Photo Courtesy of Lynn Fortin Shaw

If you are from Rhode Island, you know what I mean. If you’re from anywhere else, let me explain.

This is a quahog. It’s a beautiful and tasty bivalve mollusk found in the waters surrounding Rhode Island and in many other Atlantic coastal communities. It’s an animal we dig up in the bay and estuaries, prepare it, cook it and eat it. If you’ve lived in Rhode Island for more than twenty minutes, you’ve probably eaten one or two of these critters.

For me, a picture of a quahog brings back fond memories of my youth. I think of old times digging clams with my father, eating my mother’s clam cakes and clam chowder, and enjoying my brother’s famous stuffies.

Yes, this simple picture activates my senses. Smells, tastes, and sensations return to me and I’m twelve years old again walking along Mt. Hope Bay in Rhode Island with my father. And all is well with the world.

What initially strikes me as I look at this picture of a quahog is not the clam itself but the mud underneath it. Yes, the mud. Let’s start there. 

There are lots of different kinds of mud in Rhode Island. The mud in the Kickemuit River is different from the mud in Mt. Hope Bay.  And the mud in Conklin’s Cove is different from the mud in the broader bay. All of these varieties of ooziness harbor clams.

In this picture, I suspect this mud is from the Kickemuit River. Having dug clams there, I can smell it’s very “flavor.” I can feel it’s viscosity. I well know how walking in the depths of this mud can suck your boots right off of you. More than once while clam digging, I walked away from a mud encounter with only one boot. Returning later to extricate the lone boot from the jealous and possessive muck. Enough about mud. 

The real fun of quahogs is eating them.

And eat them we did. First, and most importantly, we ate them in clam chowder. 

My mother made the tastiest clam chowder the world has ever known. Didn’t all our Rhode Island mothers? I remember my mother would put a little square of butter on top of the creamy New England clam chowder just before serving it. Real butter. Was it the butter that added the flavor or her Irish love that gave it the extra savory flavor? It’s hard to know. Suffice it to say, the quahogs in this soup were delicious.

Next, we ate quahogs in clam cakes. These little fried balls of dough were made with eggs, flour and baking soda. They aren’t really cakes at all but more like fluffy on the inside and crusty on the outside fried dough snacks. My mother made the best clam cakes, too. I think she tossed a little sugar into her batter to give it an extra flavor boost. I think of these things when I see a picture of quahogs.

Lastly, we ate quahogs in, the king of all quahog delights, the “New England Stuffie.” Now, I’d like to suggest my mother made the best stuffies but I’m afraid, while her’s were good,  this family honor falls on the shoulders of my brother. 

Stuffies are the seafood version of Thanksgiving stuffing. The dressing in these creations, however, is quahog based. Once the “stuffing” is prepared it’s piled on the inside of half of a quahog shell and baked. There are all kinds of delightful additions to the quahogs baked into this stuffie. Linguiça, spices, bread, onions, garlic, and other ingredients all make their way into a flavorful New England Stuffie.

Besides the culinary delights quahogs bring to mind, they also remind me of other aspects of my youth. A quahog is a reminder of lazy August Sunday afternoons shared with family and friends on the back deck of my family home.

A day like this began with my mom handing my sister and I a bag of freshly picked corn on the cob and an empty brown paper bag. We’d sit on the porch peeling the corn eager for the afternoon cook-out. Burgers, clam cakes, lobsters, and buttery sweet corn on the cob were all part of the feast and animated the social environment filled with cousins, friends, and family. Quahogs remind me of this.

Many of these memories are in the past for me but Rhode Islanders still enjoy these quahog recipes and family gatherings even today. I’m happy to report, my brother, though no longer living in Rhode Island, still makes a mean New England Stuffie.

So, these are just a few thoughts that come to mind when I see a picture of a quahog. I think I’ll make a point of enjoying some clam cakes and a New England Stuffie next time I’m in Rhode Island. What regional cuisine activates warm memories for you? Feel free to add a comment.

A Sense of History

Recently, I began the process of reviewing and confirming my family connections to Francis Cooke, a passenger on the Mayflower. This process reminded me of how I view history, how I make sense of it, and how I find myself in the unfolding narrative of time.

How do you make sense of history? More specifically, how do you view American history? Is there a unique perspective coloring your understanding? For me, I view it through the lens of my own family. I’ve discovered through genealogy research my family was involved in many significant events in our country’s past. This personal perspective makes these days of old come alive. The good, the bad, the inspiring, and the questionable all intrigue me.

When I begin the review process for a possible colonial ancestor, I begin with the known facts from my genealogy research and slowly walk backwards in time. Initially, events are quite concrete and known but as I walk back in time I become less certain about the details and my imagination begins to craft a story. It’s an exciting process!

I begin with myself and my own presence in time. I pause at this juncture and ask myself the following question, “Where do I come from?” Perhaps at some point in your life you’ve asked the same question?

From this place and with this question, I commence my walk backwards into history. In this case, I start with my father. I consider his experiences in the tail end of World War II and his experiences in the Korean War.

My mind is drawn into my father’s moments on the battlefield when incoming mortar fire pins him down in a foxhole. I can feel the cold. I can see the thick spring mud covering his boots. I experience some share in the terror. And for a moment, I am there with him.

As I continue back in time, I think of my father’s mother, my grandmother. She always told us a story of the 1938 Hurricane in Providence, Rhode Island. It was one of the fiercest and deadliest hurricanes in Rhode Island history.

As I review my grandmother’s dry genealogical data this moment in time floods my consciousness. Again, I am present as my grandfather frantically awaits the return of his wife, trapped by the rising water and billowing wind in downtown Providence, after a trip with family members to visit her aunt. This moment in history, captured in so many newspaper articles and newsreels, is made personal and real by my grandmother’s involvement in this event.

This connection continues as I review the facts of my great-grandmother, Mary Louise Waterman. She married Richard Edward Raybold and they courted in Sandwich, Massachusetts. A story, handed down in my family, has my great-grandfather, as a young man, seeing my great-grandmother, as a young woman, walking down Main Street in Sandwich with a “lithe step” and thinking he’d like to get to know this attractive young lady. I further see them courting on August evenings with a walk to the beach perhaps making their way to the bay over the recently constructed boardwalk.

