52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Unusual Sources

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My grandfather Franciszek Slabik on the right…member of the Prussian Army

Being a speaker of fluent English was not a skill set he possessed. Often he spoke half English-half Polish. Conversations were short with often answers of yes or no. He studied my little girl face with a twinkle in his eye as if he were amused with me, his little Marysia (Polish for “little Mary”). He was my dziadzu, my grandfather. He was widowed, and I had never met my grandmother Anna. He lived with my aunt and her family in Philadelphia. He said that long ago he had been drafted into the Prussian army…he had a picture in his uniform. He claimed to have been a good soldier. He told me that he was from Warsaw. He never spoken about siblings. He only had his three children and their families. Basically, those facts were all I knew about him…language separated us as well as distance. I possessed only a handful of pictures of him.

Fifty years later, I began the quest to find my grandfather’s family. My grandfather and his children had all passed away along with his friends. I turned to my cousins with whom he had lived. They offered few clues. Where could I start…I had one small goal…to find the name of his parents. If I could find their names, that would be a great treasure to me.

I started with dziadzu’s death certificate. The informant, my aunt, did not know their names. (It is odd to me that many of the death certificates I have researched where the child of the deceased was the informant, he/she did not know their own grandparents’ names.) No obituary was found. Where to next?

I found him in the Ellis Island records as coming to America in August, 1912. His father was listed as his departure contact and a brother Jan as his arrival contact. The information was hard to read. His information on the Hamburg Passengers’ List was written in German in thick ink…the letters ran together. I did find a transcription and a translation. (Since the time of that research, researchers can visit http://www.familysearch.org and view the Ellis Island records…much easier to do now…more information is listed.)

Research took me next to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s archives of marriage applications. In making the request, I had to state as many of the facts about the bride and groom that I knew. I was not even sure of the marriage year. This process was done by mail and took several weeks. When the records arrived…BINGO…the names of his parents were listed. The document was written in Latin, the language of the Church. The kindly archivist had transcribed the application for me. His father was Jakob Slabik, born in 1837. His mother was Agata Kendra, born in 1849. They were farmers in a small village in the Carpathian Mountains. Their names leapt off the page and engraved themselves on my heart. I could call them by name now.

In continuing research, I obtained copies of my grandfather’s naturalization papers and his passport application when he returned for a visit in 1956. To this day, I have found just a few crumbs, just a few morsels of information about my grandfather and his people.

Unusual sources…maybe, not to most. The most work was the thinking process of where information could be gleaned, finding addresses of where to write for records, obtaining record numbers to attach to inquiries. My “computer brain” keeps scanning for other ideas and other searches. With so little with which to work, it seems almost impossible to solve the puzzles. Perhaps, one day the paternal side of my family tree will blossom with the names of my Polish family.

Postscript: Actually, my grandfather was not from Warsaw. I discovered that often immigrants claimed to come from the closest large city from which they came. It has been quite a task to pinpoint exactly where my grandfather was born and raised. Wonder what small goal I should make now…

 

 

 

 

 

 

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Closest To My Birthday

Once upon a lifetime on 5 December 1949, an overcast day greeted the residents of Arlington, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C. A young couple was awaiting the birth of their first child. The couple was not living near relatives as these parts of the family lived 150 miles to 1,300 miles away so there was no one to help with the newborn. When would the child be born? Soon, they would be entrusted with a new life arriving in this world.

On that same day, a chill in the air greeted the residents of Alton, Kansas. A farm couple was awaiting the birth of their first grandchild in faraway Virginia. The couple vacillated between joy and grief. The wife had much on her mind because she was caring for her elderly father, who suffered from chronic kidney failure. He was in a coma. The couple was entrusted with a loved one departing from this life.

phone 2News from both couples would come by telephone…asking an operator for long distance and reciting a phone number…waiting for the rings and answers…sharing the news. The first call would be placed on the morning of 6 December from the new father to the new grandparents. Baby girl Mary Anne (named after her grandmothers) had been born at 2:17 a.m. The new mother would call her parents when she arrived home with the infant a week later…telephones were not available for patient use in the maternity ward. Some of the questions would have to wait. Maybe the new mom would be able to write her parents a letter as she recuperated in the hospital. Meanwhile, the child rested in the arms of her mother and father.

phoneThe next day 7 December, the grandparents called the new father with the news that the baby’s great grandfather had passed from this life. Some of the details of the funeral would come by letter. Meanwhile, the great grandfather was resting in the arms of his Father.

