Sunday, November 1, 2009

The First



The picture shows the approach to our campsite here at Hanna Park.  Makes you want to join us, doesn't it?  Here's a little temptation: at night it's so quiet here, the only thing we can hear is waves crashing onto the shore.

Hanna Park is located on Florida's First Coast.  We love to name our coastal regions in Florida!  Greg and I live on the Sun Coast, on Florida's west (Gulf Of Mexico) coast.  Another Gulf coastal region is the Emerald Coast, up in the "panhandle."  On the Atlantic side, there's the Space Coast (near the NASA launch site, naturally); a little further to the south, the Treasure Coast, and the area between Palm Beach and Miami is intuitively named the Gold Coast.

The First Coast is so named because it includes St. Augustine, the first permanent European settlement in the Americas.  Does that surprise you?  Our school history studies -- at least the parts that tend to stick with us -- are often laughably inaccurate when it comes to the settlement of North America.  When I was in the second or third grade, I learned that "Columbus discovered America."  At that young age, the obvious question never occurred to me: "If Columbus met Indians upon his arrival, shouldn't we call the Indians the true discoverers of America?"  In the fifth grade, one whole period of each day was devoted to American History, and what I remember best about the colonization of America is the story of the Pilgrims -- how they landed on Plymouth Rock and celebrated the first Thanksgiving with the native Indians.  In the seventh grade, my peers and I were required to take a course in Florida History, and it was through that course that I learned that St. Augustine, colonized by the Spanish in 1565, predates both the Plymouth Colony (1620) and the Jamestown Colony (1607).  Since Plymouth and Jamestown were both English colonies, and the Spanish were effectively kicked out of Florida in the early 1800's, I guess this is another example of how history is (re)written by the victorious.

Here's another tiny little surprise that involves the First Coast: Mayport, just to the north of Atlantic Beach, was founded by French Huguenots on May 1, 1562.  

More photos from Hanna Park







Monday, October 26, 2009

The Healing Power of Music

"The healing power of music."  It's a phrase that's often bandied about.  I wonder how many people really and truly believe that music has healing powers?

Even as a kid, I knew that music had power over me.  When I was frustrated, I could play the piano and in a matter of time my frustrations were diminished.  As a volleyball coach, I sometimes used music to fire my team up -- and learned during one unnecessary loss that it was possible to get them too fired up!  As a schoolteacher, I occasionally incorporated my dulcimer into lessons; I'm sure the unusual nature of the lesson helped it to be more memorable, but I'm equally sure that the music itself created a positive atmosphere that lasted for days.

I have performed music in different professional capacities since I was in my teens.  However, until I began doing gigs of a more intimate nature -- a nursing home, perhaps, or a bookstore or an art fair -- I did not have much of a chance to observe the effect of my music on others.  One of my most cherished memories is that of a a nursing home resident, a former dancer for Bob Hope's USO tours who was seemingly lost in the grip of Alzheimer's, responding to a lively jig set with a little wheelchair dance -- the nursing home added music to her therapy as a result.  

It was the recognition of the soothing power of music -- and the dulcimer in particular -- that was the impetus behind the recording of Celtic Heart.  For a couple of years I'd be playing my heart out on one of the slow airs like "Crested Hens" (from The Celtic Ray) or "Jock O' Hazeldean" (from A Celtic Heritage) and a massage therapist or yoga instructor would comment, "That music would be so perfect for my practice."  But then I would play another cut from the CD -- say a rousing reel like "Sound Of Sleat" or "Whiskey 'Fore Breakfast" -- and the response would be, "So pretty, but much too upbeat for my purposes.  Why don't you record a CD of all 'slow stuff' for people like me?"  So with a little research I prepared a body of music that mostly fit several important guidelines: the basic pulse of the music must be slower than the average adult's resting heart rate, the arrangements must not be too "busy," the tunes should not be associated with familiar songs.

