Veni, Vidi, Amavi

I love many things.  Quotes and traveling are two of those things. They don’t have to be the words of famous people and the destinations don’t have to be other countries.  I love these things for the feelings they evoke.  I started this blog for genealogy purposes, with some small hope of distant relatives finding my site and helping me add to my family tree.  When someone said to me the other day that they were thinking about the history of their family since they arrived in the United States, it made me laugh because if I were to write about mine it would be a relatively short story.  I am the third generation on my dad’s side (Reynolds/Mutti) but only the first generation on my mom’s side (Loya/Rodarte) born in this county.  The idea did make me think about traveling.

When I was a kid my family went to Mexico many times to visit family in Mexicali. When I was a teenager I backpacked through Canada for a few weeks.  That was the extent of my international traveling.  As a younger person I hiked through some stunningly beautiful national parks and as a slightly older than younger person I drove across the county, east coast to west coast.

“The human spirit needs places where nature has not been rearranged by man.” -Author Unknown.

The past five years however have been filled with grand adventures to other countries and I am filled with as many amazing memories as my passport is with stamps.  And it has changed me.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness…” – Mark Twain

I could write an entire novel about my travels, but this is a genealogy blog and what I started to think about when I thought of my family’s history in the United States was how they got here, because they got here by traveling.  Why?  I don’t think they came from Ireland because of religious persecution or the potato famine. I haven’t heard a single story about them leaving Italy to escape war or disease and no one has told me that they left Mexico to escape drug lords or corrupt politicians.  Most likely they were seeking opportunity, a better life, maybe “The American Dream”.  One thing I am certain of is that they didn’t leave their countries for a vacation.  It wasn’t a luxury, they weren’t tourists, and they weren’t returning.  And since I have not traveled under those circumstances, I am interested in their stories.  I am intrigued.  I wish they were alive to ask.

“A desire to change and alter your life”  – Novaturient (adj), Origin: Latin

Domenico Mutti arrived in New York City on April 9th, 1873. He was 22 years old.  He travelled with his wife Mary (Agazzi) and their infant daughter Jennie.  They left on a train from Bedonia, Italy, got on a ship in Genoa and travelled to New York on a trip that had them at sea between 2 and 3 weeks.  This is the passenger ship France:

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I have been on a few cruises, but I was on vacation, and the ship I was on had a 24 hour self-serve ice cream machine and every night when I went to my private room with a balcony I had a towel folded into a cute animal shape on my pillow next to a mint.

The Mutti’s travelled about 4000 miles in a few weeks.  This year I travelled 6500 miles in 13 hours, with wi-fi and movies on demand. 

They were the first in their family to arrive in the United States, they had no jobs, no home, no friends, no family.  They did not speak English.  I’ve travelled to 8 different countries and though some accents were heavy and hard to understand, most people understood and spoke English.

They packed everything they wanted to keep in the world in heavy steamer trunks and carried them from a train station, to a ship, and finally to and down a street.  I have telescoping handles on my fairly lightweight luggage with 360 degree spinning wheels and usually pay a pleasant attendant a few bucks to load them into my midsize rental car.  That’s not to say I have not travelled under harsh conditions but when I did it was by choice, remote adventures I paid to have or remote locations I preferred to camp.

“Traveling is a brutality.  It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home. You are constantly off-balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal, or what we imagine of it.” – Cesare Pavese

The Mutti’s eventually found their way to Newark, New Jersey.  Mary had 11 more children over 27 years. All of them were born at home. One died at birth, another shortly after.  They raised all of them in a small apartment on Newark Street. My grandmother, Victoria Mutti was one of those children.  My grandfather was born in the apartment next door.  James Joseph Reynolds ended up on Newark Street because his family left Ireland, first by train, then by ship, until they found themselves, steamer trunks and all, walking down the same street as the Mutti’s.

“Travel is glamorous only in retrospect”. – Paul Theroux

I wish I knew them all, beyond what I have pieced together from records and fading stories. I wish I could soak their experiences up into my brain and my very soul.  They weren’t tourists, they weren’t on vacation, they were immigrating, but they were travelers.  And so am I.  Maybe motivated by very different circumstances, but maybe for a few surprisingly similar reasons.  I would like to think so because though I don’t travel to find a new place to live, I often travel to find myself.  And in some hard to explain way, an odd kind of freedom. That’s a cliche’, it may even sound silly, or worse, self-serving, but I know it’s not.

