Happy 35th Anniversary


Continuing the festschrift in honor of my parents’ 35th wedding anniversary, as started on my sister’s blog:

…erm, well, no one could possibly have said it better than my sister did. But I’ll just say this: When I think about how two unpretentious farm kids from opposite sides of the Mason Dixon line managed to raise a pair of liberal city kids like us, I thank heaven that they didn”t kill us before we reached maturity. Our continued existence is tribute to their supreme patience and skills as parents.

But I will second many of the thoughts that my sister raised in her post. And I’ll raise another one, borrowed from a powerful sermon that Dr. Nancy Taylor preached last December at Old South:

When my husband and I were married, our friend who officiated at the wedding spoke of dance as a metaphor for marriage. He described marriage as a way of moving in synchronicity with another. He said that to love and cherish each other for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, was a kind of dance. For the dance to flow, each partner must be keenly sensitive to the moves and moods of the other.

Nancy and Peter continue to be an inspiration to me as they dance the slow dance at the end of Peter’s life.

I only know one other couple who has anywhere near that grace. That couple danced their first dance in North Carolina over 35 years ago, in a church music conference. They danced their way into each other’s families…as challenging as that must have been for someone whose families had always been in the remote valleys of North Carolina and in the Mennonite farmlands of Pennsylvania. They danced their way through 35 years: through NASA and music lessons and church music and ultimately retirement, of drawings and PTA meetings and ballet and soccer and orchestra. Of MGs that were never quite finished in the garage. Of back deck barbecues, vegetable gardens, church potlucks. Of making music together. And they’re dancing now, probably on the deck of that house overlooking the Smokies. Hopefully after a good dinner.

Thanks, Mom and Dad.

Watch out for those pills

I had a great weekend in Pennsylvania with my parents and my grandfather. I’ve written a bit about his health from time to time on the blog: the stroke, his struggles with diabetes. When I saw him last summer he was withdrawn and uncommunicative, and had trouble moving, though he did respond when I talked with him a little, and I came away very worried about him.

The good news is that he has made tremendous improvements since then. He had a brief hospital stay earlier this winter after falling (fortunately, nothing was broken) and in the course of his rehabilitation went through a thorough evaluation of his medications. The doctors took him off all but one or two of what had been probably ten or twelve different prescriptions. The difference has been astonishing. He was much more mobile, told some stories, laughed a bit, had far fewer tremors…

The consensus about his improvement is that his previous doctors were prescribing medications to treat symptoms and never evaluating the cumulative effect of the medicine on him—and in some cases never taking a step back to see if the medications were still needed. It seems shocking that such a thing could happen, but I suspect it’s all too common.

My wife is the coolest ever.

My wife decided to surprise me last night. We won’t be able to spend Valentine’s Day together this year—I will be at the Pink Elephant IT Service Management Conference—so she decided that we would celebrate it last night. I had already been planning to grill some steaks, but she added a surprise to the mix: a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse for our computer, and an AirClick USB to allow me to control iTunes playback from other rooms. Very important, since the Mac is now the source of our dinner party music.

I’m very lucky to have a wife who likes Apple and speaks geek.

Home is where the contractors are

Lisa got stuck in the Logan radar mess this week; a quick day trip down to Richmond via National Airport turned into an extended travel trauma when her flight back to Boston was cancelled. Fortunately her flight was early enough—and she learned that it was cancelled early enough—that she was able to take advantage of the time to drive up to her parents for a day.

I’m looking forward to seeing her tonight when she gets in. I’m also envious, as she got a chance to be with our dogs, who are currently bunking in New Jersey while our bathroom renovations take place. (Aside: I never thought I would be the sort of pet owner who gets teary eyed—hell, occasionally bawls—when his dogs drive away. Don’t tell anyone.)

Demolition for the downstairs shower starts next week. I can’t wait. This will be the last set of major contractor projects (except for the replacement of our front door, which will necessitate a day’s worth of carpentry due to water and sill problems) for a while, and then we get our house back to ourselves again.

Lordy, lordy, look who’s…


…No, Esta isn’t 40, but today is one of those other big milestone birthdays for my kid sister. What a long strange ride it’s been: a ballerina, cellist, artist, writer, Wahoo, archaeologist, financial analyst, sometime blogger, preacher, and all around great person. I’d be happy to recommend her as one of the finest people I know… odd incriminating bandana’d pictures notwithstanding. And she’s just entering the best years of her life, whether she knows it or not.

By way of present, I offer these words from a better writer than I:

you shall above all things be glad and young
For if you're young,whatever life you wear
it will become you;and if you are glad
whatever's living will yourself become.

Feel free to send her happy birthday wishes using this handy spam-free form. Or check out her 2001 proto-blog on this site (her personal blog is no longer available).

Wonder and loss

white building on brackbill farm against the sky, lancaster

It was good to see my extended family over the last two days, but sad as well. My great-uncle Hershey Brackbill passed away on Saturday. What was originally going to be just another annual family reunion turned into a commemoration of Hershey.

