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Month: August 2018

Weeds – Part 2

If you enjoyed the weed column of a few weeks ago, you could think of this one as Weeds, Part 2, The Vine Returns.

One of the rules for classifying weeds, you may recall, was: if it grows anyplace you don’t want it… it’s a weed. I suspect that pretty well locks the morning glory into the weed category here in this farming community. I’ve seen how it vines around the corn stalks and creeps through the soybean rows, and I’m pretty sure all farmers see the morning glory as a weed of the highest (or lowest) order. Practically invincible, you never see just one morning glory in a field. On misty late summer mornings, the sun barely visible over the fence rows, some fields are nearly covered with a blanket of the characteristic blue, purple, pink and white trumpet‑shaped blossoms. Farmers probably look at morning glories much as suburbanites view dandelions on their lawns.

As with dandelions, children see something quite different. For several mornings now, a couple of young friends have been bringing in morning glory blossoms for a closer look. Every morning, it seems, we find something different, a different shade, unique markings and highlights.

The purple blooms are the richest, truest purple I have ever seen, the purple of kings and great wealth; purple that looks like velvet feels, soft as baby skin. They have slim stars in their centers, like a treasure.

Next to this deep purple, the blue looks like a pale cousin. It’s a pretty enough color, but it doesn’t stun you with it’s luxuriance. Probably it’s only that the purple has spoiled my color eye, but the blue seems washed out, like the blue sky on a hot summer day. I know it’s blue because it’s supposed to be blue, but it’s the memory, the sense of blue as much as the sight of it.

The pink morning glories are nice. Pink is thought to be a soothing color, and looking at pink morning glories, I believe that. They make me smile and feel good. Morning glory pink isn’t the pink of baby girls or healthy skin or mythical elephants, it’s more like the pink in the center of a white rabbit’s eye. It’s a happy pink, a slightly naughty pink, a pink that says, “Come out and play.”

Last but not least are the white blossoms. I looked closely at the white ones this morning because I had been avoiding them. White morning glory blossoms look so plain, so simple, so…well, homely. At least that’s what I thought until I looked closer. In the center of the saintly whiteness, some artist hand has, with studied nonchalance, placed five bold brush strokes of color that is a combination of all the morning glory shades and tints; sumptuous, but not quite purple; playful and teasing, but not quite pink; with the barest hint of a tint of blue that you can only see out of the corner of your eye. I liked the white ones much more than I thought I would, and that’s only one of the lessons I’ve learned from the morning glories.

You have to enjoy morning glories very quickly…a glimpse of them, trespassing where the farmer doesn’t want them, or quickly examined, fresh from a young and excited hand; because, you see, morning glories don’t last. They open with joy in the early morning light and fade with the heat of day and nothing you do can change that. Morning glories don’t last in sun and you can’t coax them to stay by floating them in bowls of water in the cool of the house. They are fleeting things, and lovely, and they are weeds, and let that be the best lesson they leave, that we shouldn’t judge too harshly or fail to see the beauty that’s around us, whatever it’s called.

Coming to America – part 2

You may remember a few weeks ago I introduced you to five young men, the Crist brothers who left their home in Germany in 1738 and traveled to America.

I “met” these young men while doing some genealogical research into my family and a significant historical event in which the Collings branch of my family played a major part. More about that later. For now, I want to tell you a little more about the Crist family.

Remember, Nicolaus Heinrich Crist kept an “account book” given to him by his father when he left for the New World. Nicolaus wanted to tell about their trip “so if we die they will know who we are,” which I found very touching. The boys did not die, they reached America after a long and arduous journey.

Here’s where I begin to have problems in my research. Crist named his brothers and he also listed several other young men who traveled with them, saying “There’s fifteen of us that knows each other we have labored – fought and laughed together all our lives.” One of the names he listed was William Edward Collings.

William Edward Collings is my 6th great grandfather, and I knew from other research that the Crist family and the Collings family had a long history together, but this record does not match with what I know.

My William Edward Collings was reportedly born in Somerset Co., PA in 1724. His father’s name was Zebulon and he was also born in America, so the account of William Edward Collings coming to America with the Crist boys confuses me, and I’m still working on that.

The facts I can confirm are this…the Crist boys did come to America and Nicolaus Heinrich did keep an account book that proves to be correct in many other details, so we’re going to follow this thread. Our families did come together at some point, because Nicolaus’ son George married William Edward Collings’ granddaughter, Elizabeth, called Betsy, and that we can confirm. The inconsistencies are what make genealogy so fascinating!

Throughout ensuing years, the same names keep cropping up in our family history even as these pioneers moved from landing spot into Pennsylvania/Virginia, Kentucky and Indiana. Crist, Collings, Richey, Cauffman, Biggs, etc. Throughout history, groups of people tended to live together, struggle together, fight together and stay together as they traveled to new parts of the country.

