In the space of a breath

I’m posting tonight in honor of my friend, William Hamilton. Bill (aka, “Ham”) lost his years’ long battle with COPD a few hours ago. I didn’t know Bill all that long—only ten years or so—but it is a relationship I will treasure for the rest of my life. Bill kept me honest and was the best non-biological big brother a girl could ever hope for.

We met in 2004 at our local bowling center when the alley’s Tuesday night winter league was forming. Bill was a “walk-on” because he signed up after the league reached capacity, but he was assigned to our team due to no-shows, etc. It was the best thing that ever happened to our team. Bill truly was our anchor. He understood the art and science of bowling and did his best with every ball he rolled. He was a competitor and wanted to win in the worst way, but he also realized that his teammates were not competition–grade bowlers. He accepted that and, despite the fact that our team rarely won, he thoroughly enjoyed our weekly bowling matches. Art and I quit after a couple of years—Art because of bowling-aggravated aches and pains and I because it ran too late for my 3:50 a.m. wake-up call. But Bill kept on, effortlessly fitting himself into whatever team had a vacancy, continuing until only a couple of years ago despite the shortness of breath and other problems associated with advancing COPD.

I happened to mention to Bill in 2012 during one of his all-too-frequent hospital stays that I blogged. Coincidentally, Bill’s wife Stephanie had been encouraging him to blog about his COPD. I offered a hint or two shortly after Bill launched his Dealing with COPD site, but it wasn’t long before he had a well-established blog with many enthusiastic and supportive followers—due in big part to his dedication to responding to each and every comment anyone ever left.

True to its title, Bill focused most of his posts on the consequences and difficulties of COPD, but he also celebrated his family—wife Stephanie, daughter Allison, son-in-law Stu, his precious granddaughter, Cari, and from time to time, with memories of his early years. Whatever the subject matter, Bill delivered his message with his own unique combination of humor, common sense, dignity, grace, love, and, often, music du jour. It is no exaggeration to say that Bill bestowed a virtual hug on anyone who ever read his blog—quite simply, you felt better for having visited than if you hadn’t.

Just a few weeks ago, Bill was invited to contribute to the Health Central blog, a site where patients and experts share health-related experiences and information. Bill’s first, and unfortunately only, post on the site dealt with the difficulties associated with supplemental oxygen. Bill used supplemental oxygen on a 24/7/365 basis following complications after heart bypass surgery. At home, he had a length of tube sufficient to reach every part of the house and as far as the mailbox in the front of the house and the pool in the backyard.

Bill didn’t let his oxygen-dependence slow him down—he was always ready for a dinner out, cards with friends, and other adventures. His enthusiasm for life encouraged family and friends alike to enjoy life despite his limitations, even though we all realized that Bill’s life would end long before he was done with life. I will always miss him.

Tangled roots

So many names, familiar certainly, but who are they to me? The same name, separated by a generation or two? Variants of those names based on language, religion, familiarity, or remarriage?

These are the questions I dealt with recently when I received a packet of family records from an aunt. She sent death certificates, newspaper obituaries, and funeral cards for several relatives, most of whom were born before 1900. I recognized the names and even remember meeting some of them when I was very young, but that was a long, long time ago. So, with a stack of papers, some vague memories, a few e-mail conversations, and some hints to guide me, I finally sorted out how my grandfather (Peter Arnold, born 1893), his sisters (Maria Arnold, born 1884, and Anna Arnold, born 1891), their stepbrother (Peter Schwartz, born 1892), and my great grandmother (Anna Oberding Schwartz, born 1859) made their way to the United States.

Our family’s immigration story is probably more common than unusual. Mr. Schwartz and his step-daughter Maria Arnold immigrated from Hungary to the United States in 1903. Their passage was paid by Ernst Biel, who wished to marry 19-year-old Maria. Ernst and Maria married shortly after Maria’s arrival and eventually settled near Gladstone, North Dakota, our family’s home place. Widowed in 1927, Maria subsequently married Mike Hensel, a widower, in 1929. They lived in the Gladstone area until 1960 when they retired to nearby Dickinson.

