Sunday, February 19, 2017

Who I Am

I've been talking to my bus driver, Connie, who runs the SouthWood Route. She's also a full-time minister who, in addition to shuttling folks from SouthWood to downtown and points in-between, gives solicited and sometimes unsolicited bits of knowledge. Her most recent "sermon" has been on Who We Are as people of God. It's been an interesting conversation which I've engaged her in on a number of recent bus trips.

As I was walking over 4 miles yesterday, I had time to clear my head and do some meditating on Who I Am, as a person. And here's what I came up with. I didn't know who I was for a very long time. I didn't really care for myself all that much until I moved back to Florida in 2011 and had a bit of a catharsis on the beach. Self discovery that started at the end of 2011 and led me to some radical changes that brought me to where I am today--back in a town that I swore off in December 2006 when I sold my house and moved back to Indiana.

In my time of reflection and meditation, as I strolled along a barren stretch of Capital Circle SE, I realized what a pivotal year 2006 was for me. It was the beginning of what I now call my decade of crisis. I was 38, then, and I still didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I found what I thought was real love for the first time. It led me away from my wife and ultimately down the path to divorce in 2012. It was an up-and-down rollercoaster ride from 2006 until 2016, which I blogged recently was one of the worst years of my life.

But things began to turn around near the holidays. And as 2017, emerged, I realized that I wasn't the same person that I was during that crisis and certainly not the 38 years before. This year, I've decided to take hold of the rudder of my life again and be the captain of this aging vessel. Whereas before I was willing to let the winds of change shift my direction here and there. I tried to be a,flexible reed letting the winds bend me to and fro, calling it "life's adventure" and taking things as they came to me. Really, I was being lazy and just settling for whatever came my way. I had stopped trying all that hard. I was still living, I was enjoying life, but I didn't feel like I was making choices that would get me to a desired destination.

That definitely began to change in 2012, when I decided to end my marriage. That was a definitive choice. It was a step in the process of finding out who I am and what I am made of. It was a very difficult hill to climb, but I did reach the pinnacle and come down on the other side. I survived. But I still didn't know exactly who I was. Today, I know.

I AM A GOOD FATHER

My daughters mean everything to me. And while they've always been a priority, I never had to sacrifice as much for them as I did in 2014 when I moved back to Tallahassee to be fully engaged in their lives again. It was a bittersweet move for me that I shed many tears over, but a great one nonetheless. I needed to be close to them to be able to continue sowing good seed into their young lives. That first year back in Tallahassee led me to a lot of soul searching. I took lots of cleansing walks, to talk to myself, search my heart and soul and to breathe again. Those girls are my reason for being--well the biggest part of it anyway.

I AM A SPIRITUAL PERSON

I am still a seeker of truth and justice. I try to be a giver, a pursuer of right causes, an advocate for others, an encourager and a more positive person. My journey has led me to broaden my faith to accept Truth where I find it, regardless of the label we place on it. That said, my faith is rooted in Christianity, but I find Truth is not bound by that label or any doctrine thereof. My spirituality embraces tenets of Eastern religions--Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism--and the beliefs of Western Protestant Christianity. Where the Eastern mystics promote living in the present and being fully aware and fully human, I find peace and comfort in that. When they say to sow good into the world and that it'll be returned to you (i.e. Karma), I find the same teachings in the Gospels, regarding sowing and reaping. Even in the Old Testament, Nehemiah prophesies to the builders of the walls of Jerusalem, "only the builders will be paid for their labor." These Truths aren't proprietary to one sect of religion and spiritual people find great comfort in that.

I AM MUSICAL TO MY CORE

I find rhythm in nearly everything. Even my daily routines have a rhythm to them. There's a rhythm in my quick stride to the bus stop in the mornings. It's no wonder that I am a drummer. I find comfort in the steady tempo of life, in the pulse of my heartbeat (which is the backbeat and backbone of modern music, by the way) and in the rhythm of all kinds of music--from black gospel to heavy metal. Music speaks to my soul and has from a very early age. Another great decision I made in 2012 was to join a rock-n-roll cover band. Today, I find myself in one of the best bands I have ever played for. It's because I am a musical being and I need that outlet so that my soul can shine. One day, I'll even write and record my own original music, but for now I just have to play!

