thegenealogygirl


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Courage To Seek the Man Who Left

 

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Vince, December 1956

I have one living biological grandparent.

Vince.

That is all I have ever called him.  I didn’t decide to call him that, my Mom, her Mom, and her siblings did.  I don’t know when they decided to do that.  I’m sure they must have called him Dad at one point.  But for my entire lifetime, he has been Vince.

As a young child, I was completely unaware of his existence.  I’m not sure when that changed.  But when I was 16 years old I met Vince for the first time.

Meeting wasn’t his idea or mine.  It wasn’t even my Mom’s idea.  It was Uncle Dan & Aunt Barbara’s idea.

They tricked him.

His mother had been in a nursing home for many years.  Dan & Barbara were daily visitors.  But there came a point when they knew she didn’t have much time left.  Dan insisted that Vince come and see his mother.  It took some persistence, but finally, Vince and his wife Dena planned a trip to Spokane from California.  Dan also insisted on taking Vince & Dena out to dinner one night while they were in Washington.  What Vince did not know is that Dan & Barbara called my Mom and her siblings and told them that Vince wanted to see them all.  They set up a family dinner at my Uncle’s home.  The evening of the family dinner, all of us minus one cousin were gathered at my Uncle’s home.  Dan & Barbara had Vince & Dena in the car and as they approached, Dan explained what was actually happening.  Vince was shocked but had no graceful way out, and so for the first time in many, many years, Vince was with all of his children at the same time.

As a 16-year-old who had been shielded from basically all of the feelings of my Mom and her siblings towards Vince, I did not view this as an important moment.  The only part of that evening I can recall in detail was the only moment I spoke with Vince.  I had been playing the piano.  As I finished and stood, there was Vince sitting in a chair near the piano.  He said to me, “What is your name?”  I answered and he asked, “And who is your parent?”  I answered and felt more than a little bit of annoyance that he had no idea who I was.  That was it.  I answered and walked out of the room.

That was the entire extent of my experience with Vince, my grandfather, during my growing up years.

When I married my husband, my Mom insisted that we send Vince & Dena an announcement.  I was ambivalent but complied.  Vince & Dena sent me a gift.  It was a precious moments figurine of a couple on their wedding day.  I was not softened.

Almost ten years later I was copying VHS tapes of our family movies of that year for each of our grandparents.  It was our Christmas gift.  As I started the last tape I realized that I had another grandparent.  It struck me that even though I viewed him as simply ‘Vince’, my mother’s biological father, I was 1/4th – him.  And I didn’t know a thing about him.  I made one more copy and sent that along with a handwritten letter explaining my a-ha moment and the fact that I knew nothing about him and I wanted to.  I gave him my address, phone number, and email address along with the letter and 2 hour VHS of my children.  That Christmas we were out of town visiting family.  When we returned, there was a voicemail from Vince.

I bet I listened to that voicemail at least 20 times.  I had reached out and asked for contact but I was nervous to call him back.  Before I had worked up the courage to do so, he called again.  I had caller id and knew it was him.  I answered.

We talked.  He shared that this has been hard for him – I never did clarify what was hard, my reaching out, or the separation from his children.  He went on to share that the divorce had been hard.  Seeing his children after the divorce had been hard – not the seeing them part, but the returning them part.  Apparently, my Grandma made that moment very uncomfortable for everyone.  There was a lot of strife.  He slowly saw them less and less.  His family was not happy about the divorce.  But they were even more unhappy about his remarriage to Dena.  They felt it was shameful that he married his sister’s divorced next door neighbor and worried what people would think.  Vince was feeling pushed away by everyone.  He got a job offer out of state and took it.

He ran away.

I can’t really blame the guy.  He was young.  Divorce was taboo.  My Grandma was a fighter.  His family was embarrassed.  He ran away from his problems and created a new life.

He told me that he thought it would be better for his kids if he quietly stepped out of their life.  What he said next was so sad.  “I hoped that when they were old enough they would look me up.  They never did.”

