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Posts Tagged ‘researching memoir’


By Marylin Schultz




My Father In Front Of The Family Ford — Earl Russell Biggs II, vintage family postcard, circa early 1900’s, photo scan © 2011 by Marylin Schultz. All rights reserved.


Images from long ago—letters, photographs, postcards, communicate family history, like ribbons tying up bundles of memories. I look into the sweet innocence of children’s faces and reflect on what I do know of their lives. Little Earl Russell Biggs, II, my father, placed in front of his family’s first automobile by a proud papa. There would eventually be four generations of men in the family, given that name. Family tradition had each generation alternating the names they were “known as.” My grandfather was called Earl, my father went by Russell. My brother was called Earl and his son was known as Russ, or the nick-name,” Rusty.”

The baby, Frances Louise Oliver, my mother, was as fair in complexion as E. Russell was dark. Their childhoods would also be in stark contrast. He was born in 1910, and she was three years younger. Frances was the adored, pampered baby of her family, with three brothers and a sister, much older than she. Frances always got what she wanted, I’m told, and became a woman who maintained that expectation from life.


My Mother — Frances Louise Oliver, family photo scan
© 2011 by Marylin Schultz. All rights reserved.


Russell’s life probably began happily enough. His father and mother, Mary Dickens Biggs, lived in Childress, Texas, where he was a successful businessman in banking, and insurance, as well as owning a cattle ranch, where the family lived. Russell was big brother to Emma Ruth, five years younger than he was. In 1920, tragedy struck the young family. Mary Dickens Biggs, who was expecting their third child, died from the dreaded Influenza that took over 20 million lives in Europe and America.

The parents of E. R. Biggs, Sr. were no longer living, and Mary’s parents offered to care for the children, so the devastated father agreed. Russell and Emmy spent the next two years with the Dickens family, who were living on the Red Lake Reservation in Minnesota, where Felix Dickens, Mary’s brother, was the BIA Agent.

E. R. Biggs married his second wife, Lillian, and the two children were moved back to their Texas home. Very soon, however, Russell, at the age of twelve, was sent off to a Military Academy, and spent the rest of his school years there, only home for the summers and holidays. E.R. and Lillian had another son and daughter. It was one of those cases of a step-mother, whose “own” children could do no wrong, and the older children felt deeply, the deprivation of approval and affection. Emma, while still a teenager, had a baby, who was immediately placed for adoption, never experiencing even one embrace of the young mother who so desperately wanted to love and be loved.




(L to R) Paul, Harriet, Eloise, Mildred, & Grace Dickens, Russell Biggs (My Father) on right, Seger Indian School, Colony, Oklahoma, March 17th, 1912, vintage family postcard, photo scan © 2011 by Marylin Schultz. All rights reserved.


I always wondered what it must have been like to grow up on Indian reservations, which the five Dickens children experienced. As we know from the postcard, they were in Oklahoma, then Minnesota and later in Washington State. As a child, I remember my father’s Uncle Felix visiting us a few times at our home in California. I have a few letters that he wrote to my Aunt Emma, which were from a reservation in South Dakota. These were at a much later date, when Emma was an adult.


Side B: Back of the Postcard of Seger Indian School, Colony, Oklahoma, March 17th, 1912, vintage family postcard, photo scan © 2011 by Marylin Schultz. All rights reserved.


I finally met some of my Dickens relatives in an unusual way. After the deaths of my mother and father, I received all the family documents. In going through the papers I learned that Mary Dickens was born in McGregor, Iowa. My husband and I were scheduled to drive from our home in Bismarck, No. Dakota to La Crosse, Wisconsin, for a convention, the very next day. I looked at a map and saw that McGregor was only a few miles south, and across the Mississippi River from Prairie du Chien. I decided to see if I could find a trace of the Dickens family in the small, riverside town of McGregor.

