Brain Glitches, Genealogy and Grandpa

How do you get anything done with a brain that short-circuits like mine does? To prepare my English class lesson plans, I googled celebratory dates and found out American Indian Heritage Month is coming up in November, which reminds me of our trip to the Badlands and visit to the Red Cloud Indian School in South Dakota. That enticed me to read about the Battle of Wounded Knee. While admiring photographs of famous Native American Chiefs, I kept seeing images of my grandfather’s weather-beaten, chiseled face with his high cheekbones and prominent nose. Convinced that we have some degree of Indian blood, I am off on a wild goose chasing missing links to my ancestry.

One thing led to another. In the online census report of Madison County Iowa, I discovered my great grandfather, John, was part of a family of 14 children. John’s grandfather, Aaron was born in Osage Indian Territory of what later became Kentucky. His first cousin also named Aaron later lived on the Osage and Kaw Indian Reservation in Oklahoma, a stone’s throw from where my grandpa grew up when great grandfather moved his family West. Naturally, I filled in the gaps of history with my imagination, convinced mighty warriors are part of my ancestry.

Sound crazy? Not if you knew my grandpa, a.k.a. Coach Mac. If Coach Mac took off his glasses, folded his arms across his chest and replaced his baseball cap with a headdress, he ‘d look just like the Indian American, Afraid of Bear – proud, sage, ageless.  How many white folks do you know with 40 second resting heart rate, like grandpa? And he was afraid of bears, too!

Coach "Mac" - Ralph McKinzie

Coach "Mac" - Ralph McKinzie

One fact is sure. The census report answered a question that has perplexed my family for years. My grandpa, never sure of his birth date, thought he was born in early October. Well I found proof  – Ralph Clyde McKinzie born Oct. 1, 1894. He had a middle name, which he never knew about either. No wonder. Imagine having the nickname R.C? Like the cola. If I had a middle name like Clyde I might tend to forget it, too.

As if working for the missing persons bureau, I spent a weekend cruising the web genealogy files. On Monday morning, when the class bell rang, I wondered where the heck did I put my lesson plan? I’ll have to confess to class that I got lost navigating the Internet looking for my McKinzie lineage.

My Grandpa Mac defied age by remaining active by coaching college football in his nineties.  He died at the age of 96. He would’ve been 117 years old today; I still celebrate his life.

Have you discovered  skeletons in your family closet? Do you have any links to genealogy search engines that you could share with readers?

Désalpe- The Day Swiss Cows Take to the Streets

No wonder people love Switzerland.  It’s a place where even the cows party.  In October villagers throw a street bash in celebration of the livestock.

Cows were so commonplace in my childhood growing up in the Midwest, I couldn’t imagine why anyone would go out of their way to watch a herd of cattle, but during the désalpe, the day when cows come down from the mountains to the valley is a popular event, as much a part of Swiss tradition as Swiss cheese.

decorated cows

decorated cows

Thousands of visitors jam the cobblestone streets of Saint-Cergue perched on the Swiss side of the Jura, to applaud the herds of cows and sheep that parade through town. The désalpe festival honors the fat, four -legged fellows who keeps the country supplied in butter, milk and cheese.

The shepherds and herdsmen leave the highlands at the crack of dawn to arrive in the Swiss village on the lower slopes of the Jura mountains early in the day. The lead cows, wearing flowered headgear as elaborate as new brides wear, meander through town mooing.  Leather collars a foot-wide hang around their necks, which attach to cow bells the size of lampshades.

For 24 hours at the end of summer, the quiet, ski village turns into a giant block party.  The sidewalks and town square are filled with stands where merchants sell local Swiss specialties; raclette, crepes, sausages, soups, beer and wine.  At overturned wine barrels tourists knock back white wine served in traditional tiny cups barely bigger than shot glasses.

Big burly-bearded men in jeans play the accordion, flute and violin.  Bands of musicians dressed in traditional attire, black smocks embroidered with mountain flowers, black hats and gray pants, representing different mountain villages play the cor des alpes. The red-faced men blow into the the10-foot long straw-colored alpine horns creating sounds as forlorn as the nights of solitude that herders endure in the alpine pastures.  Local choral groups sing equally mournful tunes.  A short, stocky man in a black suit cackles when he demonstrates his whip cracking clearing a 100-foot circle in the crowd.  A flag thrower twirls the red Swiss flag with a white cross.