My letter and VHS opened old wounds.  But it wasn’t all bad.  We talked a few times on the phone.  I learned a bit about him.  He showed interest in me and my children.

And then my entire world imploded.  I didn’t have the energy necessary to feed this newly formed relationship with Vince.  I allowed it to wither away to a Christmas Card relationship.  I didn’t know how to explain my sudden disappearance to him.  So I didn’t.  I sent Christmas Cards and other items of interest.  He sent Christmas Cards as well.  When my oldest graduated from High School, Vince sent a card and money order.  My son thought I was crazy when I photographed his signature on the money order.  But I had never seen his full signature before.  And likely wouldn’t again.

Then sometime last year I decided I really wanted Vince to take a DNA test for me.  I printed a very large fanchart for him.  He was in the center.  His mother’s lines look pretty good, but his father’s line is completely blank.  I also printed my fanchart so he could see a comparison.  I once again handwrote a letter asking if he would take a DNA test for me.  I told him I would purchase it and send it to him.  I mailed my package and waited.  My Grandma asked me over and over again if he had agreed.  It seemed like she was going to call him and give him an earful if he hadn’t and that seemed like a bad idea.  It was only a few months later that my Grandma passed away.

I started thinking more and more about Vince.  He was my only living biological grandparent.  (Biological is an important distinction here because my Grandpa is very much alive.)  I hadn’t spoken to him in years.  I had only met him once.  I felt this strong sense of urgency that I needed to see him and talk to him as an adult.

I mentioned what I was thinking to my Auntie V.  She said, “Well, if you want to do that you better do it soon.  I hear his health isn’t very good.”

I decided I needed to do it.  What I couldn’t decide was if I should show up at his door unannounced or call ahead.  Finally, I decided to call Aunt Barbara and ask her opinion.  She thought I better call first.  She said, “He’s not mean, he’s just absent.”  She told me he would not make an appointment and then not be there (like his sister once did).

So I called.  No answer.  I left a message.  I explained that I would be passing through and wondered if I could stop in for a brief visit.  I told him I would call him back the next day.  I did just that.  He didn’t answer.  I proceeded to call him back and got a busy signal.  I called 21 times that day and only heard that annoying busy signal.  I decided to quit trying to call.  Showing up seemed best.

 

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Me, still hopeful about collecting some DNA from Vince on the day we set out.

 

So last week, during Spring Break, I loaded my family up and we drove to the middle of California and stayed in a hotel in Vince’s town.  The next morning we got up, packed the car and drove toward his home.  Until we encountered the locked gate around his community.

I can’t adequately express what I felt as we sat in our car staring at that gate.  I was so close!  I had two DNA tests in my purse.  I had a million questions.  His house was mere feet from where I sat and I could not get to it.

Several cars came and drove through.  I toyed with the idea of just following the next car.  But I wasn’t sure what would happen.

I called Vince, again.  He didn’t answer.  Again.

We sat there.

And then a nice woman turned the corner of the sidewalk and was about to enter the neighborhood on foot.  My husband got out of the car and talked to her.  He explained that my grandfather lived behind the gate and we were trying to get in.  She asked his name.  After my husband’s reply she said, “Oh Vince, I know Vince.  He is such a great guy!”  I was already weirded out by my husband calling him my grandfather, but her response was even more difficult to reconcile.  She said that she probably shouldn’t tell us this but if we went around to the front and typed in a specific code we could enter the neighborhood.  So we did.

As we pulled up to Vince & Dena’s home, Vince was outside getting the mail.  I hopped right out of my car and walked up to him.  With a million complicated feelings going on inside of me, I offered my hand and said, “I’m Amberly”.  He was quietly shocked.  His ignoring me hadn’t worked.  But as Aunt Barbara said, “He’s not mean, he’s just absent.”  And so he let me and my family in.

For the first time in my life, I had a face to face conversation with my grandfather.  A real conversation.  Not just the exchange of a few words.  And for the first and second time in my life, I hugged my grandfather.  We weren’t good at it.  But we hugged, twice.

