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Month: July 2018

The Big Puddle

I was thinking the other day of childhood and what it was like. Being a kid is probably one of the most overrated, underappreciated conditions of life.

Some 60 years later, this is the actual site of the Big Puddle. Water filled the grassy area, I had only to make it to the block building!

One of the reasons it seems like such a golden time to us is because we conveniently forget how we really felt about things back then.

One of the earliest memories I have, is one of total humiliation and frustration.

Not sure how old I was, but probably around four or five. It had been raining all day. Our family consisted of Mom and Dad and I and we lived in a trailer back before trailers became mobile homes. As an adult, I learned that the trailer, which seemed so big to me as a child, was only 25 ft. long, smaller than most modern RVs.

It had been a long rainy day for Mom, cooped up in a tiny trailer with a four-year-old and no TV (yeah, it really was that long ago!).

When Dad came in from work, I recall some low-pitched adult talk and then Dad asking me in a very casual voice if I thought I could handle going to the store for him.

Some perspective here—it was a tiny trailer in a tiny trailer park and the store was the park office in the middle of the park, in full sight of our front door. But at age four, I had never been allowed to go anyplace “all by myself.” This was my big chance. I was excited. I was also, as I always have been and probably always will be, practical.

I parroted the phrase I’d been hearing from Mom all day: “I can’t go outside. It’s raining.”

A man of few words, Dad said, “Is not.”

I looked outside. Sure enough, as if he’d arranged it himself, late afternoon sunlight was pouring from behind the clouds.

This was it, my big chance. I had new boots, those pull on kind that wrap around your ankle and fasten with a small elastic loop over a button. I sat out on my big adventure wearing shorts, a t-shirt and…those boots.

An intoxicating sense of freedom swept over me…not only because I was going to the store by myself for the very first time, but because those new boots were so empowering. I could walk anywhere I wanted and not worry about getting in trouble for getting my feet wet or muddy.

Money in my fist, fully briefed in what to ask for, I crossed the park drive and there encountered—the BIG PUDDLE. To my four-year-old eyes it looked as large as Lake Michigan. On the other side I could see my goal, the brick building that housed the park office. Behind me I could feel the confidence of the parents who thought I could handle adult responsibility (so I thought at the time, but who I now know stood at the window, chuckling at my shuffling, booted, four-year-old swagger).

I hesitated only for the briefest moment. After all, I had my new boots and a mission. What could go wrong? Without a backward look, I marched fearlessly into the puddle.

It was the boots that did me in. They gave me too much confidence—and they were just enough too big that when they sank into the mud and I tried to take my next step, my foot came out of them. And of course, there’s that silly physics rule that says “For every action there is a reaction.” When my foot came up out of my boot the water rushed in. And when in dismay and shock, I crammed my foot back into the water filled boot, water shot up around my little four-year-old behind like a fountain, which is what I must have looked like, standing there in the middle of the BIG PUDDLE, yelling like a banshee for my daddy.

I have to give him credit. He only stood at the edge of the water for the briefest moment laughing and he even tempered my humiliation by sweeping me high in the air, dripping water like a little fish, for a ride to the store in his arms.

This story doesn’t have a moral. There’s no great human truth that I learned here and took with me through life, but I must admit that I do sometimes stop before I plunge into some big undertaking, full of the sort of confidence that comes with new boots and ask myself, “Is this The Big Puddle all over again?”

Coming to America

Sailing vessels such as this brought many to America in the 17th and 18th century.

On March 1, 1738, all five brothers of the Crist family, boarded a ship in Rotterdam, Amsterdam and set sail for America.

We can’t know for sure why they left Germany although we do know that in the 1700’s thousands of Germans traveled to America for both economic and religious reasons. In addition, there was a fair amount of real commercial wheeling and dealing going on.

Earlier settlers were traveling back to Europe to purchase supplies and goods for resale in America. Ship owners and captains, anxious to keep their ships full and in constant use, would promise these merchants (who became known as “newlanders”) free passage and/or shipping if they recruited passengers for the trip back across the Atlantic. From 1735 to 1737 the numbers of Germans traveling to America increased from 268 to over 1500. Business was booming and in 1738 the numbers continued to grow.

The Crist brothers, John Jacob (24), Nicolaus Heinrich (22), Peter Ludwick (20), Philip Henrie (18), and Michael Jorge (17) may have set off for America for the adventure of it or they may have gone for riches and glory. The reasons for emigration in those days were as varied as the number of emigrants.

