My Thoughts About One of My Favorite Places--Northeastern Indiana's Amish Country

Thursday, August 24, 2023

A Young Man With a Past

  This is the third of several Amish-related posts I wrote for my old genealogy blog...

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He was the last person I would ever have expected to be interested in genealogy—and what I found out about his roots was the last thing I would have guessed. 

It was late 2011 and I needed a new genealogy project.  My husband had mentioned my hobby at the manufacturing plant where he works, and one of the young factory guys asked him, “Do you think your wife could find out more about my family tree?”   Bruno (not his real name) was young, wild, and festooned with tattoos.  I was intrigued.  I decided to take on the project until my next paying client came along.  Bruno provided me with a few names and dates—that’s all he had.  He was particularly interested in his father’s ancestry, which he thought was German.   Perhaps he hoped for a few skeletons in the family closet.

A few days into the project, I came across the World War I draft card of Bruno’s great-grandfather Albert in Livingston County, Illinois.  I did a double-take when I read the answer in the space reserved for “Do you claim exemption from draft?  Specify grounds.”  Albert’s answer was “Religion—Mennonite Church.”

More digging connected me with the generation before that—and sure enough, before long I’d “struck Amish.” Others had blazed this particular trail before me, so at that point I was able to connect with the research of fellow genealogists who were willing to share… and so I was able to follow Bruno’s paternal line all the way back to a small village in Switzerland in the 1600s, where his 7th great-grandfather Peter had been part of a group of Anabaptists led by Jacob Amman himself—the original founder of the Amish church.

Bruno took some ribbing on the factory floor for all of this. “Chill out, Bruno—remember, you come from a peaceful people.” But he was happy to know more about his roots, and I was happy to be able to share the gift of such a wonderful and surprising heritage with a young factory guy from Ottawa, Illinois.

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Remembering Dad

 August 10, 2023

Today’s post is what I would call “off topic”—but I have a lot on my mind.  Thirty years ago today, on Tuesday, August 10, 1993, I said goodbye to Robert Milo Wallin—my dad. 

Dad died at 70, when I was just 38 years old, and not ready to lose him.

Being raised by a former army boot camp officer wasn’t always easy.  I took a lot of heat as the oldest child of parents who didn’t have children until their thirties (and didn’t have the best father and mother role models growing up)...  The pressure to excel in school was relentless, as was the pressure to deal with the food issues that have continued to dog me since infancy.  There were some great memories—but sometimes guilt and fear were the parenting techniques of choice.  By the time I went away to college, I was glad to be 650 miles away from the pressure at home.

But the wisdom that comes to twenty-somethings when they realize that they don’t actually know everything!—along with a year of therapy—resolved my anger and restored me to the parent who gave me so much of his own personality (as I’ve been told over and over through the years by those who knew him). I realized that Dad was only human, and doing the best he knew how to do—and that he truly, deeply loved me, as no one else could.  I thank God that I got twelve more years with him after that.

Courage.  Integrity.  Generosity. 

After Dad left us, I pondered what I most wanted to exemplify in my own life, that I had learned from his...  I have these three words written in the front of my Bible, and for all the years since Dad’s death, I have tried to live out these three qualities, as a way to honor his memory. 

Courage—I’ve always trusted my own instincts, as he did, and they’ve never let me down, even in risky situations...  Integrity—I’ve tried to live out my Christian faith as well as he did, in my financial life, my personal life, and on the job, handling the money for a million-dollar law firm...  Generosity—I’m still working on that one.  I can be selfish with my time and money, but I strive not to be. 

I just realized that these three words spell out the first three letters of “cigarette.”  Dad was a lifelong smoker, much to his own embarrassment, as he felt it was not a good Christian witness nor a good example to his own children.  But he started in World War II, where, he once told me, cigarettes were a part of their daily K-Rations in the front lines in France.  He said, “The cigarettes were necessary to calm our nerves, in order to do what they asked us to do.”  It’s a habit he wasn’t able to break—and forty years later, it killed him, as lung cancer took away his breath and then his life.

Dad used to say, “My job isn’t to raise happy children; my job is raise well-adjusted adults.”   That made me pretty annoyed as a teenager, but I can appreciate it as an adult.  I wish we’d had more years together!  I’d give almost anything to have even an hour with him now. 

My sister had a dream the night after Dad died.  In it, our family was walking across a big, open meadow, towards a beautiful castle on a hill.  Halfway across the meadow, we paused...  Then Dad continued walking towards the shining castle on the hill, and the rest of us turned around and began walking back the way we had come.  But I know someday I’ll walk that meadow, too, and see him again in a better place.  In the meantime, I’ll miss you, Dad.

In Loving Memory

Robert M. Wallin

January 23, 1923 - August 10, 1993