I LOVE WHO I AM

It took me the longest time to get over myself and all my perceived failures. I was a constant critic and my internal voice nagged the hell out of me from my childhood, through my adolescence and into adulthood. I just couldn't seem to shake the negativity I always felt towards myself. It felt as if I'd never measure up to my own unrealistic expectations. That, too, began to change in 2012 when I found a book by Dr. Christopher Germer, "The Mindful Path To Self Compassion." I devoured that book on the beach that summer, skipping over the long chapters on meditation practices. My soul needed to hear what he had to say about self-love and affirmation. You see, Words of Affirmation, as Dr. Gary Smalley, taught me through his book, "The Five Love Languages," is my PRIMARY love language, followed by physical touch (secondary). I've found that this is pretty common for men--well, for all people, really, but especially for men. The thing is that I was seeking that love from other people when I didn't even feel it for myself. I wasn't loving myself because I didn't like myself. I didn't know who I was. I began the discovery in my first year of crisis, 2006, and found myself again in 2012, but there were still parts of me I didn't understand, so I didn't know to love them. Today, I feel like I've fully discovered myself. And while I haven't tapped into all my raw potential, I know what lies within and I really love myself completely. No more tearing myself down. If I'm going to be an encourager and a lover of people, I must start with myself. It'd be foolish and disingenuous to be any other way.

I realized yesterday that my midlife crisis lasted a decade, from 2006-2016. It spanned my life from 38 to 48 years old. That's a long time to go through a metamorphosis where I nearly hit rock bottom twice, but it's my journey and I'm telling you that's how it happened. I'm not the same guy that I was in 2006, not the same guy I was at the start of last year, even. But today, I fully love the man that is a good, no GREAT, father, a spiritualist, a musician and a man that is fully human, in touch with the full range of his emotions and excited to be alive.

There...that felt good!

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Saturday, February 11, 2017

Our Indiana Roots

I started telling our story on Facebook in a closed group for our family. I'm trying to tell our family story, so that my nieces and nephews will understand the deep roots and rich history we have in the Hoosier State, especially through Grammy's family.



Through her grandmother, we trace our roots back to pioneer times, before Indiana was granted statehood in 1816. That's more than 200 years of history in that state, then still a territory!

So, I began the tale in 1968, when I was born, in the small farming town of Princeton, Indiana.

Grammy and Papaw had been high school sweethearts. They married the year of my birth. Dad, raised in an Irish Catholic home with Dutch influences, saw Mom on his paper route. Mom had been raised in the Methodist tradition. Her stepfather didn't go to church, so I think she had lost interest by high school. The Doyles were members of St. Joseph Catholic Church and Grandpa Doyle an esteemed member of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal order.Grammy loved Papaw dearly and wanted her children raised in the knowledge of Christ, so she converted to Catholicism. No one asked and no one even knew that she was secretly taking classes at the church in Princeton to learn about the Catholic tradition. I was baptized into the Catholic faith at St. Joe's by Father Egloff, the priest who had married my parents. We were ardent Catholics, but that was a lifetime ago and the younger generation of Doyles don't have any idea what that was like.


When we moved to the Broad Ripple area of Indianapolis in the summer of 1974, we lived on Central Canal just a few blocks from Central Avenue. My school was at our church, Immaculate Heart of Mary at the corner of Central and 57th St. That's where I received First Communion, made confession for the first time and attended the first through fourth grades.


We were thoroughly Catholic in the tradition of the Doyle family. I thought having priests and nuns in my life was perfectly normal. They were my mentors and my teachers. I couldn't wait to become an altar boy for mass! I wore dress shirts and clip-on ties to school everyday. I thought school uniforms were just part of normal life and that every kid wore them.

My best friend, Hugh Kennerk, lived right across the street from the church.

The reason Hugh fits in this story is because his parents, Harry and Linda, were two of Grammy and Papaw's best friends. They attended Grammy's memorial service in December 2015. They are very special people...spiritual too. They were big influences on Papaw's faith. You see, he had grown uncomfortable with some of the more far-reaching beliefs of the Catholic Church, like purgatory, the saints, especially Mother Mary, etc. The Kennerks were part of a spiritual revival in the Church called the Charismatic Movement, that focused heavily on the very early Church and especially the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, as described in the Book of Acts. (For more, read this article: Is Charismatic Revival Exploding Among Catholics).

