Saturday, January 28, 2006

Searching for Priscilla on the Trail of Tears

Wednesday was a good day for us, but a sad one in our community. Because a credit card deal spurred Gerald into New Car Fever, he traded on Tuesday and was to pick up the new car on Wednesday. I reminded him when he came in all aglow on Tuesday night that I had an luncheon appointment with Virginia Davis, a descendant of Winstead Davie--an appointment I had been trying to find time to arrange for three years. (So I felt a bit of a let down that suddenly someone else was making plans for "my" car on Wednesday.)

I had also planned to drop by the coffee shop for coffee with Union County Writers Group, who meet there informally at 9 on Wednesdays. And there were several other things I hoped to work into my day concerning my search for answers to the mystery of the little slave girl, Priscilla, whom Brazilla Silkwood bought off the Trail of Tears. I wanted to hang loose and do what I wanted to do. Frankly, I did not want anyone else along cramping my style. (Cause then I would have to be nice and try to do things they would want to do as well. And I felt justified to want to selfishly focus on my plans.)

So I felt a bit put out that suddenly my carefully planned day was going differently than I had supposed. I am a nervous driver to begin with and driving new cars always make me even more nervous until I get the kinetic changes absorbed and feel comfortable again. Gerald kindly said I could take the old car to Anna and pick up the new one later in the day--but I knew he was eager to drive the new one, and I didn't want him to have to wait. And I speculated what would happen if I drove the old car and had a wreck and messed up his trade before we picked up the new car. (I think like that. That is why I am a nervous driver.)

So he promised he would "be good" and we could use our cell phones if we ended up at different places. We went to bed Tuesday planning on our both going to pick up the new car after we dropped by the Cedars and took Samuel to school since we were going to be in town anyway. Then we would take the drive down to Union County together. By this time, I was looking forward to his company extremely grateful that I did not have to drive the new car.

Wednesday morning it occurred to me that having a new car to drive would be a perfect excuse to go across the Mississippi and visit the Missouri State Park called the Trail of Tears--something else I have wanted to do for three years. So after the delay in Marion for paper work and getting the free On-Star account set up, we were off on our trip to Missouri with just enough time to make it there and back and be at our 1 p.m. luncheon date at the famous Dixie Barbecue in Jonesboro, where people have been known to run into the likes of Jim Edgar and other well-known folk mixing with the farmers, townspeople, and housewives and others brave enough to stand the smoke.

We stopped in Cape down by the river and read all the information on outside markers of the the recently restored "Red House," where Meriweather Lewis had dinner with the trader and his Shawnee wife. There we looked at the large map for tourists, which showed the Trail of Tears park and started on. When we got uncertain of our directions after not wanting to take time to stop at the Chamber of Commerce, we used our On-Star and a young lady in Canada quickly told us exactly where we were and how to continue confidently to make it to the Trail of Tears Park.

We got back to Dixie at 2 minutes till 1, and so did Virginia and that went very well. We had an almost two-hour visit, and she shared her extensive knowledge of the Davie genealogy and Gerald went uptown and made copies of what she shared with me. And we talked about people we knew from our childhood. Except for bumping into each other briefly at the Potato Barn and at a funeral, we had not seen each other since those pre-1950 days. It was a good visit.

Failing to make contact with Michael Scott, who has researched the Trail of Tears through Southern Illinois extensively, we went on to our friends Harlan and Carmen Coffman, who have just purchased and moved into the "Ticky" Norris home in Jonesboro. We had been sent a photo of the house in their Christmas card with an open invitation to come by anytime even though they had just moved in. It was wonderful to be back in that beautiful home, where I spent many happy hours as a child with my friend Lenora. Mrs. Norris was always so beautiful and kind to all of us children, and she always made her children's friends welcome and she gave parties for us. It is always fun to visit with Harlan and Carmen, but we almost did not get away when the two men started sharing their recent experiences talking on the phone for hours with their wireless phone company trying to get stuff straightened out.

We started for home and commented on the Anna hill how great the car ran. We had been bragging on it all day--especially in the TOT park where we had wonderful roads and a great car and no one else on the roads. We knew how rich Americans were as we drove along the beautiful area, and our hearts were ashamed to think of the difference in our comfortable travel and that of the Cherokee there in the same place.