As my great-grandmother matured she became involved in the suffragist movement with her cousin Elizabeth Cady Stanton and I see them working together with their fellow suffragettes pursuing a women’s right to vote. Once secured, my great-grandmother exercised her right to vote for the rest of her life.

As I go further back in time, a sense of my imagined history begins unfolding as the concrete becomes blended with more mythical considerations. Surely, I know my great-grandfather and great-grandmother were married in Sandwich as their marriage certificate assures me of this fact. Moreover, their graves, so lovingly tended in Bayview Cemetery, confirm their connections to Sandwich. The greater details of their lives, however, become understood only in my imagination.

This imagined view of history, my own family history, becomes more operative and amplified as I walk down the genealogical line which brings me closer to Francis Cooke. In the distant mists I know a few facts but the details become less clear and my mind ventures toward the idealized and the imagined. A few concrete facts become identified and my mind crafts a partly conjured up narrative to accompany the facts.

For example, I know my great-great-grandmother, Ellen Gray, was born and died in West Barnstable, Massachusetts. I also know she moved to New Jersey with her husband in her twenties, she became ill, and she returned to Barnstable only to die young from what appears to have been cancer. I also know her father died shortly after his only daughter passed away.

From these meager facts, my imagination creates a story. I join Ellen, a cherished daughter of her father, Charles Thatcher Gray, as she returns home to West Barnstable after being stricken with a fatal illness. She is tenderly cared for by her father and mother in their family home in West Barnstable. I further imagine the difficult death and passing a woman with cancer would have endured in the late 19th century.

Lastly, the fact that Ellen’s father died only a few short months after his daughter’s death in 1883, makes me wonder if my third great-grandfather didn’t die of a broken heart after witnessing the sad death of his only daughter, Ellen, my second great-grandmother. In my mind’s eye, I sit at his bedside as he passes away.

The Civil War then captures my attention and I see my family involvement on the Union side of this brutal war. I see my 2nd great-uncle, William Wood, dying in Virginia of yellow fever leaving a wife and two small children. Further down in history, I see bits of the War of 1812 and a great-grandparent, Nathan Benjamin Johnson, the husband of Mary Johnson, battling his way through this engagement with the British.

Some time earlier in history, the facts show Major Isaac Johnson, my sixth great-grandfather and husband of my sixth great-grandmother, Mary Kingsley Willis, leading troops against the British in the Revolutionary War with the 3rd Company in the Massachusetts Militia. The military records confirm he was commissioned February 7th, 1776. Taking this fact, I envision my great-grandfather Isaac reading the recently published “Common Sense” to his chilly troops in March searching for motivation to continue this rebellion. I am there in my imagination.

The Revolutionary War leads me back further into the colonial period and the French and Indian Wars unfold on the horizon. I join my ancestors participating in these engagements in the northern woods of New England.

And then the tragic confrontation identified in history as King Phillip’s War unfolds which pitted the natives of Southern New England against the European colonists.

This sad chapter in New England history ended fifty years of positive relations between the Native peoples and the European colonists. I wonder how my very own ancestors engaged with the Native Americans and can only assume they were as aggressive towards their original neighbors as any European was at that time.

Of all the tragic events of early colonial life, this one captures my imagination the most. What would have happened if Governor Josiah Winslow, my first cousin ten times removed, and Metacomet, the Native American leader, could have come to a mutually beneficial agreement rather than declaring war upon each other’s people? Perhaps so many of the horrors that subsequently unfolded in this nation between Native and European could have been avoided if a different choice was pursued?

And finally, my imagination encounters Francis Cooke and I consider what it was like for my tenth great-grandfather to experience the New World for the first time. Again, the cold, and the hardship become experiences I feel in my bones. In addition, I share in his joy as he celebrates his ability to worship in freedom in the New World. I enter these moments briefly and then return to the present. I remind myself that what he was and what he did, in a small but real way, impacted who I am. Ideologically, spiritually, politically, and even genetically his life formed my life.

It’s true, most everyone views history from their own personal perspective. Some see American history through the lens of the native peoples, some see it through the lens of enslaved people, some see it through the lens of individuals in a war for independence. As I say, my perspective is a personal one influenced greatly by my own family’s involvement in America’s past. These recently discovered personal connections make history come alive for me. Vibrantly alive.

Finally, it seems to me, from these kernels of fact and imagination we can learn much from each other and craft a present and future founded on truth that leads to justice. We share a present, and with some luck, we shall share a future. Perhaps knowing where we come from and how we view the past can help us walk forward in a more harmonious way? How do you view history? More specifically, how do you look at American history? Is there a unique perspective that colors your understanding? Why is it important to you?

Veterans Day

“To men like this, our country owes much.”

November 11

On November 11, we celebrate Veteran’s Day. While I honor all veterans on this day, my thoughts turn to a few special individuals who served in our country’s military over the years.

I turn to those men and women in my own family, close and extended, who served honorably in the military. Many individuals in my family, from the Revolutionary War to modern military actions, have served our country with distinction. Some remain alive only in my memory and others are very much alive in flesh and blood. Today, I honor them all.

First, I turn to my immediate family and look towards my dear father who served as a private both in the tail end of World War II and in the very center of the Korean War. He never accrued much rank in the Army but he was always proud of his service and he regularly reminded me, “there are no atheists in fox holes.” I suspect he learned this fact experientially in Korea serving as a forward scout. Today, I remember and honor him.

From my father, the eyes of my imagination needn’t look too far to see my Uncle Ralph. The memory of my Uncle Ralph looms large in my imagination. He was the husband of my father’s sister, Shirley, and while he and his family lived a good distance from my family, I saw him a number of times over the years. I heard many stories, handed down through my grandmother, father, and aunt, highlighting my Uncle Ralph’s exploits in World War II.

I once found a yellowed and frayed piece of paper in my father’s belongings which looked like a telegram or some type of official military communication. I don’t know if it was an original but I do know the words written there, some in abbreviations, amazed me. 

