The Mystery of Joseph Auer–Mom?

April 30, 2019 is my grandfather’s 123rd birthday. Joe Markway was friendly and sociable, making him well-known around Jefferson City, Missouri. Grandpa died when I was just 11, and the main thing I remember about him is his sense of humor. I can still hear his laugh and see his smile. I had no idea how much sadness he must have endured.

He was born in 1896. His birth certificate lists his mother as Adelaide Auer, or Aner, depending on how you read the cursive handwriting of the time. He was born at Misericordia Hospital in Manhattan, a hospital that primarily served poor, unwed mothers. The next day, he was left at the New York Foundling Home, a Catholic orphanage run by the Sisters of Charity.

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Grandpa came to central Missouri in 1901 on an Orphan Train, and he was taken in by Fred and Catherine Schnieders Markway. I have seen only one photograph of him with the Markway family and it is clear that he is not their natural-born son, as he is several inches shorter than everyone else.

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His early life could not have been easy—being left at an orphanage, first going to Nebraska on an orphan train but having to return to the Foundling Home when the father in his first adoptive family became ill, and then going on a second orphan train to Missouri and becoming part of yet another family.

He endured more trauma as a young man fighting in World War I. My older brother, Jack, asked Grandpa about that once, and it was clear that my grandfather was haunted by his experience in the war, and he didn’t want to talk about it.

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Joseph Markway (right), in his World War I Army uniform, with his friend, Lawrence Prenger.

At some point—no one currently living knows exactly when—Grandpa returned to New York to look for his birthmother. Upon returning to Missouri, he supposedly said that he was “a Markway now.” No one knows what he found in New York. Jack recalls our grandfather as sometimes starting to talk about being left at the Foundling Home, and then stopping, as though talking about it made the emotions all too real. But once, Grandpa spoke of his mother being named “Abbie Doyle.” I have no idea how he would have found that name.

Joe Markway married Bernadine Katherine Bruegging in 1921, and a year later, my father was born. Two years later, the couple had their second child, Mary Dolores, but she would die at the age of two. They went on to have two more daughters.

As I put together this summary of my grandfather’s life, I am struck by the sheer quantity of sadness. At the same time, all this sadness is somewhat surprising because that is not what I saw from him. I don’t know how he handled it all.

As a relatively young man, in his early 30s, he opened his own business, an automobile dealership. He sold Hupmobiles, and up and coming brand at the time. I remember hearing stories about how to sell someone a car, you also had to teach them to drive. He eventually also sold other brands—Plymouth and DeSoto. His business was growing and he was well-liked. He knew how to sell and he loved the mechanical aspects. He repaired the cars he sold—he did everything.

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But then, the Great Depression hit. The Jefferson City newspapers report that he was touring Hupmobile factories in September 1929 to learn about the new models coming out. One month later, the stock market crashed, and I assume new cars became few and far between. Newspaper ads for Cole County Motor Company show new cars for sale in 1930, and then used cars for sale, and by 1932 the classified ads primarily focus on automobile repairs with only an occasional car for sale. There are no signs of his business after 1932.

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After that, Grandpa appears to have had a few different jobs, but his primary career after that was as an auto mechanic, working for local tire and auto repair companies.

I have many memories of my grandfather, but they are more like photographs or short film clips. I can’t connect them all to the broader story. He died in 1970 when I was 11.

When my family moved back to Jefferson City from St. Louis, I was just three. Our family of seven moved into a two-bedroom house, and Grandpa and my brother, Jack, finishing the attic of the house into one big bedroom I shared with my two older brothers. For a while, Grandpa shared that bedroom as well. That attic, with no air conditioning, was rather unpleasant in the summer.

I don’t remember how long Grandpa lived with us, or why he left. I seem to remember him going to live with my aunt and uncle, the Fergusons, and their kids. (If you live in Jefferson City, you may very well know one or more of them—Rob, Gary, Shelley, and Lynn.)

I was always curious about Grandpa’s past but never really expected to learn more.Over the years, I had contacted the New York Foundling Home (now the Foundling Hospital), seeking information. Once they responded that they had no information, and another time they said the only records they had showed him as being adopted by the Markway family and that he was happy there.