Footnote: My great grandfather, Lafayette Edward Boultinghouse, died the day after I was born. I have learned about him from family stories, pictures, and newspaper articles. Sadly, he never held me in his arms.

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Work

Wonder if your dad could not tell you what his job was and where he worked? Wonder if you never discovered the truth until you yourself were 42 years old? Wonder if that job were connected to a secret underground city? Wonder…

Growing up in Virginia within an hour from the nation’s capital, the girl with the father with the secret job was I. My dad said that he could not tell me where he worked or what he did. He further stated that my mom did not know this information either. If anyone asked, I was just to tell that the job was termed classified. I did know that every few years he had to be fingerprinted by the FBI…so did he work for them? As time went by, I discovered that most of the fathers in our neighborhood had these same classified jobs and worked on the mountain. Which mountain…we lived in the Shenandoah Valley surrounded by the Blue Ridge and the Appalachian Mountains. After awhile, my pretty little head did not think a thing about it.

Growing up in the 1960s, screen hero James Bond was cutting quite the figure with his swagger and Agent 007 identity. As a teenager when people asked me what my dad did, I started to reply that he worked with Bond, James Bond. They gave me rolled eyeball looks as teenagers often will and walked on…no more questions.

About thirty years later, I was riding in the car with my parents to my uncle’s funeral that was four hours away. My dad handed me a copy of Time magazine. “Here read this, and find out what my job was,” he declared. As I looked through the copy, I saw black and white pictures of President Eisenhower standing in a room with many men. I swear one of the men was my dad. (It was not.) My dad was part of a secret/classified government agency that would scoop up the president in the case of a nuclear attack. The president and his men would be taken to a mountaintop called Mount Weather. This facility was a 600,000 square foot underground “city” that housed a hospital, communications center, and a war room along with other services. At planned intervals, there would be practice drills as if that red button had been pushed or we were being attacked. The reason all the dads lived in the same neighborhood was that they could all be rounded up and taken by bus to the secret site if an attack were real. During the Eastern Seaboard blackout in the fall of 1965, the government thought that we were under attack…the fathers were all gathered up. The code name for this plan was “Operation Doomsday”.

In the early 1990s, this information became de-classified. At last, all the dads could explain to their wives and children what their jobs were. No, my dad did not work with James Bond, but he did see Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson. Thank you to all those lived under the cloak of secrecy to protect us.

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Mount Weather Complex Entrance

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Back To School

September 1957…a new school year…a new school…a new group of friends…new books, pencils, and crayons. I loved school! I would be going to school for 60 years, and each school year planted a new seed of lifelong learning and reading.

That year, I was in second grade at a new parish school, Sacred Heart Academy, in Winchester, Virginia. The Sisters of the Holy Names would be my beloved teachers. Looking out the classroom windows, we could see the Blue Ridge Mountains in one view and the Appalachians in another. We were surrounded by apple orchards: Winchester is known as “The Apple Capital of Virginia”. Our school was out in the country, and we had an enormous playground with plenty of space for ball games and Red Rover.

There was much to learn in second grade: Baltimore Catechism questions and answers in Religion, carrying and borrowing in math, Think and Do workbooks in reading, animal studies in science, all enhanced with music and art. I prided myself on being a hard-working student who always had reading material close at hand. Why, even homework was a delight to me! I was totally, hopelessly in love with school.

Most of the kids in the class and school were new to me. They came from varying backgrounds; many of them had many siblings. It was an adventure to be invited to their homes on a Saturday to explore different neighborhoods in which to sidewalk roller skate and bike ride. I quickly connected with those who lived in my neighborhood of Forest Hills. We built forts, walked through orchards, and played in the park…kids having fun and enjoying the outside.

It is now more than 60 years since I entered that sacred classroom. Because of my Catholic education, I devoted 38 years of my life as an elementary teacher in another Catholic school as a type of pay back for all I enjoyed and learned.