Swiss horns

Swiss horns

In Switzerland the cow is sacred.  Senntumsmalerei, herd painting, is a special part of Swiss folk art, depicting the semi annual pilgrimage of the cows up and down the mountain.

In the spring another festival will honor the cows as they return up to the highlands for grazing in the summer.  Most likely, I will be there paying homage.  After seeing the désalpe, I’ll never take cows for granted again.

September 11, 2001 – September 11, 2011 In Remembrance of 9/11

Ten years ago today, our sense of security was shattered instantly – the time it took passenger jets controlled by suicide bombers to crash into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania.

It was one of the moments in history where you will always remember what you were doing when you heard the news.  When I arrived home from class, a friend was standing in my living room, her eyes glued to the TV screen. “Oh my God!” she cried, “The world is ending.”

I stared at replay of the film footage of planes crashing into the World Trade Center disintegrating 110-floors of metal and concrete, leaving 3051 children without a parent, and destroying the lives of thousands of families.

Terrorism. Live. Direct. In our homeland. At our hearth. In a heartbeat.

Suddenly we are all thrown into a real life horror show.

Yet no matter how many times we heard and saw the televised broadcast, we remained frozen in disbelief.

Even though, I lived far away in Geneva, home of world’s greatest peacekeeping organizations, and in a safe environment in a neutral country, the news stunned my international community of globetrotters. That year, my English class students at a Swiss international school wrote to the children of the UN school in New York, whose students lost family in the bombing.

Today, a decade after 9/11, my new students can’t remember a world without terror. They all know someone who knows someone, who was at the wrong spot at the wrong time in Bali, Jakarta, London, Paris, New York.

Today, even the most seasoned travelers step on the plane with trepidation. And anyone with a conscience wonders, what kind of world are we leaving our children? A world where commercial flights become deadly human missiles, where buildings dissolve like sand castles in the storm, and where innocent lives are annihilated in the blink of an eye.

The Ground Zero monuments, museum and 10th anniversary commemorations offer a tribute to the families of victims of 9/11 and to the American spirit of resiliency. As we take a moment of silence to reflect and honor the men and women who perished during the attack or rescue mission, may be we also say a prayer for those people of other lands who have also lost loved ones in the fall out of terrorism.

One of my former students was 12-years-old when her mom died in the bombing of the American Embassy in Nairobi. She wrote about it in class.

“When they told me, I was so upset I tried to run through a glass door. Now I write until my fingers bleed.”

Alone at night we still shake, terrified and powerless to curtail the madness of our 21st century world; together in the light of day, we stand tall and reach out in small steps. Healing begins in our homeland, at our hearth, in a heartbeat.

Happy 80th Birthday Dad – Celebrating friendship, fatherhood and family

From pine lined point of ol’ Camp Neyati and back to Beaver Bay, I glide through a silver blue lake, stroke after stroke, while you sit on an wrought iron chair under the elms on shore, watching to assure my safety.  If I were in danger of drowning, you could never reach me, but I am confident knowing you are there ever watchful, a benevolent eye, just as you have watched over me for the past 54 years.

During my journey filled with adversity, you offer encouraging words from the background to keep me steady.  You admire my courage fighting in the face of pain, commending the discipline that drives me to swim in an icy lake on a rainy day.  You marvel that I traveled half way across the world in pursuit of a dream to play basketball and now in adulthood wonder how I can endure another teaching day with my health limitations.  For me it doesn’t seem that extraordinary; after all, I am my father’s daughter.

If I was able to pioneer a career unheard of for women, move abroad and rewrite my script after my dream collapsed, it is because of you.  I inherited the McKinzie iron will, a drive to pursue lofty ideals in spite of obstacles.

Though you still worry about your adult children and grandchildren, the tables have turned; now dozens of eyes watch over you.  After your heart incident 25 years ago, I postponed my trip back to France to stay by your side. I witnessed how you changed your habits to accommodate a condition that altered your life, but never slowed you down.  This year I supported you long distance as you recovered from 4 different surgeries.  You still attained your goals: to stand up as your eldest granddaughter walked to take her Hippocratic Oath and to sit down at a middle granddaughter’s high school graduation party. Now a day never passes where I am not grateful that you are still with us to cheer us on.

