PART II – REMEMBRANCE
SOMEONE LOST, SOMEONE FOUND
Lincoln Steffens told his father that if he didn’t get a pony for Christmas, he didn’t want anything and was devastated when he found neither pony nor gifts. When the pony finally arrived in the afternoon the sudden change from misery to joy was almost unbearable.
The day of Christine’s funeral was a multi-layered mix of grief, poignant memories and fresh beginnings. Nostalgia followed me wherever I went: the mortuary on Main St. where so many of my people had lain… the service in the church where I went as a girl… Glen Cove with my relatives’ graves and the hill down which the forty-something Christine and I used to coast on our bicycles, holding our feet in the air and crying “Whee!” I was overwhelmed with grief and a sense of finality and loss that nothing could heal.
Then came a total shift in the physical and emotional landscapes that was a transition from shade to sunshine. Vicki had come down from Angola and wanted to go up to Clinton Co. and do some genealogical sleuthing about my mother’s pioneer ancestors who settled a section of land when there were still Indians present. I wanted to put if off, but I’ve learned from bitter experience that carpe diem – seize the day – is excellent advice.
Bill, Vicki and I rushed back to Indianapolis, changed clothes and headed North. During that and subsequent trips, I made discoveries about my daughter and myself when we journeyed together back into the days of our forebears.
I saw a Vicki whom I hadn’t known before when we went to Frankfort Library for the librarians’ assistance in finding the cemetery. Listening to their conversation, I learned that Vicki is a knowledgeable avid enthusiast
about the esoterica of genealogical research. She rhapsodizes over the arcane details of dusty old census tracks and wills, saying that it’s like reading a good mystery.
We went to the cemetery out on the highway south of Michigantown where my maternal grandmothers people are buried. During the summer, its fresh air is redonlent with the scent of wild colver. It is a quiet, country place, and this sense of peace is enhanced by my devout great-grandmother’s tombstone that reads, “Asleep in Jesus.”
Then we drove a few miles to the Old Home Place, the True North, of my mother’s people who spoke of it with a deep reverence and sense of rootedness. The house and its round barn, the first built in Clinton Co., are gone, but up on a wooded knoll above Wildcat Creek we could see old tombstones.
We scrambled over a rickety gate and walked up the rutted, grassy lane. They were all there, the ancient ones, about whom my mother told the stories that had been passed down to her. Some of the untended tombstones are tilting, blackend and illegible; others have fallen over or are sinking into the ground.
Vicki was in a state of genealogical rapture. “Oh look!” she chortled. “There’s James Kelly!”
I sat on a tombstone and thought about this spot that overlooks the fields carved out of the forest by my ancestors nearly two hundred years ago. Slowly, the soothing hush and gentle light of the gloaming hour of the day descended upon me and brought me a sense of being in an oasis of tranquility in a hurtful, hectic world.
As I mused about this, my people’s Home Place, I felt a renewed sense of connectedness both with those from whom I sprang and with my daughter as I watched her forge her own connection with our people and find her place in this story with no ending.
Vicki and I had often been like two fractious mares who are hitched together and sometimes give each other little nips or kicks. On this day we began to develop a deeper understanding out of which would come a new relationship.
“Goodbye, Old Ones,” I whispered as we turned to leave. I realized that it was time to leave the past behind.
HOT ON THE TRAIL
Tenacity, thy name is Vicki! If I were to devise a coat of arms for my daughter, it would consist of an inquiring eye examining some musty, dusty, antique tome of old deeds or wills about distant ancestors and have a tilting tombstone for its background.
Nothing stops a genealogical sleuth who’s hot on the trail! The second time we went to the cemetery on the Old Home Place, she took a saw with her and cut down a small tree so that she could better see an inscription on a tombstone. I said, “They might object to your cutting down a tree!” She replied, “I have every right to tend my family’s graves.
I suggested postponing another visit because rain was forecast. “Come Hell or high water, we’re going back to Clinton Co. tomorrow!” Intrepid adventurers, we set out under a cloudy sky and drove along gravel roads in search of another old country cemetery – one of many that were established on farms during the 1800’s. The Frankfort librarians had given us a map showing all of the old cememteries in Clinton Co. and lists of those buried in them.
Unable to find it, we knocked on the door of a rundown farmhouse. A hippy-looking guy with wild fly-away hair who was as disheveled as his ramschackle house gave us directions.
“Eek!” I thought as we left the road and drove along a narrow lane. “Here’s a scenario for a Hitchcock movie!” Picture this: The day is dark and gloomy, and the sky presages rain. Two women stop at a spooky farmhouse miles from anywhere and get directions from a shabby man to an old, abandoned cemetery.
They drive along a rutted lane under an archway formed by walnut trees. At the end there’s a clearing in the woods where ancient tombstones tilt and crumble. Only the occasional squawk of a jay, the moan of the wind in the trees or the thump of a falling walnut interrupts the onimous silence. The sky is darkening…
Me and my imagination! Actually, the man was most courteous and well-spoken in spite of his rough appearance and told how he had played there when he was a boy. “Unfortunatly the acid rain these days is causing the marble stones to deteriorate rapidly,” he said.
We hit genealogical gold when we found a large monument for one of my relatives that proclaimed that he was a veteran of the American Revolution and served in the Shenandoah regiment. “Wow!” I said. “Do you suppose he might even have know George Washington or Thomas Jefferson?”
Vicki clicked busily away with her camera and used aluminum foil to get an impression of the stone as it was too damp a day to do rubbings. She said, “Let’s come back on a nice day and make rubbings.” “Great! We’ll bring a picnic lunch and a bottle of wine and drink a libation to the Old Ones,” I responded.
Some might find it macabre or disrespectful to picnic near their graves and drink a toast to one’s ancestors. However, I am filled with a sense of comfort and belonging when I visit these places.
Our forebears came to Indiana by oxcart, cleared the land and built log cabins. I think about the lives of my ancestresses. An old census tract said that one of the Kelly women bore fourteen children. “Goodness!” I said. “Yeah but a lot of their babies died,” Vicki responded.
They deserve many toasts! It was intrepid people like them who built this country, established enduring values of fortitude and hard work and formed the unique American character that caused this nation to prosper.