Posts Tagged ‘Grandchildren’

You may have noticed I haven’t posted in a while. It’s not that I’ve been idle. This year I’ve done a lot of traveling, besides to Djibouti in January. During the summer, I traveled as far as upstate New York for a family reunion and spent time with my children and grandchildren in the mountains of Virginia and West Virginia. Then in October, I realized one of my life-long dreams and went to Greece—Athens, the Parthenon, and beautiful islands in the Aegean Sea.

As if that wasn’t enough, in November I joined my sister Sue in Connecticut for a genealogy expedition. This was the first time since childhood that I ventured to a northern clime during winter. I survived. When my granddaughter was born in the Blue Ridge Mountains in December, I braved snow and ice for this happy occasion.

So I have many adventures to write about, including the rest of my journey to Djibouti. I promise to deliver.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing, because I have. I’m polishing a novel I wrote during NaNoWriMo a few years ago, while another simmers on the back burner. One of my short stories was published in Bacopa Literary Review this fall. But what I’m excited about today is the novel I just released, Trials by Fire, which is the first volume of a trilogy, The Long Road to Namai.

This story has been down a long road itself. When I was a kid, my sisters and brothers and I would camp out in the backyard on summer nights and tell ghost stories. This was science fiction, not a ghost story, and it was so long ago I don’t remember much about the original version. During college, I developed the story a little more. Through the intervening years, I wrote at least one short story which bears little resemblance to the present incarnation. None of these previous efforts bore fruit.

Then I retired and spent a month writing the first novel length version. I went so far as to self-publish it, but gave away more copies than I sold. A few years later I reread the book and thought, “What a great story, but what lousy writing!” I took it off the market and totally recrafted the whole thing. The story was still good and the writing much better, but it was too long and I couldn’t get the word count down without sacrificing important elements.

I decided to follow the suggestions of friends to divide the story into at least two parts and market it to Young Adult readers. I won’t bore you with all the details involved in getting a book market-ready, but as one person warned me, it takes longer than you think. Finally, here it is.

I’m sure you’ll enjoy this novel even if you’re not into science fiction. It’s also a human interest story and unlike anything else you’ve read. During the coming year, I will finish parts two and three and release them for your reading pleasure. Stay tuned.

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This summer I spent a few weeks in West Virginia with my granddaughter Tiffany and her family. They live near Kearneysville in the state’s eastern-most county, Jefferson County. Her husband Justin comes from a huge extended family. Both of his parents came from large families, as in ten or so kids, and their parents as well. He said none of them move away. They just stay there, generation after generation. He has so many cousins, known and unknown, that he wouldn’t date a girl from West Virginia. He played it safe, he thought, by marrying a girl from Florida.

My great-grandmother came from three counties away, Hampshire County, from the little community of Slanesville. Like Justin’s family, her forbears settled there in the 1700s and stayed, until one of the wandering Rogers, my great-grandfather John Thomas, married her and carted her off to upstate New York. I can see why they stayed. Unlike most of mountainous West Virginia, this area in the North River Valley is blessed with rolling hills and good farmland.

Slanesville, WV, looking toward the North River

Slanesville, WV. Looking toward the North River

Whenever I’m in the neighborhood, I like to do a little genealogical research. This can be challenging because these folks practiced subsistence farming and recycled most everything. They even recycled names. Say you have a man named John. He names his oldest son John. Half of John’s ten or so children might be boys. John, Jr. and each of his brothers name a son after their father, and in only three generations you end up with a half dozen or so men with the same name, and many of them are cousins about the same age. I’ve run into this sort of thing trying to trace my roots. I try to sort them by birthdates. Have you ever written a number or date wrong? Family historians are human, and records are not always accurate, if they even exist. Hampshire County libraries have good historical records, but I’ve been stymied by who is my ancestor and which are distant cousins. So before venturing over to Hampshire County, I went through my notes and wrote down the vital statistics of the people I was looking for.

One branch of the family tree is the Hietts. The name has variously been spelled as Hiatt, Hiet, Hyet, Hayet, and Hyatt. And the line is full of Johns. My ancestors John and Mary Hiett, Quakers, were born in England and joined William Penn in Pennsylvania around 1700. They had a large estate near Philadelphia and produced several children, among them, John Hiett, Jr. He married Margaret Stephens and they eventually ended up in Hampshire County, which at the time was part of Virginia.

Poring over my notes, I found an interesting tidbit: after they left Pennsylvania, before moving on to Hampshire County, the Hietts owned land in Frederick County, Virginia. In those days, the colonies were divided into large counties, which were later broken up into the smaller counties we know today. The part of Frederick County, Virginia where John, Jr. and Margaret lived is now Jefferson County, West Virginia! My ancestor Evan Hiett was born there in 1748. Wow

Historic Bridge on Opequon Creek

Historic Bridge on Opequon Creek, West Virginia

Several miles downstream  of the Hiett holdings.

