The Orphans

“Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family: Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.” – Jane Howard

I always wanted to marry an orphan.  Little did I know, so did my wife.  We both had the same motive for wanting to marry an orphan.  Neither one of us wanted to be obligated to spend holidays with another family. Amanda and I have been married for nearly seven years and I think there are times when we both still wish we had married an orphan.

My wife grew up in St. Louis, which is approximately 250 miles from where we now live.  Therefore, when we travel down to St. Louis, we are in the car for at least 4 hours each way.  Throughout most of the trip the only thing you see are corn fields, and the occasional truck stop. 

Going to family functions in St. Louis is quite different than the ones to which I am accustomed.  Each of Amanda’s parents are one of eight children.  Therefore, there are dozens of aunts, uncles, and cousins.  I love my in-laws very much.  They are both very giving people.  In the dictionary next to “hospitality” are pictures of Amanda’s parents, Dan and Judith.  At each major holiday they invite everyone over.  There are usually 40-50 people at every gathering. 

I believe the first holiday that I spent with Amanda’s family was Easter.  I was shell-shocked to be with so many people under one roof.  This is because while I was growing up my family gatherings were much smaller.  However, I have grown used to these large gatherings.  I enjoy playing games, eating, and just spending time with everyone.  However, for an introvert like me, these events do sap my energy. 

Amanda’s first introduction to my family was at my 34th birthday party.  I think for her, it was hard to adjust to being with such a small group, where more attention was focused on her.  She was no longer able to blend into the woodwork.    

This Easter we will be spending time in St. Louis.  I just wish one of us had our pilot’s license so that we could fly down.  It would enable us to visit more often.  Amanda gave up a lot when she moved to the barren wasteland that is Northwest Illinois.  I know that she misses seeing her family.  However, I am glad that we met, because she is the perfect woman for me.  She is a kind and loving woman. 

I am glad that we both were willing to expand our horizons.  We both come from great families.  It has been fun getting to know Amanda’s clan.  Amanda’s dad is a great storyteller, and her mom makes some of the best cookies I have ever tasted.  I am thankful that I did not marry an orphan because I would have missed out on the love Amanda has shown me.  I too would have missed out on becoming part of a great family. 

Brothers Don’t Shake Hands…Brothers Gotta Hug!

Today is National Siblings Day in the United States. This unofficial holiday is also celebrated in other parts of the world. I am thankful for my two older brothers, Cory and Shannon.

Over the years they have put up with a lot having me as their brother. For instance, there were many times they were sent to stay with relatives as my parents and I made our way to yet another hospital visit.

I am not really sure they minded this all that much. They were certainly spoiled by my grandparents, or my aunts and uncles whenever they were exiled to stay with family.

However, I really wonder how it was for them when they were younger. I would assume it was difficult having to be uprooted from their normal routine. I know that it would have been for me.

Growing up I was always closest to my oldest brother Shannon. My other brother Cory used to pick on me quite a bit, which, as I look back on things, was quite normal.

Now that we are all grown and have our own families, I respect the men my brothers have become. They both have married great women and have fathered some very good kids.

I wish I could see my brother Shannon and his family more often, but they live in New Jersey. It would be fun to spend more time with his family. He does still watch out for me, even though we are hundreds of miles apart.

My brother Cory still looks out for me as well, helping my wife Amanda and I do things around the house. He is always willing to lend a helping hand.

I love both of my brothers very much. I even forgive them for all of those times we were in the car and they’d pick on me. I would then get in trouble for being a whiner. I should have learned that sitting in the middle of the backseat made me a good target. I maybe could have asked to ride in the trunk instead! Anyway, if you haven’t done so already, reach out to your siblings and tell them how much you appreciate them.

Family

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.    

Lauren and Betty Geil

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. 

My great grandparents Shannon and Etna Bradshaw on the far left. I believe the other men in this picture might be Shannon’s brothers with their families.

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 lives. 

From L to R: My great aunts Jenny, Edith, Emma, Clara, and my grandmother Mary Bradshaw

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.

Vincenzo and Palmina Bastari

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. 

My grandpa Oris

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.