If you listen to the pundits, a lot of US citizens are understandably upset with the political climate and frustrated by present lack of leadership. There is a lot to criticize about my birth land right now, and it makes me sad for my people, but there is one thing that America got right. The National Park system is something to boast about.
With clean facilities, well marked trails, interesting museums and well-trained, friendly rangers, any trip to a national park is well worth your time. Our visit to the Grand Tetons was no exception.
America’s National Parks fill with visitors not only from every state, but from around the world. We met one French couple that came back every vacation to hike in the Grand Teton.
My words fall short when it comes to describing the majesty of America’s national parks, so I will let the pictures do the talking.
Paradise lies outside my window and yet when you see beauty everyday you take it for granted especially when caught up in the frenzy of working and raising a family. Retirement allows one to slow down and appreciate the view. Limited by bad feet, bad knees, and a bad back I minimized movement when teaching, so that I could make it through the day. I stopped doing things that I loved because it hurt too much and I needed to save energy. Now if I need to rest half a day to recover, that still leaves me a half a day to play. So I set a new goal – conquering the Jura Mountains outside my window.
The sub alpine mountains, which follow the French Swiss border, separate the Rhone and Rhine river basins. The name Jura with its dense forestation was derived from the Celtic term for forest. Within a 20-minute drive, we can be up in the Jura where hiking, biking, snow shoeing and skiing trails crisscross the centuries old mountain range that lent their name to the Jurassic Period of geology.
Like a race-car driver, Gerald maneuvers our car around hairpin curves of route de Nyon, a favorite of motorcyclist that leads to St. Cergue, a small mountain village. On the outskirts of town, we park alongside the route de France next to hilly pastureland. Cows graze while giant bells around their neck jangle with their languid movements. Though the placid scene looked inviting, a sign warned beware of cows with calves. Perhaps, it was an omen when our ill-fated hike started with a detour around the cows.
A few hundred feet away from the livestock, we climbed the stone fence and cut across the lumpy terrain toward the forests. The evergreen tree lines and boulder filled fields remind me of the hilly parts of America’s Wisconsin dairy land. The difference lies in the dimension. Once you leave the pasture, sheer mountaintops open to sumptuous views of the valley. Wild flowers dot the fields; sycamore trees turn hues of red, yellow and orange in the distance.
I struggle to keep up with Gerald who sets such a fast pace I never have time to savor the majestic sights overlooking the Geneva basin.
The higher you go, the more rugged the terrain. The dirt cow path gives way to needle covered trails that intersect oak groves, beech and pine trees. Some stretches of trail go straight up. Fortunately rocks, chipped pieces of the eroded mountains, offer footholds at regular intervals.
Above the tree line at 5,300 feet, hardy Alpine grasses grow in the chalky soil. The Jura’s highest peaks lie in the south near us in the Geneva area. A yellow pedestrian sign points toward the Dole at 5,500 feet altitude, but after an hour of steady climbing my legs feel rubbery and my lungs burn. Instead we opt to turn to head back down, but which path takes us back?
Too many signs point too many directions towards too many paths. Though I trust my fearless Frenchman, who has an uncanny sense of direction, we hike for hours with no civilization in sight. I fear his “short cut” will turn this 2-mile walk into another one of his famous all day treks. (I am not exaggerating family members can attest this.)
At long last, we spot a chalet where we ask for directions and realize we missed a turn and ended up at the lower end of the village. Our car is 2 km away uphill. By that point, my knees twinge each step I take.
I hobble along ready to hitchhike home while Gerald jogs ahead back alongside to interstate to pick up the car.
Unable to move my limbs for the rest of the day, I treasure the luxury of retirement. I laze about with ice packs on my knees enjoying a good read while feeling chuffed. My Fitbit recorded a personal best 18,352 steps (7 miles). Every single cell of my body screams with inflammation from over exertion, but sometimes the pain is worth the gain. It is not everyday that you conquer a mountain.
When a car accident in France ended my professional basketball career, I wanted to curl up and die. While struggling to rehabilitate, my physical therapist in Paris, saw my despair and said, “Don’t cry. Call Henry Fields. He’ll help you out.”
“McKinzie,” Henry said when I called. “Oh yeah, I remember you. Shot the eyes out of the basket. Need a job? Great. We need a coach.”
So I began coaching at American School of Paris under the tutelage of Henry Fields, dubbed the Father of French basketball, and one of the first Americans to play in Europe. After winning the military world championship while stationed in Orleans, France, in 1962 he was invited to stay on to play for Paris University Club for $50 a month. Not only did he rack up championship titles, he won over the heart of the entire country and paved the way for other American players to follow.
Though he earned accolades as a player, his greatest impact may have been as a coach, where he dedicated his life to developing ball skills in youth at the various clubs where he starred. As a teacher and coach, he built a dynasty at ASP, the first American school with an international community in Europe established in 1946.
After retirement, he and his lovely Norwegian wife, Ragna, resettled in Auterive, south of Toulouse (southwest France), to be closer to their daughters. When he found out that the community didn’t have a basketball program for kids, he built one for them.