We’re lucky, though, that the Crist family had a real sense of the magnitude of their decision and journey. Before they left their home in Germany, their father Jorge Nichlaus Crist gave them each an account book, and son Nicolaus kept a detailed account of their days at sea. In fact, he kept his account book all his life turning it over to his son in later years, and while the Crist family are not  direct descendents of my family, they are related by marriage. This account book has given my family some insight into our history while recording some very historic times and events.

On March 2, 1738, Nichlaus wrote of their second day at sea: “It was cold and dark last night – so many became ill – it was stormy – high winds and heavy rains. The vessel was rocky.”

The routes the ships took to America were varied. Many of the Germans left from Rotterdam, Amsterdam and stopped off at some port in England to further provision and pick up any other travelers before setting off across the open ocean.

On May 10, 1738, the journal reads: “The vessel smells of stench. We are stopping for supplies tomorrow. I hope they will stop long enough to clean and air the vessel.”

Two months on the ship and they had not even really started across the Atlantic. Do you begin to get a picture of what travelers to America endured? Well, read on…

May 14, 1738:I am going to write in my account book about me so if we die they will know who we are. There’s fifteen of us that knows each other we have labored – fought and laughed together all our lives. Now it looks like we will cry and likely die together.”

He lists his brothers and eight of the others who are traveling with them, then says of his parents, Jorge Nichlaus and Anna Crist, “…I wish they was here, they would know what to do and it would be better.”

On the 14th of May, the ship set out to cross the Atlantic.

August 12, 1738: “I wish I was home. Peter and Philip and Michael does too but John Jacob thinks because he is oldest that he can not show his real feelings. We are all sick, Michael is real sick but we can not do anything to help him.”

August 28, 1738: It is so hot during the day and the smell is terrible. Every body has dysentery. We have lost many lives. I wonder if we will make it to America.”

September 15, 1738: We landed in America yesterday. It felt so good to set, walk and lay on the dirt in the land that we had all dreamed of being able to live to see. Our prayers was answered. I cried myself to sleep as did many others. The air smelled and tasted so good. I only know one thing that I do not ever want to get on another ship for the rest of my life.”

Their journey took five and a half months. The journal gives us just the barest idea of what these young men endured to come here. Estimates of the deaths that occurred during the wave of emigrants traveling in 1738 range from 1,800 to 2,000 souls, victims to various diseases, such as typhus, or starvation, or shipwreck.

I have more of this journal and as I said earlier, it plays some part in the history of my family, so you can expect to meet up with some other members of the Crist family in future posts.

To Tell a Story

In my humble opinion, it takes a pretty big ego to say or even claim one is a writer. I’m still working on that. What I think I am is a story teller, which is a very different animal. Writers aren’t always good story tellers and vice versa…a story teller is often a lousy writer. In very rare situations you do find a person who can handle both.

Photos are stories we tell when we can’t say the words. I think that’s why I fell in love with photography. I love to look at old photos like this and imagine the stories.

Stephen King comes to mind, Mark Twain was the ultimate story telling writer and I would love to meet Jessamyn West some day at Starbucks just to hear her stories (yes, I know she has passed but I’d still like to talk with her).

See, writing is about rules and structure. Story telling is more free form. A writer can write something very learned and even readable as long as he sticks with the norm, stays on the path. A story teller, on the other hand, just as often wanders off into the brush chasing rabbits and deer before bringing you, the listener, back around to an ending you never saw coming.

And here’s the thing, the story teller’s tale does NOT have to sound the same the next time it is told. Stories are alive, they live and breathe, they grow and change with the audience, the teller, the time they are told. A story floats in time. It can begin yesterday when you thought of it, or it can begin two years ago when you made the decision to turn right instead of left. It can end now, at the telling, but it can go on in time to the next telling and the next, never really ending.

A story can be true or it can be a lie, but a good story teller always makes you at least WANT to believe.

I have stories always waiting to be told. I can tell at least two stories about a visit to Boston, one about a visit to Montreal and probably several about my travels in Haiti. I met and talked with Al Unser in Albuquerque, NM in 1965, fell for the old broken-part-on-your-car-but-there’s-only-one- in-town-and-it’ll-cost-$300 scam in a little gas station in Arizona and toured the Texas-Mexico border with the border patrol. I’ve lived through a flood, witnessed a helicopter crash, seen horrible things that tear at the soul, and I can tell you stories about all of it.

