Snapshots: Our Close Ancestors

Ted and Isabel, our parents

Or, depending on mother’s mood, Dad was sometimes John. These two, with their vastly different backgrounds, managed to make their way through the cruelty of the Great Depression in the Big City, the horrors of World War II, and a lifetime of living on the edge.Yet they left us strong values, good memories and a foundation of love.

Dad -- staid, hard-working, fastidious, sometimes sarcastic, a "live-by-the-rules" kind of guy, yet loving and kind -- was raised in a second generation German household, the only male child in his generation. Surrounded by love, he had many opportunities and was proud to have a flourishing business career and  a substantial bank account when he married our Mom. The bank account was spent on a house in Valley Stream, a house that was lost in the same depression that took away his career. With no livelihood and me on the way, Mother set up a bakery in their tiny apartment. She baked for the lucky folk who could still afford such luxuries, and Dad and my uncle, her brother, sold and delivered her goodies. Later she worked for the Boy Scouts of America as a comptometer operator, pretending to be single because it was the Depression after all. It would be eight more years before they and I arrived back in Dutchess County where mother had been born. Dad finally had a job, delivering baked goods for the Krug Baking Company, and we finally had our family intact. We were ready to welcome Marilyn, Diane and Craig. His mother and stepfather (the man we knew as our loving Grandpa), who had raised me in their Jersey City home, came to live with us when he retired.

Mom -- clever, smart, enterprising, indefatigible, funny, generous, also loving and kind -- was born into a solidly American household with Colonial roots, but tragedy struck early. Her father lost one leg, which was a life-long disability, and her mother died in the 1918 flu epidemic.The four children were scattered but reunited as adults. Mother was adopted by a Worden, her grandmother’s sister, and sent to live in New Jersey, where she eventually met and married our dad. Her birth father, a wonderful warm, loving, long-suffering man, lived with us for a number of years in his later life. 

Franklin Bowyer and Marie/Mamie Tigges, Dad’s parents (our paternal grandparents)

The relationship between Franklin and Marie was no doubt doctor-patient, especially since Dr. Bowyer signed Dad’s birth certificate as officiating physician. That he was our grandfather, and not Theodore Muller, was discovered only in 2018, when DNA proved it. Artificial insemination? An affair? We will never know.

Franklin’s parents had come together from England to New York, with her mother, in 1849. Their roots go back at least into the 1600s in England, and there may be a royal connection to Bowyer but it is not proven. Church records show both families to have espoused Protestantism quite early. They lived in the same area of England, Wiltshire near Bath, for many generations.  Franklin's father was a farmer, and the house the family lived in in Chestertown was large and accommodated several farm hands. In his later years, it is said that he enjoyed carrying folks to town in one of his numerous buggies and sleighs.

Grandma Tigges’ parents arrived separately from eastern Gerrmany. Her father’s history is less well known than any other close relative, but it is proven based on DNA. Some relationships are based on DNA but also a fair degree of logic and common sense rather than printed records. There is room for further research. Her mother’s line is fully proven and supported with DNA.

Jonas Coons and Anna Edna Tipple, Mother’s parents (our maternal grandparents)

Jonas comes from a long line of Coons/Coon/Kuhn men, whose immigrant ancestor came from Switzerland in 1710 with the first mass migration from Germany to New York. His mother’s line also descends from that same immigrant population. With all the subsequent marriages, his line represents Dutch, German, Swiss and French Huguenot, truly a melting pot. Interestingly, despite the heavy migration from New York to points north, south and west, my direct ancestors never left New York and the area where they first settled in Columbia and northern Dutchess Counties, that is, until mother was adopted and sent to New Jersey. But she hurried back as soon as she could. 

Anna Edna’s father also descends from that same mass immigration, the Palatine movement of 1710 with its own fascinating history fraught with danger and disaster. His mother’s line leads to our Mayflower ancestor, Elder William Brewster. Anna Edna’s mother’s line takes us back to our “gateway ancestor,” the one with a proven royal lineage (see the chart on Peter Worden’s page https://doriswheeler.org/g0/p56.htm#i1663), to our authentic pirate, and to many of our early Dutch settlers, among others. 

My Husband, Bill Wheeler

A truly good man. They say hardship builds character. This very special man survived a multitude of hardships but never lost his faith in the goodness of man and the value of every living thing. He plays a big part in my Memories, below, as the love of my life.