The first person to derive benefit from Celtic Heart was, in fact, my own mother.  Recording took place in February (2006); in mid-April, my mother suffered a slight stroke that had been triggered by a massive infection that, due to many complications, would prove to be untreatable.  When I went to see her that April, I took my demo copy of Celtic Heart to share with her.  She loved "Danny Boy" (my only nod to commercial marketing) of course but said she liked the sweet music overall.  And I got a chance to see its calming effect on her, as I was with her two months later on the day she died.  The hospice workers had been using Celtic Heart, along with Be Thou My Vision, to soothe her beyond morphine's capacity to ease her constant pain.  Though she spent most of that last day in a coma, I know she was aware of my presence and I know she was responding positively to the music.  When she heard the melody of a favorite hymn (from Be Thou My Vision), her expression changed subtly.  And when she heard the slightly discordant passage that appears -- briefly -- on Celtic Heart, she became slightly agitated.  What a privilege to be with her on that day! ... and what a privilege to feel that I had made some positive contribution to her care.

I am commenting on this topic at this particular time because it was brought to mind in two separate episodes this past Saturday.  In one, a young mother wheeled her eight-month old baby into my booth and asked me to play.  My choice was "Crested Hens."  The baby's expression visibly softened and she sighed in relaxation several times.  When I stopped playing and started to converse with the mother, the baby began to wail -- and she immediately calmed when I began playing ("Inis Oirr") again!  

The second -- even more powerful -- incident actually began unfolding early in the day, as a couple came by to listen a while and look at CDs.  Some time later, they came by with an older woman who was confined to a special wheelchair -- likely she had been the victim of a stroke or other serious neurological trauma.  She was convulsing uncontrollably, so I focused my energies into playing as steadily and sweetly as I possibly could.  Amazingly, her tremors eased and finally ceased altogether as she listened.  It was a powerful and humbling experience.

And if I were not already a true believer in "the healing power of music" -- I certainly would be now.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Travelers

Tomorrow we complete the last leg of our journey to Ohio.  

Yesterday we had an amusing encounter which started out innocently enough, though somewhat counter to "campground culture."  For the most part, when we pull into a camping spot, we're given a pleasant nod by neighboring campers.  Usually, campers tend to mind their own business; after all, it's a tendency toward independence that attracts a lot of people to camping.  Sure, after a few days in a particular spot, someone might strike up a conversation with you, but when you're a "transient," an "overnighter," you're mostly left alone.

Occasionally, however, you do meet up with someone who, obviously craving company, seems to have been lying in wait, just for your arrival.  Such was the case yesterday.  We were setting up the trailer for an overnight stay, when the overly-friendly neighbor across the way came to offer a bit of advice and kibitz a little.  He started by asking how long we were staying; we stated that we'd be there only the one night since we were musicians on the road.  He didn't address that response; instead he started to offer more free advice, then changed his tack by taking note of our Airstream Trailer.  "Gosh, they don't make those things any more, do they?"  Without interrupting his work, Greg replied that Airstreams continue to be made and that ours was, in fact, only a couple of years old.  

"Yeah," the man said, "there was a bunch of gypsies that used to live not far from here and they all lived in old Airstreams."  I mused, half to myself, "Hmmm ... Travelers."  He brightened with recognition: "Yeah, that's what they were called, all right."  He went on to say, "They were a pretty strange crowd, always kinda kept to themselves, even married within their own group.  They didn't take none too kindly to outsiders."  I nodded to Greg, inadvertently talking over the man's further commentary when I said, "Sounds like he's describing Irish Travelers, doesn't it?"  I hadn't heard exactly what he was saying, but I could tell that his tone had become a little less than complimentary, in discussing those Irish  Airstream gypsies.  Changing his course just one more time, our neighbor then returned to a previous topic to ask, "So what kinda music do you play?"

He blanched, but only briefly, when Greg, not betraying one ounce of emotion, said, "Irish music."

Funny how, after that exchange, we were left alone ...


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Chesapeake Seafood

Greg and I went to Virginia's Northern Neck today.  Our goal: to see the Chesapeake Bay and eat some seafood ... and, basically, to see what there is to see in the area.

We began by turning east out of our campground.  The first 18 or so miles of our route took us through some spectacularly out-of-the-way places, past acres and miles of knee-high corn and some other grains that I could not identify.  Every so often we'd pass by an early 20th century version of a convenience store, but otherwise pretty much all we saw were the family farms of yesteryear: a farmhouse and a few outbuildings surrounded by acres of some crop or a freshly-tilled field waiting for planting.  Oh, and there was the occasional church -- most often Baptist -- with its adjacent cemetery, all the headstones like silent sentries, and all carefully and obviously arranged to face due east.

