From Whence Did Thou Come?

(Author’s Note: I’m appalled that I left this post in the ‘draft’ file! While it was composed almost two years ago, the content is still very relevant!)

Yes, that sounds stilted, and yet how else would you say it and not dangle your preposition. Of course these days, it’s no longer a problem (according to the Chicago Manual of Style) to dangle your preposition. But choosing to use this arcane rule does cause people to wonder where I’m going with the post, and that’s always a good thing when searching for a blog post title. But I digress (which often happens with me.)

The study of DNA and genealogy is where I’m going.

A few months ago, I decided to get as many members of my family as possible to submit to a DNA test. They are available through Ancestry.com (among many others) and I thought it would be interesting to see where it took me.I submitted tests for myself, my husband, my daughter, my brother, my mother, and my father’s only remaining full brother. My father died in 2002, and I’m not aware any of these easy-to-use tests were available back then. The results of these test have provided an endless stream of education, enlightenment, and excitement.

For example, I’ve discovered something many of you probably already knew—namely that DNA gets distributed randomly and not at all equally amongst siblings. I’ve always believed I was 25% Greek because my paternal grandfather came from Greece whMy Greek Grandfatheren he was 17 years old. He married a non-Greek girl and had five sons with her. So my assumption was those boys were 50% Greek and passed along to their children a 25% share.

Wrong! It turns out my Greek genes add up to 12%, while my brother, with the same parents as me, is only 2% Greek. Even stranger is that my father’s younger brother certainly doesn’t show 50% but only a trace amount of Greek. Most of his ethnicity seems to come from his mother’s family.

I have discovered many distant cousins I never knew I had. It doesn’t surprise me that I didn’t know about them, because when you think about it, how many of us really know that much about all our distant ancestors. The really intriguing results have come from my two great-grandmothers. I’m now in contact with 3rd and 4th cousins from both sides of my tree and we’ve shared emails back and forth, exchanged photos of our families, and some of our distant relatives. It’s amazing to see the shared interests we have, some of us have the same pursuits, and all of us are interested in where we came from.

Along the way, I was able to share with one cousin the story of how my paternal great-grandmother traveled on a wagon train from Missouri to Texas in 1879. She was a child of eight or nine (depending on the birth year you believe she had.) During that grueling journey, her father died and one of her brothers also died. The father was buried in Smackover County—which I think is a terrific name for a county—Arkansas and was buried beside a creek. I’m not sure how exactly where the little boy was buried. My new-found cousin from this side of the family is related to me because his great-grandfather was a brother to my great-grandmother.

I think those of us whose roots are in the west or the deep south are more apt to have our distant relatives scattered about the country. It was the wanderers, after all, who worked to settle the western United States, and they often wound up far from their original homes.

I’ve recently met (through email) another cousin from my mother’s side of the family. He is more directly related to my mother but is much closer to my age. He has invited me to a family reunion of his branch of the family that descended from my great-great-grandfather, who is my cousin’s great-grandfather. It’s all pretty difficult to keep straight at this point. I have hope that by getting to know these people better, perhaps meeting some of them, I can better understand my closer relatives and the quirks passed down to all of us from long ago people.

 

A Review of Murder on Frequency

Murder on Frequency

 

I received this wonderful review from writer Amber Foxx a few weeks ago. At last, I have time to share it with you.

Amber Foxx is a mystery writer herself, and someone whose opinion I respect. It’s always such a joy to have her read my work and review it. She has a lovely website of her own and here is the link to get there and read the review: Murder on Frequency.

If you can, please leave a comment on her site.

 

Why I’m Not Ordering Today

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’ve been receiving offers from Publishers Clearing House for at least forty-five years. I used to order magazines through them and enter the sweepstakes. Later on they started offering other “items” for purchase when the bottom seemed to fall out of the magazine ordering business. I’ve ordered a few things from that over the years.

But lately it’s gotten completely ridiculous, and today when I opened the 50th sweepstakes envelope I’ve received this year,  I snapped. If you don’t buy something, they often don’t want you to use the order form to enter the contest. Instead, your are required to jump through other hoops. Lately, they’ve also included a flimsy slip of paper on which you are asked to explain your decision NOT to purchase something when you enter. WhyI'mNotOrdering

Since I’m older now, I often find reasons to send out letters, telling a company how I feel about the way they operate. Today is one of those days, and I’m including the “attachment” I’m sending in with my sweepstakes entry. I hope some of you agree with me.

