Continue with me as our Journey Through the Land of Serendip comes to an end. You may recall from the first two installments, this past summer two separate storylines from this blog collided in a wonderful adventure. We wrap up that adventure with one last stop on our journey through the Land of Serendip in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. 

Our journey began with a visit to Roseland and South Holland on the south side of Chicago. We then spent two days reminiscing and reuniting dad’s ashes with mom’s at Green Lake, Wisconsin. On that Monday, it was time to head home, but not by our familiar route. We had been invited to stop at the home of Duane and June DeYoung. Duane is my 3rd cousin, descended from Jan and Aagje Ton through their daughter, Pieternella, sister of my great grandfather, their son George. You may recall from the first leg of our journey, Duane had reached out to me after reading one of my posts here on Rivers of Thought. 

Always game for an adventure, Carmen, Brad, and I decided to take the backroads from Green Lake to Lake Geneva and stay off the interstates. Wisconsin is a beautiful state and we enjoyed the rolling hills, the small towns, and the fields and pastures as we traveled the web of state roads, county roads, and well, even a gravel road or two. Our trip to Lake Geneva was without incident, well…except for that car I didn’t see coming on one of the little country roads, almost pulling out in front of it. No harm, no foul…just an increased heart rate for the three of us! 

Duane had inherited a wonderful collection of photographs and keepsakes from his parents. His collection included many items of Ton family history. His prized possession was a painting he had commissioned based on a photograph of Jan and Aagje’s house in Roseland. Jan and Aagje spent most of their years on a farm on the banks of the Little Calumet River. When Jan retired from farming, he had a home built for their family “closer to town” in 1893. Their home stood at 416 W. 103rd Street until 1960 when it was torn down to make room for a parking lot.  

His collection included photographs of Jan and Aagje, as well as, Lijntje (Steenbergen) Van Der Sijde, Aagje’s mother. There was also a Christmas Card sent by the Pullman Bank & Trust that featured Jan and Aagje’s house. It was this image that Duane used for the painting. 

We spent hours pouring over his collection. Especially the album that contained the history of the Ton Family Reunions. There was a copy of almost every program dating back to the first reunion in 1896, the year Jan died. After his death, his son Cornelius organized a reunion to honor his father. The family (and the reunion) continued to grow. By 1911 the family decided to incorporate and elect officers. In 1945, the 50th-anniversary reunion, the family boasted 1,500 members. Life Magazine sent reporters and photographers and dedicated several pages in the September issue to the reunion. The Reunions would last another 10 years. In 1954, the members voted to make the 1955 reunion their last.  

The programs included a wealth of information, including, births, deaths, marriages, and military service. There were even lyrics to the Ton Family song printed in most years. The reunions included speeches, games and activities, and a lot of storytelling! 

A Journey Through the Land of Serendip has been all about collisions of storylines…the discovery of Jan and Aagje’s service on the underground railroad, colliding with the series of fairy tales I had written surrounding my father’s death, and lastly, the collision with the publication of the second edition of mom’s book. Lastly…or so I thought. There was another collision of storylines about to happen.

But first…we had a great visit with Duane and June. After sifting through his collection and dining on a lovely lunch prepared by June, we were on our way back to Indiana and home. Growing tired, we opted for interstate travel in lieu of the backroads! 

This fall, in a desire to learn more about the Ton family history, I was doing some research between appointments. I stumbled across a letter. A letter that would be yet another collision of storylines. 

In 2014, I wrote a series of blogs titled the Roosevelt River. They were reflections and insights uncovered in 2013 during sessions with my executive coach, Dr. Dan Miller. Dan’s coaching is based on history. He uses the metaphor of a river to talk about life’s journeys. 2013 was my first year working with Dan. That year we explored the life of Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt has been an integral part of my leadership development ever since. (If you haven’t read Roosevelt River, I encourage you to do so. There are some incredible leadership lessons there, including from my dad, my brother, Marty McFly, and Frank Reagan.)

That is why I almost fell out of my chair when I Googled Cornelius J. Ton and found this entry: 

 

Hardly able to contain myself, I clicked the link and found this: 

A letter from Theodore Roosevelt to my second great uncle! Oh, how I wish I could see the actual letter. Oh, how I wish I could see the letter Cornelius wrote to Roosevelt! The letter does not state the private event Cornelius was asking Roosevelt to attend. Given the reference to the Ton Family, I can only conjecture that he was inviting him to speak at the reunion in 1911 or 1912. 

There you go. Another serendipitous collision. This series has been about collisions of storylines, written and unwritten. It began when the series “A Journey” collided with the fairy tale series, “The Land of Serendip”. That story then collided with the story of bringing my mom’s book back to life. Those stories then collided here with a series I wrote in 2014. Collisions, connections, coincidences, no matter what we call them, life is a web of stories…our stories. I don’t know where this journey will take us next, I don’t know where this journey will end. What I do know is that I look forward to the insights and lessons that lay around the next bend in the river! 

Related Posts:

Part II: A Journey Through the Land of Serendip 

A Journey Through the Land of Serendip [Part I]

Serendipity – A Fairy Tale

The Land of Serendip Revisited

The Land of Serendip – The Final Chapter

A Journey 

A Journey Continues

 

Continue with me on our journey, A Journey Through the Land of Serendip. You may recall from the first installment (and if you don’t you can read it here), this past summer two separate storylines from this blog collided in a wonderful adventure. That adventure continues here…and collides with a third storyline…a storyline I have yet to write!