We made it up the big hill on Route 57 at the Lick Creek area with ease. Before too long, Gerald noted that the car was kicking out of cruise control. Odd. By the time we got to the construction area near Marion, suddenly we were losing power, lights were flashing scary messages on the dashboard, semis were zooming by us, and for the second time that day we call On-Star. The man who answered did a diagnostic test (how in the world??) and told us to get to the dealer as soon as possible. But when he called them, just as we supposed, they were already closed. He said it might help to pull off, shut the car down, and then start it again. Of course, in the construction zone, there really was no place to pull over, but when we could we did. It seemed to help a little and we did make it home safely. We were feeling pretty down and disappointed with life and the new car, when we began to hear reports of the terrible wreck on Route 57.

We went to bed with the knowledge that six people had been killed shortly after we had been in that very spot. Fearing our car would die completely and we'd be hit, we had been very grateful to get on to a safer place on the road. We had been very grateful to make it home despite the nerve-wracking surges as the car would lose power over and over. But we knew we were blessed beyond what we deserved when we found out about the terrible loss of life on that highway. Life is very strange and never fair in any way that humans can figure out. Nevertheless, we all know that strange and unfair though it is, life is very precious and the loss of six people at once, three of whom were such beautiful children, is difficult for the all of us to deal with.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Cedar Family Goes Back Home

Late Saturday night Dave and Katherine and 8-year-old Samuel loaded their van and car with clothes, pajamas, and miscellaneous supplies and headed back to town to sleep in their own home, which is undergoing extensive remodeling. Some of their things are still here at Woodsong since the new closets as yet lack any kind of organizational fixtures. Davie, who has helped so much, had moved in a couple days before, and the family is enjoying being together again.

Their new home is beautiful with lots of sunlight flooding in with a view of trees, birds, squirrels, shrubs, and the park next door. The spaciousness that allows Katherine's motorized wheelchair to navigate easily from one room to the next through wide hallways is restfully delightful to all of us.

Unfortunately, there is still a great deal of work to be completed. And it will be done as soon as possible. In the meantime, the family is luxuriating in simply being back at their very own place. There will be weeks of hard labor yet to complete the master bath and update the furnace and other needed work. They must still empty the rented storage units and unpack the many many boxes. But they will be doing this in the privacy of their own home and in the midst of the new beauty that their hard work has created.

Since I have not completely reorganized my life since we moved in to Woodsong over four years ago, I can only hope that the Cedars are more efficient than I am. Regardless, they will thoroughly enjoy their new quarters.

I must admit that Woodsong seems quieter and somewhat empty. But not to worry. The Taylor family are coming this weekend. Brianna wishes Samuel stayed here all the time. She liked knowing when she arrived at the farm that Sam was waiting to play and visit. And I am sure Trent feels the same way since within minutes of arriving, he and Samuel were deep into a world of their own.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Writers Guild Critique Night

A critique session was our program at the first 2006 meeting of Southern Illinois Writers Guild last night. Critique nights are alway exciting as we get to hear such diverse offerings. Of necessity, readings must be brief, with 19 in our large reading circle. Yet it is kinda nice to be left wishing for more. Our new program chair Deb Tucker kept the flow of readings going rapidly with comfortable discussion and comments after the readings. Not everyone read, but everyone told a little about themselves and their particular writing interests. Because writing is a solitary experience, most writers relish contact with others who understand their frustraions, problems, and pleasures. I've also found that writers are extremely generous in offering help to other writers, who could be considered competitors, but instead are considered colleagues and friends with a shared passion for words and stories.

Bill O'Shea, author of the compelling The Foot Post, a few years back has completed another novel--though he said he did not expect to write a second one. After four years as as a CASA volunteer, Bill felt he had to do something to help the public understand what molested children go through. His topic is not a pretty one, but the reality of child abuse makes it necessary for a humane community to wake up and recognize what is going on in the homes and schools and lanes of our cities, towns, villages and rural areas. His purpose is to help us understand. When the book is published, Bill plans to donate all profits to prevent child abuse. We'll keep you posted when the book becomes available.

