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Friday, February 27, 2015

What I should have said

Posted by Dawn-Ann on May 16, 2010

Bonnie Janine Kirkpatrick
Born: September 23, 1964
Died: November 15, 2009

School photo, age uncertain

After three months of struggle, my beautiful sister Janine passed away late one dark November night. Her hospital room was packed with people who cherished her – her father, her sisters, her daughters – and as she took her last breaths different ones would bend over and kiss her forehead, murmering soft words of love to her.

Thinking of an amazing road trip we took with our kids once, along with years of birthday parties, BBQs and family gatherings, I quietly thanked her for sharing her life with me. “We sure did have us a time,” I whispered. I like to think she heard me.

The funeral was simple but moving. Janine was laid to rest with our grandparents, George and Inez Kirkpatrick, in the family plot. Different ones got up to speak and we all stopped to watch as a small flock of Canada geese flew low, directly overhead, honking a farewell. Family legend has it that an eagle always soars overhead when one of our own is buried, but Janine got a special salute, flying in formation, on that bitter, windy day.

As a young teen

I had fully intended to say a few words at the service. We had invited anyone who wished to say something to do so. Amanda had us all laughing and crying with her loving tribute to her mother. Karen, who is probably the most introverted of all of us, spoke bravely, voice trembling, about her love for her sister.

I meant to put some words together to share. I had the best of intentions and had started a few scraps of notes – things I remembered here and there. But it had been a very long three months and there was too much to do to prepare for the funeral. Excuses, I guess, but my heart just wasn’t in it.

So now, six months later, as spring flowers bloom in the sunshine and sweet breezes blow, here is what I should have said…

Lovely lady (at a sister's wedding)

Being six years older than Janine, I remember a wee girl with big brown eyes sucking her thumb, a chubby little foot crossed over her thigh, her blanket with the silky edge (her “soft”) held up against her cheek. I recall that she tried so hard to be involved with the big kids’ play but was often too young or too little for our games. She would cry bitter tears about that sometimes, but with four girls there was usually someone willing to play. She tried so hard to keep up…

Janine was such a sharp little girl! School was a breeze for her in her first years (she got bored in high school). She had a sunny personality and a cheerful laugh, which developed in adulthood into an irreverent, quirky, ribald sense of humor. There was always much hilarity when Janine was around. We rarely argued, the two of us, and we enjoyed hanging out together whenever we could.

If I had given my talk, I would have told everyone about Janine’s inventiveness and creativity. She often had to struggle to get by, so would come up with ingenious ways of making do. For years I’d tease her about her campfire coffee. She hated instant coffee, so when we were on our road trip she invented a way to make “real” coffee by wrapping the grounds up in a coffee filter, tying it up with thread, and dangling it into boiling water. It wasn’t half bad, truth be told, but I had to tease her anyway.

My 45th birthday

She’d often mock people irreverently as a passtime, but inside Janine was loyal and loving. She sometimes had difficulty expressing her love in so many words but I never doubted it. I was tickled and moved when she threw me a surprise birthday party on my 45th birthday. The cake said, “You old bat!!” in blazing red letters. Ironically, Janine was in ICU for her 45th birthday. I brought her a bright bouquet of balloons but it just wasn’t the same.

Janine was the one who went back and forth to Montana with me, time after time, working tirelessly and loyally by my side as we helped clean out years of clutter for mom. We worked like dogs but (and this should be no surprise) we laughed a lot and shared a lot of family history together, finding treasures amongst the junk. Finding treasure in each other’s company.

Janine's red curtains

For someone who was as photogenic as she was, Janine hated getting her picture taken. My shots of her are few and far between. She seemed to have a sixth sense about where camera lenses were pointing and made a point of looking the other way. My favorite is a grainy one of a young teen in a lacy dress, beautifully made up, smiling naturally into the camera.

We became very close over the last couple of years of working together. I had edited some video of us as wee children, growing up throughout the movie, and she so treasured that little production. She watched it again and again, taking still shots of several of the scenes and cleaning them up and printing them out. We talked a lot about how things were then and what she could see in those images. She’d say over and over that she was so happy to have been given that video; that now she understood a lot more of what things were like all those years ago. This gratified me to no end.