After spending a magical afternoon on Chicago’s south side in the communities of Roseland and South Holland, we continued our journey north toward the Green Lake area. Green Lake, more specifically, the Green Lake Conference Center has always held a special place in our hearts. In the post, Shadows of Days Gone By, you can read about our family’s ties to this slice of heaven-on-earth (and no, that is not the collision of the third storyline). In 2014, we added to the legacy when the family had gathered lakeside to scatter my mother’s ashes near one of the pergolas on Memory Lane. This was our first return since that day. 

A Journey Through the Land of SerendipOne of the things both my parents loved to do in their later years at Green Lake was to explore the Amish communities south of the lake. Carmen and I had explored these areas many times during our visits with them. Brad, now 37, had never had the experience. I was excited when he decided to join us on the trek. We would honor my parents by visiting the Amish Pleasant View Bakery and indulging in fresh, warm cinnamon rolls as big as your head; shopping at Mishler’s Country Store; and, stocking up on enough cheese for a year at the Kingston Creamery. Gene and Mary Ellen would have been proud! 

Later in the morning, we arrived at the Conference Center. Even after being away for seven years, I got the same ol’ feelings driving through the gates and down the main road. Memories of dozens of visits. Warm, pleasant memories. Family. Friends. Adventures galore. Brad had plans to honor his grandfather the best he knew how…by playing a round of golf at Lawsonia, the world-class course located right on the grounds of the conference center. It was his “Popper”, my dad, that first introduced him to golf. 

Throughout the years whenever my kids and I or my sister and her kids visited, Popper would take them golf ball hunting. You see, Lawsonia is a tough course. I always felt like I had a good round if I only lost a handful of golf balls during a round. The grandsons loved their time hunting with Popper. Later as they got older, he would take them for a round. Brad loves golf. I think he always felt closest to my dad when they were playing! “Good one, Brad!”, “You really walloped that one, Brad”, “Keep an eye on where it goes into the woods, Brad” (hey, not every shot can be a good one!). 

“Still no collision of the third storyline”, you say? I know, I know, I’ll get there, I promise! 

We dropped Brad off at the course and Carmen and I headed into town to check-in to our hotel and visit the annual art festival that happens every summer (another favorite of Mary Ellen…not sure about Gene). After a couple of hours of shopping, we picked up Brad and headed out to dinner at another Gene-and-Mary-Ellen-later-in-life-favorite, Norton’s Restaurant. At dinner, we shared stories. Stories of our times at Green Lake…of our times with mom and dad…times with dad, Popper, Gene, the Reverend Doctor Ton. 

Sunday morning, we picked up Brad from the BNB where he was staying and headed, once again, to the grounds of the Conference Center. A worshipful silence fell on us as we got out of the car and walked to Memory Lane. We wandered along the walkway through the plaques and memorials to Baptist leaders of the last half-century or more. Pergolas offer shade and benches for reflection. They too are covered with plaques. Without speaking we each in turn separated ourselves from the others to be alone with our thoughts. We discovered and re-discovered a plaque to mom, a plaque to both mom and dad, a plaque to dad, finally stopping at the last pergola. 

This was the place. On the pergola was a plaque honoring my grandmother and grandfather, my mother’s parents. This was where we had gathered seven years ago. My dad, siblings, my aunt, and some friends. This was where we each said our goodbyes to mom as we scattered her to the wind and the water. Of all the life moments I have documented in this blog, I don’t think I have ever written about that day. As I think of that day now, that will be a story I need to write. What is important for our story today is what dad used that day. 

As we approached the pergola in 2014, dad had a large brown bowl filled to the brim with, well, with mom. I immediately recognized the bowl as one we had used often growing up…mostly to serve mashed potatoes. Beside the bowl was a yellow measuring cup. This was the measuring cup mom had used to fill her iron with water. THAT is what dad had selected to use for this somber, bittersweet time. (uh, one of the early signs of the dementia that would later take him over). Rather fitting for a family that relied on humor and sarcasm to share its feelings! 

During one of the downsizings dad would endure in the ensuing years, Carmen saved those two precious items. It was into that brown bowl I now poured dad’s ashes. We would use the same yellow measuring cup to scoop him up and scatter him to the wind and water. To these, we added a chalice to share in communion. For years, our family would pass the cup to mark significant moments in our lives…a marriage…a birth. Forty years ago, we passed the cup surrounding mom’s hospital bed as she lay near death from a devastating fire. 

Brad, Carmen, and I stood in the pergola. I read the eulogy I had shared at dad’s funeral (honestly, it was easier to read at the funeral than it was in those moments…” Niagra Falls, Frankie”). In turn, we each remembered dad/Popper in our own words, sipped from the cup, took a scoop, and scattered him into the breeze with the sun sparkling off the surface of the lake. We then took a scoop in honor of each of the family members who could not be with us that day and scattered them. Dad was now with mom. 

As I gazed down the bank, I noticed some of his ashes had filtered through the shrubbery on the bank and landed in the water. As the waves were rolling into the bank, the ashes were dispersing on the surface. It looked like wisps of smoke as the tendrils of ash spread. I snapped a picture with my phone. 

Once we completed our goodbyes, we quietly walked back to the car. (I cannot confirm nor deny that we saved a scoop to scatter at the 8th hole tee box on the Links course at Lawsonia). The three of us then spent time exploring the grounds, sharing stories, climbing Judson Tower, sharing stories, walking the lakeshore, and, yes, sharing stories. We left the grounds not knowing when or if any of us would return. 

“Uh, but what about the collision?”

The next morning as we were preparing to leave and head home, I was sitting on the balcony sipping my coffee while Carmen got ready. I took those moments to check my email. On the drive up, I had received an email from my graphics designer extraordinaire. 