This was the beginning of our family's "Holy Roller" Phase, as I like to call it. We subsequently left the Catholic Church about the time we moved in 1977 and I was entering the fifth grade. Our new parish was St. Matthew's on Indy's northeast side at 56th and Binford. We had moved to 5701 Winston Drive to have space for our growing family. Grammy must've found out she was pregnant with Ryan around June 1977 because 9 months later, he arrived.

Not knowing where to go, my parents dabbled in non-denominational churches, like the one that met in an old, one-story office building near 46th and Keystone. We sat in folding chairs in a circle while Rev. Tim-Tom (shout out to "The Middle") strummed a guitar and we all sang. It was a FAR CRY from the liturgy, iconography and aesthetics of the Catholic Mass.

Lest I forget, the hippy-fest began the same summer that we moved. We left town with the Myers family (yes, Kristy Myers-Hilligoss, was a little girl once) and headed for the mountains of Allegheny, Pennsylvania, and the Jesus 77 Festival. That's where I got to see this Charismatic Movement firsthand and hear Keith Green live for the very first time. He was on the mainstage, the headliner, if you will, and the main reason we went, I think. It was all very strange and foreign to me.

Fast forward through high school--and I attended a Catholic high school, too--we were on the verge of the biggest moves of our lives. The family now complete, at seven. Keely had arrived in May 1979, and even she started school at St. Matthew's. We only attended Mass occasionally so that my parents could afford to send us to Catholic school. You see, if you paid your dues to the church, you got a break on tuition--at St. Matthew's and at Chatard H.S. But we were covertly Protestant by then. :)

We landed in the armpit of Florida in Summer 1986. Tallahassee was nothing like I had imagined it would be. There was no beach, no girls in bikinis and few palm trees! There was a crazy Pentecostal church though. By then, Grammy was fully exploring this thing called Spirit-filled Christianity. She'd dabbled in it at a mostly black church in Indy before we moved. I don't think Papaw wanted any part of it. It must have seemed superstitious and over-emotional to him. Grammy, always a lover of "black music," especially the early R&B of Motown, loved the uptempo, energetic, rhythm-centric music, influenced by black Gospel choir music. I think that's what we all liked about Christian Heritage.

After reading a book called "Walking & Leaping," Dad felt led to this church on the north end of town, near Lake Jackson, with the shiney metal dove descending down the facade of the church. That's where our family ended up in 1986 and it changed our family forever.

I begrudgingly went because this new musical experience intrigued me. Also, the youth pastor fronted a rock-n-roll-type worship band on Sunday evenings. I believe we were all "filled with the Spirit" at that church. And thus our spiritual journey took a huge left turn.

By 1989, everyone in the family, but me, had returned to the Indianapolis area. Papaw needed work and nothing was panning out in Florida, so he went back to the life he knew, working for credit unions in Indiana. They first lived in Zionsville before moving all the way across town to Beech Grove. The life that Ryan and Keely experienced was really nothing like the life Heidi and I experienced, growing up in a more affluent area in the Catholic faith. Holly was the in-betweener and I think experienced both.

The point of all of this, though, is to show how Grammy gently guided our spiritual journey after Papaw lost his enthusiasm for Catholicism. She converted when they were both very young parents. She wanted our family to have spiritual roots. And since Papaw's family was firmly rooted in the Catholic Church, she chose that path for us. Once Papaw converted, she followed suit, but began exploring more fully this charismatic movement in both the Protestant and Catholic churches. She gently nudged Papaw. And it was funny, too, because when we first went to CHC, the fully integrated, spirit-filled church in Tallahassee, Papaw refused to give into the emotional side of it. Standing there, stoicly, hands firmly pressed to his side, it seemed that he'd never raise his hands. That would be SO un-Catholic, unrefined and embarassing...to draw that kind of attention to oneself. Look at him now! :D

I hope that helps to shape your perspective of who we are as a family, a spiritual family and one that has taken a long, circuitous route to get where we all are--some of us ardent believers and spirit-filled, others of us questioning our faith (as Papaw once did), but each of us cutting our own path to spirituality. I am proud of each and every one of you for your own unique vision of God and your calling. Thanks for taking the time to read this story. Love - Uncle Chris

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Worst year. EVER!

