FingerprintI am a bit of a forensics buff. Not that I perform the tests that forensic scientists do, I just like watching shows that tell about those tests, and then I try to guess who did the crime. I don’t suppose that I would be the kind of person an innocent man would want to be performing the tests that were going to keep him out…or land him in prison. For an innocent man or woman, being accused of that crime is the beginning of a nightmare. No one wants to believe him, because everybody claims to be innocent…right? Unfortunately, many people accused of crimes are innocent, and in days gone by…before things like DNA matching and fingerprints, the only evidence available was eye witnesses and circumstantial evidence, both of which were far from infallible. Eye witnesses are notoriously unreliable, and it isn’t really their fault, because they were, after all, shook up!!

After spending years in prison, at least fifty people have been exonerated since the dawning of DNA testing. it’s probably hard to say how many have been proven innocent based of fingerprint evidence. And I have to wonder how many have died innocently in prison because they were convicted long before the tests that might have set them free. Fingerprint identification has been used for over a hundred years now, and at one time was considered the best way to prove innocence or guilt. Of course, they aren’t infallible in that respect, because while no two fingerprints have been found to be alike in all those years, it is entirely possible for someone to be somewhere, but not at the time of a crime. If all you have to go on is fingerprints, that can be incriminating…even for an innocent person. Unfortunately, it was not foolproof.
DNA Helix
In April of 1953, Watson and Crick published a model of the DNA helix in a one page letter to ‘Nature’. It began with the now famous under statement: “We wish to suggest a structure for the salt of Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid (D.N.A.). This structure has novel features which are of considerable biological interest.” It would take until 1984 before Alec Jefferies and his colleagues would develop genetic fingerprinting, which is using DNA to identify individuals. Finally in 1987 in the United Kingdom, forensic investigators used DNA testing to help solve the ‘Black Pad’ murders and to identify the killer as Colin Pitchfork, who later confessed to the crimes. This was the first case in which DNA evidence is used to determine the identity of a murderer and it also involved a mass screen. It also marks the first case in which a prime suspect was exonerated due to DNA evidence. In 1994 DNA evidence was used in Ireland, and by the 1995 trial of OJ Simpson, it was finally used in America. It seems very strange to me to think that DNA evidence has only been used in the United States for twenty years. To me, it seems like it has been around for a really long time, but that really isn’t so. Nevertheless, on June 28, 1993 DNA evidence cleared Kirk Bloodsworth, an ex-Marine, of a murder for which he had been convicted on this day, July 24, 1984. Sadly, he served nine years before his case was reviewed and he was finally set free.

Dad and MomGoing through our parent’s kitchen was, for me, one of the more interesting parts of going through their house. Mom has had a salt and pepper shaker collection since her childhood, and while we have only scratched the surface of that collection, we have started to draw for them. As we have done so, I have noticed the differences in our personal tastes. We might set out five different sets of salt and pepper shakers, and we would almost always choose a different one for each. For me, a set that Grandma Byer brought back from Ireland for Mom had always caught my eye. They were castles with shamrocks on them, and so typically Ireland. They always seemed so special. Mom’s salt and pepper shakers were a part of who she was.

For some reason, many people are collectors. The collections vary as much as the people who collect them. I imageknow that there are people who don’t collect things, and I suppose their houses are not as cluttered as those of us who do collect things, but somehow I think that maybe they miss out of something that comes with collecting. When you have a collection, you find yourself picking out things of varying styles, as your personal styles change. That is the interesting thing about collecting. Your choices never stay similar. Even with my own collection…spoons, I was able to find interesting styles that were different than any others I had.

And if you think men can’t be collectors, you would be wrong. My dad loved his coffee cups, and Mom even liked the coffee cups, so much so in fact, that before long they had matching sets of cups. There were the Spencer cups, the Al cups, and cups from imagethe many places they had visited over the years. They even had a tiny cup with a mouse and cheese on it. I guess everyone needed a cup…no matter who they were.