We also talked.  I didn’t tell him, but I recorded our hour-long visit.  He shared a few stories.  Answered a few questions.  Showed me a few family treasures.  And he took a picture with me and my children.

He would not take a DNA test for me.  He wouldn’t even talk about it really.  I could sense that it wasn’t worth pushing and so I let my long-sought dream slip through my fingers and I focused on what he would give me – a bit of his time, bits of information.

It was a really nice visit.  Vince is very quiet.  Very gentle.  Very organized and orderly and clearly likes things to be neat and calm and peaceful.  As I sat there I had to really concentrate to see that man I knew from old photographs.  But he was there.  His dark eyes were intently focused on me as we spoke.  I knew with absolute certainty that there was no way he and my Grandma could have made their marriage work.  They could not be more different.  I also felt a sense that he and Dena had very carefully constructed their world to protect them from past hurts.  And here I was opening old wounds.  But he let me.

It took a lot of courage for me to fight my way to his doorstep.  But I feel a sense of peace now that was worth every bit of my effort.

I will likely never see Vince again.

And that is okay.

I will probably still call him Vince.  But describing him as my grandfather as I type is becoming less and less uncomfortable each time.  I may always think of him as Vince, but after last week, I think I will be okay with also thinking of him as my grandfather.

The moment that will stay with me until I leave this life is the moment he spread his arm wide, inviting my teenager into his embrace for a photo.  Vince squeezed and jostled my son a bit, just like my Uncle does.  My son smiled.  And then we all stood together for a few pictures.

 

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It turns out 6-year-olds also don’t view a moment like this as important.  No real smiles from my little darling, but this photo is a treasure anyway.

 

I can’t possibly heal the deep wounds of the past.  But last Tuesday I accomplished something that I hope will open a way for Vince’s posterity to know just a little bit about him.  To think of him as more than just the man who left.

I hope I built a bridge of sorts.

I hope.

 

 

 


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Grandpa Costello’s 1932 Buick

V, Barbara, Amberly

Auntie V, Aunt Barbara, and Amberly at Barbara’s home in Spokane, Washington.  13 March 2018

 

Last week I was able to spend some time with my GrandAunt Barbara and my Auntie V at Barbara’s home in Spokane, Washington.  We had a good time together.  Aunt Barbara shared lots of stories, photos, and other family heirlooms with us.  I have so much to preserve from that visit.  It’s exciting!  One of my favorite finds was a grouping of photographs and stories about Grandpa Costello’s car.

 

COSTELLO, John & Mary by his car

John & Mary Costello standing next to Grandpa’s 1932 Buick

 

Grandpa Costello bought a 1932 Buick right off the showroom floor.  Apparently, Grandma Costello wasn’t too happy about that.  Grandpa babied that car – a deluxe model complete with flower holders in the back seat – he would park it in the garage that had a dirt floor, but every time he took it out he would dust the entire car.

 

COSTELLO, kids in John's car, 1932

Costello children in their father’s car – Dan, Vince, and Virginia

 

When Aunt Barbara was dating Uncle Dan, Grandpa Costello still had that car.  So Barbara rode it in.  When Grandpa Costello could no longer drive, the car was sold to some friends of Aunt Virginia’s.  Dan was very upset by that because he really wanted that car.

Years later, Dan and Barbara flew in Dan’s plane to somewhere near Ione.*  There was a car show near the airport and in that car show, there was Grandpa’s car!  His actual car, not just the same model.

 

COSTELLO, Dan standing by John's car

Dan Costello standing next to his father’s car in 1974.

COSTELLO, John's car in a car show in Bonner's Ferry, 1974

 

Each time I visit my relatives from an older generation I learn new details about my ancestors.  Each and every trip is so worth it.  I LOVE the picture of John and Mary standing next to Grandpa’s car!!  What a treasure to add to my small “John Costello” collection.

