to get to the car.

And I’m sure you get the idea here too.

The final class of things that I put up with are things that I wish I could change but won’t. One of the minor things is getting rid of all country western music. I try. If on a phone call I get put on hold and hear CW music playing in my ear, I hang up and call back later. But it is a lost cause. I can't change it even if I wanted to.

The one biggie in this final class is putting up with AOL. I have been with them since 1997. They have caused more aggravation in my life over the years than I care to remember. And it just keeps getting worse. Let’s face it: AOL is now aimed almost exclusively at teenagers and I simply should bite the bullet and move on to gmail or some other respectable place to do my emailing. But here’s the catch: If you do a google-search on Bobby Dobbins Title you will find several thousand queries I have posted pertaining to my genealogical research, and I want people to be able to find me when they have a response. If I change from AOL, I’ll lose out. So it's to my benefit to put up with it.

Now that I've seen all my grumbling in black and white (or green and black if its on the blog), I should just go ahead and take care of the things I can change and stop whining about them. I'll tackle the scissors first. Leave the worst 'til last.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


The problem with living near a big city but not near enough to take advantage of what a big city can offer is one of my regrets. (I try not to have regrets, but they do sneak in from time to time.). Today, Cameron Carpenter, a 29-year old organist who is widely listed among the most gifted organists of his generation, is giving a concert at the First Congregational Church in the mid-Wilshire area of L.A. I am a fan of good organ music and good organists. And one of the classical music critics says of Carpenter that his “technical virtuosity is beyond imagining. He can do things with his fingers and his feet that nobody else can do.”

There are a number of reasons why I can’t drive in to LA today. Lord knows I drive in to other things going on there. But I simply didn’t know about this program soon enough, so I had already committed myself to something that I can’t get out of.

Aside from his huge talent, an article in the LA Times noted this young man doesn’t always dress with quite the formality that one expects when watching and listening to an organist play classical music. In fact, he often wears crystal-encrusted tee-shirts and tight-fitting jeans. There seems to be a real dither in organ music circles as to whether this “showmanship” approach is appropriate or not. One group sees him as way too flamboyant; others insist his artistry overrides any image problem. Meanwhile he just goes on making unbelievably good music.

To see what I will be missing, I went to YouTube to find him playing something of which I had a little knowledge. Boy, did I get an earful of music and an eyeful of virtuosity. For my money the young man can wear a toga if he so chooses. He makes music and makes it good! Which in turn makes me all the sorrier that I can’t go in to LA.

Anyway, watching him on a video was a wonderful thing to do and next best, of course, to seeing him in person. I love live performances, but I have to admit when a video is used I am enabled to see things (like fingers and arms and legs and feet all flying, making unbelievably gorgeous music) that are just impossible to see from a church pew. I don’t know how many of you like organ music but I’m going to suggest that you take 10 minutes out and watch this young man play. If you absolutely can’t bear to hear Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, even if he is wearing traditional attire, then go directly to YouTube yourself and listen to him play John Philip Sousa’s “Stars & Strips Forever.”. He does absolutely amazing things with that too. One way or the other, give yourself a treat today.

Friday, April 16, 2010

YUM! 1-2-3-4-5 SPARERIBS

My favorite old Chinese cookbook, "The Key to Chinese Cooking" by Irene Kuo has this exceptionally easy, exceptionally quick, exceptionaly tasty recipe for Spareribs in it. I've made them so often that the book automatically opens of its own accord to that page.

1-2-3-4-5 SPARERIBS

1½ pounds meaty pork spareribs
Have butcher cut rack of spareribs lengthwise into 3 sections.

Prepare simmering sauce:
1 T dry sherry
2 T dark soy sauce
3 T cider vinegar
4 T sugar
5 T water

Separate meat into single riblets. Place them in skillet over high heat. Immediately add simmering sauce and stir to mingle. When the liquid comes to boil, adjust heat to maintain a very gentle simmering. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes, turning and stirring spareribs from time to time.

Uncover and turn heat high to bring the sauce to a boil; stir rapidly until the sauce is all but evaporated.

Recipe can be used either as part of meal or as an appetizer.

Thanks, Irene. It's a keeper!

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Probably the truest thing that has ever been said about me was delivered by Ahmet, our youngish driver in Istanbul, as we walked out of a department store after a shopping expedition.

“Mrs. Title, may I say something?”

Ahmet always asked permission to speak. He was probably in his early 30s, had lived in England for a few years in his 20s where he learned his English, and was unfailingly polite.

After hearing my “Certainly,” he said in all seriousness: “Mrs. Title, you do not shop like other women.”