Mr. Schwartz ended up further west, in Helena, Montana, where he worked as a gardener at a county poor farm. After some months, he was able to send money back to Hungary so that Mrs. Schwartz and their children could join him. They arrived in New York on November 30, 1904. Family lore: Mrs. Schwartz and the three children were “discharged” from immigration detention on December 3, 1904, upon receipt of additional funding for meals between arrival and discharge. The discrepancy resulted, apparently, because Mrs. Schwartz bought passage for Anna Arnold even though Mr. Schwartz didn’t want to pay her fare. Once in Helena, 14-year-old Anna worked as a maid in a private home to pay back the additional cost.

Anna Arnold married in 1910 and settled with her husband, George Carl Focht, in the Gladstone area. My grandparents, Peter Arnold and Magdalena Wehner, married in 1915, and eventually owned a farm near Gladstone. They had 11 children, 10 of whom survived to adulthood. Magdalena died in 1930. Peter married Margaret Pfeiffer in 1934; they had one child.

For whatever reason, I did not realize that Maria and Anna were my grandfather’s siblings. Maria did not have children and, according to my uncles’ accounts, she definitely believed that “children should be seen and not heard.” As far as I can tell, a visit to Aunt Mary’s usually meant solitary confinement to a chair where the unfortunate child was left to his own devices to wait for his parents’ return. Anna and George, on the other hand, had 11 children, thus accounting for the many “Focht” references in our family history.

Despite my ignorance about our family history, I am comforted that my grandfather and his siblings lived close to one another. I don’t (yet) know the details of what happened to John and Anna (Oberding) Schwartz after their 1903-1904 immigrations, but Anna’s headstone in a Gladstone cemetery is a good indicator that she followed her children to that area. More to come…

Along the Way ~ The International Peace Garden

The International Peace Garden (IPG for simplicity’s sake) is located on the border of North Dakota, USA, and Manitoba, Canada.1 The IPG has, for me, been a “bucket list” destination for many years. So, once I knew our 2014 family reunion was planned for North Dakota, I was careful to include the IPG in our travel plans.

The IPG was dedicated in 1932 as “a living monument symbolizing that two nations can live in harmony along the longest unfortified border in the world.” Its location was initially marked by a simple cairn constructed of stones gathered from both Canada and North Dakota.

IPG-entrance cairn
The entrance cairn at the International Peace Garden

Weather did not cooperate with our 2014 tourist agenda—this area is usually hot and dry by late spring through the summer, but the days and weeks preceding our visit were cold and wet enough that planting at the IPG was behind schedule when we visited. So…the gardens weren’t as well-developed and lush as I hoped, and the cloudy, misty day we visited definitely limited our photo ops. That said, I’m still glad we went.

What struck me most about the IPG is that every major component—the Peace Tower, Peace Chapel, Floral Clock, the entrance cairn, etc.—is equally situated across the U.S./Canadian border. The garden is much larger than this central core—it encompasses music and athletic camps, a campground and hiking trail, and several picnic areas. Lake Udall, on the U.S. side of the border, was hand dug and constructed in 1934 by the U.S.’s depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The site’s first building, now known as the Historic Lodge, was constructed by the CCC in 1937. The IPG has since been enhanced by gifts from civic groups including the Masons, Eagles, and  veterans’ organizations. The garden’s 9/11 memorial site, opened in 2010, includes ten girders from the World Trade Center.

IPG-Peace Tower
The Peace Tower
IPG-Peace Chapel
The Peace Chapel
IPG-Sunken Garden
View from the Sunken Garden west toward the Peace Tower and Peace Chapel

1We stayed in nearby Bottineau, ND, where we also enjoyed Mystical Horizons and the Four Chaplains Memorial.
2This is just one example: the design of the Floral Clock is different each year.

Sources for this post include International Peace Garden, Wikipedia, and various tourist brochures.

“Along the Way” is a celebration of a few of the roadside attractions we visited when we were in North Dakota earlier this summer. Posted for Susannah Conway’s August Break 2014.