For the past several months I had been working on a new book project. A labor of love. I am releasing the 2nd edition of a book my mom wrote forty years ago. In 1980, mom was almost killed in a fire. She survived. Not only did she survive, but she also wrote a book. The Flames Shall Not Consume You is a book about her journey through the fire, its aftermath, and her wrestling match with God. My own journey to publishing this book has been an incredible journey of love, friendships old and new, and serendipitous moments (remember we are traveling through the Land of Serendip). 

My designer’s email contained some sample cover designs. I opened the first one. The collision took my breath away. Her cover design was that of a flower on fire. As the flower burned, wisps of smoke extended from the flames. Wisps of smoke spreading into the air…smoke… smoke spreading across the water. I pulled out the photo I had snapped yesterday of dad’s ashes on the surface of Green Lake. The tendrils of smoke were a perfect overlay for the cover image. Chills ran down my spine. Tears ran down my cheeks. 

A collision of epic proportions. Three storylines come together on a balcony in Green Lake, Wisconsin. The Land of Serendip, a series of fairy tales telling the story of my dad’s battle with dementia; A Journey, a series about the discovery of my great-great-grandparents’ involvement with the Underground Railroad; and the, yet to be written series, The Flame Burns Brightly, relaying the journey of bringing mom’s books back to life.

Related Posts:

A Journey Through the Land of Serendip [Part I]

Serendipity – A Fairy Tale

The Land of Serendip Revisited

The Land of Serendip – The Final Chapter

A Journey 

A Journey Continues

Welcome to the collision of two storylines. I don’t know how often this happens to other authors, but I believe this is a first for me in over a decade of blogging. A few years ago I wrote a series of posts in the form of fairy tales. The fairy tales took place in a magical kingdom called Serendip and were a way to convey the story of my father’s declining health. The final installment was written just a few days after his death in December of 2019. Last year I started another series titled “A Journey” after I made a surprising discovery about my great-great-grandparents. I learned they operated a stop on the underground railroad for a number of years. I promised to continue to provide updates as we discovered more of the story. Those two stories came together this past summer. 

Even though the title of the third installment of the fairy tale series was “The Land of Serendip – The Final Chapter”, it was not the final chapter. My father’s wish was to have his ashes scattered in Green Lake, Wisconsin where we had scattered mom’s ashes in 2014. Our plans to make that trek in the summer of 2020 were derailed by, yep, the global pandemic. We put our plans on the shelf, well, actually, we put dad on the shelf…literally. 

A Journey Through the Land of Serendip

Jan & Aagje Ton

Early in the summer, we made the discovery about my great-great-grandparents. That prompted me to write the “A Journey” series. Fast forward to the summer of 2021. We began to make plans to take dad to be with mom. Our plans included a stop in South Holland, Illinois, to visit the site of the Jan and Aagje (pronounced ahk-e-ya) Ton Memorial Gardens. Jan and Aagje are my great-great-grandparents. In June, almost a year to the day since I posted the first installment of that series, Duane DeYoung left a comment on the post. He, too, is a descendant of Jan and Aagje. 

A few weeks later, I received a letter, yes, an actual letter. The return address was the South Holland Historical Society. Curious, I tore open the envelope. Inside was a letter from Robin Schedberg, she, too, found my post. She was writing to let me know about a rededication ceremony to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the memorial garden. The ceremony was scheduled for October 16th. The same date as my…well, I’m not saying which one, suffice it to say I am old…high school reunion five hours away in the opposite direction. Over the summer we texted and emailed several times. Robin sent some wonderful photographs of some historical pieces they have in the Society library. 

We toyed with the idea of delaying our trip to scatter dad’s ashes until October but given the conflict with the reunion and the fact that October is the off-season for the Green Lake area, we decided to move ahead with our plans for an August trip. Our itinerary included a stop in South Holland to meet local historian, Larry McClellan, view the memorial, and tour the area. We would continue to Green Lake, spend a couple of days, scatter dad’s ashes and then return home. At the invitation of Duane DeYoung, we planned to stop by his home in Wisconsin on our return trip. 

Days before we were to embark on our adventure, Duane wrote saying he had been in contact with Robin and she could meet us on Monday afternoon in South Holland. It had not occurred to me to share our full itinerary with him. I picked up the phone and called him. Imagine that a letter and a phone call in the same story! I explained Larry’s availability was limited to Friday and we were planning to meet him at the memorial site. A day or so later, Duane let me know that he and his wife June would meet us at the site on Friday, and we were still more than welcome to stop by their home the following Monday. 

With that preamble, welcome to “A Journey Through the Land of Serendip”. Friday morning, August 13th, my wife, Carmen, my son, Brad and I loaded the car and headed north. Oh yeah, dad was with us too, but he didn’t help load the car. I can’t tell you how many times one of us asked, “so, do we have dad?”. No one wanted to drive all day without the guest of honor! 

Trying to coordinate a meetup on the South Side of Chicago, when one group was coming from Indianapolis (three hours away), another group was coming from Lake Geneva (a couple of hours away), and the tour guide, although local, on a tight schedule was a little tricky, especially when Chicago traffic can change in an instant. What did we do before text messaging, GPS, and traffic apps? We arrived at the memorial a few minutes before the appointed time. The memorial sits on the grounds of the First Reformed Church of South Holland, somewhat apropos considering my father was a minister. We learned that Jan had been one of the founders of the church and served as a Deacon for a number of years. That was one of the reasons for selecting the site, and one of the reasons Jan and Aagje were selected to be honored and remembered. 

