Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Reflections on a Year of Discovery

It’s difficult to believe in many ways that I’ve been blogging for almost one year.  It’s been an incredible year of discovery and connections.

My first post on Jan. 8, 2010, was about Sebastian’s viola teacher using Tic Tac candy as a way to teach him vibrato.  I’m not sure how many people read it – that was before I had any followers, and before I learned how to track stats about the blog.  My most recent post, about my great-aunt Rosalie, was something that had been brewing in my head for a couple of years, and writing it was extremely rewarding.  It already has been viewed more than 80 times.
Me after my presentation on G. Oliver at the history museum in St. Cloud in November.
Overall, the blog has been viewed more than 5,000 times by people in 69 different countries.  I’ve averaged about two posts a week, which was my goal.  This post is No. 84 for the year.  It continues to surprise me how certain posts resonate with readers.  I also have found it interesting how some posts that I particularly liked haven’t had many views.

The most-viewed one, by far, is one called Yo Yo Ma, Meryl Streep and the Genesis of a Musician.  I think it attracted attention mainly because of the two famous people mentioned in the title; I’m not sure many of those viewers read it all the way through.

What means way more to me than the numbers, however, are the people behind them.  I truly appreciate the interest and feedback from all of you who’ve been reading.  It’s the motivation behind what I do – I want to share my thoughts and reflections with others because that’s how I grow and learn, and how I make sense of my journey into the life of my great-grandfather, G. Oliver Riggs.

One of the aspects of blogging I really appreciate is its immediacy.  As a newspaper reporter, I had to wait until the next morning to see my stories in print, and then I had no idea whether anyone had read them.  Now, I can send these stories out into the world from my laptop and get feedback minutes later, without ever involving a publisher or an editor (although an editor would certainly be helpful at times, especially now as my 43-year-old eyes seem to be failing me).

My intent in starting the blog was to figure out whether all my research into G. Oliver’s life could translate into a book.  I knew I could research forever and still leave some loose ends; it was time to start writing, and make some sense of what I already had.

Since I started blogging, I have never lacked for topics.  A trip to Crookston in June with my parents, and a family vacation in October to Civil War battlefields yielded a wealth of material, as did the Vintage Band Festival, held in August in Northfield.

It’s still my hope to write a book based on the connections I’ve made between G. Oliver’s life and mine.  Now that the year is almost up, I plan to take some time in January to evaluate where I’ve been, and where I’d like to go.

I’d like to publicly thank my friend Randy for starting me on this journey, and for being my sounding board throughout the experience.  I'd also like to thank my husband Steve for his unfailing support, my parents William and Anne for their assistance and unbiased (!) praise, my cousin Kristina for being my unofficial publicist, my friend and blogger Myrna for inspiring me, and other family members and friends who’ve been so encouraging and interested.

I look forward to another remarkable year.  And as always, I welcome your comments, thoughts and feedback.  Happy 2011!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Tragedy on Christmas Eve, 1917

One of the saddest episodes in the life of my great-grandfather, G. Oliver Riggs, has to be the death of his 9-year-old daughter, Rosalie, on Christmas Eve in 1917.  Her death came less than two years after the death of little G. Oliver Jr., at age 1.

Rosalie with baby brother G. Oliver Jr. and dog Prince in 1914.
My dad and his siblings grew up hearing about Rosalie, and how their grandmother Islea was so distraught over her daughter’s death, she never again celebrated Christmas.

My grandfather Ronald was 16 when his little sister died, and his brother Percy was almost 14.  How sad it must have been for them.  My youngest child, Elias, is 10, only a year older than Rosalie, and I know how much his siblings love and care about him, despite those occasional moments when it’s not so apparent.

Rosalie with brothers Percy, on left, and Ronald, center.
I don’t know how G. Oliver handled the loss.  I did notice that about a month before Rosalie died, a Crookston newspaper reported that G. Oliver planned to form a girls’ saxophone band that would play on its own and also with the Crookston Juvenile Band (made up solely of boys).  After Rosalie’s death, no mention was made again of the girls’ band; I don’t believe it ever was organized.

