In remembrance of a grandfather

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Grandpa Ben in his last in-person visit with Little Ben and Albina in Gig Harbor, Washington, on July 23, 2016. Photo by Ben M. Angel

In many countries outside the United States, July 4 appears indistinguishable from any other day. There are a few countries that mark national celebrations on or near this day: Canada has its celebration of what amounts to its effective separation from Britain on July 1, and Belarus celebrates its “independence” from Nazi Germany on July 3 (the day in 1945 when the Soviet Army evicted the Wehrmacht from Minsk). In Poland, July 4 is merely the day that follows July 3, and comes before July 5. Still, I try to remember the day, anyway.

This year, though, the day would prove to be eventful, and not in a way I would have wanted it to be. As I recall it, my wife had suggested that we take the kids for a walk to explore areas of our neighborhood she wasn’t that familiar with, specifically the little park near the Orla tram stop. It’s not a particularly scenic spot in southern Wroclaw, but it isn’t that bad of a place to set a destination. But before we went, I had wanted to get the kids together to send off Independence Day greetings to their grandparents in the States.

When I got to the computer, I saw that my mother had beaten me to the punch. She had sent a greeting already, but then a few minutes later, she had sent a second message that I should call her. I thought nothing of this, figuring that she wanted to see her grandkids. So, we all got together and made a Skype call to her.

When we got through, my mother answered. We blurted out our Happy Independence Day greeting before I noticed that she was barely holding herself together. She smiled and wished my wife and kids and I the same, but then asked if she could speak with me alone. Marina immediately herded the kids to the bedroom to give us some privacy.

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Family Histories of the First Ten Eagle Scouts of BSA Troop 401 Chief Seattle Council (Auburn, Washington)

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A pair of American bald eagles near their nest on Unalaska Island in the Aleutians. The bald eagle was chosen to adorn the Great Seal of the United States on June 20, 1782. The Eagle Scout award, in emulation of this selection, was approved as the highest award in Scouting in August 1911. The first Eagle Scout, Arthur Rose Eldred of Long Island, New York, was awarded this honor about a year later. Seventeen years after that, Troop 401’s first Eagle Scout was likewise honored. Photo by Ben M. Angel.

Auburn, Washington, in 1923 appeared in writing to be no more than a simple railroad junction. Sitting in the middle of some of King County’s most valued farmlands, the town was serviced by both steam train and an electric interurban railway, the latter of which faced imminent closure with the expansion of automobile roads in between Seattle and Tacoma. About 6 years later, the opening of Highway 99 provided officials the excuse the authorities needed to shut down the electric trains, and shut off the deadly third rail that frequently electrified stray cattle and careless track-crossers.

That was also the year that the Boy Scouts of America expanded into South King County. In 1923, Troop 401 held its first meeting, bringing together a group of boys that would immediately and enthusiastically begin pursuing merit badges and earning rank on their way to the coveted Eagle Scout badge, the highest honor bestowed on a Boy Scout.

When I was in the troop, I would see at the few Eagle Courts of Honors we had at the time the list of those boys who had earned the rank before whoever was the current honoree. It was fascinating for us to look over the list, and wonder why there was this big break for something like a (baker’s) dozen years spanning the 1950s when no one in our troop earned their Eagle Scout. No matter the actual answer to this question, this period did effectively divide the first ten Eagle Scouts of our troop from those that came afterward.

Next year, in 2018, the troop will be celebrating its 95th anniversary as one of the pioneer units of Scouting in Washington State. Additionally, as of January 2017, the troop has already produced some 96 Eagle Scouts, and it’s very likely that the troop will soon produce its 100th before too long. It seemed to me that it was time that there be some remembrance of the first among our troop who achieved Boy Scouts greatest achievement.

Unfortunately, being in western Poland, I couldn’t delve very extensively into the actual thoughts and efforts of the first ten Eagle Scouts of Troop 401 while achieving their awards. Indeed, out of all of the first ten, only two are still alive as of this writing (one in Tacoma, Washington, and the other in Pasadena, California). So, instead, I chose to study what I could of their family histories for insights, and now I want to share a little of where their families came from, and how their family might have helped shape the success stories that belong to them. Perhaps this will someday contribute to a more authoritative work on this part of the history of South King County Scouting.

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The world… over another cup of coffee

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Ben’s “Instant Coffee Mexicano” and its ingredients. Photo by Ben Angel.

Before rambling my way through my view of the world, I wanted to take a few paragraphs to share my latest preferred method of staying awake. It’s supplanted Starbucks venti mochas and energy drinks (both too costly) and, for the moment, yerba mate (I’m running into short supply). This new coffee drink seems to work quite well for me, even as the temperatures go up here in southwestern Poland.

