For today’s post I am hoping to get a little interactive with those of you who read my blog. When I was younger I was a fan of the the television show Late Night with David Letterman. You never knew just exactly what you were going to see, especially when Bill Murray was a guest, or when David would go out and interview random people on the streets of New York City.
One of the nightly segments that he would do was called the “Top Ten” list. These lists would usually be centered on some absurd topic such as “The Top 10 Ways the Country Would be Different if Britney Spears Were President,” or “The Top Ten Things Mick Jagger Learned After 50 Years of Rock and Roll.” These lists, as you can imagine, would be filled with all kinds of bizarre things.
Today I thought I’d create my own “Top Ten” list, but instead of making it something inane like those that appeared on the Letterman show, I thought I’d get a little more serious. So, here is the “Top Ten Things I’d Like to do Before I Die.” I guess you could call this my bucket list:
10 – Travel to all of the world’s 7 continents
9 – See the Grand Canyon
8 – Be the host of my own podcast
7 – See the Northern Lights
6 – Be able to sit right behind home plate at Wrigley Field to watch a Cubs game
5 – See David Gilmour in concert and then go backstage to meet him
4 – Visit some of the places my ancestors came from in Italy, England, and Germany
3 – See Mt. Everest
2 – Become a published author
1 – Become a father
Leave me a comment and let me know what your own list would look like.
Recently I took one of those DNA tests. The kind where you spit into a vial, seal it
all up in a bag, and ship it to a lab in Utah.
I did this because I was curious to find out my ancestral roots. For the most part, the results were not a
surprise. I knew I had roots in the
United Kingdom, Germany, and Italy.
However, I was surprised to see that I also had traces of French, Swedish,
and Russian blood.
It was fascinating to see the results broken down into percentages. My ethnicity breaks down as follows:
English, Welsh, & Northwestern European – 36%
Germanic European – 29%
Italian – 12%
Eastern European & Russian – 8%
French – 8%
Irish & Scottish – 3%
Swedish – 2%
Baltic European – 2%
Seeing all of these percentages laid out like this made me
yearn to know the stories of my ancestors.
What were there lives like? What kinds
of personalities did they have? Where
did they stand politically? These are all
questions that I will never will be able to answer. However, I would love to do a little more
research into who some of these people were.
I know that much of my mother’s family were Germans who came
to the U.S. and settled in rural parts of Pennsylvania. I am sure many of them were farmers who tried
to make a better life for their children.
Fortunately, many of them came before Europe was torn apart by war. I would like to go back and hear their
stories. It would be fascinating to learn
why they decided to leave behind loved ones to come to a new country. This to me would have been terrifying.
My maternal grandparents Lauren and Betty Geil were both great people. I did not know my grandfather very well, as I was quite young when he died. But I do have memories of him. My grandmother Betty, was perhaps the coolest grandmother there ever was. I can remember her doing the “Moonwalk” after Michael Jackson made it famous. She was also one of the most giving people that I have ever known.
On my father’s side things are a little more ethnically diverse. I have been able to research the Bradshaw
family back to the 1600’s. It appears many
of them came from Lancashire, a county in the northwest of England. The Bradshaw line that I am from first
settled in Virginia, where it appears they were quite successful farmers, as
census records show many of them had quite a bit of land, and a few even owned slaves. The Bradshaw family began to spread out through
the Carolinas, Tennessee, and then into Illinois.
A few summers ago my wife Amanda and I visited a cemetery just outside of White Hall, Illinois where several of my distant relatives are buried, including my great, great grandfather. I wish they could have all spoken from beyond the grave to tell me what their lives were like. There is a place near White Hall called Bradshaw Mound. I’d like to find out the history of this place. It makes me wish that I’d have asked my grandfather these questions before he passed away several years ago. He was born in White Hall and maybe he could have filled me in on the history of the town where many of my distant relatives lived.
My fraternal grandmother was born and raised on the
outskirts of Shaw, Mississippi. She grew
up on a farm where her and her siblings picked cotton, that is until my great-grandmother
passed away. After this event, my
grandmother took over as caretaker of the family. She did the cooking, cleaning, and other
chores that her mother once did. This
means that my grandmother was also unable to finish school. However, she was a woman who knew how to take
care of her family.
Growing up I loved hearing the names of her brothers and sisters,
many of whom had been born in Italy before my great-grandparents Vincenzo and
Palmina Bastari came to America. My
grandmother’s brothers names were Rigo, Tilio, Aldo, Amilio, Cerro, and Sam. My grandmother’s name was Mary, and her
sisters were Edith, Emma, Jenny, and Clara.
I never had the opportunity to meet my great uncles, but I am sure they
all had great stories to tell about growing up in Mississippi. I can also imagine their lives, especially as
they were growing up, were very difficult.
However, they all went on to have their own families and lived full
I did have the privilege of meeting all but one of my great aunts and they were all feisty women. They also were all quite beautiful. Each one of them maintained part of their Italian accents as well. My grandmother’s accent was unique. It was part Mississippi and part Italian. Her family was from the town of Assisi, which is in central Italy. Hopefully, I’ll make it there someday. I am sure there are still some long-lost cousins who live there.
My dad’s parents, Oris and Mary were married in 1940 in
Hernando, Mississippi. They lived for a
time in Memphis, Tennessee before moving north to Rock Falls, Illinois. I think it was hard for them to move away from
Memphis, but my grandfather came north to help his father and mother.