A Journey Through the Land of Serendip

Carmen, Jeff & Brad Ton

Hoping to have some private time at the memorial, we were a little disappointed to see a woman tending the flowers in the garden surrounding the monument. Our disappointment was short-lived as once again the magic of serendipity struck. The woman tending the flowers was Nadine Harris-Clark, the aunt of LeRone Branch, the Eagle Scout who was the force behind the memorial.  We soon learned, Larry had given her a heads up we would be there. Not only did she want to meet us, but she also brought a photo album of the building of the memorial. She was beaming with pride as she talked about the project, the care that had been taken to select plants native to the area to surround the monument, and her nephew LeRone.  

The memorial itself is a 9,000-pound piece of granite. We had seen pictures of the gardens and the stone the previous year when we discovered this amazing story. What was hard to see in the pictures were the railroad tracks that ran under the stone as a symbol of the underground railroad. The scene was breathtaking. The tracks seemed to emerge from the native flowers, disappear underground, and reemerge on the other side of the stone, only to disappear again in the flowers. We were all near tears as we took it all in. 

A Journey Through the Land of SerendipLarry soon arrived, followed shortly thereafter by Duane and June. Let the reunion commence! Larry has been researching the history of the area, the Tons, and the Underground Railroad for years. He has written numerous articles and books on the subject. We stood near the monument while he shared the history with us. He believes between four and five hundred Freedom Seekers passed through this area on their way to Canada. “They had to leave the land of the free, to become free”, he stated. 

Freedom Seekers would travel north from Missouri, western Kentucky, and parts south, along the Mississippi and the Illinois Rivers and then overland to Chicago. Arriving in Chicago, they would rest before heading south around Lake Michigan and on to Detroit where they would cross into Canada. It was on the southern trek around the lake they likely encountered my great-great-grandparents. Jan and Aagje owned a farm on the northern shore of the Little Calumet River. They would hide them, feed them, provide them a place to rest, and then help them on their way to Indiana. They had purchased the farm from George Dolton, who operated first a ferry then a toll bridge over the river. It is likely Dolton who directed many of the Freedom Seekers to the Ton Farm. 

After the history lesson, Larry, Duane, and Brad crammed into the backseat of our SUV and we drove to the location of the Ton Farm. Larry continued our history lesson as we drove, identifying this road and that road as old Indian trails and routes Jan would have taken to get to Indiana with his precious cargo. We crossed the river at the Indiana Avenue bridge. This would have been where Dolton’s toll bridge once spanned the water. 

A Journey Through the Land of Serendip

Location of the Ton Farm

Chicago’s Finest Marina now sits on the site of the Ton Farm. The owner of the marina, retired Chicago Police Officer, Ronald Gaines, was unable to meet us and the gates were locked. We took turns peering through the iron gate at what would have been the location of the Ton home. The farm was originally 40 acres, so we walked a gravel road that ran along the river. It was an incredible feeling to walk where my ancestors would have walked 170 years ago and to peer out on the river they peered upon. 

Larry shared the Little Calumet River Underground Railroad Project was a group of volunteers who are researching the area and identifying historical places of interest. They are creating a water trail down on the river and will be placing markers, one of which will be at the Ton site. Being avid canoeists in our younger days, we are looking forward to paddling the trail! We piled back into the car and headed back to the Church, not before stopping on the Indiana Avenue bridge so Carmen could take a picture looking from the bridge to the farm a short distance downstream. 

 

Once back to the church, we bid adieu to Larry and Nadine (who was still there tending to the flowers). Duane and June left to meet Robin at the library. We needed to continue our Journey Through the Land of Serendip.

A Journey Through the Land of Serendip

Larry McClellan & Nadine Harris-Clark

Without having to give a spoiler alert for the continuing series, one of the things I need to share is the uncomfortable feeling I get every time we thank someone associated with the memorial project for creating this monument to Jan and Aagje. Why uncomfortable? Because when we thank them, they thank us for what Jan and Aagje (and others) did 170 years ago. We are honored they chose to remember Jan and Aagje. We are honored to be descended from Jan and Aagje. 

Related Posts:

Serendipity – A Fairy Tale

The Land of Serendip Revisited

The Land of Serendip – The Final Chapter

A Journey 

A Journey Continues

Making Grandpa’s Donuts is an annual tradition at the Ton Household. 2020 brings the reminder to “do this in remembrance of me [those who preceded us]”.

This year, we took the opportunity to make a video of the story and the process of creating these delectable treats!

 

 

“Do this in remembrance of me”. Growing up in American Baptist Churches as the son of a minister (yes, Jeff IS a PK), these words were always front and center. Carved in the communion table in front of the pulpit, he would read them countless times over the years. However, it wasn’t until much later in life that these words took on a new and different meaning. With apologies to the author and translators of the New Testament, at this time when the Christian world celebrates Christmas, we would like to talk about donuts. Yes, donuts.

Our favorite thing about celebrating Christmas is the traditions, rituals if you will. Every year we watch the same movies: Scrooged (laughing at the “toaster” line like hearing it for the first time); A Christmas Story (“You’ll shoot your eye out, Ralphie”); Christmas Vacation (reciting all the lines); and of course, It’s a Wonderful Life (crying at the end for the 50th consecutive year). For many years we attended the Christmas Eve service with Jeff’s mom and dad. And, of course, each season is highlighted by the gathering of family and friends, exchanging gifts and cards, and music across the generations.

However, of all these traditions, our favorite one is making donuts…it is never officially Christmas until the donuts are done. We call them “Grandpa’s Donuts”, in honor of Jeff’s Grandpa. 