I had to refrain from bursting out laughing, because he hit the nail on the head. I truly do not shop like other women. I hate shopping. Ahmet was an only child and when he knew I needed to furnish our living quarters from top to bottom, he asked his mother where he should take me for things like sheets, towels, pillowcases, blankets and so forth. She suggested Pabetland, a local department store, and told him to stick close to me since I didn’t know a word of Turkish. Ahmet also had been married during the time he was in England, and he probably more than once accompanied his wife on a shopping venture. I suspect he was measuring me against his experience with those two women shoppers.

At Pabetland I walked into the towel department, quickly grabbed four bath towels, four hand towels and four washcloths, four sets of sheets and pillowcases, two sets of blankets for each of the three beds in our flat, about six dish towels, a couple of small tablecloths and – and within 20 minutes we were on our way out to the car. What I bought was functional and medium priced. I did not care about color. Especially about color, because our bathroom had a grey marble floor, red and black tile, a pink shower, and a beige marble counter with two sinks in it. Why worry about color coordinated towels? Ahmet was truly dumbfounded that this was the way I shopped.

I bring this up today because I am going to have to go buy some summer clothes. I HATE shopping for clothes. I have to be a little more finicky buying clothes than I do buying linens. I have limitations: 1) size for an old lady’s shape, (apple) 2) color for an old lady’s image (not garish), and 3) style for an old lady’s age, (nothing clingy). What I have found lately is that if I get pants to fit my waist, the legs end up being as wide as Dumbo’s ears. If I find something I like, the colors are so dramatic as to make me look like a retired harlot. The blouses are designed to show cleavage and waistlines, neither of which I have any more, and belly, which I have too much of.

This business of skin-tight tee-shirts, which is about all there is available at the kinds of department stores that my budget allows, has forced me into the men’s department, where I can buy decent straight-sided tees. They are plenty comfy around the house and since I’m not exactly a trend-setter in the image-department anyway, they work just fine!

But I do occasionally meet friends for lunch, and ten years after I retired I am still wearing the blouses that I used for work those many years ago. Probably my friends are much less conscious of my aging wardrobe than I am, but if they were keeping track, they probably are taking bets as to which of my three old blouses I’ll be wearing this time!

It’s time to go shopping. I HATE it. I am 75 but don’t feel 75. I don’t want to look like I am wearing old crepe dresses and Enna Jettick’s shoes. I don’t want to look silly like an old lady in teenage clothes, trying to fool everyone into thinking she’s only 39. My choice of department stores is Macys, Macys, and Macys. No more Broadway, no more May Co., no more Gottschalks. It’s Macys or nothing.

So I’ll head out one of these days, when I finally get really desperate, and see if I can update my wardrobe a bit. Shopping is my least favorite thing to do. But I’ve got to bite the bullet. I’m aiming at having this onerous chore done by May 15. I’ll be going out of town to a very important wedding then, and I’d hate for the relatives to say to themselves, “Is she still wearing that old thing?” If worse comes to worse on my shopping expedition, though, I just might be!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Now, I think I am a reasonably well-read person, fairly knowledgeable and clearly in charge of my marbles, but sometimes I am shocked to find out there is something I probably should have known about but don’t. So it’s with a little bit of embarrassment that I tell you that until yesterday I had never heard of a “hoo-hoo.” And to make it a little worse, I not only had children with “hoo-hoos” but also my granddog Libby had them.

None of my kids had much more than a modicum of hair when they were born; it didn’t matter so much with my son Sean, but to make sure my girls would be identified by passersby as females, I started by scotch-taping a little bow to the top of their head. Once they grew enough hair that could be constrained by a barrette or a ribbon (usually by their second birthday!), I arranged what I now know to be a nice decorated “hoo-hoo” on their head – not what I called a palm tree or a pony tail. No, a real, honest-to-goodness hoo-hoo.

It’s the Kewpie look, that’s for sure!

The other thing I didn’t know is that presently, and there has been for a long time, an organization called The International Concatenated Order of Hoo Hoo. It originated in Arkansas before the turn of the century (the 20th century, that is) and its roots, pardon the pun, belong to men in the lumber business. Seems that the traveling lumber salesmen kept meeting each other at trade shows and conventions and decided that they needed to have some kind of loose-knit fraternal organization made up of lumbermen and only lumbermen.