Monday, January 16, 2006

A Brief Snow

Fluffy white flakes filled the view out of our windows last Friday, and they comforted me as I wrote a sad condolence note to a friend who had just lost her husband. Driving to Crab Orchard for my hair appointment, the bushy cedars beside the road were tipped in white, and all the other trees had trunks painted white on their north side. The next morning when I stepped out of my bedroom, Samuel had already been outside, and he was standing in the front hall eating snow out of his mitten. But the snow soon melted and only patches in the grass remained.

Because of the snow, Gerald did refill the bird feeder on the deck that the wind had tipped over, and we are getting some small birds. They are brown with some reddish feathers.I think they are finch. We have hoped to see our pair of woodpeckers again who came all last winter, but so far we haven't. We rarely see cardinals here at this house while we used to have an entire side lawn full of a flock of them occasionally over at Pondside Farm. So it was especially sad for Gerald to find a dead cardinal on the deck the other day.

We assume it ran into one of the glass doors. We hadn't had the problem here. (Barn swallows used to do that on the porch at the other house.) We do have hummingbirds who get into Gerald's high-ceiling shop and can't find their way out, and he cannot shoo them out. It amazes me that they can find their way to Mexico and back and yet they cannot find their way out of the large open doors that they flew through into the shop.

Without snow on the ground, there is no need for birds to come to the deck. The current government conservation plan for farmers to plant native grasses for ground cover provides abundant bird seed. Our fields are full of birds feasting there. They don't usually need our handouts. I'm not talking about the ducks and geese, however. Gerald has them spoiled for regular snacks of corn spread beside the lake. They gather at the edge in the lake below my bedroom window and noisly breakfast most mornings.

The Cedars and we had a hello/goodbye lunch in a Marion restaurant yesterday with Erin, who drove in Saturday evening from the Chicago area after her California trip. She left us to complete her "grandmother run" to go on past our place to her other grandmother and great grandmother's houses. I suspect by now she back on the highway again returning to South Bend. Her spring semester classes begin in the morning. I bet the snow hasn't melted there.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Save Those Empty Medicine Bottles!!

Mindy Hammonds explained that one way the Hands of Hope family clinic saves money is to use donated medicine bottles.

So today I searched out a cardboard box from the tornado shelter and will label it before Sunday and place it in the church hallway. I had taken bottles there before so this was not new information to me, but several had no idea that their old bottles could have practical value to someone else.

Mindy told us that we do not even need to remove the labels since they have volunteers who put the bottles in a steamer that takes care of removing them. The first time I took bottles there, I had conscientiously removed the labels. What a job!! And what a relief to find that was not necessary. You may of course if you desire for privacy, but you don't need to for the clinic's sake.

If you live in Williamson, Johnson, or Franklin Counties, just drop your bottles by Hands of Hope Family Clinic at 808 West Prairie in Marion. Or better yet, collect as a group, and then only one person will need to make the delivery trip. That saving of gas can help our environment even as your medicine bottles help the working families who cannot afford health care.

If you live elsewhere, find out if there is a clinic somewhere near you that could use your empty bottles after you use the meds. The clinic brochure tells us that nationwise, over 44 million Americans are either uninsured or underinsured. Putting off needed health care creates more serious problems for those who are already struggling to live on a low income.

The Hands of Hope Family Clinic accepts no fees for services and cannot bill Medicaid for public assistance. These families are not elgible for such help because they are working and make more than allowed.

The brochure explains, "The clinic is organized as a tax-exempt , Illinois not-for-profit corporation and is governed by a board of directors made up of area health care and public health oficials, business professionals, physicians, clergy, and lay people. Day to day operations of the clinic are overseen by a paid director and two part-time employees. All other medical, nursing care, case management services, and clerical support is provided by volunteers."

If you have time and needed skills to volunteer, see if you can help. If you have money to donate, the clinic can use it. Otherwise, save those empty medicine bottles and help out in this small way!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Hands of Hope for Working Families

Our church hosted an associational women's meeting on Monday, and we were pleased to learn more about Sarah Bethel's Hands of Hope Family Clinic. Actually Dr. Jack Keller and many others from First Baptist Church and other churches dreamed this dream and brought it to fruition. But Mindy Hammond, director, let us know that Sarah was instrumental in causing her to give up her well-paid job and come to direct the clinic.