It seemed like such a long and lonely 18 miles!  Eventually we came to US Highway 17, the very same road which runs through my childhood hometown in Florida.  Turning south on US 17 we began paralleling the Rappahannock River, which we would eventually cross at Tappahannock.  Tappahannock seemed a quaint, bustling little place, but we did not explore it, as we had a ways to drive to our intended destination, Reedville.  

After crossing the Rappahannock onto the Northern Neck, we continued to see a number of farms but also started to see more and more evidence of a still-thriving seafood industry.  And, interestingly, more of the churches were Episcopal.  We passed through the charming village of Heathsville, which began as the Episcopal Parish of St. Stephen's back in the 1650's.  Wow.

We finally came to Reedville, selected as our destination because of its description as "a small waterfront town with a history in the seafood industry."  Beautiful and meticulously maintained Victorian-era homes line the Main Street leading down to the waterfront.  And though it's quite evident that the place had developed around commercial fishing and crabbing ... we saw no restaurants, seafood or otherwise, that were open for lunch.  Luckily, the proprietor of one waterfront eatery, already at work in preparation for the evening, sensed our situation, and was kind enough to direct us to Cockrells' Creek Seafood Deli, which was literally "across the creek" though we had to travel a somewhat circuitous route to get back in there.  It was definitely a locals' place; we'd never have found it without help.  And even if we had somehow managed to stumble upon the place, we probably wouldn't have gone in, because from the outside it looks a more likely warehouse or packing house than dining establishment.  Once inside, though, we discovered a spotlessly clean fish market with counter service and a tiny, neat-as-a-pin "dine-in" area.  We arrived shortly before noon, and good thing we did, because within a half-hour, it was jammed and the line at the counter was almost out the door.  Our lunch was everything we'd hoped for, and more: a seafood "sampler," everything delicately fried, with flounder, shrimp, scallops, oysters, and of course a crab cake.  I will tell you right now, I do not particularly enjoy oysters fried, preferring them instead raw and fresh-shucked, but these were absolutely the best fried oysters I have ever eaten.  Enough servings of Cockrell's oysters might make me consider the fried variety to be a favorite!  The crab cake was so fresh and perfectly seasoned, the scallops so sweet and juicy, the shrimp, the flounder -- ah!  Well worth the trip.



So worthwhile was that lunch that I'm not even disappointed that we never actually got to see the Chesapeake Bay.  Our road atlas indicated that Reedville was right on the bay, but it isn't.  And without a proper map of the area, we feared spending countless frustrating hours trying to navigate those winding centuries-old paths.  (How have we come to be the only "road-warriors" who do not own a GPS?)  

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

My Washday Companion

When your home is the road, "home" is wherever your Airstream happens to be parked -- at least it is for us.  But some places feel more like home -- it's inevitable.  During our recent stay in Virginia, Bowling Green was the nearest town of any size.  Something about Bowling Green reminded me, at least visually, of the Arcadia (FL) that was my childhood home.  But the only time I spent in Bowling Green was at the Food Lion (supermarket) or the laundromat.  I did have a memorably sweet encounter one washday, watching clothes tumble in the dryer alongside an 87-year-old man who seemed hungry for conversation.  He'd been married for 64 years, he told me, and in all that time he'd had to do the wash only a handful of times.  His wife was tending to their terminally ill daughter, thus the domestic chores had fallen to him.  He seemed to want to talk about family -- understandably so -- and I spent a poignant half hour listening to his reminiscences of growing up on a small farm ("We grew all our own vegetables and we had plenty of chickens and pigs and a mule."), of building their first home (in which he and his wife still live), of raising five children and seeing all of them graduate from college ... and of the loss of one and impending loss of another of those children.  In speaking of his life's low points I detected no bitterness or regret; in speaking of the high points there was no immodesty or false pride.  "She's never seen me drink liquor nor utter a curse word," he said of his relationship to his beloved wife.  I thought him a remarkable and admirable individual, and now and again my thoughts stray back to him: as a person who'd spent his entire life in Tidewater Virginia, he'd witnessed a lot of change ... and even more so because, as a person of African descent, he would have to be the grandchild or perhaps great-grandchild of slaves.  How I wish I could've spent more time learning from him!

