Sunday, May 20, 2018

52 Ancestors - #20 - Why I Chose to Study German

This week's prompt for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge is "Another Language." Continuing with my theme this year - telling the stories of my generation - I've decided to share why I chose German as the foreign language I would study in school.

My mother came to this country from Vienna, Austria, with her mom and grandmother in 1938. Her father arrived a year later after being released from the Buchenwald concentration camp. (Read about his story here.)

While my mother almost never spoke German, my grandmother often did. Mom would occasionally respond in her mother-tongue, but most frequently used English. Because of that, it was clear that the conversations centered on us kids. What in the world were they saying? I really wanted to know.

The solution to my dilemma appeared when I entered junior high school. I needed to choose a foreign language to study. There was no question - German, of course!

Our hometown, Hamden, Connecticut had two junior high schools. The one in our end of town was Sleeping Giant Junior High School. Thanks to the baby boomers, the school was quite crowded. German apparently didn't hold the allure of the "romance" languages, so enrollment was fairly small. Perhaps that is why our class, taught by Mr. Willems, was held in what was probably a former broom closet.

I don't remember much from those three years. Sorry, Mr. Willems! In truth, I remember exactly one thing he said. Responding to a student who asked, "Can I go to the bathroom?", Mr. Willems replied, "How should I know? I'm not a urologist."

I do remember the first lines of the DLM dialogue we practiced.

"Guten Tag, Luisa. Wie Geht's?" (Hello, Luisa, how are you?)
"Danke, gut!" (Good, thank you!)
"Prima!" (Fine!)

I continued my study of German in high school. Again, not being a course in high demand, there was only one teacher assigned. I had the pleasure of being Gertraud Karacsonyi's student for three years.

1972 HHS Yearbook - The Venture
Left: Mrs. Karacsonyi  Right: French teacher Mr. Boisvert

I'm not sure exactly what Mrs. Karacsonyi meant by the comment she wrote in my yearbook. I really hated the expression, "Good things come in small packages." (When you're 4'9" you get that a lot!) So, I understand why she chose to write about that. However, she wrote, "Kelso is wrong, not all good packages are small..." Jim Kelso was our "class clown." I guess this topic must have come up during class one day. But, what did she mean? Some good packages are big? (Like Kelso?) Some small packages are bad? Confusing!

I really loved that class. It was the high point of my day. I got to rub elbows with the "smart kids." Many of the students taking German were in the top percentile of our class. Considering there were some 700 students in the Class of '72, that was pretty cool.

Perhaps being with those students encouraged me to do better in school. I didn't get terrible grades, but I really didn't work very hard. (In fact, my first 4th-grade teacher, Mrs. Katzman, said I "wasted time" and "wasn't working up to  potential." My mother got me switched out of her class for the second half of the year, so something was definitely going on there!!)

By the time I graduated high school, I was a much better student. I completed my Master's degree with a 4.0! So there, Mrs. Katzman! Oh. Wait. Maybe I hadn't worked up to my potential in 4th grade... okay... I'll give you that one.

Being together in the same class for a few years allowed us to become a pretty tight group.  In 1971, we tried to arrange a trip to Germany. We were prepared to raise the funds ourselves, but the Board of Education refused to give permission.

Hamden Chronicle - January 7, 1971
I like how I trimmed the article following the shape of a town landmark - the Sleeping Giant Mountain!

We never made it to the actual country of Germany, but our class did take a great field trip in 1970 to Yorkville, otherwise known as "Little Germany", a neighborhood in the Eastside of Manhattan. On that trip, I purchased a copy of Der Struwelpeter, a book of cautionary tales for children. My mother told us she had been read those as a child in Vienna, so I was thrilled to get my own copy. If you think the fairy tales we were raised on were gruesome, try going to sleep after being read a story about a little girl who played with matches then burned to death with nothing left of her except her scarlet shoes floating in a puddle formed by the tears of her beloved cats.

The story of Struwelpeter - in German
The story of Struwelpeter - in English

While I did enjoy learning the language, it turned out my plan was not the best. Apparently, the German taught in school was not the same dialect as that spoken in Vienna. Also, spoken language is a lot tougher to comprehend than written language. So, many of the "secrets" shared aloud between my mother and grandmother went over my head. (Pun intended!)

My grandmother passed in October of 1972, my senior year. After her death, my German languished until I found a need to resurrect my skills. Having an understanding of basic German would be invaluable in translating the many documents handed down to me. Google translate can do a lot, but there are often nuances in a language that don't get picked up correctly.

Letters written by my grandfather while imprisoned in
Dachau and Buchenwald await my translation.
This summer my husband and I are joining my sister and her partner on a river cruise from Amsterdam to Vienna. I have been trying to improve my skills by taking a German language course on Mango Languages - offered free through our library. Today, oddly enough (is this a sign?) I read about a German Conversation Club that meets monthly in the North Haven Library. Wish I had known about that sooner!

Auf Wiedersehen!

