Friday, March 28, 2014

A Naturalist

     Naturalist Intelligence (Nature Smart) is one of the types of intelligence identified by Howard Gardner.  While camping in a park in Tennessee, I met a kid who undoubtedly has this type of intelligence.  After I has visited with her family in the evening, Ryan offered to walk me to the lake in the morning.  I am so glad that I took her up on the offer.

          Ryan's knowledge of this park, where she has been coming since was a baby, is astonishing.  Let me give you a few examples.

      I asked her what kind of pine bough lay on the ground and she picked one up, spread apart the tiniest bunch of needles, counted them and announced that if there were five needles, the tree was a white pine.  She went on to name the different kinds of poisonous plants in the park including the one that looks like a poisonous plant, but isn't.  She even noted a poisonous plant not found in the area.

    As we walked over new path ways, she pointed out the stone.  "Sandstone," she said.  She went on to explain Tennessee's reputation as the rock state.  Her commentary explained to me why I had seen these rock piles in the woods along the road.

      She walked me down a hill, so that I could see the waterfall regaling me with stories of the bridge, the newer stone cabin and ghosts!

Bridge and Waterfall Below the Lake

       As I left the area I passed a number of beautiful stone buildings like this old theatre.  I might not have appreciated them so much if Ryan had not commented on the stone.

     We walked down to the lake and Ryan was able to answer what kind of fish were found here.  She pointed out the two Canadian geese with broken wings, who stay all year even when the others have left.  I could have stayed much longer talking with her.  She had to leave with her mom on an errand and I had to hit the road.

     (Thanks, Ryan!  I do hope you get to follow your passion.  You have the right intelligence!)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Postcards from the South

The Extraordinary Red Dirt of North Carolina

Rock'n Ashville-Style at the Grove Park Inn

The Biltmore Estate.  Must See!

View from the Biltmore Balcony
Pup and I on Max's Patch Astride the Appalachian Trail 

Posts Marking the Appalachian Trail

The Other Blues From Max's Patch

Looking West from Max's Patch
Snow in Late March

Back Road Spring Highway

Barn Sign

Monday, March 24, 2014

Della's Diary

    No diary exists that is penned in Della's hand.  Yet her words are indelibly marked in her choices, printed in her smile, and inked in the character of her children and grandchildren.

    Della.  All that I had for years was the sound of her name falling off my tongue.  My father, Della's youngest child, would tell of gathering violets for his mother as she lay waiting to deliver another baby.  This seemed to be his only story of her.  Della died in the birthing, as did her baby.  This singular story told wistfully is the last recording in her diary, a footnote to her short life.  She was loved by her children and had fostered the habit of the gift of flowers.  I gather flowers and now Molly gathers flowers to tuck on the dash before long trips.  The flash of color reminds one of home and is a gift for the eyes straying from the gray roadways.   Today baby-blue-eyes grace my car's dashboard, the first tiny flowers of spring from Della's home state, North Carolina.

     Della's father doted on her.  He signed her marriage certificate.  The signing likely came with a pang of regret.  Della was fourteen years old, likely pregnant and eloping with a man her father's age.  Della's diary must have been filled with private contradictory thoughts.  Both her father and her husband were Civil War vets.  They may have known each other during the war.  The relationships were complex.  I don't doubt that Robert, her new husband, the town postmaster, and newly widowed loved her.  I find this penned in two documents.  First is the photo above.  She is older, possibly in her twenties, and Robert has purchased for her a dress of finery and an elegant hat in which to pose for a formal portrait.  She was known to be lovely and the photo shows that.  She looks happy.

     A small town paper article explained that Robert was tired of seeing the same names on mail.  He named his first children those odd names like Y. Tell and Bunk.  When he married Della, her influence on him and his likely loving acquiescence becomes apparent with the names of their children.  Theodore Roosevelt, George Dewey, Patrick Gracey, and Edwin Gray.  The second names inspired by Presidents and possibly chosen by Robert who served under a number of Presidents as postmaster.  The willingness of Robert to compromise and use normal names bespeaks of a relationship of respect and affection. Della's diary would have noted this.

     Della's confident smile and twinkling eyes, her elegant choice of clothes inscribe joy across her diary pages.  Della's smile is that same mischievous smile of my dad, my sister, my daughter, and I.    

I think that Della was likely generous with her smiles – a quality now associated with successful people.  My daughter Molly has such a smile.  The diary would seem to say, "Life was funny again today and it made me smile!"

     This photo of my dad is a new one to me; its existence one of the bounties of this trip.  I love that he has a slingshot and looks so mischievous.  What did he just do exactly?  This photo was taken somewhere in Colorado.  The lack of trees says that it is not North Carolina.