Need I say that it was the best washday I've ever experienced?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Fredericksburg

What is it about the Civil War that continues to fascinate Americans, almost 150 years after the fact?  Much more than a topic in schoolchildren's history texts, this grim period fires the imaginations of re-enactors and scholars; even casual tourists flock to the battlegrounds that dot the country's landscape.  For many years, in my mind the war was purely academic: a chronology of dates and a roster of names to be committed to memory.  My cousin Michael and my childhood friend Clint Johnson were enthusiastic students of the war, so I figured it was just a "guy thing."  My first visit to Gettysburg changed my attitude somewhat, and with the recent discovery that my friend Amy enjoys re-enactments, well, there went my gender theory.

Because we are currently situated so near to Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania and Chancellorsville, and everywhere we drive there is another historical marker chronicling some aspect of the war, I've begun questioning our collective Civil War fascination in earnest.  For clues I went to the Internet.  One source suggested that people are still interested because there have been films and documentaries on TV, and people become curious about subjects they've seen on TV.  I can't really buy that one as the primary reason.  Money for a television project is generated by showing that the project will have popular appeal; thus interest generates TV programming, not the other way around.  Another source said that this war captures our interest more than any other because the war was fought over slavery.  That strikes me as an over-simplification, both as to the cause of the war and as to the reason for our interest.


Lacking any clear answers didn't interfere with our going to the Fredericksburg Battlefield today!  It was Greg's first visit ever to a Civil War battlefield, and my first to this particular one.  We started at the Visitors' Center, to get an overview of the battle and what we were likely to see.  We marveled over the uniforms on display, and how small of stature their wearers must have been.  We inspected guns and rifles and ammunition used in battle.  We saw Bibles and prayer books that had been found scattered about the battlefield in the days following the fight.  Eating utensils ... a drum ... sewing kits ... old tintypes ...

... and then Greg quietly mused, "You know, I can't keep from thinking, 'What a waste.'"

We continued to explore the museum's artifacts and eventually headed out to the Sunken Road Walking Trail, walking its entire length and ending up at the National Cemetery, and all along Greg's words continued to haunt me: What a waste.

Later, after we'd returned to the campground, Greg remarked that he understood why people want to visit and preserve these battlefields.  I immediately said, "Tell me," but the understanding was more of an impression that he had, rather than something which he could articulate.  I turned my attention to uploading pictures from my camera, selecting and captioning some for inclusion in this blog, all the while remembering What a waste, and somehow, unwittingly, I stumbled upon an answer to my question that, for now, satisfies me.

What separates the American Civil War from any of the other wars we've fought is that we were fighting amongst ourselves.  Not Southerners against Northerners, nor slaveholders against abolitionists, we were neighbor against neighbor, sometimes even brother against brother.  The war was fought in our own backyards and there were very few families who did not directly suffer its effects.  The American Civil War was the first in which journalists reported from the front, so we have first-person accounts; furthermore, we have photographic accounts, not just idealized pictures drawn from someone's memory after the fact.  And we have all those artifacts: those Bibles and mess kits and tattered photographs collected from our backyards that keep this war real and personal still today.  Television documentaries, most notably Ken Burns's "The Civil War," certainly have had an impact on the surge in interest over the last couple of decades.  But it's the way Burns told the story -- through letters and journals and other first-person accounts, rather than a dry presentation of facts and figures -- that made the war real and personal.

I'll let the philosophers and political scientists debate the real causes of the war, whether or not it was necessary for the cessation of slavery, whether or not it led to improvements in our society and government ... and whether or not it could happen again.   


After our sobering and insightful visit to the Fredericksburg Battlefield, we had lunch at the nearby Colonial Tavern.  They bill themselves as the Home of the Irish Brigade, and though none of the Irish Brigade could've actually spent an evening here, it is a fine tribute to those Irish volunteers.  It's about as "authentic" as any pub I've ever visited.  They know what Half & Half is -- over the years I've learned to be shy about asking for one, due to the blank stares -- if not downright insults -- I've endured.  Greg and I both opted for a lunch special: a generous helping of "home-made" corned beef piled onto rye bread along with sauerkraut, thousand island dressing and Dubliner cheese.  Yum!

