Category: Ancestry

Ruminations of an Old Soul: Part 1

With friends Lynnette and Tressa at a Roaring 20’s Party, Dec. 2019

I’m an old soul. I’m not sure that I always have been. Is one born that way? Is one like Benjamin Button, born old, then lives their way to youth as they approach old age? I love old music, old photos, secrets held by previous generations that helped us get to this fascinatingly progressive world that we live in today. I wonder if I was born this way, or was I molded to appreciate the gifts of previous generations by my upbringing? Some would say it’s both, some would say I was born this way, this is the question of nature vs. nurture. All I know is that it did help that my earliest and most intimate memories included having the privilege of being surrounded by four people who were defined as the Greatest Generation. I didn’t know that’s what they were called. I knew them as Grandma, Grandpa, Pappy and Grandma Mary.

Richard Sousa gave a poignant perspective as to why my parents’ parents were defined as the greatest generation: 

In addition to enduring this country’s greatest economic catastrophe and fighting two wars, they went on to work at Leviton and Boeing, they built homes and raised families in Omaha and Bakersfield. They put a man on the moon! They were carpenters, teachers, welders, Fuller Brush men. But, most important, they wove the fabric that made the United States great. They gave their children safe and secure homes; they exemplified a solid work ethic and belief in America; they instilled in their children the value of education.”¹

Grandma Peggy (Margaret Mary)

I knew Grandma (Peggy, to be exact) as my maternal grandma who I would spend almost every weekend with through the earliest years of my life. I’m her namesake and she named me. Margaret Mary Ostheimer LaMark gave the name Annette Margaret to me, partly because she was going to name my mother Annette but chose Catherine instead (she was going to name my mother after hers, she had no memories of her and was motherless as a baby), and so I was given Annette. She lived a simple life in a duplex a few blocks from where I grew up. 

Her own harmless idiosyncrasies were unknowingly setting me up for a life with common sense safety. She often chastised me about eating too much sugar; I hate sugar now and have no sweet tooth, how great that has been for my health! She told me not to put things to my mouth or touch my mouth frequently. She flew in the face of Jean Piaget’s theories of Cognitive Development and told a three year old to stop putting things in her mouth. Did I understand it? Absolutely not. Did I stop doing it? You bet I did, and to this day, I don’t chew on my fingernails. Heck no. Keep those germs out of my mouth. Perhaps her simple pieces of advice have somehow kept me alive in light of recent events. We’ll never know.

Grandpa LaMark (Charles LaMark) during World War II

Grandpa was a force of nature. His bellowing Sicilian voice was a rumbling alarm clock that demanded coffee and aired opinions about anything and everything, and told seemingly endless stories about World War II. They would be interrupted by the times he would bring in a miniature sized keyboard he would find, and he would play a couple tunes that he transferred from playing on the accordion.

Grandpa never finished school and went on to work during the Great Depression, so he knew full well what it was like to go without. For this reason, he would often come to my parents house with gifts of toilet paper and paper towels (I bet you’re jealous now). He would buy little things he might think he would need later, and give me little trinkets that I thought were strange at the time, but make sense to me now. 

He also did not give one single crap about what you thought. He had the courage to tell the truth, and he didn’t care if it hurt your feelings. He’s the reason I figured out that I had very nice, albeit large teeth, when he first spied my mouth after my braces were taken off when I was fourteen.

“Ehh! Did you get a set of dentures there, Annette?” He asked.

“No, grandpa. I got my braces off.” I responded sheepishly.

“It looks like you got dentures. You have horse teeth.” He said, without one hint of hesitation or an apology, but a man who survived the Great Depression and World War II wouldn’t give much thought to telling his granddaughter that her teeth looked like they belonged to a gift horse. Let’s all say he earned that right.

Mind you, I was lucky enough to have both sets of grandparents to share their reflections and thoughts with me for most of my young life. My Grandma Peggy and Grandpa LaMark taught me the most, but I had a unique perspective on life from my dad’s parents, Pappy and Grandma Mary, who cultivated the land and lived in tight knit communities in the Appalachian mountains of Pennsylvania as well, that I admittedly have recently come to appreciate. I will share more about them in a later blog post.

This is the first of, I hope, many installments, sharing what this old soul has learned from this generation. I’m not sure that it has become more relevant in a time such as this, as my generation is finally facing their collective defining hardship. We’ve been privileged. This COVID-19 situation is crazy and out of our control, no matter which side of the aisle you’re on. But we’re here now, the damage is done and it’s about damn time that we see what it is we’re made of. 


¹“The Greatest Generation.” Hoover Institution. Accessed April 21, 2020. https://www.hoover.org/research/greatest-generation.

