Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Book of Me, Part 8: My Techie Time Capsule

This is my entry prompted by The Book of Me, Written By You project created by Julie Goucher of the Anglers Rest blog. The concept: a series of blogging and writing prompts that help family historians capture their own memories and write about themselvesGo to for more information.

This week's assignment:

The continuation of the 15 month, weekly writing project about my life and memories, created by Julie Goucher.
The prompt for week 8 is Time Capsule

1. You can choose who to create the time capsule for as that will influence what you put (or would put into your time capsule)

2. The creation of a time capsule
a. you can do this in the literal sense or
b. you can simply write what you would place into your time capsule and why. It is much more fun to create though!

* You may choose to create a time capsule for your children, or a niece/nephew, for grandchildren – A physical item that you will give to a named person.

*Why have you chosen that person and when do you intend for them to have it?

*You may choose to create a time capsule of your home and leave it for someone in the future to find.

*You may want to create a time capsule relating to an actual event or anniversary

*If you create a physical time capsule, what did you choose to use as your capsule and why?

OK, so I struggled with this one at first.  Having survived some adversity, I don't place much importance on "stuff."  That's a good thing, for me personally.  So initially, I couldn't really think of much that was worthy of a time capsule project.  For me, it would be, at the most, pictures and notes to ones who come after me, hoping that they knew who I was and that they knew the things that were most important to me were the ones I loved.

Image courtesy of hin255 at
I didn't worry about the pictures, though.  Most of my photographs have been scanned and are on my computer, a backup hard drive, the cloud, an off-line backup service, etc.  I've also distributed them to family members on CD.  My friend gave me the idea of putting current technology in a Time Capsule, to show what we're using in the present day to communicate, research, preserve, and, well, do just about anything.

In the spirit of being a techie geek, here's what I would put in my Time Capsule:

1)  My MacBook Pro.
Image courtesy Apple Inc.
 It's on my lap more hours of the day than it's not.  It's my link to so many things--social media, research for my genealogy, the virtual friends I've made, the long-distance friends I don't see as often as I'd like, and too many games when I'm not in the mood to do something constructive.

Copyright Microsoft Corporation.
2)  My husband's laptop PC.  It's a reminder to me of why I switched to Mac--mostly because of Internet Explorer and Windows' Vista operating system, both of which required me to frequently boot my computer and utter very bad words.  I don't miss it, and though my Mac did cost me more, what it saves me in aggravation and stress reduction is priceless.

3) My phone.  I remember my first cell phone, about 1993, and the difference between it and my current "smartphone" is amazing.  The functionality on a typical smartphone is mind-blowing.

Image courtesy of Harmonix

4) My tv.  It connects to the internet, allows me to play Rock Band, play 3-D movies, and even serves as a monitor for my Mac if I should want to share a video or some other content from my computer with the family. 

Image courtesy of kangshutters

5) My satellite dish/DVR. Out of date now, IMO.

I studied Computer Technology in college.  This was at a time where the programming languages being taught included Cobol, Assembler, Fortran, etc. I had to use what was called a punch-card machine to write my code.  Each line of code went onto a punch card.  The assembled stack of cards with all of my code would be fed into a card reader, which then input my program to the computer, where it was "compiled" and executed.  
The computer that was used back then (late 70's), taking up an entire room, had less power than my Mac.  Pretty amazing.  And nowadays, a new chipset, processor, etc., comes out so frequently that if you wanted to have the latest technology, you'd be buying a new computer, phone, tablet, etc., all the time.

That is the point of my Time Capsule project--to show the changes in technology.  It's not sentimental or personal, really, but reflects my passion for all things techie.  For a long time, especially before the invention of computers and the availability of personal computers (early 80's), technology advanced much more slowly.  Now, change is explosively rapid--and I can only imagine what kinds of gadgets and toys will be available to future generations.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Dr. Jekyll (The "Good" Dad) Makes Some Appearances

This blogging project has prompted a flood of memories and I realize, reviewing my posts, that I have focused on much of the more negative aspects of my childhood.  It wasn't a constant war zone, it was just volatile and unpredictable, but there were happy times, and I feel that it would be only fair to share some of them.