Why I’m Not Ordering

By Patricia Smith Wood

You want to know why I’m not ordering today, but the slip you sent me to outline that information for you is too small. So here’s the story.

I’m a member of the older generation of Americans, much as that pains me to admit to you. Because of that I have decades of experience and wisdom about purchasing and spending money. Yes, I have purchased items from you in the past. Sometimes a gee gaw reaches the childlike portions of my brain and says, “Oh, look at the interesting toy! Buy me!”

I’ve gone years at a time without even opening your sweepstakes mail because I know: 1) I don’t need anything you are offering; 2) I’m strapped financially and am watching my expenditures; 3) I resent the concept that I can enter the sweepstakes “free” but often I’m told I can only do it online or by sending in an empty envelope with my forty-seven cent stamp.

Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE to buy stuff, but I’ve become more selective in that process over the years. Plus, as most Americans my age, I’m trying to downsize and get rid of the “junk” purchases I’ve collected during my lifetime. I’m in the process right now of cleaning out my elderly mother’s home after forty-one years of occupancy. I don’t want that same sort of burden to fall to my daughter.

You want to know why I’m not ordering today? Please don’t send me two sweepstake offers a week—it cheapens the entire process. What a waste of postage on your part, and a definite landfill glut for the public. If I send in an entry once, that should be enough. Either you draw my number or you don’t. Please avoid implying that multiple entries matter in the grand scheme of things. I didn’t fall off the turnip truck yesterday.

Be clearer on how many of these “sweepstakes” you are running at once. Eventually it becomes suspect, and we think there is NO sweepstake at all! I’ve never seen the “announcement” on television you are always touting. All I see are commercials about Publishers Clearing House and people who may or may not be real people notified that they have won.

Now you know why I’m not ordering today, and perhaps never again. I hope someone in charge reads this. I suspect, instead, this will go into the same trash I’ve been tossing the majority of the entry letters all these years.

An Extraordinary Farewell

They say that amateur radio is an old man’s hobby. While not strictly true, we do have a large number of senior citizens engaged in the activity. We strive to bring in young people, and we’ve done pretty well with that. Perhaps it isn’t as fast as we’d like to see it happening, but great strides are being made all the time.

Still, when attending an event like I did Saturday morning, December 19, the sad evidence of the average age of the typical ham is brought home rather dramatically.

We officially said, “Goodbye” to one of our favorite ham radio operators. Don Witschger, KC5VLV, passed away peacefully on November 24, 2015, at age 90, after a valiant battle with multiple cancers. Don had been a bright spot on the ham radio scene since before I became licensed in 2005. We looked forward to seeing his smiling face at ham radio events, and hearing is cheery voice when he checked in on the various ham frequencies.

As usual, when we become part of the ham community, we often don’t know a fellow ham’s last name, or much about where he came from or who he was before becoming a ham. For some strange reason that I’ve never understood, most of our relationships with other hams are built strictly around the hobby. For example, I didn’t know until quite recently that Don Witschger had been part of the amazing D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944, and that he was a Navy Seabee. I also didn’t know he was very involved with the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) Lobo Wing at the Moriarty Airport, and that he enjoyed helping them restore vintage WWII aircraft.

We heard about Don’s passing on the amateur radio bands, as is frequently the case among hams. We learned that his best friend, also a ham, went to check on him that morning (Don had been a widower for a few years) and found he’d passed away in his easy chair. Not a bad way to go, I suppose, if any comfort can be found in that. Still, the first thought I had was remembering his recognizable voice as he’d checked in with me on the early morning SCAT Net just a couple of weeks before. I wouldn’t know until attending his memorial service on Saturday how much of an amazing man he had been.

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I’d heard that the tiny town of Moriarty, New Mexico, just thirty-five miles east of Albuquerque, had it’s own small airport, but I’d never had occasion to visit it. That’s where we headed for Don’s memorial service early on Saturday morning. The town of Moriarty is laid out on the flat plains east of the Sandia mountain range we know so well in Albuquerque. The Moriarty airport is on the far eastern side of the town, and it is surprisingly active. The area is home to folks who love the sport of gliding. By the time we arrived at about 9:15 a.m., we saw one intrepid soul already up in the air, being pulled behind a small aircraft.

