Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Autumn Leaves and Other Things

Driving to Katherine’s house on Saturday, I was finally seeing yellow and light orange leaves on the trees along the roadway. Bright red was very rare. The next day, however, as we drove to church, there seemed to be considerably more scarlet, and the orange was brighter. But there is still much green on the trees, so I hope the color has not peaked yet. Does anyone know why the coloration comes almost two weeks later than it used to? For many years, I counted on fall beauty by the middle of October—not the end.

Years ago I was directing a play at Marion High School--The Thread That Runs So True about Jesse Stuart’s rural classroom The students were to decorate the room with colored leaves. Right on schedule when the play was performed, the leaves were gorgeous and available for us. For many years our church went to Ferne Clyffe on the middle Sunday of October. Many couples camped there for the weekend; and then on Sunday, some wonderful volunteers cooked the fish, hush puppies, and potatoes for our noon-time feast, which we supplemented with other dishes and desserts. Always we were surrounded with glorious colors as we worshipped, and I am still warmed by those wonderful memories. Why are we now having to wait so long for the leaves to change?

Although we are still eating sliced tomatoes twice a day from the garden, they were gathered awhile back. Frost killed the plants over a week ago, and Gerald.cut down them down along with the tall blackened orka stalks. Now we can look out the kitchen window and see the flourishing and still green strawberry and asparagus that Gerald planted last spring. Green tomatoes are in the garage wrapped in newspaper waiting for later use after ripening there.

Most fields are bare now as farmers have finished up their harvests. I feel relief because I worry about our son-in-law as he stretches his days into the night making sure their crops are safely gathered. I hope he is catching up on his sleep, but he probably is catching up on other things neglected during harvest. Mary Ellen not only works hard for her real estate customers, but she is also there pitching in at the end of a day helping move machinery or bringing late night suppers to the field. I breathe easier when they do not have to work so long and so hard.

Gerald has worked for several weeks cleaning out ditches on the other farm so that the water will drain off freely. He has chopped and knocked down saplings and thick tall weeds with his tractor equipment and prepared the sides to plant with fescue. It is now up and ready to grow through the fall to hold the soil in place.

I no longer do much fall housecleaning although I have washed a few windows. I am most proud that I went through a box of papers in the garage that the mice had found. I have no idea why that paper mish mash and those magazines were ever put in the garage in the first place some years ago, but they were. Now most are in the trash barrel to be burned, and the field mice will have to find something else for nests when they come in during the cold weather.

While Gerald was in town yesterday, someone handed him a flyer announcing “Stand Up for Vets” on Saturday, November 7, at 1205 West Pleasant Hill Road in Carbondale. If you know a veteran in need, offer to take him or her there. Warm coats, blankets sleeping bags, and other items needed for the cold winter ahead will be handed out. There will be hair cuts and health checks, educational and resume information, hygiene and food items, applications for housing, drug and alcohol treatment information. I had been reading Susan Walmsley’s Facebook posts about collecting, laundering and filling racks and tote bins in her pole barn with clothing for these veterans. I am so grateful that people like Susan and Christ Community Church are using this fall to help people prepare for winter challenges. If you aren’t located to be able to donate to this cause, remember that all our soup kitchens are in need right now because of Illinois’ budget problems. Help the helpers get ready for winter needs if you can.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Family Stories and Mysteries

Long ago I became interested in family history. Gerald had a friend in Hawaii who was interested in his family story. Soon after we were married, we visited him and his family when they came home to Kentucky on furlough. Chester urged us to look into our family while we could. My grandparents were dead, but we took a day and visited Gerald’s grandfather and great aunt and wrote down everything they told us about their parents.

A good many years later, Mother had a long-time letter writing friend who was into genealogy and sent Mother some of the forms she used. I wrote down some stuff my parents told me on those forms. My parents had been contacted by a distant relative from out East who visited them and many other Martins in Southern Illinois. He recorded what he could find out and shared it. Together he and the family worked to find information and put a tombstone on the grave of my great great grandmother at Busby Cemetery in Goreville.

They were never able to determine positively her death date, but they were able to make a good guess about the year. No one knew where her husband Valentine Martin was buried in Clinton County, but Hannah Alice McCullough Martin Nichols now had a marker. And since the family story was that Mr. Nichols had abused her and, thus, caused a son to go rescue her in a wagon drawn by a team of oxen, the name Nichols was left off the tombstone. I carried on a brief and rewarding correspondence with the family researcher and one of my dad’s elderly first cousins who had been located, but they both passed away soon after.