A lot of folks are complaining about this past year--lost love, lost family, lost celebs...yes, 2016 sucked as a whole for all those reasons and more. My year took a turn in the last quarter of 2015 when I lost my mom at Thanksgiving, November 29th to be exact. Just two days before Christmas '15, I lost a secondary job that was going to help me get back on my feet and into an apartment of my own. Two days before Christmas, and just two weeks after memorializing my mom in Indiana, I get the carpet yanked from under my feet.

Fast forward two months, and the wheels really came off in early February. Through no fault of my own, I lost the house where I rented a very nice room and nearly my primary job. I was no longer playing drums and hadn't for a few months by then. At the same time I was facing a personal crisis, my ex-wife was facing a very real, life-and-death crisis. When her friend died, it affected many of our mutual friends AND, most importantly, my two daughters. I was there for them, putting my own issues aside for a few days.

I have to take a minute to thank my dearest friend, Paula Boyette, without whom that month would have been SO much worse. Not only was she a great friend and a personal aid to me, but she came over the morning after the tragic loss and cleaned my ex-wife's house. That's a true friend. Thank you, Paula!

So February sucked and seemed like a continuation of the end of 2015...then April happened. Just a week before I was planning to leave and spend my summer in Indiana with my widowed father, I totalled my Black Beauty--the 2014 Ford Focus sportwagon I'd only had for 10 months. To make matters worse, my insurance had just lapsed (yes, that was $200 mistake that I'm STILL paying for dearly) and I was "at fault" in the accident. Plans put on hold yet again.

Now, I DID get to have two great months with my dad mid-June through mid-August, but not without help. And I was unable to find employment while I was up there, but it didn't matter to me. I was right where I needed to be. That put me in a financial hole and when I returned, there was much uncertainty. I can't say that I was loving life back in Tallahassee. I seemed to be pulling knives out of my back every time I turned around. That's why when I heard this song by Saint Asonia this morning, it rang true:



Let me live my life 
I can go get my knife 
Or I can pull out the one that you stuck in my back 
For my suffering, you've got nothing to gain 
My pain is your entertainment
(Saint Asonia, 2015)

I offer up those lyrics to 2016. It's been a fuck-my-life kind of year from Nov 2015 - Oct 2016.

I am thankful that things began to change in November of this year, but that first anniversary, first Thanksgiving and all without mom were very difficult and painful. Yes, things have turned around in this last quarter of 2016, but I'm not sad to see this year fade into the blackness. That's what this last year has been shrouded in...total blackness...the only bright spot being my precious time spent with dad in Indiana.

Goodbye to 2016...and fuck you very much!

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Power Failure in Tallahassee-Leon County

TALLAHASSEE - Power failed post-Hurricane Hermine and the lights went out, too. The power structure of city-county government failed to serve the residents of the capital city in an efficient and effective manner. No amount of spin on social media is going to cover for an inept municipal government that bungled the power restoration effort to a city nearly blacked out overnight Thursday and into Friday morning, as a weakening Category 1 storm made landfall southeast of Tallahassee.

Scott Maddox and Mayor Andrew Gillum took to social media in the immediate aftermath of the storm to assure constituents, 80-percent of whom sat in the dark, that power was being restored as quickly as possible. Four days later, more than 20,000 city utility customers still had none. That would be a reasonable response time for a hurricane of any magnitude, but taking into account this was no more than severe thunderstorm strength on the weaker, western side of Hermine, it is inexcusable.