Mindy paid much well-earned respect to Sarah, her former supervisor at Marion Hospital, who with others established this clinic for working families. Despite being employed, these families ccannot afford health care nor health insurance. Mindy told us that the average salary of people they help is $7 an hour. Figure that out with a 40 hour week (which many people cannot obtain) and you will quickly see why these citizens cannot afford doctors nor expensive medicines.

Hands of Hope is open to see patients on Tuesday evenings and Thursday afternoons thanks to Dr. Keller and Dr. Jeff Parks and many other volunteers. The clinic is not designed for emergency care, and patients must have an appointment, which they can obtain by calling (618)998-8282 for information.

People can call Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Clinic workers will determine if they are elgible when they call to set up an appointment. Patients are asked to bring proof of income and residency in Franklin, Johnson, or Williamson Counties to their first appointment.

The brochure passed out explains the types of care available to uninsured working families who meet the income criteria and do not have access to Medicaid, Medicare, or Veterans Benefits.

Available care includes: scheduled primary care, check-ups, physical exams, acute non-emergency medical care, diagnostic tests (such as lab work or X rays) at designated hospitals when ordered by clinic physicians, help with obtaining prescription medications, and referrals to other agencies. Mindy also stated that prayer is used not only to keep the clinic open, but to help those who need better health.

Since the clinic was established in 1999, thousands upon thousands of dollars' worth of care and medications have been provided to working families. At the beginning, no other such clinic existed south of Springfield. Now both Carbondale and Saline County also have clinics.

Many more serious health problems can be prevented when early care is provided to people. How good it is that so many have donated time, service, and money to keep the clinic going. If you gave to United Way in Marion, you helped the clinic financially. But other donations are always needed along with your prayers. Why not drop by 808 West Prairie Street in Marion and take them a small check? Or a big check if you can afford it!

Monday, January 09, 2006

Can you say "cantonment"?

At the monthly meeting of the area genealogical society yesterday, not only was it confirmed for us that "cantonment" meant camp as we thought, we also learned to say that middle syllable to sound like "tone."

On January 1, 1800, Cantonment Wilkinson was established on a riverside slope near the Chain of Rocks that caused boats to slow down at that spot on the Ohio River. Unlike Fort Massac or other forts with a barricade to protect the smaller group of men inside, the cantonment was a collection of small log cabins closely built together with each one probably housing six men. Because France was frightening the United States with the possibility of cooperating with Spain in a threatening way that might shut off our access to using the Mississippi River, forces were thought to be needed in this area. The camp existed until late summer 1802 when the threat diminished.

Although the camp housed close to 2000 men and was the largest camp of its time, all above ground traces of the camp were gone. Until 2003, historians were not certain exactly where it stood. At that time, SIUC archeologist Mark Wagner and local residents were able to identify a large farm field on private land where a portion of the camp was located.

During excavations in the summer of 2004, Wagner, his students, and volunteers discovered thousands of fragments of glass, ceramic, and brick along with military buttons and other artifacts. Writer-producer Richard Kuenneke filmed the Summer 2004 excavactions and produced a four part series about the work that aired on WSIU-TV. We were able to see part of this during the program.

With that many soldiers crammed into a small space and sanitary provisions leaving much to be desired, many soldiers died of dysentary and malaria and were buried at the camp. A lovely picture of a farm pond was shown with the explanation that when it was built, human remains indicated that had been part of the burial grounds. Among the many that did not die of illness were six soldiers who became a part of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

These excavations of Cantonment Wilkinson indicate the importance that men like George Washington and Alexander Hamilton placed on our part of the country at the time when this lower Ohio River Valley was on the fringes of the frontier.