Dreaming a Little Dream

I tried to proclaim to those I know on Facebook that I couldn’t even put into words how much I miss my Grandma, but that’s a lie. There are rarely things that a writer cannot put into words. If I could not put this feeling into words, the odds of me being a dismal writer would be fairly reasonable.

Concisely, I miss her. I miss my Grandma Margaret. I miss hearing her voice. I miss getting a hug from her. I miss hearing her stories about Ohio, Georgia, and Altoona from half a century ago, when it was on the precipice of excellence and success.

I don’t think I would be the same person without her stories and her words of wisdom. I’m not sure that Grandma even applies to her, I do believe second mom might be more appropriate. This, in no way, is a slight to my mother, it just means she had much more influence on my life than the regular Grandma… And three years after she entered into her eternal rest, I find more ways to believe to be true.

I doubt I would be called “Annette Margaret” if it weren’t for her. The name “Annette” had originally been chosen for my mom when she was born, but she decided to name my mother after her own… And so the name “Annette” was saved for another time, and she suggested the name to my mother, and that’s how I got mine. And of course, my middle name was in honor of my Grandma’s first name.

I wouldn’t even be the same person if it weren’t for her. I learned my lessons from a different time. From the halls of an orphanage in Cincinnati, from Peachtree Street in Atlanta, and the outskirts of Little Italy in Altoona, I heard a different perspective on life. I wasn’t there, but my ancestor was, and she told me the many things she had learned from living in those places, and other lessons I may have missed if I had not known her presence.

As I’ve grown up in church, I’ve always gone to those revival type services where people stand up before the congregation and give certain live changing testimonies where God had literally ripped this said person from the grips of Hell by delivering them from alcoholism, drugs or whatever other tools of darkness by some miracle, and it always made for a wonderfully sensational testimony and one truly worth telling. But this week, I realized something, and it was very fitting as it is on the heels of the anniversary of my Grandmothers passing. All the years she told me about the Depression, wartime America, and her own personal struggles, all the advice and every other tale she told was not simply an elderly pass time. She was doing the same as those redeemed souls at the altar on Sunday morning. She was relaying her testimony to me. I recall many enchanting stories like these:

One late spring evening, in the 1930s, when my Grandma was just on the edge of entering into her teenage years, her lonely father, Frank Ostheimer, had come back for his daughters. Over a decade had passed, but finally, these Ostheimer girls were finally to be reunited with Mr. Ostheimer. For years he tried to convince the chaste caretakers of the many orphaned children of Cincinnati, that he, in fact, was quite capable of taking care of his motherless daughters. Unfortunate events had first lead to the loss of his wife, then, he was dealt a further blow of losing his daughters, in essence, by being falsely accused of being unable to care for them, which certainly was not the case.

My grandma had fond memories of the orphanage and she made the best of her stay there despite the circumstances – but nothing could ever substitute for being home and in the arms of dear old Dad. She told me that being reunited with her father was one of the fondest memories she had ever known. Just imagine: walking through the streets of Cincinnati, gently warmed by the compassion of springtime, gently walking on their way to their new home, her real home, was thrilling and captivating to her heart.

There must have been magic in the air, and a beautiful song in her heart, because she always said she heard “Dream A Little Dream Of Me” as she, her father, and her sister Frances made their way through the city and past Fountain Square. From the way he had heard it, my uncle had always thought perhaps maybe she heard the tune from a nearby radio on a porch, or someone whistled the tune, but me and my budding curiosity prompted me to ask where she had heard the song as they strolled through Cincy (She always called her beloved hometown “Cincy”). She told me she had heard the song recently, and she heard it in her head, not from anywhere else, and the song always stuck with her and reminded her of that night.

What a memory to hold! The dazzling lights of the city dancing on the beautiful fountain, the buzz of the city streets, and finally being reunited with the father you’ve loved so and wished to be cared for by…

Stories like that made me want to see Cincinnati for myself. I wanted to hop in a car, make my way through Ohio and be just on the border of Ohio and Kentucky and take a look at that fountain myself. I’d touch the water in the fountain, I’d gaze on that same fountain my Grandma had walked past, and I would hear the same graceful song in my heart…

But I’d also remember what brought her to that scene: Hardship.

While this was a joyful reunion of my Grandma and my Great Aunt to my Great Grandfather, there were also melancholy tones underneath the reunion narrated by the happy larking melodies of Dream A Little Dream of Me. If you remember from the earlier paragraph of the story, you will recall that she wasn’t returning home to her father and her mother – she would just be returning home with her father and her sister. Her mother had died a few months after she was born. She was a year or so shy of forty when she had left three daughters and a heartbroken husband.