The sound of a drum can cut through the din of war -- through shouting and shooting and chaos. This drum was carried by the regiment first organized as the 28th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, later to be known as the Fourth Irish Regiment of the Second Brigade, First Division II Corps -- the "Irish Brigade." At Fredericksburg, the men of the Irish Brigade placed sprigs of green boxwood in their forage caps to distinguish them from all other units. Contemporary reports from Confederate officers note the good fight put up by the Irish Brigade, but the grim fact is that they sustained the highest number of casualties they would suffer in any single engagement of the war. The writing you see on the drum -- Faugh Ah Ballaugh -- is Irish for "Clear the way!"

This monument stands to Richard Rowland Kirkland, known to both Union and Confederate soldiers alike as "The Angel of Marye's Heights." A Confederate, Sergeant Kirkland risked his life to bring water and warm clothing to grievously wounded Union soldiers who had spent a bitterly cold night without water, food or medical treatment. Less than a year later, Kirkland himself would die at Chickamauga.

Brompton, standing high on a hill overlooking the battlefield, was mute witness to the Battle of Fredericksburg and served as a Union hospital after the Battle of the Wilderness. Today it is the official residence of the president of the University of Mary Washington.

From this vantage point, it's easy to see -- with 21st Century eyes and the distinct advantage of hindsight -- the futility of Burnside's attacks against Lee's forces.

Over 15,000 Union dead, the casualties of several different battles in the area, are buried at Fredericksburg National Cemetery. Confederate soldiers are buried elsewhere in Fredericksburg and in Spotsylvania Confederate Cemetery.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Toecane

A few days ago, my cousin Norma accompanied me on errands to the TRAC galleries in Burnsville and Spruce Pine, NC.  TRAC -- that's the Toe River Arts Council, of which Greg and I are members.  There are many fine artists in Yancey and Mitchell counties, and TRAC does a terrific job of promoting them, and promoting the arts in area schools and the surrounding communities at large.

One of my favorite artists is Judson GuĂ©rard, Norma's son-in-law (hence, my cousin-in-law?).  Judson is a terrific glass artist.  We visited Judson's studio, in Toecane, that day as well.  Oh, you haven't heard of Toecane?  Why, it's a little less than a mile from Loafer's Glory.  You don't know where that is, either?  Well, it's about three miles away from Red Hill ... ummm ... 16 miles north and east of Burnsville ... umm ... a little over 50 miles away from Asheville.  Should you ever decide to go to Toecane, let the old mill located in Loafer's Glory be one of your landmarks.


Toecane's a pretty quiet place.  I think that at one time it might have been a busy little town, located as it is above the river and the railroad tracks.  But though a freight train still rumbles through, it doesn't stop in Toecane any more.  There are a couple of old large commercial buildings that silently serve as witness to Toecane's former prominence among the mountain communities, a few houses, a church; Judson's studio occupies an old mercantile.  


The road from Loafer's Glory is the only paved road going in and out of Toecane.  It's pretty quiet, too, as you can see: these two dogs, who have appointed themselves official studio greeters (they are not Judson's dogs, though they do hang out at his place during the day), often lie in this bend of the road, giving them a good view of anyone who may be approaching from either direction.  To better understand just how infrequently cars do come along ...


I do love small towns.  I love quiet, out-of-the-way places even more.  Though it would not be practical for me, at this stage of my career, to live in a place like Toecane, I sometimes daydream about retreating from the busy-ness of the modern world to just such a place.  So I relish each and every visit!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Sir Duke and Lady Dirr

Today's the birthday of Duke Ellington.  If you're from my parents' generation, you know of him because of his immense popularity before and after World War II; if you're from my generation, you know him because your parents listened to the music; if you're from the generations immediately after me, you know of him through Stevie Wonder's tribute, "Sir Duke."

If you're from a very recent generation, I'm not sure how you may know of Duke Ellington.  But I'm sure that you should spend some time finding out, because he had a tremendous impact on American music.

