Post 1407: in remembrance…

Andy suspects Doug is up to something. Doug is putting together things, and seems about to leave. “What’s up?”

Dougy picked up on it, too.

Water jugs??? The kitty boys are perplexed. There’s plenty of water in their fountain. What’s Doug up to?

The kitty boys run over to the door. Doug’s about to leave, and this always interests them! (Perhaps because they get to run amok and play kitty games, perhaps because they get to snoop on places they know they aren’t allowed to be….)

I left to place dahlias on the family graves. The jugs were to water the flowers at the cemetery


 The kitty boys met my Mom (Jean Thomas) when they were kittens, and she worried about Dougy because he snooped all over the room she had at the care center. She was worried he would run away! I closed the door to contain him. He has continued to be a cat that follows his nose, excited by new scents. Andy was content to snooze on Mom’s lap.

None of the rest of these departed ever met my kitty boys. All loved animals and would have been delighted with them, I think!

I wish they were here to know the kitty boys, but time has its own schedule: In remembrance of those who passed before and who shared their love of God’s creatures with me.

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Also departed, Jerry, the cocker spaniel who followed Grandpa Thomas home from his walks and whose owners recognized Jerry and George Thomas were buddies forever.  They gave Jerry to him. Grandma Thomas (Mary) let Jerry stay! Man and dog were best buddies till Jerry died.


And Laddie, Grandma McKenzie’s cocker spaniel -mutt mix, the first dog I ever knew, the dog that adopted my siblings and me and protected us when we grew up. (No photo accessible.) Laddie used to clean up milk messes and food that suddenly appeared on the floor, something that happened often enough in a house with four kids that he regularly visited at meal times. Of course!

And Peanuts Lee Thomas, my childhood dog, who was a puppy my Dad won in a pinochle game, or so the family tale goes. I suspect he just got him for me because all my siblings were graduated from high school but one, and my parents wanted me to have a companion… (I had exactly one photo of “Peanie”, as we called him, and it is missing.) He was a beautiful black dog with a white chest and something like seven white hairs in his otherwise all black plume-like tail!

And Freckles and Louie, my first two cats. As sad as it is that all these family members are gone, there is the joy of my memories of each and every one, human and animal, on this Memorial Day. That is why I left the house: To put flowers on the graves of family who helped me become the person I am. 

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  When I came home from the cemetery, Andy greeted me by the door, and Dougy came running from the front room. As I suspected (notice the strip of multi-colored fabric stretched out between them), they’d played their little self-created game while I was gone.

Life goes on.

Post 959: Dr. Hand’s boxing club…

Dr. Hand formed a boxing club for boys in the early 1920s. They met at the BPOE hall just north of the then-new post office. People who’ve lived here very long probably know the exact room I mean.

The boys met at the BPOE club next to the new post office. People who've lived here very long probably remember this room.

The boys met at the BPOE club next to the new post office.
People who’ve lived here very long probably remember this room.

In all likelihood all people in this photo now are dead. My father was a wee rascal in this photo, perhaps seven or eight years old. He died on Election Day 2008 at age 92.

I knew some of them as old guys. One was my dentist. Another was my neighbor up the block. Both were fine fellows, well-regarded in the community. 

Dr. Hand is the fellow standing, bow tie, white shirt, boxing gloves, at the extreme left. My Dad is the little guy at the other end of the photo, wearing bib overalls.

Dr. Hand is the fellow standing, bow tie, white shirt, boxing gloves, at the extreme left.
My Dad is the little guy at the other end of the photo, wearing bib overalls.

Dad's in the middle. Perhaps you can see him a bit better here.

Dad’s in the middle. Perhaps you can see him a bit better here.

Dad came into this photo late in life. One of the surviving people in it found it in his photos and had enlargements made for each of those men still alive at the time.

Dad prized the photo though he admitted he didn’t last long in boxing. 
“I had one match,” he said, “but I didn’t like getting hit.” LOL! He quit, of course.

On October 13, 1978, Dad had a retirement dinner from a lifetime in the police department in the same BPOE hall. I didn’t want to go since I didn’t really know many of the people who’d be there, but I survived. Now, of course, I’m glad I went, mostly because it was that important to Dad.

Post 916: another photo mystery…

Anyone who knew the story behind this photo died years and decades ago. 