A little over two years ago, I took an Ancestry DNA test. I hoped to find Grandpa’s mother—I don’t know why I didn’t think about finding his father. I really had no idea what I was doing. I had searched online for Aners (and Auers) online previously but hadn’t found anything too promising. When I got my test results, my DNA matches, several weeks later, I had no idea what I was looking at. I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of people who shared DNA with me. As of today, I have approximately 34,000 people who have taken an Ancestry DNA test and are related to me.

My mother, Ruby Yarnell Markway, was related to everyone in the United States it seemed. Many of her ancestors came to colonial America in the 1600’s, and they were prolific to say the least. So, it was quite a task looking for people who were not part of her family. Eventually, though, I identified a small number of people who turned out to be connected to Grandpa’s father. I have communicated a great deal with them and hope to meet one of them this fall.

To that point I still had not identified anyone connected to Grandpa’s mother. I had searched everywhere for an Abbie Doyle, but searching for a common Irish name in New York at the turn of the century is not a very productive use of time.

I scoured census records for women named Adelaide Auer and Adelaide Aner, but couldn’t find anyone by those names who would have been the right age.Then, one day, I found one of my DNA relatives had an “Ada Auer” in her family tree. I was so excited—this could be the one! But, further research revealed that she only became Ada Auer years after my grandfather’s birth when she got married.

I felt like giving up. What were the odds I was going to find Grandpa’s mother when I didn’t even really have a name. Adelaide Auer likely was a fake name.

I have asked myself why I’m so obsessed with this, why I feel a need to know where Grandpa came from. My answers are hard to explain. I somehow feel I owe it to him, I know that with each passing generation, the task grows more difficult. He clearly felt that need to know his roots and going back to New York. I don’t know where he would have even started, other than maybe returning to the Foundling Home and asking questions.

So, I tried to start with a clean slate. I was able to identify a group of people connected to my paternal side—they shared DNA with me, my brother, and my cousin, Gary Ferguson—but did not show any connection to my paternal grandmother (the Brueggings and their ancestors) nor to the Van Stens (my grandfather’s father). As I searched, I realized I was tracing a vein of gold in the gold mine.

But things were far from simple. Where do I go from here? How do I figure out how these people connect? I started looking through the family trees of those people who had shared them online. There was good news and bad news—I was finding some recurring names…but they were Irish. Every family had children named Michael, Patrick, John, and my favorites, Mary Margaret and Margaret Mary. Every generation was like this!

As my frustration grew, I was looking at a family tree, and there it was—Abigail Camille Doyle, born 1873 in Northampton, Massachusetts.

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Stay tuned…

30 Minutes of Courage

“Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is ‘cor’-the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant ‘to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.’ Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. But in my opinion, this definition fails to recognize the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences—good and bad. Speaking from our hearts is what I think of as ‘ordinary courage.’”—Brene Brown, psychologist

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I feel vaguely anxious. I can’t really identify what it is, or what thoughts I’m having that trigger the anxiety.  Last night I couldn’t fall asleep.
Tomorrow I am running a 5k, something I’ve done many times before. I’m not a particularly fast runner—I usually come in somewhere in the middle of the pack for my age group. I’m fine with that. I use the races as motivation to keep exercising. It helps me get on the treadmill when I know I have a race coming up.
This past November, I was training for a 5k. It was taking me a bit longer than usual to get my distance up to where it needed to be, but I was confident I’d be able to do the race. I had run a little over 2 miles on a Saturday morning. Then, on Monday morning, I had a heart attack.
On Tuesday, I had a catheterization that revealed serious heart disease and I had a stent placed in the “widow-maker” artery. I recovered well, went through rehab, and gradually returned to exercising.
On paper, I didn’t have many risks for heart disease. I have always exercised. I played sports through college and I’ve been a runner for the past ten years. I ate decently, watching my fat intake, except for a remarkable fondness for pizza. I have always been thin. I still remember my first baseball game in college. When Coach Dix brought me in to pitch in New Orleans against Tulane University, I heard this guy with the most charming southern drawl say, “Gee, number 13, you’re so skinny you could tread water in a garden hose.”
Throughout my life, I have had recurrent dreams of being able to fly. Sometimes, I have had a cape and have been Superman. I’m not quite as skinny in those dreams.