Budding musician, age 8
Copyright © 2013 Linda O'Donnell All Rights Reserved
 My father loved music, especially anything played on the organ.  As the first born, and being a girl, I was a prime candidate for learning to play the organ.  Dad played, but he could not read music.  He had an especially good ear, and after hearing a song he liked, he could sit down and play a bit of it on his own, just from memory.  He insisted that I take lessons, which I started when I was about 8. I don't remember loving it, especially since I had to practice so much, but apparently I had a natural ability and I progressed fairly quickly.  I gave it up by the time I reached high school, but I'm grateful for having had those lessons.  I learned so much--not only about the structure of music--but I also gained a love for music of almost all genres (I still hate rap) and knowledge of old songs.  It was also something that was shared between just me and my father, and that was special to me.  I remember waking up on Sunday mornings to the stereo being on, and old music soundtracks were one of the favorites.  I am blessed to have the love of music within me, and I owe that to my dad.

My daughter getting lessons from her grandpa, cir. 1991
Copyright © 2013 Linda O'Donnell All Rights Reserved
My father loved his Chicago sports.  In the 60's and 70's, our NFL team, the Bears, pretty much sucked.  As a result, the games were not always sold out, so the game would not be broadcast on the local Chicago station on those Sundays.  Ever the die-hard fan, my dad would climb up on the roof and adjust the TV antenna until he could pick up even the slightest signal from Milwaukee, so we could watch the game.  Now that's dedication! It may have been a snowy, fuzzy picture, but we were watching the game. It cracks me up, even to this day, to recall the memory of my dad working on that antenna for a team that was lousy.

As much as Dad loved the Bears, he was an even bigger Blackhawks fan (hockey).  He wanted my brother to play, and enrolled Tommy into pee-wee leagues in the area.  We spent many a weekend at local rinks so Tommy could practice skating, and of course watch the games he played in.  Dad built an ice rink in our backyard every winter, using lumber, heavy plastic sheeting and edging to that we had the daily ability to skate.  It was a labor of love and though I never ended up being much of a skater, it was a pretty cool thing to have your own personal ice rink.  I also remember going to a Blackhawks game, during the playoffs.  Bobby Hull, a prolific Hawks player from the 1960's, had scored a hat trick (3 goals).  Joining the crowd in a customary response, my dad threw his hat down towards the ice.  This was not just a ball cap.  It was a nice, formal wool hat.  Miraculously, someone threw it back in our direction.  I grabbed it and held on to it tightly, because I didn't want my mother to be mad that my dad lost a perfectly good hat.  He wanted to throw it again, though, and I had to hold on tightly so he wouldn't be able to do it.  That memory makes me smile.

Among other good things my dad did for me:

1) Helped me get my first stereo
2) Co-signed on my first car loan
3) Helped me make a replica of the Washington Monument for an art project
4) Took me to see the Ice Capades
5) Taught me how to change the oil and spark plugs in my car
6) Helped me get my first job
7) Taught me morals, a strong work ethic and a love for my country
8) Walked me down the aisle at both of my weddings

Living with Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde as a parent is a difficult experience, and I would have to say Dad usually presented himself more frequently as Mr. Hyde than Dr. Jekyll (bad Dad vs. good Dad).  But there were glimpses of what I would describe as the "real" Dad, the one who was funny, kind and loving, and I absolutely treasure every experience I had with that Dad.  It's just too bad that that his demons and inability to cope with life's struggles brought out the other version of my dad so often.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Book of Me, Part 7: Grandparents

This is my entry prompted by The Book of Me, Written By You project created by Julie Goucher of the Anglers Rest blog. The concept: a series of blogging and writing prompts that help family historians capture their own memories and write about themselvesGo to for more information.