These early folk searched for just the right name for their organization. They wanted it unique, so chose “concatenated” which mean “unite” and “Hoo Hoo” after one of the lumbermen whose odd hairstyle – a long tuft of hair on top of his balding head which he greased and twisted into a spike – caused much joking among his friends. The spike was called a Hoo-Hoo, and the term quickly was added to finish off the formal name of that organization.

The Order still exists today and while perhaps not world-wide, it has expanded into Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

Who would think of such a fraternal order? I suspect the answer is a few lumbermen with more than a few beers at a trade show. Maybe I had never heard of this strange organization with the funny name because the closest I ever get to lumber is at my local Home Depot. They may have a local chapter there but I’ve never noticed a logo. I shall look next time I’m nosing around there for a dowel for something or other, and if I don’t see a logo, perhaps I’ll ask the department manager if he is a Hoo Hoo.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


This morning I opened the travel section of the LA Times and what should I see first but a big quarter-page ad for Turkey, showing a wonderful picture of Ephesus.

"Oh, I've been there," I said to myself and immediately was transported back to that time in 1992 when a group of us who belonged to an Istanbul organization called "FARIT" ("Friends of American Research in Turkey") had a stupendous tour of Aegean Turkey. Of all the things I saw in Turkey, none took my breath away like seeing Efes (the Turkish name for Ephesus). Of course, it was also one of the few places of which I had any background knowledge - Ephesus of course being prominent in the New Testament - but to be honest with you, nothing I'd ever seen about Ephesus prepared me for what I saw. It truly was unbelievably beautiful.

While the buildings and statuary are amazing, there is so much more to see. It is a city - in ruins, of course, but still a city. Underneath the marble-paved "Sacred Way" or "Marble Way" you can still see the remains of an elaborate water and sewer system. That's not particularly beautiful but interesting as all get-out. There are public latrines - not for the use of tourists but for the people who inhabited the city so long ago. Old houses. An amphitheater. A gymnasium. It's all there, far more than I ever expected to see.

The beautiful Library of Celsus is what most people think of when they picture Ephesus, because it is certainly the most visually dramatic. Tiberius Julius Celsus, a famous Roman administrator, died in 114 AD and his son had this library built as a monument and mausoleum. Celsus was buried inside an elaborately decorated marble sarcophagus found under a library wall.

According to the book "Turkish Coast," one of the Insight Guides, British and Austrian archaeologists excavated the site in the 19th century. The Austrians smuggled out most of the relics found there, but returned the artifacts when the Ottoman government threatened to ban all future Austrian excavations in the Near East.

Originally, Ephesus enjoyed prosperity as a port of trade connecting Europe, Asia and Africa and was dependent upon having a fuctioning harbor. Its decline began when the harbor was ruined by silt accumulation that occured at the mouth of the Kaystros River that ran into the Aegean Sea. Today the city is three miles from the Sea.

There is much left for us to feast our eyes on. Having one day at Efes is simply not enough time, but that is usually all we get. If I were to go back to Turkey again for any length of time, you would know that I would certainly want to go visit Ephesus again, and again. But until that time comes (and I'm not holding my breath) I have to content myself with looking at the pictures I took when I was there and remembering those amazing things.

Saturday, April 10, 2010


Some time ago I heard in a genealogy talk a passing comment about the impact of the railroads on the lives of our ancestors. Later I began to think about the many little incidents I had uncovered in my own research about railroads and relatives. Just off the top of my head here's what I came up with. All of these people are in my family lines, but I spared you from hearing just how I'm related. Trust me, they are all mine!

1860s: General Stephen Hurlbut, one of General Grant’s officers in the civil war, served first in militias in Illinois and then in Missouri guarding the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad.

1864: Serena and Sophronia, both elderly ladies, were riding in the last car of the morning mail train heading east out of Belvidere, Illinois. The flange on one of the wheels broke and the car “was precipitated down an embankment 20 or 25 feet high without a moment’s warning. The car in its descent turned completely over, smashing the top and sides but landing right side up.” Luckily all the passengers survived, but were badly bruised. The newspaper article says the new car was very new, with many new amenities. It added “It is hoped the builders don’t always furnish that style of wheels.”

1873: John G. Davis and his neighbors in Schuyler county, Missouri filed lawsuits against the St. Louis, Kansas City and Northern Railway Company because they didn’t fence their tracks properly, allowing “property” to be killed. That property was probably a “cow” and Davis was awarded $30.00.

1873: Frank Stevens’ first job at age 15 was learning telegraphy in the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad office in Raymond, Kansas. In 1874 he was given charge of that station and remained with them until 1891.

1880s: Jim & Nannie Dobbins lost their ranch in Colorado. They no sooner got their house and corrals built than they learned the Santa Fe railroad tracks would come directly through their property.

