Mary Beth Writes

 We are still able to see NEOWISE in the evening. 

More info about how to see it here: 

Len took this photo a few nights ago. The white stripes in the foreground are lightning bugs!

I wrote this column in 1997 and remembered it this morning.       


March 14, 1997

It’s tricky to get just the right perspective on one’s place in the universe.

I have a cousin whose last name is -- you guessed it -- Danielson. He and I didn’t know each other extremely well as kids and I see him even less as an adult, so it was quite a shock to walk into a family gathering and discover I have a distinguished relative. He’s a judge. He gets an Honorable before his name. However, I still remember his mom saying she gave him the name she did so that his initials would be BVD. She mentioned this saved a lot of time since she didn’t have to mark his underwear before he went to summer camp.

In the course of conversation, I learned that he’s interested in genealogy. He traced the Danielson family tree back several generations.

I asked for a copy of his research. It came last week. I sat down at the kitchen table and dived into what he came up with.

Well, I’m impressed that the original Daniel -- the guy who gave all the rest of the name Danielson -- was a guy born in 1699 in a place called Skog, Sweden. The further back you go in my family, the more our hometowns sound like someone trying to clear their throat. I am the first Danielson to live in a town with a French name (we were living in Racine) and I see this as a real contribution to our family’s story.

My cousin also sent a copy of an extremely funny, slightly informative speech about genealogy that he presented to his Rotary Club.       

First he explains the wildly exponential mathematics of genealogy. Everybody has 2 birth-parents, 4 grandparents, 8 great-grandparents, 16 great-greats and so on. Every generation you go back doubles in size. Go back 400 years, you now have one million relatives. Go back 12 centuries, you now have 25 trillion ancestors. (I’m reminded of Senator Proxmire’s observation - a million here, a million there, pretty soon it all adds up.)

Of course, the snag is that there have only been 100 billion people who are now or have ever lived on Planet Earth.               

The solution to this mathematical conundrum is called the “pedigree collapse." (I didn’t make that up but I wish I did.) Experts say no one has more than about 2 million ancestors. At some point we are all semi-related. In plain speak, that means along the line folks have been unwittingly (oh, maybe some of them were “witting”) marrying relatives. The human race has certain similarities to a slew of six-toed kittens out in the barn.

The second interesting point my cousin makes in his speech is this. Study your family tree for a while and you will begin to think that the point of history is you. All those great-greats and great-great-greats got together so that your family could bloom into the full glory of you.

I went to sleep that night with a smug little grin on my large Scandinavian face. Just think, 300 years of Swedish potato farmers ploughed through history in order to produce one grand offspring. A local columnist in the Upper Midwest. (And perhaps a judge with bathroom-humor initials.)

Several hours later I awoke to the not-so-small sound of my husband padding about the house. I heard him in the hall. I heard him clomp (he can clomp barefoot) down the stairs to our son’s bedroom. I heard the front door open and close several times. I sighed, got up, and literally ran into him as we both rounded the corner in the family room.

“What are you doing?” You can imagine the wifely tone in my voice.

He looked sheepish and defiant at the same time. This a look many years of marriage will often teach a man.

“The comet. You can see the comet, so I got the kids up to look at it.”


Many feelings ricocheted through me including the sense that perhaps his family’s pedigree had collapsed before mine.

“Want to see it?”

Well, I bit back all the amazingly acerbic things one could say to a fellow who rouses children at 4:00 AM to look at the sky. I followed him into the living room.

And right there, out the middle of our window, was one of the strangest and most awesome sights I’ve seen in my life.

A blurry fist of light. An arm-long path of light suspended from it. My breath caught in my lungs. For a second there, I was pre-science and I was frightened by the beautiful wrongness of the sight.

I whispered, “It’s scary.”

My husband put his arm around me and murmured back.

“Yeah, comets always scare me, too.”

Two million ancestors behind us, each one a person who lived and breathed, who took what was given and yearned for more.

An infinity of space and stars around us, whipped through by orbiting comets of dust and gas.

It’s tricky knowing our place against all this. I think it’s worth our imagination to remember we are not the beginning; we are not the turning point. Everything we have is random. And is a gift.


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Car Accident & Not Buying the Farm Today

My friend Karen texted last night that she is okay but she had been in a car accident in the afternoon. A driver had not stopped at a stop sign, thus plowing into Karen’s rear driver-side door.

Her accident reminded me of one I was in with my son years ago. This is the newspaper column I wrote about the event.

Hold a good thought for Karen today, okay?  She texted this morning, rather poetically, “I feel like I’ve been dragged through a knothole.”


When History isn't in Museums

I stayed twice for several days with a Maya family in Guatemala’s altiplano. This adventure happened during my second day of my second stay with them.

Senor Jorge, the 50ish father of the family, asked if I would like to take a walk to see a Mayan antiquity. It took a minute to understand his question since my high school Spanish was a long time ago.

Yes, I would!


 I wrote this in 2008 when I was the coordinator of the Jail Employment Program in the Racine County Jail.


Dear Pals,

Tuesday morning the four women in my current Jail Employment Program group went out from my office, per usual, to look for work.

"Broken Days"

If you type my name into the Internet this quote pops up; "If growing up is the process of creating ideas and dreams of what life should be, maturity is letting go again."  

The line is from this essay, Broken Days, published in Mothering magazine in 1987.

Later it was published in the Utne Reader.


Hurricane Charley, 2004 "Why yes, we were there."

 I went back in my file of old writing and found these two columns I wrote in August of 2004. This was the FIRST time we had a vacation sidetracked by a hurricane…


Hurricane Charley

Part I

For our family vacation, we'd made reservations at a resort in the Florida Keys.  We thought a week to swim, read, explore a little, eat great seafood, and just generally kick back to enjoy each other -- would be wonderful. 

I still bet it would. 

We sure don't know.

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