They may be my uncles, possibly one is my father (the little guy on the far right), but I can’t verify this. The second one from the left may be my Uncle Sim, who was a fun fellow, a favorite uncle. Why are they on horses? Where are they? When was this photo taken?scanuncles

It hangs on my wall with other family photos, yet it is a mystery. Though the family has rural origins and lived at various times in Newcastle, Wyoming, and Deadwood, South Dakota, when they were essentially frontier villages, the aunts and uncles mostly lived in cities when I knew them.

My uncles, aunts, and father always told lots of stories when they got together, and that was a lot of the fun when these reunions happened. Yet, I don’t remember any stories about riding horses. If it happened, believe it, I would have heard about it!

Post 915: a wartime celebration…

The fascination of old photos, especially those that predate oneself, is the story they tell. Or don’t. For example, this family photo of what appears to be a family birthday celebration.

Surrounding my grandfather, the apparent “birthday boy”, are, starting at the top right: my mother, my father, my Aunt Esther (I think…), my grandmother, my brother, grandpa,  and — the first born in my family — my sister.


I think this predates my second sister, so may be a photo taken in 1942 or 1943. No one seems that happy, perhaps a reflection of the family attitude toward having one’s photo taken.

Or perhaps the lack of smiles reflects the times, a wartime celebration where the cares of the day out-trumped any effort to have a good time. They were uncertain times, and a victory was the prayer, not an inevitability.

I find that photo so depressing, I include this photo of my brother taken around the same time. It makes me smile!

dads shadow and dick1

Post 821: …with rumble seat!

I always liked this photo of my Mom. Taken sometime in 1934 or so, she stands in front of her 1934 Dodge coupe. Yes, it came with a rumble seat!

This car was her transportation to Chadron, where she attended college to become a teacher. The trip took two hours, over slightly improved dirt roads, the standard for Nebraska secondary roads back then. The same trip takes about 50 minutes on modern roads.

Such a grueling trip, Mom only took it twice a week. She just came home on weekends. She was dating my Dad then, and had been since high school. They would wait to marry until Dad was 21 years old or about three years after this photo was taken.

mom and dodge coupe

The long courtship must have been beneficial because they eventually celebrated 71 years of marriage before Dad died, or 76 years as a couple since they went together for five years first.

One story my Mom told about their courtship went something like this:

Dad spent a lot of time at the McKenzies during their courtship. Mom’s grandmother lived with the family at the time, and Dad thought he’d over-stayed his welcome one night when Grandma Cameron instructed another family member to “put the dug out”. (Dad’s name was Doug.)

Dad thought he was being kicked out when Grandma Cameron was just instructing a family member to put out the dog!

A Scottish rendition of Doug is “Doog“. Dad came to realize that!

Post 720: going native…

My Grandmother McKenzie came from East Kilbride, Scotland. Though it is difficult thinking of her as young, these two post cards, sent to her by a sister, are from that time Gram was a woman of 21 and 22. The scenes would have been typical and familiar to her in early 20th Century Scotland, and their messages are the day-to-day things a couple of sisters might write each other to keep in touch.

old postcards

Gram came from a large family of mostly girls. Eleven kids, I think it was, and only one was a boy. I’m sure he wasn’t spoiled rotten! 

Her entire family first came to America in the early 1890s but returned after a short stay when the economy tanked. They’d sail back to America again shortly after these postcards were written. Unfortunately, anyone who can verify specific details is dead, so keep that in mind when you try to compile your own family histories.

The family landed in Nova Scotia. My Gram and her parents moved to Denver, Colorado on the urging of Margaret, her sister, who’d already moved there. Most of the rest of the family moved to Colorado as well, and my mother was born in Denver.

Oh, yeah, “in the meantime, prior to that”: I should mention that my Grandfather  McKenzie and my Grandmother McKenzie met at a Scottish picnic in Denver by some accounts or Nova Scotia by others. Importantly, though, they did meet, then they married after Grampa secured employment with the railroad in Western Nebraska-Wyoming-South Dakota. 