It was a cold, gray November Saturday. The trees along the river were bare, but the drive along the river was peaceful and I was feeling hopeful. When I entered the town, I saw a building marked “Museum,” and I parked. The sign on the Museum door said something like “Closed. See you next Spring.” The only place open was the Hardware Store, so I went in. The woman behind the counter gave me a warm welcome. I told her of my quest for family members and asked if she knew of any Dickens who were still living in the area.

“Harvey Dickens lives about five miles west of town,” she replied. “Would you like to call him from here?” I answered in the affirmative just as the phone rang. She spoke to the person for a few minutes, and then I heard her say, “There’s someone here who wants to speak to you,” and handing the phone to me, with a big smile, she said, “It’s Harvey Dickens.” I gasped in amazement at the coincidence, and took the phone. I gave a very brief explanation of who I was. He invited me to come to his home, and I scribbled down the directions he gave, handed the phone back to the woman and thanked her. She smiled and wished me good luck, and I hurried to my car.


Harvey had given good directions to his farm, and I found it with no problem. The plain, two story home, painted a soft yellow, with dark green shutters at the windows, was well cared for. There was a row of pine trees to the west of the house, offering a buffer from the prevailing prairie winds, and a hedge of Lilac bushes between house and out-buildings. The tires of my car made a crunching sound on the neatly graveled driveway. Harvey opened the door of the house before I started up the steps. His smile was wide.

“Come on in, little lady, it’s cold out there!” He introduced me to his wife, Louise, and immediately I felt the genuine warmth of their welcome. They already had a box of old papers and photographs for me to look at. Harvey was a slightly built man, about 70 years old. Louise, looking comfortable in sweater and jeans, offered me coffee, as we sat down around the kitchen table.

“We have four children, but they’ve all moved away,” Louise said, filling my cup.

With a sigh, Harvey added, “Not much to keep them in a small town in Iowa, and none of ‘em was interested in farming.” Harvey took photos out of the box, pointing out each individual by name. “Better write down those names on the back,” Louise gently chided. “No one but you can identify them anymore.” I listened carefully, not recognizing any names until he said, “And this is Uncle Felix.”

“Yes,” I said, now excited, as he handed it to me. “Did he have three daughters, who lived in Washington?” He smiled broadly, and replied, giving me their names. We had made a connection, as it turned out that his grandfather was my great-grandfather. We looked at more photographs and he gave me the names and addresses of other cousins that had done more research into the family history.

We were engrossed in each others’ family anecdotes, laughing at the funny little quirks that all families have, and the morning flew quickly by. I turned down an offer of a noon meal, and told them I needed to get back to La Crosse.

“Now, if you can come back, I’ll take you to the cemetery; quite a few Dickens there,” Harvey said.

“You keep in touch,” Louise whispered in my ear, as we exchanged a hug.

“I promise I will, and thank you so much. It was a great pleasure to meet you. I feel like I’ve been with old friends,” I replied.

“Nope, better than friends, we’re family!” Those were Harvey’s last words to me as I got into my car. That brief visit opened up a whole new chapter in my family history, and as I drove across the bridge over the wide Mississippi, I felt truly blessed.




Editor’s Note: In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, professional photographers offered customers the choice of placing photographs on postcards, like the “packages” they sell today. Some were taken in a studio and others at different locations. The photo of Frances was taken in a studio, and the other two at the homes of their clients. Images From The Past was partly inspired by conversation on the postcard piece Joshua Trees & Desert Sands — Jan 25 1947.




_________________________




About Marylin: Marylin (aka oliverowl) is a freelance writer living in Wyoming. She has written essays for a weekly column in the Ventura Star Tribune and collaborated with her grandson on two picture books for children. She currently writes with the Cody Writers. Her previous pieces for red Ravine include the travel essay Rollin’ Easy and a Writing Practice, Kindness.

In 2010, Marylin was published in the book, From the Heart — Writing in the Shadow of the Mountain, a collection of work from members of Write On Wyoming (WOW), a group of authors and aspiring writers living in northeastern Wyoming. Her contributions to From the Heart include two works of fiction, To Love Bertie Lou and The Appointment Book, and a collection of haiku, Seasons in Wyoming.


