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Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Remembering Ruth...a journey to find the ancestor for a client in August 2010

     Exhausted after hours in the city archives pouring through microfilm for records,  I fought the beginning of headache and suddenly realized I hadn't stopped to eat all day.  Earlier that day I had used my new smartphone and followed Google Maps for the first time.  Using the data gleaned from death certificates I toured the city looking for family sites from the ancestry of one of my clients.  What I needed was sustenance and some relaxation, so I did an online search for the best restaurant in Knoxville. I sat in a large padded circular booth with tea candles flickering in the darkened restaurant and ordered a surf and turf dinner with all the fixings. The quiet elegance set the mood for reflection on all my discoveries that day and I began to brainstorm on the paper napkin in front of me...

     On the Northern heights of Knoxville, looking down over the city and the Tennessee River, is a neighborhood called Mechanicsville tucked in between Knoxville College and the interstate.  The street names and some of the buildings have changed over the years, homes razed for public parks and factories turned into parking lots, but families still sit on the front porches and call out to one another while boys play ball in the street.  It was into this working class neighborhood that the Clark family moved in 1917 from Lancaster County, South Carolina.   They made a new life getting work as laborers and renting a home at 300 Maria Street just a block from the Knoxville College grounds. 

The extended Clark family all set about the chores of daily life, joining local churches, sending the children to school, and all the adults to labor in nearby factories.  They struggled together through misfortunes that would test the fabric of any family.  From 1918 until 1929 at least 3 of William Clark’s grandchildren died along with his wife and daughter in law. William never owned his own home, did not have enough personal property for a probate or will when he died, and suffered much loss, but he worked hard at his various jobs and lived throughout the years putting a roof over the heads of several generations of the Clark family often living in the Maria Street house at the same time.

From the Mechanicsville neighborhood, Western Ave turns south towards downtown Knoxville and then west through increasingly rural scenery. Turning west again onto Keith Road the houses move further apart and the road narrows.  On the right, a pair of tumbling down pillars marks an old entrance way with no sign.  A rutted, dirt road covered with oyster shells that crunch under car tires winds uphill around unkempt grounds and drooping trees through the neglected Longview cemetery. 

There is no record of a headstone, but one of William Clark’s grandchildren, Ruth, was buried there.  She died soon after the family moved to Tennessee.  The graveyard is in a quiet section of Western Knoxville across from a small tree filled park where children play on a new playground.  The voices of youngsters nearby reminds us that 3 year old Ruth Clark was buried here in 1918 all alone several miles west of her neighborhood.  During the decade after Ruth died, several more Clark children died as did their mother, Ola, and they were buried to the East of Knoxville in the Knoxville County Cemetery for Paupers without headstones to mark their graves.  Then Grandmother, Mariah, died in 1929.  The remaining Clark children looked to extended family for mentors and care while their father and grandfather continued to labor hard for their family.
Longview Cemetery, Knoxville
       The setting sun sent shadows across the uneven ground which highlighted the tilt of many tombstones, broken tree branches, and pot holes in the driveway.  But the birds sang sweet songs and the air was still, the crape myrtle bloomed in yards nearby, and God watches over Ruth, and we remember her…

Thursday, July 19, 2018

A family memory

At the little green cabin on Soda Butte Creek the sunlight filters through swaying branches of the tall evergreens as the sparkles of sunlight bounce off fast moving currents of the creek and peek through the greenery. The bushes and trees hide chipmunks and squirrels and the tiny fawn who visits in the evenings and the mother Fox with new kits.  Republic Mountain with waterfalls from melting snow can be seen to the south across the creek from the big picture window in the cabin.
Inside, hanging on the wooden logs, a hand-painted wolf dreamcatcher made by my daughter guards the front door which sets the mood for this place. The photographs on the walls taken by my husband show wildlife viewed by our family over the years. There is a crackling fire in the wood stove and a small pile of the many logs that my oldest son cut when he visited in May. I cozy up to a blanket that my youngest son gave us last July when he visited. This is a family place.