Before that, however, two of the sisters went out of their way to reassure relatives back in Scotland that they hadn’t been affected by the move to the New World, that they were still the same lovely girls the family remembered. They had this photo taken and made into a post card:


 Remembering Gram and her family members I did meet, though, they had wonderful senses of humor so I’m sure the family in Scotland thought it was a hoot! (Or, at least, they hoped it was a joke! 🙂 ) 

Post 719: many moons ago…

I’m the little guy holding the pug. Her name was Ladybelle, and she was very spoiled! The other dogs are Laddie (black and white dog) and Queenie. None of these dogs was ours, though Laddie, my grandmother’s dog, claimed us.

The rest of the people are my two sisters and my brother.

The maple tree still grows in the front yard, though it was struck by lightning one year and looks pretty rough.

The house is the one my mother and father built from lumber they salvaged from an old US Army Air Corps base warehouse. Another couple helped them tear it down, and both built homes with the salvaged lumber.

The family lived there for 51 years, then sold the house when all of us were too beat up to handle the responsibilities of a home and yard. I miss the garden, but that’s all!

Post 622: my paternal great-grandmother

Many years ago, Uncle Max, my father’s brother, worked up a start of a family genealogy. To this day, it is the most comprehensive look at a side of the family that includes 13 children in my father’s generation, and lots of mysteries in earlier ones.

Until recently, I didn’t even know what my great-grandmother looked like until I stumbled across her photo in a distant family member’s genealogy of her branch of my family, that of another uncle.


She was my paternal grandmother’s mother. My paternal grandfather’s mother…? I don’t know if there is an image of her. Anyway, of this great-grandmother, Uncle Max learned this:

great grandma

This typed account, with all of Uncle Max’s eccentric spellings and typos, now is a treasured family document. It was a basis for Uncle John and Uncle Milt’s quest to Salem, Missouri, and Cambridge, Nebraska, (where their father first moved to find a job on the railroad) to find family graves and information about the family in local museums and libraries.

To the best of my knowledge, they never found family graves in Salem, and a flood of the Republican River in May 1935 wiped out many graves and public records in Cambridge.

On the other hand, the local paper (The Cambridge Kaleidoscope when Grandpa Thomas’ sister’s husband owned and ran it) still exists as the Cambridge Clarion.

If you want a copy at the office, you help yourself, and there’s a box by the stack where, on your honor, you put the price of the paper! It is a small town, but, clearly, a very nice one, too, one it’s nice to know I have some small connection with!


Post 616: family resemblances, family quirks

I never met all of my father’s siblings, and I barely met my Grandfather Thomas, who died when I was very young. I knew Grandma Thomas a bit better, but my family only made the arduous trip to Englewood, CO,  from Nebraska once a year. I think we probably spent only a weekend there each time.

I had many favorites among the aunts and uncles. Hell, all of them I knew were favorites, fun people to know!

Once, when Aunt Susie (front row, far right) greeted me at the door when I came home from work, I announced she was my favorite aunt and gave her a big hug, probably a kiss. Then a hurt voice from elsewhere in the kitchen piped up, “But I thought I was your favorite aunt!” Oops! “But you are my other favorite aunt, Aunt Mim!” And I gave her a big hug and kiss to prove it. Aunt Mim (Miriam) is on the far left in the front row. She lived in Pocatello, so we saw her less often than Aunt Susie, who lived in Denver, but she always was a favorite, too! So kind and sweet, my aunts, funny, thoughtful, great people to be around.

They were all over the place politically. Some followed strange religions (purportedly Christian), others were mainstream Methodists and Presbyterians. They were argumentative, stubborn, funny, very entertaining people! My uncles Milt (top row, far left) and Max (top row, third from left) were especially argumentative, though Uncle John (middle row, second from right), a lawyer, could present a formidable argument himself. Of course! He always used to say, “All lawyers are crooks!” “But Uncle,” I’d protest, “you are a lawyer!” “I repeat: all lawyers are crooks!”

May 23, 1934. Thomas family reunion photo on the occasion of Doug Thomas' graduation from high school. No other photo of the whole family together exists.

May 23, 1934. Thomas family reunion photo on the occasion of Doug Thomas’ graduation from high school. No other photo of the whole family together exists. Dad is second from the left in the top row.

I liked my aunts and uncles! My mother did, too. She was an only child, so the give and take, hustle and bustle of a large family was like candy for her. She used to say it was one reason she married my Dad, though there surely were more reasons than that. Their marriage lasted 71 years, till Dad died.