Jeff’s fondest memories of his Grandpa Williams revolved around his two magnificent donut machines. Every time without fail when he would come to visit, Jeff and his siblings would run out to meet him as he got out of the car. All four of the kids would jump up and down with excitement, all asking if he brought the donut machines. And, every time without fail, he would look at us, scratch his head and say, “Oh my, I think I forgot those in Milwaukee.” He would then begin digging around in the trunk of his car and, sure enough, tucked back in the back behind all the luggage would be THE MACHINES! 

Jeff’s great-grandmother had given two Brown Bobby donut machines to his Grandpa Williams in the late 1920s. During the Great Depression, he would make donuts to sell at the Post Office where he worked. He charged a nickel for two donuts to make extra money to support his growing family.

On one of his trips to visit Jeff’s family in Evansville, he wrote the recipe in the front of mom’s cookbook. He must have known that trip would be his last. When he passed away in 1971, his mother inherited one of the Brown Bobby machines.

Over the next couple of decades, it was used to make donuts for the occasional church bake sale but eventually fell into disuse. In the mid ’90s, Jeff was a new manager and wanted to do something special for his team. He and his mom rummaged through her closet and there, tucked in the back, behind the boxes they discovered THE MACHINE! He donned his Grandpa’s old apron (handmade by my Grandma, with stitching that proclaimed the wearer to be “The Doughnut Man”) and they plugged in the Brown Bobby, fingers crossed it would still heat up. As they made the donuts and listened to Christmas Carols, something magical happened. They began to share stories about Grandpa. Gone for decades, he was remembered with stories, smiles, laughs, and tears. A new tradition was born.

In the years since, Jeff, Carmen, his mom, and his dad would gather around one of the old machines, listen to Christmas music, and tell the same stories. Stories of our parents, our grandparents, and Christmases past. We drag out the machine, plug it in, and hope that it heats up one more time. Jeff dons the apron and waves his hand over the machine testing the warmth just as Grandpa Williams did. Carmen deciphers the recipe, written in the front of a cookbook by a little old man, a very long time ago. We listen to Christmas music and tell the same old stories. Stories of our parents, our grandparents, and Christmases past. 

In 2012, Jeff’s mom was battling some health issues, so instead of gathering at her house, she and dad brought the machine to our house. She sat at our kitchen island while Carmen, dad, and Jeff made the donuts. We listened to the carols and told stories about Grandpa. At some point, it occurred to us, we were truly making Grandpa’s donuts for the first time. Our first grandson, Braxton, was born in September, making us “official” Grandparents!

As we cleaned up after making the delectable treats, mom suggested (against dad’s objections) that we “just keep the machine at our house”. She must have known this time would be her last. 

In 2019, days before Christmas, Jeff’s dad passed away, leaving another seat empty in the kitchen. Still, we made the donuts. 

This year, once again, we dragged out the machine, plugged it in, and hoped that it heated up one more time. Jeff donned the apron and waved his hand over the machine testing the warmth just as his grandfather had once done. Carmen deciphered the recipe, written in the front of a cookbook by a little old man, a very long time ago. We listened to Christmas music and told the same old stories…stories of Christmases past and of our cherished loved ones. Wondering aloud, if Jeff’s mom, much less, his grandfather could have comprehended telling Google, “Hey Google, set the timer for 2 minutes 45 seconds” instead of using an egg timer to time each batch. 

Over the years, we have given donuts to countless friends, relatives, and co-workers. We have shared the story of “Grandpa’s Donuts”. We will continue the tradition each year as long as the old Brown Bobby continues to heat. Yes, traditions tend to change with time. It is their very connection to the past that makes it so. As the future becomes the present, and the present becomes the past, the past changes. During this holiday season, take the time to pause. Remember those who came before us. Remember the ways they have touched our lives. Honor your traditions and “do this remembrance of them.”

Merry Christmas,

Jeff and Carmen (aka Grandpa and Grandma) 

An annual tradition in our house is to sing along with Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant”.

 

Listen to how the tradition began…

 

 

O-ree-o“Gampaw, can I have a cookie?” The eyes said it all. Those big twinkling eyes. How could I possibly say no? I looked down and met his gaze. His face aglow with anticipation. 

“You need to ask your Grandma,” I replied with a twinkle of my own. 

With that my four-year-old grandson, Jordan, scampered down the hallway toward the laundry room, calling her name with every step. “Gammaw, can I have a cookie? Gammaw, can I have a cookie? Can I have a cookie, Gammaw?” 

His eyes looked up at her, open wide behind his blue-rimmed glasses, asking the question as much with those eyes as his mouth. 

“Yes, we have Oreos.” Barely were the words out of her mouth when the face squished up, eyes squinting near tears, and the pleading voice said, “but, Gammaw, I want cookies”. 

“Oh, sweetheart, Oreos are cookies.” 

With that, he pivoted quicker than Michael Jordan in his prime and ran back down the hallway towards me, his face lit up by a smile so big it covered it in its entirety. “Gampaw, Gampaw, Gampaw, did you know Oreos are cookies?” The excitement of the news in his voice, the wonder of discovery all over his face, his hands, his body emphasizing. each. and. every. word! 

O-ree-o

Christmas

Christmas. Family. Stacks of presents, wrapped in the season’s finest. Chaos. Sweet, beautiful, chaos. When they weren’t tearing open their own gifts, our grandson’s were busy helping everyone else open theirs. 

“Jordan, would you like to give your present to Grandpa?” my daughter-in-law asked above the din of voices. O-ree-o

Jordan jumped up, ran to the tree, and retrieved a package wrapped in red and white Santa paper. He proudly made his way through the mountains of tissue paper, the sea of torn wrapping paper, and the hills of now discarded boxes and placed the package on my lap. His eyes peering up at me, the excitement of knowing what was inside was evident as he danced and hopped in front of me. 