Setting aside how these families got to know each other, they all ended up (or began their new beginnings) in an area of the new world that is very confusing. There is a place on our modern map of America where Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia sort of touch. Back in the 1700’s the boundaries in that area were very fluid and one might have ancestors living in Pennsylvania one year and Virginia the next without ever physically moving. The names of counties sometimes got moved with the boundaries…sometimes new counties were created from old counties that disappeared completely.

This is the area where my Collings branch and the Crist family became neighbors, strong friends and eventually family. They lived in this area through the troubled years leading up to the Revolutionary War and the men of both families fought from here in the French & Indian War and later for the independence of the colonies.

Once again, the account book of Nicolaus Heinrich records the action. After arriving in America on September 15, 1738, by November 24 of that same year, he writes: “I saw and talked to my wife to be today. She is more beautiful than my mother if that is possible. Did not tell her that she was going to be my wife.”

Just three months after arriving in this new world, on Christmas Day of that year, the Crist brothers were invited by Sir John Henry Nowlin, Esq. to share in a Christmas feast and at that time Nicolaus asked Sir John for the hand of his daughter Catherine in marriage. Sir John responded favorably and with a hearty handshake the deal was done. The young couple married on January 25, 1739.

By October 29, 1739, the 23-year-old Nicolaus and 19-year-old Catherine had started their family by welcoming their first son, John Jacob.

Over the next few years, the couple added five more sons, lost a daughter at birth, and suffered the tragedy of Catherine’s mother, father, two brothers and a sister drowning when the raft they were taking down river to visit family broke apart in rough water. In Germany, Nicolaus’ parents both died of pneumonia.

In 1754, Nicolaus went to fight in the French Indian War and came home wounded. He wrote: “I came home today. I was wounded in the leg at the Battle of Great Meadows [aka Battle of Fort Necessity]. I am lucky to have my sons. It looks like I might lose my leg, it is real bad.”

He did not lose his leg, but suffered from that serious injury for the rest of his life.

In 1767, one of their sons, George Heinrich, married Elizabeth Collings who was the sister of my 5th great grandfather William Elston Collings, son of William Edward Collings.

By 1776, all six of Nicolaus and Catherine’s sons were fighting in the Revolutionary War.

Stay tuned. It only gets more exciting and yes, there will be drama and tragedy.

That’s Better, Right?

Not my family, but pretty typical.

We live in a pretty amazing world. The changes I’ve seen in my lifetime are…well, I’ve seen a lot of changes.


Our first TV had a very small screen and a big cabinet that also included a radio and a record player. Every time Mom went through the room on Saturday morning she said “Scoot back away from the TV, you’re too close.” Every year, screens got bigger and brighter. Every year we still sat too close. Every year she still told us to scoot back.

The other day I walked through the Commons at the school where I work and noticed a student sitting at one of the tables, hunched over the table with both hands wrapped around his cellphone, watching some video on a screen no bigger than a 3” x 5” index card.

Better, right?


Speaking of phones, we had one phone in the house. When it rang, everyone yelled “Got it!” and ran. First one there got the honors of announcing the caller.

Eventually, we figured out how to run phone wire to other rooms in the house and put phones within reach in the bedroom, kitchen, even the bathroom.

Today, we’re all getting rid of “land line” phones for cell phones. No more phones in every room. Now we have one phone again—that we have to carry with us at all times. Or else it’s laying in the car cup holder when we’re in the kitchen. Or in our sweatshirt pocket by the back door when we’re in the bathroom. And when it rings we have to yell “Got it!” as we scramble to keep one of the youngsters from grabbing it and announcing to our boss where we are and what we are doing.

Better, right?

Gas Stations

Years ago, when I stopped for gas on the way to my after-school job, one of the Mundy twins would pump it and also wash my windshield and check my oil. At least until I jokingly tooted the horn while he was under the hood. After that he thoughtfully unplugged the horn every time he checked the oil. That never got old!

When he the oil was topped off and the gas pumped, he would take my money and make change. I drove away happy. (I didn’t mind the horn bit, he was kinda cute.)

Today, when I get gas I have to sit in a line glaring at the guy who needs to approach the pump from a different way because his gas door is on the other side from mine. Once I get to the pump, I have to get out and do the pumping. If I don’t pay with a debit card that may or may not be “skimmed” when I use it, I have to go into the convenience store where I also buy two candy bars, a bag of chips, a hot dog and a huge cup of pop. The price I pay at the cash register reflects not only the gas I pumped, but the gas I’ll develop on the way home as I consume the junk I bought.