 

 2014 Memories

The Life I've Lived… As fully as possible

Prologue

Born near the dawn of the Great Depression, my life has been influenced by it in many ways. From the start, my mother was the breadwinner, dad having been thoroughly demoralized and degraded by the loss of the career in business that held such promise when he was married and I was conceived. I lived with my grandparents in Jersey City until I was 8 when my father finally found a job in Poughkeepsie, New York, and we moved there. My sisters and brother were born later. I remember our growing-up years as idyllic, with love and purpose surrounding us. We didn't know we were poor.

The early days

I waken to the sound of clattering hooves and wagon wheels on the cobblestone and brick road in front of our house. It is very early, still dark in fact, but the milkman has arrived. I soon hear his footsteps on the stairs and the tinkle of glass as he carries the milk and butter my grandmother ordered yesterday. I hear my grandparents talking softly in the next room as he begins to dress for his day as a truant officer in the Jersey City school district.

I suddenly remember: It’s an exciting day because the new Frigidaire is to be delivered and they will take away our icebox. I will miss the iceman’s wagon, but he promises he will continue to toss ice chips to us children on those hot, humid days of summer. 

Every day I look forward to the tradesmen with their horses, wagons and wares of every description. They have a schedule and we watch for them from our third floor apartment window. The iceman has a whistle that he blows loud and clear. We signal to him from our window and use our fingers to tell him how much ice we want today. The green grocer has a tin horn that announces his arrival, and all the women on our block rush out to see what they will have for dinner. Cabbage, onions, potatoes – sometimes tomatoes, oranges or green peas and beans. It all depends on the season and what local farmers have brought to the big warehouses across the bay in New York City. The fish cart will come later, after the fishermen have hauled in their bounty, and there’s still the ragman to look forward to. His cart is always full of treasures – pots and pans, spices, yard goods (what the women use to make the family’s necessaries), sometimes ready-made clothes, toys, and pretty baubles too. The ragman bangs his pots and pans together to let us know he’s arrived. From a small wooden box, he measures out the thyme my grandmother wants for tonight’s fish stew and places it in a tiny cloth bag (“the better to smell, dearie”).

Soon I hear the door click as Grandpa leaves for the day. It’s time to get up and see what Grandma has in store for me. Cinnamon toast for breakfast is always a treat, but bread and butter with sugar is good too. Either one helps to wash down the daily dose of cod liver oil. I get a sprinkle of salt with that awful drink. It helps, but not enough. Grandma is busy cleaning up and plans to make some kitchen curtains today, so I’ll be doing a lot of reading. I love my books. Grandpa takes me to the library to get more every once in a while, but I don’t mind rereading them. Tomorrow grandma and I will make our weekly visit to the City. We’ll walk to the train station, passing that wonderful German bakery with its marvelous smells on the way, drop a nickel in the turn style, then take the train through the tunnel under the Hudson River to the basement of Gimbel’s. I love getting off the train and walking through the big glass doors into that magical department store. I wonder if we’ll go to Macy’s too and if we’ll have lunch at the counter with the big stools. Of course we won’t buy anything. We have no money for that and there’s nothing we need.

Evenings are most always the same. After supper, I sit on grandpa’s lap and listen to the radio – news (Charles Kaltenborn and Lowell Thomas), Fibber McGee and Molly, Jack Benny, The Shadow Knows, Inner Sanctum. Then we read – books, funnies in the newspapers, magazines, anything. I don’t remember learning to read. I just went from listening to reading. Friday nights are different. All the uncles and Aunt Dell come to play cards. Before they arrive, Grandpa pulls out the little copper bucket and he and I walk to the local saloon. I have to wait outside while he goes in and buys beer, enough to fill the bucket. (There couldn’t have been more than a few ounces for each of them, but it was a treat they all enjoyed.)

I wonder if I’ll see mommy and daddy this weekend. They live in a tiny apartment on Long Island. It has a couch, a table and chairs and a Murphy bed. I love to see that when it comes out of its hiding place in the wall and drops down to become a real bed. I know mommy and grandma don’t get along very well and mommy is very tired from working all the time, but they come to stay with us most weekends. Sometimes they both take me to places in New York City and sometimes I spend the day with daddy. He and I usually go to Battery Park and feed the pigeons, but sometimes we go to a museum or the aquarium or even Coney Island. One day they both took me to Radio City Music Hall to see Snow White. That was the first movie I ever saw and it was wonderful. The dancing girls and music before the movie were very fine. Another time they took me to a wonderful restaurant, Stouffer’s. It was elegant, and I loved it. Still another outing was to a German beer hall in Yorkville, a German neighborhood in New York City in the east 60's. It was noisy, but everyone was having such a good time – dancing, singing, drinking great mugs of beer, and eating wurst and sauerkraut. I always like getting all dressed up for our outings, and mother buys me such pretty outfits. I even have a fur coat with matching hat and muff. I wore that outfit on a trip to Oyster Bay, and I still have a picture of it.

