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I found this little bank account book that once belonged to my great-grandmother, Thelma Daugherty-Barmes.

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Here are some photos of embroidered, and crocheted pillow cases, as well as a quilt made by my great-grandmother, Thelma Daugherty-Barmes.  Since she died in January, 1953, they were probably completed a bit before that time.

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Since childhood I have always sensed energizing, protective, and unseen guiding presences in my life.  For several years a lovely lady visited me regularly during my sleep – or at least, what I thought was my sleep.  Today, at age forty-seven, I can still vividly recall this kindly woman’s moments shared with me from the age of four years until I was nearing junior high.  Often, these meetings included singing without any concern for waking my parents.  Other times, stories were told, Bible stories about the heroes were read, poems recited, or general small talk shared.  It was a year or so into junior high school that I realized the sweet lady had not paid a visit.  It seemed, however, she had been replaced by other motivators in my life, mainly music.

One day, perhaps around my sophomore or junior year of high school, my grandmother pulled out old family photos.  Many, many Sundays were spent going through the treasure trove of our family’s history told through photographs, but this particular Sunday, there was a different box, one I didn’t recognize.  Grandma Donna handed me some photos and after thumbing through several I recognized the sweet lady who visited me as a child.  It was my great-grandmother, Thelma Daugherty Barmes.

Sadly, seven years before my birth, Grandma Thelma was involved in a fatal automobile-train accident, expiring the following evening, January 16th, 1957, at 5:05pm.

Grandma Thelma was a wonderful musician; a pianist and vocalist.  One of my first vocal lessons came from my Grandpa Leroy as he relayed watching his mother teach a voice lesson when he was a small boy – Grandma Thelma instructed the student to keep the tongue down, and to sing towards the teeth.

In college, I became fascinated with the possibility of angels.  Several professor friends recounted personal anecdotes related to angelic activities in their own lives, prompting me to wonder if the visits from great-grandmother were – well, angelic visitations.

There are so many arenas dedicated to the study of angels.  I’ve scoured the topics, the varying beliefs, and the Biblical history of angelic beings, and I finally decided that since there will never be one consistent consensus on the topic, it would be my choice to accept the fact angels exist, knowing they had personally appeared throughout my life.  Today, I still believe I have an angel team that assists me in a variety of activities throughout my life-journey.  I have no idea who they are, or whether or not the same ones continually accompany me. Quite simply, I do not doubt their presence, and I trust them.

Over the past twenty years, or so, I have also come to recognize that fellow humans also serve a similar purpose just as the unseen-beings on my “angel team.”  I have countless experiences of brief encounters where someone, or some unexplained incident, has briefly, even momentarily, appeared alongside me on my life-journey to offer guidance, encouragement, or specific information I needed at that moment.

Coincidence?  Perhaps.

God acting anonymously?  Perhaps.

I do believe these positive beings are off-shoots, working on behalf of The Great Spirit.

Regardless who they are, what they are, from where they came, whether they are winged or wear halos, they simply exist in my life.  And how damned lucky I am for these special moments!

Last summer I was terribly ill, and it took me through mid-Autumn to fully recover my strength, and stamina.  My spirits sagged because I just did not have the mind-effort to write on the Wright Brothers musical.  I would open the file.  I would look at the words that suddenly appeared foreign and click shut the file.  It seemed as though my great-passion for this particular craft had died a sudden, unexplainable death.  I began searching for answers to the questions I proposed:

Does this musical suck? (Considering the combined talents of my wonderful, patient co-writers, Gail & Leslie, I knew the lyrics and music elevated my work)

Am I suppose to even be doing this?

Is something trying to tell me I should do something else?

It was a frustrating Autumn, and early Winter.  The most infuriating thing is that I have the ideal life as a writer, something not often afforded my friends and acquaintances who have been published, or produced.  I have my mornings and early afternoons free, and teach private lessons from approximately 3:00pm until 8:00pm.  One day a week I am at a middle school.  Since my sons have always been involved in extra-curricular music activities that often keeps them busy on Saturdays – another full, free day of writing.

My life is ideally set to fully, and passionately embrace this craft.  However, from the end of July, before I discovered my illness, to early winter, I felt absolutely dead inside.  I coasted through the holidays, and my post-Christmas vacation still found me emotionally uninvested, and dealing with the same illness, again.

This past Saturday morning I was reminded by my calendar text that there was a Writing Workshop set for Sunday at 2:30pm.  The workshop was geared for middle grade/young adult audiences, nothing actually to do with playwrighting.  I dismissed it.

