I’ve seen several blog posts from folks about their best Christmas family experiences. So, I thought that I’d go against the grain and write about my worst Christmas. It was 1961.
It had the potential of being the best Christmas ever. My mother married Budgar on December 8, 1961, and the two returned from a short honeymoon on December 10th. For Christmas, we were going to have a family get together. Budgar’s daughters, my new stepsisters, were coming and my grandmother was cooking a turkey with the fixings. Eleven-year-old me, had a hard time waiting until my stepsisters got to our house, but we waited so we could open presents together.
We opened our gifts and everyone was pleased. I’m not sure I remember exactly what my big present was. It might have been a “Paladin gun with holster,” maybe it was a toy “Rifleman cap gun,” I’m not sure which year I received which. I’m sure though I received new army men to play with; I received army men every year for several years. My stepsisters, ages 11 and 10, were especially excited about their new Barbie dolls and a Barbie game – The Barbie Game: Queen of the Prom – “A fun game with real-life appeal for all girls.”
After a short while, my stepsisters wanted me to play their new game with them. I said, “No.” I was 11 and enjoyed playing with my toys by myself, as I had done in previous years. Besides, I wasn’t about to play a “girlie game.” They insisted and then whined to their father, Budgar, that I needed to play with them because the game “wasn’t any good for just two.” They needed at least three players. So, Budgar took me away from my new toys and made me play the Barbie Game with his daughters. I was mortified.
Turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and my grandmother’s cake put me in a better mood later that afternoon. She was an excellent cook and an amazing baker.
Saturday Night Genealogy Fun
By Don Taylor
The Weekly Genealogist, produced by NEHGS, regularly has a survey question designed to make you think about your ancestors’ lives. They recently had a question asking if you or your ancestors traveled “across the country” not by airplane. In this case, “across the country” was a trip of more than 1500 miles.
Randy Seaver, in his blog, Genea-Musing, suggested taking that idea, cross country trips, and write about it.[i] I thought about the question and realized that with Detroit to Portland, Oregon, is over 2300 miles, my grandmother, mother, and I have all have had such travels, several times.
My Cross-Country Trips
I’ve made trips across the country several times.
When I was in the service, (Christmas 1969) three of us drove a Ford Falcon station wagon from San Francisco to Minneapolis. One person drove, one sat in the passenger seat, and one person slept in the back. Each person would rotate positions every three hours. We only stopped for gas and made the 2000 mile trip in less than 34 hours.
My second cross country trip was when I left Oregon to go to training in Vallejo, California, in 1972. After training, we knew I was heading to a ship at sea, so my wife and son moved from Oregon to Minneapolis. I drove Mary (my first wife), and our son Matt, the 1600 miles back to Minnesota, where they lived during my time at school. I flew from Minneapolis to San Francisco to training and again to the Philippines for my first cruise aboard the USS Kitty Hawk.
The next cross-country trip was when I moved Mary-Alice from her home in Maine to Minneapolis. Just a little over 1500 miles, it only barely qualified for this list. That trip was in her Dodge Caravan, loaded to the top with stuff. We arrived in Minneapolis just after the “Great Halloween Blizzard of 1991.” Before I had told Mary-Alice that Minnesota was colder than Maine, but we didn’t get as much snow. When we got to Minnesota, Interstate 94 was two ruts heading up out of the Saint Croix river valley because of the 28 inches of snow the Twin Cities had received. She gave me that look, that said, “We never had this much snow in Maine in October.”
In 1998, Mary-Alice and I moved to Long Beach, California (about 1900 miles). I drove the car and Mary-Alice drove her van. We kept in contact with little radios. When we got to the Mohave Desert, she kept asking where the desert was. We drove through it during a “once-in-a-century” flower bloom. It was gorgeous, entire hillsides yellow with flowers.
In 2000, Mary-Alice and I moved from Long Beach to Boston, Massachusetts. Our van was over-loaded with stuff and relatively old, so I was afraid to try the shorter 3000-mile northern route because of the mountains on the way. So, we took the 3200 mile-route through Phoenix, El Paso, and Dallas. That was a brutal trip. We stopped at a weird motel in Tennessee and had a difficult time finding our room. Little did we know that the 200 rooms were downstairs from the 100 rooms.
I made the trip between Minneapolis and Portland, Oregon, as an infant, twice with my mother. I don’t remember either trip and rely only upon my mother’s telling of the stories.
