Thursday, December 31, 2009

Day 184/365 Not A Moment Longer

The other day I mentioned rescuing a crushed plastic tote from a collapsed bookcase with my last post being wedding photos from another galaxy far, far away.

But I saved the best for last. The last night of 2009, the last word, one last uncanny coincidence, and, lastly, and most of all, the last word towards righting a long-ago wrong.

In that crushed plastic box were several tintype photos, most with their original leather boxframes, complete with covers secured by tiny hook-and-clasps. I remember finding these when my great-aunt left me her stash of family history (13 boxes worth), but had only given them a quick look, and then somehow unaccountably packed them away in said plastic tote.

Now I have them out, and have identified a college photo of my great great grandfather, taken before he joined the Smyth County Blues in 1861. He is quite the young man, gentlemanly, well-dressed and, like all young men, quite impressed with himself. So we'll leave him there, and move along to the next photo, the one taken several years after the War.

This is actually two tintypes, not meant to sit in this frame together, but placed in next to each other, by someone. Possibly the two tins were taken one after the other, papa holding the older daughter, mama holding the baby. The backdrop is pastoral and looks to be the same one.

This is again my great-great-grandfather. Wander here for his story. He's holding my great aunt Addie and his necktie is crooked, so I imagine she's been playing with it.

The woman could be none other than my great-great-grandmother, Adeline Virginia Magruder. She's the one lost to us all, locked up by her husband in the asylum. The one we had never seen a picture of.

I don't remember seeing these before, so I'm thinking they were in with all the other photos, and we assumed they were of someone in the family, so they were kept. After dwelling on them with a magnifying glass it's apparent it's Adeline, and her husband.

I can't help but wonder who kept that one tintype. The husband who never mentioned her, or the girls who never asked how their mother was? Or was the stigma so great that the tintypes were put away, and the poor woman never brought up out of embarrassment? (and lest we forget, this ignorant behavior was repeated in the 1980's when so many died of AIDS)

Somehow it ended up in a box of assorted photos - her husband, her children, her home, her horses, her dogs. Just one of her.

Welcome back Adeline -only 121 years later, on the last night of 2009.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Day 183/365 Speaking of Vortexes

Sorry for the lack of posting lately -I've been involved in a major moving/sorting/cleaning/shifting project involving two or three thousand books, and a dire shortage of bookcases.

BUT- this afternoon, I performed an emergency removal of a plastic bookcase (standard walmart issue) that had literally collapsed under the weight of books. On the bottom shelf there was a green plastic tote that I thought was empty. Turned out it was full of a lot of family items I'd misplaced, so the day after Christmas turned into a sortof Christmas sequel.

Among the photos were these 22 year old relics from our Renaissance Festival wedding. Not too long ago, a couple online friends mentioned they'd like to see them, so now the rest of you have to suffer too.

Worse, some of my readers were there the first time, so you get to suffer a second time.

Most of these pics are from guests, but the genie here did the professional pictures. It's hard to tell, but he had a blond mohawk and a more than passing resemblance to a sheik. In real life he's a professional photographer, custom jewelry designer and works with healing stones.

The troubadour supplied the 'middle ages' renditions of the songs we chose (which included a couple Beatles tunes). He's a master at what he does.

The Blue Lion Tavern, scene of the crime. Our guests included my corporate life friends, friends from high school (you know who you are), a couple bikers from the club we were riding with then, and of course, the relatives.

Mac the Mugmaker, also conveniently a Unitarian minister, and a Scotsman to boot. He let us re-write the vows. My deletion of the whole "obey" thing saved my dad from rolling in the aisles laughing uncontrollably.

The reception music. Not the Beatles, but you work with what you get.

My mom and dad, fresh from the Middle Ages. They had a blast. This would be the time to explain that at the RenFest, if we booked a wedding, everyone in the wedding had to be authentically dressed. After deciding if we wanted to be married as nobility, merchant or peasant class, we were issued guidelines for our class (merchant). Nobility involved velvets and furs and with the wedding in August, this wasn't an option. No one ever chooses peasant (not much you can do with sackcloth and ashes).

So merchants we were. This involve 100% cotton, no velvets, no furs, no tall hats.

The reception staff. When they weren't at our wedding, they were performing as jugglers and court jesters. Years later, they were still tossing things at us when we visited the festival.