To back up: My grandfather had eleven brothers and sisters, of whom all but two survived to adulthood. For many years the ten remaining siblings, even after the passing of my great grandfather Harry, have brought the family together summer after summer, and the part of the family that stayed in Lancaster County (virtually everyone in that generation and most of their children) formed a tight knit extended family.

But recently the family has been thinning. After the second church service this morning I walked with Esta down the hill to pay respects to my grandmother. On the way I passed the markers of Hershey’s brother Jake, who died earlier this year, and Florence, who passed away several years ago. I also passed Hershey’s tombstone, which he will share with his first wife Jane; his stone was awaiting his final date. So the family is coming together in a corner of the cemetery at Leacock Presbyterian.

Fortunately the living family was able to come together in a more substantial tribute this morning. My second cousin Don Brackbill got a chorus of eleven Brackbill men, whether by blood or marriage, to sing an anthem at both Sunday services—in the Old Leacock church, which dates back to 1750 and is as historic as it is sweltering on an August morning, and the “new” Leacock church, which is probably close to 100 years old and is the one that was a block and a half down Route 30 from my grandparents’ home when I was growing up. The music was nice, the theology—the wonder of God’s love—somewhat better.

After services we all headed to the picnic, where my mother decided it was time for a changing of the guard and had me lead the family in the singing of the doxology (something my father or my cousin Lee would have otherwise done) and my sister the seminarian, as the most ecclesiastical person there, lead the prayer. Given how rarely I can spend time with the family, I didn’t feel entirely comfortable leading the song, which may have been the point for all I know, but it felt like a passing of the torch anyway.

And who is grabbing it? My mother’s generation, with a few exceptions, stayed pretty close to Lancaster and the rest of the family. My generation? One of my cousins is close by but the other is in Puerto Rico; other cousins were getting married in Michigan this weekend while another, my cousin Chris, lives on the west coast. As we spread further apart, the capacity of the yearly gatherings in Lancaster to keep the family bonds together is likely to strain.

There are solutions, I think, but I’m too tired to chase them tonight. Instead, I’ll close with an assortment of photos from the day. They won’t win any awards, but at least the resolution is higher than my last batch of Lancaster County photos.

Family updates

I updated the genealogy section of the site; this long overdue update added in all my living Brackbill second and third cousins. I had never had a chance to transcribe the Brackbill Book, the 1989 compilation of our family tree from Great-Grandfather Harry on down, and so I was in the embarrassing position of having tons of information about people born in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries and no representation of my living cousins. The updated genealogy has been uploaded to the site; as always, please note the caution about the Freeman data.

Holiday with friends

We had Shel and Erik over last night and inaugurated our second floor guest bedroom, which has been “just” a storage room since we moved in. By “inaugurated” I mean we shoved some boxes in the storage space under the eaves and pushed the others out of the way; it’s not remotely close to being finished, but it’s a start. Maybe I’ll hang pictures up there this afternoon—in time for Charlie and Carie, who will ring in the new year with us, to have the option to stay there rather than dodge drunk drivers on the way home to New Hampshire after midnight. And Esta and one of her fellow seminarians will join us week after next. As I said to Greg over IM last night, we’re turning into quite the little bed and breakfast. Y’all come.


Today I’m thankful for a whole bunch of things, including:

  • My wonderful wife
  • My family, including my amazing mother, who’s on a pilgrimage to Guatemala this week—this being the first time she’s been out of the country in 30 years
  • My in-laws who are with us enjoying the day
  • Our dogs, who have I think finally given up on getting at the turkey now that it’s been put away
  • Our house, even though it’s too damn warm in here after baking a pie, roasting a turkey, and doing countless other stovetop and oven dishes
  • About a bajillion bloggers
  • You, my readers
  • This blog, which makes me keep my brain exercised and keeps me honest


Esta and I were at the MFA today (pictures to come). On the way home, we were discussing “Long Distance Salvation,” which Esta has yet to receive (once I design the CD label, we’ll be in business). I was giving her a track-by-track breakdown, and said,“I am living liner notes.”

She said, “Huh?”

I said, “There are no liner notes for this mix, so I’m giving you your living liner notes.”

She said, “Ah. I thought you said you were living liner notes.”

We were silent for a second. I said, “I’ve been living liner notes. But it’s been for a John Cage album. And I don’t know what the hell is going on.”

—Hey, it was funny at the time.

Distributed census records

I periodically get email questions from people who have come to my site by searching Google for their ancestors and have found my genealogical records. (In fact, I’m currently working through a backlog of six questions, some of which have sat in my inbox for six months…the shame.) Anyway, in looking up some information about a distant cousin, I found out that there’s a regional repository of census microfilm in the Boston area at the Frederick C. Murphy Federal Center in Waltham. Since driving to Waltham is cheaper than paying $20 a month for access to the records, I may have to make a little field trip…