Several miles downstream of the Hiett holdings.

The Hietts lived on Opequon Creek. I’d crossed that creek a dozen times going to and from Martinsburg. They lived upstream, near the town of Middleway.  “That’s just up the road from here!” Justin said. So Tiffany and I drove up the road to Middleway. I expected, at most, a sign indicating where the historical town once stood, but I was pleased to find Middleway is still, in its own way, thriving.


Main St. Middleway

Main St. Middleway. My ancestors settled in the neighborhood before these houses were built. 

The Gilbert House, built in the early 1800s.

The Gilbert House, built in the early 1800s.

The Elizabeth Smith House, built around 1800.

The Elizabeth Smith House, built around 1800.

Masonic Lodge and Schoolhouse, early 1800s.

Masonic Lodge and Schoolhouse, early 1800s.

Opequon Creek flows from what is still Frederick County, Virginia, forms the county line between Jefferson and Berkeley Counties, and empties into the Potomac River. John, Jr. had farms on both sides of the creek. Property records still exist, so one day I may go back and locate them.

When John, Jr. and Margaret moved to Hampshire County, Evan went with them. He settled in the town of North River Mills where the restored Hiett Log House still stands. (You can see this house at http://www.historichampshire.org/nrm/building/finelli.htm).

In 1784, Evan “Hyett” was listed as the head of a family of eight “white souls,” with one dwelling and four out buildings. He married Sarah Smith and their daughter Margaret married Benjamin McDonald whose father had emigrated from Scotland. One of their descendants was Rebecca McDonald Rogers, my great-grandmother.

Evan’s brother John Hiett III stayed in present day Jefferson County. Eventually, some of the Hietts and their descendants scattered to the Carolinas, the Midwest, and who knows where else. But not all moved on. Uncle John is reportedly buried at the Hopewell Friends Cemetery in present day Frederick County, Virginia, less than ten miles from Middleway. Sons are fairly easy to trace, but daughters marry and change their names. Who knows what names my distant cousins in Jefferson County go by?

Uh, Justin, I hate to tell you—maybe you didn’t go far enough away to find a wife who’s not your cousin.

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Almost all my life I have been fortunate to live in the country where wild trees are available for Christmas. The area I lived in as a child used to be dairy country. Once there must have been a dozen small dairy farms within a mile of our house. Through the years, one by one, they went out of business. Today, I doubt any remain in operation.

Back in the day when houses were heated with firewood, farmers maintained wood lots to ensure a steady source. My grandparents had more trees on their farm than many – havens for climbing grandchildren and shady places for the cows in summer. Most farmers seemed to begrudge the few square feet under trees where grass and crops would not grow and kept their pastures and hay fields cleared. Hence the importance of wood lots. When my father was a boy, he planted a corner of the farm in trees as a 4-H project. By the time I was old enough to play in the woods, his trees had attained some size, but young trees, just right for Christmas, grew from seeds they dropped.

There was no thought of buying a Christmas tree. We went to the woodlot and cut one of suitable size. A variety were available: pine, spruce, fir, and hemlock. As my brothers and I grew big enough, we would harvest the tree without adult assistance.

One year sticks out in my mind. I must have been twelve or thirteen. Grandma and Grandpa Masters lived over the hill in Finch Hollow. Grandpa hunted in the woods behind their house. That year he spotted several perfect trees on their property and offered us one. We had hiked cross-lots to their place in summer and thought it would be no problem to haul a tree over the hill on a sled.

But this was winter and snow was knee deep. We got over the hill OK and up to Grandpa’s woods where we selected our tree, cut it, and tied it on the sled. We warmed up in Grandma’s kitchen, sipping hot cocoa, before we pulled the sled down through the hollow and tackled the big hill. Wading through grass and brush in summer is one thing. Struggling through snow tangled in grass and brush is another. Cold as we were, asking for help was out of the question as we could not lose face. Besides, we were a good distance from any road and no one had snowmobiles. We made it over the hill and through the fields to our house, tree and all,  frozen to the bone, but proud. And happy once we warmed up and put on dry clothes.

Our first Christmas in Florida, we lived in the Ocala National Forest where sand pines grow. Not as nice as fir or spruce, nevertheless, with their short needles and dense growth, the young ones make suitable Christmas trees.

Then I grew up and moved on. Today I live in pine flatwoods, too wet for sand pines but host to other varieties: long leaf, loblolly, and slash pine. While these grow into beautiful adult trees, they have long needles and their branch whorls are at least a foot apart. The saplings look like Charlie Brown Christmas trees, but when dressed in lights, ornaments, and tinsel, they are as pretty as any store-bought.