Here is to another school year…bless our teachers and students…Lord, keep them safe and secure. Let our children learn love, kindness, generosity, and compassion from one another. Amen.

Footnote:  Of the 26 children in my class, I could remember the names of 22. I used Ancestry (Search/Births, Marriages & Deaths) to look for some of them. For many I found Virginia marriage certificates; information such as parents’ names, birth dates, levels of education was available. Many of my classmates have been married two-three times so there were also divorce decrees. The location of the marriages did suggest where people had relocated within the state. I did find the death certificate for one boy; in reading it, I discovered that his death was ruled a homicide in January, 1981. Then, I searched http://www.newspaperarchive.com to research the story. My heart goes out to his family. Sometimes, the ending of a story is just a keystroke away.

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Non-Population

 

 

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When you are a child, places and spaces seem bigger, gigantic, enormous. The world beckons you to new discoveries, adventures, curiosities. Children know the world through a tiny window of experiences that grow each day. When I was a child during the 1950s, I vacationed every other summer with my grandparents Andrew and Isabella (Boultinghouse) Storer on their farm in Alton, Osborne County, Kansas. I explored their world and was in awe. Fields of wheat and corn populated the plains. I vividly remember my grandmother setting up a makeshift dining room with tables made with sawhorses and plywood. Here she would feed the farmhands who came to harvest the wheat. Most farmers could not afford the cost of owning combines. A neighbor owned one; with a handshake to seal the deal, that farmer would come on an appointed schedule to help his fellow neighbors harvest their fields. My grandparents and their daughters were a team in raising food for “America’s breadbasket”. A culmination of the harvest was taking the grains to the elevators where the farmers met on Saturdays to gab and grab a pop bottle from the cooler. Conversations at the elevator included gossip, local goings on, and farm prices.  Also, big in my memory was my Gramps letting me ride on his John Deere with him to do cultivating…we had to keep the rows straight, according to his instructions. All those details form pictures in my recollections of time spent on the farm.

In 1940, ten years before those memories began to form, the State of Kansas conducted a county census. Part of the census focused on farmers: acreage rented or owned; acres of winter wheat, corn, oats, barley, rye, spring wheat, Irish potatoes, and sweet potatoes. When I found the entry for my grandparents’ farm, I discovered the facts about his farm which he rented from an uncle who lived in Mississippi. He had 630 acres with 82 acres in winter wheat, 20 acres in corn, and 40 acres in oats and barley. That left about 500 acres some of which was used for pasture land for Black Angus and goats. Those were the facts and figures about the farm. This information gives me an idea of the real size of that childhood  sense of  bigness.

In my memories, the sweetness of the vacation visits overshadows those pure facts. To me, finding the facts is the role of the genealogist while collecting memories is the job of the storyteller.

 

 

 

 

 

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Family Legends

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Legends can be plucked as fruit from every family tree. The tastes can be sweet, sour, savory, salty,  or bitter. When bitten into, they can bring smiles, laughter, sighs, or tears to the one indulging in their flavors. This fruit is always in season. As they are consumed, pits or seeds lie at the core. The core holds the truth of the legend…the real story. The following legends can be picked from my family tree, and then the core truth will be told.

Legend: On my mother’s paternal side, it has been told that an ancestor came from England on the Mayflower…as the story goes, it was not on the maiden voyage but after the Puritans came in 1620.   Truth: Our ancestor George Soule did arrive on this ship. He was the indentured servant of fellow passenger Edward Winslow. He came in 1620.

Legend: The Story family arrived in the Colonies in the mid 1600s. In time, male members of the family would join the Patriots’ cause during the American Revolution. As the expression goes that when someone tells a “story”, that person is telling a lie. Hence, the Story family changed the spelling to Storer so these Patriots would be known as true to the cause and not “story-tellers”.   Truth:  In the 1820s, a branch of the Story family moved to Franklin County, Maine. When going to the land office to register their property, the clerk recorded their surname as Storer. It seems that their Maine accents made the spelling of their name sound like “Storer”. To this present time, different branches of the family spell it either way…we are all related.