Channeling my mother, I slooooooooooooowly began to remove the tape holding the paper in place. Little hands reaching out to help, then pulling back, then reaching out, then pulling back. Finally, not able to maintain my tease any longer, I asked him to help and together we ripped the paper off. 

Inside, were a set of matching mugs, emblazoned with the image of an Oreo cookie. The mugs came complete with a tray that attached to the side of the mugs. The trays designed to hold about a half-dozen or so of the sandwich cookie that had become our shared passion. The box also included two pairs of plastic tongs to hold your Oreo while dipping in your mug full of milk. PERFECT! 

O-ree-o

March of the Oreos

Wreck-It Ralph was my grandson Braxton’s favorite movie for several years (it still may be!). Every time he walked into our house, he would head straight for the cabinet with our DVD’s and pull out Wreck-It Ralph. Every time we suggested we watch a movie he wanted to watch…Wreck-It Ralph. Even when I hid the DVD all the way in the back of the cabinet, he would find it and we would watch Wreck-It Ralph. When Braxton and Jordan were both at our house we would watch…you guessed it…Wreck-It Ralph in addition to whatever Jordan picked.

For those unenlightened soles among my readers, the movie features Ralph, one of the characters in a video arcade game. Ralph always plays the bad guy, because, well, he always wrecks things…that is his schtick. Ralph believes if he could just earn a medal, he would be a hero and people would be a good guy for a change. So, Ralph goes on a quest to win a medal by traversing through the electrical connections between the arcade games. 

He ends up in the game Sugar Rush where everything is made of sweets. He soon encounters the evil King Candy. In a scene straight out of the Wizard of Oz, Ralph is spying down on King Candy’s Castle while the guards march into the front gate, a la Emerald City. The guards are Oreo cookies. As they march, they chant, “O-re-o, oree-o! O-re-o, oree-o! O-re-o, oree-o!  O-ree-o

Grandpa Time

3 PM on Fridays. Even before the pandemic forced many of us to work from home, I was working from home every Friday I could. Since the pandemic and my change to being self-employed, I work at home full time. Regardless of needing a face-to-face meeting or a virtual meeting, you will find my calendar blocked from 3 PM to 5 PM every Friday. That’s when I turn into a superhero, or a ninja, or a dinosaur hunter, or a shopkeeper. In other words, I turn into a Grandpa. 

Friday afternoons are my playtime with Jordan. Now six, going on 29, he knows when the grandmother clock strikes 3, it’s time for Grandpa to come out of his office. Since receiving the wonderful gift of the Oreo mug set, we have snacked on Oreos…every Friday at 3 PM. For months, I would announce Oreo time by chanting, “O-re-o, oree-o!” as I come down the stairs. That would usually result in a “Grandpa” (said with the tone of a teenaged eye-roll, if you know what I mean), a smile, and a scurry to get the mugs out, grab the package of Oreos, count out four each for Grandpa, Grandma and himself, and then wait patiently while I poured the milk. 

The three of us then sit and have our Oreos and have a scintillating conversation about school, dinosaurs, Marvel vs. DC, and why Grandpa eats his Oreos by twisting the two halves apart, eating the side without the creme, then the side with the creme, saving the milk for last, while Grandma and Jordan love to dunk their Oreos and turn them to mush (yuck!)! 

O-ree-o

Flip the Script

After months of the same script, last week I was engrossed in work. My office door was closed, but it was clearly 3 PM according to the chiming of the Grandmother clock, there was a soft tap at my door and then it slowwwwwwly opens. With a big grin on his face, Jordan greets me by quietly saying, “Grandpa, O-ree-o”. 

O-ree-o

Be an ally!

What is my point in telling you all these stories about a cookie? Are they heartwarming? Yes. Are they cute? Yes. Do they make you smile? Yes (well, at least they make me smile). 

I tell you these stories because I am an ally. I am an ally for gender equality. I am an ally for racial equality. AND, I join with Oreo and their parent company, Mondelez International in being an ally for the LBGTQ community. In the face of a threatened boycott, they stand by their decision to support PFLAG and produce “Rainbow Oreos, and I stand with them. Here’s to you, Oreo…and thank you. 

 

O-ree-o

I played golf with me dad last week

Copyright – Lawsonia

When my son Brad invited me to play golf last week little did I know my dad would be joining us. Yes, I played golf with my dad last week. It was a beautiful fall day, a little crisp when we started the round but warmed up quickly. Now some of you may be thinking, “OK, what’s the big deal?” I had not played golf in over a year. In fact, I’ve probably only played three or four times in seven years since I injured my neck. So, playing golf at all was a big deal. But playing golf with my dad was a really big deal. You see, my dad passed away in December. 

I don’t know when I first noticed him. On the second hole, I bladed a 9 iron, the ball shot across the green and into the woods. Brad and I spent the obligatory minute or two searching for it before I took a drop. There he was. I could see the grin on his face. The grin he would always grin when no matter how deep in the woods his ball or mine went he would walk right in and pick it up. As quickly as he appeared, he was gone again. 

Teeing off on the fifth hole, I had honors. One of the few times I had honors over Brad. After hitting my tee shot, I stepped out of the tee box and stood near the cart watching Br….dad tee off. The waggle of the clubhead, the shifting of the feet, the glances down the fairway as he lined up his drive, the “well, that will play” comment said half out loud, half under his breath, as his drive went right down the center. It was dad. 