Sunday, May 13, 2018

52 Ancestors - #19 - Mother's Day

Mother's Day is a time for children to show their moms how much they are loved. I'm pretty sure that was the motivation behind this "lovely" masterpiece I gave to my mother. And moms show their love by displaying these masterpieces as if they were the Mona Lisa - no matter how sad the artwork is. OK - maybe not in a museum, but displayed, nevertheless. That must be why my mother had this framed expression of my love for her hanging in her home for over 40 years!

I'm not sure when I created this masterpiece,
but I'm figuring somewhere in the mid-1960s.

For this week's 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge, I will be documenting some of my own Mother's Days memories.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

52 Ancestors - #18 - Close Up on Miniatures - And How to Save Hundreds of $$$ on a LightBox!

I love it when my "worlds" collide! This week's blog prompt for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge has provided me the perfect opportunity to combine my two favorite hobbies: Genealogy and Dollhouse Miniatures. In this post, we take a "close up" look at some my favorite pieces. I'll also show you how to create a lightbox using stuff you probably have around the house!

Sunday, April 29, 2018

52 Ancestors - #17 - Another Name Not on the Wall - Gilbert Goodgion

Gilbert “Gerry” Goodgion passed away on August 29, 1991, just a few months short of his 48th birthday. Gerry (pronounced “Gary”) was an officer in the Navy, serving two tours in Vietnam and retiring from the Naval Reserve as a commander. Exposure to the chemicals used during the Vietnam War may have been a major factor in causing the cancer that ended his life.

Above and right: Source: 


Gerry’s physical burial place is the cemetery in Cuba, New York along with his grandparents and several other members of the Setchel and Ackerly families. But, a more fitting memorial was the one left by his brother, John at the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The framed poem and boots were left at the Wall by Gerry’s brother, John Holman. John, another Vietnam War veteran, succumbed to his cancer on June 22, 2013.
The poem, written by John reads:

(Commander Gilbert Goodgion, USNR June 1943 -- August 1991)

You gave all that we needed ...exactly when we needed it most.
It was not easy joining our unit.
The older ones were gone...on their own missions.
It was up to you to lead in your quiet way.
We younger ones resisted the changes you brought.
But you fought...fiercely....
for your Mom and all the rest...
Your best was all you had to give.

You gave.
And we grew beside you.
Taking some of the strength we needed for our own survival
from your solid, stoic silences.

Your sense of battle was always enigmatic.
The fights fought were ferocious,
but squarely centered on the right -- and the wrong.
You engaged the enemy enraged
with a passion for peace.

Your sense of decency
demanded that your fighting, flying fists
beat down doors,
pounded on walls and important desks,
but not on people.

You came home and fought for kids, like your own,
who only needed some hard love and gentle hands to excel.
And you came home and fought for your brothers
and their families deformed and
dying from an Agent (orange)
evil and insidious enough to stalk
them long after DEROS.
Nobody else would.
You did.
And you died.
Shot in the head by the bullet you were out to bite.
"Friendly fire to the max.

You belong on this Wall, Sir.
You join far too many others not here.
You're not on the Wall --- but we read between the lines.
Here are your boots,
As promised....

Welcome Home.

Monday, April 23, 2018

52 Weeks - #16 Storms - The 1989 Hamden Tornado

Monday, July 10, 1989, was just another summer day. After I finished my day teaching summer school, I picked up our daughter Caitlin from her grandmother’s house. Cait and I headed home, a 6 ½ minute ride. Once home, I noticed the wind was picking up and the sky was clouding over. It was about 3 p.m. and I wasn’t looking forward to entertaining Caitlin during the long afternoon hours. Being 8 months pregnant during the humid Connecticut summer definitely was an “energy-sucker.”

“Let’s go to Tommy K’s and get a video.” I called my mother just to let her know we were heading out for a while. To my surprise, she discouraged the idea. “The sky doesn’t look right. I think there’s going to be a bad storm.” Hamden is an interesting town weather-wise. It could rain at my mom’s but at our home, just a few minutes south, we could remain dry. I looked to the north. It did look a bit ominous. So, we stayed home. 

Within a few minutes, the wind picked up and the rain began. I didn’t know at the time, but the temperature had dropped 10 degrees in less than two hours. What was that noise? Hail was pelting our house. I ran upstairs to close the bedroom window. This required carefully balancing myself and my 8-month pregnant belly on top of our king-size waterbed. Not an easy task!

I looked out the window. The sky was an eerie green color. I had never seen anything like it. For some reason, I felt we shouldn’t be near the windows. “Cait, come sit on the stairs with me. We’ll read some books.” 4 ½-year-old Caitlin was happy to oblige. The two of us spent the next 15 minutes or so reading while all hell was breaking loose around us. Then it got quiet.

I opened the kitchen door and looked outside. The slide from Caitlin’s swing set, twisted and mangled, was jammed into the two-foot space between our bushes. “I think something happened here.”

Backyard after the tornado. You can see the mangled swing set in the back corner.