Along with remembering that, I stop, and remember to thank God for the parents that I have, for the life that I’ve been given, and that I didn’t have to wait 12 years to live in a household with my family. I remember to thank God for the privilege of knowing my mother. It was unfortunate my Grandma had never known that privilege. My Grandma had never even seen a picture of her mother. Try to imagine never seeing your mother, never talking to her, never knowing her. It’s not something I want to imagine.

My Grandmas testimony always ended up being a wake up call to me and a call to reality. In my spoiled 21st century existence, her stories of an era gone by reminded me to be thankful for what I have, and to remember I’m never far gone from the existence she had once known – and that I should remember the lessons she had taught me. You could never put a price on the value of the stories she had told.

Every day, I always find some way to remember my Grandma. I remember to be thankful for her, but today I especially remember to be grateful for having knowin my dear Grandma. Oftentimes on this date, I have a recollection of the last words we had exchanged and the testimony of her life she presented to me. What I have learned from this is that a person should never take anyone for granted – God has placed a light in each of their lives, and the beautiful glow of their lives will always shine a light into yours, if you just allow it to… If you just listen… If you step outside of yourself for just a moment, you’ll see it.

But it’s only if you divert the attention from yourself and to another, and oddly enough your life will seem much brighter, even on the darkest days.


Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Hey all! Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Here is a little blog post dedicated to all things Irish. I kissed the blarney stone and I’m ready to gab about Ireland!

First off, I was all decked out in my Irish garb today… “Everyone Loves an Irish Girl”, quite fitting, yes? (No pun intended.)

photo-153

I wanted to make some Cheddar Potato Chowder (Irish style) but ran out of time to prepare dinner in a timely manner, so I will try that tomorrow. If anyone is interested in making a belated Irish soup, here is the recipe! This is from the Idaho Potato Commission.

3 tablespoons margarine or butter
2 medium-size carrots, pealed and diced
2 medium-size ribs celery, thinly sliced
1 small onion, chopped
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
2 cups milk
2 cups water
4 medium-size Idaho Potatoes (about 1 3/4 pounds), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 chicken-flavor bouillon cubes or envelopes
1 1/2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled (optional)

In 3-quart saucepan over medium heat, melt margarine. Add carrots, celery and onion, cook until tender, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in flour, dry mustard, paprika and pepper; cook 1 minute.
Gradually add milk, water, potatoes and bouillon. Bring to a boil over high heart, reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer 10 minutes or until potatoes are tender.
Remove saucepan from heat; add cheese and stir just until melted. Top each serving with crumbled bacon and chopped chives, if desired.

And hopefully it’ll turn out deliciously tomorrow! Let me know if you make this too. Post photos, let me know how it tasted, all that good stuff. 😉

St. Patrick’s Day always instills a bit of pride in me because of my Irish last name – Nagle! Most people assume it is German, but no, my friends, it is of Irish descent. My great great great great great errr… Yeah, my great-something-grandfather from about the 1700s was a true Irish rebel! Forgive me, I may be messing up a few details of my family heritage, but here is the main story… My great great (something) grandfather, his name was Richard Nagle and he was from County Cork, Ireland. He was a Catholic who rebelled against the Protestants, and he was considered a governmental terrorist and was smuggled into Canada by the help of Edmund Burke. He went on to move to central Pennsylvania, fought in the Revolutionary war, set up a homestead, escaped attacks by Indians and was considered a local hero in Cambria County. Oh, he is also a relative of Nano Nagle, who set up the very first Catholic school! And there is a tidbit of Irish history for you.

How about some Irish sayings and quotes?! I just love sayings!

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

A closed mouth–a wise head.

A fool and his money are easily parted.

A hut is a palace to a poor man.

A little of anything isn’t worth a pin; but a wee bit of sense is worth a lot.

Don’t rest your eyes beyond what is your own.

Don’t tell your secret even to a fence.

Never put off tomorrow what you can do today.

No-one is ever poor who has the sight of his eyes and the use of his feet.

Wisdom is what makes a poor man a king, a weak person powerful, a good generation of a bad one, a foolish man reasonable.

The best looking-glass is the eyes of a friend

Heres one more Irish saying! “Poor is the church without music.” The same goes for a blog entry! So here are two Irish songs for your listening pleasure: “Be Thou My Vision” and “Peg O’ My Heart” (A personal favorite of my Grandma Peggy… Who was not Irish, but still, part of her name was in there!)

I think I yammered on enough about all things Irish… That’s all for me for now. But remember, “All happy endings are beginnings as well!”

I seriously think we need a day honoring Sicilians. When is that? Hmm……..