Jim McKinzie (80th birthday) with Lenore and kids

Jim McKinzie (80th birthday) with Lenore and kids

Bad arteries, good heart.  The best. It touched the lives of all whose paths you crossed. From Dekalb High classmates to Northern Illinois University teammates to Sterling High School colleagues to the Mighty Warriors and the Golden Girls, for decades, you were the marker to which so many students and fellow teachers measured their worth. Your words still inspire many athletes; your letters became treasured keepsakes.

Your generous heart helped finance college education, provide pocket change and gas money for grandkids. You helped perfect jump shots, spiral passes and line drives. Your patient heart read Good Night Moon to a demanding grandchild and balanced a checkbook for an even more demanding father.  Your intuitive heart painted canvases, counseled female athletes, and recognized a child’s distress in the sound of a voice during a long distance phone call. Though you set extremely high standards for yourself, your accepting heart was the first to welcome a foreigner into the family, to treat people of all walks of life as equal, and to understand others who are different.

As the son of Coach Mac, integrity was deeply ingrained. As McKinzie kids we had to tow the line. But by emulating our father, the man who walked the talk too, you inspired each of us to stand taller.

We come from good blood. The life lessons passed on from your father, “Coach Mac” McKinzie trickled down to you and then onto each of us in our helping professions.

At halftime of the 1986 Super Bowl the United States President announced, “Whatever I am today, Coach Mac had an awful lot to do with it.”

I will never be as famous as Ronald “Dutch” Reagan, but I echo his words, “Whatever I am today, my own Papa Mac had an awful lot to do with.”

Now just as you stare at the Summit Lake water front and track my stroke, I in turn peek out the cabin window you to make sure you don’t stumble when your wander off in the woods. We watch over one another in a special father/daughter bond built from hours of sharing meals, shooting hoops, swapping stories, taking trips, and spending time together marking the milestones.  Like 80th birthdays!

Congratulations Dad and an extra special shout out to all the athletes, colleagues, family, friends and former teammates, who reminded us all in memorabilia and words, how lucky we are that you have touched our lives.

 

Getting Sick Abroad

Getting sick sucks, especially if you are away from home, homeland.  There is nothing worse than having a medical emergency while traveling abroad.  But don’t let that scare you off the plane.  Take a few travel tips from a seasoned traveler…aka your fav ex-patriot.

My parents have made dozens of cross Atlantic trips to visit our Norwegian relatives and me without a hitch.  After a recovering from 4 different surgeries, my 79-year-old dad attained his goal to fly to Switzerland and almost didn’t make it back when he became gravely ill. Fortunately our daughter, a pediatrician, insisted we call an emergency doctor who demanded we take him to the hospital immediately where they put him on intravenous antibiotics and saved his life.  A simple urinary tract infection had developed into a life threatening sepsis. Luckily, we had a Frenchman aboard, who spoke both English and French and could interpret in the ER.  But in the course of ensuing chaos, it made me realize how frightening illness can be for someone traveling abroad especially if you don’t speak the local language.  When packing your bags be sure to include these items.

  • Medication for the duration of your stay in your carry on bag
  • Carry insurance and medical cards and a photocopy of prescriptions
  • Type up a short resume of your recent medical history
  • List emergency numbers of contacts in your homeland
  • If possible, obtain the number of a friend living in the area you are visiting (this is especially reassuring to parents when their sons/daughters go abroad)
  • In the event of serious illness call SOS Médecins
  • When in doubt, go directly to the emergency room

In Switzerland and France, public hospitals will admit you, but you may have to pay a fee, like the $500 up front that my dad paid at the Hospitale de Nyon before services could be rendered.

Jim & Lenore McKinzie in Switzerland

Jim & Lenore McKinzie in Switzerland

The medical system varies in each European country. In some places, doctors still make house calls.  Many medical people have independent practices in apartment buildings or a room of their homes.  Unlike our clinics or convenient urgent care centers in the states, often times in Europe you will have to go to separate laboratories to have blood drawn and/or X rays taken. Pharmacies display the universal sign, a green cross. In Europe pharmacists will answer simple medical questions and can advise you on minor problems. Major hotels have a doctor on staff or will call a local doctor for you.

