Friday, July 27, 2007

River to River with Marilyn Schild

A welcome phone call invited me to go with Marilyn Schild on Route 146 to retrace the Cherokee Trail of Tears from the Ohio to the Mississippi. For years, I have wanted to do this, so I was delighted. I would not even have to drive! Gerald was interested in our proposed adventure, and that made me feel important and invigorated to have such an exciting day planned for yesterday.

We met up at the Kroger parking lot promptly at nine and were off down Route 57 to Route 24 to Vienna and were on the Trail of Tears at Route 146. At Golconda, we drove by the painted mural and then up on the levee enjoying our view of the Ohio but imagining hordes of Cherokee leaving behind the sadness of Hopkinsville. There flags at graves of their revered leaders White Path and Fly Smith told them of one more loss that this forced march had cost them.

We drove up to Buell House and the Davidson cabin and looked into windows before climbing back in Marilyn’s vehicle to leave Golconda behind. We passed two different bridges over swampy creek areas with cypress growing and wondered which or if both were ones requiring corduroy roads to be built for the 1838 caravans to continue. We passed through Vienna and West Vienna and remembered some of the stories associated there. Next we saw the fragile barn on the north side of Route 146, which contains the log structure of the Bridges Tavern, recently put on the list of endangered sites by the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois. Pleasant Grove Church was a couple miles up the road--also on the north.

Going on to Union County, we soon saw Mt. Pleasant Road, and Marilyn headed up it. I had a briefcase along full of saved articles, documents, maps, and books--and I usually found information after we had already passed the site. However, Jon Musgrave’s photo of the house at Mt. Pleasant that had been a wayside store was in my hands. There was no doubt when we came to the columned brick home. Resisting any desire to disturb the residents, Marilyn headed up the tree-covered lane behind that probably still looked much like it did in 1838 although by the time the December detachments passed through, the road was probably a molasses of mud and the trees would have been leafless. We were grateful for her SUV that allowed us to go to the lane’s dead end and envious of the folks camping there.

Back to Route 146, we hurried to eat at the Potato Barn only to find the parking lot crammed with the luncheon crowd. Not wanting too much of a delay, we decided to eat on our way back from the end of the Trail. On around the square in Jonesboro, I imagined that the bank was still Winstead Davie’s store. On down Willard’s Ferry Landing Road, I nodded down Cook Street, where I lived as a child and where some detachments went up and over Pansy Hill and some were turned away.

We kept going to the Dutch Creek, Sand Dug Hill, Clear Creek area where thousands had been penned up unable to get across the Mississippi River. Without proper clothes, moccasins, nor blankets, here the detachments of native preachers Rev. Stephen Foreman and Rev. Jesse Bushyhead and the white assistant conductor Rev. Evan Jones met up. I tried to hear the many prayers and songs praising God that were sent Heavenward here as the Christians held their Sunday services in freezing weather and suffered illness and death.

Going onto Ware, we went on as far as the levee (again an area where I once lived). We knew Willard’s Landing used to be over there somewhere on the riverside. When we lived in the Mississippi bottoms a half century ago, people used to refer to Big Barn as though, of course, anyone knew where Big Barn used to be. Yet no one ever showed me exactly where it was or how to get there, so I was unable to show Marilyn further.

We traveled on down 146 to Reynoldsville to take the Old Cape Road home. I wanted Marilyn to see Mission Valley Church and Fair City and Ronald and Deborah Charles’ Trail of Tears dude ranch. Enjoying the same beautiful hills Gerald and I had traveled less than two weeks before and going past Lyerla Lake and the hunting lodge there that Marilyn and her late husband had traveled to on their motorcycles when her son hunted there, we journeyed on to Route 127 and back up to the Jonesboro Square.

A co-worker of Marilyn had praised a Mexican restaurant there, and we were hungry and decided to try it. The eatery we found open turned out to be a Columbian restaurant, not Mexican, and located in the dry goods side of the old Clingingsmith Store where my parents bought me school shoes as a child. In pleasant surroundings, we enjoyed a delicious meal and a gregarious host who had traveled all over the world before leaving New York City’s Fifth Avenue to move to Jonesboro.

Enjoying a day on the Trail of Tears is always shadowed by a sense of shame at man’s inhumanity to man and the strong wish that the Cherokee could have experienced it differently.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Searching for Trails

When Gerald went to Cape Girardeau for a tractor part on Monday morning, I tagged along.

We had often traversed Route 146 from Jonesboro to Ware when we lived in the Mississippi bottoms. A few summers ago, we had driven slowly, stopped often, and searched ditches diligently for the Trail of Tears marker we both remembered. A photograph of the marker by the late Geneva Wiggs had been on the 2000 summer issue of Saga of Southern Illinois. Carole Watkins, who had grown up in that area, was emailing me directions from California assuring me the marker was there. She had just seen it that summer. Finally, she sent me her photographs to prove it. But the marker was gone. No one seems to know what happened to it.