Maddox was trying to encourage patience and keep Tallahassee's residents informed. The mayor was playing the politician's favorite game of covering one's own backside with wordplay. "We are happy to accept any help," the mayor posted to Facebook. The problem with these words are that you don't sit in a darkened city and wait for the cavalry to arrive. Did he learn nothing from New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin's inaction and ineptitude post-Katrina in 2005? The cavalry, in this case nearly 600 Florida Power and Light employees situated in Lake City 100 miles away, doesn't impose its will on a community and start working to restore its power grid. There's a procedure in place that involves no more than a simple phone call or e-mail to the State Emergency Response Team across town at the Emergency Operations Center in SouthWood. And that call simply needs to be made through the Leon County Emergency Management structure. Yet, no one seems to be calling out Emergency Management Director Kevin Peters or even including him in this discussion. That's the chain of command. City manager coordinates with county EM and the call is made to the state and immediate help is sent to the city.

This is Emergency Management 101. When the capabilities of a local community are overwhelmed, the county and state work to provide the necessary resources.

Mutual aid compacts exist between states to allow for procurement of resources across state lines with full reimbursement available. Closer to home, municipalities and county resources stand at the ready to assist each other and those resources are under the Governor's purview once a state of emergency is declared. And in the case of this storm, a private utility company stood at the ready to pounce on Tallahassee's large-scale power outage. The Governor had to act where the city and county did not, at least not quickly enough by all counts, in the wake of Hurricane Hermine.

That's when the finger-pointing started in the media; all the while, Mayor Gillum insisting he hadn't denied any and all help. An article in Saturday morning's Tallahassee Democrat told a different story, one of a city utility manager speaking in direct contradiction of the mayor. "If you send 150 more trucks, we don't have 150 people to put on those trucks," he told the Democrat. Jim Rosica, in a blog post today, tells of the offer of help from FPL President Eric Sigaly who was sitting across from Gillum and utilities chief Rob McGarrah. The problem of 150 hardly seems like an excuse for denying the help of the private utility.

As the city's top brass, they should have made those calls Friday as soon as they knew the extent of the power outage. Every available resource, including FPL, should have been in Tallahassee Friday evening, ready to get the job done. And instead of pointing fingers and covering his own backside, Mayor Gillum should have been leading the cavalry, not waiting for it to arrive uninvited.

The blame game continues today as 17,000 remain without power, air conditioning or refrigeration in their homes. At some point, the mayor and the local governments need to step up and take accountability. What if Hermine had been a Category 3 or higher storm? How would the capital city handle what would unequivocally be a utility apocalypse?

There's no denying that this storm caused unforeseen levels of damage to the region's power grid, especially considering that there weren't copious amounts of rain, like what the Tampa Bay region experienced last week, nor were hurricane force winds felt in any part of Leon County. The real power failure, however, rests with city hall, plain and simple. We can do better, Mayor Gillum. We must. Your job depends on it.

Chris Doyle is a former Public Information Officer with the State Emergency Response Team in Florida and a freelance writer. Contact: doyle_cm@yahoo.com.

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Saturday, August 20, 2016

Memories with Mom I'll never forget


Just found an emotional letter I wrote to my mom on the day I turned 45 back in 2013. It was a difficult letter to write as we had not really spoken or communicated at all since my divorce was finalized earlier that year. In fact, since my estrangement from my family in the summer of 2012, things were tense between me and my parents. My mom and I had grown distant. This letter was my attempt to begin a conversation that would hopefully bridge the gap between us.

It wasn’t an apology letter or a defense of my actions. I simply told her how I’d been feeling and about how hard it was to go it alone, without the emotional support of my mom or dad. Knowing that they’d only heard one side of the story, I didn’t attempt to counter it, per se, I just tried to get my mom to walk a mile in my shoes. She was upset and hurting for my girls. She grew up the child of divorced parents, so it killed her to see her granddaughters hurting. And believe me, if I could’ve sheltered them from that pain, I would have.

At any rate, mom didn’t see things the way I did. She’d been married to my father for 45 years at that time. She never really thought divorce was an option. I was the third child of hers who went there. I hated that I let our differences of opinion cloud my judgment and keep me from speaking to her. In 2013, I didn’t call to wish her a happy birthday or a happy mother’s day. That guilt was weighing on me so heavy by the fall that I sat down on my laptop and wrote from my heart.

I don’t remember verbatim the phone conversation we had a few weeks after she received my letter, but it didn’t seem to hit its mark. I still didn’t feel that she was hearing my heart or understanding where I was coming from. But, at least, we were finally talking. That was the main thing. My letter had started the conversation.