My thoughts today were inspired by a comment I heard from a radio announcer: basically, that if you're a kid whose parents force you to take piano lessons, don't resent it, because you never know, you could end up like Duke Ellington.  Not a bad way to end up!  I won't be the Duke Ellington of my generation, but I am very thankful for the piano lessons I was "forced" to take.

I started piano lessons at age six, about the same time that I began attending school.  I took formal lessons for ten years, before making the conscious decision that I did not want to pursue a career in music.  (You can laugh here, if you wish; the irony doesn't escape me either.)  During those ten years, there were moments of great frustration in which I would scream at my mother, "I'm quitting!"  She always very calmly responded that, if I wanted to quit, I certainly was free to do so.  Once I had time to get over myself and my teen-age tantrum, I must've realized that I'd be missing out on something really valuable, because I never carried out my impulsive threats.

What frustrated me?  All sorts of things.  My teacher, Rose Hahn Dirr, lived only two blocks up the street, so most of the time I walked to lessons.  Along the way, I'd come into earshot of another piano teacher's house (her rambling, wood-frame home had no air conditioning, so the windows were almost always open) and her students were playing "popular" pieces like Moon River.  Meanwhile, I'd been practicing Bach's Minuet in G or Beethoven's Fur Elise.  "How boring!"  I pouted.  "No one wants to listen to that old stuff any more!"

Or those times that I'd come to my lesson and Mrs. Dirr would set an unfamiliar piece of music in front of me.  I'd struggle to play those pieces to the best of my ability, but rarely were they subsequently presented as my next piece to learn.  I assumed that it was because I didn't play them well enough, so I would strive harder and harder to play them better and better, in hopes that I could prove that I had the aptitude to play those pieces.

Mrs. Dirr was an exacting task-master.  She always insisted that I play my scales and my Hanon exercises; she demanded that I use correct fingering; she'd make me break the music down into short passages that I had to perfect before going on to the next passage.  "How chopped-up is this piece going to be, if I'm constantly focusing on little parts, rather than the whole?" I'd think.  And Mrs. Dirr could always, always tell when I hadn't practiced enough!

Perhaps you've seen the method in what I used to consider Mrs. Dirr's madness, but if you haven't, let me explain.  The precision that I learned through the study of piano's great masters enables me to play, not only their works, but Moon River, and practically anything else, as well.  The kids who'd studied Moon River?  For the most part, they can still play that piece and the other specific pieces that they'd learned, but they struggle through anything new -- if they're still playing the piano at all -- because they didn't develop an essential body of skills.  I learned how to "sight-read," a critical and highly prized ability, through all of those musical "pop-quizzes" administered through the pieces that I saw only once and (mostly) never again.  In short, I suppose one could say that I "learned how to learn" music, which over the years has helped me with not only the piano but the organ, the guitar, other musical instruments -- and of course the dulcimer.

Mrs. Dirr taught me so much, not only about music and the piano, but about teaching.  I now realize that it's not always necessary, nor even possible, for students to comprehend "why" they must perform certain tasks in certain ways, but it's very important that their teacher understand "why" and really stick to tried-and-true methods, knowing all the while that kids complain because it's their nature to do so, and hoping all the while that they'll be thankful for it later.  Music ... mathematics ... reading ... the same general approach applies.

Every discipline has its Duke Ellington, though few of these "Dukes" will attain the status of legend among the general populace.  And behind every one of those "Dukes" is one or more "Mrs. Dirrs."

Happy Birthday, Duke Ellington!  ... And here's to you, Mrs. Dirr!               

Thursday, February 5, 2009

What's Your Story?

I suppose it was inevitable.  I'd resisted it for years, but in the end ... well ... resistance was futile.  It was predestined: I am Southern and I am Celtic; I like historical things; I enjoy puzzles. It  consumed -- pleasantly, mind you -- the energies of my aunt, Margaret Haile, and I see how it dominates the thinking of my cousin, Norma Morgan.  It's addictive.  It is fun, but it is frustrating; it raises as many questions as it answers.  It is ...

Genealogy.  And if you think it's not important, then it's a fairly safe bet that you are not old enough for it to be important -- yet!