There’s a lot I should have said that day but better late than never. We sure did have us a time, didn’t we sis. I love you.

The Trail of the Covered Wagon

Posted by Dawn-Ann on March 14, 2010

If these old wheels could talk...

I’m probably spending too much time on genealogy stuff and not enough time on other things I could be doing. It’s how I relax, though, and the “other stuff” will wait until tomorrow.

Stumbled upon this story at the JP Kirkpatrick site. It’s a recounting of how some folks set out west in wagon trains, heading for the gold rush in California. Some made it, some didn’t. This particular story involves my Third Great-Grandaunt, Susan Emily (Kirkpatrick) Stockton and her family.

I found the story to be very moving and my heart hurt for Susan as she left some of her most precious memories behind her. But the story is also full of interesting details about life in the wagon trains. Here is a little bit of it:

We crossed the Mississippi river at Warsaw, on the ferry, The Missouri, at St. Joe, the same way, tho’ we had a long wait for an opportunity to cross.  We had to take our turn, a few among thousands, all setting out on the same mission.  So great was the need that every conceivable kind of boat was pressed into the service.  So anxious was the multitude to get on their way, that they were willing to risk their lives, in an old leaky skiff or raft.  The river was high and muddy as usual, which added to the difficulties.  Sometimes horses and cattle would become frightened and jump over board, upsetting the boat.  I do not recall that anyone was drowned, while we were there, but few outfits got over with all their livestock.  It was nearly the end of May when the long wagon trains began moving out through western Nebraska, on the California Trail.  When we got across the river we thought our troubles were about over.  Really, they were just beginning.  The trail was nearly a quarter of a mile wide – that is, a row of wagons fifteen-hundred feet across, and extending in front and to the rear, as far as we could see – a vast sea of white flapping wagon covers, and a seething mass of plodding animals.

Read the rest of the story here.

Twins of the father

Posted by Dawn-Ann on March 3, 2010

My baby girl (who is now in her 20s) is expecting twins in April. This tickles me to no end, as I had long despaired of ever becoming a grandmother. Robb, her partner, is a devoted dad-to-be and has started a delightful blog about what it’s like to be expecting twins – from his perspective. His observations are disarmingly sweet and refreshingly honest.

Worth a look! Twins of the father’s Blog.

Proving (or disproving) family legends

Posted by Dawn-Ann on February 11, 2010

Ira Cram, family ancestor

I stumbled upon an excellent blog post about how to deal with those “family legends” – some of which are true, some not; some of which are good, some not-so-good. Sometimes it takes a whole lot of tact and diplomacy.

Katrina at Kick-Ass Genealogy says this:

When you interview your family, sooner or later you will encounter a pretty tall tale. The novice researcher gets excited at the possibility of belonging to an exotic ethnicity; the more jaded historian dismisses the stories of war-time heroics out of hand. Neither approach is particularly constructive. In this article, we’re going to walk through how to prove (or disprove) a family legend.

Read the rest of her excellent article here.

Kirkpatrick wisdom

Posted by Dawn-Ann on February 7, 2010

The more research I do into the Kirkpatrick clan, the more I love and respect ‘em. No doubt there were exceptions, but for the most part I’m finding tales of love, strength, dignity and loyalty. Those who knew them seemed to be unwaveringly devoted to them. The Kirkpatricks as a whole lived life with a wicked sense of humour, strong family ties and a mighty work ethic.

My grand-uncle, Samuel D. Kirkpatrick’s “words for posterity” pretty much sum up the family code: “Live life with enthusiasm, with moderation, with service, and sympathy for less fortunate people in the world.”

More examples of the Kirkpatrick viewpoint:

Family legend tells that when many Native children in Canada were being put into residential schools the B.C. Kirkpatricks refused to break up their families in this way. They chose to remain strong family units, teaching their children how to play musical instruments and become industrious, contributing members of society. (Most of us Western Canadian Kirks have at least a smattering of Native blood.)

Another family legend tells of how some of the first American generations went south to Georgia, then came back north again because they were disgusted with the idea of slavery.