This week's assignment:

The continuation of the 15 month, weekly writing project about my life and memories, created by Julie Goucher.
The prompt for week 7 is Grandparents

What were their names?
Where were they from?
Were they related? – Cousins perhaps
Where were they born, another Country or state/area
What did they do?
Did you know them?
What was your relationship with them?
If you didn't know them have you researched about them?

Eva and Thomas Barski, cir. 1948
Copyright © 2013 Linda O'Donnell All Rights Reserved
I have always felt like I was cheated when it came to grandparents.  Many of my friends had grandparents with whom they had active, loving relationships.  Me, not so much.  But what I've learned about them (and from the one good grandparent I had in my life) has influenced me more than I originally realized.

Let's start with my father's side.  My father, Thomas, was the second of two children born to Thomas and Eva Barski, and the only son.  Eva was born in Austria (also called Galicia at the time), and came to the United States as a very young child with her mother after her father died, around 1910.  My grandfather, also named Thomas, was the youngest of three boys born in the United States to Polish immigrants.

I do not know how they met.  Eva died, tragically, of colon cancer (the same disease which claimed my father's life) in her early 50's.  Thomas Sr. took her death so hard that he decided to move away from the Chicago area and took up residence in southern California.  My father, who had to be called home from serving in the Korean Conflict, made it home to say goodbye to his mother and then promptly got shipped back to Korea after her funeral.  I cannot imagine how this must have impacted him.

Thomas Sr. was known to be somewhat less than dedicated to his jobs (apparently he had quite a few), and when times got tough, Eva somehow scraped enough money together to open a neighborhood grocery store, where she sold homemade sandwiches, cakes and salads.  She was known as the sensible one, the one who handled the finances, served as the emotional backbone of the family.  My father told me that his mother was always home when he arrived at the end of his school day, and I also remember him attempting to recreate many of her homemade recipes for Austrian concoctions that were met with varying levels of enthusiasm from us kids.  I wish I had met her.  From all accounts, Eva was kind, hard-working, and sensible, all traits I admire very much.

I only met my grandfather Thomas Sr. twice; once when I was 7 and once when I was 14.  During both visits, he was short-tempered, abrupt and rude.  Knowing that he ceased to be a part of my father's life when Eva died has given me insight into my father's own emotional shortcomings. Thomas Sr. died in 1980 in California, and apparently my father's reaction was one of disinterest.

My mother was an only child, the product of a marriage that probably should never have taken place.  My grandfather, Carl, was the only child of Swedish immigrants in Chicago, and my grandmother, Esther, was the oldest of three, born in Denmark and immigrated as a toddler.

Me & "Esther" on my wedding day, 1980
Copyright © 2013 Linda O'Donnell All Rights Reserved
I am also unsure how they met.  I know that Esther was a nurse and Carl was an accountant.  He was a sweet, gentle soul who wouldn't hurt a fly.  Esther threw dishes and vases at him when they argued.   They divorced when my mother was young, and Esther moved to Shreveport, Louisiana when my mother was in her early teens, to marry her second husband, Larry, leaving Carl to raise their daughter on his own.  This impacted my mother dramatically, and I don't believe she has ever coped with the sense of abandonment.  Carl never remarried...I think he loved Esther until the day he died.  God only knows why.

Esther would visit us once in a while, and her perfume would permeate the house for weeks after she left.  I have no doubt that she loved us, but she wasn't very demonstrative of it.  She was self-centered, judgmental and not very patient.  She would send my mother a check for our birthdays and Christmas, never taking the time to personally choose a gift.  My father detested Esther, and she hated him right back.  I heard stories of how my father threw her out of our house when I was a baby, because she was already trying to tell my parents how to raise me and was always critical of my dad.  When I relocated to Texas in the 1980's, Esther moved to Texas, and I would visit her occasionally, but I never developed the warm relationship with her that I craved.  We never baked cookies together, went shopping, or shared secrets.  She was Esther, not "Grandma," and as I got older, I found that I resented her for divorcing my beloved Grandpa.  When she suffered a stroke in 1998, I visited her in the hospital as much as I could, but we had very little to talk about.  I hate to admit that when she died, I didn't feel a huge sense of loss.