When I was very young, I spent a tremendous amount of time with my parents, especially my mother.  We lived on a cattle ranch outside of town (Arcadia, Florida), and neither of my parents was much of a socialite anyway.  My brother and I had frequent opportunities to visit our paternal grandparents, who lived a few miles away on a cattle ranch on another side of town.  We had occasional visits from my father's aunt, Dexter, who lived in North Carolina.  We also often saw our maternal grandparents, and had extended stays with them during the summertime.  In short, we spent a great deal of time with family; we were very comfortable around adults -- a perfect opportunity to really know them.  But we were too young to even realize what we might want to know about them.

Now my parents and grandparents are all gone, and I suppose it's in part because I miss them and want to feel connected with them, but recently I have spent a lot of time trying to uncover my ancestral past.  Poring over old census records has revealed a family structure that is quite unlike anything in our modern experience.  Looking at immigration records, I wonder what it was that spurred a family into leaving the country that their kin had inhabited for a thousand years, to risk an arduous journey across the Atlantic Ocean.  What would it take to make me do such a thing?  In the new land: generations of people who were born, lived an entire lifetime, then died, all within the same small community.  Others who began their lives in that community, following the same pattern, but then set out by Conestoga wagon for a new frontier -- another dangerous and difficult adventure -- why?

I'm luckier than most amateur genealogists, in that both Margaret and Norma, on my dad's side, have already done a lifetime of work that I can use as reference.  In similar fashion, I have the work of Dr. Guy Funderburk, a distant cousin of my mother's, from which to draw.  I'm especially blessed to have memoirs written by my maternal grandmother; though she never did complete the work, it is not only a valuable tool, but a poignant glimpse into my near past; in some ways, it helps me to understand of her -- why?

How?  How did the Depression affect my parents and grandparents?  How did the Civil War affect my great-great grandparents?  How did the American Revolution ... the Potato Famine ... the Highland Clearances affect those generations?

And why? and how? have these events shaped me?

If you're a young person reading this, start asking questions now.  Make time; believe me, if you wait until you realize it's important to you, you'll have waited too long.  If you're a bit older, perhaps already with grandchildren, don't wait for them to ask -- and don't offer, either, because you'll likely get your feelings hurt -- just write it down; gather those old pictures and mementos, because they'll be of incalculable value to your family some day.  Believe me, the memories of trips to Disney World and clowns at birthday parties will pale in comparison to the enhanced memory of who you were.

As for my own search, though it's fascinating, I'll try really hard not to let it take me over!  It does seem to be something that can't be done well by "dabblers."  It requires a tremendous amount of concentration and concentrated effort.  It's almost impossible to stop in the midst of researching a particular individual or family or event; the times I've tried to do so, I've lost ground and had to backtrack.  So aggravating!  Among the more interesting relatives I've discovered: dispossessed German royalty who, after plots and machinations worthy of  Shakespeare, escaped across the Atlantic, only to drown off the coast of the Carolina colony.  Talk about a tragedy!  

Crowns and castles and dreams of lost inheritances notwithstanding, so far, the prize for Most Intriguing Character goes to a Tennessean named Catherine who, at the age of 16, was wooed and won by a beguiling and worldly stranger.  Though her family initially disapproved of the match, they, too, were won over by his artful manner.  So completely did they fall under his spell that, when he began to speak in glowing terms of the great opportunities to be had in the new state of Texas, they sold their property and accompanied Catherine and her new husband on a trip westward.  Sometime after the birth of her first child, however, Catherine discovered that her new husband was also the husband of another woman.  Heartbroken and outraged, she had her bigamist husband put in jail and, despite the fact that she was expecting another child, she set out to return to her native Tennessee.  She put her most cherished possessions in a cloth bag, dressed in her husband's clothes, strapped his pistol to her waist, saddled his best horse and rode home.  Woe be unto anyone who dared cross her during her journey!  Her second husband, by whom she bore six more children, was a casualty of the Civil War.  She married a third time and had five more children ... one of whom was my great-grandfather.

Catherine, my great-great grandmother; she sounds tough -- I like to think that, somehow, she passed some of that toughness on to me.  But at any rate, isn't it a heck of a story!