The reception. We never saw it or any of the food. The genie had us corralled to do pictures, and by the time we made the reception the food was gone. What's funny is that we have several pictures of the food, but don't recognize any of the people eating it.

Meeting King Henry and Queen Caroline. Our first time meeting royalty, and yes, I curtsied. After a royal party with fire jugglers, dancers with boa constrictors and sword tossers, Their Highnesses invited us to ride in their parade.

On the elephant. My husband's son is perched in front on the ears, and we are hanging on the back. I love elephants. Up close and personal, they are hairy, itchy and shamelessly beg constantly for peanuts.

And then there were the bellydancers jingling and shimmying all along the parade, somehow avoiding the elephant feet.

The obligatory ring/hands photo, except ours is on a medieval sword, with my one-of-a-kind ring designed by Neal Nye, jeweler to Her Majesty The Queen, and my husband's corresponding ring with our family coat-of-arms. He took my name, and the heraldry came with it.

And finally the official wedding party photo, taken by our genie-sheik. Each dress has 33 yards of cotton. That's almost an entire bolt of material.

Try manuevering that in a port-a-potty, in August.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Day 182/365 Vortex

The vortex of December 15.....or, how many significant events can happen on any one particular day?

In 1791, The Bill of Rights took effect after being ratified by the state of Virginia

In 1890 Sioux Indian Chief Sitting Bull was killed in Grand River, South Dakota.

In 1938 the ground was broken for the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.

In 1939 the movie "Gone With the Wind" premiered in Atlanta, following a song performed by a 6-year-old Martin Luther King, Jr with his church choir(don't believe me?)

In 1944 swing bandleader Glenn Miller was killed when his military plane disappeared into the fog over the English Channel.

In 1961 Nazi Adolf Eichmann was sentenced to death by an Israeli court.

In 1966 Walt Disney died at age 65.

And in a final burst of humor from the same chuckling karma that put MLK, Jr. onstage at the segregated premiere of Gone With the Wind:

In 2003 the late Sen. Strom Thurmond's family finally acknowledged Essie Mae Washington-Williams' claim that she was Thurmond's illegitimate bi-racial daughter.

I know there's a pattern and a balance in there somewhere.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Day 181/365 Forgotten Bookmarks

This is Cheryl Ann. She sent this to Granny in 1968, when she was 13, from Alcalka, Spain. Some people look good in polka dots. Cheryl Ann is one of them (I'm not). At some point during the last 41 years, Granny stuck this photo in one of her books, and it ended falling out into my hands.

People forget things in books. A month or so ago in a book club edition of Outlanders (my favorite book), I found $25 dollars in crisp new bills, pinned to a note that explained they were Sharon's winning lottery ticket. Who is Sharon? No idea.

Sometimes people forget things in picture frames. This little buck-a-roo is a classic early Sixties 11 x 14 print, complete with rolled up cuffs on stiff blue jeans, cowboy boots, and a shirt that I'll bet was red gingham. I'll also bet this was taken after school, and this kid ran home to watch Roy Rogers and sing "Happy Trails to You ... until.. we... meet...again."

Sometimes the photos are older. This one dates to the 1940's, and not only are baby and mama included, but so's the boxer pup. The back says it's Balboa, California, and in their black and white world it's October 18, 1942. All three are handsome and stylish in that wartime way. This one hangs by my desk - I just like these folks.

No writing on the back of this one - I'm imagining a homeplace back on the farm, and this is one of the sons visiting home from college, all dressed up in his 1920's suit, hair slicked back, and watch fob chain just so. He's holding someone's hand - maybe this was the first time he brought His Girl home to meet the parents. Maybe they weren't impressed, so they just took the photo of him.

This plain early American house was stuck in a 1920's fishing guide. Looks to be a former log cabin, maybe an old roadside tavern, updated to the 1930's, with the original rock chimneys. When closely examined, it's actually a black and white photo, and only the roofs have been tinted green, with just a faint rosy pink glow at the distant tree line. This was common in the Fifties. Marshall Oils (kindof look like pastel crayons) were used to colorize black and white photos.

And then - the ultimate find in a book:

A will.

Found in a 1953 Guide to Montgomery Alabama. Folded carefully, and tucked tightly in.