My grandfather was one of the most selfless men that I have ever met. He always put family ahead of himself. He gave up a career with the Walgreen’s Company so that he could take better care of his children once his first wife died. He then remarried, moved to Illinois and did various jobs to support his family. He was a Coke delivery man, and then towards the end of his working life, he was a custodian at the high school just down the street from where I live now.
I miss him every day. When my own father passed away I was just a boy. My grandpa always made sure we were all right. We all knew we could talk to him, as he was very patient and kind. He was also full of wisdom. He taught me the importance of staying connected to your family. Family always has been, and always will be important to me. Take time to learn your family’s history. Some things may be ugly, but I am sure you’ll also find some incredible things as well. I appreciate the things that I have learned about mine.
After only a day and a half in Ireland, we flew back to England to spend a few days with a couple of friends who live in Southampton, a city about 80 miles south of London. While in Southampton we stayed at a hotel called the Botleigh Grange. Built sometime in the 17th century, the Botleigh Grange was originally a private country home. It is said to be haunted, but I think the only ghosts we saw were the old men that were drinking in the hotel’s lounge one evening.
While in Southampton we were once again treated with warmth and kindness. Our friends Lesley and Stuart shared their time with us and showed us more beautiful and historic sights. We saw where the Titanic set off on its fateful voyage, and we took a ferry across The Solent to the Isle of Wight. This was another place I had always wanted to visit, not only because it is mentioned in the Beatles’ song “When I’m Sixty-Four,” but also because it was the sight of one of the last concerts that Jimi Hendrix ever played. I guess you could say I am a little obsessed with the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix.
Because this trip was not all about me, Lesley and Stuart also took us to the home where Jane Austen spent the last several years of her life. The gardens around her home were so vibrant and it was nice to see how well everything had been preserved. We then spent some time in Winchester, which is where Jane Austen died and is buried. Her final resting place is inside Winchester Cathedral, one of the largest cathedrals in Europe.
After being welcomed with open arms it was difficult to leave Southampton, but all good things must come to an end. So, we hopped a train back to London where we spent one more day and night before flying back home.
Oh, and that wheelchair, well we were supposed to leave it at the hotel we stayed at our last night in London. The service from which we had rented it instructed us to leave it with the front desk staff of the hotel where’d we be staying our last night in London, so that they could retrieve it the morning of our departure. However, when we explained these arrangements to the front desk clerk upon check in he told us that the hotel would not be held responsible for it. So, I called the company and let them know this, but I never heard back from them. We even called them twice the morning of our departure, and we still heard nothing. So, we asked the ticket agent at the American Airlines check in desk if we could leave it with them. Once again we were told they would not be held responsible for it. So, we parked that chair outside security and made our way to our flight.
A few days after we arrived home the wheelchair service called us and asked us about the chair. I explained to them where we had left it and explained how we had attempted to contact them about it before we left. They were never able to locate it, and to this day it remains a mystery as to where it is. When I think about where it might have ended up, my mind instantly goes to the final scene of the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark. Maybe, it was packed away in a crate in much the same way the Ark of the Covenant is at the end of this film and was wheeled into a storage room somewhere deep in the bowels of London’s Heathrow Airport.
After a brief stay in London we took the train north to Yorkshire to visit some friends of ours. Helen and Ian live in a village called Kippax, which is just outside the city of Leeds. They had invited us to stay with them for a few days so that we could explore their part of England. I am so glad that we did this.
Helen and Ian opened their home to us, fed us, and showed us around the country that they love. I think seeing this part of England was one of our favorite parts of this whole trip. However, next time we go, we will be sure to take some Dramamine, as the roads in Yorkshire are rather narrow and curvy. I can safely say that I was holding on for dear life as Helen drove us up to the Yorkshire Dales. This area, as you can see from the pictures below, is stunningly beautiful. I had always wanted to see the English countryside and the Dales did not disappoint.
Getting to meet other friends that live in this part of England, such as Gail and Sue, was also a treat. It was fun to spend time with all of these people and hear about their lives. They all treated us with kindness and hospitality. I can think of no better example of this then Ian and Helen driving us from Kippax to Liverpool, which is a little over 80 miles.
It was a rainy day, and Amanda and I had just planned to be dropped off in Liverpool. We would then book a tour that would show us around the city that gave birth to the Beatles. However, Ian would not hear of it and he proceeded to drive us all around Liverpool so that I could catch glimpses of Penny Lane, Strawberry Field, John Lennon’s boyhood home, and other parts of the city where Beatles history had been made. The selflessness of this act is something that will always mean a great deal to me. Ian also made sure that we were safely escorted to the airport in Liverpool for our flight to Dublin. There are still good people in the world, and many of them can be found in England. Oh, and the secret to London’s public restrooms is a “radar” key. Helen and Ian provided us with one of these. It is a key that, according to the BBC, “unlocks the doors of more than 9,000 handicapped restrooms across the UK.” I accidentally brought this key back to the U.S. with us. Helen if you are reading this, we will mail it back to you!
P.S. – If you ever find yourself in the city of York visit Betty’s Tea Room for some tea and a piece of their lemon curd torte. Also, make sure you visit York Minster. It is one of the largest cathedrals in Europe. You will not be disappointed.