1887: The first picture of my Grandma Jessie was taken in Pueblo, Colorado in a Railroad photo car.

1893: Aunt Lillie was widowed when her husband, an engineer on the Midland Railroad in Colorado, was killed in a head-on crash in the Rocky Mountain foothills. As Ben McCammon lay dying he willed his house to his widow, as attested by three of his co-workers. This oral will was discovered during a 1977 title search.

1898: In the late 1890s Scott Dobbins played cornet in the Midland Railway Band. In weekly concerts in Colorado Springs he met – and began wooing - the lady who later became his wife.

1903: Frank Stevens’ son, Roland, was killed in a train accident in 1903 in Cimarron, Kansas

1906: In 1906 Byron Hall, aged 30, took the railroad home from a business trip. The conductor, sensing that apparently the passenger was having some kind of a mental problem, notified the next station of his odd behavior. At the station Byron got off and walked to a nearby hotel, where he shot and killed two policemen before he himself was killed.

1916: Bruce Kirkpatrick, a 16-year old in Tennessee, went with a buddy one evening to try to jump aboard a moving freight train, the type of unsafe things young men often do. When Bruce jumped, he bumped into his buddy. This caused Bruce to fall to his death beneath the wheels. Bruce’s parents, while acknowledging that there was no malicious intent in the death, nevertheless inscribed “Murdered” on his tombstone.

1939: I had my first train ride in Long Beach California, accompanied by my little sister.

1940s: In the 30s and 40s, many homeless men “rode the rails” to California looking for a job. Julius was the head of the Transit Committee for the local Elks club and as such his job was to give to hobos jumping off the train in Pomona a bus ticket to either Los Angeles or San Bernardino, “where jobs were more plentiful.”

1948 and 1950: I spent the summers with an Aunt and Uncle in El Paso, Texas, going to and from Los Angeles via the Southern Pacific Railroad.

2005-2010: It seems I spend about half my time waiting in my car for a freight train to pass. It is just not possible in Mira Loma to go directly from "here" to "there" without being stopped by either the world's longest freight train or, if it is my lucky day, a Metrolink train! Ah well, we all are still affected by railroads.

Friday, April 9, 2010


“I love you, Mother,” said little John;
Then, forgetting his work, his cap went on,
And he was off to the garden swing,
Leaving his mother the wood to bring.

“I love you, Mother,” said little Nell;
“I love you better than tongue can tell!”
Then she teased and pouted half the day,
Till Mother rejoiced when she went to play.

“I love you, Mother,” said little Fran;
“Today I’ll help you all I can.”
To the cradle then she did softly creep,
And rocked the baby till it fell asleep.

Then stepping softly, she took the broom
And swept the floor and dusted the room;
Busy and happy all day was she,
Helpful and cheerful as she could be.

“I love you, Mother,” again they said,
Three little children going to bed.
How do you think that Mother guessed
Which of them really loved her best'

My mother once told me that her mom was a psychologist before there even was such a thing as psychology. Her mom had seven children, raised them under difficult circumstances, and had all of them grow up to be happy adults and good parents. These were my aunts and uncles who by and large liked each other and were close all their lives. They were from a generation who didn’t talk a lot about unpleasant matters, and if there had been any difficulties, they certainly didn’t talk about it in front of us children.

I think, then, that my mother must have been truly horrified to find that she had bred two daughters who really didn’t much like each other. Before my sister and I were old enough to have distinct personalities I think we got along ok, but as our little psyches began being distinct, she must have wondered if one of us had been swapped with another family’s baby when we were born. We tangled over everything!

The poem above is one that our mother often shared with us. She knew lots of poems and she’d sit with us on the couch and we’d ask her to recite the one above or “Abou Ben Adhem” or “Trees” or “The Duel” or “The Children’s Hour.” I’m sure Mother came to dread that request, because my sister and I always had a problem with which one of us was Little Nell. The minute the name “Little Nell” came up in the recitation my sister would accuse me of being “Little Nell” – or maybe I got in my licks first. “That’s you, Ginnie Lou” I’d say, which was guaranteed to set her off, as she was prone to tantrums. Mother tried to circumvent that by insisting that she would only repeat the poem if we didn’t argue about it. We would agree. But always, at the conclusion of the poem-reciting time, one of us would get a last jab in by saying, “OK, Little Nell, she loves me best” while eyeballing the other one. My sister and I did not fight with our fists; we fought with words, thoughts and ideas.