It all came back. It all came flooding back. Dad loved golf. He and his buddies would play once or twice a week all spring, summer, and fall. I don’t recall ever playing as a young kid, perhaps we did. I do remember putt-putt golf, but it wasn’t until junior high that I have any recollection of going with him. At first, I was just hanging out as he and his friends played. He’d let me sneak a shot every once in a while. Soon, I could join in for a round. We didn’t play often. Golf wasn’t my thing, baseball was my jam. 

As I got older and moved away from home, we would always work in a round at least once a year. Golf at Green Lake, Wisconsin’s Lawsonia became a fixture for summer vacation. The whole family would gather for a week. Neither of my brother’s played golf, so dad and I would steal away and play a round or two. It was a tough course. As the years went by, they added a second course, and it was even tougher. Dad had names for all the holes. The Quarry (duh, it had a sharp dogleg right, if you missed, you would be in the…quarry. The Cliff (a par 3 that had about a forty foot drop down to the green, with little or now fairway. And, of course, The Dolly Parton (probably the most risque thing I ever heard my dad say…it was the Dolly Parton because, well, uh…the two big hills on either side of a narrow fairway). 

As the grandkids grew, a highlight of the week was going golfball hunting with Popper in the quarry (you see, I was not the only one who always missed the dogleg). Soon, they were old enough to play themselves. It became a passion for Brad. He and I would play a couple of times a week during his junior high and high school years, and, of course, we would play with my dad, a LOT. 

All of this came back as Brad and I played our round. The sounds, the smells, the warmth of the sun…dad was everywhere. It had been years since dad could be out on a golf course. I’ve missed him. But with COVID, starting a new business, publishing a book, I have to say it has been a while since I spent time with him, spent time with the memories. I didn’t know how much I needed those moments until he walked the course with us. 

From “Down an Indian Trail in 1849” by Mary K. Rowlands

Last month, as you may recall, I invited you along on a journey: a journey of discovery into some of my family history. I’ve learned a lot in one month..but have a lot more to learn. I’ve exchanged LinkedIn messages with LeRone Branch, the Eagle Scout turned Tax Accountant, who helped develop the memorial to my great-great-grandparents Jan and Aagje (Vander Sijde) Ton. I’ve emailed several times with Paul Ton of Michigan, descended from Jan’s brother, Harmen, and I’ve read two and a half books that mention Jan and others in the Ton family. 

Correcting the Record

Part of what I have learned is that I had some of my facts wrong in my post last month. In that post, I mentioned Jan and Aagje immigrated to the U.S from Holland (Netherlands) in the 1840s with eight of their nine children. That is not correct. As is often the case with old records, it is easy to get confused when children carry the same name as one of their parents. Many times records do not include suffixes such as Jr. or Sr. or even II and III. 

My great-great-grandfather, Jan, was 23 years old and single when he immigrated to the U.S. aboard the ship, “Massachusetts of Boston”, sailing from Le Havre, France in April of 1849. Jan was the son of Jan and Peterje (Stam) Ton, my great-great-great-grandparents. THEY had nine children. It was eight of their nine children who, over time, immigrated to the U.S. So, you can see how confusing that can get! The “Massachusetts of Boston” carried two Tons across the Atlantic, Jan and his married sister, Jannetje (Ton) Eenigenburg. Many of the families settled south of Chicago near Lake Calumet. Jan and eight other immigrants are considered the founding fathers of what is now Roseland, Illinois. 

It appears from the records I can find there might have been some shenanigans going on onboard the ship. Jan and Aagje’s first son, Jan Jr. was born in February of 1850. Jan and Aagje would marry in 1853 and raise 14 children to adulthood.

The Underground Railroad

I am certain to have many more stories to tell as I learn more, but, I do want to relate a story that directly connects Jan and Aagje to the Under Ground Rail Road. The story is found in the 1923 book “The Wonder of the Dunes” by George A. Brennan. You see, what is now Indiana Dunes National Park was traveled by many freedom seekers on their way from Chicago to Detroit and on into Canada. The Hollanders settlement near Lake Calumet was a leading station along that portion of the underground railroad. 

This particular story was retold many times over the years by Cornelius Kuyper, a dear friend of my great-great-grandfather’s and the town constable. Mr. Brennan records the story in his book. In his capacity as the constable, Kuyper was often called upon to assist in capturing run-away freedom seekers. He would attack each request with such zeal and effort, he would receive praise from slave owners and sheriffs alike…though…he never succeeded in capturing any freedom seekers.  

A Story to Tell

As Kuyper tells the story, one day he was visited by a slave owner from Kentucky, a sheriff deputy from Chicago, and a posse. They were pursuing three freedom seekers, each with a $3,000 price on their heads. As was his norm, Kuyper searched high and low for the runaways, even taking the posse as far as the Illinois-Indiana state line. Once again, he came up empty-handed. 

When they returned to Kuyper’s home, his wife Maartje prepared and served them a meal before they headed back to Chicago. After they were safely on their way, Kuyper headed into his cellar, opened a trap door, and summoned one of the freedom seekers who he had hidden away. He then went to the barn and moved part of an immense stack of hay, the other two freedom seekers emerged. He fed them, had them climb in his wagon covered them with cobs of corn, and took them to the home of Jan Ton. Jan hitched up his wagon, transferred the precious cargo, and headed out toward Indiana. Near the town of Hohman Bridge (today’s Hammond, Indiana), the cargo was transferred to another wagon. The freedom seekers were well on their way to Canada. 

One can only imagine the countless times these men and women provided this service to others on their journey! 

As I learn more, we will continue on this journey together. Until next time! 