This is what it said: “This soldier has shown exceptional bravery in combat. Refused a Congressional Medal of Honor after refusing a battlefield commission of 2 Sep 44 in action which he killed 56 SS of the Herman Goering Mtn. Div., captured and wounded 41 others, and destroyed 2 Tiger tanks while disabling one other. He was responsible for saving the 385th Inf. Regt. from annihilation. During the Battle of the Bulge, while wounded, he supervised evacuation of the 76th Cav Rcn Trp with its wounded after all its officers had been killed and remained behind to cover its withdrawal. When met again after five days, he had killed 38 more enemy soldiers. Again refused battlefield commission. And in action of 28 Mar 45 in which he was temporarily blinded, he conducted the defense of his position and saved it from destruction. Again refused commission. It is the decision of this board that this ind be given a commission when he so desires. To men like this our country owes much. He is a credit to his country and his uniform.”

As you can imagine, after reading this communication, I was deeply moved. At the time, I paused, looked up at my father, raised my eyebrows, and incredulously asked, “This was Uncle Ralph?” My father quietly responded affirmatively. We paused in a bit of shared silence. Today, I honor my Uncle Ralph.

Then, there are my siblings and cousins I honor today. Three of my own brothers, Harvey, David, and Kevin, all signed a pledge offering their lives in defense of this country and its Constitution. My brother David retired as a Colonel from the U.S. Air Force, my brother Harvey served both in the US Army and briefly in the RI National Guard as a Lieutenant. My brother, Kevin, served in the RI National Guard as a medic. A number of my cousins also served in the armed forces. Some cousins saw engaged warfare. I am proud and grateful for the sacrifices and choices these veterans made.

While there are many relatives who served in more modern times, I recently discovered, family members have been in uniform since the beginning of this country. Remarkably, they served even before the Revolutionary War. In colonial times, during the French and Indian War, my fifth great grandfather, Perez Waterman, served the Colonies with the rank of centinel. In the Revolutionary War, the same Perez Waterman, fought for this country answering the alarm for Lexington and Concord. In the War of 1812, Benjamin Waterman, Perez’s son, served as an officer. In the Civil War, Frederick Brayton and his father Luther Brayton, my great and great great grandfathers, honorably served the Union cause. One great uncle, William Wood, even gave his life for the Union cause. I honor all these men today.

Today I also honor and remember one of my favorite family veterans, he is a distant great grandfather who fought in the Revolutionary War. His name was James Wheaton Brayton and he is my fourth great grandfather on my mother’s side. James served as a private with the Rhode Island troops and also as a carpenter’s mate on the galley “Spitfire”and on the privateer “General Stark.”

The story is told, while fighting the British in the American navy, James broke his arm and was subsequently captured. He was then imprisoned on an enemy ship. After his arm sufficiently healed, his captors placed a pen in his hand, and instructed him to sign a document pledging allegiance to King George the Third. 

With Brayton defiance, he slammed his arm down onto the table with such force he broke the bone a second time. The surgeon was obliged to set the break again and James was returned to the prison hold. Some time later, once the arm healed again, James was escorted to the table to sign his papers of allegiance a second time. He repeated his earlier performance and once again broke his arm upon the table. He was, the report states, “afterwards assigned to the Jersey prison ship.” This was a determined Patriot!

As I celebrate Veterans Day this year, with this blog post, you might think I’m celebrating war. I’m not. I’m celebrating the values for which these men and, more recently, women stood. Values like freedom, liberty, self determination, truth, honor, national pride, equality among the races, freedom from dictators, freedom from oppression, and for national security. These enduring values are worth fighting for and celebrating.

And finally, I share these stories as a window into the experiences of all the veterans we honor today. And while I honor and remember veterans in my own family, I also honor and remember those in your family – known and unknown. And at some point during this long weekend of celebrations, I will stand hat in hand, to honor our veterans and remember, “to men (and women) like this, our country owes much.”

Francis, On a Dusty Outcropping

Today is the Feast of St. Francis. It’s probably a good day to post a story about an encounter with St. Francis I had a few years ago. It took place on a dusty outcropping overlooking the Palo Duro Canyon in the panhandle of Texas in the United States of America. It was there, on a star lit night, I met my old friend.  

Francis had tried to contact me over the years but I never responded to his overtures. You see, I had become one of his followers and lived with other followers of his for almost two years, and well, sometimes, “Franciscanism” can burn Francis out of you. Especially if you are a restless and sensitive soul. At any rate, I was hurt by a number of experiences and didn’t respond to my friend’s overtures of reconciliation; until now.

When I left the Franciscans, I never really wanted to talk with Francis again. And yet, here he was in a sandy desert in Texas. Eager to talk.

His presence was triggered by a book I had stumbled upon. I was still surprised. It was the book that, many years ago, began my love affair with Francis and the things Francis loved. 

Poverty, prayer, joy in simplicity, sanctity, and a radical foolish yes to Christ were the things Francis loved. His enthusiasm sparked mine. It was bolstered by youthful idealism. 

To see Christ in everything; in every flower, in every person, in every experience, in every leper, and in every song sung with purity of heart became for me, like it did for Francis many years earlier, my experience. My love for Francis was deep and it was a sad loss for me to let go of the friendship many years ago. 

This book I stumbled upon reminded me of many youthful and idealistic conversations Francis and I had back in days gone by. Francis’ joy and his intimacy in God lead me to desire this joy and intimacy. Many memories returned and I missed my old friend. I almost yearned for his friendship again.

Over the years, in his attempts to rekindle the friendship, he told me I needn’t abandon him even if I needed to abandon the Franciscans. Our friendship could still continue, he suggested. The communion of saints and all that sort of thing, he mentioned. 

As my life after the Franciscans unfolded, he would make himself present in a variety of small but real ways. Always on the periphery guiding but not intrusive. Simply present.

My heart was broken by the reality of luxurious buildings, personal conflicts, rationalizations and assorted other disappointments. I had no interest in remaining friends with Francis. He understood. It was a sad and silent goodbye. It was one of those partings filled with much love and that’s why they hurt so much. I never responded to his attempts to renew our friendship over the years. Until, as I say, this night.