The tinkling chimes of the agate ovals blown by the breeze off the creek transport me to June 1980 when my husband, then boyfriend returned from a road trip to Yellowstone National Park and brought me a wind chime made of beautiful brown agate crystals.  He had fallen in love with the jagged snow-covered mountain peaks and wide expanses of green sliced by rapid rivers. He treasured the smell of sagebrush as bison tramp through the blue green bushes and sounds of eagles, osprey, falcons soaring above.

He climbed Mount Washburn only to find a sticky fingered visitor had absconded with his belongings from our car. The lonely road trip was memorable but also made him feel that he wanted to return to Yellowstone often to make memories but with family along - so we got engaged! :-)

By 1997 we had three adventurous children who loved hiking, skiing, and whitewater -so back to Yellowstone. We planned out a western holiday and flew from Philadelphia to Denver and then hesitantly crawled into a 20-seat plane from Denver to Cody turning slightly green along the way. We first stayed at Bill Cody Ranch in Shoshone National Forest between Cody and the east entrance to  Yellowstone.  The children learn to rope, enjoyed cookouts and the Beautiful Forest Trails. Our first family horseback trail ride started with our youngest son’s horse taking off in the opposite direction. His laughter floated back to us as he galloped away. Quick thinking cow hands corralled him back quickly but not before we all lost our breath…

We next stayed at the Old Faithful Inn and viewed the geysers and mud pots.  After a few days we traveled to the Lake Hotel and enjoyed sunsets over Lake Yellowstone from the porch while sipping tea. We made our way to the Lamar Valley one rainy afternoon longing to see the recently reintroduced wolf packs which stayed hidden out of sight  in the sage all day. After a quick stop in the old mining town called Cooke City we headed down the switchbacks of Chief Joseph Highway towards Cody Wyoming. The snow started as night fell and the tires clung to icy roads back and forth down the mountainside as we looked out the windows over drops to the valley floor. The rustic streets of Cody were a  thrill to see at the end of that perilous journey down the mountain. The next day we watched prairie dogs and bought a stuffed mythical jackalope to take home.

The family trip back to Yellowstone whetted my husband's appetite for the park and by 2009 he began making annual then biannual trips to photograph wildlife. For at least 5 years he learned more about the wolf packs and logistics of finding wildlife, bought scopes and additional photography equipment, and made friendships and connections with other wolf watchers and naturalists. Eventually he purchased a walkie-talkie that enabled him to communicate with others watching wildlife and became part of a group of hard-working volunteers who educate tourists to the wildlife viewing.

After years of trekking from the East Coast with an increasing amount of supplies and renting places to stay near the park, we made the family decision to purchase a vacation home to allow us to return more frequently and for longer periods of time. In May of 2014 during a visit, we looked at available real estate options and chose a small green log cabin in a community on Soda Butte Creek between Cooke City and Silver Gate.  The 4th of July week we inspected the house taking time to buy furniture and supplies and in late July we returned for settlement on the cabin. We flew into Billings and stayed in Cooke City overnight and back to Red Lodge for settlement and then home at last. Unfortunately the road from Cooke City to Billings is a series of switchbacks called the Beartooth Highway going high into the mountains where even in July there were 20 foot snow banks on each side of the road and skiers can practice their craft all summer. The vistas were lovely and the road was frightening so from now on we all fly into Bozeman!

We painted and cleaned and furnished, shopped and had deliveries and made the cabin our own over a wonderful week.  We took breaks taking picnics into the park to see bison and pronghorn. Each year since we have added a project, one year buying a car that’s garaged  near the airport and can be driven around for supplies and then down through the park to the cabin. Another year hanging shades and getting a new fridge.

Each of us appreciates the wildlife and scenery. From the waterfalls at Artist Point to the confluence of Lamar River and Soda Butte Creek the vistas are breath taking. There are geothermal features at Mammoth Hot Springs and the Dragon’s cave just beyond Hayden Valley. Wild life at day break in the spring can be seen nursing newborns or hunting for food. Wolf pups go tumbling down the hillside near their den while bison calves hop in play battles, grizzly mothers climb trees with their cubs and mother badger pushes her young towards their den to avoid aggressive tourists and we capture it all on film.  The fuchsia pink fire weed, the watermelon red paintbrush and the lavender lupine add spectacular color along with gold and cream wildflowers at every turn.  We find moose in the willows and coyotes running through sage, beaver dams that flood the front yards of friends in Silvergate and adorable pikas hiding in rocks formations, and the bald eagles that survey Slough Creek.  The drama of grizzly and wolf and coyote struggling to survive amidst herds of bison and pronghorn play out on the valley floor along the Lamar River bring us close to nature and allow us to share with each other once-in-a-lifetime moments.