From Hank, I learned international basketball rules and insider tips, like it’s okay to yell at a ref as long as you buy him a drink after the game. He showed me how to make sure that each player had a role and felt valued.
He exemplified the true spirit of the game. Basketball is more that X and 0s, back door cuts, and match-up zones, it’s about bringing people together from every race, nationality and walk of life.
A few days ago, when I saw on a Facebook post that the gym in Auterive, had been named Halle Henry Fields, I pumped my fist and cheered.
“Pat, I had no idea,” he said when he called to tell me about the surprise ceremony. “They told me to wear a tie and come coach a game. When I got there, they sang happy birthday and dedicated the gym to me. Friends from teams back in 60s and 70s came to join in the celebration.”
“Oh Hank,” I said. “I wish I could have been there.”
“You were. You’re a part of everything I do.”
I feel the same way; we share the magic of mentoring. Over time, the wisdom of mentors becomes part of the mentees’ psych.
In the highest level of sport, coaches give back, pass on, and pay forward, becoming immortalized in the hearts and minds of those players who shared their love of a game.
What greater tribute to offer an ambassador of the game than to name a gym in his honor?
Henry Fields, granddaddy of basketball in France, a man with all the connections, believes everyone who loves the game is related.
Since childhood when my maternal grandma put a diary in my hand and encouraged me to write my story, I wondered, “Who am I?” Spending my adult life abroad, where one has to forge a new identity, only magnified that question and made me more curious to find out where I come from. Using DNA testing and search tools like Ancestry.com digging up the family history and skeletons from the past has never been easier.
my family’s geographical origins
To begin, I bought my parents a DNA kit and had them to spit in a test tube. We found out that my mom, on the Olson side, is 95% Norwegian, with a touch of Swedish and English. The McKinzie line on my dad’s side is primarily of Scottish descent, but his maternal lineage also can be traced to England, Ireland and Wales.
I discovered I am the great, great grand daughter of a Civil War veteran and a ship captain lost at sea off the Norwegian coast. My forefathers were teachers, statesmen, merchants, pioneer preachers and Scottish Lords. Long ago as clan chiefs, they owned castles as wealthy landowners; centuries later after immigrating to America, they lost land when crops failed and were forced to rent land as poor tenet farmers.
Eilean Donan Castle – Scotland Highlands
I can claim lineage as one of the First Colonial Families to settle on America soil on the Potomac in Maryland. My family once ruled Scotland’s famous castles – Eilean Donan, Leod, Kincoy, Kinkell and RedCastle – when the Mackenzie Clan reigned as far back as the 13th century. Once the most powerful clan in Northern Scotland, they own land from Ross on the east coast to the Island of Lewis in the west.
Grandpa Mac – 1922
Maps show the McKinzie migration ever westward. In the United States, as primarily farmers, they moved from New England to Kentucky, Illinois, Iowa and finally Oklahoma where my paternal great grandfather became a sharecropper outside of Blackwell. My grandfather broke tradition following his dream to play college football in Illinois, and then became a successful coach at Eureka College and Northern Illinois University.
Though I traced my father’s paternal side back 25 generations, my mother’s side is more complicated. In Scandinavian countries, they traditionally add son or dottar to the father’s name. For example, Ole’s son becomes Olson as a surname. I remain stuck in the 17 century a bit muddled up with Olson, Rosholt, Jacobson lines.
My grandma – Martha Olson
To make things even more complicated, when immigrants became naturalized, they often changed their names. My maternal grandfather arrived in America in 1926 as Gustav Andreas Johansen, but changed his name to Gustav Andrew Olson when he became a US citizen. My maternal grandmother, adopted as a child, adds yet another dimension to my search.
My family history is filled with stories. My father’s maternal great great grandfather, a friend of Abraham Lincoln, hosted Lincoln during his campaign at the family home in Augusta Illinois. According to legend, Lincoln once sat on the same piano stool that I loved to spin on as a child at my grandma’s house.
Another of my forefathers fought with French Allies to defeat the British in the Revolutionary War. My great, great grandpa Aaron McKinzie witnessed General Lee’s surrender ending the Civil War when he fought for the Union’s Iowa’s 39th Infantry Regiment.
When I trace my lineage, one thread stands out. My ancestors were resilient. They endured tribal assaults, Spanish flu epidemics, world wars, Nazi Occupation, independence from oppressors and countless clan battles over territory in Scotland. From my hardy Norwegian relatives living above the Arctic Circle to the Mackenzie Clan reigning in the Scottish Highlands, my people had a fighting spirit and will to survive.
Perseverance became part of my bloodline. On bad days, when life feels like a struggle, I look to the stories of my ancestors for strength. Knowing who I am and where I come from gives me courage to keep fighting too. I only wish my grandma was still alive, so I could tell her our story, but her spirit lives on in me.