After the camp was abandoned, a group of Cherokee moved into the deserted cabins and stayed there until 1808 I think it was. (Did they come from Tennesee? Why did they come? Why did they leave?) According to Wagner, this was the only established Cherokee camp in our region. Soon the cabins were gone. It is possible that boats on the Ohio River pulled over and helped themselves to the lumber and hauled it on down the river to sell. The pits where refuse was burned were gradually filled in and soil and grass covered them over. The land was farmed and all surface traces of Cantonment Wilkinson ceased to exist. Beneath the earth, however, the story of the camp still existed waiting for discovery.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

South Padre Sunday and Crab Orchard Sunday

Just a week ago, Gerald and I had Brian and Mary Ellen drop us off at Island Baptist Church as they left South Padre in their rented car to return to Houston airport and catch their plane to St. Louis. (A long car trip with two children in the back seat was ahead of them.)

We enjoyed an excellent Sunday School teacher in a class of "Winter Texans." Everyone was so friendly, and the upcoming activities so attractive that I found myself temporarily wanting to become a "winter Texas" as opposed to a "weekend Texan."

The best was yet to be when we went into the crowded auditorium filled to capacity with chairs set up in the aisles. (They have a building program going to to relocate to a larger place to hold people who want to attend the services. It was announced that today the congregation would change to three services to hold the influx of "winter Texans." There will be two traditional services and one service more contemporary as the one we attended last week was. The pastor invited folk to come to all three if they wished but admitted he would preach the same sermon at all of them.)

A friendly soul shook our hand as we entered and said, "I'm Bill." And we soon discovered he was the pastor. The music was great, and Bill's sermon has stayed with us all week inspiring and encouraging us to put first things first as Mary did when she sat at Jesus' feet rather than attending to "duties." I could easily imagine what Bill meant when he said he found he was often in the Martha-mode when he took his pastoral and counselling duties too seriously and forgot to sit at Jesus' feet first and then fill his left-over time with those duties.

We walked back to our hotel with balmy breezes as we started out making the temperature just perfect. We stopped for lunch at a new KFC and some of the folk we had just met at the service smiled and spoke to us. The longer we walked after lunch, the more the breezes seemed to slow down. With the temperature in the 80s, we got warm before we finished our two-mile walk, but we enjoyed it. We reached the hotel to find family playing on the beach again. Wedding pictures were already available on the groom's laptop. That evening after great hamburgers at a local eatery with the wedding party, we gathered in the lounge to view the photos and eat left-over wedding cake. Some went to Wal-Mart and brought us all a disk of the photos.

Although yesterday was spring-like, today I woke up here in Southern Illinois with a heavy wind catching the screen on the top of the swing on our deck. I went out quickly in pajamas and changed the screen the opposite way fearing the swing might crash into the house. It was really quite warm for January at 69 degrees this afternoon, but the wind was strong all day whipping our flag and this afternoon messing up hair anytime we were out of the car on the way to the Genealogical Society of Southern Illinois where we went to hear about the excavation of Camp Wilkerson in Massac County.

Brian, Trent, and Brianna had showed up at the farm yesterday afternoon as Brian said it was too pretty to stay in the city. (Mary Ellen had to stay at home.) While his parents were in town working on their house, Samuel was supposed to take a nap here because of having spent Friday night with his friend Josh and consequently getting less than a full-night's sleep. He was in rest mode when his cousins arrived, but then there were things he would rather do than nap. The kids played hard till l0 p.m. By 11 except for David who was still at work, I think everyone was mostly through the bed switching and finally settling down. Poor Brian ended up with two kids in bed with him tho they started in other places.

He and Gerald got up early to go have breakfast in town with brother Kenny--something Brian enjoys. He took stuff up to their camper (closed down for the winter months) and checked out his farm while he was here, and he and Gerald looked at last year's records and made plans for next year. The Cedars slept a litle later this morning, but Samuel was up with the cousins since he knew they'd soon be leaving for Lake Saint Louis.

Gerald and I headed off to Sunday School in our village church, where the 35 in Sunday School were joined by a few more in morning worship. Unlike Island Baptist, we had plenty of extra seating. Our pastor, Sam, preached on Nehemiah, which he thought was going to be appropriate January Bible study for our congregation since we are contemplating building a new fellowship hall sometime in the future. We need extra space on the ground floor where we can gather for the frequent dinners and fellowship times we enjoy without having to worry about people climbing stairs or being bothered by allergens in the basement. We decided sometime ago, we would rather use money on a new hall than to install an elevator or lift of some kind.