This little book, by Murray Bodo, reminded me of my friendship with Francis and in the early evening after the sun had set and the crickets kept the long horn cattle company, Francis appeared again. 

He appeared as a beggar. I laughed because Francis always shows up as a beggar. He’s heaven’s beggar now. A bit tattered and worn but so filled with joy and simplicity it’s hard to see. “Francis, you’ve been canonized aren’t there more beautiful garments in heaven for you,” I kiddingly asked him? “The garments of poverty are beautiful in heaven,” he said as he sat down. “You know, Our Father owns all this,” he said prayerfully looking out over the Palo Duro Canyon. I smiled and agreed replying. “Yes, he does.”

We sat together before God and His natural handiwork for a long while. In the silence. In the darkness. Under the Texas stars. Then he mentioned Our Lord and his poverty, and his chastity and his obedience and his cross. He mentioned the joy and freedom found in all this. He mentioned the beauty found in solitude. I was stunned by his frankness.

Francis always has a way of getting to the heart of the matter. I listened. Eventually, I slowly warmed to my old friend as my heart opened and I was grateful to renew our friendship. I wept a bit in front of my old friend, Francis – Francesco. It was healing. 

I knew going forward our relationship would be different. Less formal. No fancy tunics or cinctures. No burdensome institutional labyrinths. Just he and I living the journey in simplicity, purity and fidelity. I told him it was likely I wouldn’t be perfect. He agreed with that and said he enjoyed my company and friendship anyway.

He encouraged me to forgive myself and to forgive others that had hurt me especially in the Franciscans. This was difficult. He also encouraged me to ask forgiveness for those I had hurt. That was even more difficult. Pride said I need not look in that direction. 

After some time, we began to laugh. Yes, to really laugh, heartily. We told stories and laughed some more. How comfortable the chill of the desert felt with his presence. He gently helped me to see my part in my departure from the Franciscans. Seek the truth, he encouraged. I needed this gentle clarity. I understood with greater awareness that maturity, my growth in maturity, takes time. I became more aware of the disparity between ideals and reality.

And then another figure approached in all this laughter and sharing. And it was Him for whom our hearts burned – in all his humanity. He too sat down with us by the edge of the Palo Duro Canyon and these three friends began to laugh. To really laugh and to tell more stories. Stories seem to unit us, don’t you think? How full our hearts were. This, this is the man for whom Francis danced. I understood just a little bit more. How strange it was to be so free of all kinds of “churchy stuff” and we were just laughing and learning about love.

My heart was softened and I was grateful that on a dusty outcropping overlooking the Palo Duro Canyon, I reconciled with an old friend who remembered nothing of our falling out and only wanted to enjoy a friendship with me and re-introduce his friend, Jesus, to me, again. 

The night unfolded with many small joys and then Jesus rose, offered words of goodbye, and departed. Shortly after that, Francis, rose to go too and looked directly back at me as I sat near the cliffside and said, “Trust. Be not afraid. Trust.”

Shortly after that, I awoke. Or did I?

Post Script:

After experiencing the encounter highlighted above, and feeling the closeness of God and Francis in the panhandle of Texas, the next day was a little less joyful. You see, as the sun was rising in East Texas and I was driving along Route 60 headed West, a young driver fell asleep at the wheel of her van and slammed directly into the back of my Nissan Versa. She was traveling at least 80 miles an hour. She and I, thank God, were mostly unhurt but my car was totaled and I was in shock.

Why do I add this P.S. to my post? You see, the address on the business card of the tow truck driver who removed my squashed car from the highway was St. Francis Avenue. Was the renewal of friendships the night before this accident a dream or did it all really happen? For certain, the accident and tow truck were very real. Coincidence or God-incidence? You decide.

Remembrance of Harvey A. Whipple, Jr., DDS

Today is Father’s Day 2018. Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads out there and a Happy Father’s Day to my Dad who is celebrating this day in the great beyond.

It’s been a year and a few months since my Dad passed away and, of course, I still miss him. Who wouldn’t? I’ve decided on this Father’s Day, I would honor and remember my Dad by posting a reflection I shared with my cousins at a family luncheon held last fall. It reads as follows: 

Greetings, cousins! As we come together this year to celebrate family, I would like to take a moment to remember my Dad. As you know, he passed away this year. He loved coming to these events and his presence is greatly missed. 

I fondly remember the joy my father expressed at our first luncheon when he encountered his cousin Mary Louise after a long separation. He ran towards her like a little child filled with joy just to say hello. He remained close to her throughout the whole luncheon. I am also reminded of the affection my Dad displayed towards his sister Shirley when she attended our luncheon a few years ago. He truly enjoyed these luncheons and if you don’t mind, I would like to share with you a few thoughts about my Dad today.

My father, as many of you know, was a veteran, a man of music, a man of humor, a man of faith, a gentle gentleman, a quick wit, a story teller, a genealogist, a family historian, and a man with a great curiosity and interest in the lives of his loved ones. He was a man with great love for his patients, his friends, and his family. It’s hard to sum up my father’s life in a few words. 

My father was one of those rare bred of men who was raised in a era when honoring your family and doing your duty – humble or grand – were highly valued. He was raised in Cranston, Rhode Island where he made life long friends. He enrolled at Brown University after high school and shortly thereafter enlisted in the U.S. Army serving in post World War II Europe. A few years later, he was recalled to the Army to serve in Korea where he was a forward scout. Returning home to Rhode Island for a time, he then enrolled at Tufts University in Massachusetts followed by Dental School at Temple University in Philadelphia.

After securing his dental degree, he settled in Warren, Rhode Island and began raising nine children with his beloved wife Lesa. For most of his life, being a dentist and a father took up the bulk of his time and energy. There were cavities to fill, bills to pay, children’s concerts to attend, and camping trips to enjoy. 

My father found great joy and happiness being with his friends and family. An event like this luncheon, was one such occasion to enjoy time with his cherished family. Life was very uncomplicated for him. Spending time with loved ones was simply the highlight of his life. Period.