In the summer, grandpa, grandma and I spend two weeks at John and Anna Herder’s boarding house in the Catskills. It’s a big white house with lots of rooms. It’s always filled up when we go, and everyone is very friendly. I never see any children though. We eat at a big table and pass food up and down until everyone is filled. Then we walk to the post office or to the swimming hole, a pretty brook with rocks everywhere. I like to dangle my feet, but I’m afraid to get in the water. One summer, when mommy and daddy were visiting us there, she almost drowned because there’s a whirlpool and she can’t swim either. In the afternoons, we go down to the tavern and play the juke box. Grandpa is teaching me to dance the waltz, schottische and polka. He was once a dancing teacher, you know, and he and grandma dance beautifully together. Mother and dad like to rent a cottage with some friends in the summer at Tottenville on Staten Island, just for a week or two, and I stay with them there.

Off to school I go

I can’t wait. I’m excited but a little scared too. I’ve never played with other children, and I don’t know if they’ll like me.

Mother takes me the first day. After talking to the principal, we go to my classroom. It isn’t what I expected! No desks, just long tables and everybody busy cutting up paper and pasting things together. (Even now, 70+ years later, I tell everyone I failed cutting and pasting in kindergarten.) I wanted to learn, read, write stories. Lucky for me, my grandmother takes me to school every day, picks me up at lunch time then takes me back, and grandpa picks me up after school. It gives me the breaks I need from what I consider silly stuff. I started late in the year, then skip first grade, start second grade, then we (mother, dad and I) move to upstate New York. Dad has finally found a job after years of looking throughout the Depression. We arrive in Poughkeepsie in time for Thanksgiving in 1940. It is the first time I've lived with them since I was an infant.

Don't look for me on the 1940 Census, though. I remember when the enumerator came to our apartment in April 1940. I was seven years old and it was an event to have company. He must have been very drunk or otherwise incapacitated because the errors this man made are inexcusable. He misspelled my grandfather's name, entered him as age 40 instead of 71, changed my grandmother's name to Pauline (the name of our downstairs neighbor) and her age to 38 instead of 65. He added a mythical son Howard age 14 and omitted me entirely. He did get the correct address and the downstairs neighbor, which is how I finally found my family. But I digress.

Mother had been born in nearby Hyde Park (but adopted by a distant relative in New Jersey when her mother died), and she begins to look up family members. Now that we have a car for the first time, we can visit her Aunt Ruth who lives on a farm near Bridgeport, Connecticut. I decide very quickly that farm life is not for me. They had an outhouse and no modern facilities the first time we visited. By the second visit, they had installed an indoor bathroom and a pump in the kitchen sink so things are looking up. I do not like being hugged and kissed by my Uncle who has a big wet mustache, and I hate the pig pen and gathering eggs. The dogs nip at me and chase me all over. I am a city girl!

We go across the river to visit my parents’ good friends, Harriet and Emmet Ebersole. Harriet’s sister lives in Esopus. One time, we had Sunday dinner at Father Devine’s mission. People came from all over to feast at groaning tables filled with fried chicken, dumplings, greens and iced tea.

My sister Marilyn is born in May of 1941. Now I know why the pressure was on for us to live together as a family, but I'm not sure I'm happy about this new addition. After all, I’ve been an only child for almost nine years, doted on by my grandparents, and still adjusting to my new life. We would move twice more before settling into a wonderful old house in Hyde Park in the fall of 1941. The house belonged to the Vanderbilt estate and we bought it from the retired estate manager, Mr. Sherow, who lived in a gorgeous brick home next door. Our house had a big wood stove in the kitchen, a wood and coal furnace in the cellar and cold bedrooms upstairs. We would waken, grab our clothes and run downstairs to the kitchen to dress by the stove.

But major change looms

I remember, oh so clearly, December 7th, 1941. We were visiting my grandparents in Jersey City for an early Christmas with them and had just settled down in the living room after Sunday dinner. The radio, which had been a low buzz in the background, suddenly came to life with an emergency announcement. Pearl Harbor had been bombed, our country was under attack by Japan. No one knew where Pearl Harbor was and it was some time before they told us, but the tension in that living room was something to behold. We drove home, almost silently. Of course I did not understand the implications, but I knew it was a very worrisome event. Indeed, life was about to change, again. 