Sunday morning something caught my eye while scrolling down Facebook. A terrific author, and inspiring personality, Katrina Kittle posted:

“Dayton Area Writers – TODAY (Sunday) at Books & Co from 2-3:30pm, hosting a free mini-writers’ workshop, taught by myself and the lovely Kristina McBride. The topic: Writing for Middle Grade and Young Adult Audiences.”

Meh.

I sort of dismissed it.

The sun, despite doing its thing on the opposite side of my house, was filling my bed/sitting room with a glowing radiance.  It seemed to beckon me for a hike with my teenage son and the three dogs. For several days I’d been dealing with a nasty situation involving an individual who felt compelled to self-appoint a mythical reign over a project for which I was serving as coordinator. That morning, after two nights of minimal sleep, pulsating pressure in the head, and the inability to fix the situation, I stepped back and handed over the reins.

Freedom.

A renewed energy quickly flooded my brain, my entire being.

Katrina Kittle’s reminder of the writer’s workshop reappeared on a later Facebook scroll.  For the first time in over six months I actually felt life creeping back into my soul.  I remember how invigorated I was when I heard Katrina speak about her novel, THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS, during one of our ACTION Adoption Service training sessions.  I had also attended several theatrical performances where Katrina played a psychologist assisting a patient through the horrors experienced both during the London Blitz of WWII, and years later on 9/11.  Katrina’s voice is captivating, and her spirit is invigorating, and infectious.

At this point I knew that my angel team was kicking in a God-wink.  Quintin and I discovered a movie he wanted to see (I did not) was at the same time, so we killed two birds with one stone. He hit the cinema, and I hit Books & Company.

As I grabbed my keys, preparing to leave the house, a song – one of my favorite songs – on Spotify began playing.  I sat down, and absorbed the message.

When a thing is wick, it has a life about it.
Now, maybe not a life like you and me.
But somewhere there’s a single streak of green inside it.
Come, and let me show you what I mean.

When a think is wick, it has a light around it.
Maybe not a light that you can see.
But hiding down below a spark’s asleep inside it,
Waiting for the right time to be seen.

You clear away the dead parts,
So the tender buds can form,
Loosen up the earth and
Let the roots get warm,
Let the roots get warm.

~ ~ ~

And all through the darkest nighttime,
It’s waiting for the right time.
When a thing is wick, it will grow!

The words to “Wick,” from THE SECRET GARDEN, was another God-wink for the day.

The workshop, led by Katrina Kittle and Kristina McBride, was my final remedy.  Within minutes of the workshop beginning, I realized the dead parts encasing my spirit were breaking through the earth.  That spark, as lyricist Marsha Norman explained in THE SECRET GARDEN, had been hiding down below, sleeping within… It was the right time.

After a meeting with a good friend I respect and admire, and another fun dinner with Quintin, I quickly returned home with the joy of the workshop’s reassurance beating within.  I opened my laptop, clicked on the file titled THE BIRD LET LOOSE, and opened the script.  Everything was familiar once again. There seemed to be a chorus of voices calling out from the pages, thrilled that I had returned. A reunion began.

It seems my angel team had led me, at the right time, to Sunday, January 8th, 2012.  Were Katrina and Kristina serving as angels?

Who can say.

For whatever reason, these two lovely ladies, as countless others throughout my life, were a piece of the puzzle that has continually courted me on this wonderful journey.  Perhaps some people, much like my family and teachers have always been, are the golden bricks that pave my own personal yellow bricked-road.

The passion is restored.  I am acknowledging, appreciating, and adoring my apprenticeship once again.

Can I say life is wonderful, and that I am so blessed?

You betcha!

June 3, 2004, on a Thursday morning at 10:55am, my grandfather, Leroy Barmes, passed away.

Grandpa loved nothing more than to make people laugh.  In fact, it was his gift to us.  Of course, it goes without saying that he had an element of performance that often made him the center of attention and I’ve always said that Grandpa liked to be the bride at every wedding, the corpse at every funeral and the baby at every christening.

Sometimes, he was simply larger than life.

By the time I was able to walk and talk as a toddler I was Papaw Leroy’s little companion. It seemed as though I went everywhere with Grandpa, and one of my greatest joys was riding in the police car with him. I loved spending time with him, and remember him whistling, playing his harmonica, or humming “The Whiffenpoof Song.”

One day, after my Grandma Donna had taken me to watch the Panter Band practice at the old T-Way parking lot for the Indiana State Fair contest, I was marching around their front porch with a pretend trumpet. Grandpa asked, “Are you honkin’?” At the age of three I suppose I thought I meant “is your name ‘Honkin'”? So, when asked my name, I replied, “Darin Honkin’ Jolliff.”