I experienced a touching example of this a year ago. I remember watching my Dad at my brother Nathan’s house about a year ago. It may have been at his birthday party during the last 4th of July. There was all kinds of things going on. People were coming and people were going. Nathan and his wife, Mara, were hosting one of their many family events during the summer. It was a very joyous time. I noticed that my dad, sitting in the midst of all this, was delightfully happy. There he was, holding a sweating Manhattan, and simply looking about with the serene face of a happy man. Really happy. No tomorrow. No yesterday. Just today. Happy to be with his family. I like to keep this memory of my Dad alive in my heart. 

My father loved his children. He loved us not by saying the words, “I love you.” He loved us with his actions and his deeds. If you would be so kind, allow me to share one story of how my father loved more with his actions than with his words. It relates to his gift of listening. 

One late summer weekend many years ago, I decided to drive to the Cape from my home in Vermont. This wasn’t that unusual and upon my arrival at my Dad’s house my father was sitting at the kitchen table with his pal Fogelberg, a family cat. He asked me about my drive down and how my car was holding up – general introductory banter.

After some time, we began to talk about my job at the American Red Cross – Blood Services and I chatted and he listened. It wasn’t an overly interesting presentation on my part but my father listened eagerly and asked many engaging questions. The weekend went on and I enjoyed some time with my Dad – nothing terribly unusual.

On Sunday afternoon, after saying my goodbyes to my Dad, I began my drive back to Vermont. While I was driving, I heard a distinct voice in my heart say, “You’re not as interesting as you think you are.” I paused and responded to this “voice” by saying, “What do you mean?” And the “inner voice” said, “Your Dad. He listens to you and all his children with an attentive heart not because you’re all extraordinarily interesting or because your stories are so compelling but because he loves you.” I was taken aback by this experience and I still remember this “voice” or experience quite distinctly. And then it became clear, my Dad wasn’t just listening to me, he was loving me. As he loved all his children. My dad listened because he loved. This “voice in my heart” was teaching me something new about my Dad. I treasure this memory and the reminder of how my father loved.

My dad loved gardening. I always remember he had a garden at every place he lived. In Touisset, where he lived in Warren, Rhode Island, the garden was quite large. On Cape Cod, where my Dad retired, the garden was less expansive and generally more oriented towards flowers than tomatoes – though he loved growing tomatoes. His specialty on Cape Cod was gladiolas. He loved his gladiolas.

Every spring he would prepare and plant gladiola bulbs. He had dug up these bulbs from last year’s batch of flowers. He loved the dirt and gardening. For those of you who also love to garden, I’ve brought a few gladiola and daffodil bulbs for you to take home with you and to plant in your own gardens in memory of my Dad. When you plant the bulbs in the spring and see the blossoms rising through the dirt, I hope you might be reminded of my Dad and his love of gladiolas and his love for you.

My father loved music. There are few among us who knew my father for any length of time that didn’t come to find out my Dad loved listening, playing and even writing some music. Whether it was the sound of our family piano being played in our living room or the strumming of guitar chords around an open fire on a camping trip, my father shared his love of music with us. 

We would often gather together with family and friends to sing all kinds of popular American folk and religious tunes. Most recently when he was asked what his favorite music was he replied, “Anything from the 1940’s.” I can now imagine my Dad in the great beyond joyfully tapping his foot to the sounds of the Glenn Miller band.

The last few weeks of my Dad’s life were filled with grace and family. As his health failed, he was initially cared for by the good folks at Cape Cod Hospital and then he transitioned to hospice care at McCarthy House in Sandwich, Massachusetts. His spirits remained buoyant and optimistic right to the very end.

My Dad enjoyed sailing on Cape Cod with some of his children so it might be fitting to close my thoughts, and say so long to my Dad, by sharing a poem about sailing and the great beyond. The poem is entitled, “Gone From My Sight.” It’s written by Henry Van Dyke. You might be familiar with it. It goes like this…

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side,

spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts

for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength.

I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a

speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.

Then, someone at my side says, “There, she is gone.”

Gone where?

Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast,

hull and spar as she was when she left my side.

And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.

Her diminished size is in me — not in her.

And, just at the moment when someone says, “There, she is gone,”

there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices

ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!”

And that is dying…

It is my hope my father was welcomed into that distant port on the mysterious other side with glad shouts of, “Here he comes! Here he comes!”

Memorial Day

6E9178A9-81A9-4008-B452-72EA4FB77ACAThis weekend we celebrate Memorial Day in the United States of America. Truth be told, for many years, I never understood what or who we were honoring on this day in late May. For me, it was just a long weekend marking the beginning of summer. 

Growing up in Rhode Island, the Memorial Day holiday was a weekend of cookouts, pool parties and family fun. In my later youth, living on Cape Cod, this day included some of the festivities of the earlier days but with more traffic and more ocean. I never really understood we were honoring men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country. I understand this now.

They tell me, 150 years ago the Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic established what we today call Memorial Day. Then, it was a day set aside to honor the men who died in defense of the Union in the Civil War. Today, it has grown to be a national holiday celebrated to honor women and men who gave their lives in defense of this country in every war.

A few years ago while doing some genealogical research, I was re-introduced to an ancestor of mine who gave his life for his country. He fought for the Union cause and died in 1862. His name was William H. Wood. 

William was the brother of my 2nd great-grandmother, Harriet Wood, making him my 3rd great-uncle. My paternal grandmother, the granddaughter of Harriet Wood, told me about her Great-Uncle William who died in the Civil War. I wasn’t much impressed with this story back then but the memory of this conversation returned to me later in life and it touches me deeply today.

William married Phebe Lloyd and they had a number of children with only one reaching adulthood. William worked for the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company in Sandwich, Massachusetts before volunteering to serve in the Massachusetts 29th Infantry Regiment, Company D. He mustered on May 22, 1861. The records tell us he died on January 16th 1862 in Newport News, Virginia of  yellow fever. He is buried on a lonely knoll in Bayview Cemetery in his hometown of Sandwich, Massachusetts.

For a few years, I searched for William’s grave with no luck. Last year, after pouring over old cemetery plot maps, which provided no indication that William was buried in Bayview Cemetery, I decided to take a stroll down one of the rarely used cemetery pathways. I had walked this pathway before but for some reason I missed the stone. This day was different and my eye was drawn to the left as I strolled along on this summer day. 

