In the brief times I have to write, I am working on a couple of pieces of family history for the Johnson County families book expected to come out in 2012. I failed to write anything for their last book and have so regretted it. I definitely want the Goreville Martin family included in this one.
That means the couch in my office is covered with notebooks, and so are other surfaces. Photographs not looked at for years have seen the light of day. I have been reading old family letters and longing to see some of these family members again—and wishing I could meet those ancestors I never knew. Oh, the questions I’d love to ask them. Who is this photograph of a beautiful young woman? Is it my great grandmother Louisa Jane Craig Martin? I think so, but I don’t suppose I will ever know for positive. Some of Louisa’s descendants look like that photo. I urge everyone to ask the questions you want to ask now before it is too late. Of course we did not locate the mysterious photo (and many other photos) until after the deaths of anyone who might know the answers.
Since Gerald was having lunch with friends, I took off Wednesday to drive down to Goreville, the home of my branch of Martins and reminisce. I drove by the first house I remember my widowed Grandmother Sidney living in—a little green house in those days with a much talked-about rock and flower garden she had created and that I barely remember. Perhaps I don’t really remember at all and only think that I do from the talk and the very fuzzy home movie Uncle Homer took of it.
I am sure, however, that I personally remember the house on the corner of that street. I cannot pass it without feeling a warm comforting emotion. What I remember is sitting on that front porch—I think on the step—while Grandma and perhaps my mother were also sitting there on swing and chair visiting with the woman who lived there. I was only four or five because later Grandma moved to a house still standing on South Broadway, and she died when I had just turned seven. The memory of that front porch on the corner of South Fly is just a memory of emotion and a dim mental snapshot, but I dread the day when that house is torn down.
I drove on down South Fly past the new United Methodist Church building that replaced the old one, and the attractive brick Pentecostal Church, whose congregation now has a larger new facility on the north side of town that I saw for the first time as I drove down Route 37. Finally I was passing the little house Mother and Dad had bought for Grandma after World War I when prices were high—and which challenged their limited income when the Depression reduced its value and payments stayed high. If I was alive at all, I was too young to remember that house. Somewhere I heard or read that Grandma divided it up so she could rent out one side. Many people are doing that with their homes today. I didn’t turn there to go to Uncle Autie and Aunt Grace’s house now occupied by someone we sent photos to when she wished to see how it used to be.
It was lunch time, so I went in to The Old Home Place, owned by a special young couple we love from our community. I knew they would not be there, but I was hoping to see someone familiar from Goreville area, which I sometimes do although there are fewer and fewer faces I recognize in Goreville. The only person I saw that I knew was someone from Gerald’s rural neighborhood and he introduced me to his sister and nephews.
Re-enforced with their great barbecue basket, I went on down Route 37 to Busby Cemetery and wandered there as I did as a child when Daddy took us there on the third Sunday in May for Decoration Day. I was grateful no one was there. I copied some dates from tombstones, lovingly remembered my grandmother, my parents, aunts and uncles and cousins, and paid quiet respect to those who gave me life although they died long before I was born. I paused at the grave of a young woman who was killed in a car accident coming to take a final exam in a speech class I was teaching. I wondered what happened to her young son.
Family graveyards do not create the same sadly mellow but yet satisfying emotions that I experiencel when I drive familiar roads and see remaining landmarks from my youth. I don’t feel as close to my parents in the cemetery as I do when I visit former home places. I drove back and this time did turn onto Ferne Clyffe Road to go past Uncle Autie and Aunt Grace’s home which looks nothing like it did when I attended family reunions in that yard. At smaller gatherings, cousin Dick and I would leave the grown-ups and go down that road where then there was an enormous flat boulder beside the road and it became our headquarters as we enjoyed ripened blackberries in the fencerow there.
Driving on past the former entrance road to the Ferne Clyffe Park, which many of us thought the state illegally closed many many years ago, I experienced again the resentment that they did not maintain the original road into the park when they created the new one out by Busby Cemetery on Route 37. If people are ever trapped by fire inside this hollow surrounded by bluffs, a second way out could by invaluable. All of Goreville’s protests were ignored, and I did not like it then nor now.