Thus, Grandpa dubbed me with the nickname, “Honkin’” or simply, “Honk.”  He was the only one who ever called me, this and most of my cards, or letters, for nearly forty years were addressed to “Honkin’.

One of my earliest memories of my grandfather is not one most grandchildren would have.  We were having a church picnic out at Elwood’s Calloway Park and I, at age three, climbed to the top of a twenty foot slide.  For whatever reason, I looked over the side and lost my balance.  To this day, I can still clearly remember falling head first and seeing the ground begin to blur into a mass of solid green.  The image of my forty-six year old grandfather running towards me with outstretched arms is forever etched in my mind.  Grandpa caught me that afternoon.

As a young boy, Grandpa convinced me he had grown up with Abraham Lincoln. At Lincoln’s Indiana boyhood home, he pointed out a section of split rails that formed a fence, “Now, me and Abe chopped all those rails.”

I learned how Grandpa taught Lincoln how to play football, what good cooks Nancy Hanks and Mary Todd Lincoln were, how Grandpa assisted Lincoln with radio transmissions during the Civil War to follow Confederate lines, and how he and Grandma helped babysit the Lincoln sons. The history books have never described how the Lincoln funeral train was rerouted from Indianapolis through Elwood because Grandpa Leroy could not get off work from the police department.

In 1975, I entered the 5th grade at Washington Elementary School, and my teacher was the oft acerbic, yet terribly witty, Garnetta Brugger who had taught Mother and my uncles and cousins. On the first day of class, Mrs. Brugger was taking attendance and sharing tidbits about each student she knew. When she got to me, she explained to the class that she had taught my mother, and that she had known my grandparents since they were young. I was excited, and burst out with, “Oh, so you knew Abraham Lincoln, too!”

Mrs. Brugger, who could be quite intimidating, threw back her head as though struck with a blunt object, and grabbed her hair. “Honey child, I might look old, but I am not THAT old. Your grandday’s been telling you some whoppers.”

That evening, I looked in our encyclopedia. President Lincoln had died in 1865. Grandpa Leroy was born in 1921!

For over sixty years Grandpa kept jars filled with newspaper clippings on which he always wrote the date.  As a child I learned a good deal about our family’s history and of major events in the lives of our family friends through yellowed newspaper clippings.

One huge cookie jar contained clippings regarding the tragic loss of his uncle, Glenard Daugherty who was killed on Iwo Jima in 1945, obituaries of his Grandpa and Grandma Daugherty, his own new job at the Elwood Police Department in 1952, birth announcements of my mother, Diana, and uncles, Ron and Tommy, engagement and wedding announcements of his nieces, Judy and Jan Smith, a TV Guide page with a photograph of his cousin, Steve Daugherty announcing his new talk show on channel 13, an article of his cousin Stan Daugherty’s appointment as Elwood’s head basketball coach in 1980, and countless clippings about athletic or personal successes of family, neighbors and church friends.  Even in his 80’s and as his health began to decline, he still maintained this last jar of clippings.

These jars were not filled with yellowed, crumbling keepsakes.  These clippings were his gifts to us, reminding each of us the importance of family, and friends.  These clippings symbolize our family’s rich heritage throughout the years.  They encouraged us to never quit until we have crossed the finish line, to urge his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews and cousins – all of us who follow his generation – to stay connected to one another and to always keep our family together.

But above all, those clippings were gifts to never let us forget just how dearly Leroy Barmes loved and cherished his family and friends.

Six years ago I bid farewell to not only my grandfather, but to the man who stepped in to fill the role of “substitute dad” when our natural father abandoned us early in life.  Grandpa was the one who taught each of us how to throw, field and bat baseballs, and how to do so many of the other things that only a dad can truly teach his young children.  He, along with our mother, and our Grandma Donna, insisted that we do our best, always, and to rise above each and every adversity that attempted to barricade our lives.

Not only was Grandpa a roll model as a father figure, he was a roll model as an uncle.  I was blessed with wonderful uncles in Ron and Tom (and my Uncle Gary Jolliff), as well as our great uncles and even great-great-uncles, but I was very fortunate to observe Grandpa as “Uncle Roggie” or “Uncle Leroy.”  I hope that one day, my own niece and nephews will think of me with the adoration summed up by my cousin, Tanya, when she wrote her fondest memory of her Uncle Roggie, “He’s my uncle.  What more is there?”

All through my school years Grandpa never missed school programs, music concerts, marching band contests, college choir concerts, University Singers Spectaculars – no matter how far away from home.  Even as an adult, the year before he passed away, he was sitting in the front row at the Elwood Variety Show when I was invited back to perform. Later that fall he was up in the bleachers to watch my brother, Destin, coach his football team in a game against the Tipton Blue Devils.