There are a large number of hangers laid out over the large area the airport occupies, and the CAF hanger was on the far eastern edge of the complex. We had very concise directions and easily found our destination. Inside the CAF hangar, we were greeted with the sight of an old World War II plane badly in need of restoration. It’s already underway, and we were to learn as the morning unfolded that our ham buddy Don had been instrumental in getting that old vintage plane transported from what had been its final resting place somewhere in Michigan to the CAF hangar in Moriarty for loving restoration.

My husband (also named Don) and I were the first guests to arrive, and the CAF meIMG_0163mbers were welcoming and hospitable. We found dozens of white lawn chairs neatly laid out in the area of the hanger, south of the restoration project. In front of the chairs, tables were being set up to showcase an amazing array of interesting photos of Don during significant parts of his life. Also on hand were big speakers that would soon fill the room with the sounds of music from the 1940s World War II era. Behind the chairs they were arranging tables displaying an impressive array of food for the attendees.

As the other guests filtered in, we recognized many of our ham friends. Almost all of them could be said to definitely fit the category of senior citizens. Before long, the rest of the guests, along with Don Witschger’s family members, had all arrived and the service began.

Each of the family members took turns speaking about their father and grandfather, and we learned the details of this man’s rich, full life. We learned that in addition to flying and ham radio, he loved shooting, reloading, tinkering with various building projects, and many years spent RVing and traveling all around the country. We also learned that his final wish was to have his ashes spread over the airfield where we sat.

So, at the end of the wonderful tributes and sharing of happy stories, we heard the vintage plane’s engines roar to life out on the field and taxi out for his takeoff. We all filed out, stopped at the edge of the taxi strip, and watched the plane rise into the air, sharing air space with another plane towing a glider behind it. Our plane flew out a little distance to attain his appropiate altitude, then slowly circled back. As we watched, the pilot made his approach and started his final path for delivery of the precious cargo. When he was still several hundred yards to the west of us, he released the ashes, and we watched them slowly drift to earth. As the plane flew on east to make his eventual landing, a lone bugler played Taps. There weren’t many dry eyes after that.

On the drive back to Albuquerque, Don and I were pensive, as you might expect. It’s never easy saying “Goodbye” to an old friend. But we both agreed that Don Witschger’s farewell was a tender tribute, and a beautiful sendoff to a spirit so full of love and life.

Déjà Vu All Over Again

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI heard about Yogi Berra’s death this past week and thought about all the times I’ve used one of his famous quotes. The guy had a way with words that made people laugh and think at the same time.

I found myself using one of those quotes earlier this month when Hubby and I had an evening at the theater. The first thing you must know is that, left to his own devices, Don would not choose to spend a Saturday evening at the theater, watching actors rush around the stage, spouting lines that half the time you can’t even understand. But because he loves me, and I love going to the theater, he will suck it up and take me there when I have a burning desire to see a play.

I had hinted around for a couple of months that Arsenic & Old Lace was coming to the Albuquerque Little Theater, and that I would like to attend a performance. As often as I said that, it never got a response. As all wives know, after subtlety goes out the door, the brutally direct approach is next.  I said, “I want to go to the Little Theater this Saturday night to see Arsenic & Old Lace.” We quickly eliminated the various friends he suggested I take with me, leaving him as the last man standing (so to speak.) I made the reservations and on Saturday evening, September 12, we headed downtown to the Little Theater.

All right, it’s confession time. In one of my previous lives within this current life (I can explain that to anybody who doesn’t immediately get it) I was an active participant in the Albuquerque theater community. For more than ten years I did shows with Continue reading Déjà Vu All Over Again

Having Fun At Book Signings (And Selling Books in the Process!)

Easter Sunday 2015
Easter Sunday 2015 with award-winning author Joe Badal

In anticipation of my latest mystery, Murder on Sagebrush Lane, I scheduled a book signing at Treasure House Books & Gifts in Old Town, Albuquerque. For the past three years now I’ve been welcomed at Treasure House to sign copies of my first mystery, The Easter Egg Murder. With that title, and that particular holiday, it’s been a logical pairing. This year the focus was to be on the new book.Imagine my dismay when I discovered Sagebrush Lane would be delayed in shipping due to a couple of glitches along the way. Notice had already appeared in the Albuquerque Journal announcing the debut and signing of the new book. It was too late to rectify that, so now what? Well, the amazing John Hoffsis, owner and proprietor of Treasure House Books, just happened to have an available opening the Sunday after Easter, and he offered me the opportunity to do both days: Easter Egg on Easter Sunday, and Sagebrush Lane on the following Sunday. I readily agreed, of course. Now the story becomes populated with more incredible people.
Continue reading Having Fun At Book Signings (And Selling Books in the Process!)