The family is able to come in groups to share the experience that was started so long ago in the spring of 1980 when my husband took a lonely but memorable trip and fell in love with this place.

Friday, May 11, 2018

A Place from my past in First Person

Deale, Maryland is a precious antique.  A treasure from a bygone era where change comes slowly.  A place where party line phones and rural route mail delivery lasted until the 21st century.  I spent my summers there, twenty miles south of Annapolis, on the Chesapeake Bay.  I stepped back into the past each June into a peaceful village to emerge each September well rested.  Most folks in southern Maryland during the last decades of the 20th century still made their livings on farms or fishing and oyster boats.  Their speech was laced with a southern accent and the pace of life was slow and steady and folks waved and called each other by name.   The town sits on Rockhold Creek about a mile upstream from the Herring Bay Inlet of the Chesapeake Bay.  It was originally owned by the Gott family who purchased land from Lord Baltimore.  They farmed 600 acres and over time sold off the land closest to the water to retiring ship captains.  Captain Deale brought the largest property and his descendants still live in the area.

                My best memories of the town were from the 1970’s when I could ride my bike everywhere.  The center of the village was a crossroads with several businesses patronized by Deale residents.  The local post office delivered mail and gossip just like all small towns.  Everyone was recognized or checked out by the locals.  Next door was the local quick mart called Highs where I rode every day to buy a rootbeer float.  There were two gas stations at either end of town where in 1980 I sat in line for several hours with all the car owners in Deale waiting for the rationed several gallons of gas during the national gas crisis.  Only in a small town it was more like a party - everyone sitting on their car hood shooting the breeze and enjoying the day.

                There was a small store for boating supplies called Brown Boys, a pharmacy, and a dry goods store called the Deale shop run by the owner her 3 daughters.  The book mobile was a van that brought collections of books into town several times per month to check out and read.  They came from the county library system out of Annapolis.  A library building wasn’t put up until 1968.  A Mr. Smith ran the grocery store in across from the Deale Shop and he got to know his customers by name.  Credit was never a problem if you ran a little short.  Outside of the village center were two marinas: Gates and Berlitz‘s, and two liquor stores: Parks and Captain Kidd’s, satisfying both the daytime and nighttime activities of Deale’s residents.  Unfortunately in 1974 the national legal drinking age was lowered to 18 and all the young folks of the town took advantage of it.

                The real center of the town was the fire hall where most of the males over age 16 hung out and waited for the alarm. Each summer the back yard of the fire hall was turned into a wonderland at night of hanging Christmas bulbs that lit up booths for games to win stuffed animals, glass plates, or goldfish.  The carnival rides ran late into the night and the trash from hot dogs and popcorn filled dumpsters all over town.  Wednesday night of carnival week was parade night.  We set up lawn chairs before dinner and ate sandwiches from a cooler saving the best seats for a front row view.  The bands and baton twirlers paraded for hours coming from all over the state and walking over a mile ending at the firehouse.  I practiced twirling and high kicks for weeks after the parade every summer.

                The Methodists set up churches near the coast for watermen in the 1800’s and the Episcopal Churches were populated by the large land owners who farmed.  Deale center had the simple wooden buildings of the Cedar Grove Methodist Church where I attended the vacation Bible School.  St. James Episcopal was several miles away and had the oldest dates in their graveyard.  That church was a fancy brick building with pretty windows and a nice church hall.  Outside of town near St. James were farms where my family bought sweet corn and fresh tomatoes all summer.  Along the road stood tobacco barns and horse stables all in disrepair.  Only in recent years have the old buildings come down to make way for sod farms.