Me and my Grandpa, Cir. 1960
Copyright © 2013 Linda O'Donnell All Rights Reserved
As I mentioned in an earlier post, my grandfather Carl played a huge role in my life, for the short time I had him.  He adored me and my siblings.  He was very interactive with us, taught me to love Chicago sports, and always demonstrated his love, sense of humor and patience with us.  My father loved Carl more than his own father, and was devastated, like the rest of us, when Grandpa died suddenly at the age of 66.  I was 12.  My parents were never the same after Carl's death, and his loss caused whatever emotional stability we might have hoped for in my family to evaporate.

I had the opportunity to visit Grandpa's gravesite this past July.  He is buried in a huge cemetery...more than 40,000 souls are interred there.  My friend Carol and I went to the office, got ourselves armed with a map and set out to find him.  Even with the map, however, it was difficult to navigate the site, and the row markers were buried beneath overgrown grass.  So we decided to divide and conquer.  Carol went off in one direction and I in the other.  I encountered a young man, quietly sitting under a tree, who asked me who I was looking for.  I told him Grandpa's name, and as soon as the words left my lips, a huge, sustained gust of wind nearly knocked me over, creating a vortex of leaves and flowers, though there was not a cloud in the sky.  The young man joked that Grandpa must have known I was there.  We determined that his marker was on the other side of the section, so I walked back over to Carol and we drove around to access the proper spot.  When I mentioned the huge gust of wind, Carol had no idea what I was talking about.  Although she had only been about 25 feet away, she never felt the wind, saw the mini-tornado or heard a thing.  I began to cry...and once we found Grandpa's marker, I found myself talking to him, sobbing, telling him how much I loved him and missed him...43 years after he died.  That big wind was likely a coincidence, but I really felt connected to Grandpa that day.  Of all the adult figures in my childhood, he was the one who showed me unconditional and unwavering love and encouragement.  I think about him every day, and will miss him always.
Grandpa's marker
Copyright © 2013 Linda O'Donnell All Rights Reserved

Learning what I have about my grandparents and their lives, however, has given me a sense of the struggles my parents endured in their childhoods.  Perhaps it is why they were not the ideal parents to grow up with...although I am a firm believer that we all have the ability to choose how to treat others, especially our loved ones.  My dad's sister (my aunt), and her six children, are all warm, funny and intelligent people, so why did their family thrive while ours was always in turmoil?  There is no sense to make of it, no Monday morning quarterbacking, etc., that can give me concrete answers.  I've come to believe that they all did the best they could with the resources they had.  Some of us have more strength than others, and cope with the challenges of life in more positive ways.  I am thankful for the life lessons I innate sense of knowing right from wrong, a strong work ethic, passion, even humor.  I also learned that I wanted to be different in many ways-- a hands-on parent, an encourager, someone with patience and empathy, and I think, while I have my flaws, I have succeeded in achieving those things, for the most part.  I like to think I have most emulated my beloved Grandpa...showing love...not only to my family, but to friends and strangers alike.  What better tribute could I pay to him?

Blessings to you,

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Discovering the Roots of Dysfunction...and Forgiving

Since recently having the amazing opportunity to reconnect with my aunt, whom I hadn't seen since I was in elementary school, I've been able to score some great old family pictures, hear stories about members of my family that I never knew, and gain important insight into how my nuclear family ticked.

My father always talked about the first time he laid eyes on my mother.  He was 18 and she was a very mature 14.  He said that the moment he saw her, he knew she was the one.  My mother's best friend happened to be the sister of my father's best friend, and that's how they met.  Dad had just graduated from high school, and Mom had just graduated from elementary school.  (They don't look too happy in this picture, do they?)