I had just begun another new school and was adjusting to it when suddenly, everything and everyone was in wartime mode. We had all kinds of patriotic activities at school. We faced rationing and scrap drives, we learned to do without. There would be no more car trips. We had blackout curtains at the windows, lights out early, bombing drills in school and church, soldiers everywhere (this was, after all, the home of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt). Newsreels became more important and more memorable than the movies we saw. We had wardens pacing the streets in every neighborhood, checking for infractions that could attract the enemy. There were stories of infiltration by submarine, of Japanese and German immigrants being rounded up and interned for the duration. Every young man or boy who was physically able was off to war, many giving up good jobs or dreams of college. Factories converted production to wartime essentials. IBM’’s business machines and fledgling computers were laid aside as it geared up to make munitions; auto parts were replaced with airplane and tank parts; men’s and women’s garment production became military uniforms. Even food was packaged and made available for military uses before domestic. Every family had a “victory garden” if at all possible; apartment dwellers grew food in flower pots; local communities made unused public spaces available for food growing. It wasn’t long before my parents joined the growing numbers of families that set aside rooms in their home for soldiers and their wives. Hyde Park was a veritable fortress with sentries along the main road and constant monitoring.

Everyone joined the war effort. We saved string, tin cans, foil from gum and cigarette packages, we used and reused clothing, making it over from long dresses to short dresses, skirts and blouses, finally turning it into children's and baby clothes. Shoes were cared for, gluing and regluing soles, padding them with cotton and paper, stretching them when we could, trading them for others when we couldn't. There was a constant round of bond drives, clothing drives, canned food drives. We rolled the tinfoil from cigarette packs and candy bars into balls for aluminum drives. Plastic hadn't been invented yet, but we certainly did recycle everything.

Schools were a flurry of activity, always helping to support the war effort. Movies were accompanied by newsreels, a major source of wartime news, even though it was weeks and months old by the time it got to us. The radio waves and newspapers were full of casualty lists and mostly dire news, but music was also an important part of our lives in that era. Dances were held in the local Grange Hall, and buses ran between Poughkeepsie and West Point so the older girls and young women could attend dances there. It was part of the USO activity.

The war ends

Finally the war was over. The change was palpable. No more blackouts, no more sentries, no more rationing. The couples who had come to be part of our lives as they lived in our homes all left to return to theirs. But still the change was somewhat tentative. We weren't sure just how much freedom we dared enjoy. As the hordes of soldiers returned home, we were overwhelmed. All through the war, we had lived at such a frenetic pace and now all those activities went away. Life was returning to normal, but what was normal? The Cold War had begun and fear of nuclear attacks was almost as serious as World War II had been. For me, life continued to be full. Now I watched for enemy aircraft from the local church bell tower and learned about bomb shelters and radiation sickness. I also took up a stream of high school activities – newspaper, debate club, acting in plays, singing in the chorus and church choir, holding offices, even organizing a United Nations club. I always worked, too, babysitting or as a waitress at the local coffee shop and the Vanderbilt Inn. Meanwhile, my grandparents from New Jersey moved in with us and my other grandfather (mother’s dad) arrived soon after. Again, we had a full house. Grandpa and grandma Muller stayed pretty much in the tiny apartment we had added to the house by converting a sun porch. Grandpa Coons was a huge presence. A handsome man with ruddy complexion, a gorgeous head of white hair, a warm and loving heart… and a wooden leg, he kept busy. Most of all, he was a big help to mother. He wasn’t a cook, but he prepared vegetables, baby sat my sisters and brother, kept a garden and tended the house while mother worked wherever she could to help keep us afloat. Dad’s income never was enough, although he worked long hours.

Adulthood comes quickly

When high school was over, I answered ads in the New York papers and landed a job as a comptometer operator with GMAC. We processed incoming checks as car and other loan payments. At night I took classes at Columbia University. A car accident on a weekend visit home ended that, and I found a job near home. One day, as I got off the bus after work, my mother and sisters were waiting for me. Mother explained I'd had a phone call from Mrs. Roosevelt's secretary who wanted me to come for an interview that evening. I must have been really cheeky to accept that job offer! I was just 18, had no secretarial skills (because I always planned to go to college) and not even one semester of college, and I was to be a secretary to the most extraordinary woman on the planet. Malvina Thompson, Mrs. Roosevelt's long-time secretary, was ill and needed help. She died a few months later, but I will never forget her. She taught me so much and prepared me to handle her duties so that I was reasonably efficient and made fewer blunders than I would have without her guidance. The correspondence was voluminous. A giant mailbag was delivered by the post office everyday, most addressed to her Hyde Park home. There was another secretary, too. Maureen Corr was a professional and held down the New York City office while I worked primarily in Hyde Park. Mrs. Roosevelt had a home in both places, and Maureen and I often exchanged places. We also took turns traveling with Mrs. Roosevelt on her many lecture tours and trips abroad. Since Mrs. R. was then the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, she led a very busy life and we were very much a part of it. She entertained a great deal, in addition to writing books and her daily column, My Day, traveling, attending meetings, and working on matters of great international import, and Maureen and I often assisted. It was not uncommon for us to meet with heads of state, ambassadors, senators and others. We worked very hard on Adlai Stevenson's campaign for president.