 

COSTELLO, John's car pictures from Aunt Barbara

 

I used these photos along with the audio of this part of the interview to create a video using Animoto.  I’m toying with purchasing a plan with Animoto and created this video as part of my trial.  Have you used Animoto or a similar service or program?  Which do you prefer?  I tried using Adobe Spark but there were far too many limitations with the audio.  I have lots and lots of audio files that would work nicely in a video and definitely want flexibility in the audio files I can use.  Here is my video:

 

 

 

Happy Monday, I hope you make a fantastic genealogy discovery this week!

 

 

*{Ummm, can I just say that I wish I had asked about Dan’s plane and flying?  I was so distracted by the car stories that I missed that tid-bit…}


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A Cautionary Tale of Digital Loss

 

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Daniel Ramon Costello & Barbara Ann Deno Costello, my granduncle & grandaunt at their home in Spokane, Washington.

 

 

I am sick.

Heartsick.

Like, really, really heartsick.

Almost four years ago I went on a trip to Spokane, Washington to visit my Grandma and interview her.  I saw, and also interviewed, other family members including my Uncle Dan & Aunt Barbara, and my fabulous Auntie V.  It was a fantastic trip.  My sister and Mom drove up to be there too.  I had brought along a digital audio recorder to capture all of the conversations.

Grandma told me stories I had never heard.  She talked about being a single mom in the 60s.  She described being a rescue diver for years and the moment she decided she couldn’t do it anymore.  She answered questions about family members who she knew, but my Mom and I did not.  She described people and places.  She went over photos with me identifying people and adding details about those people and the events in the photos.  She talked about how hard it was when her father went to prison for a year.  We talked and talked and talked.  I captured it all on my little digital audio recorder.

Uncle Dan and Aunt Barbara told me about John Costello and Mary Brown Young, my great grandparents.  I knew Mary, but John died when my mother was a child.  They shared how sorry they were in later years that they hadn’t asked Grandpa Costello more questions about his family in Spain before he passed.  Uncle Dan talked about his time in the service during WWII.  Aunt Barbara started to tell us about how sad my biological grandfather was when he and my Grandma divorced before my Mom and aunt cut her off.

My Auntie V shared some insights, when we were alone, about various family members from the past.  Her “unvarnished truth” to balance what Grandma had shared.

My Grandpa told me detailed stories from Viet Nam that are so fascinating.  I’ll leave it at that since he is still living.

All of these gems and much more were recorded on my handy little digital audio recorder.

I returned home from my trip and was immediately swept back up in daily life with my children who were 16, 13, and 2.  I was able to process some new data and information, but my trusty little audio recorder didn’t make the cut.

More than a year passed and one of my uncles from my dad’s side of the family needed to borrow my audio recorder for a family reunion I wasn’t able to attend.  I wrote up a short list of instructions and stood holding that recorder, struggling with whether or not to leave the micro sd card inside.  It has an internal memory that was more than sufficient, but what if the contents on the sd card were somehow erased?  After going back and forth I popped that oh-so-tiny micro sd card out and set it on my dresser.

I think.

Here is the moment in the book where you want to scream at the character, “No!  Don’t do it!!”

The recorder was used by my uncle at that reunion and then returned and placed on top of my dresser.

I think.

This week I am going back up to Spokane to help with an archiving project, among other things.  I will see Aunt Barbara, my Mom, Auntie V, and Grandpa.  Grandma and Uncle Dan have both passed away.

I need to be able to record and I debated – do I use my digital audio recorder or do I use my phone?

I pulled out that recorder and thought I had better pull the audio files off of it.  I plugged it into my computer and searched the files.

There were five.

Four nonsense practice files that last just a few seconds and a 33-minute file from the reunion.

That is all.

I must have checked the micro sd card slot at least 15 times hoping for something to appear that simply wasn’t there.  I even used a flashlight just to be certain.  I went through the folders on the internal memory over and over hoping to find something more but coming up empty every single time.

Panic set in.