You would think that after living in non English speaking European countries for so long, I would feel at home in England, but I felt more foreign there than anywhere. Though technically Americans speak the same language, I had no clue what the Brits were saying. Times are tough when you resort to asking your Frenchman to interpret your native tongue.
“Pot, this is ridiculous!” Gerald said. “They are speaking your language not mine.”
True but in my language potatoes don’t wear jackets, children don’t wear jumpers and no one wears Wellies.
To clarify the vocabulary, English waiters will ask if you want a jacket (skin) on your potato. Seriously, do say yes because no one does jacket potatoes better than the English. Mine was stuffed with melted Brie, British bacon and cranberry sauce.
Sweaters are what British refer to as jumpers. Sweatshirts are hoodies. Uniforms are kits. And everyone owns a pair of Wellies.
Popularized by British aristocracy for hunting in the early 19th century the Wellington boot, fashioned after the Hessian boot and made of leather, was named after Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington. With the advent of Charles Goodyear’s vulcanization process for natural rubber in the mid 1800s, waterproof rubber Wellies became standard even for the common class and replaced the farmers’ wooden clogs.
Ah, Wellies, those ill-fitting, formless, round-toed galoshes you hated wearing in grade school. I would give my right arm for a pair now. In England, it rains cats and dogs and puddles proliferate like rabbits. To be prepared like the English who carry Wellies in the boot of their cars, tourists should pack a pair of Wellies and a brellie (umbrella)on any visit to the UK.
I used to think my British colleagues in Switzerland were dumbing down their language with baby talk to help me understand. Apparently another idiosyncrasy is their tendency to chop off words by ending in ie.
Fortunately, my dear friend now living in Australia explained, “Pressie, (present) brekkie, (breakfast) and ciggie (cigarette) are all just lazy British ways of shortening words.”
It could be worse.
“The Aussies use the same abbreviations, and more besides!” she said. “My fave one is ‘arvo’ for afternoon. I use it all the time now, but with a British accent, which amuses the locals.”
No one does humor better than the British. The language is full of expressions that make me laugh out loud.
Who else says things like “have a nosy” for a look around or “don’t get your knickers in a knot” when someone is upset?
And can’t you picture a group of gossipy old women having a “chin wag”or a bunch of teens throwing their “knees up” (to party) on the weekend.
But my all time favorite is “fall arse over tit” meaning to tumble head over heels.
Now you understand why an American might need a French interpreter. Visiting England leaves me feeling totally discombobulated and stuck in one giant kerfuffle.
I am so disorientated I may never get home to Switzerland. With all those cars whizzing by on the “wrong” side of the road, I am afraid to cross the street.
When I visited my son and his girlfriend in Ampthill England, I felt like I was stepping into a storybook. The crooked narrow, cobblestone streets lined with thatched huts, red brick homes and tiny walk up shops looked like pages out of a Charles Dickens novel. Even their home, a former caretaker’s cottage, was on the grounds of a stately 2-story brick building, which once served as the Ampthill Union Workhouse. Built in 1835, the old “poorhouse,” where penniless paupers worked for porridge, was laid out in an octagonal hub. The rows ended in 3 story blocks with observational windows over the work yards. Renovated into an expensive apartment complex today residents can relax in an inviting, picture perfect English back garden.
In the past, poorhouses often looked and felt like prisons. Funded by the local parish able-bodied inmates toiled in exchange for food and shelter. Workhouses filled with orphans, unmarried mothers, widows, sick, elderly and vagrants who endured the harsh regime, Spartan conditions, and slept in communal dormitories
Behind the wrought iron entry gate, Nic and Larissa’s brick cottage, the size and shape of a shoe box sits at the front of the grounds. It was divided into a small living area, a kitchen galley, a bedroom, bathroom and a dining room with just enough space for a table of four. Apartments in the main building today would cost a pretty penny, but the cottage rental was a steal.
At night spotlights illuminated ancient trees casting shadows and as I wandered the grounds, my imagination ran wild. I expected to see Oliver Twist dart across the courtyard.
As the wind moaned in the treetops, I could hear echoes of the old nursery rhyme that even American children were weaned on. We grew up listening to our mothers’ lament, “oh no, we will be driven to poor house.”
Anonymous verse from Yorkshire.
Many old workhouse buildings became public assistance institutions and continued to provide accommodation for the ill and elderly. In 1942 The Ampthill Workhouse became St. Georges Hospital, and then later the Cedars Old Peoples Home.
But Larissa and Nic’s new abode, filled with light, laughter and good cheer, showed no sign of its grim past. Warm and cozy, we squeezed around the table enjoying the lovely meal they prepared. I gazed out the window and felt grateful that my family members had steady jobs, roofs over their heads and food on their tables.
In the UK the workhouse era ended officially on April 1, 1930. Fortunately poor houses became a thing of the past, but poverty is not. Many homeless people everywhere in the world sleep in the streets under cardboard boxes, rummage through trash bins for scraps and struggle to survive.
Everyone can offer aid. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Work at a food pantry. Contribute to the local charities.