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.

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