We never expected to find out much about Valentine except the story passed down that he died from a fall from a horse in 1858. He and Hannah had come to Illinois with the McCullough family in 1829. My Uncle Homer told me once that the Martin family had a preacher in its background even before my great grandfather William Felix Grundy Martin came to rural Goreville and married Louisa Jane Craig, built a home in Sleepy Holler after the Civil War, and with a brush arbor revival meeting changed a nearby place called Hell’s Holler to Happy Holler.

This was long before the Internet, but a decade or so later, I must have written someone for information on the McCulloughs since I thought Valentine was as far back as I could ever go with the Martins. I can’t remember to whom or how I made inquiries. I do remember that suddenly I was surprised to have strangers send me long hand written letters and large envelopes full of papers with information—some relevant and some not. This would have been wonderful, except those letters contained questions, and it seemed to me that I “should” respond as generously as the other person who had tracked me down and shared so much material. (The McCullough family had lots of people interested in their antecedents; and at that time, one of them published a newsletter on that clan.)

That was a very busy time of my life with elderly parents to help care for as well as four children to rear. I soon knew I was in over my head. I had to give up genealogy as a hobby. I swore off and promised myself to never bother anyone again with a question. I am sure this early correspondence must be in this house somewhere since I am addicted to paper and seldom throw anything away.

Genealogy was not one of my plans when I retired in 1998 after a brief late-in-life career. Learning how to use the Internet to write emails was my plan. Almost immediately, however, I learned by email that a couple of our Illinois Martins had connected with Jeffrey Martin, who had found our common ancestor in the Carolinas and even a generation beyond that back in Virginia.

I was so hooked to learn that Valentine’s father was Elder William “Cedar Billy” Martin, a preacher who came to Bedford County, Tennessee, with his family in 1817. Oh, so that was who Uncle Homer had heard stories about when he was a young man. Cedar Billy inspired a Yahoo group named after him, and the first summer of my retirement and for a long time afterward, Cedar Billy was one of the most used phrases in my life. Jeffrey Martin helped us with his encyclopedic accumulation of Martin information. Emails flew back and forth between a couple dozen people from several different states. Someone would make a conjecture, and later someone else would be able to find the correct information. So the emails contain both true and false stories as we tried to piece together what went on two centuries before. They are still on file out there in cyber space, but no one has written an email for a long time now.

In the meantime, I had become involved with a cousin’s daughter several states away, who did all her research with hand-written letters and had accumulated much information in that way. Carolyn was a highly trained psychiatric nurse, and she was as fascinated as I had always been with my precious great uncle—Oscar Isadore Martin. I had written a couple articles about his influence on my childhood summers at Mount Airy Farm. Oscar had entered the state mental hospital when I was only eight, and I assumed that was the first time. Actually it was his fifth and final time. Carolyn found out that starting at age 31, he would go in for eight months or a year or so and be discharged and evidently be all right for awhile. (He had been discharged in 1931, two years before I was born, and was not readmitted until 1942.)

Mother had told me of his early marriage and the death of his wife, so I always felt sad for this sweet uncle who was so good to us kids. I am positive in my own mind that Mother did not know that Oscar had a baby son when his 16-year-old wife died of spinal meningitis and malaria in 1908. She told me about the possibility of his having an illegitimate child, and she would have told me if she had known he had a son with his wife. Why did my father not tell her?

I found out about his son Hebron when Sandra, the daughter of my childhood playmate and second cousin, started working on family history. In the 1920 census, she found Louisa Jane still living in Sleepy Hollow. Living with her was son Oscar and her grandson Hebron, born in 1908. Oscar was in the hospital for the second time when Mother and Dad married in August 1923 so Hebron was no longer with his grandmother, or Mother would have known about him.
Oscar was discharged in December 1923. Louisa Jane died in 1924, and Oscar went back to the hospital at the end of that year for the third time. Hebron’s maternal grandmother died in 1925. Cousin Sandra could not find Hebron in the 1930 census but found where he had married and divorced in Missouri, joined the service in Utah, and then lived in California after World War II.

