Before the Wind

The love and wisdom of ancestors, our parents and before, are the winds that fill our sails.

As is the nature of seasons, there is the ending of  one season as  the new one comes forward. And there must be the mourning for the the things that were of that time.  Were the mourning  not possible we could never take ownership of their gifts.

The  new millennium, the century the new year ushered in the 2000s and deaths of  both of our fathers’s brothers Ralph and Jim, and their first cousin, Louise  Ellen (Vicky) Sheppard. Within our nuclear family was the unthinkable and  tragic premature death of Pat, David’s mid life love, wife  and best friend, my sister, and third grandmother to David, Alex and Anna. David has continued to follow Pat’s inspiration for travel and has recently traveled to the ice of the far north and the far south and the glaciers of Patagonia. He has been so generous in sharing  his incredible photos I wish I could include even a tenth of them.

Then there was  Shirley McCormick, cousin closest in age who shared so much in growing up and more than the rest once grown up.  I discovered her  obituary accidentally not long after she died and still communicate with daughter Jamie. Not unexpectedly she and  husband Bill were among those that defined Topeka culture for years. Her obituaries reflect the high regard.  Daughter Mary Jane died just after Shirley.  The remaining four daughters are scattered about southern Kansas.

We also lost, especially beloved to me,  first cousins Kathleen Thurman Pennington and Shirley Westfall McCormick.  The pain of losing Kathleen was made greater by the loss of her first son Alan (Granvil A.) not long after. As a teen I had spent a good bit of the summer  in Lawton during Kathleen’s pregnancy with Alan.  He was the first baby I ever held.  Kathleen later related I had been the first baby she as a teenager  had held.  Alan had a successful career at NASA retiring as Flight Director.  and also  as the science fiction writer Hawkswind.

We had kept up with cards and emails and I was grateful  wife Loyce had found the time to find my address to let me know of his passing.   A Viet Nam veteran, younger son, Tom, had preceded Alan and and Kathleen by many years.

I don’t know which inspires more awe in me, the experience of the living of a long span of life or observing those we love doing so.  The entrance of the generation that will outlive ours had certainly brought  added inspiration, though at the time  not so much was thought of when brother David and wife Carol Appleyard Watkins brought Thomas C. and Gregory K. into the family and the world.

Two active curious, really rambunctious boys who recognized few limits to what they might learn or create,  other than not so rambunctious they haven’t lost a step in discovering and pursuing passions.


David and Carol parted ways as the two boys  were moving into adolescence and work conspired to aggravate the separations for the boys. But  their determination  made it through and the college degrees  were earned and first jobs were begun.Parents’ remarriages came about and then all of a sudden, it seems all in this direct line from Edward of !7th century Boston were beginning new adventures.

Gregory first in marriage to Tammie Wike  and then Thomas to Dawn Day.

The young folks are what this project is about. Siblings and cousins are the first friends we have; and thank goodness for them, for no one else can be relied on to  understand the mythology, quirks and context unique to family. To be with them even sporadically and after long intervals is to feel the ground solid under the feet and hear the music of love and understanding.

The boys now men have lost little of their energy and creative passions,  while even now dealing with  their own active curious, really rambunctious children who also recognize few limits.

A note about the photographs and information I have included; to represent them: they are collected and recorded fragmentary older memories, newly made memories, information and photos hacked from FaceBook and a variety of other places.As to the photographs, we don’t take formal posed photographs very often so most are snapshots during vacations and may give the impression that all we do is climb mountains, hike, and ride bicycles or boats in exotic places.

As anyone knows there is no way I can keep up a recent enough photograph of David, Alex and Anna.  So this is out of date in that way from the beginning.  It  is true I suppose of all grandparents and elder aunts and uncles and cousins,  the youngest grow and mature so rapidly that we feel we miss so much.  Grateful that the family documents a lot one can keep up with at least how they grow into individuals.   But of course they come sporadically in various numbers.  The few I put into this work are the result of randomness and an effort to continue in a more or less linear presentation.  From this point on however the photos  of the future will go into the posts section as we finally arrive at the present.

Thomas and Dawn and Greg and Tammie are coping with settling into the demands of mid-life. Thomas and Dawn are in their own businesses, Thomas Watkins Photography and Dawn, PVS Interiors. Their professional work  abundantly  fulfills the promise present in many of our family, a need for and  priceless sense of  beauty and its creation.   For Thomas, it carries over into his appreciation of the beauty of classic motorcycles which he has coupled with his skills at restoration, something I have come to appreciate since the emergence of Pawn Stars.

After seemingly being  settled in North Carolina, the life-style of Northern California sang a siren song and Mechanical and Environmental Engineer, respectively, Greg, Tammie and David made the move to Chico, California where Greg  has become Full  Professor  at Cal. State at Chico. Tammie is pursuing her career in environmental engineering in private industry. The entire family loves biking, triathelon, and in the case of Greg and Tammie, beer.  They have found and love the community that shares those passions.

In 2004 Greg participated in the International Triathlon Union championships in Madeira. His photographs and wonderfully descriptive day to day emails are priceless and I have them archived.

David, now  already in his late teens shares his father’s love of music and the family recreations of triathlon; and if FaceBook is an indicator there is a generous mix of girls among his interests.

The hard hat photos of Thomas, Dawn, Alex & Anna were taken on a fairly recent trip to Panama to visit with grandmother Carol.

Alex is a fine athlete with baseball being among the sports he enjoys. In fact he is making his college choices on the basis of opportunity to continue his baseball aspirations. Anna continues with her passion for horses.  The last time I saw her she was also very interested in drawing. How could either of the pair not have the wonderful eye of an artist, whatever they may want to do with it?