Accept that medical practices in other countries, though different from those at home, are not necessarily bad.  For example in France and Switzerland, prescriptions are not counted out by the dose, but boxed in plastic in 7 day to one month doses.

During my overseas stint, I have been hospitalized after accidents and illnesses, for surgery and childbirth.  I‘ve seen my fair share of doctors, but I can assure you that like people, there are good and bad ones everywhere regardless of nationality.

Alors santé! (Here’s to your health) Bon voyage!

Sisters Only A Heartbeat Apart

“What’s wrong? I whispered as my middle sister coaxed my little sister out from under the bed.“Grandpa yelled at her cause she didn’t finish her milk at dinner,” Sue, explained.

“Oh, Kar, he yelled at me too,” I said as I stuck my head under the bed. “C’mon, I got a great idea. We’ll dance in the living room.”

Together in our matching pink nighties we pranced in front the our reflection in the picture window to the beat of the Pink Panther until Karen’s tears turned to giggles.

From the time we were little children, our heartiest laughs and greatest tears were shared as sisters; three girls just four years apart.

I, being eldest set the example.  I taught them how to slide veggies off the dinner plate and onto the floor for the family dog and to sneak out of at bed night to watch The Honeymooners from behind the divider in the dining room.  I kept them in line by pretending to hit their face, then socking their stomach.

3 sisters

3 sisters

We shared childhood memories of vacations when we sat facing backwards in our nine seater wagon and smoked candy cigarettes, waved at truck drivers from behind plastic sun glasses and pretended to be ladies. When we tired of comic books and games, we argued, until Dad threatened.  “Quit squabbling or I’ll stop the car and you can walk home!”

In instant solidarity against the enemy, the almighty grown up, we held hands in silence for the remainder of the ride.

Together we survived the early adolescence “uglies”.  Our finest feature striking blue eyes, hidden behind thick brown cat eye framed glasses.  Sue developed too much up front, I, too little, and Karen, The Babe, Miss-Perfect-In-Between was just right. Our personalities were as different as our body types.  I, an aggressive brunette tomboy, thought kitchen was a four-letter word. Sue, an easy-going blonde homebody loved to bake and clean. Karen, a chestnut haired social butterfly, enjoyed the outdoors and domestics.

“Get off the phone blabber mouth,” I yelled at Karen.  “It’s my turn to have the car,” Sue yelled at me.  In high school we were selfish about the use of the phone and car, but generous with our clothes and friends.

We went to the same college, Illinois State, and majored in helping professions.  One summer, we even fought for the same beau.  Sue caught in the middle, shouted, “Never thought I’d see the day a guy tore you apart!”  When he dropped me for my baby sister, I thought the hurt would never heal.  Later when he tired of her, I helped her put back the pieces.  Now, we laugh about the jerk, who tried to come between us.

In high school and college, Karen and I played on the same basketball team.  Sue never missed a game.  When a car accident ended my career in France, the sound of their voices over the phone helped me heal faster than the ministrations of a hospital full of foreign doctors.

We were always together for the important moments.  When I got married in Normandy, Karen flew over and Sue helped pay for her ticket. When Kar married a year later, Sue was her maid of honor.  When Sue wed, I was the best gal.

Now every summer, we set aside a week to return to our family cabin in Wisconsin where we roast hot dogs over a crackling fire, float on inner tubes on a silver-blue lake, and take long walks in the woods. We still dance in the living room, now we call it aerobics.

For in between times, we write long letters and make short calls, “ I can’t afford this, but I wanted to hear your voice.”

We developed a sixth sense sisters’ share.  After my miscarriages, my sisters mourned, too.  The night my daughter was born in Paris, Sue dreamed,” it’s a girl!” in Chicago.

As children we shared a room, held hands before falling asleep and vowed we’d live in a triplex, so we could always be together.  As adults, we ended up living thousands of miles apart in different states and countries.  Yet, as sisters, we remain only a heartbeat away.