My Mother’s Cross-Country Trips.
Back in 1950, my mother got a job with an outfit that sold magazines door to door. They had a crew of kids, my mother was 18, and moved city to city. I know they started in Detroit and ended in Portland, Oregon, in just a few months, stopping at cities and towns all along the way. I still wasn’t born yet but was born a few weeks after her arrival in Portland.
In 1953, my mother was pregnant with my sister, Glennis. Mom like the hospital I was born in and decided she wanted her second child to be born in the same hospital. She hitch-hiked from Minneapolis to Portland, Oregon (1700 miles) with 3-year-old me. Wow—What a trip that must have been for her.
My mom and Budgar traveled between Minneapolis and Phoenix (over 1600 miles) many times.
On one occasion she traveled between Phoenix and Minneapolis by herself and then continued with me to Clarksburg, West Virginia (about 2600 miles in total).
My Grandmother, Donna
My Grandmother was a fantastic traveler. She was born in Albion, Michigan and lived there until about 1914 when she went to California to be one of Max Sennett’s Bathing Beauties and to be in the movie, “Birth of a Nation.”
She traveled from California to Massachusetts in 1915 and lived in the Boston area for a few years.
In 1919, Donna traveled from New York to Decatur, Illinois to join the cast of “Chin Chin.” She then toured with the show to Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Oregon, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Vermont, Connecticut, and Massachusetts before the show ended.
Known locations Donna was at during the “Chin Chin” Tour.
In 1922 & 1923, “Donna Darling and Company” went on the road. They started in New York and went to Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Arkansas.
In 1924, Donna went on another tour heading west from New York to include Montana, Oregon, and California with stops all over in between.
In 1926, Donna had another tour heading west from New York and including Texas, Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Wisconsin, Michigan.
In 1927, Donna had another tour heading south from New York and across to New Orleans and back.
During her travels, virtually all of the trips were via train. A typical day, she’d board the first train out of a city, take the train with her crew, cast, and sets to another town, typically 2 to 4 hours away. The crew would unload and install the sets at the theater. She would then do a show or two that day. After the show, they’d head to a hotel for the night then head out again with the first train to another town. Sometimes, on longer travels, I’m sure they’d sleep on the train while heading to the next city. She had a train stuck in the snow in Nebraska for several days, a trestle washed out in Arizona (where they needed to carry their scenery past the wash-out on their backs), and had an earthquake break the tracks in California.
As I get more and more of her vaudeville career documented, I’ll create maps showing her travels and some of her many travel challenges.
I don’t know anything about my biological father’s life travels, nor do I know about his parents’ travels. I know that grandpa Dick was in the service and probably traveled cross country with that. He served in Panama, so I’m sure he at least traveled from Minnesota to the Gulf (or a coast) as a minimum. My great-grandmother Mary (Manning) Brown never traveled 1500 miles (to my knowledge), but she did travel the 1000 miles, from Kentucky to Minnesota, by oxen-driven wagon. That trip was with her grandparents, Enoch & Minerva (Toliver) Mannin. I think a 1000 miles trip by oxen-driven wagon is much tougher than twice that distance by train or automobile, so it should count.
In my final article about schools I’ve attended, I decided to write about work-based schools and training I’ve had. Over the years I’ve had dozens and dozens of classes that lasted a day or two that I’m not mentioning here. Rather, these are the classes and training that I’ve had that changed my life.
TRW – Docuteller Cash Machines
After I got out of the service, I went back to Minnesota. There I began looking for a job. My best friend, Doug, worked for TRW, Customer Service Division. He worked servicing those new, cutting-edge technology, of cash machines. He suggested I apply there and sure enough, I got the job. This was the third time Doug and I worked for the same place. (Holiday gas station and Marty’s Grill, both in Crystal were the first two.) Anyway, TRW sent me to school in Dallas, Texas, for a month of training to work on Docutel cash machines – the Docuteller 300. It was a good school, besides learning how to do the mechanical repairs they taught us some of the basics in programming in machine language. On occasion, we would install a part, like a solenoid, and need to exercise it to assure it was working correctly. We’d program the solenoid to activate for a time, then release and remain released for a time then repeat. Simple things, but it taught me more about programming and understanding the differences between machine language, assembly, and higher level languages. The automated teller machines communicated to a central office using a modem, so the training also included synchronous and asynchronous communications.