I don’t know how Dad came to have his collection, but as I said, Mom’s started as a child and her feelings about salt and pepper shakers never changed after that. They would always hold an interest for Mom. As we have looked through the salt and pepper shakers we have come across, we can all see out mother, and we can understand why she found each one that she chose, and each one that was given to her special in its own way. I suppose Mom was more of a collector than Dad was, but as I said, I don’t think anyone is really immune to collecting.

St PatrickMany holidays get their start on the birth or death of someone famous or very special, and Saint Patrick’s Day is no exception. It was the day that Saint Patrick died in Saul, Ireland. I’m sure that wasn’t surprising to anyone. So, the question then becomes, who was Saint Patrick, and why is he being honored?

Saint Patrick was a Christian missionary, bishop, and apostle of Ireland, but that in and of itself was not what made him famous. He lived in a time in history when little would be known of a person’s life if no one took the time to write things down. The Internet, Facebook, and Twitter were far off in the very distant future, so people wrote letters and kept journals. Saint Patrick wrote a book that he titled, “Confessio”, during his last year of life, and it is from these writings that we know what we know of him.

Saint Patrick was born in Great Britain probably in Scotland, to a wealthy Christian family of Roman citizenship. At the age of about 16 years, he was captured be Irish marauders and made to be a slave. For the next six years he worked as a herder in Ireland. Due to the long lonely days, far from family and other human companionship, he drew closer and closer to God for comfort. After hearing a voice in a Shamrockdream one night, he escaped and found passage on a ship that took him back to Great Britain and his family. Once he was back with his family, he had another dream. In the dream someone named Victoricus gave him a letter entitled “The Voice of the Irish.” He felt like the Irishmen were pleading with him to go back to Ireland.

In 433, he returned to Ireland, after studying to become an ordained Christian minister and started preaching the Gospel. Thousands of Irishmen were converted to Christianity and many churches were built all around Ireland. After 40 years of devoting his life to God and His work, Saint Patrick died on March 17, 461, in the town of Saul, Ireland, which is where he built his first church.

Since his passing, many legends have grown up about him. He was made the patron saint of Ireland, and Saint Patrickpeople say that he baptised hundreds of people in a single day. He is also said to have used a three-leaf clover, which became the famous shamrock to describe the Holy Trinity. He is portrayed as trampling snakes because it is said that he had driven them out of Ireland. The Irish observe the day of his passing as a national holiday, attending church in the mornig and celebrating with food and drink in the afternoon. Later the rest of the world jumped on board, and the first Saint Patrick’s Day parade was celebrated in the United States, and involved Irish soldiers serving in the English military marching through the streets of New York City in 1762. The parades became a show of unity and strength for the Irish-American immigrants and the party went global in 1995 when the Irish government started a campaign to matket Saint Patrick’s Day as a way of driving tourists to Ireland. Today, March 17th is still celebrated by millions of people, many of whom probably have no idea what this man stood for. It’s something to think about for sure. Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!!

Jean Gracy Knox WillWhen I think of my husband, Bob’s 6th great grandmother, Jean Gracy Knox, I always think of Ellen O’Hara…Scarlett O’Hara’s mother, in Gone With The Wind. They lived in different eras, but in many ways, their lives were much the same. I can’t say, for certain, that Jean Knox lived on a plantation, but I do know that like many people in the 1700’s she owned slaves. With that in mind, I have to assume that she ran their home or plantation in much the way that Ellen O’Hara had. I don’t know much about her, of course, but her will seemed to be written by a woman who was used to being in charge. I know that she was a slave owner, because in her will, she mentions what is to be done with a young slave boy and a female slave that she owned. That and the extensive collection of clothing that she left her daughter, Mary indicates that she was a woman of wealth.