     My dad had two keepsakes from his childhood.  They always puzzled me.  Why would two beautifully made leather button-up toddler shoes unmatched be the only traces of his childhood.  Why shoes?  Researching Della's father turned-up a highly likely explanation.  He was a shoemaker.  He worked at his profession until he was seventy-five years old.  He would have made shoes for the children of his well-loved daughter, Della.  She would have recorded such gifts in her diary.

     Della's photo draws a fashion sense shared by my Aunt Margaret, my sister, and Molly.  I don't seem to have the same dress sense, but when I was in junior high school I took an aptitude test.  The high scores in spatial relations earned me the recommendation to be a fashion designer!  Shift that skill to houses and the skill is the same.  I wonder if Della might not have drawn dress designs in the margins of her diary.

    My grandmother can't whitewash her story of racial prejudice.  Her daughter, Snowdie, would make me (when I was a child) cross the street when a black person approached.  Her son, Theodore, was a member of the invisible empire, the KKK, and her husband fought for the south in the Civil War.  She would have been a product of her time.  My dad moved west and left his prejudice behind.

     Della's diary would have been written in long hand between birthing, nursing, singing, raising children, and being a wife.  Her last entry would have been on her red letter day, the day of her passing.  She would have written her wish for a healthy baby and for a long life seeing her children grow to maturity.  Her last sentence may have been unfinished.



Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Reflections in the Windows

Centre Presbyterian Session House Window, circa 1854

      Tracking ancestors is like looking into a window's reflection.  You try to to peer past the image on the surface to see the reality of the place beyond, the facts that form a pattern of relationship.  The glass, the light, the time, the records and the lies distort the shapes within.  Getting closer brings some clarity, but at times you just can't get reality right.

    You hope that in seeking your ancestors you will find a reflection of your own hopes, talents, quirks, health and graces.  You may find those qualities, but they may come back imperfectly, distorted by the stir of genes, much like the swirling imperfections in the handmade glass of the Session House window.  The Session House window reflects the church, the sky and the red bushes, but reveals little inside with clarity.  

      Patrick Gracey is my third great grandfather.  He is buried at the cemetery across from the Centre Presbyterian Church and it's Session House in Mooresville, North Carolina.  If you look at his stone carefully, as I did yesterday, you will see that it says that he departed at the age of 110 years.

      Remarkable.  The story gets better.  An account by his great granddaughter, Isabelle Templeton Alexander, relates "Patrick Gracey rode his horse a distance of seven miles... just six weeks before he died.  He must have been a remarkably strong man to have made the journey on horseback at such an advanced age."  (When I read this story I hope that his health will be my health.)

     (My cousin, Iva, and I have been doing genealogy work together and visited Patrick's grave.  Iva questions that he was as old as his tombstone says.  The only proof that we have of his age is this tombstone.  Is it the right age or is it the good story?  He would have been about fifty-five years old when his first child was born.  We intend to look a little closer into the facts...)

      Patrick was born in Northern Ireland of Scottish parents and came to this country in 1740.  When he died the church "had to take axes and cut out the trees to make a road to the graveyard, there being only paths."  His will describes him as a Planter with six hundred and forty acres.  He likely felled many a tree over his lifetime.  He had to be a hard worker.  (Maybe this reflects on my hard work.)

     A man, a mythmaker, even in death.  When his sons and slaves carried his casket to the grave they had to cross a millstream.  "His son, Robert, was apparently high on peach brandy.  While carrying the body over the mill bridge, Robert fell in and would have drowned if a Negro hadn't jumped in to save him." A descendant, Lucy Pickard McKenzie related this story.  (Now we have a story that makes Patrick's "born in 1700 died in 1810 life" seem much less clear.  He was a slave owner and potentially the father of an alcoholic.  Searching ancestors doesn't promise a spotless reflection, mind you.)

     My travels include visits to cemeteries precisely because even stones do not last forever.  The base of this stone was piled with little bits of shiny stones sadly.

      Mary Templeton's marker has lost it's footing.

        Nearby lays a catastrophe of markers.  They may be my ancestors or maybe yours.

          I came all of the way across the country to see for myself an image of my grandmother's gravestone.  I have been having many adventures along the way, but I hadn't lost sight of my quest.  Della Oliver.  Isn't that a lovely name?  Searching for her family led me to Plymouth Rock earlier in my travels.  Had I not been looking, I would not have had that side adventure.  Della was my grandfather's second wife.  She was known as the "Belle of the Town".  I'll soon travel to Charlotte, North Carolina, to see the only existing photo of her.  I have seen it once and am eager to see it again.  (Will she look like me?)  Della's past has been a mystery to me for many years.  I couldn't find the paper that gave the facts that I needed.  Finally, a copy of her death certificate gave me her mother's name and her father's name.