Before I knew about Hebron, I had interviewed a couple of older people (now deceased) who were younger than Oscar but remembered him. They told me how everyone liked Oscar, and one told me what a fine horseman he was. On Saturday farm families came to town to sell their eggs and cream, shop for groceries, and visit with their neighbors on the benches built into the front of the buildings there on Goreville’s main street.
Oscar would ride his horse Fowler down the then dirt street standing up on him and playing his banjo. He could get that horse to shake hands or do anything, and he enjoyed showing off his skill. I feel certain folks enjoyed his show.

Well, because of lack of time, I do not work much on family history any more although the need to finish essays I have started on various ancestors hangs heavy on my mind. However, for some reason I woke up at 3 a.m. recently and started pondering the mystery of Hebron and why my father had not told Mother or us about him. I have to think it was so disturbing that Hebron had disappeared from the family that Daddy did not want to talk about it. Anyhow a couple of days later, I wrote an email to my older brother and sister and a cousin in Oregon trying to stir up memories to see what they knew about that era of my dad’s life before he married Mother. I heard back from my cousin who answered a question I asked about her dad’s time line. And since then, I have called both my siblings, who also never heard tell of Oscar’s son Hebron.

But my brother Jim did tell me some great stories about Oscar’s brother Sam. And one new story about Uncle Oc. Sam ran a baling operation for many years, and Jim said Sam was baling hay for Daddy with his team and bailer. (Or was it a threshing machine?) Evidently it was necessary to dig a hole for the machine’s wheels to be placed in to keep it stationary as the horses moved around it in a circle. They finished and were ready to leave the field, and the machine had to be pulled out of that hole. A neighbor man was driving the team and he could not get the horses to work together to do this difficult task. He became angry and was yelling and whipping the horses unmercifully. Oscar went over and asked to drive the team. Jim, as a young boy, was there with them, and he said Oscar talked to the team and calmed them down completely. Then he asked the team to go forward and pull the heavy machine out of the hole. And they promptly did. I wish Hebron could have been there helping to see his dad work with the horses.

Monday, October 12, 2015

What's Cooking?

What’s cooking at Woodsong? Not much these days. With just Gerald and me living here, I have to be careful to not cook too much. Both of us have a slightly restricted diet, and that cuts out some foods. I cook our noon meal; and if I am at home I fix us a light supper of some sort. Sometimes it’s left overs. Oftentimes soup and a sandwich in the winter. Sometimes bacon and tomato sandwiches when the garden is producing tomatoes. Occasionally hamburgers with fries baked in the oven. Barbecues made from left-over roast or sloppy Joes once in awhile. Right now we are eating sliced tomatoes for lunch and supper.

If I am at Katherine’s at supper time, Gerald finds something easy to fix from the little freezer in the garage. Before I go to bed, I make the coffee for the next morning and lay out dishes on the table; and Gerald, who gets up early, makes his own breakfast—sometimes an egg in the microwave or sometimes oatmeal or even cold cereal.

I don’t particularly like to cook anymore, and I was never what I consider a good cook, but I have always liked to feed people. I like having people sitting around the table. I do not like cleaning up after a meal, but it is a necessary task. And when guests are here, I get help.

When I heard our granddaughter Erin was coming last weekend, I ran by Small’s, our local grocery, on Thursday afternoon because like lots of other people, that is where I like to buy meat. I restocked for me and Gerald, and I bought lunch meat and sliced cheddar cheese just in case Erin might need a snack some late night. (She didn’t.) I knew from experience that her schedule would be crowded with catching up with friends and the other side of her family, and it was. (I also have caught on that the kids and grandkids are very thoughtful about not wanting me to have to cook for them.) In fact, on Friday, Mary Ellen brought over a meat loaf and a dish of au gratin potatoes, which turned out to feed us for three meals since Erin ate lunch with her Gma Shirley before her hair appointment and met up with her buddy Candice for supper. I put some of the meat I’d bought into the freezer.

Just as I was getting up Saturday morning, Mary Ellen and Brianna showed up to take Erin down to Creal Springs for some sort of junkque festival going on there with people selling crafts. (I did not know it was at a barbeque place.) I knew Erin planned to go to the Johnston City Homecoming game, and I browned the large roast I’d bought at Small’s, surrounded it with veggies, and put it in the oven. I hoped someone might be there to help us eat it at lunch time. Brianna had come in carrying a fresh loaf of banana bread, and I had already finally remembered to take from the big freezer a pumpkin pie, one of several that Mary Ellen and Bri had made for Thanksgiving last year. It was left over, and I stuck it in its pie container in the freezer thinking I’d get it out sometime when Gerry dropped in. However, as the year went on, it was covered up and I forgot to get it out.