I remember one day teaching the children of all the workers at Val-Kill, Mrs. Roosevelt's home in Hyde Park, to curtsey and bow because the Queen Mother of England was coming for a visit. But I didn't hear her entourage arrive and, when Mrs. Roosevelt brought this lovely lady into my office to meet me, I extended my hand, never thinking it was the the lady herself. This was just one of several embarrassing moments which I will not relate here. It's taken me many years to forget them.

When Stevenson lost to President Eisenhower, Mrs. Roosevelt was replaced as Ambassador to the UN. This did not slow her down. She simply substituted some of that work with more research and travel resulting in more books and an even busier lecture schedule. And the correspondence continued. Everyone looked to her as a kind of savior, one who could understand their problems and perhaps even help solve them. I was so proud to play a role in that effort.

The end of an era

After almost four years working with Mrs. R., it was time for me to move on to something else. I had tried to take some courses at Bard College while I worked for Mrs. R. but there was simply too much travel and too much work to allow it. I had a series of jobs, starting with assistant editor at the Interamerican News Bureau and Business Journal, office manager for the ILGWU, and secretary to the college president at New Paltz State. I took an editorial job that was advertised and turned out to be with the IBM Journal of Research and Development, which was just launching its first issue. The job moved to company headquarters, but I was about to be married and could not move, so I left IBM and became a travel agent.

The love of my life

His middle name was Andrews, but it could have been Adversity. His father died when he was an infant, and he did not even appear in his father's obituary. He was sent with his 4-year-old sister to a children's home in Urbana, Illinois while the three oldest children remained with their mother. His earliest memories were of being locked in a closet for many hours, of having the only teddy bear he ever owned taken from him, of constant beatings and never enough food. He first ran away at the age of 8, but was found and returned to a different institution in Utica, New York. Stronger and wiser at age 12, he ran away again and this time evaded being caught. He rode the freight trains, lived with prostitutes, followed the crops, worked as a gandy dancer, a cook, a shill in Las Vegas, a parking lot attendant in New York City (where he learned to drive!). For a time he followed the horses across country and knew the finer things of life, but he also had his shoes stolen while wearing a tuxedo and sleeping on a park bench in New York City.

He reunited with his family when he was about 18 and settled down in Poughkeepsie, NY, working as an attendant in the Hudson River State Hospital, a mental institution. His older brother Dale Gordon and his sister Jessie were both registered nurses, and he bonded with them. Other members of the family remained aloof, although his mother lived with Jessie for a time. He joined the Masons with his brother and reached 32nd Degree and Scottish Rite.

The day after Pearl Harbor, he was at the recruiting station. Strong and fit (he was in training to become a professional boxer), he was quickly accepted and shipped off for basic training. His first assignment was as a radio operator, but this was entirely too tame for him. He pleaded with the Army to reassign him and faked ear problems until a doctor finally recognized his real problem and had him transferred to the 101st Parachute Division.

Bill survived D-Day, but barely. For three days after being dropped into France, he was alone (all the men in his unit had been killed immediately) and fought off Germans, even succeeding in taking out at least one machine gun nest before being hit with a potato masher grenade. When medics found him and transported him back to England, he was nearly dead. One man aboard ship comforted him. Bill would remember that medic until his own death many years later. He had cauliflower ears and a nose that had been broken many times in barroom brawls, but he was the gentlest and kindest soul Bill had ever met. He was finally discharged in August 1945 after spending 14 months in a full body cast in various hospitals. He was told he would never walk again, but he persevered and he danced at our wedding in 1958.

First impressions

What beautiful hands this man had! They were strong, clean, perfectly formed, like Michelangelo’s David. He had a pleasant laugh, an easy camaraderie with friends and acquaintances. When he spoke, he seemed to know what he was talking about, it was not just to hear himself. He had an air of confidence but not bravado. I soon learned that this person was well-read, thoughtful, intelligent and an interesting conversationalist. His grammar was abominable, but his store of common sense was endless, and his strength of character never wavered. There was no hypocrisy here, and he never spoke ill of anyone. For the first time in my life, I wanted the feeling of safety that his arms seemed to offer.  Then, one day, his smile lit up the car we were driving in, but it was aimed directly at me, and I dissolved. That smile held all the promises of a lifetime, and I had no defenses left. We were married less than six months after we met. 