Another poem which would set us off was “The Children’s Hour.” That is a lovely poem and we loved to hear it. But it always ended up with my sis and I having a verbal brouhaha. What’s to argue in this poem, you say, about a grandfatherly man watching with love in his eyes at the antics of his three little granddaughters – “grave Alice, laughing Allegra and Edith with the golden hair?” Both of us wanted to be “laughing Allegra,” but my sister was a towhead so it was obvious she was Edith. She hated Edith. She wasn’t much crazier about Alice, but because I was older I told her that I got to pick first….and I picked Laughing Allegra. Another tantrum ensued.

All this went on in our family from very early on – probably by the time my sister turned 8 and I turned 10 we were well into this kind of competition. I am sure that it drove mother crazy, and it took a long time for my sis and I to talk out our childhood and bring it to a place where we could understand why we were so antagonistic toward each other.

I have three daughters and it would have killed me if any two of mine had behaved the way my sister and I did to each other. I have pairs of granddaughters in several of my families now and they are actually very nice to each other, something that didn’t happen much when I was growing up. I am so envious of them. If only my sister and I had been able to have such a relationship when we were young.

My sister died four years ago. Fortunately we had come to a place in our relationship where we were friends and where we talked more about our likenesses than our differences. For that I am truly happy.

But I do regret all those wasted years.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


“Stiff,” a most interesting, informative and funny book written by Mary Roach, is subtitled “The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers.” First, let me assure you that she does, in fact, treat the subjects with dignity, but some of the ramifications in her story can’t help but make the reader laugh – ranging from a quiet giggle to a loud guffaw. I’ve used her book once before in my blog, but as it is apropos to today’s subject (and may not have been read by the newer readers) I’m going to share it again.

Several chapters in her book deal with the quest to understand where the soul resides. In Mary’s words, “Thomas Edison came up with another variation on the all-through-the-body concept of the soul. Edison believed that living beings were animated and controlled by “life units,” smaller-than-microscopic entities that inhabited each and every cell and upon death evacuated the premises, floated around a while, and eventually reassembled to animate a new personality – possibly another man, possibly an ocelot or a sea cucumbers. Like other scientifically trained but mildly loopy* soul speculators, Edison strove to prove his theory through experimentation.”

At the bottom of the page on which this appears she adds, “People have trouble believing Thomas Edison to be a loopy individual. I offer as evidence the following passage…taken from his diaries: “We do not remember. A certain group of our little people do this for us. They live in that part of the brain which has become known as the ‘fold of Broca’ .. There may be twelve or fifteen shifts that change about and are on duty at different times like men in a factory….
Therefore it seems likely that remembering a thing is all a matter of getting in touch with the shift that was on duty when the recording was done.”

Now ever since Jerry and I read this we have used the “shift” theory to explain why we can’t remember something. We understand forgetfulness isn’t because of aging. Rather, the wrong shift is working. We’ve had many a good laugh over this.

Forgetting where you put things is just awful! Keys is one of the first thing that comes to mind. But surely second to keys is for a genealologist not to be able to find a piece of paper that should easily be found in the proper file. When it isn’t there, we check the files nearest the correct one. We check all the piles of papers on our desk. We look in boxes where we might have stuck a pile of paper when we see company coming up our front walkway. If we can’t find the paper, we know it is our fault, and we pay the price in aggravation.

On April 2 of 2006 I received a very important e-mail from a man in Chico who had agreed to look at the probate inventory list of my great-grandpa’s older brother who died in 1852 at the age of 23. I couldn’t understand why this young man, son of a farmer in Illinois, had in his inventory such things as yard goods, silk vests, fur hats, unbrellas, a “letter writer,” and a “Missouri Harmony.” Furthermore he was holding lots of “notes” for various amounts. Over the years my friend Dr. Carl Peterson, a historian and educator at one of our Cal State Universities, has been very generous with his help to me and since his wife is also a Dobbins, we have swapped information, although I must admit the swapping always benefited me far more than him. I knew he could take a look at the probate inventory and give me a sense of this young man, something I couldn’t do. I wasn’t mistaken. His analysis, sent to me via several e-mails over week’s time, was absolutely amazing. It was exactly what I needed and proved exceptionally helpful.

Recently I have prepared a “booklet” on my Dobbins families to give to my children. I took out my various Dobbins files and in reviewing all the papers in them I noted that Carl’s e-mail notes on Robert Gaston Dobbins were missing. For two weeks I tore through my files, my office and then my whole apartment looking for those notes. I knew I wouldn’t have thrown them away, but after going through each file at least three times, shuffling stacks of papers more times than I’m willing to admit, and kicking myself around the apartment for my bad filing habits, I had to go ahead and do the booklet with only my memory to help me out when it came to this young Dobbins fellow. I sent the booklets out last week to my kids.

