Month: June 2013

Finding our “Lace Curtain” Irish


My brother Charles and I spent the first day of summer digging through thousands of black-and-white photos, chards of our combined ancestry, stuffed into four large black plastic tubs. They had been shipped across country by our brother John, in NYC, who had no room for them.

I have my own tonnage of history, at the rear of a storage unit on the top of the hill behind my daughter’s house in San Clemente. Another legal size file box lurks in a locked storage unit of my loft in San Francisco.

Who Was Bushy Boy?

“I know our kids will just toss this stuff away, after we’re gone. We should try to identify these people, who NEVER wrote an encouraging word on the back of any of these fading shots of themselves, except “Nice shot of Bushy Boy” or “I see BJ on that ship, the one of the hanky, next to Auntie M.”

Bushy Boy? BJ was our mother, but who was Auntie M? The ship. Mother never said she had taken a cruise. To where? When?

We found some interesting pieces of information. Our grandmother’s grandfather [he would be the great, great, great grandfather] was a teacher in Howard, McPherson County, South Dakota. In 1900, his 16 pupils included two Slocum kids, Charley, Lizzie, Vennie and Eddie Riesdorph, Bertha, Theresa and Willie Rappe, a couple of Halls, Potters and a Schumaker.

His name was William D. Madole. The only Madole with matching initials I can find is a servant from New York City. Could it be that he educated himself and left NYC to become a teacher in a spot that is just as remote today as it was 114 years ago? The name “Madole.” Is this the “Lace Curtain” Irish blood my grandmother told me I had surging through my veins? A shortening of the surname “MacDowell.” If so, the servant status might make sense, as “No Irish Need Apply” was the sign of the times that greeted immigrants from that green land of luck, blarney and famine.

Richards or Ricardo?

My two brothers and I share the same mother. Different fathers. The families were shuffled together, some in separate albums that started to disintegrate as soon as we picked them up. Hundreds of envelopes, dated 1941, 1980, 1923, with photo negatives, too dark to read or match to the prints.

We uncovered history of the two Macbeth plantations in Charlestown, South Carolina. A reference to a Ravenel ancestor, who sticks around as the middle name of our NYC brother, John.

“Our fortune,” Charles said, as he opened a tin filled with postage stamps.

“We’re rich,” I shouted so loud that the neighborhood dogs started barking. I had unfolded a Nevada silver mine stock certificate noting 1,000 shares, worth $.10 a piece in 1917. Also in 1917, a yellowed newspaper clipping from the Los Angeles Times, noting the return from France of one Sgt. Frank Macpherson Smith, wounded in the Battle of the Argonne Forest. Our mother’s father’s Purple Heart. Never mentioned.

History. Herstory.

Would this information be available to our great, great, great, grandchildren, if we stuck it on Facebook, instead of in a plastic tub, buried in the basement? is worse than Facebook – it can suck you in for hours. I do wish anti-immigration folks would subscribe to it, as it would only take about an hour to realize that nobody who’s here, now, has any claim to citizenship, unless you are a member of one of the hundreds of Indian tribes who made this land their home, thousands of years before any of us got here.

We are all immigrants, strangers in a New World that was not so charming and democratic [Greek to you and me] as some say it was. Or is. Time to tug at our roots and discover how much alike we are.

Time to re-print our money so that

e pluribus unum appears in 18-point type


Get Outta’ My Cloud


I landed the lead role in a Kafka play Friday morning.

My brain’s breakfast is an Americano and my iCloud calendar. The espresso machine growled and sputtered to life. My calendar revealed that I had absolutely nothing to do. Ever.

All past and present entries, appointments, phone conferences, and birthdays were gone. Jewish and Christian holidays graced the months and years, like spots of blood on a white canvas. I checked my pulse. I was alive, obviously. Like Ishmael, I am writing this on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Back on The Farm

It was 5:30 am. Apple would not have West Coast technical support until 6:00 am. I wanted to be the first caller, so I checked in at  and requested a call. I was put through immediately to Nick. In Orlando, Florida.