Living in a rural area where the coal mines closed down, we have gradually lost a good many members who had to move from the area. Others from the city have moved into our area, and sometimes we succeed in convincing them that we want them to worship with us. A touching part of today's service was a heartfelt goodbye on the part of a young family who joined us last spring. Thanking us for our love and prayers and asking the prayers to continue as they move on as the husband's job requires, the wife did not realize how thankful we were that they sought our services out and joined in helping in Vacation Bible School, choir, Sunday School, and countless other ways of participation. Because we are a small community with a small congregation, we love fresh new faces and learning new life stories and enjoying delightful new children in our midst.

There were similarities and differences between services in a crowded church and worship in a small church such as Center in Crab Orchard, where everyone knows most everyone and we all feel the other person's children and grandchildren are almost ours as well. Both kinds of churches have their advantages and disadvantages, but fortunately both kinds have access to the throne of the Creator.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

After the Wedding

Returning to the winds of the St. Louis airport after the warmth of South Padre Island in Texas woke us all up to "the real world" as Erin put it. She really should not talk since she will soon be leaving to go with softball friends to visit in California and enjoy the beach again there. I hope she soaks up sufficient sun to keep her warm when she heads back to snowy South Bend and Notre Dame and the hard work awaiting her there.

Four days of travel, relaxation, visiting, eating, shopping, and getting acquainted with the groom's family during wedding festivities had certainly given us a break from our real world. We'd stepped off the plane at the airport to see lots of green grass, palm trees, bright red bougainvillea, yellow hibiscus, mesquite, cacti, blooming petunia plantings, and no need for the coats we wear here in Southern Illinois. There were beautiful lights all up the driveway between the palm trees and more Christmas decorations inside the LaCopa, where we stayed, but the decorations had a Spanish look. Our ears often heard the Spanish language spoken in the shops and restaurants as well in our hotel. Gerry got to come over a couple of days from his lodge in Mexico to join in although he could not stay as long as he wanted since this is his busiest season.

Weddings make us stop and think and reminisce about the past and look forward to the future and somehow temporarily transport us to another way of seeing life. A beautiful ceremony by the ocean was especially moving as we contemplated the waves and the waters stretching out forever, the youngsters playing on the sand, the white gulls and the colorful kites overhead, and of course the momentous changes that come not only to the bridal couple but to their families as they abruptly cut off things as they were and change to the way things have become. Watching three sisters (Tara's two and Bryan's sister Beth)with dark tresses and red dresses looking gorgeous while supporting Tara in this life-changing ceremony, we older ones remembered how it feels to see a daughter or son leave the home nest with its frequent contact, communication, and fellowship with siblings and then move on to new and better things.

We hung around for photos after the ceremony and watched the bride and groom frolic in the ocean before the whole group headed off for dinner and wedding cake. This was also the fourteenth anniversary of Mary Ellen and Brian's New Year's Eve wedding on Music Row,and we insisted on an anniversary picture under the arch. I hope Trent and Brianna enjoyed seeing their parents kiss under their cousin's wedding arch as much as we did when we finished singing "Happy Anniversary" to them. Mary Ellen had been Tara's first baby sitter the summer Tara was born, and Tara paid her back by being Trent and Brianna's nanny summer before last.

When Erin fixed hair for the bride and her maids in the hotel room, as she no doubt has done so many times at home, there were lots of giggles and inside jokes and wisecracks. There were also a few tears when something of the grandfather who is no longer with her was passed on to Tara. I remember the April that Tara was born and how that grandfather stopped every day after work at Gerry and Vickie's trailer to see their new baby. It is odd how close the past seems during a wedding week. The other grandmother and I both thought of Tara's parents' courtship and wedding--and sometimes the past seems more real than the present. Tara should still be making Gerald stop at McDonald's two and three times during a truck trip. Erin should be the little mischievious tyke who cut her hair and screamed when we brushed it--and not the lovely glamourous young lady with hair up with scarlet ribbon. Little sister Geri Ann (almost 12) should not be looking like a shorter 16-year-old version of Erin. After making the past so close, weddings also make us admit that yesterday has evolved into the present and there those children and grandchildren stand by the wedding arch: all grown up and beautiful and anticipating the future in the real world.