More new homes stifled my memories as I drove onto Sullivan Road and then turned onto Happy Hollow Road towards Mount Airy Farm. The excellent road there mocked my memory of Daddy going around contacting neighbors to pitch in with money and labor to keep that road passable. (That was one of the earliest events where I enjoyed seeing my father take on community leadership.)
I probably shouldn’t have, but when I got to the mailbox at Mount Airy Farm, I drove up the little lane that I walked barefoot so many times in the summer to get the mail that D. P. “Darling” Jones delivered.I no longer knew who lived there at Mount Airy Farm, and I am sure they don’t even know the name of their farm that Aunt Myrtle named in the early 1900s. I think I was hoping someone would come out and ask what I was doing there and offer for me to get out and look around.
The house burned long ago while a second cousin’s family was living there. The old barn that housed Winnie, Tony, Ginger, and the mules and where I helped haul hay was gone. The “new” chicken house Mom and Dad were so proud of and that they moved over from Sunny Brook Farm near Ferne Clyffe no longer exists. But the trees that Cousins Eugene and Kenny and my brother Jim and I and our dog Lucky slept under are still there in the front yard of the newer home. Grandma Sidney’s special rock that I sat on is not there either. It is now on my patio, but I don’t think it has the mysterious hold on my grandchildren that it does even yet for me.
Since only several big barking dogs greeted me, I turned around and went back down the lane and continued on Happy Hollow Road until it divides when it comes to the rock-bottomed creek where my second cousins--Shirley, Bobby, and Gloria Jean--from the other side of the creek used to meet me to play and wade in the cool water. We had hollering signals worked out from our house on the hill to theirs, and we called back and forth to meet at the creek.
There I drove to the right onto Martin Cave Road knowing that my great grandparents and my grandparents had often traveled that road on horseback or in their wagons and buggies. Further on the Newton house where the second cousins lived was long gone, and so was the older Jones house where my Aunt Myrtle’s friend grew up. Each girl had named their family home, and that is why we called the farm where I spent summers Mount Airy Farm. This friend later became a syndicated columnist, and I romanticized about her although I never met her. I was no longer sure where either house used to be.
The further I drove, the narrower the road became. Huge ancient trees lined both sides of the road along the banks six to seven feet high. I knew those lovely trees now showing their fall colors were also seen by my ancestors. There were a few house places, and I thought surely anyone choosing to live that far in the country must be a kindred spirit to me. Then I saw a trespassing sign in one lane and realized they might not like me as much as I liked them. Yet in my heart, I had to feel these present-day newcomers with their no-trespassing signs were the interlopers. This was MY place.
I kept going although I had no idea what I would do if I met someone else on the road only wide enough for one car. The only place I could have turned around was in one of those few house entrances. I did not want to quit before I came to the end where I knew a gate would end the road, for Martin Cave Road no longer goes on down to Sleepy Hollow where my great grandfather William Felix Grundy Martin built three-room house after the Civil War. I was last there when Gerald and I rode horses there during our engagement. When Aunt Meda died in 1950, I guess my great Uncle Sam lived there for while but then in his grief moved up to Mount Airy Farm. Sam left her clothes in the closet and the tools in the cave near the house, and gradually nature had its way. Gene Ward Walker bought the acreage, I believe, and later it was sold to the state. When my cousin Doug brought his son David after his high school graduation in California, they hiked down through the thick woods and heavy brambles to the remains of the old homestead and came back covered with ticks. I know of others besides myself who would love to go again, but it really is not a feat many could do.
Realizing that the edge of one part of that narrow road was washed out, I found myself saying a prayer that there would be a place to turn around at the end of the road. I was sure I could not easily drive that entire distance in reverse. No sooner had I shot up the prayer than I decided it was a lot to ask that suddenly a turn-around place be miraculously provided for me if one did not already exist. So I asked that I be able to turn around if there was such a spot at the end of the road. There was and I did, but I am convinced without the prayer I might not have succeeded because it was tight and rocky quarters at road’s end. Louisa’s narrow buggy could have made it easier than I did, but I think she was among that great host of witnesses cheering me on.
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