I started tearing apart every place in my house I could imagine myself considering “a safe place” for that teeny-tiny-little micro sd card.  (Carefully, of course, but definitely fervently.)  All the while I was racking my brain and praying for a memory to pop to the surface.  Did I really just set that invaluable sd card on my dresser?  That miniscule, but more precious than gold, fragile tiny card on the edge of a dresser?!

That seems like a terrible decision.  And the thing is, I don’t know for sure what I did.  I just know that there is not a micro sd card inside of that digital audio recorder.

So far I have found one micro sd card – but not the one I need – but seriously, where did that come from? – and one regular sd card.  What is happening here?  Why aren’t these properly stored?  Why is my organizational system falling apart?!  What on earth?

Why didn’t I transfer those files immediately after my trip?!

Why didn’t I transfer those files while I was still on my trip?!!!!!  I had my laptop with me.

And this is the point where I could ramble on and on about my laptop being super full and being a busy mom with big and tiny children and being the Relief Society President in my ward and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

You know that moment I mentioned, the one where we all want to scream at the character, “No!!  Don’t do it!!”?  Well, I didn’t listen.  If I could have even had a tiny glimpse of my present anguish, I would have moved mountains to get those files transferred to AT LEAST two other places.

But I didn’t.

And now I am heartsick.

So terribly heartsick.

Real tears have been shed several times now as I continue to search and continue to come up with nothing.

 

There are two very small glimmers of hope.

One, my Mom interviewed my Grandma about 2 years ago and still has that recording – that I will immediately move heaven and earth to transfer to AT LEAST two places the minute it gets into my hot little hand.  There are two major disappointments with this – one, I love you Mom, but I ask better questions 😳 – and two, my Mom says it’s all fiction.  But let’s be real, would I know the difference?  And is my Mom’s opinion of Grandma’s stories accurate or fair?  I don’t know.

Two, I just might still find that micro sd card.  I believe in miracles.  I’ve experienced miracles plenty of times.  I don’t know if I actually need a miracle this time or just more time searching, but I’ll take that treasure anyway it comes to me.  So I’ll hold out hope that somehow, someway, those hours of audio files will make their way back to me.  And no matter the path it takes, I will consider it a miracle.  But I have learned a VERY BIG lesson.

NO MATTER HOW BUSY I AM, THERE ARE SOME TASKS THAT NEED TO BE DONE IMMEDIATELY.

Good preservation requires having multiple copies in multiple places.  So guess what I will be doing over the next month?  Assessing and addressing my current level of preservation of family photos, home movies, and priceless papers and artifacts.

 

But I still really, really, really want to have that oh-so-precious and oh-so-tiny micro sd card back.  Please.

 

I’ll take any good vibes, happy successful treasure hunting thoughts, or prayers you want to send my way.  I could definitely use them.

 

And friends, I hope you will learn from my mistake and avoid a similar bout of sorrow and loss.  What do you need to digitize, duplicate, or store in another place today?  Don’t wait.  Please, don’t wait.

Good luck.

xoxo

 


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Photograph Showcase: A Sneaky Photo for a son in the Army

 

COTELLO, John, 1940s, sent to Dan in the Army

John Costello, 1940s, photo sent to son Dan who was serving in the Army.

 

This photo of my great grandfather, John Costello, was sent to his son Dan while Dan was serving in the Army during WWII.  John didn’t like to have his photo taken.  Apparently, he also didn’t like his photo shared.

There are two notes on the back of this photo written by two different women at two different times.

COTELLO, John, 1940s, sent to Dan in the Army - photo back

The first note was written by John’s wife, Mary Brown Young, and reads:

“Dad would Have a fit if he knew I was sending you this picture.  But it was the best of Him.  see your Garage?”

The second note was written later by Dan’s wife, my Grand Aunt Barbara, and reads:

“194+

Dan asked for pictures of his Mom & Dad, when he was in the army”

 

I so am glad that Uncle Dan asked for photos!  That request meant that this photo stayed with Dan & Barbara and made its way to me.  It is one of so very few photos of John Costello.  I treasure each one.

 

ps – I love the hat!  How about you?