“So much of who we are is where we have been”. – William Langewiesche

From those two apartments on Newark Street, 16 new Americans were born.  They married, they received higher educations than their parents, they got better jobs, they bought homes. They went to war, they went to church and they had children of their own.  And they loved. I am here because of them and I am able to live the life I have because they were willing to leave everything behind and travel across the world.  I doubt they saw themselves as adventurers, and many may say I am romanticizing the difficult path of immigration in the 1800’s and the real reasons so many left their homelands, but, to me, adventure is not always a fun luxury, it is sometimes just a chosen path. I prefer to think of the Mutti’s and Reynolds’ as adventurers, so I will.  And, I want to choose adventures as well, so I will.

“Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white”. – Mark Jenkins

In case you were wondering about the title of this blog…. Veni, Vidi, Amavi (I came, I saw, I loved).


Fathers Day Without Them

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To honor two of the most influential men in my life on Father’s Day, men no longer with us, I am going to do a very 21st Century thing and blog. So here is a bit about my dad, James Joseph Reynolds (1931-2014), and my brother, William Lee Hodges (1958-2013).

My father is gone. I’ve written posts about him before. I miss him, and Father’s Day is an obvious reminder. Two years he’s been gone and some days I miss him so badly that I can hardly catch my breath in that moment of grief. Other day’s I almost forget he has died… those moments when I think of something I want to tell him and I feel like I can pick up the phone and call him, like he’s still around. I read somewhere that as women are growing up their fathers play all the male roles in their life; dad’s, boyfriends, bosses, sons, all future male roles. I thought it was strange when I read it, but i’ve come to believe it. Father’s are, after all, for most of us, our main, if not only significant male role models growing up and to some degree we learn how we behave as women around men from our fathers.

I didn’t realize the depth of my dads own influence on me as a person until after he died. The realization didn’t come because of his death, more as the result of my own aging. I’ve become more introspective as I’ve gotten older. Like a lot of us do, I mostly speak my mind, I say what I mean, I have more confidence.

My dad didn’t always want to talk, he was very comfortable with silence, sometimes he really preferred it, he liked to be alone. However, he also insisted on finishing a conversation. If you were going to engage, you were going to finish. You were going to state your case, your idea, your subject and you were going to support it with facts, opinions and examples. You were also going to listen to him, his opposition or support, his rebuttal or agreement. And, most importantly, you were going to finish the conversation. This is why my overuse of the word “whatever” in my teen years drove him absolutely insane. It was disregarding, disrespectful, and it ended a conversation that was not really finished.

One of my dad’s greatest gifts to me, and one I never thanked him for, was our conversations, his complete presence in the moment and his insistence on finishing. It was in these moments that I learned to speak my mind without fear of the reaction. It’s how I learned to think through what I was saying, how I was saying it, how it might be perceived, it’s affect, and determined if I really believed what I was saying, if it was worth saying. It was when my opinion was valued even if no one agreed, and I was valued. These were the grand moments where I could be myself, totally and completely myself, all of my flaws and insecurities out in the open and still feel unconditional love. This held true for me throughout his entire life, this is the person that loved me unconditionally no matter what I thought, felt, or said.

I lost those lessons, and that feeling, as I became a busy, responsible adult raising my own family with little time to consider my own not always popular thoughts. Somewhere along the line I let hesitation stop me from speaking at times when it would have been better for me to speak. Then my dad started needing help as he aged and as I cared for him I grew even closer to my father, and somehow while listening to this brilliant conversationalist,  I got my own voice back along with some confidence. Today, I finish my conversations. Thanks dad!

When I was 5 years old I wanted to marry my brother. I told everyone, all my friends, all my neighbors. I loved him and I wanted to marry him and that seemed reasonable. Most people laughed, to my friends it seemed okay (they were only 5 as well), and there were also a handful of adults that tried to make me understand why I couldn’t and why it wasn’t okay to go around talking about it to everyone. Billy was 9 years older than me and he was everything you might consider a typical older brother to be; protective, super protective. I still think till this day that it is fine for a girl to have an older brother that she is certain will beat up anyone that causes her physical or emotional harm. It may seem primitive or unnecessary but it felt good.

He also teased me relentlessly my entire life. To the point of tears, to the point that I spent an entire Christmas locked in our car because I was mad at him and wouldn’t come in the house. Teased me in ways only people with older brothers could possibly understand.