Legend: Two brothers, John and Joseph Boultinghouse, emigrated from England. They entered through the port of Boston in 1773 just as the Boston Tea Party was happening. They were witnesses to the protest of taxes on tea. Later, John would head west and Joseph to the east.  Truth: Both brothers were born in the colony of New Jersey in the 1740s, where their parents had also been born. The family is thought to have emigrated from either France or Germany. After their participation in the American Revolution, they received land warrants for property in the Ohio Valley.

Legend: Daniel Boultinghouse was one of the first settlers in Ohio in the late 1790s. Later, he moved on to Illinois where he was part of a militia that protected white settlers from Indian raids. During one of these raids, he was scalped and killed. His grave in on an unknown place on the prairies. He was killed in 1818.   Truth: Daniel died from unknown causes in 1823, and he is buried in a cemetery in White County, Illinois. He was preceded in death by two wives. His third wife and 13 children survived him.

Legend (of a different sort): Melvin M. Storer was a Kansas farm boy who married and started a weatherstripping business. He became interested in genealogy way before  modern technology would make it easier for him. His records were organized papers and folders. When he retired, he decided to travel across the country to meet members of this family. Each person was asked to fill out a 5-page questionnaire about his/her place in the family. He rejoiced in all the genealogy findings he had uncovered. He kept many files in a special briefcase which he carried when he traveled. One day at the airport, he set the briefcase down and turned to speak to a fellow traveler. When he turned around, the case was gone…it had been stolen! Melvin had spent hundreds, maybe thousands, of hours on his work. He lost heart because he would not be able to duplicate his travels and gather the information again. He was devastated…he did not return to his work. He is known in the Storer family as a legendary genealogist.  Truth: The legend continues today with another family member who glories in finding branches on the tree. She is blessed to be able to use modern technology and DNA findings to locate aunts, uncles, cousins. She dedicates her work to her cousin Melvin’s memory…the honest-to-goodness truth of the story.

 

 

 

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Youngest

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Pearl, Helen, Edward, Isabella Boultinghouse

Baby sisters can be the delight of the family. Baby sisters can be tag-alongs on siblings’ adventures. Baby sisters can be cute and adorable and/or annoying. Baby sisters can copy the behavior and mimic the words of their siblings much to everyone’s delight or chagrin. Little Isabella Mary Boultinghouse was all of that, plus she was the apple of her family’s eye. Born in 1903, she would live for 93 years and remain a little sis.

Little Sister grew up on a small Kansas farmette (as it would be called today)…it was just 14 acres. She learned to do “girl” farm chores, such as gathering eggs, feeding livestock, and learning to cook and bake. Her grandmother Isabella, after whom she was named, was a skilled seamstress so she acquired sewing skills along with crocheting and embroidery needle work. Her father and brother loved to hunt and fish so she was accustomed to frying fish and preserving meat. She was quickly learning to become a farmer’s wife.

Lil Sis also enjoyed the childhood play as she loved on her favorite dolly. She and brother Jack (Edward) climbed like monkeys on the side of the house so they could make their way up to the roof and look out across the plains. When mother Naomi could not find them, she knew to look up to spot her mischievous youngsters sitting up there, giggling, and trying not to give themselves away. The little joys of pretending and imagining!

During the school year, Isabella rode horseback with Jack to the one-room schoolhouse (Riverside School) they attended. Each term, the pair earned certificates for having no tardies or absences.  At the end of 8th grade, she graduated with her formal education completed. Later on, the regular teacher at Riverside would require a substitute; Isabella would be the guest teacher.

Isabella had a way to escape the hum-drum of living in the country. Her sister Pearl had married and had four children with the family living in Kansas City, Missouri. Many times, Isabella took the train to visit them and help care for the children. In the summer, she would go to get one or two of the children and bring them back to spend part of the summer with their grandparents. Then, she could escort the children back to their home. Kansas City had many attractions and activities to interest the teenage girl.

At the age of 15, Isabella became the charter member of a ladies’ sewing circle. The group named themselves The Busy Bee Club. They met in members’ homes on a regular basis with lunch being served and then a choice of sewing or card playing. She completed many embroidery and quilting projects. She would be a member of the club for the rest of her life.