Our life together

We lived modestly but enjoyed each other's company and had some good times. We were able to travel quite a bit and, overall, had a good life. Bill was not perfect, certainly; neither was I. He had a temper that erupted occasionally in a roar that terrified everyone around him, but it lasted for just a few moments. He would walk away and return five minutes later, in full control. (Interestingly, his father’s college yearbook noted Lloyd’s tendency to roar, surely a family trait.)

Soon after we were married, Bill decided it was time for him to go back to school. He mentioned it one weekend, signed up that Monday for the High School Equivalency Test, took the test the following week and passed it with flying colors. The next day he registered for classes at the local community college. What do you suppose he chose? Chemistry and Math, having had no high school at all! It was a struggle, but he made it through both classes. We signed up together for more classes the following semester, and we were both off to a good start. But life kept getting in the way. By now I was back at IBM, our education was sporadic at best, and then our daughter Adria was born. Bill was an excellent father and loved her dearly, but now he was inspired to really get serious about his education. He was a father, after all. He investigated the requirements for a nursing program, took the prerequisite courses and signed up to become a nurse. Hudson River State Hospital, where he had worked before and after the war, offered a nursing program that was highly regarded. Bill applied and was accepted. It was a 3-year program that required a huge investment of time and energy, but he completed it with high marks.

Meanwhile, our home life was running quite smoothly. Soon after Adria was born, we bought a wonderful old home that had been built in 1750. It was my dream home, but it took every waking moment and spare dollar to maintain. To me, it was worth all the sacrifices. We were fortunate to find a warm, loving lady to move in and care for Adria while we were at work. She was our Lala, and we could not have survived those early years without her. I was working long hours and many weekends as IBM pushed to release System/360, an exciting innovation in computing that would spawn all other computer innovations even to today. I also began study in one of the early remote college programs at Syracuse University. Bill was focused on school, raising sheep, and managing all the myriad details of keeping our mini-farm and home running. When he graduated and obtained his nursing license, he was hired immediately as a registered nurse to oversee a building at Willowbrook, a state facility for the profoundly retarded in Staten Island.

This meant selling our wonderful old home in Millbrook, NY, uprooting our daughter from school, family and friends, and moving to Staten Island. I easily found a job within IBM with the New York Finance Office on Wall Street. It was my turn to invest all the time and energy I could muster in training to become a systems engineer/analyst and a finance specialist in order to be successful on the New York Stock Exchange team. Those years were particularly enjoyable and rewarding for me. Computing was still in its infancy in the public world, that is, outside government agencies, the military and the largest companies, and the world was my oyster. With IBM's superb training and brokerage training at the New York Institute of Finance behind me, I quickly became an expert. And I was living and working in my beloved New York City.

At the same time, Bill was getting his Bachelor's degree at Richmond College in Staten Island and I was continuing work on my Bachelor's at Syracuse. (I finally completed that in 1979. Bill completed his Bachelor's degree, then his Master's, even though that meant commuting from Atlanta. I later studied in the Executive MBA program at Georgia State in Atlanta.)

Adria settled in to semi-city life on Staten Island. We found a high schooler (the niece of a co-worker of mine at IBM) who lived nearby to stay with Adria after school until Bill or I got home, and that worked well. We were so fortunate that Adria was an easy going child and quite self sufficient. She was able to cope with some extraordinary living conditions, including a basement that overflowed every time it rained. This seemed  to be a nonevent for those who’d lived on the island for many years, but for us it was really unpleasant. We had some wonderful neighbors, and Adria enjoyed being able to walk to the corner and buy herself a meatball sandwich, made to order by an authentic Italian family according to their traditions. I remember one time she wanted a real baby playpen for her dolls. She rarely asked for anything but this was important to her. Bill and I could not take the time to get it for her and so we let her take the city bus all by herself to a neighborhood Kmart. She struggled to get that oversize playpen on the bus and home, but the experience was worthwhile. How sad that children are deprived of these forays into independence these days, thanks to sick and depraved individuals. (I remember even now the first time I was allowed to take a bus to go shopping for a skirt. It was a very significant milestone in my life.)