Don't worry -it's in pencil, and clearly labeled "copy" in the upper righthand corner.

It's addressed to Elizabeth, and mostly everything goes to her, nevertheless, there's quite a bit of specification:

Portrait of Great Grandfather William Armistad, 2 vases on mantel in livingroom, Sayre genealogy, some Virginian families. The blue and silver basket for sugar. Half of flat silver (who got the other half?) Chinese vase that was Rosalie's. Divide the china (but doesn't say among who). Sheffield tray on sideboard.

And then:

I leave Elizabeth my diamond crescent pin and my gold circle pin that I received on my fiftieth anniversary -given me by Philip's relatives. They are suppose to be in chest of drawers in living room.
(Signed) Lucy B. G. Trout

One may only suppose she means the pins are in the chest of drawers, not the relatives.

If any of these forgotten bookmarks belong to your family, send me an email. I'll keep them safe and sound, until I hear from you.

Actually, I'll keep them safe and sound even if I never hear from you. Cause I'm just like that.

Well, except for the $25 lottery winnings - that sucker is long gone.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Day 180/365 Bedlam

I'm still fascinated by my great great grandmother's sojourn in an insane asylum(her story:Day 174/365 Health Care, 1887 Style ) and have been spending a bit of time researching turn-of-the-last century insane asylums.

There's enough there to write a hundred blogs for a hundred years, but a few tidbits jump out.

This is Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride (isn't there a remarkable resemblance to Bob Newhart?). Instead of locking up the insane in prisons and poorhouses, his approach was based on what he called Moral Treatment. The idea was that isolation from cities, in a relaxing atmosphere, with good basic food and fresh air, would cure the insane.

To accomodate this method, he designed a "bat wing" building design, with the thought that the breezes would be able to flow through each building unobstructed. Male patients were housed in one wing, and women in the other while the most violent patients were housed on the ground floor, in the outermost buildings, farthest from the administration offices in the center building.

Maybe they didn't believe their own press about curing the insane.

I found the following list of reasons a person (and a LOT of women) could be committed to an insane asylum. It's long. On account of there were SO many ways to be insane back then.

Read this list carefully, and see how many justifications there were for locking your wife away.

OCTOBER 22, 1864 to DECEMBER 12, 1889
(Different hospital than my gggrandmother was locked in, but exact same time period)

Bad company
Bad habits & political excitement
Bad whiskey
Bite of a rattle snake
Bloody flux
Brain fever
Business nerves
Carbonic acid gas
Cerebral softening
Congestion of brain
Death of sons in the war
Decoyed into the army
Deranged masturbation
Desertion by husband
Disappointed affection
Disappointed love
Dissipation of nerves
Dissolute habits
Dog bite
Domestic affliction
Domestic trouble
Doubts about mother's ancestors
Effusion on the brain
Epileptic fits
Excessive sexual abuse
Excitement as officer
Explosion of shell nearby
Exposure & hereditary
Exposure & quackery
Exposure in army
Fall from horse
False confinement
Feebleness of intellect
Fell from horse
Female disease
Fever & loss of law suit
Fever & nerved
Fighting fire
Fits & desertion of husband
Gathering in the head
Gunshot wound
Hard study
Hereditary predisposition
Ill treatment by husband
Imaginary female trouble
Immoral life
Jealousy & religion
Kick of horse
Kicked in the head by a horse
Liver and social disease
Loss of arm
Marriage of son
Masturbation & syphillis
Masturbation for 30 years
Medicine to prevent conception
Menstrual deranged
Mental excitement
Milk fever
Moral sanity
Novel reading
Opium habit
Over action on the mind
Over heat
Over study of religion
Over taxing mental powers.
Parents were cousins
Pecuniary losses: worms
Periodical fits
Political excitement
Religious enthusiasm
Religious excitement
Rumor of husband's murder or desertion
Salvation army
Seduction & dissappointment
Self abuse
Severe labor
Sexual abuse and stimulants
Sexual derangement
Shooting of daughter
Snuff eating for two years
Softening of the brain
Spinal irritation
Sun stroke
Supressed masturbation
Supression of menses
Tabacco & masturbation: hysteria
The war
Time of life
Uterine derangement
Venerial excesses
Vicious vices in early life
Women trouble
Young lady & fear


I'm thinking just being a woman in the late 1800s was enough to drive a person crazy, and if you weren't crazy when you went in, you went crazy shortly thereafter. Now to find out which floor/building great great grandma was in, cause the women in our family don't start out real patient as it is.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Day 179/365 A Thanksgiving Story...with apologies to Truman Capote

This is a Thanksgiving story like no other -involving hot dogs, woodburning pot-belly stoves, roaming buffalo, a high school prom gown, and a Nascar hat.....and West Virginia.