This blogger's parents, cir. 1949-50
Copyright 2013 Linda O'Donnell, All Rights Reserved
My mother, who lived only with her father, encountered some obstacles.  My grandfather wasn't exactly keen on the idea of his 14 year-old daughter dating an older boy.  My father went out of his way to assure my grandfather that his intentions were purely honorable, however, and apparently he was able to persuade Grandpa to give his permission for them to date.

One other problem my father had was in convincing his parents that my mother was worthy.  My mother's parents divorced when she was about 5, and my grandmother had developed a reputation as quite a floozy--drinking and bar-hopping, dating frequently--quite scandalous in 1949 Chicago.  I think they were all able to figure out that my mother was nothing like her mother, and their love story began.

When my mom was in high school, my father was drafted, and shipped off to serve in the Army during the Korean Conflict.  He wrote to her nearly every day, and I remember blushing the first time I saw the stacks of letters, all stating "SWAK" (sealed with a kiss) and marked "Hubba Hubba" by my love-stricken father.  I cannot even begin to imagine how difficult that time was for both of them.  Neither of them spoke of it much.  My father had to take leave to come home when his mother died, but had to return to combat shortly afterwards.  I think this was very traumatic for him, and again, he didn't speak of it much.  His father fell apart emotionally upon losing his wife, and he moved to California to escape his memories and grief.  Since their relationship was already strained, the separation only served to widen the gap between them.

My grandmother moved to Louisiana to marry her second husband while my mother was in high school.  I know my mother always felt her mother abandoned her, and she has spent a lifetime trying to figure out what she did to deserve it.

A year after my mother graduated from high school, she and my father were married.  I have no doubt that they loved each other.  But each brought a good deal of emotional baggage that I believe, when blended, created the perfect storm (and not in a good way.)

Dad never talked about his struggles, worries or feelings.  When he got upset, he either erupted in a huge display of temper, punching walls or throwing things, or he would retreat in silence, often for days at a time.  Up until recently, I always viewed my mother as the long-suffering victim, suffering in silence and trying to appease my dad's Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde personality.  I have since learned that she most likely manipulated him, probably because she could, and their unhealthy emotional alliance would end up taking its toll on their children.

Love is not all you need (my apologies to Lennon and McCartney).  You need communication skills, patience, compromise, and sometimes, therapy.  Of course, people from my parents' generation just didn't do that.  They just got sucked into the vortex of their dysfunction until it nearly destroyed them, and it almost took me and my brother down, too.  Luckily, we were able to overcome and not repeat the cycle, largely because we had each other, terrific spouses and the will to survive and overcome.  We have a younger sister who, in my opinion, inherited/learned the worst traits of both of them.  Very sad.

Me, my sister and brother, 1965
Copyright 2013 Linda O'Donnell, All Rights Reserved

I loved my parents.  I can't say I liked them all the time.  I spent a lifetime trying to please them before I figured out that it wasn't possible.  But I have compassion for them, because they were impacted by events in their childhoods that left them emotionally incapable of dealing with the stresses of marriage, parenthood and the challenges of life.  Am I perfect?  Far from it, believe me.  But I am at least aware of my shortcomings and am continually trying to improve.  And most importantly, the cycle of mistreating our children ended with me.  I may be neurotic, but my daughter has been loved and nurtured, and while I may have spoiled her, I think it's preferable to what I experienced. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Book of Me, Part 6 -- Journals & Diaries

This is my entry prompted by The Book of Me, Written By You project created by Julie Goucher of the Anglers Rest blog. The concept: a series of blogging and writing prompts that help family historians capture their own memories and write about themselvesGo to for more information.