“I see that you have opted to share your screen with Apple,” he said.
“I am desperate. I give myself to you. I need to confess something.”
“I am not dead. My whole life – on my iPad, iPhone, and laptop – is gone. Last night I was planning an event for 2014 and accidentally scrolled to 2040. Maybe my iPad thought ‘She’s not going to be here then so . . .”

Nick was all business. We got to work. Nothing worked. At 7:30 am I was sent to Adam on Level Two Apple support.

Adam at Apple. The day was getting interesting.

Adam took a few moments to review my ‘case.’ While he was doing that, I remembered something.

“On Wednesday and Thursday, every time I accessed my iPhone WiFi, “FBI Surveillance Van” has popped up as a network option. Could this be significant?”

Silence. Customer Service protocol. Adam did not want to discuss conspiracy theories so early in our relationship.

“Do not worry. I see that there are 20,000 entries in your backup, so we just have to figure out how to get them back.”

20,000? I’m a busy, busy person. At 9:45 am I gave permission for Adam and Apple Engineering to have access to my cloud, my email, contacts, anything that had a password. At 2:15 pm, Adam called and said that it would probably be next week before my data was recovered.

“Why can’t I you just go to the server farm and harvest my stuff? I’ve been an Apple customer since before you were born.”

“You’re right. But server farms are everywhere.”


“Just know that your information will be back next week.”

Adam said he would email my temporary password. “You might have to reset your password . . . “

Great. I can’t remember what I have run up two flights of steps to get, let alone a password that’s lowercase, uppercase and numerical with no hope of word association. I tried to access my email. “Enter your User Name and  . . . Password.”

I have password-protected everything. This didn’t do any good when iCloud calendar gave up my stuff without a fight. My iPhone, iPad, iTunes, and computer were in another dimension.

Or worse.

Perhaps I am the protagonist in a Kafkaesque drama. I am citizen zero in my own version of The Trial.

The “FBI surveillance van” WiFi option. The accidental scrolling to 2040. My Google search for “I have nothing to hide.” “Rush Limbaugh/Dick Cheney support of Patriot Act.”

First aggravation. Now, aggregation.

An Apple engineer, somewhere on The Farm, or just outside the gates of Disneyworld, has been working through the night. Some of my life is back. Double. Two entries for each event, birthday, and appointment.

I am again a busy, busy person.

Too busy. The Jewish and Christian holidays have disappeared.

A secret too old to keep.


Two weeks ago I admitted to my daughter, son-in-law, grandson and granddaughter something I’ve kept hidden since sixth grade.

I’m afraid to dive.

Water is my ally. Wherever I go, I hook up with a pool, just to experience the rush of a cold dip and the smell of chlorine in the morning. I insist on living within ten minutes of enough water to get into for a few laps.

There is a dark side – water loses its charm when I stand on a diving board.

Clear and baby blue, so inviting. Water like . . . glass. Would you dive into glass? How about depth? Not the depth of the pool – the depth of the dive. I jump off the board, not into the water, but back onto the concrete deck..

“Just bend over. Touch your nose to your knees.”

“Which knee? I have two. Only one nose.”

“You’re stalling. I”ll help you.” My six-year-old granddaughter, who is part fish, gently touches the small of my back. “Bend from here. You can do it.”

What example am I setting? Will she become less of the daredevil if I decline the challenge?

I bend over. My nose touches my left knee. I see the top of a pig’s head. I guess I have to pay more attention to how I shave my legs. Wait. Not a pig. Hairs stick up like the bristles that grace a baby elephant’s head.

“What are you doing, Gammy? Just go. Just go.It’s only water.”

I go, deep. My goggles fly off my head. My contact lenses are somewhere in the pool.

“We’re proud of you, Gammy.”

I am more proud of them. For patience. For not bullying.

My grandson climbs out of the pool and hands me my goggles.

“Do it again.”