Are you thinking there's no way I can wrap all that into a coherant story?

Watch me.

The background.....

Appalachia, Christmas 1955. That's me in the middle, tasting my uncle's finger. More pertinent to this story, that's my favorite cousin, Pete, on the right. He's insisting to one of my parents that, yep, the baby sure does love moonshine!

Fast forward to Christmas 1960. Me n' Pete. No idea what we were up to, but whatever it was, no good came of it. At some point, he had decided I was actually his little sister, rather than his cousin, thereby taking up the burden of teaching me about life.

Pete's graduation picture, 1968. More than a few disillusioning years later.

The suit was borrowed from our granddaddy, and the sleeves are too short. The flower in the buttonhole was bright red and this is the only time I ever saw him in Sunday clothes. Pete had ears like my granddad's, rolled his cigarettes up in his sleeve, and loved Elvis and fast cars more than life. Later this day after graduation, he would take me out to teach me how to drive (I was 13). He figured the best way to do this was on a twisty, mountain road, after dark. There may have been more moonshine involved. All I remember is him saying "just because there's an brake don't mean you have to use it."

I don't feel free to go into all the details of his life - he got the short end of the stick, actually the short end of several sticks. He consistently made poor decisions, and I have several letters he wrote me from prison. And once he got a extra-long car-carrier tractor trailer stuck in an S-switchback curve on the backside of Hungry Mother State Park, which,in retrospect, was clearly posted "No Tractor Trailers", but, hey, he thought he could make it.

In spite of all that, and maybe because of it, he was always my most beloved cousin. He was the sort that would always be there for me, no matter what. He was the one who always did something outrageous, and many times, probably illegal. I can still hear him saying "That's my baby cousin!"

So in 1997, a few days before our first Thanksgiving back in Virginia, my favorite cousin Pete died.

It was sudden. He had lung cancer that was trumped by a massive heart attack at the breakfast table.

Being Pete, he completely upstaged Thanksgiving Day with his funeral and everyone had to drop their normal Turkey Day plans to travel to West Virginia for the services.

The Paint Bank General Store was the only place to eat between Roanoke and Gap Mills. This is the new,improved version. Thanksgiving 1997 was several years before this version was available.

The general store had wooden floors with a pot-belly stove, the original display cases with dusty piles of faded merchandise, 1970's postcards, and the worst hot dogs I have ever eaten. It was a glorified bait shop.

Note*Someone has since purchased it and performed a miracle. It has a proper restaurant, and wonderful food, and is well-worth the trip. Not sure if they still carry bait.

From the general store, there is only one road to Gap Mills. It is lined with buffalo. Live buffalo.

Large buffalo. Large buffalo that come right on up to the side of the car. They do not care if you are funeral-bound. They do not care that you are in a car, or possibly, that you exist at all. They are buffalo. Very very large buffalo.

Driving around the buffalo, we eventually arrived in Gap Mills. There are only two streets, therefore we only made one mistake before we found the correct road to the church. This particular church has sat in these West Virginia hills since the 1800's, and its most sophisticated feature was the doorway. Inside, there were eight pews on either side framing a potbelly stove that provided meager warmth. The carpeting was faded and worn, and the original oil lamps still hung on the walls between the windows.

Various family members were there, including one aunt who was there hoping for nothing more than good food afterwards, the other cousins who weren't on speaking terms with Pete when he died (they may have been hoping for a meal too), four out of five of Pete's step-children (the fifth is in the service in Germany) and their mother (Pete's current and third wife), plus his first and second wives.

The remaining pews were filled with either friends or extended family of one of the wives, including several men in flannel shirts and a couple in ill-fitting black dress suits, more than a few women in blue jeans, and one woman in a pink-sequined floor-length prom dress.