In the years after Rosalie’s death, G. Oliver never included girls in the bands he directed – not in Bemidji, where he moved in 1919, or St. Cloud, where he moved in 1923.  It may have had more to do with the convention of the time than his personal preference.  But I do wonder: was it too difficult for him to instruct girls around Rosalie’s age and think about what might have been?  If Rosalie had lived, would he have formed that girls band? 
Rosalie, in center, looking at the camera, surrounded by friends.
It wasn’t until the end of his career, when he took a job organizing the first band at Red Lake High School, that G. Oliver directed a co-ed band, made up of white and Ojibwe boys and girls.
Islea, Rosalie and G. Oliver.
Rosalie was born in Crookston on June 24, 1908.  The family moved a couple of times during her young life, living for a year in Grand Forks and three years in Havre, Montana.  They returned to Crookston in 1914.

In December of 1917, the United States was involved in World War I.  According to Crookston newspaper accounts, toys for Christmas were scarce, especially dolls, and toys made in Germany could not be purchased.  On Dec. 13, the temperature dropped to 27 degrees below zero.

After a busy couple of days participating in the school Christmas program, delivering presents to friends and helping decorate the family Christmas tree, Rosalie developed an ear infection.  She became ill the evening of Saturday, Dec. 22, and the infection led to mastoiditis.  She died at home in the early morning of Christmas Eve.

I’m not sure who wrote the article in the Dec. 26 Crookston Daily Times about Rosalie’s death, but I’d like to give him or her credit (likely it was a him, probably the editor) because it contains some beautiful writing, the kind we rarely see in modern obituaries.
A Dec. 26 article in the Crookston Daily Times
I especially love this part:

“ ... It is a blow that baffles human reason.  It is beyond us all.  Rosalie had so many excellent gifts and gave so much promise for the future.  Her father and mother had planned great things for her, for she lived in the spirit of an unbroken rhythm.”

Rosalie at the lake, summer 1917.
Although G. Oliver and Islea moved from Crookston about a year after Rosalie’s death, I think part of them never really left.  When Islea died in 1942, she was buried in the family plot in the Crookston cemetery, near Rosalie and G. Oliver Jr.  G. Oliver the elder joined them in 1946.

Rosalie’s grave in the Crookston cemetery.
I will think of Rosalie this week as we prepare to celebrate Christmas with family.  Instead of feeling stressed about holiday tasks, I will try to take a breath, enjoy the moment, and treasure those around me, grateful for their presence in my life.

We all can learn from Rosalie’s example, and strive to live in the spirit of an unbroken rhythm.
Rosalie catching grasshoppers while camping out west, 1914.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Time to Dance

Getting married between my birthday and Christmas seemed like a great idea 17 years ago.  I still like all the festivity crammed into a short period of time, but it can add a little more stress to the holiday season – more for my husband, Steve, than for me.  On the bright side, it’s easy to remember our anniversary!

Steve proposed to me on Jan. 16, 1993.  By that time, we’d been dating for almost six years, since early February of our first year at Drake University.  Those of you who know Steve as a song and dance man won’t be surprised to hear that he proposed by getting down on one knee, in the snow, and singing to me.  The song? “We Are in Love” by Harry Connick Jr.
Steve and me with my ring, which Steve financed by baking bagels for Bruegger's.
He proposed on the Drake campus, in our favorite spot by Old Main.  He cleverly chose the song not just because we were Connick fans (and big fans of the movie When Harry Met Sally), but because it contains these lyrics:
I do ... could it be that's the
Phrase you thought never would faze you
Well baby, you better hold on tight
'cause I'm the one who's supposed to
Kneel down and propose, well alright
I might, I might ...

When we planned our Dec. 18 wedding, music was important to both of us.  Music and cake.  We arranged to get married at St. Ambrose Cathedral in Des Moines; I was working at the Des Moines Register, and Steve was in medical school at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.  We hired an exceptional brass quintet from the Des Moines Symphony to play before and during the Mass.  I would have liked my dad to play his trumpet, but I also wanted him to walk me down the aisle.  It would have been difficult for him to do both!  Poised and professional, Steve’s sister Beth led the singing as the cantor, and my longtime friend Julie sang Bach’s Bist Du Bei Mir in German during Communion.  It was so beautiful I didn’t want the song to end.