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Georgia Pine Over My Grandmother’s Grave, BlackBerry Shots, Augusta, Georgia, October 2009, all photos © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.






visiting Estelle
gravestones outlast the living
markers for the dead


all that’s left behind
a letter, a horseshoe ring
lasting love and luck


face of a pine tree
warm thoughts of the Grandmothers
hover over me







It’s the time of year when I think often of family and loved ones, living and dead. One of the highlights of my October trip to Georgia was visiting my Grandmother Estelle’s grave for the first time. I did not know her well, had not seen her since I was 2 years old. I knew none of my blood father’s family. It was synchronicity when in 2007 my paternal aunts ended up in the insurance office of my maternal uncle and asked the question, “Are you related to….?”

It happened to be two weeks before Mom and I were scheduled to travel to Georgia. After 50 years apart, the question’s answer led them to me.

It turns out, my paternal grandparents are buried down the hill from my maternal grandparents in the same cemetery. I’ve been visiting the cemetery with my mother for years and never knew. These photographs are of the pine tree that grows high over their graves. My Aunt Annette told me that my grandfather loved pine trees. So do I. When I was a child, I would spend hours sweeping pine needles, the scaly bough of a branch curving to make just the right shape, a prairie-style home.

The thing about cemetery trees is that they are many times old growth trees, never to be cut. I like to think this pine is a guardian for my grandparents, its long roots extending deep underground, branches tall and proud (reminds me of another pine in New Mexico that I’m quite fond of, the Lawrence Tree).

There is more to the story — a letter, an obituary, a ring. Perhaps another post. This week I give thanks for all who live, and those who have come before.


Skin Of A Pine Tree, Pine Trunk In The Graveyard, My Grandmother’s Grave, Cemetery Pine, BlackBerry Shots, Augusta, Georgia, October 2009, all photos © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Post Script: the day Mom and I met my aunt at the cemetery, we also visited the Gertrude Herbert Memorial Institute of Art in Augusta. That’s where my Canon G6 battery died; I had forgotten to charge the backup battery. These photos are all taken with the BlackBerry cell phone camera.


-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

-related to post: haiku 2 (one-a-day)

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The White Chair, St. Simons Island, Georgia, July 2008, all photos © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

The White Chair, St. Simons Island, Georgia, July 2008, all photos © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.








white chair on hard sand
pale footprints leading nowhere
dreaming of Georgia










Post Script: I had a dream about Georgia last night, swimming with the Ancestors. It reminded me of this beach at St. Simons where Liz, Mom, and I hung out for a few hours last July. The sand is so hard and compact, you can easily ride a bicycle. It was hotter than any Minnesotan can ever imagine. The breezes off the Atlantic Ocean offered quiet relief.

Liz found the most beautiful living shell; a rainbow appeared. We went back to the motel where one of Mom’s cousins waited. She had driven to St. Simons to meet us. They had not seen each other in years. There in the motel lobby, we spread out a giant paper copy of the family tree. Nicholas smiled down.


-posted on red Ravine, Thursday, March 26th, 2009

-related to posts: haiku for the live oak, St. Simons Island haiku, black-eyed susan haiku, Georgia’s Scottish Highlanders (On Tartan & Targe), haiku 2 (one-a-day)

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The Black Watch Tartan & Targe, St. Simons Island, Georgia, July 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

The Black Watch Tartan & Targe, Fort Frederica, St. Simons Island, Georgia, July 2008, all photos © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.






brand new lease on life
back in the memoir saddle
where do I begin?


ancestors calling
haunting photos of Georgia —
let’s start with the Scots


family line(age),
saturated memories;
everything passed down.






Georgia’s Scottish Highlanders: Memoir Calls Again


Life circumstances have bestowed upon me the gift of time. I called Mom last weekend and we began talking ancestry again (one of our favorite topics). I’m not sure if I’ll be visiting Georgia this summer, but the seed has been planted. I’ve renewed the research catalogue we use for the family tree. And have begun going back through the photographs taken over the last two summers in Georgia and South Carolina.