Spring Has Sprung!

IMG_2693Yesterday, officially, was the first day of spring. Well, okay, it didn’t really happen until around 4:30 p.m. but it was March 20. Today, however, I can really see it’s spring—all day long (so far.)

In New Mexico, we have what we euphemistically call”interesting weather.” Mostly that means things can (and do) change from one minute to the next. It can be gray, cloudy, blustery, and then, as if by magic, the clouds scuttle away, the sun takes over, the skies turn vivid blue, and it’s gorgeous. Today it started out that way and seems to be holding.

Spring brings so much promise. For me, it’s eager anticipation of the UPS man delivering three heavy boxes of books. My new mystery, Murder on Sagebrush Lane, is on it’s way to me, and I’m as eager to see those boxes as I was the very first delivery of my first mystery two years ago. Of course, this also means Continue reading Spring Has Sprung!

Amber Foxx Interview With Patricia Smith Wood

A New Mexico Mystery Author Interview: Patricia Smith Wood

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Patricia Smith Wood’s father, first as a police officer, and later as a career FBI agent, sparked her own interest in law, solving crime, and mystery. After retiring from a varied and successful business career (including eighteen months working at the FBI, being a security officer at a savings & loan, and owning her own computer business) she attended writing seminars, conferences, and in 2009 graduated from the FBI Citizens’ Academy. Aakenbaaken & Kent published her first mystery, The Easter Egg Murder, on February 14, 2013. Murder on Sagebrush Lane, the second in the series, is finished and awaiting publication.

Last week I reviewed her book and this week she’s here to talk with me about it.

AF: The Easter Egg Murder has one of the most complicated plots I’ve ever read. How did you keep track of it as you wrote? (I picture you with a wall-sized chart covered with color-coded diagrams, or moving some sort of double-layered chess-board of characters around.)

PSW: It really wasn’t a problem for me. I’m a “pantster” and I didn’t map it out. The story simply developed as I wrote. Sometimes I’d start a chapter with a vague idea of it going one way, but it ended up completely different. I would finish and think, “Well, now what?” Then the next idea would just be there, and I’d go with it. I routinely found myself surprised at the twists that came out.

AF: Was there a historical event similar to the murder of Chipper Finn that inspired this book? Are any of the characters from that 1950 part of the plot based, even loosely, on actual people in New Mexico history?

PSW: Definitely! The actual murder of Cricket Coogler happened in Las Cruces, NM in 1949. But her body wasn’t discovered in the desert until sixteen days after she disappeared. Four young men (17-18) found her partially buried body in the desert on the Saturday before Easter when they went rabbit hunting. I used the basics, but changed the details to suit my version. Many of the actual people make an appearance (usually in disguise) in my version. And of course, Cricket’s murder was never solved.

AF: 21st century Albuquerque is the main setting in your book, and easily recognizable. Tell me about Los Huevos. I looked it up and found a rock-climbing site of some apparent difficulty, but no town. Is it based on a real place? Do you have any connection with a little town like that?

PSW: Los Huevos is a completely made up town, located conveniently at the foot of Los Huevos Peak (also fictional). Since the body in my story is discovered on Easter Sunday morning at the foot of Los Huevos Peak, that would be a natural reason to call it The Easter Egg Murder. I had been told I should have a title that stood out, and that seemed to me to fit the bill. I have no connection with such a town, but I suppose the small town of Los Lunas (which is actually southwest of Albuquerque about 20 miles) might have given me the idea.

AF: The story of the murder in 1950 and all the events around it, all the characters involved, could have been a book by itself. Did you ever consider writing it that way? How did you decide to make it a story within the story?

PSW: The story of the actual murder (in 1949) has already been written. In fact, I read everything I could get my hands on about Cricket Coogler’s murder. An excellent book by Paula Moore, titled Cricket in The Web, came out in 2008, right about the time I finished my first draft. I wanted to use some actual things, but ended up fictionalizing most of it. No one in New Mexico who knows about this murder wants to say, on the record, who they think was responsible. It was much more fun (and safer) to make it up.