I look forward to being around to see what unique passions they discover in themselves as they mature into the people they want to be. I hacked  several of the photos off FaceBook pages. I am  also looking forward to soon having later photographs of all the family. Yes. That is a hint.

Though I have followed the putative goal of a traditional family history in presenting the male lineage, it has been important to me to add what I know of the branches. This is because  they are so precious to me and as well because they are so important to what makes a family and what makes a whole person.

Not the least of family is showing up when one of us is sick. We have as adults always been spread out and much involved in living independent lives it takes an effort to pause and just show up. I am the forever grateful recipient of that gift, first Thomas and David, then  Tammie to see me through the early part of all the stresses of a first time serious illness.

Our Watkins cousins and families determined to be part of the support, graciously scheduled their visit during one of the hiatuses chemotherapy grants after one course has let go and before the next one can gain hold.

I am also struck with the  power of the virtually universal drive to find oneself in the “other,” through similarities in appearance, then behavior. I suppose this is the first step in a learning process.

I am amused at our Watkins round heads and speculate surely we must have been among the founders of the Cromwellian adventure. Looking at Kaitlyn Ogden (the youngest of her generation) I see the beautiful Eastern eyes of her mother seated in a  Watkins head and wonder will she have the awful white hair with the consistency of fine spring wire that it seems the Watkins women are fated by age? Now in retirement Betty and I are enjoying renewed connection. There have been pictures of family and the gifts of visits and e-mails.

I find myself pleased to see my father’s hands and forearms in Thomas and the Hirst dimple in the chins of all the males. The source our tendency to large free floating ears is found in a letter to our great grandmother Ellen Clark from her mother’s sister Bettie Proffitt-Harrington; “Tell John I think his a handsome face and when I looked at it I felt like hugging and kissing it with that Proffitt ear just like all my brothers.”  Prairietree Letters, page 182.

On the Cooke side I surprise myself at my pleasure at Maxine having commented on just how much I look like our beloved Cardwell-Cooke Gram. The memories of times of love and care by family come.

I read Nancy’s Wiki recounting the details of her career as Oregon State House Representative of Eugene and am even more surprised at her vocation preceding  her 1992 election to public office; teaching tap-dancing! Tap-dancing? Has to be either her Cooke grandmother’s Kiowa or her Father David’s Jewish genes. Nancy and Maxine and I continue to keep up with and sporadic emails and Christmas cards . The photo at the left is so banal.  What but a Jewish grandmother assisting her Jewish granddaughter.  Centuries of tradition imbued in family, race and religion.  Only thing is grand mother is half Scot Irish and half Kiowa.  Granddaughter carries an eighth of each and three quarters Jewish.   I wonder at our family and how we embrace diversity in all we do and who we love.  I wouldn’t give up a single gene of it.

I cherish the presence in Pat and Anne and family of the sweetness and love for family that is reminiscent of their father, my Uncle Jim. That sweetness shines through even in his old box camera photographs.   Anne and Charles are on the cusp of retirement, Anne as Vice Chancellor for Finance at East Carolina University and Charles the U.S Postal Service.Kendall has completed her bachelor’s at Appalachian State, working with the Human Rights Organization and planning graduate school becoming more and more involved in human rights activism.

Since their return from the 3 years as missionaries in Nigeria Pat and Denise have continued to pursue Methodist ministries in keeping with their talents and interests. Denise is Virginia conference director of Mission and Global Justice. Pat is  a general church missionary heading the (Methodist) Virginia Conference’s Caretakers of God’s Creation program,a ministry of the Virginia Conference.  In fact Pat was tasked to establish the Conference program and is the first and only Church & Community Worker, a domestic missionary classification of the General Board of Global Ministries, assigned to raise awareness to the relationship between one’s faith and responsibility to care for God’s creation.

The speculation in regard to nature and nurture will not cease as long as humans are human. In recent years I have become even more convinced that so much of what we are is first learned in the nest of the nuclear family.

No Watkins history is complete without the friendships we have had with our fuzzy and four footed friends.  This particular picture and the casual relating between Alex Cat and stranger Charles Jenkins is iconic and suggests that there has been a lot of learning in the environment of  family in other species.  Alex just automatically knows if he lifts his head a human will scratch it and Charles deep in conversation with Thomas reflexively obliges.

There is  of course also a new generation of furry family members that bring joy.

Just as in human families, my Alex and Claudette may look like Pete and Louise.  But they surely are cut from a different cloth personality-wise.  They came to live with me in 2007.

Alex was already two and had had good training so Claudette  (and I)  had the good fortune to have him to teach her all kinds of cat things, including the proper place to sharpen claws and how to open every door in the house.

Tammie just posted the other day the joys of Serotta and Henry.  Otis the biggest ugliest baddest dog in Georgia lives with Thomas, Dawn, Alex and Anna. There are likely others I don’t know about. Photos will be posted if received.

To say they are important family  members is to understate.


And the newest generations of Watkins, these of the 10th and 11th generations from Edward and Sarah of Colonial Boston, are well on their way.

But for me at the age when emotion is the clearest memory, I will think of us all as the little boys and girls who dress up and play at being like their mothers and fathers; whether  with swords and imaginary chargers or, as noted by Aunt Emma, like our grandfather reading at every chance or at teaching school as recorded by Charlie Clark observing his “little mustang children.”


If I were asked to describe our family as I have lived, observed and reflect I would say we are decent people who love to learn and love to work.











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