History excites me; I love the ghosts of the past. Especially if they are connected to the history of our family. Mom has (almost) traced our ancestry back to the Scottish Highlanders in Darien, Georgia (Irish side of family, perhaps Scots-Irish). When we were at John Wesley’s place (English clergyman and founder of Methodism) on St. Simons Island, we read several accounts in old ledgers that led us to believe a member of our family was a Scottish Highlander. The search goes on for that one definitive piece of recorded evidence to back it up.

The Highlanders were known for their battle skills and the British recruited them to help settle the Colonies. Scottish troops serving in the British Army were sent to Georgia in 1736 to set up a new outpost. Under the leadership of General James Oglethorpe, these men established the settlement of Darien and a sawmill along the Altamaha River.

Mom, Liz, and I visited the buzzing wildness of Fort King George last summer. We braved the dripping humidity to walk through one of the ancient cemeteries at the edge of Darien, and the perimeter of a tabby building, now a historic site, that was one of the first black churches in the area (at the time many people in Darien were against slavery). It’s a sleepy, quiet river town. And boy, was it hot there last July!


Scottish Highlander Targe, St. Simons Island, Georgia, July 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Scottish Highlander Targe, St. Simons Island, Georgia, July 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Scottish Highlander Targe, St. Simons Island, Georgia, July 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



Warrior Shield: History of the Targe


We had driven to Darien after our stay on beautiful St. Simons Island and a visit to Fort Frederica. St. Simons played a pivotal role in the struggle for empire between the competing colonial interests of England and Spain. Georgia’s fate was decided in 1742 when Spanish and British forces clashed on the Island. Fort Frederica’s troops defeated the Spanish, ensuring Georgia’s future as a British colony. Today, the archeological remnants of Frederica are protected by the National Park Service.

While Liz was out taking video of a British reenactment at Fort Frederica (complete with musket fire), Mom and I, sweat-covered and tired, slipped into the historical area where it was cool and checked out the books and exhibits. I was immediately drawn to the glass case with what looked like a life-sized mandala shield that turned out to be a targe.

One of our ancestors may have worn The Black Watch Tartan (plaid fabric) authorized for use by the Scottish troops serving in the British Army. Or maybe they carried a targe. I did find a link to the history of the targe written by a man who is still constructing them by hand — John Stewart, The Targeman. According to his site, the targe dates back to the 16th Century and was once the Scottish Highlander’s first line of defense. I was fascinated by the details in these excerpts:


Construction —
Targes are round shields between 18″ and 21″ (45–55 cm) in diameter with an inside formed from two very thin layers of flat wooden boards, the grain of each layer at right angles to the other. Targes were fixed together with small wooden pegs, forming plywood. The front was covered with a tough cowhide that was fixed to the wood with many brass, or in some cases, silver, nails. Sometimes brass plates were also fixed to the face for strength and decoration.

Some targes had center bosses of brass, and a few of these could accept a long steel spike which screwed into a small “puddle” of lead which was fixed to the wood, under the boss. When not in use, the spike could be unscrewed and placed in a sheath on the back of the targe.


Materials —
Most targes had their back covered with cow and goat, and 80% of original targes still show straw, crude wool and other stuffing material beneath their ruined skins. Some targes, usually those actually used in battle, had their backs covered in a piece of red cloth taken from the uniform of a government soldier (a “Redcoat”) that the owner had killed in battle.


Design —
The face of a targe was often decorated with embossed Celtic style patterns. Typically two general patterns were used – concentric circles, or a centre boss with subsidiary bosses around this. An exception is the targe in Perth Museum in Scotland which is of a star design (see photo at his site). Although some targe designs appear to have been more popular than others, there is very little to indicate that there ever were “clan” designs.


