Let us count our blessings

How lucky we are. How incredibly lucky we are to have been born when we were born and where we were born.

Every now and again, I cruise the Web looking for my grandparents and great-grandparents, whom I never saw and about whom I know only some tantalizing hand-me-down legends. Because the pool of public records online grows deeper with each passing day, occasionally I come across something new.

Last night, what should I find but the 1900 census records listing my father’s parents, living way to hell and gone out in some godforsaken patch of east-central Texas. My father was not yet a proverbial twinkle, but both of his brothers had come into being in the early 1890s.

His mother was born in Arkansas. Her father came from Ohio, her mother from Indiana. His father said he was born in Illinois and that his father came from Tennessee.

With a banjo on his knee, no doubt.

By the time my father came on the scene, they were living near or in Fort Worth. He lied about his age as soon as he could get away with it and ran off to join the Navy. He used to say the best thing about being from Texas was being from Texas: as far from it as you could get. I found Google satellite and street-level photos of the wide spot in the road where his parents and brothers must have lived in 1900. Gives technicolor meaning to my father’s words.

Ever have the privilege of visiting east-central Texas in a blue norther? God help us, it’s as cold as you’ll ever get, this side of Antarctica. That’s when you’re inside a house. The icy wind seeps in through every microscopic crack it can find. Imagine living through a Plains winter in a tent, a dugout, a mud hut, or a log cabin! Imagine working through a Texas or an Arkansas summer without air conditioning. Imagine what Illinois and Ohio would have been like before there were cities, before towns, before even a lean-to on the grassland.

Sometimes I think about those folks and I wonder: what on earth were they coming from that this looked good? It’s hard to conceive of the desperation, the poverty that would spur a man or a woman to take off across the Great Plains on a horse or a wagon. Think of that. It’s the equivalent of climbing on a camel and riding into the Sahara Desert. Imagine how hard they must have worked, how hungry they must have been, how tired they must have been, how sick they must have gotten. Imagine giving birth—facing down death to do it—in the middle of nowhere. Really, literally, nowhere.

What drove those people?

We are so lucky to have a roof over our heads and four walls (sometimes more!) around us. Miraculously lucky to be able to turn on a heater when the cold wind wails in from the north, to flick a switch to pump in cool air when the sun starts to bake, to make our livings as wage slaves rather than having to dig our lives out of the rocky soil or chase cattle across the desertifying plains. Lord, what lives they led.

And what lives we lead!

Where my great-grandfather hunted buffalo

Where my great-grandfather hunted buffalo

Image: The Llano Estacado, Texas. Twenty-First Annual Report of the United States Geological Survey. Wikipedia, Llano Estacado.

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Joel November 24, 2009 at 11:06 pm

Just wanted to drop by and thank you for leaving a comment on my guest article over on Mrs Micah at: http://financefreelancelife.com/2009/11/19/multiple-income-streams-why-i-started-5-companies-and-maybe-you-should-too/ Would you be open to allowing me to write a guest post for you? Thanks! – Joel

Shelley November 25, 2009 at 7:03 am

So you are into genealogy, too! Yes, that research often gives information that makes one appreciate living here and now instead of there and then. My most recent foray uncovered coal mining in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) where the Choctaw Nation mines had the highest mortality rate per ton of coal produced. Before that they mined ironstone in SW Scotland; being Irish immigrants during the famine, they were the lowest of the low and lived in absolute squalor. Heaven knows what their lives were like in Ireland and given the mess their records are in I’m not likely to learn. Still, one ended up owning a coal mine (how, I’ve yet to find out). His son was a lawyer and his grandson is quite well off, and very nice. Unfortunately, the lawyer’s brother was my grandfather and he didn’t do so well… Never mind! Genealogy – a great tightwad hobby!

Revanche November 28, 2009 at 1:17 pm

I think about these sorts of things a lot as a first gen kid; the harrowing tales of the crossing over from the homeland, and the stories of growing up in the homeland aren’t too far distant in our family’s past.

As I say, no matter how tough I think I’ve got it, I still won a small prize in the genetic lottery.

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