The machines required the user to make deposits using an envelope and withdraws were in $25 and $50 packets that were put into a small drawer in the front of the machine. The drawer would open up for the customer to take the money or a receipt that said why the money wasn’t disbursed. I recall one customer who wasn’t happy and decided to get back at the bank. The person “tickled the machine” that is to say they put their bank card into the machine and then held the card so it wouldn’t go into the machine to be read. The ATM printed a receipt that indicated the card couldn’t be read, put the receipt into the drawer, then opened the drawer. The person took his receipt then filled the drawer with feces giving subsequent customers a surprise when they used the machine.
I also learned about (bank) teller terminals and terminal processors, which used 8” floppy diskettes. I worked for TRW for about nine months and then was laid off.
I went to work for DCMC at the Twin Cities Arsenal (TCA) inspecting bomblets. Mostly, I inspected the solder work to assure work to weapons specifications standards. I went to training for a week or so to learn soldering standards. After the TCA, I worked at the Honeywell plant on Stinson Blvd in Minneapolis. While there I learned NASA soldering requirements and inspected the work for various gyroscopes and accelerometers used in aircraft and missiles. I even inspected the hand controllers for the Space Shuttle.
I started working for NavPRO in the Quality Engineering Department and made a major career shift from Quality to Computers (See: Schools I’ve Attended – Metropolitan State University) While with the NavPro I attended training many times, including training about cc:Mail. cc:Mail was a product by Lotus, who was a big name in spreadsheet software back in the day. That training served me well when I transferred to the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA).
Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA)
I continued working with computers with DCMA. I became one of the eMail specialists for the Command. Later, I went to Microsoft Exchange classes to learn Microsoft Exchange (the back end) and Outlook (the user interface). Eventually, I transferred from Minnesota to Los Angeles and became “Mr. E-Mail” for the Western District. Of course, DCMC being a government organization there were many short training experiences, particularly in leadership and personnel management. With DCMA training I developed a style of leadership. I also believe I developed a quotation I used the rest of my working life, “You lead people and manage things; when you manage people, you treat them like things.”
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
After 9/11, I transferred to the FBI. While with them, I took classes in project management, tested, and became a certified “Project Management Profession (PMP)” through the Project Management Institute. Eventually, my project management skills allowed me to became the lead for a large test group (NCIC, IAFIS, NICS) at the Bureau.
Information Innovators, Inc. & Gray Lion Consulting
After my retirement from federal service, I went to work for Information Innovators, Inc. (aka “Triple-I) for a short time. Then, I created my own company, Gray Lion Consulting, with a contract to provide project management services to Information Innovators. Maintaining my PMP required regular “professional development” classes. To enrich my knowledge about IT Security, I went to a week-long “boot camp” and studied some more to test and become a “Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP). Being both a PMP and a CISSP allowed me to manage a Network Operations and Security Center (NOSC) until my second retirement.
Don Taylor Genealogy
After my second retirement, I got very involved in Genealogy. I attend genealogical conferences regularly and plan for at least one hour of genealogical training every week, usually through a webinar or other online event. Throughout my life, I’ve learned the power of education and the importance of being a specialist in something.
Working full time to support a family necessitated my finding a college that supported working adults. Metropolitan State University (Metro State) did that and more. Besides offering courses in the evenings and Saturdays, it allowed students to design their degree plan. I had the desire to become an attorney. As such, I thought I should follow a pre-law type of curriculum, so I designed a degree plan heavy in political science, speaking, and writing.
Particularly Interesting Classes
Chaminade University in Hawaii had proven to be a fantastic place to take Marine Biology and Oceanography. I needed another science course for my degree plan so took meteorology at Metro State. Few places have more diverse weather than Minnesota, so it was great learning about the weather there. Another enjoyable class was “Acting for Non-actors.” I learned how hard it is for me to memorize lines, but I had lots of energy.
Sometimes there is a class that will completely change your life and that class was “Non-fiction Writing.” I’ll never forget that class nor its instructor, Dana Noonan.