Lately, I’ve been doing genealogical research and the most important thing that I’ve discovered is that we all have stories. Stories tell us who we are and sometimes even why we are who we are. No one tells a story about something unimportant to them so stories also tell us about the teller.

I know stories about my generation and have been told stories about the previous generation. I know those people and I can tell the next generation about them. That family history deserves to live on when the people are gone. I’ve heard it said that we never really die until our name is never again spoken. Our stories keep us alive.

I have a real fascination with words, their meanings, their origins, their evolution, so it’s not lost on me that the root word of history is story. As I’ve learned about my ancestors, I can’t help but learn about the daily life they saw and experienced, the world events they lived. It’s made history come alive for me in a way school history classes never did.

I started out telling stories with photos, the gradually I found my words, but a few years ago, I lost my “story vision,” that part of me that saw the stories all around me. I’m working to get that back. Over the next few blogs, the weeks or months I am able to keep this up, I want to tell stories of my family and find new stories that can speak to my readers. The other day, in my car at a red light, I looked over and the lady in the car next to me, also waiting, sat with her face buried in her hands, sobbing. There was a story there, but the light changed and as we have all been trained and must, traffic moved on. I’ll never know that story, but I will continue to watch for the stories that I can know, listen to the stories of others and more importantly, tell them so the lessons, understood or not, are not lost.

Some Days You Just Can’t Stay Off the Internet

You know how it is. You’re just about to sign off and something catches your eye, makes you go “Huh?” and you’re hooked for another hour or so. The other day I scanned a news item about the new laws that would go into effect in Indiana on July 1 and had just such a moment.

Illustration by Arwin Provonsha, Purdue Department of Entomology

It wasn’t the announcement of a new state insect…I have a real soft spot for Say’s Firefly, also known as pyractomena angulate or more commonly here in southern Indiana the lightning bug. Great choice. There’s nothing like a summer evening, dusk falling, kids still out playing and then…that first flash. Then another. Suddenly the kids are running around, jumping in the air, begging for jars with holes punched in the lid. What kid hasn’t dreamed of collecting enough lightning bugs to fill a jar and light their room at night? Lightning bugs are the most benign, gentle and rewarding bugs I know.

But the notice that the lightning bug is now Indiana’s official state insect isn’t what caught my eye (no pun intended). What actually grabbed my attention was the new law that makes eyeball tattoos illegal.


I asked a young co-worker about this and it turns out this is a very real “thing,” tattooing one’s eyeball. I was young once, and I did some very stupid things both as a youngster and as a supposedly mature adult, but two questions come to mind…1) who would want this done and 2) who would agree to do it? Oh, and question #3…what could possibly go wrong?

Anyway, this triggered an interest in seeing what other wacky laws got passed this year, so here are some interesting ones:

Sunscreen: Public school students are allowed to carry and use non-aerosol sunscreen without having to provide a doctor’s note to their school or store their sunscreen in a specific school location. School personnel also can help students apply sunscreen with the written permission of the student’s parent. (Senate Enrolled Act 24)

It’s just a shame when common sense has to be legislated, don’t you think?

Soft Skills: Indiana schools must include employability skills in their curriculum, beginning in the 2019-20 school year. The specific “soft skills” to be taught, such as on-time arrival and ability to take direction, will be decided by the Indiana Department of Education and Department of Workforce Development. (Senate Enrolled Act 297)

Seems a shame we have to have a law to teach these skills…and have to mandate the schools to do it…just saying’.

Cursive: School corporations are explicitly authorized to teach cursive handwriting as an optional curriculum component. That’s already been the practice since 2011 when keyboarding instruction replaced cursive in the state’s educational standards. (House Enrolled Act 1420)

Whew! They haven’t outlawed cursive yet and schools can teach it if they want to. Good to know and also good to know there is a law to make that clear!

And my personal favorite:

Obsolete Words Eliminated: The words “herein, hereafter, hereinafter, therein, theretofore, hereunder, hereinunder, heretofore, hereinabove and thereunder” are replaced throughout the Indiana Code with simpler terms. State officeholder duties are revised to eliminate gender-specific pronouns. (HEA 1031)

I have nothing sarcastic to say about this, except maybe, it’s about time!

If you want to know more about what has become legal or illegal in Indiana as of July 1, 2018, you can go to The Indiana Lawyer website at:


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