It’s possible that her “take charge” attitude came from the fact that her husband passed away fourteen years before she did, and six months before their youngest child was born. She had no choice but to take charge of things. She still had five children under the age of sixteen in her home. I’m certain that her older sons helped her out too, but from what I have gathered from her will, she was very much in control of her life, children, and property. I wish I had a picture of her, but in my mind, she probably looked much like Ellen O’Hara did, in Gone With The Wind. Beautiful, and very ladylike, and yet, she ran the household and even helped out the neighbors when necessary. Of course, I could be wrong on all that, but from what I have read of her will, she knew exactly what she wanted done after her passing. The will appears to have been written just days before her death. They assumed this from the fact that she made her mark on it, and not her signature, even though she could read and write. In looking at the will, of which I only have a word for word copy of the wording as it was written…including all the spelling errors, I at first thought that maybe she couldn’t read and write, but later discovered that it was not written by her. She just dictated it to someone else to write up and then signed it in front of witnesses, much like we would do today in front of a attorney. This could also have been an indication of wealth, and the power that one assumes to have because of it.
John & Jean Gracy Knox
I also know, that Jean was a woman of strong faith. She was a Presbyterian, and most likely left her native Ireland because of disputes between the Presbyterians, also known as Covenanters, and the Church of England. The Knox family is among those who were persecuted because of their religion, and that some had to leave their homes in the middle of the night to escape death. They came to America seeking religious freedom. That in itself would take a person of strong character, and may have been part of what made Jean Gracy Knox into a woman who was well able to handle the things that came her way. Jean’s life was not long, by today’s standards anyway, but in that day and age, she did live a long time, and it is my opinion that she also did a lot of living during her lifetime. I’m sure that I will never really know the whole story of her life, but I will always believe that she was quite a lady.

Grandma ByerSince it is Saint Patrick’s Day, I decided to explore the Irish connection in our family. One of the main connections to Ireland that our family has comes from the Pattan family. I believe that the Shaw family who married into the Pattan family to become my ancestors, also came from Ireland, but I have no concrete information to corroborate my beliefs, as of right now.  The Pattan name has changed over the years, and might be spelled Patton, Patten, or Pattan, as ours is. We have a number of Georges in our family, but I have found no connection to General George Patton, as of yet….not that it would surprise me if I did. Our family in America began, when John Pattan come over to the United States from Ireland in the early 1800’s, and the family has grown by leaps and Grandma Byer kissing the Blarney Stonebounds since that time.

Before her death, my grandmother, Harriet Pattan Byer, and some of her siblings made the trip to Ireland to see the country of their ancestors, and hopefully to be able to connect with some of the family that might be still living over there. I don’t recall if they found any family or not, but I do know that they had a wonderful time. They explored the castles in the area…sometimes I wish we had castles. They kissed the Blarney Stone, which is a block of carboniferous limestone built into the battlements of Blarney Castle, and a must when visiting Ireland. They went out by the sea and into the towns, and they have a marvelous time.Blarney Castle

I suspect that most of us have some Irish background, but many people may not know it. It seems to me that a lot of people have immigrated from Ireland over the years, and if that is the case, there are probably very few families who don’t have a least a little bit of the Irish in them, but then that could be a lot of blarney too. Nevertheless, Irish or not, most of us like to celebrate the wearin’ of the green every year when Saint Patty’s Day rolls around. So, whether you drink green beer or eat corned beef and cabbage, or simply wear green so you don’t get pinched, happy Saint Patrick’s Day to you all!!

Coast of IrelandWe all have within our DNA, a mix of nationalities, and with that, I think most of us have a little Irish in the mix. I know that in my own roots, you would find Irish ancestors from both sides, and I’m pretty sure Bob’s family is the same. A short time after my grandfather passed away, my grandfather and her sisters and brothers had the opportunity to travel back to Ireland to see the old country and meet some of the family from Ireland. It would be a trip she would remember for the rest of her life. She got to see the castles, kiss the Blarney Stone, and see the green, green hillsides.  She got to see where all tradition started. I wish I could have gone along with her. What a trip that would have been.Corrie & Amy Schulenberg

While I have never been to Ireland, I do have something in my own life that in name only gets its roots from Ireland…Irish Twins. What, you might ask are Irish Twins? Irish Twins are siblings born either in the same year or within 12 months of each other. My daughters, Corrie and Amy were born 11 months apart. My guess is that you know some of these yourself. I know that I have cousins who are also Irish Twins. In fact, my cousins. Susie and George are Irish Twins. While Irish Twins may not have any real ties to Ireland, it is something that I think is very cool.