The targe reminds me of a protective mandala — a warrior shield. Yet I had to wonder how much protection it actually provided in times of war. The Targeman answered that question, too. He mentioned that after the disastrous defeat of the Jacobites at the Battle of Culloden in 1746, the carrying of the targe would have been banned, and many may have been destroyed or put to other uses.


Scottish Highlander Targe, St. Simons Island, Georgia, July 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Scottish Highlander Targe, St. Simons Island, Georgia, July 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Scottish Highlander Targe, St. Simons Island, Georgia, July 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



Epilogue


It gave me an eerie feeling knowing I was walking the same ground my ancestors had centuries before. It’s not that all of this historical detail will make it into a memoir — it’s terra firma, a place to stand. The composting of past experience lays the ground for the person I have become. What if an ancestor’s Black Watch Tartan and Targe, in some strange way, blazed the way for the mandala practice last year? And the circle archetype must hold both war and peace.



Resources & Information:



-posted on red Ravine, Thursday, March 5th, 2009

-related to posts: haiku 2 (one-a-day), Coloring Mandalas, W. H. Murray – Providence Moves Too

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MoonSet, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, July 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

MoonSmear, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, July 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

MoonShine, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, July 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Moonset, Moonsmear, Moonshine, July Moons over Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, July 2008, all photos © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.




I was on the road for most of the many moons of July. Under the Full Thunder Moon, I traveled to Pennsylvania by plane, with intentions of heading on to Georgia and South Carolina by car. I planned the trip months ago, to drive South to do more research for my memoir, to work with my mother on missing pieces of the family tree. But all did not go as planned.

My brother went into the ICU the day before I left for Pennsylvania. And Mom and I weren’t even sure we should make the trip to Georgia at all. Mom spent a whole week, sometimes 8 hours a day, with my sister-in-law in waiting rooms, visiting at J’s side. His dad drove up from South Carolina and sat with us, too. I watched my parents (only recently connected again after over 40 years) standing side by side together over J’s bed. They never wavered. There were tears. And laughter. Things turned. 

By a miracle and a lot of prayers, my brother is out of the hospital. And though he is not yet out of the woods, he is home and in the arms of family caregivers. A whole new regimen begins, his recovery. It is stressful for family members in a different way. It is through crises like these that you get to see what a family is made of. Each member shows up in the ways that he or she can; it is not the same for everyone.



MoonSlit, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, July 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



I am back in Minnesota. And in some ways removed. I have always been the one who has lived away from home, miles and miles away (at least 1200 miles have separated me and my family since I was in my early 20’s). It can be a helpless feeling. And I have had my share of guilt. But distance offers a different perspective. It is not something I would have wished, but under the Salmon Moon (Haidi) in the Month of the Fledgling Hawk (Kelmuya), I gained an overview. And realized all that I have shielded myself from by living so far away.

I have great admiration and respect for the members of my family. They really show up for one another regardless of what else is going on between them. They have integrity and grace and humor. And they are crazy and stubborn and flawed, as all families are — as I am. Thank goodness for that. In each member of my family I see my own strengths; and I see my weaknesses. Whatever I see inside them — it’s in me, too.

The trip was a mixed blessing of sadness, fear, laughter and joy. At the Grass Cutter Moon (Abenaki), Mom, Liz, and I visited the islands and towns where my ancestors homesteaded. We walked where they had walked in the 1600’s and 1700’s. Liz flew into Georgia, my dad met us for breakfast, I had a wonderful birthday, and a great time on St. Simons and in Savannah. But there were moments I felt alone, scared, fearful of the future. I was holding it all; my family was holding it all. Because all of this makes up life.

Under the Moon of the Horse (Apache) I accomplished more toward my goals of researching and shaping a memoir. It was different from last June. I was digging deeper emotionally; I had to grow up a little more. Under the Ripe Corn Moon (Cherokee), I ripened, too. Through all of the recorded years of births and deaths, walking marble graves and granite cemeteries with Mom, I am more aware than ever that one day, I will be there, too. So will we all. And we have no idea when that time might come.