It continued in the spring of 2014, when after moving to Tallahassee to be nearer my girls, my parents came down to Florida for Spring Break with my sister and several of their grandkids. I took my two girls over to Panama City Beach to visit with them even though their Tallahassee Spring Break had ended a week or two earlier. I sat poolside with my mom and engaged in a very difficult conversation where I tried to clarify some of the points of my letter. Mom was hearing me with her ears, but I still wasn’t getting through to her heart and it was frustrating for me. I nearly left in tears. I did leave my girls with them and return to Tallahassee to resume my search for work. At least, that was my excuse for leaving. I was having no luck reconnecting with my parents on a substantial level and I left there very disheartened.

They brought my girls home before heading back to Indiana that April. In June, I’d receive a call from mom that would bring me to my knees. She called to inform me of her aggressive cancer diagnosis and to tell me that she wouldn’t be fighting it medically. She resorted to prayer and, short of a miracle, was going to succumb to the cancer, and leaving the outcome in God’s hands. To say that I was shocked and devastated is an understatement. It shook me to my foundation. She couldn’t leave me with our relationship still in turmoil, so I determined to get up to Indiana as soon as I could.

Once my girls were out of school, they were able to go stay with their mother who was working for nine months in Colorado. I drove the aging Volvo up to Noblesville, Indiana, and spent six weeks that summer in mom’s basement. That was her literal basement, not figurative. I had begun to work my way out of her figurative basement by then. Plus, her terminal illness, I believe, had her ready to re-evaluate her assessment of me and open to listen with her heart.

That summer of sadness had many bright spots, like the long conversations we shared on her back porch, where I poured out my soul and she listened without judgment. We didn’t always find common ground, but I knew for certain that she was finally hearing my heart. Like I told her, “You’ve known me for 45 years! You know the kind of person I am, the man inside. You raised me. We grew up together.” And so there was much healing that came to our relationship on her back porch that summer.

I left there with my girls in tow. They’d flown in from Colorado to see their Grammy and get the devastating news direct from her lips. It was a bittersweet trip for us all. But I left there feeling so much relief. Years of physical separation and emotional distance were removed and the chasm between us swallowed up by understanding, grace, forgiveness and love.

I will always and forever cherish that summer as a priceless gift bestowed upon me. I was able to follow with trips to Noblesville that Thanksgiving, and three visits to Cicero, where she moved in 2015, before she died. In fact, my daughters and I were at her Cicero home the morning she died following Thanksgiving last year.

I will never, ever regret writing that letter on my 45th birthday. It was the beginning of a new love between my mother and I and a new chapter in our relationship. I’m so glad I ran across it on my laptop today even though it was difficult to read. I miss you mom and always will. I love that we understood each other on such a deep level. It was a great joy to grow up with you and to be your oldest child, witness to so many of your joys and sorrows. Thank you, God, for the time of healing and reconciliation we shared 2014-15. Rest in peace, Mom.

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Monday, August 15, 2016

Nips, Rube & Stein, a segment (first draft)

Just finished the first draft of a 22-page short story, working title, "Nips, Rube & Stein."

Here is an excerpt...

The last thing Rube remembers about his father are the words he uttered after they had just buried Rube’s best friend, Nips. “He was just a dog, son. Dogs are a dime a dozen.“

But Nips was the best thing that had happened to him in his 10 years on Earth. A mongrel mutt he found in the woods at the end of their road, Nips had been Reuben Edwin Schwartz’s companion and confidant the last four years. His father, a non-religious man, had named the dog Rabbi as a joke. Rube called him Nips for his aggressive disposition toward strangers. He’d bark and nip at the heels of anyone he didn’t trust. Now that he was gone, young Rube felt lost. It marked a major turning point in his life.

Rube’s father, Ben, was a hard man with a penchant for booze and for women. All he knew was that his father upped and left one Sunday in 1974 and never came home. The plain truth was that his mother had finally had enough with his Vodka-infused debauchery. A well-known adulterer, Ben had squandered any chance of reconciliation with Mary Schwartz, so after years of neglect and emotional abuse, she kicked him out. Rube missed his dad, but he missed Nips even more.