 

A Journey - Ton FamilyIn the twelve years, I’ve been writing this blog I’ve taken you on many journeys. This time it’s different. This time I don’t know where we are going. Join me as I explore. Together, we will explore the past, and maybe, just maybe, there will be some lessons for us today and in the future in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, and others. 

Our journey begins just a few short weeks ago. In the midst of the civil unrest in the wake of George Floyd’s death, a window to the past opened. Those of you who know me personally, know I love exploring the past. Carmen and I have followed the Lewis and Clark Trail from its beginnings in Monticello, Virginia, to the shores of the Pacific Coast near Astoria, Oregon, and back to St. Louis. 

Our love for that epic story unlocked our love for our family’s story. We have stood in the tiny abandoned farmhouse where my grandmother was born near Randolph, Nebraska. We have stood near countless graves of our ancestors. For us, history goes beyond the names and dates, it’s about people and their stories. What did they do and why? What were they thinking? What were they feeling? 

We have read pages and pages of journals to uncover the stories behind the names and dates. That is why my sister’s note surprised me. Her note included a link to an article she had stumbled across, a link that takes our exploration back further than a few short weeks ago. It uncovers a story. A story that involves a professor, an eagle scout, a retired Chicago police officer, and that is just going back 10 years. The story takes us back 171 years. It takes us back to 1849. It takes us to the story of Jan and Aagje Ton, my great, great grandparents. 

Life Magazine!

Despite all the journals, despite all the graveside visits, what I knew about Jan and Aagje was from a 1945 issue of Life Magazine. That issue ran the story of the fiftieth Ton family reunion held in West Pullman Park on the South Side of Chicago. Over 500 Tons were in attendance. Jan and Aagje were immigrants from De Zaan, Holland. They and eight of their nine children came to the U.S. in the 1840s to flee persecution and high taxes. 

Cool story, right? Life Magazine! As an aside, the cover of that issue was of one Jimmy Stewart, the actor, returning home after the war. The article even had a picture of the old farmhouse on the north side of the Little Calumet River.  A lifetime of trips to and through Chicago not once were we inspired to track down the story, to visit the graves, or to find the location of the farm. The Life Magazine article is framed and hanging on the stairs in our home. I pass it a dozen times a day. 

Surprising news!

And then I received the link from my sister. What I learned floored me, blew me away. Jan and Aagje did more than farm on the banks of the Little Calumet River. You see, their farm was a stop along what is now known as the Underground Railroad. Freedom seekers would arrive at the farm on foot, in wagons (hidden under hay or sacks of corn), and sometimes by train. All of them traveling hundreds of miles to find their freedom. Jan would assist by taking them by wagon halfway across Indiana toward Detroit and the Canadian border. 

I learned the farm was located at what is today “Chicago’s Finest Marina”. It is a historically black-owned marina. Ronald Gaines, a retired Chicago police officer now owns the marina. 

I learned there is a memorial to honor my great, great grandparents near the church they helped found when they immigrated to the area. The memorial was an Eagle Scout project of LeRone Branch. LeRone is now a tax accountant for Deloitte. 

Where do we go from here?

I’m hungry to learn more. My curiosity is aroused. Why didn’t we know? How was the story lost to our branch of the family? There isn’t anyone left to ask. My grandparents never spoke of it that any of us remember. My grandfather died in the mid-60s. My grandmother was fiercely proud of being a Ton. Though she married into the family, she was first and foremost a Ton. In all her journals, not one word of this appears. In the countless stories, she told in the years before her death, not even a whisper. I suppose the easy answer is she didn’t know. My grandfather was born nine years after Jan died. He never knew his grandfather. It’s true my branch of the Ton family tree scattered throughout the country in the early to mid-1900s. Perhaps that explains it. 

Perhaps the answer is darker. 

Come with me on this journey. As I learn more, you will learn more. 

As faithful readers know, my father recently passed away. It didn’t occur to me at the time, but in one final breath, I became the patriarch of the Ton family (going back at least four generations). It is now my responsibility to pass on the stories, to pass on the traditions, to respect the past and those who have come before. 

One of the joys of the last few years has been taking my grandsons, Braxton and Jordan, to visit my dad, Popper (or great-Popper) – to see his face light up when those little guys would bound into his room, show him their new games, or demonstrate their latest artwork. Dozens of images come to mind…Braxton pushing my dad in his wheelchair on the last Thanksgiving he would visit our house, or crawling onto his bed to play games with him when Dad could no longer get up. Jordan telling a story so funny both of them were laughing and giggling, or Dad wearing Jordan’s Easter hat to the delight of the little red-head. 

Two months almost to the day of dad’s passing, we welcomed Jasper Bryant Ton into the world. The second son of my second son. What an amazing joy to hold that little life in my arms, to look into his eyes. I could not help but think of my dad. He did not have a chance to meet Jasper, but I know he would adore him. My heart was overflowing with love. 

Braxton’s and Jordan’s memories of their time with my dad will fade, Jasper has no memories to fade.  Yes, there are pictures, hundreds of pictures, but it will be the stories that provide the connection. I want them to know of his laugh, his smile, his compassion, his goofy sense of humor. Most of all, I want them to know of his love, love for my mom, love for his family, and love for his fellow man and woman. 

I treasure the moments I have with my kids and my grandkids. Even on days when I am preoccupied with work, or too tired and crabby to be patient, or when there thousands of tasks that don’t get done. I celebrate my role as patriarch – to tell stories of Mary Ellen and Gene, Lawrence and Sara, Hallie and Mary and the generations who came before. 

Welcome to the world, Jasper Bryant Ton. You have been born into a family that loves you dearly. You have been born into a family with an amazing story. I can’t wait to share it all with you.