Farewell, Nan

Josh opens presents with Nan, including a Tomy toy computer.

Growing up, it felt like I often had to start over — moving to new houses, switching schools, losing grandfathers.

One of the rocks I could cling to amid the sea of changes was Nan.

Her house at 5118 Village Lawn in San Antonio was like my lifelong second home. I can’t think back to a time without it, without her.

Continue reading “Farewell, Nan”

Finding Fire Capt. Frank J. Becker

Frank Becker. Photo reprinted with permission of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Frank Becker. Photo reprinted with permission of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

My great-grandfather Frank Becker was a fireman. I knew that he had been promoted to captain at some point, and some relatives had once told me they thought it had been covered on TV or in the newspaper.

I wanted to see if I could find a news story about the promotion.

Continue reading “Finding Fire Capt. Frank J. Becker”

Cub reporter

From the vaults of the Renaud Empire, I bring you a recently-unearthed journalistic gem.

What is it? It’s Josh Renaud interviewing his father, Joe Renaud, sometime in the early 1990s for a school project. You’ve GOT to give it a listen. Josh is a pretty smooth interviewer, I have to say. And Joe was a pretty good interview. His anecdotes are top-notch!

I think it lasts roughly 20 minutes, which may be a little long for some of you. But the first 5-10 minutes are definitely worth it.

Preserving my digital history

I was a computer user from an early age. Our first machine was an Atari 800, complete with a tape drive. It was a sort of hand-me-down machine, so we were using it many years after its heyday.

I can remember my dad spending days typing in a long BASIC program that had been published in a computer magazine (ANTIC?). I think it was probably for a game. Later, I typed in programs from books and magazines myself. That sort of thing was common for computer hobbyists in the 70s and 80s.

Anyway, for all the advantages of digital communication, one thing is clear: digital files are more ephemeral than we realize.

Most of the emails, projects, and stuff from my early computing days are gone. Even modern stuff like webpages can disappear suddenly. For example, with very little warning, Yahoo last year killed the once-popular website GeoCities. Millions of people had created homepages there since the 1990s. A few of the homepages were saved in various archives, but many are gone forever.

Among my own lost projects is a choose-your-own-adventure style game I wrote for the TI-8x series of calculators when I was in high school. It was called “Doom at West” and was related to my “S.S.S.” stories. I loaned my own calculator to my younger brother when I was in college. He lost it and by extension all the stuff on it.

Seeing the work of digital historians like Jason Scott has motivated me to preserve what I can of my own old digital stuff, and to share at least those bits that might be of some small interest to other people.

So here are a few little archives I’ve put together that you might want to check out:


  • ANSI art – A collection of ANSI advertisements I made during my years as a BBSer in the late 1990s.

  • Politics Online Magazine – A short-lived monthly political magazine distributed on St. Louis BBSes

  • SRE Text Series – A series of sci-fi stories I wrote based on the BBS door/game “Solar Realms Elite”.

High school

Edwin A. Richter, we won’t forget you

It was almost two years ago that I got in touch with Ed Richter.

He was a first cousin to my great-grandpa Frank Becker.

At that time I had made a lot of progress in developing my Becker family tree. As I was looking at all these first cousins, I realized that Ed was still living. On a whim, I wrote him a letter, and asked if he would be interested in some of the family history stuff I had uncovered.

I was excited to hear back from him and eventually to meet him in person. As it turns out, he lived only about 15- minutes away — just a straight shot down Chambers Road.

We talked on the phone and met at his house several times. He remembered quite a bit about his aunts and uncles on the Becker side, even though he wasn’t especially close to them. I learned things from him that never would have turned up in old censuses or church records.

During the time I knew Ed, he was diagnosed with cancer. At the end of March 2009, he died. But I didn’t know about it until recently — and I feel pretty bad about it.

Continue reading “Edwin A. Richter, we won’t forget you”

Uncle Bill George


My great-uncle Bill (William) George died this morning.

I didn’t know him very well, but the times I remember meeting him, I liked him.

I remember once visiting his house in Arkansas probably when I was in my teens. Turns out that he and aunt Betty liked Star Trek. They had recorded “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” my favorite movie of all time, once when it was broadcast over the air by CBS. This was a big deal to me. I already had the movie on VHS. But this CBS broadcast included a lot of deleted scenes which I had never seen before (in those days, broadcast networks would add scenes to pad out the films to fill a longer time slot). Thanks to Uncle Bill and Aunt Betty I got to! It was many, many years until I could see those scenes stuff again, when a “director’s edition” of the movie was released on DVD.

After my Papa died, I realized how much uncle Bill reminded me of Papa: his face, his voice. This was somehow comforting to me.

Uncle Bill was a pilot and flew his own planes. I always hoped I could fly along with him someday. When I was in my teens I was fascinated by the notion of getting a pilot’s license myself. Unfortunately I never got to go up with him in a plane.

He also liked to buy old houses, fix them up, and sell them to make money. I remember that for a while he was doing that with my mom’s sister, my aunt Karen.

Living in the trees

For quite a while I’ve been lurking in the shadows, watching as a new web company called Geni.com developed their site.

What is Geni? It’s is a “social networking” site, sort of like Facebook or MySpace, but designed around family trees.

The idea is that you get as many family members as possible to sign up. Their profile pages are actually part of the family tree. You can share photos, news, send greetings and gifts … lots of fun ways to stay connected with the rest of your family. And of course, everyone can work on the tree: add new branches of the family, correct stuff that might be wrong, add photos or stories of a deceased loved one… the possibilities go on and on.

Anyway, they recently unveiled the feature I had been waiting for … the ability to import family trees created in other programs. I have been working on my own family tree since last fall, and now I could put it on Geni and invite my own family members to come explore it (and expand and improve it)!

I’ve been surprised how many have actually responded to the invitations and joined up. Already there have been a lot of fixes and changes.

Best of all, some of my distant relatives (whom I never even knew before this year) are also joining in. I am really looking forward to being able to stay in touch and see photos of their families.

(By the way, if you’re in my family and you haven’t yet gotten an invite from me, please just drop me a line. I may not have your most recent email address, which I need to invite you to our tree)

A memory slipping away

How is it that the war once known as “The Great War” has become the forgotten war?

Many disparate interests have gradually gotten me to think about World War I over the past few years. For example:

  • Two of my favorite authors both fought in WWI: J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.
  • John Becker, my triple-great-uncle, would have served in the Navy during the war, if he hadn’t been murdered.
  • The city of Ferguson has a monument in January-Wabash Park to honor its citizens who seved in WWI.

Everything I’ve ever read indicates just how horrible a conflict it was. Tolkien fought in the Battle of the Somme and later caught trench fever. He admitted that some scenes in the “Lord of the Rings,” like the Dead Marshes, were drawn from his experince in northern France. The imagery of these scenes is vivid and repugnant. I can’t imagine how awful the real war must have been.

There is just one living American WWI verteran left: 107-year-old Frank Buckles. I learned this from a recent article in Newsweek, The War We Forgot.

When Buckles dies, another pivotal moment in American history will slip into the ether. Most folks probably wouldn’t realize it. We have no national monument to the veterans of WWI.

I don’t know what, if anything, can be done about it. But it’s something that weighs on my mind.