Six years ago, with heartfelt gratitude and deep affection, and a treasury of many wonderful memories, I concluded a chapter in a tremendous book that is far from being finished.

For the past six years, I’ve not been addressed as “Honkin’.” And it is only fitting that the former nickname has been laid aside. Despite the fact that Grandpa had died, I knew, even then, that he would always be with me… and with me he has been. My humor, passion for living, love of being a father and uncle, and love for God are all remnants of my beloved grandfather.

“Auf wiedersehn” – “until we meet again.”

Today, June 2nd, would have been my great-great grandmother’s birthday. Anna Greenlee Jones, the daughter of Andrew Taylor Greenlee and Prudence Anna Ball, was born in 1875 in Boone Township, Madison County, Indiana.

As young girls, Anna and her sisters, Carrie, Mary and Esther, were quite a tribe of pranksters and, in some ways, holy terrors. The stories passed down from my grandmother about her own grandmother were generally quite funny, but also somewhat unbelievable.

One story was of a young Anna and her sisters taking darning needles and piercing one another’s ears. They took a piece of straw to stick through the new openings. However, Anna’s ear became infected. Now, in 1890, this was serious, but Grandmother Greenlee (my third great-grandmother) took the opportunity to gently box Anna’s ear when she got out of line.

Anna was fortunate to marry a jokester, and prank-loving man, Joel Monroe Jones (1873-1946). Together, Anna and Joel were a fun-loving, jovial couple that instilled an incredible sense of humor in their own three children: Mary Bell, my great-grandmother, and her younger brothers, Alphie and Harry. Their brother, Henry, died at age two.

As a grown woman, Anna was known to have thrown buckets of water on unsuspecting farm-hands walking around a barn’s corner, or stringing a line of tin cans from the front screen door and up the staircase only to come crashing down on a timid maid coming home late in the evening from a date.

When my great-grandmother was a teenager, she held a Sunday school party at her home, the Vinson-Jones farm just south of Forrestville Cemetery, and down the road from the Greenlee farm in Boone Township. All the teenagers arrived in their horse and buggies – the kind where the wheels in the rear were larger than the wheels in the front. While the party was going on, Joel kept himself, and several farm hands busy reversing each buggy’s wheels. Considering the amount of work to change these wheels, it had to be an incredible task! So, when the party disbanded, the teenagers were forced to drive home barely able to see over the dash of their buggies! The funny thing is, Grandpa Jones was very stern looking, and the photos taken of him do not reveal his wit, and devilish humor.

Photos of Grandma Jones (1875-1950):

I am certain my great-grandmother, Belle Jones Clary (1897-1968), had a sense of humor, but it was surely eclipsed by the orneriness of her younger brothers, Alphie and Harry. I can only imagine the laughter, and many pranks in the Jones family home.

In 1973, my great-great uncle, Alphie Jones, died on his mother’s birthday.

Although Belle married the slightly witty, John William “Garrett” Clary (1898-1997), I don’t recall Grandpa Garrett being as much of a prankster as he was the target of so many pranks. His two daughters, Donna (1924-1992), my grandmother, and Aunt Joyce (1932) were forever creating a plethora of hilarious stories that still keep our family howling to this day. Poor Grandpa Garrett never knew whether he would find his shirt sleeves buttoned to other shirts, or his bed short-sheeted or filled with corn flakes. His standard response was a comical growl, “Those damned girls!” That phrase continued clear through the years when Donna and Joyce were grandmothers, themselves!

My Grandma Donna and Grandpa Leroy Barmes (1921-2004) maintained the legacy of humor, instilling it in their own three children: Diana, my mother, Uncle Ron (1952-1987) and Uncle Tom (1954). Grandpa Leroy came from a long line of practical jokers, as well, and the stories of my great-grandfather, Virgil Barmes (1900-1971), could fill a book! Grandpa Virgil, along with his brother-in-law, Harry Daugherty and some of the other Daugherty brothers, filled a completely separate treasure chest with memorable stories!

One of my most treasured impressions of my grandparents will always be their sense of humor. As a little boy, my earliest memories are filled with family laughter, mostly stemming from my grandparents. I often tell, and retell the hilarious moments that accompanied me through the years. Although my grandparents are no longer living, their spark of humor and laughter is eternal.

The one thing I have so enjoyed as a father is laughing often, and heartily! Fortunately, Jose has an incredible sense of humor, and there is scarcely a day that is not filled with three-fourths laughter. We have our serious moments, but we continually find them merged with chuckles, or outright laughter.

I am so grateful that part of my DNA has included a sense of humor. I do hope I will one day be remembered by my grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren for my sense of humor, and pranks!

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