     Della was not served well with extensive documentation of her existence.  Unfortunately her gravestone exhibits the same degree of erasure of her being.

      Both sides of this stone are devoid of writing.  The weather of ninety-eight years obliterated any trace of letters.  The plot surrounded by a low stone wall has three of these stones.  None have writing.  Any one of them could be Della's!  Iva knew the story of the stones.  I might not have guessed it.  When I was younger, I could have asked so many more questions.  Don't delay too long in asking the questions that one day you may have.

     See that monument in the middle of this picture?  That is the memorial stone marking the location of Della's husband, Robert Sinclair Templeton (1845-1921).  Iva and Dan are helping me find Della.  She is one of the stones. The far right small one or one of the two just to the right of the tall marker.

      Robert was fifty-two years old when he eloped to South Carolina with Della, a fourteen and a half year old.  A clipping from the Mooresville paper, the Landmark, stated, "R. S. Templeton, Esq., postmaster at Mooresville and a Miss Oliver of that town were married in South Carolina several days ago.  Mr. and Mrs. Templeton returned to Mooresville after their marriage, but is seems that for some reason the affair was kept secret.  Mr. Templeton was in town this week and told some of his friends here about it."  What!  The window into my past makes me feel like I am a peeping Tom!

     I don't do crossword puzzles, although they are supposed to keep the brain sharp.  I do genealogy instead.  I have many windows to explore.  I took photos of any Templeton stone that I happened to come across in three small cemeteries.

       How many Templeton stones did I see?  NINETY stones in one day!  Searching for ancestors is not dull!
     I got to walk in the sunshine, solve mysteries and laugh a little.  I like doing genealogy.  I don't think that I am related to these folks.  Are you?

Saturday, March 8, 2014


    “Don’t touch,” say the museum signs.  “Don’t touch.”  I’ve run across a few interesting signs on my travels mostly prohibiting something.  I am one of those people who try to be careful and follow the rules.  Not always, but mostly.  I pay attention to signs.
     A trip to the Civil Rights Museum in Greensboro gave a new meaning to using signs to intimidate and enforce rules.  The original Greensboro Woolworth lunch counter was integrated by four young black college kids in the early 1960’s.  The counter is the centerpiece of the museum.  There are a multitude of “White’s Only” or “Colored Only” signs.  In one display there is a double-sided Coca Cola machine from the Greensboro train station.  The two sides faced different rooms. The side of the Coca Cola machine in the "White’s Only" waiting room read “5 cents” and the sign on the machine in the "Colored Only" waiting room read “10 cents”.  This seemingly ordinary signage carried vindictively discriminatory qualities.  I was appalled.

      Back in Rock Island, Indiana there was this sign in a park.

      I don’t skate or lets say I haven’t skated in years and years, but I caught myself noting the message.  The sign doesn’t really pertain to me.  I won’t forget the rule allowing swamp skating.  I wonder how many prohibitions, like this one, that we needlessly keep stored in our brains in some “just in case” file. 

   A faded STOP sign is something that I have never seen before.  The sign bespoke of the condition of the neighborhood.  A bright red sign would have been out-of-place in this derelict place. 


     The neighborhood of McKeesport, Pennsylvania had been in decline for many years.  These photos show what the neighborhood of that faded stop sign looks like today.

    The one vibrant store within a few blocks of the faded STOP sign seemed to maintain its hold on business by using this noteworthy “guy” to advertise it’s shop.

     The Maury River in Virginia had an unusual number of signs about trespassing.  The river has a “come on and have a dip” shade of welcome that seemed contrary to the forbidding signs.

      I’m curious about the stories behind the need to post so many signs.  Did the human who posted the signs just have a wealth of them and found the array of colors pleasing or was there really a threat that folks would slide down the steep bank and do something wildly inappropriate.  

     As I ease into tobacco country with the tall tobacco drying sheds like this one, I also began seeing advertising on barns.

      One small town could do with a sign of explanation.  Accident, Maryland is a puzzle.  The first street sign that I passed was Accident Garage Lane.  As I tried to imagine the garage accident I cruised into the town and realized that the whole town was an accident.  I didn’t stop to take a photo of one of the signs, but I wonder how many accidents do happen by tourists slamming on the brakes to take a photo of Accident.  Accident waiting to happen…

     I was taking a shortcut in West Virginia, when I got lost.  I passed an interesting machine, but I didn't stop to take a photo until the road ran out and turned to gravel.  Retracing my route I passed the machine again.  Help me.  What sign should be on this machine?  What is it?