I think God often brings people into my life as a way of teaching me things. For instance, I recently met an older gentleman who has lived a life fit for a screenplay. Jack, as I will call him, is nearly 80 years old. He served a few different tours in Vietnam. He also has lost most of his hearing. Communicating with him was difficult, however, it was time well spent.
Jack is a man whose life experiences could fill volumes. I enjoy meeting these types of people, as their stories are so often rich with historical insight and humor. Jack went to Vietnam in the early stages of the war. He stayed until the United States was firmly entrenched within the conflict. He was a Marine, and fiercely proud of that.
After returning from the war, Jack opened a barber shop and cut hair for nearly 50 years. He just recently retired. I would have enjoyed visiting his shop so that I could have heard more stories of his life. I’m not sure Jack was always an easy person with whom to get along. It sounds as if his relationship with his family was strained. This may be due to Jack’s years of substance abuse. He is a recovering alcoholic. Jack’s brother is also an alcoholic.
The way Jack described his brother was humorous to me at first, however the more I thought about it, the sadder it became. Jack said his brother could simply be described as having “a bottle of Wild Turkey in one hand and a bowling ball in the other.” This description makes me think Jack’s brother is not a very pleasant person with whom to spend time.
It also got me to thinking how others would describe me if they just had one sentence in which to do it. I am hoping I’d be known for something much more positive. Fortunately, I don’t drink Wild Turkey, and I am a horrible bowler.
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.