 

“The universe is not short on wake-up calls. We’re just quick to hit the snooze button.”—Brene Brown, psychologist

Back in my 20’s, I had my first real brush with my mortality. I had some health issues that knocked me over the head and reminded me that I was not Superman. I still remember the neurologist starting our conversation by saying, “You’re probably worried you have a brain tumor, right?” I stammered in reply, “Actually, no, that had never occurred to me…”

 

It was around that time that I had a dream, a dream that made me wake up laughing, a dream that I didn’t need to be a psychologist to interpret—I dreamt that I was Clark Kent and could not find a phone booth. Yes, I was just as vulnerable as everyone else.
Last November, I had no idea that I was about to confront kryptonite. On that Monday, November 15, I was walking down the hall at work and stopped briefly to talk to a friend. As we finished our conversation, I had a strange tingling sensation in my left arm and heavy pressure in my chest. I began having tunnel vision and it took everything I had to remain conscious, to remain alive
I made it back to my office, sat down, and the symptoms all went away. I knew I had to get to the hospital. I didn’t want to go by ambulance though—all I could envision was getting wheeled out of the building with hundreds of people watching. I knew I could get there on my own—because I was Superman, of course.
I drove myself to the ER. Apparently Superman is not too bright.
Within seconds of arriving at the ER, blood was drawn, I had an IV, and EKG was done. The EKG was abnormal. My troponin level was mildly elevated. They handed me some chewable aspirin that still had that orange flavor I had liked as a kid. I flashed back to being a kid, being sick, and being taken care of.
Within 75 minutes of my arrival, I was upstairs in a room in the cardiac unit. Electrodes were monitoring my heart. I received clot-busting medication through the IV. Physically, I felt fine. Emotionally, I was in a daze. There was so much to process, but I didn’t even know what it was…
As a psychologist, I used to work with heart patients, at the very hospital where I was now a patient. I knew many of the nurses. One of them had organized a 5k I ran in a couple years earlier.
As a patient myself, though, I didn’t know what was going to happen. Would I recover? Would I be disabled? Would I even survive? As all these thoughts sped through my head, I felt a strange feeling of relief, a feeling of acceptance (or was it denial?). I was able to let go of many of the things I worried about on a daily basis—it was clear that they didn’t matter.
The next day, I had the cath and had the stent placed. In another day I was home. All went well. That’s the short story.
The longer version is this…
When I left the hospital, I was exhausted walking the short distance to the car. When I got home, I plopped down on the couch, short of breath. With the heart attack, the catheterization, and the meds, I became short of breath just walking across the room. After a few days, I tried walking on the treadmill at a slow speed. I lasted only a few seconds before feeling dizzy and out of breath.
I got bored doing nothing and began loading and unloading the dishwasher. I got light-headed when I bent down and stood up. This eventually got better and I was thankful for being able to do simple tasks.
After about a month, I started cardiac rehab. I couldn’t do much at first, but my confidence grew over time as I increased both intensity and time on the equipment. I started doing some exercise at the YMCA.
I’ve continued to train, and it has all led to this. Tomorrow I run.
But why am I nervous? Running, in some ways, is my return to life. Running is an affirmation. Running is also a reminder that all this can be taken away. Just as I developed an appreciation for being able to do simple tasks after my heart attack, I appreciate being able to run, to move. Running is part of my identity, a part I came so close to losing. I am a runner.
Tomorrow is a reminder that I will lose this ability someday. Tomorrow is a reminder that I am vulnerable. I am not Superman. But I can feel like him for 30 minutes.

Afterword: I completed the race in 28:30, a minute-and-a-half faster than my goal. I felt good during the race and even better after. Thanks to all for your support!

Giving Thanks for the Gift of Time

DSC_0007I had a heart attack nine days ago. The next day, a cardiac catheterization found one coronary artery 80% blocked (a stent was used to prop this one open), another 70% blocked, and one on the right side was 100% blocked.

I had been feeling fine and had been training to run a 5k on Thanksgiving day–tomorrow.

I had been a little more tired in the afternoon, but hadn’t really given it a second thought. I’ve always been on the skinny side. (The first game I pitched in college, a vociferous southern gentleman suggested I was so skinny I could “tread water in a garden hose.”) I had a decent diet (conscious of watching the amount of fat I consumed). I never smoked. I had annual checkups that found my cholesterol and triglycerides to be in the acceptable range.

Last Monday, I was walking down the hall at work. I stopped briefly to talk to a coworker. At the end of that conversation, my left arm tingled like it was falling asleep. I felt pressure in my chest. I had a moment of tunnel vision.