The identical marker (both put up by the state in 1935) had long before disappeared from the more eastern area on Route 146. When Interstate 57 went in, King Neptune’s grave was moved to the Trail of Tears rest stop on the northbound traffic side; evidently the Trail of Tears marker near it had already been stolen. Sadly (and almost inconceivably), the Trail of Tears rest stops carry no information about the Trail of Tears.

But on Monday, Gerald and I were looking for the Trail of Tear routes that went south of Route 146. Recently we had been studying Marie Exter’s 1994 maps that she had shared with Geneva Wiggs, who had shared copies with me. Learning from Robin Roberts about the Lakota Sundance held in the open area south of the water plant, we wanted to see the trails that evidently led to Hamburg Landing three-and-a-half miles south of Willard’s Landing on the Mississippi River.

The detachments going to Willard’s Landing had used the route we call Route 146 and were stranded in the area of Dutch Creek, Sand Dug Hill (not dug yet), and Clear Creek before the sloughs stopped them from going on over to the Mississippi River where ice floes made getting across the river impossible for three or more weeks.

Darrell Dexter in his Saga article felt the various detachments used all the ferries on the river at that time--the two Willard brother ferries (sometimes called by their predecessor’s name of Green’s Ferry, the ferry at Hamburg Landing with Bainbridge Ferry coming over from the Missouri side to the sandbar there, and finally Smith’s Ferry leading to Cape Girardeau. It would take two or three days to ferry a detachment of l000 people across the Big River.

For Gerald this travel on Berryville Road past Lockard Chapel Church was a trip back to his boyhood. Almost every farmhouse we saw, he could remember visiting there or knowing the people back then. We had actually traveled these same roads with our friends Tom and Lois (Ferrell) Doctor a few years back--but then we were looking for traces of Lois’s ancestors--not traces of the Cherokee.

We could not resist going up to where Atwood Tower used to be. Gerald remembered the days he spent in the tower with his uncle Francis Wenger. They’d leave Uncle Francis’ car or truck at the home of Louie Kelley’s sister and walk the rest of the way when the road was not passable. Gerald said a day spent in the tower watching for smoke could become a very boring day. I bet he or his brothers livened it up for Uncle Francis, who had some sort of instrument that he could use to pinpoint the location of a fire and send word to the firefighters. Fortunately, we did not meet any other vehicles since the gravel road was not built for two cars to pass.

Although we found no traces we could recognize, we were impressed with the breath-taking steepness and beauty of the tree-covered hillsides. It was a stunning wilderness and a beautiful drive with slim but tall leafy trees reaching up trying to find sunlight. Yet I thought how difficult it must have been for the hungry Cherokee to look for game in those steep hillsides.

We went to the dead end of another road searching for a possible passage to Route 146 going south from Ware, but the road turned into a path Gerald’s pickup could not take. We had to go back and across Dutch Creek to Route 146 going south, where we crossed Dutch Creek again. Dutch Creek runs north and under the bridge on 146; and finally up above the old Morgan School area, it runs into Clear Creek, which runs south. (I hope I got that right--Gerald kept trying to explain it to me.)

We came home using the Old Cape Road with a brief side trip through Mission Valley country. From the road signs there, I guess that little village, which is known for producing both brains and musicians, may be called Fair City. I would love to attend the church there some Sunday.

But when we were growing up, we had heard that area referred to as either Ubydam Hollow or Ibedam Hollow. Like most people, I was never sure which dam hollow people were talking about, and I am not sure I had ever visited those hollows before. It was peaceful and lovely.

We continued on by Lyerla Lake and somehow onto Airport Road (which I understand is where Tickie Norris and a friend would light their plane in the old days) and finally came back out by Lockard Chapel and back to Route 146.

A brief visit with Geneva Wiggs’ daughter Billie Kaye to return some photographs made the day complete.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Summer Good-byes

Summer Good-byes

For breakfast, I met my friend Deb Tucker at the new KB Barbecue (which us old timers will probably still be calling Pulleys for the next ten years). Deb and husband are leaving by train to go the beautiful scenic route from Chicago to the state of Washington to visit his mother. Deb and I needed to have a final visit since it will be a few weeks before our schedules allow another get together.

Tonight Gerald and I took granddaughter Erin out to supper before she leaves in the morning for the 766-mile trip to Texas A & M at College Station. Since it was her farewell meal, we let her choose the restaurant, and she chose Benny‘s. It seems only yesterday we were there welcoming her home from college. It has been so nice having her around this summer. We are going to miss her.

