Thursday, August 13, 2015

When Life Teaches You Genealogy

I had a horrible thought the other night while writing yesterday's post. This morning, something happened to change all that...

I've heard insanity defined as doing the same thing over and over again, yet expecting different results.

Perhaps, in my case, it has seemed insane to keep poring over the same people's history, hoping to find the smoking gun evidence to answer my question of how it was that two single women in the northwestern frontier of 1800s Ohio would have the guts to travel yet farther west to an outpost near present-day Saint Louis. After all, no matter which way I attack the research problem, I keep coming up with the same result: no documentation that I can find, yet indications that others are saying with certainty the exact date and location for the wedding of Sarah Howard Ijams (the Ohioan) and John Jay Jackson (the quartermaster stationed at Fort Belle Fontaine).

How did they find those details?

How come I can't find that documentation?

And so, wearyingly, I linger over lists of possible proofs, dawdle amidst details of military campaigns—over and over again, rehashing the obvious in hopes of culling the minutest details that would help narrow the focus of my search. And, hopefully, point me to some indication that, yes, it really was true: this couple did actually get married at the right place and the right time.

Insane, I know. But I keep at it.

So, this morning, I awaken to my daughter asking me if I know how to turn on the shower.

I know: that is an unusual request. After all, showering is one of those activities of daily life that we repeat mindlessly. It seems like insanity to have asked such a question.

But today, we are not at home. I'm actually writing this post from the hotel where our family is staying while my husband attends a business conference.

To set the stage for my daughter's un-insane request (after all, if doing the same thing repeatedly yet hoping for differing results is insanity, wouldn't that make doing the same thing expecting the same results the opposite of insanity?), let me remind you that such mundane details as how a bathroom is designed may remain standardized, say, if you were traveling in the same country as that in which you live. For those who have traveled internationally, however, it is very obvious that the engineering of such customary conveniences may turn out to be quite unexpected. Witness my daughter's travels to Ireland last year, when in her first day's sleep-deprived stupor, she couldn't figure out how to do something as routine as turning on the lights in her hotel room.

I assure you, the same sort of thing happens when encountering foreign bathrooms.

Lest you think I am now traveling in Zimbabwe or Kazakhstan, let me put your mind at rest. I'm really only three hundred miles away from home. Yet I'm staying in a rather nice hotel—an impeccably landscaped property where the management chose to customize their shower design.

This is where the definition of insanity kicks in. Roused from my sleep to answer my daughter's question, I go in to inspect the shower design. As I suspected, it was one of those configurations without separate faucets for cold and hot water. One knob did it all. One customized knob.

That knob and I had quite the pre-coffee morning encounter. I twirled it to call it to action. I got action: water coming out the bathtub spout. No shower.

I pulled it. I pushed it. I rotated the knob further. I tipped it. I pressed it. Like a blind soul trying to locate the braille readout, I worked my fingers along every edge of that knob, as well as along the spigot. All I could find was one streamlined design: no hint of abberations. No clue to reveal the magic button.

It was after the third attempt at doing the same thing—turning the knob the full extent of its range, hoping it would click over to routing the water upwards through the shower head—when I remembered that definition of insanity.

Why would anyone choose to be insane?

I stopped.

But that just killed me. After all, we were going to need to take a shower at some point. So we hit upon a different course. We brilliantly deduced that, in the wee hours of the morning when dutiful conference attendees have to get up and prepare for a full day of education, my husband had surely already fought this battle. He obviously engaged the enemy and overcame him. He certainly smelled shower-fresh when he kissed me goodbye through the sleep-deprived haze.

We were about to text him for the secret password to shower operation when it just overcame me: I was not about to succumb to an unconquered shower head. Insanity or not, I was going to head back to that bathroom and get the best of that customized snobbery. I was going to make that shower submit.

And here was just the point at which I learned that doing the same thing over and over again hoping for different results is not always insanity. This time, something in that streamlined, customized design—something that had gotten stuck the other three times and didn't function quite the way it was supposed to work—sprung loose from its moorings and dropped into place.

It was a small, rectangular steel bar. With gravity—and, obviously, pointed in the right direction—the bar was supposed to drop into place and redirect the water stream from its downward flow to the bathtub upward through the pipes to the shower head. This time, a delicate stream of diffused water emerged from just the spot I had anticipated the other three times I had tried this trick.

As I crawled back into bed, trying to orient myself to the fact that it was now a fresh new day, the experience reminded me of another attempt I had been making—one that I was sorely tempted to re-dub as insanity. It snatched me away from the brink of giving up on this Jackson-Ijams pursuit, gently reminding me that, sometimes, doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results is, in fact, not insanity.

Sometimes, those prissy little customized steel bars that malfunctioned the other three times finally decide to fall right into place.


  1. I recognize that shower! Seriously. I struggled with one that matches your description of it, and you're so right about that little steel bar. Why would so many hotels select THAT product? Surely there is something simpler and as lovely. I wonder how many guests have called the front desk for help.

    If this analogy holds up, you should find the answer to your genealogy question shortly.

    1. Here's hoping your prediction holds true, Wendy!

  2. Always good to find I'm not the only insane person ;) I needed this post today; thank you.

    1. Gayle, glad it was just what you needed this morning! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. It's always nice to hear from readers here.

  3. Glad you figured it out, I wonder if your husband struggled with it also? I am not at all mechanical so saying bad word bad work would have been part of my fix:)

    1. I didn't hear any violent crashes or explosive volleys of commentary in those early morning hours. Being that my husband is a superb Mr. Fixit, I assume he was totally undeterred by that dilemma.

  4. My family has this thing about persistence "stubbornness" "bullheadedness" (or mule) and "OCD"... fine line between them... but, hey... often times you just can't give up - just take a break and then try again!

    1. Some times, it's hard to set this stuff aside--especially when you just have to figure out the answer!

  5. Yes I can totally relate to being in a motel and not being able to work the shower.


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