 

 Moon Over Pennsylvania, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, July 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Moon Over Pennsylvania, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, July 2008, all photos © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.




Three things I learned (again) under the Thunder Moon:

  • Memoir is about the past. The past can be healing; the past can be sad. When you dig into the past, be prepared for what you will find.
  • When you write, you have to be willing to hold everything – past, present, future – grief, sadness, loss, joy. In order to do hold everything, you have to stay present to the moment.
  • Life and death continue on with or without you. Don’t be tossed away.




-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, August 12th, 2008

-related to posts: PRACTICE – Summer – 20min, Thunder Moon haiku (July), winter haiku trilogy

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I remember last week, we were pulling out of Uncle B.’s driveway. Mom and I were both clean, showered, and shorn, but already drenched to the bone with Georgia humidity. “Oh, Passion flowers, you should get a picture of those,” Mom said. I tried to peer over the edge of the Benz window to see what she was talking about. Low and flat to the ground were these starbursts of purple, the likes I had never seen before. Passion flower. The leaves around them were a broad, deep green, providing a little yoga mat for their luscious blooms. I hopped right out of the car with my Canon.

Mom waited while I took a few shots. I found myself wanting to spend most of the time in Georgia inside in the air conditioning of cars, motel rooms, and my uncle’s new home on Clarks Hill Lake. But the trip demanded that I experience the dogged heat of July in Georgia. I wonder if those dog day afternoons come from the way animals lie in the shade or drape over anything cool they can find so they don’t have to move. That’s the way I felt most of the time we spent outside in the Deep South.

Except by the Atlantic on St. Simons Island. We spent only one day on the beach, two on the island. Mom sat on a blanket high on the sand while Liz and I rolled up our pant legs and traipsed around in ankle deep salt water. It was low tide and all the beachcombers were searching for shells. Liz happened to find the most beautiful conch shell (she’s lucky that way) and pulled it up for all to see. A young girl about 12 came over to see what we had found. Her dad was quick to tell us that we’d have to boil the critter who was living in it out of the shell or it would stink to high heaven.

He also said there were very few shells on St. Simons so Liz was lucky to find one so beautiful with not a crack or chip in sight. After running the shell up to show Mom, we decided to return the conch to the sea. Liz wandered out a ways from shore and dropped her back under. Later that night, we ate at 4th of May on a little shopping strip street that runs into the pier. Afterwards, we took the pier walk and checked out the lighthouse. The salt air was blowing across the Atlantic. It was the coolest I had felt in days.

It felt good to travel somewhere new, to get out of my own environment and drop into Summer. The next night, my second cousin came down to St. Simons from Midway. Mom had not seen her in something like 40 years. I turned on the tape recorder while the two of them talked about family history. Some I was too young to remember. But I had seen the photographs. Their perspectives on my great grandmother varied with their childhoods. One’s ceiling, the other’s floor. I was fascinated. We whipped out the queen-sized family tree I printed out before we left Pennsylvania. And Liz talked to my second cousin’s husband about the sci-fi book he was writing.

I kept thinking about how different our experiences are, even in the same family. I thought of my brother and everything he was going through in Pennsylvania, the stress on him, the stress on the family. I thought of the cool 92 degrees in Minnesota, the home I had left a week before. I thought of the rural drive through small towns in Georgia, the Claxton Fruit Cake people, the record breaking catfish caught by a local Georgia angler. I asked Liz if she liked catfish. “I don’t like to eat bottom feeders,” she said. I thought about the huge carp my step-dad caught when I must have been only 8 or 9.

Was he in Yamasee with my grandfather? Or fishing Clarks Hill Lake where he swears he once saw an alligator. After that, when Liz and I were sitting on the dock, reading Flannery O’Connor’s letters, The Habit Of Being, I could swear she was keeping one eye open for gators. It did make me a little leery of dipping my pinky into the lake. But the kids jumped in headfirst. They are fearless. A water moccasin once swam by me when I was about 10, swimming in Clarks Hill Lake. I was paddling along shore while Mom was out waterskiing. I guess I used to be fearless, too.