Going back even further to old Scotland, we see this about Sir James Kirkpatrick (d. 1804) in Records of the Closeburn Kirkpatricks by Major-General C. Kirkpatrick:

The Dumfries Weekly Journal of the 12th June 1804 described him as “the representative of an ancient and respectable family, which had inherited that estate in succession, for upwards of seven hundred years. Descended from this ancient race, he was inferior to none of his predecessors in that generous spirit and fortitude by which they were distinguished. Mild, gentle and courteous in his manners, he possessed at the same time that firmness and stability of mind which made him tenacious of his purposes, constant in his friendships, and steady in his principles. His principles were no other than the two great sources of human excellence – piety to God, and benevolence to men”. etc.

In another obituary reference to him it was said:- “His publick character was strongly marked by disinterestedness [free from bias or partiality] by generosity and by a firm determined spirit. Possessing in a high degree all the publick and social affections, he was always amongst the first to promote any measure which he considered as of general utility and never suffered his own private interest to stand in the way of what appeared to him to be a publick good. Warm and stead in his friendships, he never deserted those to whom he once attached himself, nor declined any exertions, however inconvenient for himself, that could [be] beneficial to them.

When I was tramping through graveyards in Scotland, over and over again I saw words like “deeply loved” and “we miss thee, dear” on Kirkpatrick gravestones.

But the story that has moved me the most in my genealogical studies so far is the tale of Alexander Richard Kirkpatrick of Dublin, Ireland (1813 – 1891). He was a scholar at Cambridge and was called to the Bar in 1840, according to Chronicles of the Kirkpatrick Family written by Alexander de Lapere Kirkpatrick.

From the book:

Mr. Kirkpatrick was beloved by all who knew him, rich and poor; the grief evinced by the latter at his funeral was very striking, and many and most touching were the tokens received by his family of their affection for him. Whilst on his other properties it was said by both Priests and others that they had never seen such deep and widespread grief, extending even to the children. He was carried to his grave by his own tenants, several of them quite poor, who had come a long distance, and at no small cost, but they looked on him as a Father and a Friend.

Wow. Would that we all could be remembered this way upon our passing.


Posted by Dawn-Ann on September 12, 2009

It was a gorgeous, blue-sky morning and I stopped at A&W for a bacon and egger before heading up to the garage sale. I hit every green light along the way and took it as a good omen.  Although my sister B.J. has been so ill, my heart was light and I felt optimistic. Usually an event like this that uses a whole, precious calendar day would be met with a little apprehension as I thought about everything else I could be doing, but today I thought only of the task at hand, the prospect of sharing my day with people I love, and making as much money as possible for B.J.’s trust fund.

A big, friendly dragonfly came and hung around with us for a short while.

As early as I was, I wasn’t the first to arrive. Amanda was there already, unloading stuff from her truck and organizing a large collection of bottles for the bottle drive. There were bags and bags of them! I wished I had brought my bag – maybe tomorrow.

I immediately got busy setting up tables and organizing merchandise. Several families had contributed to the cause and we had a LOT of stuff. I despaired that we’d never sell it all but needn’t have worried. Folks started arriving earlier than the posted time and came in waves. Sometimes there would be no one and then – WHOOM – there would be five or six cars cramming into the narrow alleyway.

And we sat and sat all day, taking money and chatting up visitors. More than one kind soul paid more than the asking price because it was a fundraiser. We ate Chris’ delightful cookies and yakked our faces off. One sister did a coffee run to Timmy’s. I snagged a couple of books I wanted (including Dog the Bounty Hunter’s biography and a book of poetry to read to B.J.) and a Gazelle. We cheerfully let ourselves get talked down in price and watched people cart it away.

And we had some exciting news – two different people had been to see B.J. that morning and both reported that her eyes had been WIDE open and that she turned her head to look at them! Everyone was pretty tickled to hear that.

There was still a lot of stuff left over when we shut ‘er down tonight but tomorrow is another day. Let’s hope we move the washer and dryer and filing cabinet so we don’t have to haul them to the dump!

Thanks to everyone who contributed goods, donated money, assisted with sweat equity and cheered us on. It was a team effort of the best kind and we are grateful for your help.