Isabella turned 17 in 1920, not long after the end of World War I. Several of the single veterans returned home and wanted to court and eventually marry the county girls. That year, she caught the eye of 24 year old Andrew Earl Storer who lived within a few miles of her. They courted and married two years later.

Little Sister was all grown up and settled as a farm wife. All her experiences of girlhood contributed to the woman she became. But…she would always be a little sister.

Epilogue: Isabella Mary Boultghouse was my mother’s mother. Her daughter Merna Mae Storer became my mother. Unlike my grandmother, I would not be a little sister. I would be the big sister…that story will remain for another time.

 

 

 

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Oldest

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A simple man. A simple life. A simple story. He was the oldest child in my great grandparents’ (Wash and Mina Storer’s) family. He was born in 1891 in Louisiana where his father worked on the levees on the Big Muddy. The little family only stayed there a few months and returned to their former home in Kansas. His father felt that he was better suited working the land than near the water.

Once back in Kansas, the family home was in a cave until the little family could save up to buy lumber for the building of a real home. So the boy Roy Eugene grew up learning to love the land, to nurture the soil, and to respect God’s handiwork. He learned to use his heart, hands, and mind to learn farming from his father and grandfather. He attended a one-room schoolhouse until he reached 7th grade. He was the big brother to four brothers (including Andrew, my grandfather) and three sisters.

When he turned 22, he married his sweetheart Myrtle Alice Britt. He and Myrtle married in a double wedding celebrated with his sister Myrtle and her beau Earl. The year was 1913. Roy and Myrtle settled down on their own 440 acre farm where they would raise three sons. They passed on to their boys their simple faith and love of the land. He and Myrtle would be married for 44 years, and she would pass on to Heaven 18 years before him. He continued to stay on the farm and live out a simple life.

During his adult life, Roy lived to serve God, his family, and his community. He was the member of a school board, a Mason, a leader in soil conservation, and a Sunday school teacher. He earned a reputation as a kind and helping neighbor…there to help when needed. His nieces and nephews called him “Uncle Dad” because of these qualities. Then, his friends and neighbors began to call him “Uncle Dad”, too.  “Uncle Dad” Storer was a simple man with a simple life…he was my oldest great uncle. He went home to the Lord in 1975…to the rich rewards of a God-fearing and loving man. His grey eyes and sweet smile will always be treasured by his family.

 

 

 

 

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Colorful

Maybe it was winning an art poster contest with a free trip to Topeka when she was in 8th grade…maybe that is when her journey into painting and creating began. Maybe it was that McCall’s magazine ad for correspondence courses in acrylic painting. No matter how and when, the artist turned a hobby into a much loved craft business…painting with lots of primary colors…colorful.

It was the late 1960s, and a young housewife wanted to expand her horizons. Setting up a makeshift studio in her basement, she first learned to paint leaves and roses. She practiced on wax paper so if she made too many mistakes, her papers would land in the trash. My goodness, she had a knack with the painting! Then, she practiced on bottles so if she made too many mistakes, her bottles would land in the trash. As her experience and expertise with the paints and patterns grew, she knew it was time to pick a medium on which to create her version of colorful kitchen decor.

Having grown up as a Kansas farm girl, she never stopped loving old kitchen utensils, coffeepots, wash boilers, and such. This would be her medium…she would be a tole painter. (Tole is the decorative painting of tin and wood.) She determined that she could find loads of old utensils at farm sales in the Pennsylvania countryside where she now lived with her family. Auctioneers would sell boxes of utensils for a quarter which she scarfed up. Her favorite auctioneer would call out at a sale, “Hey, Merna, here is a box with your kind of stuff!” In her own way, her paintings were becoming popular with the locals.

The time came when she wanted to set up a craft business and needed a name. Being a Kansas girl and loving  college basketball, she decided to call it The Jayhawker. (Jayhawker is a nickname for Kansas plus the mascot for University of Kansas.) She began setting up at craft fairs and gaining loyal customers. She set up a shop in her basement with hours by chance or appointment. She loved meeting people and making new friends. Credit for the success of her business also extended to her husband Ed who primed tin items for painting and accompanied her to craft shows.