I knew something was wrong with my heart.

I walked back to my office and it all went away. My denial kicked in and I momentarily thought everything would be ok. But, thankfully, I knew better. I needed to go to the hospital. I told my assistant I was leaving to go to the doctor, but I didn’t tell her why–I didn’t want her to worry.

I still had enough denial, though, to drive myself to the ER (what in the world was I thinking?).

Within moments of arriving at the reception desk of the ER, I was in a room with three sets of hands on me (starting an IV, giving me an EKG, and drawing blood).

I had not yet called my wife, Barb. I didn’t have my cell phone with me. You see, I had given it to her in the ER the night before when I had gone in due to a weird sensation in my arm. That night, my EKG was normal. The strange feeling in my arm followed a specific nerve pathway. It appeared that I may have had a pinched nerve. (Even in retrospect, that was a reasonable hypothesis.)

This time, my symptoms were much stronger, much more clear. I asked the nurse to call my wife, and Barb was there within minutes.

At various points, I thought about my brother Steve who had died suddenly from an apparent heart attack 18 months earlier.

As brothers, Steve and I had some things in common. But we also had significant differences. We were twelve years apart in age and sometimes it felt like we were from different generations. When I was younger, I sometimes felt that he was a parent more than a sibling.

We also had significant personality differences. He felt queasy even walking into a hospital. I became a psychologist, spending some of my time consulting on medical units, primarily with cardiac patients.

Here I was, sharing one very important thing with him. I was having a heart attack. But mine was different–I had some warning.

That day, I felt I had a choice. When I had the tunnel vision, it seemed that I had the choice of whether or not to live–not whether or not to go to the hospital–but to LIVE. I felt I could have allowed myself to let go, to die, right then and there.

I can’t explain it. Who knows if what I’m describing is literally true. All I can do is say how it felt.

I did not feel fear. I did not feel that I needed to run from death. It felt okay to leave, but I wasn’t ready.

I didn’t want to leave Barb. I didn’t want to leave our son, Jesse. I didn’t want to leave the rest of my family.

It wasn’t my time to leave.

When I was wheeled up to the cardiac floor, I saw several nurses I knew from the time I worked there. It was comforting that they still worked there, that they are so committed to their work, and that they remembered me.

Physically, I felt fine. Emotionally, I was in an altered state. I knew my life had forever changed, even though I didn’t really know what that meant.

Barb was with me the whole time, loving and supportive, knowing just what I needed without me having to say a thing. Other family members came to see me. By this time, Barb had brought me my phone and I had emailed and texted friends and coworkers.

Late that afternoon, I encouraged Barb to take a break.

As I rested quietly in my room, I looked out the window and could see the tops of some very mature trees. I watched them sway gently in the wind and thought about how good my life has been.

I have a beautiful wife that has loved me for 27 years. We share a grown son who brings kindness and compassion to the world. I have done important work. I have always had everything, and more, that I needed.

Death was close, but for some reason, now was not my time.

The next morning, I went through the cardiac catheterization. I came out feeling fine. The next evening, I was home with instructions to relax for the next couple weeks until my follow up appointment with the cardiologist. At that time, I may need another stent, although that’s not certain.

I’m not saying this has been easy. I have experienced a whole range of emotions and shed some tears. But, for some reason, I am still here and I don’t exactly know why. Maybe I’ll never know. I have been rethinking my priorities without really knowing where this process is taking me.

Throughout my life, I have used writing  as a way of processing my feelings. I had been unable to write anything of my experience until today, when I read a story on NPR’s website titled Instead of ‘What,’ Be Grateful for ‘When’ This Thanksgiving.

I encourage you to read the whole column by Adam Frank, an astrophysicist at the University of Rochester. He describes how we should not just be thankful for things, but for time. Time is the real gift we have been given.

This year, more than ever before, I am thankful for the time I have been given.

Please consider Frank’s thoughts as part of your Thanksgiving prayer:

“…this Thanksgiving, I’m shooting for being thankful of when. I’m hoping this long moment which is my life will find its knife’s edge at that table, filled as it will be with bounty and surrounded as it will be with love. I’ll try to be aware–keenly aware–that this moment always comes unbidden and, in that way, I am always being given a great gift. For that, I’ll be truly grateful.”