Pete was laid out in a long-sleeve shirt, jeans and his favorite NASCAR baseball hat with his pouch of chewing tobacco tucked in the casket, right where he could reach it when he needed it.

When everyone else thinks of a Thanksgiving with a beautifully basted turkey, cranberry sauce, and an elegant tablesetting, I think of buffalo, hot dogs and pink prom gowns.

And my much-missed, favorite cousin, who has now left the building, and left it much emptier than I ever imagined it could be.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Day 178/365 The Least Stressful Holiday

Lincoln's Thanksgiving Proclamation

Washington, DC—October 3, 1863

The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they can not fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict, while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well as the iron and coal as of our precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people.

I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.

And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the imposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the divine purpose, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity, and union.

In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed. Done at the city of Washington, this 3d day of October, A.D. 1863, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

Abraham Lincoln

Thanks to the National Archives, our particularily American national treasure.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Day 177/365 Old-Fashioned Christmas Merchandising

Ever find yourself yearning for the good ol'days? Those days when Christmas wasn't so commercial? When the Christmas shopping season didn't begin in August?

Those old-fashioned days when a Philadelphia merchant thought of a great promotional idea allowing kids to come and visit Santa in his store (conveniently located in the toy department), and Montgomery Ward created Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer as a promotional tool, with a full-color picture book given out with every order.

Roanoke Virginia (our nearest little "big" city) had a creative Christmas merchandising idea: 60 years ago tonight for the first time they built and illuminated the Mill Mountain Star, a 100-foot-tall neon star, stuck at the top of Mill Mountain, overlooking the valley.

Previously, all Mill Mountain had was an incline railroad, which is long-gone today, but if you now where to look, the tree lines can still be seen. Today, there has been occasional mention of reinstating the incline, but so far it hasn't happened.

Shortly after the star was finished in 1949, this is what it looked like. Behind it you can see the Franklin County valley stretching towards Rocky Mount. In front of the Star is the scenic overlook.

Form the overlook, this is the city of Roanoke, and the Roanoke Valley.

The same view at night. Roanoke looks for all the world like a beautiful metropolis. Why all those lights are on is beyond me, because this town rolls up it's sidewalks at 10 pm.

A refurbishment in 1997, just to give you an idea of the size. During it's construction, roughly 25 people worked on it, without safety harnesses, in the cold mountain winds. No one got hurt and no one fell. No one really paid much attention to it. It was just another job, a commercial endeavor, a marketing ploy by the local merchants association. No one expected it to stand for 60 years.

Originally, the neon lights were red and white. During the Bicenntennial, blue was added. During the Virginia Tech shootings, the star shone all white. The star is turned on from dusk to midnight, and can be seen for 60-75 miles from airplanes. In 1999, this big Christmas decoration was placed on the National Register of Historic places. Long before this, the city had adopted its nickname from the neon structure: the Star City.

So the next time Christmas seems too commercialized, just remember one of those gimmicks might catch on, and you could be looking at it for the next 60 years.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Day 176/365 Angels on the Head of A Pin

There are a handful of pivotal days in history-those days where entire cultures remember where they were and events as they unfolded: the news of the firing of Fort Sumter and four years later the assassination of Lincoln, the assassination of President Garfield, the attack on Pearl Harbor, the dropping of the atomic bomb, and of course the assassination of John Kennedy.

Those events are so huge, so looming, that it's always surprising to find out that other things happened throughout history on that day as well.

On November 22:

Blackbeard the pirate died in 1718

Charles de Gaulle was born in 1890

The SOS distress signal was officially adopted in 1906 (just six years before the Titanic would use it to no avail)

The Beatles White Album was released in 1968

The Concorde began flying between New York and Europe in 1977

Mae West died in 1980

Margaret Thatcher resigned

There is no mass cultural memory that recalls where we were when Mae West died, or what it was like when the first Concorde took off.

Television and the internet have made it easier to create mass cultural memories. Events like Columbine stand out in most American's memories (except for one 20-something in my daughter's English class, who was completely lost when another student's paper on "Columbine" was read. She kept whispering "What's Columbine????" Some people will always be oblivious to the life around them).

Meanwhile as the "touchpoint" generation for each of these events ages and passes on, all we have is the written or recorded memory. There are no living witnesses to the Civil War and World War II veterans are dying at the rate of 1000 a day. In forty years, almost all of the generation who were children when John Kennedy was assassinated will be dead.