This week's assignment:

The continuation of the 15 month, weekly writing project about my life and memories, created by Julie Goucher.
The prompt for week 6 is Journals and Diaries

  • Do you keep a journal or diary?
  • How far back do they go? What do you record?
  • Where do you keep them?
  • Do you always buy the same one or vary them?
  • Have you inherited any?
  • Do you intend to pass along your journals or destroy them?
  • Pictures
  • Do you have a favorite?
  • What do you use to write with – biro, pencil, ink or fountain pen?

A tortured soul no more...but there was a time when I was mired in misery and my only outlet was a journal.

I never kept a diary when I was a child.  I was always worried that someone would find it, and the thought of someone reading about my dreams and fears was just too horrifying to bear.

If you've read of any of my previous posts, you know that my childhood was less than idyllic.  I moved out as soon as I was old enough to do so, but yet continued to make every effort I could to please my parents and win their love and approval.  I even married my first husband partly because they liked him so much.  I knew, when walking down the aisle, that I should have turned and fled, but I lacked the courage and self-esteem to do so.  I can't say I'm sorry I married him, because it's through that union that I had my daughter.  But the unhappiness of the marriage led me to begin counseling, and that's when I started journaling.

At first, I kept a book of things I remembered, being careful not to share any personal feelings or sense of vulnerabilities.  When my daughter was born, I started a baby book for her, and it sparked so many feelings for me that I began to write a journal on my computer.  After all, I could protect it with a password, so no one could see the real me--a deeply insecure and wounded soul who was an over-achiever in life who exuded confidence so no one would see the scared little girl inside.

When I got divorced, I went through even more counseling, not only to deal with the failure of my marriage, but also to deal with many of the childhood hurts I was still carrying around.  When I started dating my current husband, we both had emotional baggage from our previous relationships and childhoods, so we went to counseling before we got married, to improve our chances of making the relationship work.  We wrote letters to each other that we read in the therapist's office, and I wish I still had them...because writing things down somehow demonstrates a truth and commitment to those words. And I am happy to report that we are approaching our 25th anniversary.

I've continued counseling and a big tool used to work through old issues is journaling.  I have many large journal entries that I've kept over the years.  I found that as I started writing, old memories that I hadn't given a thought in many years began to surface.  Some were good, some not so much.  But, I have found that the process of writing has been therapeutic.  I can now recall the bad experiences without pain.  I am able to share the details of family experiences without sinking into a deep funk.  These things helped make me who I am.  I turned out fairly well.  Yes, I'm still insecure but much better than I used to be.  I realize these important things:

1) I'm not like my parents (at least not the bad stuff.)
2) I'm a survivor.
3) I'm compassionate and caring.
4) I'm an encourager.
5) I'm intelligent and honest, and sometimes funny.
But also,
6) I care too much about what other people think.
7) I dislike being dependent on others because of my illness.
8) I hate that I'm a Chicago Cub fan.
9) I often wish I could go back and do things differently.

Ah, but we all know hindsight has 20/20 vision, and as of this writing, there are no time machines.  Writing journals/diaries, for me, has been a way to formally recognize the abuses and tragedies I've survived, the triumphs I've achieved, the ways I've been blessed, and put them into the context they deserve.  As Popeye says, "I yam who I yam," and that's the way it is.  Love me, hate me, or in between, with me, what you see is what you get.  I didn't know who I really was for a long time, and keeping a journal has helped me immensely.

I don't have any specific plans on what to do with my journal entries.  If I thought I could turn them into a book that would be remotely entertaining, I would do so, but who wants to hear about a dysfunctional family's trials and tribulations?  I would need to interject some humor and inspiration, and that could be a huge amount of work!  

My advice to anyone with negative feelings, or even overwhelming joy--write it down.  It's always interesting to go back later and read how you were feeling and the situation you were experiencing.  Nothing is permanent, and in almost all cases, things improve.  Embrace who you are, what you're living, and chronicle the book of you.  It may help you, and it may inspire someone else too.

Good luck with your writing, and thanks for reading my entry.