He also loved me and didn’t hide it. He was a very strong man with undeniable machismo that you would not want as an enemy that called me “sweetheart” and “honey” as an adult. He was raised around a bunch of women, he understood us, he knew how to speak to us. He was kind and gentle with his sisters. (Most of the time).

As adults we could talk for hours about the subject that tormented us, the hurt we had been dealt, the thing that scared us. Because we shared that same story. In as many ways as we were different, we were also very much the same. We viewed certain events that I will not mention in this blog the same and were affected the same. In this we really were the same, the female/male version of each other. And in my brother I could see myself and I knew he was the only person on earth that understood me completely in this matter.

Not mentioning the subject may seem cryptic in a blog, but some things are best left unwritten and what is important here is that Billy and I understood each other on this and I don’t think anyone else really did, not entirely. Now he is gone and there are times when I really need to be understood, to discuss, and there is no one.

My brother was far too young and had too much life left ahead of him when he passed, too many Fathers Days left. I miss him terribly but will always be grateful for having had a brother in my life that understood a part of me that no one else really can. Thanks Billy!

Living Life For 100 Years

Mama Jenny

Mama Jenny

What does it mean to turn 100 years old? Does it mean something surreal, larger than life, or is it just another day? Mama Jenny, my grandmother, turns 100 years old on November 15th, or November 22 as she started to insist when she hit her eighth decade of life.  I am certain, through obsessive sourcing, that it is the 15th, but I never argue the point.  We mostly just celebrate twice.  And both times she will get a 7 & 7 (or two), doesn’t have to be Seagram, any house whiskey will do…. in a tall glass… with “just a little more” than a single shot.

So what does 100 years mean to Genoveva Rodarte De Loya?  It means she didn’t have electricity or even see it’s uses until she left Mexico and moved to California in 1950.  She didn’t go on an unchaperoned date with Jose Loya until they were married. It means she has outlived both her parents and 9 of her 10 siblings but has seen the birth of 4 children, 12 grandchildren, 25 great-grandchildren and her brood of great-great grandchildren is still growing.  It means she danced at a time when you knew all of the actual steps to a dozen actual named dances.

She loved dancing, truly loved it, still does, even if she isn’t quite as light or quick on her feet.  Most of the happiest memories she shares involve dancing; with her dad, her siblings, her grandparents, her dates, her grandchildren.

It means she was born during the Mexican Revolution, that her family was greatly influenced by the Border Wars, that Pancho Villa eventually became a hero to her even though the Magonistas captured her town and the Villistas took members of her family in support of the cause. I suppose Villa would have to be a hero since she eventually married into a family of Villista rebels, or thugs, or bandits, or mafia, or murderous womanizing thieves, it depends on who is telling the story.

It means she was old enough and brave enough to come to America by herself with three children at a time when most Americans did not speak Spanish, and she and her kids did not speak English, and there was no ESL in school, and employers were not looking for bi-lingual speakers when my grandma learned English. It was 1950, she was a single mom, most women were not. She was beautiful, quite vain really, she was divorced, she went out dancing alone, they didn’t like her.  She worked hard, she was the bread-winner, they didn’t understand her. Mostly she loved life, she still does. She’s fearless and unapologetic in her pursuit of happiness, I absolutely adore that about her.

What does living 100 years mean to me?  Being not quite halfway there, I hate to admit that it sounds exhausting.  Sometimes when I ask Mama Jenny what she thinks about turning 100, she laughs and tells me she’s happy to be sitting down, it’s a long time and she’s tired.  I kind of get that I guess, but she says it with an optimism and gratitude I am only now striving to acquire.

Her 100 years is a gift to me.  She is the Matriarch.  It means she has lived long enough for me to finally care about genealogy and my ancestors and still have her to question. Long enough for me to listen, to absorb, to enjoy the stories and the facts she has to pass along. Long enough to ground me to my heritage in a way I can’t explain. Long enough to give life to relatives I only have the facts about, the one’s that died before I was alive or old enough to remember. Long enough for me to appreciate her, her life, the way she chose to live it.

Long enough for me to know I will miss her when she is gone but am lucky to have her with me for so long and close to me now.