To make what I’m calling my “Instant Coffee Mexicano” drink, you pretty much need only the usual supply of powdered ingredients that you’d find if you have kids in the house that love cocoa. Well, maybe you’ll also need to love adding hot pepper powder to food as well, and I guess cinnamon isn’t really that common in Polish dishes, if you are also in this area of the world. But with a well-stocked Biedronka (or Safeway) store nearby, you can easily come up with everything you need:

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Places in History: Sketches of past lives taken from a shared family tree

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The Maryland Dove, a replica of the original 40-ton pinnace “Dove” that accompanied the 400-ton “Ark” across the Atlantic. The original “Dove,” owned by the Calverts, remained in colonial waters for two years after its arrival until 1635, when it vanished at sea while attempting to take furs back to England. Photo by Acroterion via Wikimedia Commons

At the end of 2010, when I accepted an offer to join the curator community on Geni.com, I was in the middle of a personal project to collect history from everywhere I had traveled, and to put it all into a single timeline. I had hoped that I could use this timeline to start writing historical fiction, creating publishable works that someone would want to buy.

I had, at the time, envisioned that someone to be a publishing house, but even when I had started collecting regional histories from various online and offline sources, this centralized world of writers submitting to publishers was already vanishing. The Internet had created a new world where writers could submit works directly to the readers. And frankly, that new reality left me confused for a few years.

All the while that I was sorting out what was happening, I learned more and more about history from a micro-perspective in my role as a curator on Geni. I learned to identify useful research on historical individuals, and to make sense of their positions in more than one family tree. Among my responsibilities as a curator, as I saw them, was to use such research to correct and otherwise render accurate the shared tree on Geni, and to help everyone involved understand what the best available research was saying. Sometimes that meant that I would be the one learning from others (I’m always grateful for the help in picking up on something new, or correcting my own misunderstanding about the past), but at other times it meant sharing something new that others hadn’t seen when first compiling their individual tree. Sometimes that would be something as simple as checking the date when a town was settled, or understanding when a region or colony changed hands. Continue reading

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Another attempt to jumpstart my muse

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Wrocław from the ulica Racławicka Bridge. Photo by Ben M. Angel.

It’s been awhile, but sometimes I’m inspired to write. These days, it seems like it’s mostly memory that serves as my muse. Central Europe is awash with faded impressions of important events of my young adult past. It’s a place that once held so many people with whom I’ve since lost touch with, all of whom my mind treats perhaps with greater affinity than it should. They were all important in their own way, though some admittedly more important than others.

It might be argued that memory could have been the real thing that drove me back to this part of Poland more assuredly than fear. Central Europe, after all, was the place where my ideals first met reality, and where I learned my limitations, as I had a few years earlier in Mexico, in ways that I probably shouldn’t have lived through.

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Fond recollections of my time with The Stranger

The present offices of The Stranger on Capitol Hill in Seattle, a far cry from where it used to be. Photo by Joe Mabel via Wikimedia Commons.

The present offices of The Stranger on Capitol Hill in Seattle, a far cry from where it used to be. Photo by Joe Mabel via Wikimedia Commons.

I remember returning to Seattle in the fall of 1991. I had spent two years drifting around the Detroit area after failing to apply for admission to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in time for the 1990-91 school year. That life phase ended after a friend of mine and I took a couple of months off to hitchhike across Europe – first following an all-girl rock band through Poland, and then, after I broke off to write about my experiences with them from a friend’s place in Berlin, chasing after the band across the continent to get them to fact check what I wrote.

After I returned to Detroit, I found that my job as a student media facilitator had vanished (not returning to work at the time you originally estimated you would come back will do that to you). Additional pressure to leave the Motor City came when, having watched the Soviet Union disintegrate after a hard-line coup failed, I saw an opportunity to do something really worth writing about. Gathering the last of my funds, I set out for Alaska, intent on finding some way to cross into Siberia, and become one of the first to make a low-budget crossing of all 15 former Soviet republics.

In retrospect, I blame my failure to cross the 11 time zones of the collapsing USSR on poor planning. When you don’t have money, or contacts, it doesn’t matter much how intrepidly you stand on the shores of the Cook Inlet of Alaska. Russia was far out of reach. So I returned to Seattle in the latter half of September, showing up on the door of my mother’s newly-purchased condo on Lake Meridian in Kent just in time to get ready and go out and try to sneak into the Paramount for Nirvana’s big concert promoting their Nevermind album. (I failed utterly, but Kurt Cobain was polite about not being able to get me in – as a bonus, I got to meet Courtney Love for the first and only time… sadly, it would be the last I would ever see Cobain alive.) Continue reading

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Ben M. Angel’s maxims

Near the start of this blog, I once tried to translate into Spanish the Maxiims of François de La Rochefoucauld. These were so like my own thoughts that I figured if I had a reference to work from online, I could learn Spanish from these and be able to converse on subjects I normally talk about in real life. He had pretty much embodied my own thoughts some three centuries before I was born.

But then I really thought about it. Do I really have nothing that I could contribute if asked to throw in thoughts of my own? Is all of human wisdom so derivative and so over-repeated that I could contribute nothing?

Well, it probably is. But if someone, somewhere had already said everything I could think of, at least I could repeat some of the ideas I feel are most useful at least a different order. And maybe that will be enough to stir new thoughts about life, and everything that affects it. Let me be clear, these are not the Maxims of Rochefoucauld. If you want to read them, and they are well-recommended, copies of them exist. What follows are the thoughts that go through my head written similar to the works he produced as they were published in English.

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