Our wedding reception was at the Hoyt Sherman Place (the former home of William Tecumseh Sherman’s youngest brother, known for its art gallery and acoustically perfect theater).  The wedding was in the afternoon, and we wanted to have a dance with a live band.  We found a great jazz combo, led by Sam Salamone, and hired a soloist, too.  I don’t remember her name, but I remember she had an amazing voice.
The band!
After sampling the delicious cake – which came in two flavors, chocolate with raspberry filling and white with lemon filling – we danced.
The cake!
Steve and I had asked if the band could play the Etta James song “At Last” for our first dance.  They couldn’t, so they offered another option.  We have no idea now what song it was.  I remember enjoying it, and not really caring what it was called.  What mattered was that I was dancing with my new husband, my best friend and the love of my life, surrounded by family and friends.
The first dance!
Seventeen years and three kids later, we’re still in love, and we’re still living in the moment, enjoying the dance.

Happy 17th Anniversary, Steve!
The married couple!
At last
My love has come along
My lonely days are over
and life is like a song
Oh, yeah, yeah
At last
The skies above are blue
My heart was wrapped up in clover
the night I looked at you.
I found a dream that I could speak to
A dream that I can call my own
I found a thrill to rest my cheek to
A thrill that I have never known
Oh yeah, you smile, you smile
Oh and then the spell was cast
And here we are in heaven
for you are mine
At last.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

'Tis the Season for Concerts

I’ve attended two concerts in less than a week, with two more scheduled this Thursday.  It’s not too surprising, since it’s getting so close to Christmas.  First was the Greenvale Park Elementary winter concert on Thursday, featuring the fourth and fifth grade orchestras and choirs.  Elias is in the fourth grade choir this year, and it was fun to see him perform after hearing teaser snippets of his songs for weeks now.
Northfield Youth Choirs Wonder Twins Sebastian, 12, and Louisa, 14.
Then came the Northfield Youth Choirs winter concert, Dancing Day!  Snow Day! would have been a more appropriate name – or Snowed Out! because it was originally scheduled for Saturday afternoon, when we got the blizzard, and had to be moved to last night.

I enjoyed all the pieces by all the choirs.  But my favorite might have been “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” performed by Seb’s and Louisa’s choirs, the Troubadours and Anima.  Hearing all those voices singing “ ... tidings of comfort and joy, joy ... ” in Carleton College’s Skinner Chapel on my birthday – that was a nice gift.

Here’s a sampling of that song, captured using my new birthday gift from Steve and the kids, a Flip video camera.


The week of concerts will conclude Thursday with Elias’ class music sing in the morning, followed by an evening concert featuring the Northfield middle school and high school orchestras.  Sebastian will play the viola in that concert.  By that time, I hope to have figured out all the features on my new video camera!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Another Must-Read Book for My List

December is always a crazy month for me, and I’m not sure I’ll have the chance to blog as much as I’d like.  But I did want to take a few minutes to mention a book that was reviewed yesterday in the Star Tribune.  Published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press, the book is composed of letters written by two brothers from Winona, Thomas and William Christie, who fought in the Civil War.
A monument to the First Minnesota Battery at Shiloh National Military Park.
The men were with the First Minnesota Battery, which fought at Shiloh, Corinth, Vicksburg and Atlanta.  If that sounds familiar to you regular My Musical Family blog readers, it’s because those are all places that my great-great grandfather, Jasper Riggs, fought with the 45th Illinois Infantry.

I took the above picture while we wandered the grounds at Shiloh National Military Park in October.  The monument to the First Minnesota Battery is near the Hornet’s Nest and the Sunken Road, areas where the Iowa Regiments were active, and where my great-grandfather, G. Oliver Riggs, helped dedicate monuments to Iowa soldiers in 1906.

The book, called Brother of Mine, intrigues me because it details the daily life of a soldier through the eyes of the Christie brothers, who would have shared many of the experiences of my great-great grandfather.  Our family does not possess any letters of Jasper’s from his Civil War days; the only artifact we have, to my knowledge, is his dried corn pouch.

I look forward to reading the new book and gaining more insight into what that experience was like for Jasper, and how it shaped his life.