When the primary witnesses to history are gone -the ones that lived it or witnessed it, or felt the immediate impact, the touchpoint is gone. The event passes into the pages of history, and recedes from human memory, make it easier to re-write history to achieve momentary goals of politicians and businessmen.

At some point in the future, perhaps the CIA will feel safe enough to release the almost one million pages of records it has retained on the Kennedy assassination, before someone decides to destroy and re-write the historical record.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Day 175/365 All the News in Black and White

I think November 22, 1963 set the tone for the rest of my life.

Ever since then, I've never accepted the government's explanation for much of anything, from a parking ticket to the war in Iraq. That day was the beginning of my distrust of any "official"

And it was the only time I ever saw a teacher slap a student.

We were sitting in third grade and Stephanie had been sent to the principal's office with some note or the other. She came back and said no one would take her note, that they were listening to the radio. No-nonsense Mrs. Parnham insisted that was silly, and Stephanie said the principal told her the president had been shot. And Mrs. Parnham slapped her, and said that was a horrible thing to say and she shoud be ashamed of ever saying something that awful.

It was only the first in a long line of awful things that week.

Being that my school was in Lousiania, Catholic bastion that it was (is?), the Kennedy's were very popular there. Our school was dismissed immediately while the parochial school on the side of the playground fence was hurrying to mass to pray. The nuns had tears running down their faces with handkerchiefs clutched in their hands, and the kids looked as confused as we were.

I found my mother sitting in front of the TV, crying, while Walter Cronkite fought to keep his composure. Dinner that night was a peanut butter sandwich because no one could tear themselves away from the TV screen.

Dad came home early from work, and while watching the evening news, I heard him say "Johnson finally did it." Later, when it was discovered that Oswald had been living in New Orleans, it was almost impossible not to jump to the conclusion that the mob had something to do with the assassination. After all, it was a long-standing tradition in New Orleans that the mob had something to do with everything.

I had been given a new scrapbook several weeks before and still wasn't sure exactly what I was suppose to put in it. Pretty photos of nature? Interesting animals? That weekend I put my first picture on page one: a grainy black and white newspaper photo of the riderless horse with the stirrups turned backwards as it followed the cassion in John Kennedy's funeral.

While I glued it in place, the TV ran in the background, the sound of those drums permanently sticking in my memory.

For someone my age, in 1963, the president was still The President, the only guy bigger than your Dad. The government was trustworthy, and Americans were good people. Bad things didn't happen to our country -we had the good life.

It was literally earth-shattering to have a president assassinated. Coming a year after the Cuban Missile Crisis, it was terrifying, particularily living in southern Louisiana, well within range of Cuban missiles. As young as I was, the assassination was much worse than 9-11. It was a very personal event, as if a family member had been lost.

Someone pulled the rug out from under us, our world was shaken and turned upside down,and life shifted into black and white, with nothing quite ever again as it had been.

As it turned out, it was just the beginning -the top of the hill before a very, very long descent.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Day 174/365 Health Care, 1887 Style

When a person finally gets around to researching their family history, it's with the assumption that whatever ancestors they find, they will like. Funny anecdotes and charming stories will abound, and the ancestors will be, for the most part, upstanding citizens and people one would be proud to be descended from.

Logically of course this cannot be true for everyone. What about the family that is more complicated, with accomplishments and lofty endeavors that, for the most part, make their descendants proud - with the exception of one glaring event that seems, well, not admirable, not easily understood, and, at best, not explainable?

The young Civil war soldier above is my great-great grandfather, Robert Crutchfield Green. The day this was taken, April 16, 1861, he was in his hometown of Marion,Virginia. It was four days after Fort Sumter had been fired on, and the day after Virginia voted for secession. This photo was taken by a traveling photographer who saw a profitable window open when he set up his cameras inside the Marion railroad depot. Over a hundred young soldiers departed that day to join the Stonewall Jackson Brigade, the first troops to travel by railroad. The train transported the "Smythe County Blues" to Richmond, and then further on to Bull Run,Virginia, where my grandfather would be injured, recouperating during the winter of 1861, only to return to fight for four years until the surrender of the Confederacy at Appomatox in 1865, one of only nine surviving soldiers of the Stonewall Brigade.