I was surprised when I saw the name, “Wood” on a nearby stone. “Could it be?” I wondered. Upon closer observation, I read the name William. There it was. “I’ll be darned,” I thought to myself. It was bit moss-covered but there it honorably stood on a knoll near other graves of that era.

I paused for a moment in gratitude for discovering the grave and in silent honor for the sacrifice William made so many years ago. I thought about the feelings William must have experienced dying all alone in the far away land of Newport News, Virginia. I also thought about my ancestors gathered on this hill to say their goodbyes to William over 150 years ago.

After a few moments of solemnity, my mood changed to delight at my discovery. I called a friend of mine, exclaiming, “You’re not going to believe who I found!” After sharing who I had discovered, I suggested we meet at the cemetery, say a few words of thanks and enjoy a picnic on the hill. After cleaning up the stone a little bit, we did just that! 

It’s probably an odd thing to honor a soul with both quiet reverence and a joyful picnic. We humans are interesting that way. Sometimes life isn’t either/or but rather and/both. We celebrated with a touch of solemnity and then with a touch of joyful jocularity on the hill that day.

This year, I was hoping to return to Sandwich, Massachusetts on Memorial Day to place a flag on my great-uncle’s grave in honor of his service. Unfortunately, my health limits my ability to travel this spring so I must honor my Great-Uncle William in a different way from afar.

And as I honor my great-uncle, I also honor all the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. I am especially reminded of those soldiers, like my Great-Uncle William, who didn’t die on the raging battlefield of war but died from associated circumstances of conflict in a more remote location. They too died heroically and gave their all for their country.

I’m thinking of men and women who return from war, even to this day, living for a time with PTSD, physical wounds, chemical exposure illnesses, depression, etc. only to die far removed from the conflict from the lingering consequences of their war-time duty. Lives cut short. Not all war-related deaths take place on the battlefield.

So this Memorial Day, as we celebrate the holiday with barbecues and family get-togethers, I am keenly aware of the reason for the holiday and I know that I will be one of the many Americans who takes a moment to reflect upon the honor, courage and commitment displayed by those men and women who died in service to their country. We owe them a great debt of gratitude. May your Memorial Day festivities be filled with solemn remembering, joyful celebrating and lasting family memories.

Robert J. Healey

Robert J. Healey

I always liked Bob Healey and followed his political career from afar. Though I left Rhode Island shortly after high school, I always remembered this long-haired substitute teacher who occasionally filled in for my straightlaced and no-nonsense senior year high school English teacher, Mrs. Mary D. Parks.

Bob, or Mr. Healey, as I knew him, came sauntering into my senior English class one day with his distinctive gait and placed his worn leather attaché case on the equally worn oak desk in front of the class.

Before he launched into the day’s lesson, he paused and announced to the class he was going to teach us how to remember to spell a few uniquely spelled words. I sat there with great anticipation.

Mr. Healey walked up to the chalkboard and begin scribbling a word with the white chalk. He spelled out in big sweeping letters the word “W E I R D.”

I was wondering where he was going with this but I liked his whole theatrical demeanor and he had my attention. I suspect he held the attention of others in the class as well.

So, he begins his English lesson about words spelled with “ei” or “ie.” You remember the drill, “I before E except after C with some exceptions.” At any rate, he turned to the class with his long black hair all tossed about and proclaimed to us he had a sure-fire way to remember how to spell the word, “Weird.” He still had my attention; I was waiting with bated breath.

With characteristic flair, he circled the letters, “W” and “E” in the word “weird” on the chalkboard. I think he circled the letters twice for emphasis. He then proclaimed, “You can always remember how to spell this word by remembering WE are all weird. All of us.” Again, emphasizing the “we” in the word “weird”with two taps of the chalk under the letters “W”and “E.”

Now this struck me deeply. You see, I was a particularly insecure high school student at the time and felt quite unique in my own personal weirdness. I was often intimidated by the seemingly normative, and ever so cool, deportment of my classmates. THEY didn’t seem weird at all. And I thought I was pretty weird.

This proclamation by Mr. Healey changed my view of my high school universe and I suddenly felt that even though Mike, Tim and I (my high school buddies) would often spend Friday afternoons reading Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five and writing zany poems, we were actually part of a larger world filled with weird people. In this moment, I suddenly felt like I belonged to a larger school community because, truth be told, according to Mr. Healey, we all were weird. This fact was most comforting to me.

I found out later, Mr. Healey was a perennial candidate for public office and once ran a campaign with the slogan, “A Strange Man for a Strange Job.” He indeed knew the power of being weird. He seemed to even revel in it.

Mr. Healey regularly ran for the office of Lieutenant Governor in Rhode Island. He actually ran on a platform of abolishing the office of Lieutenant Governor. This cracked me up! “Good for you, Bob Healey,” I thought to myself when I heard of his plans. He garnered 39% of the vote and over 126,000 Rhode Islanders voted for him in his 2010 race!

Mr. Healey may not have been wildly successful in politics but he was right about two points he raised as a teacher. First, I’ve always remembered how to spell the word “weird”even though the word “receive” sometimes still stumps me. And second, like Mr. Healey, my life experiences have proven to me we are all a little weird. Ain’t it grand!?

Do you remember a teacher from your youth who taught you a life lesson that remained with you well into adulthood? Please share it below.

Love, Grief, and Healing

IMG_2819 CA few days ago was the first anniversary of my Dad’s death. On March 7, 2018, it was one year since my Dad passed away.

On the morning of this anniversary, I was in an orthopedic surgeon’s office being poked and prodded by the doctor after suffering an extraordinarily painful herniated disc. As I hobbled around the doctor’s office, I had a chance to think about many things.

First, I thought of my Dad. Next, I thought of my love for him and the grief love engenders. I also thought about what it meant to be a loving human being in a world that, at times, seems a bit harsh. And truth be told, mostly, I thought about the reality of a painfully exploded disc which sent jelly-like detritus northward into my spinal column compressing a highly sensitive nerve which ordinarily served my legs entirely without notice or clamor.