AF: Harrie has precognitive dreams which add a sense of foreboding to the early part of the story. Was there any additional reason behind your decision to integrate this into the plot? I have this kind of dream myself so I liked that you treat it as only a little unusual. Also, it seemed true to “the woo” of New Mexico to have it in there but not make big deal of it.

PSW: I know several people who have some form of precognition, or “knowing”, about events. It’s always fascinated me and seemed like an interesting story-telling tool to use in fiction. I hoped to convey the mystical atmosphere that weaves its way through New Mexico’s history and culture, from the Anasazi and Chaco Canyon ruins to present day native practices.

AF: Tell me about your research. The illegal gambling and the political corruption in New Mexico back in the fifties were things I really hadn’t heard that much about, and I found them fascinating.

PSW: My father was an FBI agent who was transferred to the Albuquerque Office in 1951, two years after the murder. Events were still transpiring when he arrived here, and he later told me what he knew about the case. I also interviewed many people who lived through that era in New Mexico politics during the period 1949-1950. That included former FBI agents, former residents of Las Cruces, a couple of newspaper men who were around at the time, and even the former governor of New Mexico, who was elected mostly because of the Cricket Coogler murder. I also read books, and watched a film made on the subject: The Silence of Cricket Coogler. The book Cricket in The Web goes into the gambling issue in great detail, but I had also heard a lot about that from the people I interviewed.

AF: I know you have a good background in law enforcement, but you chose to give major roles in solving the mysteries to the two amateur sleuths, though you do include police and FBI. I’d love to know how you made that choice, and how you came around to casting two editors in the role of sleuths.

PSW: I have been a fan of the “cozy” mystery genre since I was a teenager. The cozy requires the sleuth (or sleuths) to be amateur, so it was always my intention to follow that basic rule. My favorite series at that age was the Judy Bolton mystery series by Margaret Sutton. In the early books, she was a teenager like me, and her boyfriend, Peter, helped her solve the mysteries. When they grew up, Peter became an FBI agent. Since my dad was an FBI agent, I thought that was a cool thing to do. Toward the end of the series, Judy and Peter eventually married, and she still managed to help him solve crimes.

As for making my sleuths editors, it seemed the best way to get them involved in a half-century old murder. By editing Senator Lawrence’s book about the murder, it gave them an excuse to become embroiled in digging out the answers. I didn’t stop to think how that might play out over a series, but in the beginning, I didn’t know it would be a series!

AF: Just for fun, I have to include this “outtake.” I made the mistake of asking Pat a question about some other books, and here’s the answer.

PSW: If you “Googled” my name, you might have run across a different Patricia Wood (which is why I insert my maiden name into the mix: Patricia Smith Wood) who has written at least one book (The Lottery) and perhaps more by now. She lives on a boat in Hawaii (which I obviously don’t). But that didn’t stop a local magazine from running a small piece about The Easter Egg Murder in which they stated that the author, Patricia Wood, lives on a boat in Hawaii!

It turns out Patricia Wood is a pretty common name. One day in 2012 I received a phone call from a local television station asking if I was Patricia Wood. I agreed that was me, and they then asked if I was the Patricia Wood who had stolen jewels from luggage at American Airlines and was I headed for federal prison in two weeks. Once I recovered my senses I assured them I was not that particular Patricia Wood, they thanked me and hung up.

AF: Tell me about your newest project.

PSW: My newly finished second book in the series is Murder on Sagebrush Lane. In the first chapter, Harrie McKinsey goes out to retrieve her newspaper at 5 a.m. on a summer morning and finds a small girl playing in her flower beds. She notices a dark stain on the child’s pajamas and teddy bear, and when she realizes it’s blood, her journey to find the child’s parents gets her involved in another murder. Of course, Harrie’s life is never that simple, and before it’s over there’s another murder, a race to uncover a plot to steal top secret data, an attempted kidnapping, and a desperate killer who intends to make Harrie his final victim.

AF: It sounds exciting. I’m glad to know there will be more of Harrie in the future. Let me know when the book comes out. Thanks so much for being my guest.

Pat’s web site:

Welcome – Glad You’re Here