                Because the drive to a movie theatre or bowling alley was 45 minutes, the kids in Deale hung out at Highs parking lot in town.  We bought sodas and snacks and sat on the car hoods gabbing all evening.  Someone would chase another around the cars until they tired and of course then worked up a thirst for another soda.  Adults never bothered us, I wonder if they thought it was good to keep us in sight.  Sunday afternoons we met behind the elementary school and played baseball or football.  I always watched - yelling for everyone equally.  It was great fun just hanging out.           

                The most popular businesses in Deale on weekends in the summer were the seafood restaurants.  There was Happy Harbor on the creek in town that had a busy bar area, Skippers Pier near the mouth of the creek with a view of the Bay, and the fancy SkipJack restaurant named after the working sailboats on the Bay.  I loved to order dozens of cooked crabs with my friends and all sit around a very messy table cracking crabs and drinking soda or beer.  We sometimes sat out on the dock till the mosquitoes got bad.  The smell of gas and oil mixture from the docking boats and the screaming of gulls fighting for leftovers combined with the chirps of  crickets from the marshes to trigger wonderful summer memories.  I had a friend who worked in the kitchen of Skippers and drove his small boat to work from his home across the creek.  One night he gave my friend and I a ride home and realized he didn’t have enough gas to get home himself. He put straight oil in the gas tank, somehow getting home, but ruined his motor.  He hadn’t wanted two girls to walk home in the dark, but his gallant efforts cost him a fortune in repairs.

                My home was a mile from town set on a peninsula jutting into the Chesapeake Bay.  Herring Bay Inlet was to the West and the mouth of Rockhold Creek to the east divided by a long stone jetty.  The rocks had been laid by the federal government as a break water in 1939.  An old duck blind was constructed near the end of the jetty years ago by the local watermen who also liked to hunt.  The house is a gabled, white, wooden farm house with green working shutters and sagging doorways.  Some of the windows have the old glass with waves running through and the shutters close up in the winter and during storms.  A real estate agent some years ago said the land was worth a fortune but the house was worth nothing.  I tend to think it just has a worn, well used look.  Additions and levels were added over the years and storms have taken things away.  We lost the old dairy and the lawn mower barn in 2003 with hurricane Isabelle.

                Each summer first thing my cousins and I got out the crab nets and made repairs.  We placed a wooden bushel basket in an old inner tube and tied it to our waists with a long  cord. We made our way down the stone steps of the bulkhead out front and stepped into the water at low tide.  The bottom of the Bay was thick black muck and our feet stuck to the bottom and made sucking noises as we walked looking down through the seaweed for crabs.  Doublers were best and my grandmother liked it when we found soft shells - crabs that had just lost their shell and could be fried and eaten whole (by the older folks in the family…)  I loved catching the crabs and playing in the water and of course eating them, but I hated to listen to my Aunt Mary cook them live as they scratched the lid of the pot.  She shook Bay seasoning into the boiling water and dumped in the crabs.  I always had to catch at least a dozen crabs to make it worth while cooking them up.  When the sea nettles got bad with their long stingers as the heat of the dry summers made the water salty, I switched to catching crabs with metal traps baited with chicken necks and thrown overboard off our pier.  Sometimes we sat in the rowboat and crabbed overboard using our nets.  Our big thrill when we were young was packing a picnic and rowing to an old dock a short distance up the creek.  We were never out of sight of the house, but felt grown up and adventurous.  

                My father bought an old tent at an army navy store and we put it up in the yard for a playhouse.  Rain or shine my cousins and I set up our Barbie doll houses in the tent and played dolls for hours.  We had two playsets with swings and climbing bars and a much used sandbox with a heavy wooden lid.  The box was built next to the old wooden tool shed that housed my great grandfather’s ancient collection.  It was never saved for show or antique value, but really used by all the family when repairs were needed.  My great grandmother always had a garden with corn, cucumbers, peppers, and tomatoes.  Years after she died and no one planted any more we still called it the garden, now just a field of grass along the waterfront.  There were several old trees with a wire line between that was used as a dog run for my uncle’s golden retriever, Sam.  I disliked the holly tree because the dropped leaves pricked my bare feet.