So when the craft shoppers came in laughing and showing off Erin’s pumpkin people, there was desert on the buffet along with the roast and veggies and sliced tomatoes, As it turned out, they had eaten at the barbecue place (not knowing about the roast), but they joined me and Gerald and ate dessert. This was a hit since they could send a photo by phone of Erin eating pumpkin pie to torment Gerry.

It had been so cold that morning at the junkque affair that Erin had decided not to go to the football game as I guess most of her reunion friends also decided. So we were all able to sit talking and giggling at the table as long as we wanted. Our centerpiece was Erin’s pumpkin people—Papa, Mama, and Baby Pumpkin heads made out of small blocks of wood painted orange and with faces created by ancient bolts and odds and ends from someone’s old toolbox or rusty tin coffee can perhaps found in their grandfather’s garage. Each face was unique, and they were cute little creatures. Erin is excited collecting seasonal decorations for their apartment when her new husband comes back from South Korea next year. We conjectured how much we could make if we got crafty with stuff from Gerald’s shop, and decided such little block heads could also be made into Santas or Valentine faces. Erin assured Gerald he could saw her out 90 blocks any time for her to figure out a project for her language arts students to create.

Before long Brian was able to drop in from harvesting and eat with us. Finally Trent came by to see his cousin Erin, and he made a hit with his red Mario hat. He had already eaten at whatever his morning activity had been, and eventually people had to leave and Erin had to get ready for her 10th class reunion dinner. Most of the roast was left over to be put in the fridge for this week--where the remains of Mary Ellen’s meat loaf already was. At least the pie was gone, and I was glad there was still some banana bread left because it was so good.

Erin had gone shopping with Gma Shirley on Thursday, and the Johnson family was gathering in for Sunday dinner in Erin’s honor. She was excited about getting to see her cousin Jeremy’s new baby boy. When she returned to pack for her flight back to Texas from Saint Louis, I enjoyed hearing about little Kinsley, who had brought a frog into Gma Shirley’s house. Since Shirley is one of the best cooks in our community, I had to appreciate all the largesse that Erin pulled out for us of a large plastic bag—many large slices of tender succulent ham, meat loaf, the die-for dumplings Shirley makes, corn, green beans, and cheesy broccoli. I do not know how many Shirley fed at her house that day, but she fed us most of this week! I took Katherine supper that night, and one day a piece of left over ham on our lunch table was wrapped in bread for Gerald to carry a sandwich to the field for Brian even though Mary Ellen might have already fed him. Between the left over roast and Shirley’s food, I did little cooking last week.

On Saturday, I did fix us a couple of good pork chops from Small’s with vegetables and tomatoes before I went to Katherine’s. When I returned home, Gerald told me he’d just heard that Gerry and Vickie would be coming through Sunday night. Gerry had worked a hitting clinic at Indianapolis, and then in his typical style had picked up some dogs to take to Texas via Shelbyville, Tennessee, where he had to be at 9:00 this morning.

Wanting me not have to cook on Sunday, Gerald suggested we try out that Creal Springs barbecue place the kids had said was so good. However, when he called Mary Ellen to see if they could go with us, she explained they were not open on Sunday. So we ended up going to Harrisburg to our favorite Kentucky Fried Chicken buffet and ate a wonderful meal there with its never-ending line of hungry people. Then we took a leisurely drive home down Old 13, which I had not been on for a couple of years. It sounded as if Gerry and Vickie might be arriving around supper time, and I figured I’d whip up a cake mix and make a light supper.

However, before I started, Gerry texted his dad that I was not to fix supper. They were going to take us to town for dinner. That is what we did after we enjoyed watching two little half brother puppies frolic in the front yard as they were fed and watered. We had a good visit and went to bed early since Gerry was to meet a friend at 5:15 in Marion this morning. He was taking the friend’s dog back to Texas to train. Gerry and Vickie were so quiet leaving the house this morning that even Gerald did not wake up.