The premise of the class was simple enough; students needed to write several magazine quality articles during the class. The difficulty with that was that Ms. Noonan required her students to write then rewrite, and rewrite again, and again until the quality was magazine quality. My papers came back with red “Awk” (awkward) and circles of problems, which require a rewrite. It was a grueling task in the days of typewriters and I couldn’t keep up with the work. It was one of the most challenging classes I ever had. To keep up with the rewrites, I purchased my first computer, a Commodore 64, word processing software and a printer. With it, instead of retyping the entire article and introducing new typos, I was able just to update the work I did previously and resubmit my significantly improved article. The computer revolutionized my work processes. I found I could use it to do a host of things. Soon, I upgraded to an IBM computer before long and used the computer for everything I could.
When my work office decided to purchase personal computers for office automation, I became a computer “helper.” At that time, I worked as a Quality Assurance Engineering Technician. My job required reviewing change requests then approving or disproving those waivers and deviations as appropriate for the Navy at the Navy Plant Representative Office (NAVPRO) in Fridley, MN. In the back room, we had a Wang 2200 minicomputer. In my work, I needed a program which would track those changes. The existing staff didn’t have time to program the computer for me, so I asked for access to the computer to develop a program that would track those changes. Because I was already a computer helper person, they gave me the appropriate access. I developed a simple program that worked for me. Then was asked by some other folks if I could put something together for them, which I did. My programs, although simple, always worked. I also took a couple of computer science classes at Metro State to help me understand more about computers. A few months later I was asked if I would be interested in moving over to the Computer Team full time. Being a “can do” kind of person, I said, “Same pay? Sure, why not.” I was happy to work wherever they could use me the best.
I never returned to Quality Assurance, but rather continued as a Computer Specialist then on to Information Technology Specialist.
I received my bachelor’s degree from Metropolitan State University in December 1986. My personally designed degree was in “Governmental Policy and Decision-Making Processes” as a subset of Political Science.
I doubt I ever would have made the shift from Quality Assurance to Computer Support and Information Technology if it weren’t for Metropolitan State University, “Non-fiction Writing,” Dana Noonan, and that first computer I owned, a Commodore 64.
Halloween or Samhain is said to be the day where the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. As such, it is an important time to remember those who have passed. Although I try to remember all my ancestors who have passed, this Samhain I want to remember three people who were not ancestors but had a profound effect on my life. Their passing touched me deeply.
First, is my first close friend to die. Steve Plowman was a close friend while I lived in North Minneapolis. He lived about a block away – down the hill to the corner then left a half a block to his house on 24th that adjoined the alleyway between Aldrich and Bryant avenues. On Tuesday, November 24th, 1964, Steve and a mutual friend, Gary Dorf, were crossing Lyndale Avenue in North Minneapolis while a bus was stopped. Gary stopped walking while in front of the bus, but Steve ran out trying to beat a car that was coming. Steve was hit by the car and died before getting to the hospital. He was the first close friend I had to die, and one of only a few I’ve known that have died due to a car accident. Steve was only 15 when he died. To this day, I am ultra-careful when walking past a bus into traffic and cringe when I see someone step past a bus without using super-great caution.
Sadly, I was in Minnesota a few weeks ago and at the Fort Snelling National Cemetery, where Steve is buried, and didn’t realize he was there. So, visiting his grave will be on my list of things to do during my next visit to Minnesota.
Next, is my best friend’s mother, Alvina Kirks. She was a really nice woman. Hers was the first, and only, funeral where I was a pallbearer. It was difficult for me to say anything that would help my friend or the rest of his family. I recall making a conscious decision to do my absolute best to fulfill the honor my friend and his father bestowed upon me asking that I be a pallbearer, at only 16-years of age. Alvina was only 47 when she passed. From her, I learned that even when cancer is taking your life, you can be strong and dignified during the process. She was. I was able to visit her burial site at Fort Snelling National Cemetery when I was last in Minnesota. She is buried next to her husband, Charles N. Kirks.
Finally, is my first wife, Mary. She was an exceptionally good woman and mother to my first child. She was very tolerant and in so many ways amazing. I was married to her for over ten years and don’t rue a day of it. We were so young when we were married and tried very hard to make it work. But the separations of Navy life took their toll on our relationship. She passed away last spring (June). I was able to visit where her cremains are buried at Saint Mary’s Cemetery in Minneapolis. I was saddened that there wasn’t a stone monument there. Cemetery records indicated where she was buried. She is resting with her grandparents, John & Marie (Hawley) Langford. Although she doesn’t have a stone marker at the cemetery, I did create a virtual monument for her on Find-a-Grave. May her life in heaven be more joyous than she ever imagined.