Remembering My Mother-in-Law

This past week, we received the sad news that my wife’s mom, Violet Oliver, passed away quietly in her sleep while in hospice care. She was 80 years old. I remember when I first met her. My wife, Kumie, and I went to Albuquerque to pick her up at the train station. Kumie went on to meet her mom while I stopped off at the restroom. When I came out, I saw a lady with the same smile and the same sparkle in her eye as my wife, but who was not my wife. She asked if I was Dave and when I said yes, she introduced herself. It turned out, Kumie also needed to make a trip to the restroom and Violet was waiting for us.

The photo above was taken of Kumie and Violet the night my wife received her master’s degree from the University of Arizona in 1994. One thing I remember on that trip was giving Violet a copy of my first novel, The Pirates of Sufiro, to read. Like many members of a writer’s extended family, I think Violet was a little skeptical of my prospects. However, after she read the manuscript, she became an earnest supporter of my writing career. Her early support meant the world to me and she was always happy to share news of my writing accomplishments with her friends. When she had enough money, she even bought books for others and shared them.

She came out west several times. Notable visits happened soon after each of our daughters were born so she could help out and get to know her grandchildren. She was an avid reader and when she visited she would read to the girls. When she had quiet time, she could often be seen reading a book she’d brought with her. She was often opinionated about the books she read and she didn’t always agree with my assessment of some novels, but that only made me appreciate her support of my writing all the more. I knew she wouldn’t hold back if she hadn’t liked the writing.

I’m told Violet suffered from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis when she was a child and her parents were told she would be in a wheelchair by the time she was 18. Despite the diagnosis, she remained mobile throughout her life until near the very end. Her willpower to keep going even when others didn’t necessarily believe she could proved to be an inspiration.

I’m sorry I won’t get another chance to talk about books, or family, or even just share another holiday with my Mother-in-Law. I hope she’s found peace and perhaps even a joyous reunion with those loved ones who passed on before her.

Visiting Marceline

My family’s story has been an important inspiration for my novels. My first novel, The Pirates of Sufiro, was a science fiction tale inspired by my mom’s family of Texas and New Mexico pioneers. Learning more about their history led me to write more directly about the wild west in my Clockwork Legion steampunk novels.

When people learn about my interest in genealogy, they often ask me if I’ve taken on of the many DNA tests that are currently on the market. While I think that would be interesting and it’s something I’d like to do, it’s a fairly low priority. Some of that is because of I know the limitations of DNA testing. For example, some genes are passed along patriarchal lines and others are only passed along matriarchal lines. What’s more, genetic markers are based on statistical samples. For example, 80% of Scottish people may show a given genetic marker while 70% of people from Africa may have another genetic marker. So these tests are based on statistical samples rather than absolute measurements. Most of all, DNA doesn’t tell me much, if anything, about the day-to-day lives of my ancestors, which is the stuff that makes good story fodder.

In my recent travels, I paid a visit to Marceline, Missouri. The town is probably most famous as the hometown of Walt Disney. However, I went to pay my respects to my great great grandfather, Paul Teter. I knew he was a veteran of the Civil War and I also knew he was Marceline’s first Justice of the Peace. He was also the father of my great grandmother Montana and her sister Arizona, who I wrote about two years ago. While in Marceline, I paid a visit to the Carnegie Library, which has a depository of newspaper articles and genealogy resources. It proved to be a real treasure trove.

The Carnegie Library’s collection is fabulous. They’ve indexed their newspaper collections, which makes searching them easy. I soon found stories about weddings my great great grandfather officiated over, often having the families over at his house. I learned about his career as a “police judge.” Today, most jurisdictions would refer to the position as a “magistrate judge.” I also found two items of note in the “City and Vicinity” column of the Marceline Mirror dated February 9, 1906. The third paragraph reports that “Mrs. Paul Teter fell and sustained a sprained ankle that disabled her for many days.” A sad bit of news indeed. Two paragraphs below that, we learn, “Elias Disney, of Chicago, is in the city with the expectation of locating on a farm near this place.” The farm is the one Walt Disney grew up on and where he lay under the family’s famous dreaming tree. A DNA test wouldn’t have given me that little connection and I never would have seen the town that is said to have inspired Main Street at the Disney parks.

While searching through the genealogy records at the Carnegie Library in Marceline, I also came across a memory shared by Arizona Teter’s son. He noted that Paul Teter owned a book and stationary store located on the street above. One of his most famous customers was young Walt Disney who would choose a book and sit reading in the window seat until the store closed. Arizona remembered that his favorite book was Robinson Crusoe. There’s something pretty amazing to learn that my great great grandparents contributed to Walt Disney’s love of adventure fiction. I don’t know quite where this research will lead me, but I’m sure it will inspire more stories in the future.