So, today we celebrate that bit o’ the old country that most likely resides in each of us. Whether you Pucker Upparty at the pub, drinking green beer, or make sure that you are wearing something green, so as not to be pinched, most of us will celebrate the day in one way or another.  It’s not that it is what we would consider a big holiday, but rather a fun holiday…one for goofiness, partying, and as my younger Irish Twin would say, a day to “Kiss me…I’m Irish.” It began however as a Christian holiday. It is also an Irish holiday. So how are the two related? Well, St Patrick’s Day was the day that Christianity came to Ireland…so maybe it should be a bigger holiday that we have made it. So, however you choose to celebrate it, I just want to tell everyone Happy St Patrick’s Day!!

CCI06282012_00015a_editedGrandma Byer at the GulfWhen a couple has been married for many years, as my mom and dad were, before his passing, the years beyond their earthly time together reminds me of the recent version of the Titanic, where Rose had to go on after Jack’s death, to live the life he had encouraged her to live. The loss of a spouse can be such a devastating event, that sometimes people just close themselves off from life, and waste away. Of course, not every spouse who is left behind is physically able to go out and have the many adventures that Rose had, but many of those have children who step in and take them to places they could not go on their own.

Rose could have gone back to the man she was engaged to, who was abusive, and mean in every way, but she chose to take the opportunity that had presented itself, and make a new life for herself…a very brave thing to a single woman to do in that era, considering she also had to escape her mother’s selfish ways, by also not telling her that she had survived.

My mom’s mother, and my mom both lost their spouses after more than 50 years of marriage, and while neither of them would travel alone after that, both have taken many trips over the years since becoming widows. Before my grandmother passed away, 8 years after my grandfather, she took several trips, including one to Ireland with her sisters and brother, and one to Louisiana to visit her son. Looking at the pictures from those places reminded me of the adventures Rose had after Jack passed away. And I’m quite certain that my grandfather would have been most pleased with her travels, and excited that she got to make the journeys.

My mom has also had the opportunity to do some traveling since my dad’s passing. They always loved the Black Hills, and my sister, Cheryl takes her every year over the 4th of July week, when Bob and I, and several other family members go, and she gets to continue to enjoy the magesty of the Black Hills. This past week, Cheryl, Mom and I traveled through Montana, Idaho, and Eastern Washington to attend my uncle’s funeral, and Mom got to go from the lakes to the mountain tops. She didn’t hike, of course, and at times it was hard work to get her where we all wanted to go, but we persevered and it went very well.

It is so important that the surviving spouse takes that journey beyond loss, IMG_3366_editedDad and Mombecause their spouse would want them not only to survive, but flourish. They would want them to remember the past, but live in the here and now. In many ways, they are taking their spouse along with them…especially if the trip is to a place they both had wanted to go, but didn’t get to. Things change in this life, but life is for the living, and time marches on, so we must keep the love for those lost, in our hearts, and live the rest of our lives in the ways that bring us joy.

Being widowed is quite likely the most devastating thing that can happen in a married person’s life. The immediate feeling is “how can I go on” or “I don’t want to go on” or something similar, and yet, life does go on, whether we like it or not. The spouse who has gone home wouldn’t want the surviving spouse to quit. They want them to continue to live a full life. They must go one living until their own time comes, but how full that life is…well, that is up to the surviving spouse. I have looked through pictures of my grandmother on trips taken after Grandpa passed away, and while I know that she missed Grandpa terribly, Grandma knew that he would want her to go on living life to the fullest.

In many ways, it reminds me of the latest version of “The Titanic” in which Rose, after losing Jack, went on to do all the things he had inspired her to go out and do. Looking at my grandmother walking along the Gulf of Mexico, or exploring the castles of Ireland, tells a tale of survival. She went on to do some of the things that Grandpa would have been so thrilled to see her do. I have to wonder what was on her mind as she took some of these trips. I suspect that it was somewhat bittersweet, because while it was exciting to see these places, it would have been sad to think that her beloved husband didn’t get to experience it with her. I’m sure she also felt like he was with her in spirit, but that really is not the same.