But dark clouds loomed

Bill's work situation deteriorated quickly. When he first arrived, he was given full reign to manage his building and its employees. Two years later, when new management took over the institution, he was forced to hire and retain employees who were not up to the demands of working with patients who, even at age 21, looked like infants, still curled into the fetal position never having outgrown it. They were totally dependent, unable to feed, dress or care for themselves, not even able to turn over or speak. They had no discernible mental capacity. As a caring human being and professional care giver, Bill had a near nervous breakdown. (The institution would eventually be closed as its scandalous mismanagement became a public disgrace.) The best solution at the time appeared to be for me to accept a job I had been offered by IBM in Atlanta. This would get Bill away from an impossible situation.

We move to Georgia

When I accepted the job in Atlanta in 1974, it was with a brand new division that was focusing on small businesses and their potential use of computers. This was a good fit to the work I'd been doing with small brokerage firms on Wall Street, and I looked forward to the new challenges. But I had to give up the personal interaction and huge satisfaction that came with working directly with customers.  The transition was not easy for many reasons. 

We were far from home and family, and we floundered about in a strange city that never quite seemed like home. Even the IBM culture was different from what I had known in New York. We finally found a home and a good school for Adria, but Bill was not happy with life in a Marietta subdivision. As a male nurse, he was viewed with suspicion when he applied for work and never did find a place where his unique combination of skills and talents was appreciated and applied effectively. But he was also growing older and his very significant war injuries were taking their toll. We bought a farm in Covington, something he'd always wanted, and moved Adria to a private school in the area. She was nothing if not adaptable, bless her heart. This move also added to my commute time, of course, which shortened my time at home even more. My job was always stressful and required a great deal of travel and long hours. It was Adria Bill turned to for help and companionship.

A series of illnesses made Bill more feeble, and he finally had to give up driving, which presented a whole new set of issues. By now, Adria was in college, but her help during those years was invaluable. Relief came when IBM offered an early retirement package that I could not refuse. It was truly a blessing. Bill and I had a full year and a half together, uninterrupted by the demands of work, and we were able to enjoy our first grandchild before he died at 71 in 1991.

Alone time

The years since Bill's death have been filled with grandchildren and now a great grandchild growing up, travel, various volunteer projects such as Tax-Aide, and, most of all, my wonderful loving and loveable daughter Adria. But let's not forget genealogy. Starting with a mild curiosity about Bill's family background (since he had grown up as an orphan), it soon became an obsession and continues so to this day. When DNA testing first became a viable tool, I was an early adopter. A self-styled family genealogist, I qualify as a genetic genealogist as well and keep very busy managing projects and staying abreast of developments in this rapidly changing field.

It would have been nice to have Bill with me all these years since his death. He would have been surprised and very interested to learn about his own family history, which still has questions despite my diligent research. But I've never been one to dwell on “could-a, should-a, if only.” Today is a gift, and that's why it's called the present, as one wag put it years ago. Let us enjoy it.

 

12/2019 Why did America fail?

This is the question thinkers will be asking for the rest of this century. Our 400-year-old experiment just couldn’t sustain itself. Was it because life became too good? The people became fat, oversatisfied, greedy? Were we too weak to keep fighting for a better world, a more just civilization? We knew our democracy was fragile from the start. We were warned it would take careful tending and grooming, but we let selfishness and hate destroy its foundation. Someone once said a free press is the most important protection the people have. We’ve allowed evil forces to attack and weaken this fortress, and it can no longer protect us from the lies and bitterness that have consumed our basic values. Just as the German people were led by an unprincipled but charismatic Hitler, so are the American people now led by a childish, amoral, ignorant bully, intent on becoming a dictator as he takes advice and counsel from anti-west tyrants he admires while destroying the values we once cherished. Where are the leaders of yesterday, those with the courage and conviction to lead? Is this “our most shameful hour”? Is it too late?

 

March 2020 Two Presidents in Crisis

Early in January of 2020, the world began to hear of a mysterious flu-like disease with unusual and threatening properties. It was attacking the people of Wuhan, China with a ferociousness not seen since the Spanish flu of 1918. Cruelly, it was highly contagious, striking especially those with weakened immune systems or with lung and breathing problems. But it didn’t stop there. Even young and healthy people often carried the disease and transmitted it to all they touched while sometimes having no symptoms themselves. The young doctor who first detected it in Wuhan was at first vilified and ridiculed, but then people were dying at an alarming rate. The doctor himself succumbed and the Chinese government sprung into action and finally sounded the alarm. 

They should be credited with mounting a major offense. They tested and tracked every sick person to find and test all the people he may have infected; they closed schools, airports, businesses where people gathered in large numbers, they enforced strict home isolation, but it was too late. The disease had traveled far and wide. We could sit at home and watch the waves of infection on TV as it traveled around the world. We began to anticipate how long it would take to get to its next destination, how long it would be until what started as a cruise ship placed in quarantine because of one infected passenger would eventually lead to hundreds of sick passengers and crew who had infected each other and spread the disease to California and Washington state. It did not take long to spread to every state in the union, as reported in March, when New York became the epicenter with the highest number of cases.