Better, right?


Speaking of cars, can you remember when we could call the neighbor’s nephew and tell him the car was making a funny noise and he’d tell us to bring it on over. He’d raise the hood and fiddle around for a few minutes. When he emerged with a smear of grease on his cheek, the car would start up and purr like a kitten. “What do I owe you?” you’d ask and he’d grin and say “How about a 6 pack of Bud?”

Today, you make an appointment two weeks out to leave the car with a mechanic all day so he can plug your car into a computer. He’ll present you with a list of several repairs that will cost you from $300 to $500 each to complete. “Which one of those repairs will quiet the noise I hear?” The mechanic shrugs. “I didn’t hear anything when I pulled it around to the bay.”

You drive away and turn the radio up real loud, problem solved.

Better, right?


Every year before school started, Mom took us to Ritter’s Shoe Store. One by one, we’d sit beside her as Mr. or Mrs. Ritter would gently take our ankle and guide our foot into the metal device that measured not only the length, but the width of our feet. From the back room they would fetch 4 or 5 boxes of shoes that would suit Mom as being cheap enough, yet tough enough to get us through the school year. Final approval went like this: Mr. or Mrs. Ritter approved the fit; Mom, the appearance and price; me—well, my opinion didn’t matter too much after that.

Today, kids get dragged into the nearest Big Box Store, plopped down in the floor and subjected to much tugging on and off of every conceivable style of shoe with strewing of boxes everywhere. There’s crying and wailing and whining on the part of the children, grumbling and ultimatums on the part of the parents until finally shoes and kids are loaded into a cart along with $70 worth of soda pop and corn chips.

Better, right?

I know, I know. All this makes me sound like an old fogey, but you know what? I love most of the improvements we’ve made over the years but I wouldn’t take a million dollars for those good times I had growing up.

Of course, if I could have a million dollars AND those good times…that would be better, right?

Just Smile

Sometimes silly humor is all we need to brighten our day.

This is a true story of a sorta bad day turned kinda nice by one guy with a simple mission, and I think it’s important to share.

Bad days come in all shapes and flavors and this one was just mildly bad…troublesome traffic, stores that didn’t have what I needed, annoying phone calls, a schedule that could not be conquered.

I don’t often eat in at fast food restaurants. Fast food is something you grab to take home, but on this day, for some reason, maybe because I was starving and yet had more errands to run, I decided to eat in. It was the middle of the afternoon, there were only two cars in the lot. I thought this could be pretty quick and I’d be on my way.

As I entered, a young man who had been mopping the floor held the door for an elderly woman in front of me and then for me. As we entered, he cautioned us about the wet floor.

He came in the store behind us, went behind the counter, washed up and then took our orders. The elderly woman (I’m old, but I’m not elderly yet!) went on to get her drink and her meal. I ordered and as I fumbled for my money, the young man started telling jokes: “Do you know what the fish said when it swam into the concrete wall?” “No.” “Dam!” said the young man. I smiled, handed him my money and prepared to move on…but not before he got off a couple more pretty good jokes.

After I got my drink and my meal, my mind was full of muttering about the day I was having when I noticed that the young man had come out from behind the counter and was finishing his mopping. As he went past me, he said, “You’re probably going to get tired of me, but I have a million more…” and he proceeded to tell me about the guy who went to a costume party with a girl strapped to his back. The host said “this is a costume party, what are you doing?” “This is my costume…I’m a turtle.” “But you have a girl strapped to your back.” “I know…that’s Michelle.”

Now that one made me chuckle, and by this time, I was feeling less stressed about my day, so I asked him how he came up with all these jokes. I never expected what I learned next.

He’d been in a serious accident some years earlier, suffered pretty critical injuries, some brain damage. Unable to work or care for himself while recovering, he moved back in with his mom. After many months, as he got stronger, he began volunteering at a food site and over time was hired as a permanent part time worker at the site. When he was able to go back to work, he continued to work at the meal site and also got a job as a cashier at a dollar-type store.

He said that as he worked with the public, he began to realize that everyone had their problems. In his words, “You only encounter these people for a short time, you don’t know when they go out the door, what kind of life they’re going back to. So, I figured if I could just put a smile on their face, it might be the highlight of their day. When I worked the checkout, I even carded a lady for toilet paper.” “Did she laugh?” I asked. “No, she got pretty ticked, (comic pause) …but her boyfriend thought it was hilarious!”

I know one thing for sure, that guy, in his humble job at a fast food restaurant, sure put a smile on my face that day, and I left with a renewed appreciation of the fact that since we don’t know what kind of life others have, we should just go with “Be kind. Make someone smile.” What can it hurt? We may be the highlight in their day.

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