When I began this blog one of my goals was to share a “piece of my mind” and the other was to tell some of the family stories that only I might know or remember. As more and more of my elder relatives go home to be with Jesus, I feel even more of a responsibility to share how we arrived at this place and time. I may wander away from that purpose from time to time and ramble on about my garden or current events, but I always know that the reason I am drawn to the garden is because six generations of family before me have done the same thing. My wanderlust is evident in every previous generation. My passion for words has been passed down by family scribes since they arrived in America. Even my penchant for genealogy can be seen in the painstaking research and record keeping done by some of my ancestors.
One of the obvious realities of life is that not all family stories are encouraging or entertaining. I watched Friday night as Gwenyth Paltrow learned of the early, tragic death of one of her young ancestors. I don’t usually watch “Who Do You Think You Are?”, but happened to be in the right time and place to do so this week. The realization that someone in Ms. Paltrow’s family had experienced such a crisis seemed to deeply affect her as a wife and mother.
I recently came across a similar family story that I want to share with you, not because it is sad, but because it has a somewhat positive ending and I think serves as a lesson to us all about the power of “community”. There is a lesson here for me too- I have skimmed over this page in my grandmother’s family journal at least three times and never really focused on this story. For some reason I was always more interested in the death of my great-aunt and overlooked the story of her child.
My great-uncle, Thomas Alexander, was my grandmother’s older brother. I know very little about him other than some stories told by my grandmother. He was here; I was in CA most of the time. I vaguely remember even meeting him. He died when I was sixteen. My grandmother said that “bad luck seemed to follow him, but he was a happy-go-lucky guy and took most of it in stride”. He and his wife Clara had five children. Clara and his son, Billy Ray, were badly burned in a house fire. Gran said that Billy Ray only lived because his mother pushed him out through the window. He spent three months in the hospital. She lingered eight days before she died.
That is the story I knew and had thought about many times, especially since my great-great-grandmother Rhoda Alexander also died tragically in a house fire. Here is the story I overlooked:
Thomas and Clara’s third child, Patricia, was born “during the depression”. Gran wasn’t quite sure of the date. She only lived three weeks. My grandmother wrote in her journal, “Thomas went to the bank to try to borrow $25 for a casket for the baby. Money was non-existent in those days so he couldn’t borrow it. A Mr. McGraw worked at Bass Gro. so Thomas went over there and was telling him his child had died and he couldn’t borrow the money. Mr. McGraw asked him if he’d let him take a collection from people in town. Would he take the money? Thomas said he’d rather borrow it and pay it back but, ‘If I can’t get it any other way, I’ll take it’. So the business men in town made up the money and gave him. He buried the baby in our mother’s burial lot so he didn’t have to buy a space.” So little Patricia Alexander lies in an unmarked grave in Gethsemane, and I never even noticed that she had lived.
There are many such stories in our past. And there are many such stories in Caddo’s past. The generosity of the people during a time of economic crisis does not surprise me in the least. Here is one of Caddo’s stories that will be in my new book:
From, the Life and Times of J. U. Dacus, Greene County, Arkansas (written in 1960s). The family believes that this occurred in the summer of 1901. If so, this would be Mayor Dodd. Most issues of the August paper are missing from the archives.
“CADDO, OKLAHOMA- A TOWN THAT GOD BUILT
I feel like it was God's blessing for Ma and us five children that the horse got sick, and we turned back to the little town where we had spent the night before. Our money was just about gone by this time. We fell into the hands of the most wonderful people in the town of Caddo. As soon as the people of this town found out we were broke and Pa was sick, they began to come in to inquire about our needs. For some time our Pa and Ma held back and wouldn't own up to being broke till one day the Mayor of the little town came and visited my sick Daddy and explained to Pa and Ma that it was the duty of the town to come and talk with them about their finances, and that it was Pa's and Ma's duty to tell them their circumstances. Finally my mother came forward and told the Mayor that she couldn't hold out any longer. Our money was exhausted and she had nothing in the house to feed the children. The Mayor went back to town and in an hour or so they sent the dray wagon to our door and filled our shelves full of all kinds of good food. From that day on, our shelves were full of good things to eat. Today I am seventy-seven years old and if I live to be twice that age, I'll never forget the good people of Caddo, Oklahoma. On the sixteenth day of August Pa died. He left Ma and us children without a dime and a long way from home. Ma took us out into the country and we picked cotton for about two months. We got enough money for a train ticket back to Arkansas.”
Take time today to think about one of your family stories and write it down for future generations.