This Has Been A JJR Production

photo(1) I only heard my dad cuss a few times, and only one expression, and only when referring to one specific thought.  He would lean in close, point his middle finger (that’s the finger he always pointed with) and speak almost under his breath but still loudly, “Caroline, my parents were so god damn cheap with half a penny, I hated it.”. I knew he hated it.  Before I even knew what it meant, i knew he hated it and I knew there was more to it than just not having money.  My dad told me many stories about how the Great Depression affected his parents, their beliefs, their actions and his life.  And while the stories could fill a novel, and him choosing to cuss only when talking about this gave the stories greater impact, I was always struck by his reference to “half a penny”.  I don’t really think of my dad as corny or even comical, but when I think of all of the sayings he used over the years, I think he just might have been.  So, in his honor, I am going to give you a few of his gems;

“Have you checked the refrigerator”

Every female descendent of Marcos Sanchez Rodarte (b; 1893) loses her keys on a regular basis. Every one of us.  My dad, who I am certain never misplaced a single object in his life, was surrounded by 4 such women. He didn’t understand it, he was almost fascinated by it, by the whole production of us looking for our keys on an almost daily basis.  And while he could have taken the more common stance and tell us, “if you would put them in the same place every day this wouldn’t happen”, he didn’t.  I think he enjoyed what he saw as the femaleness of it all, of us scrambling around him, frantic.  He was amused. So, all he would say to us was “have you checked the refrigerator?”.  We would react with eye-rolling, groans, yelling, laughter, it all depended on the kind of day the girl or woman looking for her keys was having.

“Like reading Flying High by Walter Pigeon”

Walter Pidgeon was an actor who never wrote a book so I have no idea where this one came from.  Whenever you tried to explain to my dad something he considered obvious he would say this.  This meant you didn’t have to explain it any further, he didn’t want you to, he didn’t want to speak further about the obvious.  Oddly enough, this saying always immediately stopped me from continuing any conversation we were having.

“The only thing you can keep in the dark and feed manure is mushrooms”

I disliked this one.  It was a long-winded and unnecessary way to tell someone you knew they were lying to you.  I didn’t think it was clever, I thought it was ineffective for the point he was making.  Silly. Dumb. Why compare yourself to fungi. He despised being lied to, he was deeply insulted and offended by lies.  He also saw me and my 3 siblings through our teen years so he heard a few.  He took each one personally, even the smallest of fibs.   I think I can recall every lie I ever told my dad, large and small, mostly obvious, mostly for immature reasons.  They hurt to tell. Maybe that’s really why I don’t like the saying.

“This is a JJR production”

When James Joseph Reynolds was proud of something he had a hand in, this is what he would say.  Always with a big smile, always with satisfaction.  Completely corny, I loved it.  I loved it because I could tell how he felt when he said it.  My dad was a grateful man, surprised by how good his life was, he said he was lucky, blessed, content.  He let this one loose on several occasions, all memorable, all happy.  My mom and sisters tell me that once he gathered himself after seeing me for the first time in the hospital, he turned to everyone and said just that, “This is a JJR production”

I miss him, corny sayings and all….

What happened when I went to – My “About Me” page

I never really gave the relatives I didn’t know much thought.  Then one day I typed into my address bar and have thought about them ever since.  I created a tree, clicked on all the little green leaves (hints), accepting them all, completing an incredibly massive tree. I read all of the facinating statistics and facts.  Then I read them again and realized that a lot of them didn’t quite add up.

I deleted that tree, became obsessed with accurately and undeniably sourcing all information creating my next tree or not using it at all, became disorganized, disgruntled, disinterested and ended up deleting that tree as well.

Then I started over, created another tree, sourced well, and finally started digging in to the facts I was so careful to prove.  Then one fact lead to another place, another time, another person, a neighbor, an unwed (Spinster, a legal term) barely documented Aunt, an employer, children that didn’t live long enough to make a census, and beyond, to countless internet searches, to the family history library, public libraries, even Salt Lake City by chance, and finally to writing letters to strangers in faraway towns (and hamlets).

The whole hamlet thing is funny to me. Someday I am going to write a post all about hamlets and explain why.

And the most unexpected and rewarding part of all of this came along for the ride…. I kind of got to know some of these people.  These people that I never met, most of whom died long before I was born, had stories just beyond the facts at hand.

I can’t really explain these relationships, I guess I don’t really have to, it’s a gift to me.

This is an “About Me” page, so what about me?  I guess I’m digging myself up along the way as well.

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