Throughout this time, barely three months since the first occurrence, governments around the world met the onslaught with a cacophony of strategies. This was the tragedy. Some displayed strength and action, some weakness and inertia. Oddly, the United States was the most negligent. The country had fully two months to prepare and yet it did nothing beyond closing its borders to Chinese passengers. Even worse, the president persuaded vast numbers of Americans that it was a hoax, so they too did nothing. As a senior citizen of this great country, I was appalled. Instead of leading the war against this disease, just as we had led the world throughout the 20th century in so many battles, here we could only watch our petulant, child-like, incompetent, ineffective, self-absorbed president ignore the problem until it was much too late, then mount a feeble defense led by all the inexperienced and inept -- but slavishly loyal and fawning -- members of the White House staff and cabinet and with the inexplicable permissiveness of Republicans in Congress. This president particularly dislikes and distrusts experts.

A few governors, notably those in New York and Washington state, assumed the mantle of true leadership. The president was perfectly happy to let them, but he gleefully confounded their efforts at every turn. As he said, “they were not nice to me.” While they tried desperately to persuade him to use the war-time powers he had, he declared a national emergency but refused to enforce it. That would have required companies to work overtime and even convert their factories in order to equip medical personnel and hospitals to deal with the deluge of Covid-19. He strives always for the adoration of business leaders. In the face of dire shortages, he does not dare to offend them. That masses of people will die because of his lack of leadership is an acceptable alternative. 

I view this president, and all presidents, with a lens created in the early 1940s by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. A true leader, he earned that title with masterful action throughout the Great Depression and World War II. His focus was always the people, and this sometimes offended those who did not share his philosophy. Then, as now, there were leaders who put economic considerations and wealth first. He knew then that it is the people who drive the economy, a lesson still not learned by Republicans. It was a miracle that he was able to pass Social Security, the first true people-focused benefit in America. But as powerful as this achievement was, it paled by comparison with his performance when World War II invaded our complacency and isolationist beliefs. He was remarkably successful in forcing factories to manufacture needed goods, rationing consumer goods, enlisting soldiers, sailors and airmen and motivating the public to buy government savings bonds, recycle everything usable and participate in civil defense. He made it possible for us to win the war.

A major advantage FDR had over our current president was his upbringing. He was raised in an era when it was fashionable for the wealthy to care about common people. Almost all of them had causes on which they spent generously: Carnegie wanted to raise the literacy rate and founded the public library system in the country; Rockefeller contributed hugely to medicine, science and higher education; Ford, although tainted with racism and support of Naziism, left a legacy of improved inner-city conditions, support for the arts and the founding of public broadcasting. While not nearly as wealthy, his own uncle, Theodore Roosevelt, developed the national parks system as president. Altruism and philanthropy were valued in America from its earliest days. FDR was naturally empathetic, and his wife, a distant cousin, was actively engaged in improving the public condition her entire adult life. 

With this as a background and a solid classical education, he was perfectly suited for leadership. He used all the skills he could muster to persuade, cajole, coax, flatter, maneuver, wheedle and force if necessary to achieve his aims. He understood the value of expertise and surrounded himself with the greatest minds to accomplish the greatest good and to apply their wisdom to his own decision making. He relied heavily on their advice. He won two wars, the depression and the greatest war our planet has ever faced. This president, by contrast, values adulation and approval of his own ideas, no matter how poorly thought out, absurd, incoherent and even dangerous they might be. No wonder most of his competent advisers left his administration long ago. He is left with sycophants. Never altrustic or even kind, fearful of competence and expertise, he is the antithesis of all that America stands for and is intent on destroying our values and substituting his own. There is little doubt he will be seen as the worst president in our history. 

 

September 2020 Democracy or Authoritarianism

I’ve had an epiphany, inspired by a book I haven’t read yet. 

I see now that America is not the one nation, under God, indivisible, that we’ve told ourselves. We may be one nation, but we are two distinct peoples. One camp is composed of those who value change and what we perceive as growth toward an ever improving civilization. We will never be satisfied until we reach the ultimate goal of equal opportunity for all and a society that reflects the Golden Rule. The other camp comprises those who dislike change and prefer having strong leadership that will maintain the status quo -- not make waves, prioritize me. The first fights for democracy, the second chooses authoritarianism if not fascism. The stage is set for civil war or worse.