                My favorite spot on our property was the old wooden pier that stretched out from the land into the mouth of the Rockhold Creek.  Boats go by that pier all day in the summer to get from the secure marinas on the creek into the Chesapeake.  I especially loved the sailboats with colored sails that whipped wildly as the boats rounded the stone jetty and headed for deep water.  White caps would crash into the rocks shooting spray and seaweed.  I often saw osprey nests in the buoy light in the creek.  The birds were fiercely protective of those nests diving towards anyone who came too close.  Teachers over the years would ask for essays about a favorite place and I always wrote about the peace of sitting on that pier feeling close to nature, watching the sunsets, and praying.  Many times I have gone back to visit and never leave without a walk to the pier which is where I established a relationship with God and go back to reconnect.  

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Saying goodbye to a family home: A Eulogy to the House at Cedar Point

 A love song for a house

              The whitewashed clapboard from the original 1850 gabled farm house forms the back wall of the enclosed porch and sags in spots punctured with nails that held photos and nautical d├ęcor.  The house feels sleepy with the dark green shutters closed and windows boarded over.  All the old well-loved furniture is gone except three wooden folding chairs that were used on the lawn. The first floor, flooded in 2003 by hurricane Isabel has two new doors facing East to Herring Bay and several walls of dry board spotted with white paint over new nails that were not painted after repairs.

             The linoleum flooring put down to cover original wood planks is dusted with leaves blown in through cracks in the pantry floor that were never repaired.  Sunlight streams through slits in the shutters dappling the peeling walls.  Musty smells are swirled about by stiff breeze from the north-west that bends over small bushes and gusts through locust and cedar trees.

             A tall Catalpa tree is in bloom with sweet smelling orchid like flowers and the beginning of bean pods.  Black marks from a 2005 lightning strike mark one side.  The bees buzz between the tree and nearby honeysuckle that spreads over a mound of tree limbs and debris.  The purple iris that surround the brick foundation of the dairy which washed away in the hurricane have faded for the season as have the pink, red and white azaleas that hug the front porch.

           The warm winds ripple the Chesapeake Bay into frothed waves and rush the Rockhold Creek waters onto the stone jetty and old wooden pier which is pocked with rusting nails and strings of fishing line.  A few new boards nailed into gaps were salvaged from debris floating at the grassy shore line.  Warblers and robins flit between trees and the gabled roof with missing shingles.  The large osprey nest snuggles the top of the tallest red brick crumbling chimney and the parents call warning to anyone threatening their nest.  Father Osprey is sent fishing several times a day while Mother guards the collection of haphazard string and sticks she has built annually for many years.  Blue heron and gulls glide across the white caps to land on the stone jetty recently rebuilt from the 1939 original construction.

          At the end of the jetty a red light blinks warning to the parade of boats returning to Rockhold Creek from the Bay.  Wednesday nights the sailboats race on the horizon and this week the strong breezes make a rainbow of lapping sails in reds and whites and blues and yellows. The cedar tree at the edge of the house is home to cardinals and robins and humming birds.  The sweet smell of the wood mixes with the honeysuckle winding up the trunk to scent the air towards sunset. 

         The yard takes on a golden hue as shadows lengthen creating a Kodak moment photographed by four generations of women over the last 98 years.  Memories of picnics and birthdays and the tug of loving faces no longer here to see the sailboats on the horizon or feel the salted air or hear the Osprey’s warning fill my heart.

         On a June Friday, the parade of boats from Rockhold Creek to Herring Bay signals the start of the weekend.  Low tide and soft breezes all day created muddy spaces on sand bars where gulls and osprey put footprints in the sand.  Swiftly about 5 pm the tide started to rise and stiff breezes whipped up white capped waves.  The smells of mud/seaweed and fish began to dissipate.  Clouds thickened and osprey trios found wind tunnels to circle over the waves.

          The next morning was the last day and the sunrise was spectacular.  As I turned to leave the yard for the last time, the osprey waved.

                Blessings to those who come after may they treasure the baby osprey on the chimney and the bunnies under the house, the holly and cedar and the vista.