Last night after I crawled into bed I was trying to decompress from my busy day and my mind was still churning away. All of a sudden I said to myself, “Self, the Carl Peterson memos on Robert Gaston’s inventory are in the packet of material you put together for your genealogy talk last May.” This morning I went directly to that file, found the manila envelope and pulled out the e-mails.
So all this is to say that Thomas Edison may have been more right than I thought he was. When the proper crew is working, things happen!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


To get back to the story of all the Midgetts….

Actually, the last place I would think of to find a Midgett would be in California. But strange things happen sometimes. In looking for more Midgetts, I came across a nice US Coast Guard website that in May of last year featured a story on the Midgetts, told by Tod Midgett, a native of North Carolina who is now serving in the U.S.Coast Guard at Humboldt Bay in Northern California.

He said when he was a kid he heard a lot about his family history from his grandfather. According to the family story, the first Midgetts to land on the Outer Banks were two brothers who left Ireland. They managed to gain passage on a ship heading to America. The ship grounded and wrecked near Rodanthe on Hatteras Island. But the brothers made it ashore safely. That was the beginning of the Midgetts’ history with shipwrecks.

Just for fun I checked the 1790 North Carolina census and found there were already 21 Midgetts listed as head of household, all living on two coastal counties, Currituck and Tyrell. These Midgetts were Banister, Christian, Christopher (2), Daniel, Jessie, John (2), Joseph, Joseph Jr., Mathew, Maurice, Richard, Samuel, Samuel Esq., Samuel Jr., Thomas (2), Timothy, William, and William Jr.

Experience taught these families how to live in relationship to the sea and the weather, and from early on they were involved with volunteer life saving measures and shipwrecks. Then called the Life-Saving Service, it took from about 1847 to 1870 to get a well-trained, well-operating, government funded lifesaving service up and running, and the Midgetts, along with some other long-time Outer Banks families were early participants. Around 1917 this service merged with the Revenue Cutter Service and became what we now know as the U.S. Coast Guard.

And yes, over the years many Midgetts have served in the U. S. Coast Guard.

For those of us on the West Coast, we don’t have much of a history with shipwrecks. We are mainly without the kind of weather that made the Outer Banks waters into the “Graveyard of the Atlantic.”

Finding Tod in California made me wonder if we have many Midgetts here, but as attested by the white pages and the various death indexes, we have had, and we do. And I guess I expected to find them living near the water, but most didn’t – and don’t. But I do know that in this day and age there are still plenty of Midgetts in North Carolina. Their occupations mostly seem not to be connected to the water, which is understandable. Hatteras Island still has Midgetts but they are now running more needful businesses, like cleaning services, appraisal services, realty, construction, insurance, tractors, and auto sales, to name a few.

One thing I noted from doing indexing in the 1910 North Carolina Census was that by and large all the heads of family I indexed were born in NC and so were their parents. The censuses I have used in researching my own families showed a pattern of westward movement. The Indiana people were born in Ohio, The Kansas people were born in Illinois, the Colorado people were born in Kansas and so on. What I found in NC was that the families were born there and stayed there. Certainly the Midgetts did. And while those people may not now remember how they are related to each other, I am sure they all have family stories of how they were related to the Life Saving Service.

In Tod Midgett’s story, there is a paragraph that says, “Ten Midgetts have been awarded the Life Saving Medal. John Midgett, for whom the Coast Guard cutter was named, received one, but there were other Midgett heroes. Rasmus Midgett was given a gold medal by the Secretary of the Treasury for rescuing some of the crew from the vessel Priscilla. The vessel hit a shoal off of Hatteras Inlet and broke into pieces. Rasmus heard the shipwrecked victims’ cries from shore and swam into a storming sea. He rescued 10 men from the broken boat, carrying them to shore, one at a time. The award read, “To Rasmus S. Midgett for Rescuing Single-Handed Ten Men from the Wreck Priscilla, Aug. 18, 1899.”

The picture below is not of Rasmus but of Nelson, another of the Midgetts, whose photo certainly is exactly what I visualize when I think of a man on the Outer Banks battling a storm. Don't you agree?

So you see that my little hobby of indexing often sends me off on little adventures –which are of no consequence really but which I find interesting, informative and worth sharing. I’m still working on the North Carolina census but have also started indexing birth certificates for children born in Jamaica in the early 1900s. Gosh, are there some interesting possibilities there! Think of a baby named Ignatius Hieronymous…..