I believe all these things are related. Let me explain.

Grief is a tricky emotion. If you listen to some of the experts on the subject, you’ll learn about stages and processes. As a former project manager with a very linear and methodical mind, this all sounds so neat and tidy.

Experts tell us during grief we experience denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and then acceptance. I’m no expert on grief but like many of us, I’ve walked through my share of losses – some sudden and others expected.

Each experience of grief for me was different and painful in its own unique way. Sometimes it’s subtle and other times it’s blunt. Most importantly, the process after each death wasn’t neat and tidy at all but more like riding a poorly greased roller coaster with unexpected bumps and curves. So much for a neat linear process.

I do know one thing. Grief and love are linked. It’s somewhat like investing. Love is the principal we invest and grief is the interest earned on our investment. The more you’ve invested the more interest you will earn. If you grieve much, good for you, you’ve invested much in love.

I know another thing, on this roller coaster ride of life, it’s good to have a friend or two along capable of sitting in the steel car with you. Though highly personal, grief does appreciate company every now and again. It’s especially comforting to know we are not alone and others have made this journey too.

Grief seems to impact all parts of the human person. You may have heard of the mind/body connection discussed in recent health literature. This concept suggests our mind and our emotions can impact our physical health. I believe in these ideas and particularly when it involves acute experiences.

As I stood in the surgeon’s office looking at the results of my MRI, seeing – in all magnetic clarity – my herniated disc and protruded nucleous, I thought to myself, “THERE is my grief and all the emotions attached to it. It’s all exploded out of the disc rupturing the outer core and settling into my spinal column compressing the root of a nerve. Painful, raw and real.”

While these mind/body theories are controversial, I believe they do have merit and it’s important to address healing from many different perspectives. We are, after all, comprised of mind, body and spirit.

So, healing from loss and healing from physical trauma are interrelated for me. My journey with a wide variety of health conditions has proven this to be true. We are a complex system and not just disparate and unconnected parts.

Part of our system, often over looked, is our spiritual connection to a Higher Power and to each other. Truth is, we are not alone as we journey towards fullness of life and health. We walk with each other and we walk with God.

I’m more and more convinced God walks closely with us especially during times of pain and loss. Time and again, I’ve heard others say this is their experience too. Could this be true for you? I actually had a very odd experience happen to me about a week or two before my disc herniated supporting this notion.

One morning, prior to visiting some friends, I was quietly praying. I’m not one of these people who regularly hears God talking to them or “receives” a word from God in prayer. Mostly God is pretty silent with me. I look at Him, and He looks at me. I’m most dubious when someone tells me God told them this, that or the other thing. Having said that, I am about to tell you such a story.

On this morning, some weeks ago, I heard a folksy locution which said, “Don’t worry. I’ve got your back.” I found this “voice” somewhat strange and so I mentioned it to a friend.

It was strange for three main reasons. First, I haven’t heard such a locution before this moment. Second, my back – to the best of my knowledge – was perfectly well at this time and so I interpreted this message to be a general comment of support. And finally, the voice seemed so casual and light; it certainly wasn’t a Hollywood “God Almighty” kind of voice. All these reasons saw me dismissing this experience and I promptly forgot all about it.

Fast forward two weeks later and I was driving down the road after my orthopedic appointment with the same friend I had mentioned this locution to a few weeks earlier. I said to her, “Do you remember the message I mentioned hearing a few weeks ago?” She replied, “Yes, you said you heard a voice say, ‘Don’t worry. I’ve got your back.’” We both looked at each other incredulously and I said, “Maybe God or my guardian angel is looking out for my back?” My driver and friend smiled and said, “There’s no doubt in my mind that God was looking out for you and your back. In the message, he was giving you consolation in advance.” With some uncertainty, I thought to myself, “Perhaps.” I did, however, have a distinct feeling of peace and experienced an “all is well” kind of feeling.

So, as I continue walking through my grief and enter the second year after my father’s passing, I’m more aware of the relationship between mind, body and spirit. I’ve got both back healing and emotional healing to do. There is much joy in all this – though it does come at a price. And mostly, through it all, I am deeply grateful because I don’t need to worry; healing will unfold and God has my back!

Proof There Is A God

imageOn a recent Sunday afternoon I went to the Tucson Symphony Orchestra for their matinee production. It was a nice enough event but as I sat there during the end of the program, I said to myself, “I wish Tucson had a professional hockey team. Phoenix has one. Even an AHL team would do. I’m in the mood for live hockey!”

As I left the Tucson Music Hall and walked towards my car I glanced up and saw the spires of the cathedral. I decided to bring my hockey question to the Lord. “Lord, why doesn’t Tucson have a professional hockey team,” I asked? He gave no immediate answer.

Feeling curious, I returned to my car and googled “hockey and Tucson.” I thought maybe the University of Arizona supported a team or perhaps in the past the city had a professional hockey organization.

Much to my surprise, my Google query returned a link to a headline proclaiming the 2016-2017 season as the inaugural year for the Tucson Roadrunners, an American Hockey League (AHL) affiliated hockey team. Surprise! Surprise!

My joy at this information was real. I then wondered what might be their schedule this year. I googled that information as well. Much to my surprise, there was a game being played at home at that very minute. The Tucson Roadrunners were playing in the Tucson Convention Center. “Oh Lord, this couldn’t be true! Was there hockey being played in the building right behind me?”

Still wearing my blue blazer and fancy Panama straw hat made in Spain, appropriate for the symphony but maybe not AHL hockey, I scampered towards the Tucson Convention Center doors.

My enthusiasm got the better of me and I asked a very robust man with a few days of facial hair growth standing outside the center intently enjoying his cigarette if there was a hockey game going on in the building. “Yes,” he said, “The first period had ended and it’s a pretty good game.”

In my excitement, I poured out my most recent conversation with the Lord about Tucson and hockey to this gentleman and wife. He paused, grinned a bit and pulled out his extra ticket and said, “And here’s your ticket!”

Thinking he was selling tickets, I asked him how much. He replied, “Don’t worry about it. Enjoy the game.”

