Still Life at 80mph

As I write this I am laying in bed in a hotel room in Florham Park, New Jersey. The TV is on and I am unwinding after a long day of travel. On Tuesday we will head south with my brother and his family to spend a few days along the Jersey Shore. Travelling is something that we love to do, as it is a great way to make memories.

Yesterday, we left home, picked up my mother, who lives just a few blocks away from us. We then headed for Strongsville, Ohio. This is approximately halfway between our home in Illinois and my brother’s house in New Jersey. Memories have already been made, and a third-degree misdemeanor was accidently committed.

After hitting the road around 8 a.m. this morning, we made our way across the eastern side of Ohio. We then entered Pennsylvania, which is actually quite a beautiful state through which to travel. Around noon we stopped for lunch at a Dutch Pantry. This appears to be a franchise popular along I-80 in Pennsylvania.

This chain of restaurants could best be described as Pennsylvania’s version of the Cracker Barrel. In other words, the lobby was filled with chachkies no one needs, and the menu was filled with dishes considered, “homestyle.” However, the silverware was really nice, as one of us (not me) decided to walk out with a set. Sadly, this was not the most heinous crime of the day.

My mother, who is in her 70’s, has a smartphone. Today, as we passed particular landmarks, she would snap photos with the camera on her phone. I’m not sure she was very successful. She takes decent photos with her when she is stationary. However, get her in an SUV going down the highway at 80 mph and things are not so pretty, especially through a bug-spattered windshield. By the time a subject was in focus, we were already passed it by a mile or two. When I asked my mom to send me a few of the shots she took she refused. My suspicion is that she got some nice candids of insects entrails and nothing else.

We travelled over 400 miles today, a restaurant is down one set of silverware, I’m exhausted, but I am still curious to see what the rest of this week brings. Tomorrow, we begin with an Independence Day parade. The pictures should be better, as my mom will be standing still.

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.

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