She joined the National Tole Painters Association, an organization that she truly enjoyed. Each spring, a national convention was held in a major city…a chance to take daily lessons with nationally known artists. The conventions also featured tours and outings in the cities with travel right up Merna’s alley. When she returned home, she brought along fresh and colorful ideas. She flourished in her talent and craft.

The Jayhawker was in business for 30 years. She painted each day until midnight so she could have inventory for her next show. She estimated that she earned about a quarter an hour! But…she was ecstatic about her colorful creativity. She had found her artistic niche…Merna Mae (Storer) Slabik, tole painter!

That colorful painter was my mother. When we talked on the phone, she spent most of the conversation telling in details what her new pieces looked like. One day while on the phone, she said, “I have decided to put my paintbrushes away and retire…I am going to be a socialite!” Thus, began another chapter in her colorful life.

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52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Music

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“Music is the soundtrack of your life,” touted Dick Clark. And so its lyrics and melodies resonated through her girlhood with its changing cadences and nuances. Her beloved songs changed and evolved as she grew and became her own person. Her playlist would become varied and expand with the times and culture.

In kindergarten, her little record player played “How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?” (Patti Page) and “A Teddy Bear’s Picnic” (Rosemary Clooney). She sang and danced as she played the songs over and over. She often threw in “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” (Gene Autry), no matter the season. She listened to songs played by her dad on the stereo and radio, and she sang right along with him while in the bigger company of Nat “King” Cole, Keely Smith, and Frank Sinatra.

In grade school, she had other music mentors. Her babysitter introduced her to Elvis. Her friend’s big sister welcomed her to the world of Maria and Tony in “West Side Story”. A good friend had a stack of 45s that would be played so an older neighbor boy could teach them to dance… Dion, Little Richard, Chubby Checker, Dee Dee Sharp helped the girls learn to do the Mashed Potatoes, Twist, and Pony.

42d75efc40efc1d4b4d10a145b3ed689  Then, her music world really opened wide…a rite of passage would take her there. One Christmas, she received the ultimate teen gift…a transistor radio. This gift signified that she could be connected to any teen radio station on the East Coast. Nighttime was the best part of the day! Why, she could party with Cousin Bruce Morrow on WABC in New York. She could listen to the Top 40 with Dick Biondi on WLS, Chicago. She could follow Jack Kelly on WKBW in Buffalo, New York. Those AM stations were rockin’ and rollin’ with hit after hit along with teen talk. She was in teenage music heaven. When nightly reception was poor and could not draw in the stations, she tuned in to the local station WINC with DJ Joe Pasquale…why he took requests and dedications. Maybe, a secret someone would send a special song her way.

Life for her was dismal after the assassination of her beloved President Kennedy. She moped, she fretted, she mourned. Then, one midwinter day all those emotions were replaced by the sound of screaming teenage girls at an airport in New York City. Some British group named The Beatles was invading American shores. Their music brought along other Brits who stole her heart and freed her from some of that grief. Her musical taste was changing once again.

4821c417ae8bc13a7ea876e4f9f4dfefOther cultural changes influenced the songs that were sung from her lips and mirrored her teenage emotions. She absolutely adored soul: the Temptations, the Four Tops, Mary Wells, the Supremes. Her teenage dating woes and loss of first love were matched to the songs belted out by Miss Aretha Franklin, whom she revered and loved. The British songstress Dusty Springfield also sang for her.

During her late teen years, America was taking another turn into war protests, hippies, psychedelics which changed the music scene…but none of that was for her. She gravitated to the raspy, bluesy voice and emotional style of Janis Joplin. She grooved on Creedence Clearwater Revival, Three Dog Night, and Chicago Transit Authority (later name changed to Chicago).

Now 50-60 years later, she has an iPod. What music is on her playlist, and whose songs invite her to sing and dance with them today? Of course, her beloved artists from her girlhood!

“Call me a relic…call me what you will…say I’m old-fashioned…say I’m over the hill…today’s music ain’t got the same soul…I like that old time rock’n’roll.”                               ~Bob Seger

 

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