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


One of my peculiar little “hobbies” is to create an all-name index for books that do not have them. There is very little more irksome for a genealogist than to find a great book, usually a local history book, that may contain some of your ancestors but because it is not indexed you will never know whether or not they are there. Sometimes I think my mission in life is to find and index these books.

For me, indexing is easy, because a) I am a fast typist, having taken my first typing course in 1947, and b) because I have a wonderful indexing program designed by Kamm Schreiner called Sky Index. And I find indexing interesting because I like people and find it great fun to speculate on these people whose names go through my fingers and my brain. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I am not called upon to put old families together!

When FamilySearch began its indexing program a few years ago, I participated off and on in between my other projects. Now that most of these projects are out of the way, I’ve picked it up again. The first thing I chose to index was the 1910 North Carolina Federal Census. Why North Carolina? Because my cousin left California and retired to a little coastal town named Swansboro. Two years ago I took a trip there and fell in love with what I saw. We went to the outer banks and I was hooked.

It was also then that she told me about the Midgetts – spelled variously Midgettes or Midgets. They were called “surfmen” and populated the area from Currituck Beach southward down past Cape Hatteras and on down to Cape Lookout and Cape Fear. There is a book by Richard L. Chenery called “Old Coast Guard Stations” and in this book Chenery tells that there were once a total of 29 lifeboat stations built along the North Carolina Coast. “Waters offshore were treacherous and this area was called the ‘Graveyard of the Atlantic.’ These stations were all equipped with a beach apparatus which would be hauled to site, a line shot across the mast of a stranded ship and a breeches buoy rigged to remove the passengers and crew. If the ship was stranded too far away to be reached, a pulling boat would be launched into the surf and rowed by the surfmen to the wreck in hopes of removing the survivors and returning them to safety ashore.

To keep eyes to the sea to detect a vessel in distress the Coast Guard (and the Life Saving Service before it) used watch towers and beach patrols, men on foot walking the beach. The stations were approximately seven miles apart so the beach pounders would be able to connect up with each other.”

Now I can hear you asking, what on earth does this have to do with indexing?!

When I index handwritten records, such as censuses produce, I try very very hard to make sure I get the surname right. I put myself in the place of the person using that index. They know what the name should be. The indexer doesn’t have that knowledge and sometimes it is near impossible to come up with the correct name. My Chester Stevens has been indexed in the 1880 Kansas census as “Jheotes Stephens” and no amount of begging and pleading with the powers that be have effected a correction. So when I tackle a difficult name, I’m ready to do my darndest to figure out what it is supposed to be.

I chose North Carolina to index because I know absolutely nothing about the state except for a little bit of history along the coastline that my cousin told me about. And for me, that was a good enough reason. When I pulled the first page up on the computer, it looked like indexing it would be a snap, so I set my fingers flying.

About ten lines down I came to a dead stop. I found a name whose letters intertwined with those above it and it made one big mess out of the surname. I studied it for a bit, traced the letters in the air, and then on the screen, maximized the page to 150%, and all of a sudden a light bulb came on. Sure enough, it was a Midgette! A true North Carolina Midgette. I checked in my Atlas to see where Dare County was – and sure enough it was on the coast. If it had been somewhere near Asheville I would have questioned whether or not this really was “Midgette” but in Dare county, of course it was.

I finished up the page and signed out of the program. Later that evening I began thinking about the Midgetts again. My Swansboro cousin posts photographs from North Carolina cemeteries on Find-a-Grave so a ran a check on that program for Midgetts. If you find a Midgett in a coastal cemetery you’ll probably find that she took the picture.

More on the Midgettes tomorrow.

Sunday, April 4, 2010


Caleb, my great-grandson, has always been a nice little kid. Well, he’s not a little kid any longer, since he’s now in high school, but in watching him grow up he just hasn’t been one of those kids you keep your fingers crossed about. He’s always gotten along well with other kids, been respectful of authority, and definitely not a brat! For all these things we are mightily thankful.

When he turned 5 he was excited about going to kindergarden. The district he attended had year-round school, so he started his first “track” in June. He’d been in school hardly a month before the Fourth of July holiday arrived, so his school was closed that day. In the town where he lived fireworks were still sold from roadside stands, like in the “old days,” and his mom and grandma picked up a packaged assortment that had some sparklers, a couple of Piccolo Petes and a few little boxes of caps – little coiled rolls that the kids could pop on the sidewalk with a hammer. It was no big deal – a few safe and sane fireworks to ooh and aah over, and it was done.