Kirkpatrick and Bowe history – wild football game at Alkali Lake

Posted by Dawn-Ann on July 3, 2009

Samuel Davidson Kirkpatrick as a young man, probably around the time he is writing about here

I am preparing a family history binder for the Kirkpatrick Family Reunion this weekend and was reading some of Great Uncle Sam’s writings last night. Uncle Sam was a prolific writer and his stories are a boon to anyone trying to put together local family history. He was born and raised in the interior of British Columbia. His father, Thomas Gilham Kirkpatrick, is considered the “patriarch” of our branch of the clan.

I thought I’d pass along this passage, as it shows a bit about both the Kirkpatrick sense of fun and their pioneer spirit. I tidied up the spelling and grammar to make it a bit smoother to read. By the way, the “Jim” in this story is James Douglas Kirkpatrick. Enjoy!

On Sunday I went with John Sr. and his cowboys. We coralled a buch of wild horses and brought in a half dozen to be broke to the saddle. Every night after supper the Indians gathered around and their best buckaroos rode those wild horses. They put on a miniature rodeo.

There was a big crowd on hand and they all enjoyed the fun. Those riders were game and very seldom thrown. Of course, they did not comply with the rules of our modern stampedes, but they put on a good show. There were no shutes; the horse was brought out to the center of the yard with just a neck rope and a hackamor. He was snubbed to the saddle of another rider and a blindfold tied over his eyes. Then a cowboy grabbed the horse’s ears and pulled his head down between his elbows and held him while the saddle was cinched on. The rider stepped up, pulled his hat good and tight, then mounted. He grabbed the horn with both hands and shouted, “Let ‘er go, Gallagher!” The blind was pulled free and they were in action.

The rider usually lost his hat on about the second jump, as when a rider pulls leather his head is bound to flop.

By this time I was thinking about heading for home but Jim said wait another week. I want to take you on a grizzly bear hunt next Sunday. This appealed to me, as I had a rifle that I was proud of, so I remained another week.

Jim, John [Bowe] and I went out Saturday evening to what was known as the Milk Ranch, about 12 miles east. An Indian reported to Jim that a steer had been killed out there by a grizzly bear. We stayed overnight. There was a cabin, a barn and a fenced pasture.

We were up before daybreak and went on foot to where the steer had been killed, but there was nothing left but bones. The bears would not be back, so after breakfast we saddled up and Jim took us out to where he had killed a huge grizzly a month or so before. The coyotes had done a good job on that carcass.

Then we separated and roamed the back country, hoping we would spot a bear, or perhaps another kill, but found nothing. It was easy going through open timber with small meadows and pools of water where we saw bear tracks, but no bears. After lunch at the cabin, we headed for the Home Ranch. Again we separated to see what we could find. There were plenty of live cattle but no dead ones. We had no luck, but had a fine trip and I saw a lot of ideal cattle country.

I expressed my intention of leaving soon. The folks wanted a day or so to make orders for things needed that could be sent out from Clinton by the weekly stage. They gave everyone a chance to add to the list, so it was agreed that I would pull out Wednesday.

On the last evening we had a football game. Jim had got in some balls the year before and taught the Indians the rules of the game. They were eager and soon became experts in maneuvering a ball with their feet.

The playing field was from near the ranch house north. Jim said, “Okay, we will have a short game; 30 minutes without changing ends.” Sides were chosen; I was among them. The rules called for 11 men a side, but I’ll swear there were 20 a side in this game. Jim did not play; he was to be the referee.

We took the field. Jim tooted his whistle and the game was away to a flying start. Within minutes, positions were ignored and rules were forgotten. Everybody chased the ball. There were so many players on the field you couldn’t drive the ball without hitting someone. The old chief sat on a post near the barn, shouting at the top of his voice in his own language. It seemed everybody was shouting orders to their partners and no one was listening. One minute the whole gang was rushing towards the north pole and the next minute they were like a flock of geese heading south. One man got a black eye when hit by the ball. Very often one man kicked another instead of the ball, but the Indians all wore moccasins so there was never anyone hurt. I was kicked twice on the shins, once on the rear end, but I rushed madly on.