I couldn't resist including this photo. The phone cracks me up!
Cait is a little too fashionable in comparison to the condition of the yard and her very pregnant (and barefoot) mom!
I turned on the TV. The news was reporting a bad storm quickly moving south through our area. And something about wind shear. Power was out down our street, but our house, which is on a corner was connected to the power on the main road. Unlike our neighbors, we still had power and phone service. Trees were down throughout our area and many roads were closed. I called Scott at the local bar. (No cell phone in those days!)   “Stay there.” It would be the only time he ever heard those words! “You probably won’t be able to get around the roads for a while.”

Something indeed had happened. A very rare occurrence, only happening once before in Connecticut.[1] It would be weeks before the National Weather Service officially declared the “heavy thunderstorm” to be an F4 tornado.

We were lucky.  Besides the swing set, our only damage was a cracked window. A few weeks earlier, Scott had decided to spend a small fortune having the diseased tree in our front yard removed. At the time I questioned the need. There was no questioning the wisdom of that decision now. Had that tree been still standing, it likely would have crashed down on our house.

I can't even imagine what might have happened if this huge tree was still standing on the day of the tornado.

Despite living in our home for over 3 years, we barely knew the people living on our street. The morning after the tornado we shared our freshly made coffee along with tales from the day before. With the sound of chainsaws in the background (a sound we would hear for days to come) we finally met our neighbors.

Above and below: The Aftermath

Granted, this storm may not seem like much to those living in "Tornado Alley," but for those of us who had never experienced a tornado, it was pretty frightening. Even though it's been nearly 30 years, I watch the sky more closely during summer storms, hoping never to see that greenish cast again.

For more information on the Hamden Tornado see:

This is the 16th post for Amy Johnson Crow's 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge. This year I am focusing on chronicling my own generation.


Saturday, April 14, 2018

52 Weeks - #15 Taxes

My memory is seriously failing me. Last week, I realized I had “misremembered” the origin of the punch-needle rugs my mother made in the mid-1960s. This week, I was all set to write my post on the topic of “taxes.” It would be an easy write -  I had all of my tax returns since 1971 when I took a part-time job at Morton’s Pharmacy in Hamden, CT. I went to the first file cabinet and opened the drawers.  2017… 2016… 2000…  I headed down to the basement where I kept older documents. 1990… 1985… 1984… what??? I’m missing an entire decade of documents? How can that be? I don’t throw anything out!! Impossible – I must have just misplaced the files. I saw in my mind a thin file marked “Important Documents.” 

Yes! I vaguely remembered a “cleansing” some time ago when I did get rid of a lot of ephemera. I must have placed the old returns in that file.

My antique file cabinet.
Hope the IRS doesn't audit me! 
What a great opportunity– I could kill two birds with one stone – While looking for the missing folder I would clear out excess paper from the old tax files and then reorganize my multiple file drawers into one. After several days of shredding (eight shredders-full!), I had a beautifully organized file drawer but no “Important Correspondence” folder. (See picture left: I'd show you how organized the drawer is, but that's as far as it opens now unless I really give a good strong yank which I'm too tired to do tonight!)

I can’t tell the tale I wanted to, but I do have two tax return stories to share. (Full disclosure: this is the way I remember it – so, at this point, who knows what the truth really is!!) 

Blood, (but no) Sweat and Tears:
I was perhaps a tad too zealous sealing the envelope one year and somehow gave myself a papercut. Yup! Bled on the back of the envelope containing my tax return. Pretty appropriate I’d say!

My First Return:
I don’t remember how old I was, but I must have been at least 18. It was my first return. I filled out the paper about my earnings. I consulted the chart to see what my income tax was. I owed $5.00. Having no idea of how to actually go about paying the tax, and for some reason, too proud (Stubborn? Stupid?) to ask for help, I figured I had to write a check and send it in. So, I did. And the check bounced. Turns out, I didn’t even have to send a check – that $5.00 was what would be deducted from the amount I would be refunded.

Oh, how I wish I could find that file!!!'

Note: The last two weeks are a good example of why I participate in the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks blog challenge. Especially this year when I am concentrating on telling the stories of my generation. Each week, I am able to reach deep into the dark (and certainly cobwebby) recesses of my mind and clarify my memory of specific events. While the truth may be less entertaining than the memory, it IS the truth. After reading Amy Johnson Crow’s recent post on “The Historians versus the Genealogists. Really?”, I feel even more strongly that sharing our stories is important. As Amy stated: “Genealogy now is about making connections to the past — all of it. When we make those connections, we not only understand our families better, we understand history better. We also come to know our current world better. Genealogists, like historians, look at the past and say, "This matters." 

Sunday, April 8, 2018

52 Weeks - #14 "Made an Aunt" Lydia Punch Rug!!! (Maiden Aunt)

Okay - this is admittedly a real stretch for this week's 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks blog prompt, "Maiden Aunt." I was struggling to think of who I could write about, not having any maiden aunts.  In fact, I have no aunts at all anymore. Nor are any of my siblings "maidens." So - I started to play with the words.... maiden.... made in... made an! That's it!  Read on to see how I managed to make a connection to this week's prompt.