So, I entered the convention center and enjoyed the last two periods of an exciting AHL hockey game. It was an answer to a prayer.

This proves, there is a God. 😉

Finding Cousin Richard

Sometimes hard work and perseverance set the stage for genealogical success. Other times, serendipity and chance set that stage. Finding Cousin Richard was one of those endeavors which relied more upon providence and chance than upon skilled genealogical research. Here is the story.

On December 4, 1951, Jean Frank, then known as Mrs. Richard Edward Raybold III, gave birth to a boy and he was named Richard Raybold. Richard’s father was also named Richard Raybold as was his deceased great uncle, Richard Edward Raybold, Jr. Additionally, his great grandfather was named Richard Edward Raybold, Sr. This Richard, Jean Frank’s little boy, was the fourth in a proud line of men with the name Richard Raybold.

Sadly, the marriage between Richard III and Jean Frank ended in divorce. Like many divorces, this separation included heartache and loss. Young Richard, you see, and his mother remained in Ohio where she eventually remarried. As the story unfolds, the younger Richard’s step-father understandably wanted to cut ties with the past and establish a new family with a bright future. In light of this fact, Richard, at 12 years old, was renamed Jonathan Jenson.

As the years went by and the distance increased, various Raybold family members unsuccessfully attempted to locate and communicate with Richard Raybold. His own biological father tried to contact him early on in the separation but met with resistance. Interestingly, when the younger Richard, now known as Jonathan, came to adulthood his own attempts to contact his father, Richard III, were complicated because in the 1970’s Richard Edward Raybold III legally changed his name to Marshall Blake.

Eventually Jonathan Jenson’s curiosity about his Raybold roots led him to research his family through ancestry.com. Remember, Jonathan was called Richard Raybold, Dick to his friends, for the first twelve years of his life. His Raybold awareness was keen. While he appreciated his new family, he always identified as and felt like a Raybold.

Jonathan’s search throughout the years paralleled searches being carried out by no less than three members of his extended Raybold family. Jonathan Jenson was considered by some to be “The Lost Raybold.” While he was searching for his roots, members of his Raybold family were also searching for him. It was in this context that Richard Raybold/Jonathan Jenson was found.

One of the reasons it was difficult to find Jonathan was the fact that the people looking for him used the wrong spelling of his name. They all thought his name was spelled “John Jensen” and they used this name in their searches. It’s no wonder they kept coming up short.

In early 2016, Jonathan Jenson established an ancestry.com account and began populating his family tree with the information he had about his Raybold family. He entered about ten Raybold names into his family database and then backed off from using his account any further.

About six months later, I, his cousin, was doing research on our shared great grandfather, Richard Edward Raybold, Sr. using ancestry.com to do my research. As providence, or luck would have it, my ancestry.com account displayed Jonathan’s data as a possible hint (or a possible lead) for corroborating information about Richard Raybold.

I was stunned when I saw the name “Jonathan Jenson” on my computer screen. “Could this be ‘The Lost Raybold’ for whom I had been searching for over 15 years,” I thought to myself? Thinking his name was “John Jensen,” I still wasn’t sure this was the former Richard Raybold for whom I searched.

I decided trying to contact him through ancestry.com was my next step. As Jonathan was no longer actively using his account, I didn’t expect my message would receive a prompt reply. Because of this, I decided using Facebook for a search of Jonathan Jenson might be helpful.

I had searched on Facebook for him previously but as I was using the wrong spelling of his name I came up empty-handed. This time, I had a different spelling of his name and clearly, based on his ancestry.com activity, Jonathan Jenson was a person looking for information on the Raybold family. Perhaps he was my man! Hope springs eternal.

With some excitement, I typed in “Jonathan Jenson” into the search field on my Facebook page and within a few moments 100s of Jonathan Jensons filled my screen. I was discouraged by the volume of names. How would I ever find “my” Jonathan Jenson in this list? Whispering a little prayer, I started to contact the lengthy list of Jensons by sending them private messages.

Interestingly enough, my first inquiry, to a “Jon Jenson,” was returned with a somewhat cryptic yet intriguing message. I had written, “Hi Jon, Does the name Raybold mean anything to you?” His response was, “It might, how did you come across me?” His “It might” gave me hope but it also fueled my concerns that possibly Jonathan Jenson, the former Richard Raybold, did not want to be contacted. This, actually, was a concern that was greatly on my heart. I was, however, undaunted.

I decided to contact other people with the last name Jenson connected to the Jon Jenson on this Facebook account. My next inquiry was sent to a “Kathy Jenson.” Again, the same question. This time the return message was much more definitive. She responded, “Yes, this was my husband’s last name before he was adopted as a young child.” I was both amazed and thrilled to have actually found a real connection to “The Lost Raybold.” Moreover, I was shocked to have found him through the first person named Jonathan Jenson I contacted on Facebook! It turns out, the Jon Jesnson I initially contacted on Facebook was actually the son of “The Lost Raybold,” Jonathan Jenson, Sr.

Now, many questions ran through my mind about Jonathan Jenson. Was he alive? Did he want to reconnect with his Raybold family? Would he be upset with me for bringing up a possibly tender subject about his earlier life? I proceeded with some care.

As it turned out, Jonathan’s wife was delightful and she contacted me from the hospital where her husband was recovering from a recent procedure. This Jonathan Jenson, Sr. was indeed “The Lost Raybold.” Moreover, Jonathan, as I was told through his wife, was eager to talk with me after he recovered from his hospital stay. I was elated!

Within five minutes of returning from the hospital, Jonathan Jenson sent me a message through Facebook indicating he was interested in talking. When we talked, Jonathan told me my reaching out to him was an answer to a prayer and a true blessing. I was greatly relieved and remembered the short prayer uttered some days earlier.

As our initial contact and communication unfolded, Jonathan was delighted to learn he descends from at least nine different Mayflower passengers. He was also eager to reconnect with more contemporary members of the Raybold family. The Waterman – Raybold Family holds a yearly luncheon in Sandwich, MA. Jonathan, and his wife Kathy, are eager to join the clan and take their seats at the Raybold table next year. I am eager, like many, to welcome them.