I did cook us a bite of lunch today, and I guess I better do something for our supper—if I have not forgotten how.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

A Family of Teachers

After a weekend here to celebrate her tenth high school class reunion, granddaughter Erin left us with hugs and we waved her off. There was a text when she arrived in Saint Louis with the rented car to be gassed up and turned in. Another text when she was ready to catch her flight. And just as I was drifting into sleep an hour or so after Sunday midnight, I heard the loud musical signal that Gerald’s phone plays when a new text comes in. Loud enough to hear over the noise of a tractor, I suppose. I had not been waiting for it, but I knew instantly who it was and why. Gerald slept through it, and he would find it on his phone when he woke up at five or six. I rolled over and thanked God our granddaughter was safely back home in her apartment in Texas. I knew she would be getting up in a very few hours to go spend the day teaching 7th graders and then after school coaching the season’s sport for girls.

Erin is one of four women who together coach volleyball, basketball, track, power lifting. Seems like there was a fifth sport. Right now I think the season is volleyball. No softball for that age group, and oddly with all her softball coaching experience, Erin seemed to find that refreshing and less pressure on her. I do not doubt she is a fine coach.

But what I really am deeply pleased about is her class room and the 90 kids who come through it daily. I love hearing about her activities to help these kids be better writers. I enjoy hearing her enthusiasm and understanding for her “sweet babies” who may smart off or cuss her or who might even in an extreme case throw a desk across the room. I like knowing she is teaching them that is not the way to be. I like knowing that she does not take personally the bad behavior that results from a child’s life-time of home or neighborhood mis-education. (And sometimes even a lifetime of brutality.) I hate hearing the teachers who shake their heads and talk about how bad the students are today and, thus, excuse themselves from trying to earn their paycheck. This is Erin’s third year of teaching and the first in this city, and she has every intention of making a difference in students’ skills and, consequently, in their lives. And she will.

Many years ago I listened to Katherine’s stories when she taught inner city 7th graders sometimes taller than herself. Some were dangerous. Yet I never heard her talk bad about a student or hesitate to go talk to a parent in the projects if needed. She deliberately never locked up her purse; and if I am remembering correctly, she only lost one twenty dollar bill. Good teachers love their kids and never give up.

I love hearing our daughter Jeannie tell how she interacts with students in her classroom turned into an art studio. The kids are sometimes put into shock mode when they realize they must create and are not expected to do the same thing at the same time as a neighbor. For many kids this is an unsettling new experience. The freedom of not coloring within the lines (so to speak) has to be dealt with emotionally before their innate talent begins to express itself. This takes lots of time and lots of patience.

My own little long ago teaching experience was always in schools with less of the behavior challenges that Erin. Katherine, Jeannie, and my niece Kyna have faced. And I never taught long enough to master some things. So I vicariously enjoy hearing these descendants’ successes. Yet what many people do not understand is how far we have come from the days of one-room schools when teachers were routinely run off by over-grown 8th graders who liked to throw their weight (and fists) around. Yet the successful teachers—even tiny young women sometimes—could subdue the miscreants and charm kids is into learning, which all humans love to do if they find they can. (I am sure the teachers today who have died from guns would prefer yesterday’s fists, but I am avoiding that subject.)

I suspect teaching is like everything else—its success depends on determination. If one method does not work, something else needs to be tried. Quitting is not an option for a good teacher. I loved hearing my sister-in-law Vivian, whom I am sure was an excellent teacher, tell about a night class she took on discipline near the end of her career and how much she learned from that class. Good teachers are always learners and open to new ways if the new ways are better.

I did not mean to blog about teachers tonight, but education is one of my strong interests, and I got carried away. There are three or four teachers in our area whom I consider master teachers, and I always follow their careers when I can. My grandfather, who died before I was born, was a teacher. I had his teaching exam results framed for a gift for my brother, and I am ashamed to say that I loved it so much that it is still hanging on my wall. I always delighted in my brother’s stories of teaching also. One story: he became a principal in a poverty-stricken area and the basketballs were constantly being stolen by kids who did not have them. He quickly let them check them out and take them home with them, and then they were returned and none were ever stolen again.

My great grandfather did not want his son to leave the farm and ride his horse so far away the 20 miles or so to Carbondale to become a teacher. An older man in the community loaned him the money, and he was always grateful to that kind man, my daddy told me. Both my parents were teachers, and I heard them arguing their somewhat different teaching philosophies at many meals. (I saw how they respected differing opinions, and so today I value honest debate.) I saw them pile into a car with other teachers to go to Carbondale to take yet another night class in hopes of completing their degrees. Besides the loved ones I have already talked about, I have one granddaughter who taught before she had her three sons, and I have two grandchildren in their last year of college who are planning on careers in special education. I like to think this pleases that grandfather I never met.