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.

Dew Shine

“If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” – Yogi Berra

As winter slowly melts into spring here in Northwest Illinois, my thoughts are turning more and more to being outdoors and to soak up the sunshine.  The sun is something that we do not see much during the winter. One of my favorite outdoor activities in the spring and summer is bicycling. I have a Sun HT-3, which is ahand-powered trike.  It is a pleasure to ride for hours, just taking in the sights and sounds of the outdoors. 

Here in my hometown of Sterling, Illinois there are various bike paths on which I enjoy riding.  A few of these run along the Rock River, which can be beautiful around sunset, as you can see in the picture below.  The park district has done a great job maintaining these paths for all cyclists to enjoy.

Sunset along the Rock River

On occasion my wife Amanda and I will also load our bikes into the back of our SUV and drive to other cities where there are great paths to explore.  Chicago has a great bike trail that runs along Lake Michigan. This is perhaps one of my most favorite paths on which to ride.  There are so many things to see, and best of all, there are places to stop and eat. 

Another city nearby that has a great trail system which to explore is Madison, Wisconsin.  Madison is home to two lakes, along which you can ride. One of these paths takes you through various neighborhoods of the city with lots of beautiful homes and well-manicured lawns.  However, the best parts are along Lake Monona, where you can catch views of the city’s skyline.  Then after you are done riding you can stop in at Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry and have one of their delicious cheeseburgers andsome deep-fried cheese curds.

There are times when my trike has needed repairs and thereis no better place to go than a shop we have right here in Sterling.  I cannot say enough about the staff at Mead’s Bike Shop, especially the owners, Bryce and Marcy Mead.  Their customer service is second tonone. 

When I was looking for a bicycle, Bryce took the time tohelp me order my hand trike.  His teamthen assembled it when it arrived. Thanks to Mead’s I have spent hundreds of hours riding and enjoying theoutdoors.  However, without the help ofanother organization I would not have been able to purchase my trike. 

A few years ago I was looking for a bicycle that I couldride where I could use my hands to pedal, as the strength in my legs is not the greatest. That is when a friend of mine told me about something called the Challenged Athletes Foundation. 

This organization helps provide sportingequipment to disabled individuals.  So, I wrote a grant, which they accepted, and thus I had a shiny, new trike.  One on which I have had many adventures.

Perhaps, one of the most fun rides that I have had since getting my trike, at least in hindsight, was with my nephew Dalen a few summers ago.  He and I decided to set out one warm and sunny afternoon.  We had no particular goal in mind.  We were just out for a joyride.

About 30 minutes into our aimless journey, Dalen asked if we could stop at the store so that he could get something to drink.  Thanking that he was just going to go in and grab a bottle of Coke, I agreed and we stopped at a store just down the street.  Little did I know that he was going to come back out with a four-pack of glass bottles of a soda he was into at the time called “Dew Shine.”  I am not sure what he was thinking when he bought those glass bottles, as we had no way to carry them while riding.  However, this is typical of Dalen, to not think ahead. 

So, there we were a few miles from either one of our homes with 4 glass bottles of soda and no place to put them.  I suggested that we each carry two bottles and make our way towards his house. However, in doing so we would need to ride along a fairly busy highway.

We started out quite well but it was difficult to hold two glass bottles between my legs and for him to carry two and hold on to the handle bars of his bike at the same time.  So, we pulled over at a nearby gas station where we each downed a bottle.  We then carried on a little further before the chain on my bike slipped off.  Fortunately, it was an easy fix and we were back on our way.  However, a short time later, the chain slipped off of Dalen’s bike, which wasn’t as easy to fix.  We did eventually get the chain back on his bike, and made it home shortly thereafter.  This was the last time he and I ever rode together. 

This was a great 22-mile ride along Lake Michigan in Chicago