School started up the next day where it left off, but not two hours had passed before the school called home to advise that Caleb was in the principal’s office and someone needed to come to the school right away. My daughter, his grandma, was the closest so she hustled right over . The principal advised her that Caleb had been caught with fireworks in his pockets and according to the school rules he was being suspended for three days. Seems the night before he had tucked a partial strip of unpopped caps in his jeans pocket, and those happened to be the jeans he was handed to put on for school that day.

Caleb said he didn’t remember that they were in his pocket. He also said, when asked, that he didn’t know that it was “against the law” to bring caps to school. But my daughter, thinking that three days of suspension was overkill, nevertheless apologized to the principal for not knowing the rules and said it wouldn’t happen again. She brought the caps over to show me, and we just had to shake our head that our society was in such sad shape that little Caleb had to go through a three day suspension in kindergarden!

Just this week I read in the paper that a 12-year old girl in New York was caught “doodling” on her desk with a green marking pen. Was that wrong? Yes. Was it a permanent marker? No, erasable. What did she doodle? “I love my friends” and she named two of them. Since it wasn’t profanity did that make it ok? No.

So what happened?

She was taken to the dean’s office by a teacher and assistant principal and there they searched her jeans pockets, front and back. They called the police to come arrest her. The police did just that, taking her away from the school in handcuffs. She was detained for two hours in an enclosed room at the police station handcuffed to a pole. This has all been confirmed by the participants in the horrible charade. She was released finally. The school suspended her, and later she and her mother had to appear in family court, where she was given eight hours of community service and ordered to write a book report and an essay about what she learned from the experience.

I hate to think of what she learned from it. The New York City officials acknowledge that her arrest was a mistake, with a City Education spokesman saying, “Based on what we’ve seen so far, this shouldn’t have happened.” And what did the cops say? “Officers should have used better judgment. Even when asked to make an arrest, common sense should prevail and discretion used in deciding whether an arrest or handcuffs are really necessary.”

I think she might have the last word, however. The family has filed a 1 million dollar lawsuit.

Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

Friday, April 2, 2010


I like to think that I am a fairly average person living in a fairly average place and living a fairly average life. But after a major gunbattle erupted earlier this week less than a half-mile from where we live, I'm beginning to think that maybe I'm not!

The apartment complex where we live is in a somewhat rural area. Along the west side of the complex, fairly close to our particular building, is a flood control channel rimmed by a chain-link fence, and on the other side of the channel is a very large industrial complex comprised mainly of big warehouses that serve as distribution points for various businesses. We are less than 1/2 mile as the crow flies from that particular development.

About 11 pm on Monday night I was awakened by gunfire that sounded as if a string of firecrackers had been set off. But there was no mistaking it for what it was -- it was a shootout of major proportions. It wasn't close enough for me to worry about, but I certainly figured I would hear about it on the news the next morning.

None of the Los Angeles TV stations had it on their news in the morning, and of course it was really too soon to expect the local newspapers to have anything in print. But Jerry did finally get a call from one of his buddies explaining that the shootout was from a drug deal gone bad over on one of the streets in the industrial development. One young man was killed, two were seriously injured and found at a nearby fast food restaurant. As far as we have heard, there were no arrests made.

I suspect that in the scheme of things, this event just wasn't all that important to report on, or else it was considered of not much consequence. Drug deals gone bad and consequent shootings apparently have become commonplace.

There was a time, back in 1993 when we had just returned from Istanbul and had rented a house in Santa Ana -- a lovely old house in the older part of town which was moving from benign neglect to new gentrification -- that we experienced some shootings that were a whole lot closer than half a mile. It was summer time. We had all our windows open and were in the den watching TV. Suddenly from out front in the street an exchange of gunshots rang out, close enough that Jer and I both threw ourselves flat out on the floor. We crawled back into the kitchen where we would have a little more protection from stray gunfire - and heard a knock on the back door. Our young neighbor announced herself and asked to come in. She was very young, with a husband off serving in the Navy and she was scared spitless. We let her in and we all remained on the floor until we heard sirens.

A few days later a neighborhood acquaintance who had lived there for years advised us that in light of the recent gunshooting incident, the police were going to focus on getting the drug dealers out of this neighborhood. They did.

I just wonder how many of my friends have had such experiences. None have ever mentioned to me of being close to a gunfight. But of course living where these things happen is nothing to brag about, either, so maybe people just keep their mouths closed. Regardless, it is a little scary! I wonder if I really am just average?