Never had a boy found a better friend. He and Nips went everywhere together. Sometimes Henry Rollins Hicks would tag along. A stuttering, African-American boy, Henry Rollins befriended Reuben at school, where they were both bullied as black sheep. Rube’s family was the wrong religious persuasion, even though they were not practicing Jews, and Henry was simply the wrong color. Rube knew that Henry Rollins was alright when Nips, untrue to his nickname, went right up to the frightened boy and licked his hand. It was the first stranger Nips hadn’t nipped. That told Rube all he needed to know about his newfound friend.

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Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Alice K. Thurston, Deaf and Determined, my 2nd cousin

This morning, I came to the Thurston branch of my family tree, which shoots off from the Greeks and McCormicks of Gibson County, Indiana. For reference, my third great-grandmother on mother's side was Berilla (Mills) Greek, who lived 1829-1908 and was the daughter of my pioneer ancestor, Duston Mills (1804-1875), and wife of prominent Gibson Co. farmer, Joseph Greek (1822-1911).

Berilla's grand-daughter, Helen McCormick-Thurston (1902-1980), had two daughters--Evelyn in 1925 and Alice in 1931. Helen was a single mother in 1940, raising her daughters alone and running a beauty salon in Princeton, Indiana. The girls were listed on the 1940 U.S. Census as living at home with their mom; however, I found a second census record that year for the youngest one, Alice K. Thurston, and it led me to this:

INDIANA STATE SCHOOL FOR THE DEAF Indianapolis

I searched for records of her attendance, but could find nothing on Google. On the school's website, I found the Admissions Office and contacted a Mrs. Rice. She led me to the digital collection containing their archives on Indiana University's website. That's where I struck gold, including this senior picture of Alice, giving her full name and hometown.


Not only was that such a cool find in and of itself, but her name is the same as my grandmother, Alice Kathryn Dunning-Larson-Wright, just spelled in the "southern Indiana way." In fact, I've seen my own grandmother's name mispelled "Kathern," they way it's pronounced in the country. :)

The school had a monthly publication, first called The Silent Hoosier, but by the time Alice enrolled in January 1937, it was simply called The Hoosier. Not only was Alice in that publication dozens of times between 1937-1950, but she submitted more than a couple of articles, including this one on learning to swim in the May 1949 edition of The Hoosier:

LEARNING HOW TO SWIM
I have been afraid of water all my life and never learned to swim until last summer. My sister and brother-in-law tried their best to make me overcome this fear. When they tried to teach me how to swim, I was very stubborn. They let me go after they helped me to float many times. I was choked, but sure enough, I conquered the fear. I learned to do several things in water. I have not learned to swim skillfully, but it is satisfying to know that I can swim some. Now I would love to go swimming. —Alice Thurston

I learned all kinds of valuable information from that publication, like her nickname "Thirsty," the names of her best friends and her aspirations. During her last two years at the school, she aspired to become "the world's fastest typist," the Vice-President of the United States and the operator of her mother's beauty shop in Princeton. I don't know if any of those aspirations were realized or not, but I feel like I came to know my second cousin a little bit better. She was a very active student at the school, attending there from K-12, participating in clubs, music, cheer squad ("yell leader")--yes, the deaf school had yell leaders--and writing for The Hoosier. She graduated June 6, 1950 and the trail for her grows cold.

Her parents either divorced or her father perished while she was a student at the Indianapolis-based school, about a three hour drive from her hometown. There was one instance where she wrote about a visit by her mom, dad and sister, in the late 1930's. My best guess is that her father left for California, remarried and became an auto mechanic for a Bakersfield, CA, Chevrolet dealership. Her mother reported to the 1940 Census taker that she was widowed. I'm not certain, but I do know that she grew to womanhood without her father's presence. I can't imagine that opportunities were as plentiful in the 1950's for people with disabilities as they are today, but with her good looks, abilities and determination, I'm sure she made a good life for herself.

Discoveries like that are what fuel my drive to complete the book I'm writing about my family, from pioneer times in Gibson County, IN, to the present. Thanks for taking the time to read this post.

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