I wanted to get a kick at that ball. Sad to say I only got one chance, then I missed as the ball was breaking all speed limits at the time, heading towards the enemy fullback, who sent the ball high over the gang near our goal and resulted in a goal being scored a short time later. Time was running out on us. The game went on and it seemed to me our team was tiring. We lost ground and it was our goaltender that turned the tables, making a long pass down the field, where a couple of our boys took posession of the ball. Then, after a brilliant display of the Highland Fling, a bit of hopscotch and a final twist, a goal was scored and the game tied and one and all, everyone was satisfied. The Indians went up the road, all talking and laughing. The old chief with his cap in his hand was still shouting at the top of his voice. So the knowledge and pleasure that was brought to those people by brother Jim will never be forgotten.

Well, that ended my visit at Alkali Lake and, believe it or not, this happened 65 years ago [ca. 1900].

Notes from the C-Train

Posted by Dawn-Ann on February 19, 2009

My daily commute to and from work is starting to look like a huge, wonderful classroom experience for me. Let me explain.

My travels through life have often been solitary. I generally avoided contact with others, even if it was eye contact in a crowd of strangers. Aside from my kids and Tom, there was nothing I loved more than being completely by myself. Lately, though, I have been trying to really look at people and understand them. I’ve been making eye contact, cracking jokes to get conversations going and generally giving people a chance. As a result, I have been privy to some amazing interactions. You have read about some of them here. These experiences have taught me so much and I think they are actually helping me to become a better person.

Yesterday, for example.

I was standing on the train and a woman moved up from the seats behind me to stand between me and the door. I was gazing out the window at the passing scenery when I noticed her fuzzy-blue-gloved hand come up, flipping the bird to someone in the seats behind me. I looked at her face, wondering if I should be alarmed. She was muttering something under her breath about “stupid bitch,” but her eyes didn’t look scary. I somehow sensed that she was very angry, but behind the anger was fear. I wondered if I should reach out somehow but something inside me said, “Just observe.”

So I did. After a little bit more mumbling and muttering, she turned her head to gaze out the window. Her large brown eyes were sad. From the corner of my eye I caught her fuzzy gloves swiping at her eyes from time to time when she thought no one was looking. I was right. I had no idea what had happened in the seats behind me but she was hurting. When she started using her glove as a kleenex I took it as an opportunity to step in. I rummaged in my purse and found a napkin and offered it to her. She looked at me gratefully and said something about a “cold” she was battling.

A couple of stops later, as I was preparing to leave the train, I almost didn’t hear her quiet, “Thank you.” I looked up and there was no denying the huge tears standing in her eyes, not quite wanting to drop. I touched her blue glove gently. “You’re welcome,” I said, and left.

What I learned from this is something I already knew but needed to be reminded of. Sometimes a person’s anger is really only her hurt being manifested in a way that is easier to deal with. Look behind any angry face and you’ll see eyes of fear and pain.

Someone I love dearly is hiding behind her own shield of anger right now. Unfortunately, it is me she is angry with and she rebuffs my overtures at communication, but I know our immense love for each other will allow us to work it out eventually.

A couple of degrees of separation – or something

Posted by Dawn-Ann on December 31, 2008

I have a new Twitter acquaintance. His name is Wil. He is sooo cute and brilliant and nerdy and – most important to this gal – he is funny and can write. Like a hot damn. In fact, his clever, witty writing style had me hooked from the word go. Why, if he weren’t happily married and I were twenty years younger and not in a happy, committed relationship myself (I love you, Honey!) and not in Canada with him in California I’d be, well – you figure it out… Or at least I’d be setting him up with a nerdy daughter or something.

Anyway, his blog is well worth checking out. It will surprise you in more ways than one!

The Unexpected Community

Posted by Dawn-Ann on November 21, 2008

Sometimes you’ll be doing something random in life and all of a sudden you’re surrounded by people who form an unexpected community. Maybe you’ll be stuck on a bus in traffic and someone will tell a joke and soon everyone is smiling and talking.

Here is a lovely little story about just such a thing. One man, Shel Israel, is grocery shopping one day when he finds out he is a grandfather. He says, “Slowly, I realized that my eyes were misting up. And then I was bawling like Isla [the new baby] must have done a few hours earlier. I stood there wondering if I could shoplift a Kleenex when some guy came up to me, concerned, asking what was wrong. I told him I had just learned I had a new granddaughter. He stared for second, then, beaming, stuck out his hand.”

Read the rest of Shel’s story here.

I’d be interested to hear other stories of spontaneous, “unexpected” community!