I have noticed how much more fearful we get as the bones move up in years. But Passion flowers keep blooming, alligators keep snapping, conch shells still swim the 7 seas, and I can’t change the history of the past. I can only learn to know it. Keep writing it all down. My interpretation. Another layer of cracked clay and burnt orange sediment at the bottom of a life.



-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, August 9th, 2008

-related to Topic post: WRITING TOPIC – SUMMER

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Edges, Augusta, Georgia, June 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved



I continue to pore through photographs and tapes of my trip to Georgia and South Carolina last summer.

“What’s taking you so long?” Monkey Mind yells from the wings (grabbing every opportunity to scratch his haunches).

“It’s a slow process, excavating the past,” I soberly reply. “Don’t rush me.”



Family history rises from the rich, black compost – memories, stories, memories of stories, sail by, like wispy transparent dots in front of my eyes. Then sink to the bottom while I digest. Pieces of kelp and seaweed. A crab leg floats by. Sometimes fresh catfish on the grill. Everything is grist for the mill.

When we drove from cemetery to cemetery last June, I listened to my parents recall details of their lives. I taped their voices (a gold mine). I took hundreds of photographs of the things left behind:  ancient magnolias, crumbling brick, historic churches, lazy rivers, proud neighborhoods, rundown housesantebellum architecture, and chiseled headstones. So many headstones.

My eyes sweep the marble and granite for the slightest hint of who my ancestors were:  dates, places of birth and death, poetic epitaphs. And names.

But what’s in a name?



Edges, Augusta, Georgia, June 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reservedEdges, Augusta, Georgia, June 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reservedEdges, Augusta, Georgia, June 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reservedEdges, Augusta, Georgia, June 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved



My sister is the namesake of my great, great Aunt Cassie. One of my brothers is named in honor of my uncle who died less than a month before I was born. Another brother is named after his grandfather and is a III. And yet another is named after his dad and is a Junior (yes, it’s complicated in my family!).

My mother’s middle name is her dad’s first name with -ine on the end (this is common in the South). My grandfather’s middle name doesn’t sound like a birth name at all, but more like a last name. And I want to make a point of asking Mom if his middle name is generational, and is really his mother’s last name.

Whew!

Remember that song, The Name Game written and sung by Shirley Ellis in 1964? (If not, please feel free to refresh your memory by watching the video! It’s a real blast from the past.). The lyrics go something like this:

The name game!

Shirley!
Shirley, Shirley bo Birley Bonana fanna fo Firley
Fee fy mo Mirley, Shirley!

Lincoln!
Lincoln, Lincoln bo Bincoln Bonana fanna fo Fincoln
Fee fy mo Mincoln, Lincoln!

Shirley Ellis used to take requests and make a rhyme out of anybody’s name. It’s crazy, but this song was a HUGE hit when I was a kid. People love to hear the sound of their own names.



Edges, Augusta, Georgia, June 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reservedEdges, Augusta, Georgia, June 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reservedEdges, Augusta, Georgia, June 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reservedEdges, Augusta, Georgia, June 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved



The Name Game. Many of us don’t use our real names on our blogs. Others do. But we don’t have to reveal our birth names to talk about where they came from.

Who are you named after? Do you know the historical origin of your last name (or is your last name hyphenated to preserve your mother’s history). What about your first? Do you know another person with the same name? Were you named after someone famous? Or did your parents choose your name because they loved the sound of it. Or wanted to make you stronger (a boy named Sue?).

When we are long gone, our names are the one thing that will live on through time. My great, great grandmother wanted to be remembered by the things she loved. What epitaph would you want next to your name?



Her Life Was Simple, Augusta, Georgia, June 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved

   Her Life Was Simple, and Edges,
   Augusta, Georgia, June 2007, all photos
   © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



-posted on red Ravine, Thursday, March 13th, 2008

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