After several hours, I open the shade covering my window. Ice crystals have formed over the glass. Through a tiny unfrozen patch, I can see we are above the clouds. Earlier, I felt the plane level out and later begin the long slow descent into the airport. I check the window again, and find the ice crystals have disappeared. At the lower elevation and the land is visible.
Naperville, I think. Over 100 years ago, one of my great-grandfathers had a farm down there. Tiny lights began to flicker as we approach to the great metropolis, touchstone for many generations of my family.
I have been to and through Chicago a thousand times beginning in the 1940s when my dad finally took his family home to meet his parents. The War had ended, travel by train from Texas was feasible, and Aunt Bernie was marrying her sweetheart returned from Europe. We went through Chicago to reach Fond du Lac WI.
Ghosts…the city contains ghosts. My parents attending jazz festivals in the 1950s; in the 1910s Grandmother Edna, recently graduated from college and living in the big city where she would teach Latin; Grandfather Frank Schmidley, a Janesville WI boy and railroad engineer, who like many pilots and flight attendants today, kept a room at both ends of his run for layovers between jobs.
Before them came Great-Grandfather Herbert Nichols who drove both locomotive and diesel engines before he died in 1912. Following the return of Herbert’s dad Jonas from the Civil War, he migrated with his parents to Janesville WI by way of Chicago. Everything went through Chicago in those days, and Jonas rode some of the trains before he died in 1876. Jonas’ brothers, Thomas and Benjamin drove and rode others.
Before the Nichols boys, came the great-grandparents, uncles and aunts who immigrated from Bavaria in the 1840s, and died during a cholera epidemic in the dumbbell tenement housing. Only Great-Grandmother Anna Mary and one brother survived.
Yesterday, I discovered several more ancestors who came west during the Civil War with a Union Army Light Infantry brigade, to fight Indians in Minnesota who threatened the settlers….Fourth Great Grandfather Warren Adley and his two brothers. They were the Scotsmen Virginia Senator Jim Webb describes in his book Born Fighting.
And on the story goes. So far, I have barely covered my dad’s family. Working on this tree is a lifetime project. My last great project.
I discovered flying west and back that I had not lost my “flight legs.” Everything went fairly smoothly and I only had to rise cain once..in Chicago. I barely made it to my connecting flight, but two more passengers came scurrying up and boarded after me. One of them was a Japanese girl who was upset because she had been processed through immigration and security, before and between legs of her journey. “You look suspicious to me,” I kidded her. She laughed and visibly relaxed. Such is the comradeship among passengers on long flights.