Upon his return, he married my great-great-grandmother, college-educated Adeline Virginia Magruder, granddaughter of Patrick Magruder, the second Librarian of Congress. Robert Green defnitely married up. His marriage to my great-great-grandmother opened doors for him. Even when I was growing up (100 years later), she was still referred to as being from the "Virginia Magruders".

Robert and Addie married, remained in southwestern Virginia and enjoyed being the big fish in the little pond. They eventually had three daughters and one son. The son never amounted to all that much, but the daughters all became school teachers, eventually marrying a doctor, a successful businessman, and the last, Josephine Ellen Green, married a prosperous landholder, becoming my great-grandmother.

But I've jumped ahead in the story. This is Robert in 1886, twenty years after the War, aged considerably by it. He will live until 1916, traveling to veteran reunions, living with his daughters, serving as postmaster, but never speaking of the War, until his deathbed, when he will dictate his experiences in great detail as if they had happened the day before, to be written down by his best friend.
This is my great-grandmother, Robert and Addie's daughter, Josephine Ellen Green. She is approximately 18 years old, and the year is 1887.

Josie has just been sent to her Magruder relatives in Columbus,Mississippi, to attend the Female Academy. In a longstanding tradition of the Magruder family (one that has been passed down through the years), she will become the next in a long line of college educated women. At the age of 18, she has traveled from her home in the Virginia mountains, attended college in Mississippi,and the following summer (1888), she will return home to Virginia by way of the western frontier of Chillicothe, Missouri, where she will visit more Magruder relatives.

Fast forward 74 years.

This is Josie, at age 94, standing next to her mother's (Adeline Virginia Magruder Green) gravestone. That's how long it took her to find it.

For the first twenty-two years of their marriage, Robert and Addie raised children, built houses, and prospered. In 1887, Robert had Addie committed to the Southwestern Lunatic Asylum in Marion, Virginia. It was brand-new, a huge brick Gothic much-touted state of the art facility with "large rooms to contain the insane". Addie was one of the "charter" group of nine patients, those lucky enough to be admitted quickly.

Although I have Robert's letters from this period, and those of his daughter as she attended college and traveled around the county, and those of another daughter, and even one letter from the son to his father - never, never once, do they mention Addie. There is no "I saw your mother today", or "How is mother? When will she be home?" Not once.

The Lunatic Asylum opened during the summer of 1887, with my great-great-grandmother admitted almost immediately. By August 1888, she was dead. Letters we have from this time period do not mention her death. It's as if she never existed. In a family that kept photographs of daughters, husbands, cousins, horses, dogs, and farmland, not one picture was kept of Adeline Virginia Magruder.

Having the advantage of hindsight though, I now know what Robert Green did. In late August 1888, possibly on the 25th or 26th, he traveled alone by train to Marion, Virginia from his home in Bland County. In Marion he procured a team of horses and a wagon. His wife's body was released to him on August 26. He drove the wagon loaded with her body back into Marion, and then approximately 15 miles further on, to a tiny settlement called Chatham Hill. There, he buried his wife. If he had stopped overnight, then traveled another 20 miles, he would have been home, at the family cemetary.

The little wooden church is still standing in Chatham Hill, and there is a tidy cemetary, and my great-great-grandmother's gravestone is standing on the very,very edge of it. As far from the others as possible, and completely without family.

It took 74 years of looking to find her. And even then, my great-grandmother Josie never left the information in writing. It took me several years to locate it once again.

What possessed Robert to pack his wife off to a medical facility where they were proud of attempting medical procedures that would eventually be called lobotomies? Was she suffering from dementia? Was it what we now call Alzheimer's? Was it that difficult to keep her at home, with four almost-adult children and a husband to look out for her? Or was it something else?

Why did the family abandon her there? She was completely cut off. They never visited, never wrote, never mentioned her again, and then buried her in what amounted to an unmarked grave,not in the sense of not having a stone, but by leaving her children to ferret out the burial details over the years.

Sometimes the family history turns on you, and there is simply no way to understand choices and decisions made long ago. I would like to think that the stigma of having a "demented" person in the household wouldn't be enough for them to abandon her, but that may be the simplest explanation.

Simplest perhaps, but not understandable, and certainly not the family's proudest moment.