While the years following being widowed can seem long and lonely, they often aren’t many, and they fly by. My grandmother followed my grandfather to Heaven in 1988, just 8 years after Grandpa went home. I’m sure they are happily discussing her adventures during the time they were apart, and knowing my grandpa, I’m also sure his eyes sparkle when she tells him of that time, although, nothing could possibly compare to what they are experiencing now. In fact, come to think of it, they probably haven’t even given Grandma’s adventures a single thought since she arrived.

Blarney Castle in Ireland is a popular tourist attraction. Whether we know it or not, we have all heard about it, or at least why it is famous. Kissing the Blarney Stone seems like just a silly thing people do on St Patrick’s Day…like drinking green beer. At least, that is what I used to think it was. Back then, I had no idea what a Blarney Stone was, and maybe you don’t know either. According to Irish folklore, anyone who kisses the stone receives the ability to speak with eloquence, or The Gift of the Gab. Now speaking eloquently might be an ability we would all like to have, but the gift of gab reminds me of someone who talks way too much, so I don’t think I would want that so much.

On her trip to Ireland and England, my grandmother had the chance to visit Blarney Castle, and of course to kiss the Blarney Stone. When I saw the picture, and since it was not marked as to what it was, I had a tough time figuring out what was going on. I had never researched the Blarney Stone before, so it didn’t look like something…normal, going on. I thought maybe she fell and have to be helped up, but then I seriously doubt if her brothers and sisters would dare to take a picture of such an event. I know my grandmother, and she could take you if you got out of line, and I don’t care who you are. Once my mom told me what the picture was about…well, the story had to be told. In reality, she was kissing the Blarney Stone, which must be done upside down and low to the ground. They used to hang upside down to do it, but now there is a bench to lay on and bars to hang on to so you don’t fall.

It seems so strange to me that a woman who never drove a car in her life, and didn’t do a huge amount of traveling, would travel to the other side of the world and have such cool adventures. She was after all my grandma, and it seemed so unbelievable that she would be off with brothers and sisters to visit such far away places. I never heard a lot about her trip, but I know that she was different when she came back. Not so noticeably so, but there was something different. She was a world traveler now, and while she never drove a car, she was had done things that made the lack of driving seem of little consequence. As for eloquence of speech, I can’t say that I noticed any difference. She was still my grandma, and that was just fine with me. She didn’t need to make fancy speeches. All she needed to be was my grandma, and the grandmother of all my sisters and cousins.

My grandmother never learned to drive a car. That was not an unusual situation during her lifetime, even though it is very unusual today. I never could figure out how women…or anyone for that matter…could get by these days without being able to drive, much less manage to raise nine kids and get them through all the stuff needed for their schooling without driving a car. Nevertheless, my grandmother did just that.

Since she didn’t ever drive, and counted on Grandpa for all the things that went with raising a family, I also found myself surprised when she said she was taking a trip to Ireland with her sisters. It wasn’t so much that traveling was so unusual for my grandmother, because my family had taken her places, as had Bob and I. I also know that there were other family members who had taken them traveling…so, while taking a trip wasn’t an unusual thing…taking a trip to Ireland seemed like taking a trip to the moon. It seemed so strange that Grandma and her sisters would be going so far away alone!!

The trip was to follow their roots. They planned to stay with family that lived there. It was the trip of a lifetime for my grandmother and while I felt nervous, I was so excited for her. She would see the green Irish hills, castles and ruins. She would see the coast of Ireland that I had heard was so beautiful, and most of all she could trace her roots back to there.  I can’t think of a more exciting trip for my grandmother to get to take. What a wonderful treat for her!

The trip was everything she had hoped it would be, and she returned to us different somehow. She was a world traveler now. She had been to distant shores and visited family and graves far away. I was so happy for her, and secretly hoped I’d be able to make such a trip some day. I imagined seeing castles and the ruins of castles. I wondered what stories I would hear of the past and those who lived in it. I am so happy that my grandmother had the opportunity to take such a trip. The chance to see new places, and meet new people…the chance to go in search of her roots.