She was on her way to another friend’s house after our supper to say goodbye and celebrate the friend’s birthday a day early. We went on to to Katherine and Dave’s house as Gerald had made copies of a photograph of all ten cousins taken up at Jeannie’s house last November. Tara had given us the photo in a special frame for Christmas, and Erin requested a copy, so Gerald made Katherine one too.

Summer brings opportunities for visits with friends and loved ones, but they must end with goodbyes. I have always realized that one reason I write is in rebellion against the transiency of life. I want to capture and hold the moments and make them permanent--without goodbyes. Gerald’s photographs do the same for us. We can hold the precious moments in our hands and see it all again.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Bun, Charlene, Collin

Instead of writing here on Wedesday night, I keep getting later and later in the week. When Audrey Biby phoned Saturday afternoon with the sad news of her father's death--just after he had fixed Audrey and Alan hamburgers for lunch and they had had a good time together--I thought I would write after his Tuesday funeral about the good life of William Martin "Bun" Handkins.

How Gerald has enjoyed visiting with Bun and hearing about his work in the coal mines as a very young man--being in charge of the mules down there. Of course, he stayed in the mines through all the later technology. Gerald never came home from Bun's house without having his spirits lifted. Bun would insist on feeding Gerald cashews or something and getting him a drink of ice water. Gerald would try to tell him to let him do it, but Bun wanted to serve him that water--even though the walk to the kitchen sometimes made him shaky.

The last time I visited with him, he was admitting that maybe he needed to accept Audrey and Alan's repeated invitation to come live with them. "If you can't keep care of things, maybe you better move on," he explained. But by the time Gerald visited him next, Bun thought surely he could stay one more winter in his own home that he loved so well.

He would have been 94 at the end of this month, and he still was going up and down the stairs to the basement, riding his tractor, driving his pickup to town, and relishing life. His niece down the road checked on him every afternoon and fed him many home-cooked meals. Gerald will miss hearing Bun brag on brother Kenny's expertise on the dozer and on our son-in-law's crops and straight rows. Not long ago, Bun had made a special stop by McDonald's just to check up on Kenny. We will miss his dropping by the farm. A good life well lived continues to be a joy.

On Sunday afternoon, we got a call about the death of Gerald's first cousin Charlene Givens. She was 79 and had been quite ill for a long time. She was always a favorite. We were saddened all over again. However, like Bun, Charlene had lived a very useful and full life and had loved many people and made many of us happy with her enthusiasm and concern. I will never forget her smile nor her laugh.

Then, however, we learned of the death of a young man in a truck accident on Sunday morning. He left behind a wife and baby girl. Although we had never met Collin Petty, we knew his parents and sister. When our granddaughter rented his grandmother's former home, Collin had been kind to her. We had prayed for Collin's daddy when he was so ill.

Many years ago, we had grieved the tragic accident of his aunt's young husband Joey Rumfelt down in the Ware community in the Mississippi bottoms. Joey was Ken and Opal's nephew and the cousin of our children's cousin, and he too left behind a young wife and baby. Ware Baptist Church was so crowded with mourners that I remember thinking what if the floor caved in.

Now this family had to go through all this again. Our hearts ache for them. The death of those of us who are at the end times of our lives is both appropriate and expected, and we often consider it a good thing even as we grieve. (When my adored father died, I really was not even able to allow myself to fully grieve for a couple of years because when I would start to grieve, I would feel selfish for wanting him to stay on earth.)

But it is much more difficult to process the unexpected death of a young parent and a beloved son who we feel has so much to live for. We have had too many of these difficult accidents in our area as well as the loss of our young service people in Korea, Viet Nam, and now Iraq. When I work on family history, I do not feel sad about the deaths that I record of older people. Oddly, I don't think we ever quite get over the sadness of those who die young.

We find ourselves still grieving for Charlene's mother who died of a stroke at age 26 when Charlene was only four. I still grieve for my mother's mother who died when my mother was six. No, that is not exactly correct. I grieve that my mother and siblings had to grow up without their mother. It meant so much to Mother when she visited Uncle Henry in the Mt. Vernon hospital and went in to help a patient in the next room who was calling for a nurse who did not come--and Mother found out that elderly person had known her mother! Such a small tie--but it meant a great deal to one deprived of a mother.

I still grieve the death of Gerald's uncle Oard Glasco, who was murdered before any of us were even born. A bunch of rowdies crashed a teenage party. (And I sometimes grieve for those rowdies, who were never convicted but had to live with this knowledge all their lives.)

Our children always grieved the death of Gerald's baby brother Clay, who died before Gerald or his siblings were born. Elijah Clay Eiler carries his name. I comfort myself that those who die young do not usually have to experience the grief of death of their loved ones--nor any other of life's hardships or illnesses they might have had to experience if their adulthood continued. It is important to realize we better express love and appreciation while we can. Those are the memories we cherish.