Uncle Simeon (“Sim”, who is in the middle row, far right) was so funny! He always had a joke or a story to tell. He worked for the Burlington as a tour coordinator, setting up train tours for groups. When the big shots came to Alliance in the fancy private railroad car reserved for the top officials of the railroad, Uncle Sim rode with them. He was someone of substance on the railroad.

I never told my Dad this, but when Uncle Sim and Aunt Vonnie (his wife) brought me home from Lincoln my last year at the University of Nebraska, they showed up in a new Ford Galaxy. It was loaded and had the biggest engine Ford put into that car. “Do you want to drive it!?” he asked, all excited about sharing this magnificent ride with his nephew. I wasn’t totally convinced I should, but he insisted. It’s about eight hours drive from Lincoln to Alliance. If you drive the speed limit…! “Take it up to 85 mph,” Uncle Sim said, a speed that his car handled with aplomb. I broke the law clear across the state. It was a magnificent car!

With so many aunts and uncles, you’d expect me to have lots of cousins, too. I do, but most of them I’ve never met. My favorite is Sharon, daughter of Uncle Milt. We’ve always hit it off. We can confide in each other, and we both went through many of the same travails and vicissitudes handling the affairs of elderly relatives. Curiously, sadly, her brother Bob just died November 23rd. I barely met him, barely knew him. After an acrimonious divorce and separation, the then-infant Bob went with their mother, and Sharon lived for some time with the Thomas families in Denver, particularly the Pucketts (Aunt Susie and Uncle Bob, a very proper Virginian who always had a neatly trimmed and dyed Errol Flynn moustache). I think she looks a lot like our Grandma Thomas, Mary, third in from the right in the photo. That’s Grandpa Thomas next to her.

Of family resemblances, I note that last summer I was on Ancestry, the genealogy website, and came across a photo posted by some other cousin (whom I’ve never met…!) It still knocks me back, is very emotional to see. Till then, this person was only a name, not someone I’d ever seen a photo of, and someone I wondered if there even was a photo anywhere of her to be seen: My Great Grandma Honey, Grandma Thomas’ mother!

My great grandmother, as mythical as unicorns...!

My great grandmother, as mythical as unicorns…! The way it appeared in the Ancestry website. I was stunned.

At first, I thought I was staring at a photo of my Grandma Thomas. Then it registered. Her personal history is longish, but, thanks to Uncle Max, we do know a few details about her life. I think I should post those separately, perhaps tomorrow.

Post 615: ghost dogs

A family without pets is a sad family. A family with pets eventually learns sadness. That’s the way it is.

Two little dogs joined my family when it was just my mother, father, and Marijean. I don’t think anyone else in the family knew these dogs except by their rare photos and sad, short stories.

Jock MacTavish and Marijean

Jock MacTavish and Marijean.

Jock was a Scottish terrier, as you can see, a breed popular in the 1930s when Franklin Roosevelt famously had Fala. My mother, always proud of her 100% Scottish heritage — she was the only child of two Scottish immigrants — gravitated naturally toward this breed, and she talked my father into getting one. It probably was their major expense of the year.

Jock was like all terriers. High energy, playful, needed lots and lots of play time. His favorite thing was to play in the snow, something he did one day till he had a total collapse, and died.


Topsy and Marijean

Topsy and Marijean.

I think this is the sweetest photo of my sister! The little guy is Topsy, I think. I wasn’t coming around for at least eight more years, so this is just another ghost dog to me. I’m not sure I got  its name right.


Topsy in Gram’s living room, all dressed up.

Topsy also lived a short life. As I understand it, he (or she?) died of distemper. There would be no more pets till my grandmother got Laddie in 1948.


Technically, Laddie wasn’t “our” dog, but Gram had no problem sharing him with us, as if any dog could be kept away from four young children!

Laddie didn't have to protect me from my brother and sister. At least that's their story and they stick by it!

Laddie didn’t have to protect me from my brother and sister. At least that’s their story and they stick by it!

Laddie took it on himself to be my personal body guard,  letting no one get close to me except family until given the permission to let them by. Laddie used to eat at Gram’s, run up to our house and spend part of the day in hopes of someone spilling milk or dropping him a tasty treat off the table. He was a good boy, and he lived to old age.