A few years when I had the money, I bought fragrant fir trees from a lot at a friend’s church. After they went out of the Christmas trees business, I resumed cutting trees from my woods or a neighbor’s. Occasionally we had cedar trees. They are very pretty with dense foliage to rival any spruce, but the branches are prickly. You almost need gloves to decorate them or your hands end up looking like you’ve been picking blackberries.

This year, my son Joel and his family spent Christmas with me. Did the children want me to buy a tree? No. The Spirit of Christmas Trees Past spoke to them. They remembered previous Christmas times when they accompanied me to find a tree. It was fun. It was tradition. That was what they wanted.

I was so busy with holiday preparations, Joel took the children out to the abandoned pasture behind my house. They were gone a long time, tromping through marsh and blackberry brambles, but fortunately no snow. They brought back the perfect tree. Almost perfect. One side had few branches, so we set it against the wall. The children helped me trim it, and I believe it is the prettiest Christmas tree I’ve ever had.

Is it the commercialization of Christmas that drives us back to old practices that have little place in modern life? What practical purpose does a Christmas tree serve? Besides the time and expense, I’m required to rearrange furniture to make room for a place to pile gifts. A table would do as well. Boxes of ornaments are hauled from the attic and hung on the tree. Not to mention the mess, tinsel and pine needles all over the floor. After Christmas, everything must be undone and put away. And why cut a living tree? A tree-hugger like myself should shun the practice, but I have never been drawn to artificial trees.

If only a fresh tree will do, I can afford to buy a pretty, well shaped fir which was grown for this purpose and whose scent is unequaled. But like my grandchildren, I am drawn to the woods this time of year, to bear the cold and brambles, to harvest a tree and bring it into my home. It has meaning beyond the large decoration crowding my living room. It is a connection with the Earth, with my roots. It keeps me centered and gives life a meaning that cannot be expressed in words.

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Several years ago, I bought a third hand, 1989 Dodge Road Trek camper van which takes me on most of my adventures. While its V8 engine is well up to Montana highway speeds, the driver is not. My occasional ventures onto interstate highways are brief, due to my fear of being run over. So, armed with good road maps and a lackadaisical attitude about getting lost, I travel mostly on two lane rural highways.

My grandson Tristan has accompanied me on several trips. He is a great traveling companion. The “Are we there yet?”s are kept to a minimum as long as we make frequent stops at interesting places. Indeed, when I get to the point of wanting to reach a campground before nightfall, he will complain if we pass one of those brown signs, which indicate historical or other places of interest, without stopping.

In July, 2008, after visiting my parents in Blackfork, Arkansas (I challenge you to find it on the map), we headed back to Florida. From Mena, we took Arkansas Route 8 through some pretty countryside: mountains, hills, farmland, and forests. We stopped for a late lunch at Marks Mill Battleground, a quiet roadside park where we could stretch our legs.

But before we could de-camper, we were met by two dogs. They did not appear to be litter mates. One looked mostly hound and the other was a black and white mutt. I wouldn’t let Tristan out of the van until I was sure of his safety. Both dogs turned out to be quite friendly. Tristan dubbed them Joe and Sally and he played with them until we had to leave. Then he wanted to take them with us. I didn’t try to explain how inadvisable it would be to take two stray dogs with no shot records 1000 miles while staying at public campgrounds. I just reminded him that we already had a dog and Teddy might be jealous if we brought two more dogs home.

I have little clue as to Joe and Sally’s history but people had been taking care of them. Both looked quite healthy, in no way neglected. In the picnic area was a small bag of dog food that had been cut open so they could eat. A water bowl nearby was almost empty, so we filled it for them before we left. All the way home, Tristan talked about Joe and Sally and wondered how they were. I told him that they were such nice dogs, someone who had no dog would come by and take them home. And I’m sure that is what happened. In a rural area which has no animal shelter, people who could not provide them with a home, myself included, nevertheless had the goodness of heart to take the time and expense of providing food and water until their fortunes improved.

Whenever I travel on Route 8, I stop at Marks Mill for a break. I think about Joe and Sally at such times, but of course I have never them seen again.

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Almost 150 years ago, a boy wanted to ride a carousel, but he was too poor to buy a ticket. He must have been fascinated by the brightly painted horses that galloped around and around to the cheery music. He made himself a promise that if he ever became rich, he would build carousels for children to ride for free.
When he grew up, he became an industrialist and owned several factories. He was a good employer and a benefactor to the communities that housed his factories. Among many other things, he built parks and donated carousels to the parks. There was one condition, that the cities would never charge money for riding his carousels.
This is a true story. My grandfather worked in one of those factories, and as a child, I rode those carousels.
My siblings and I were very fortunate. We lived out in the country where we could climb trees, swim in ponds, wade in creeks, catch fish, and roam about the fields and woods. The city children had to be content only with playgrounds. I’m sure that going out to the country was as much a treat to them as going to a playground was for us. But they were able to walk to their parks, and we depended on adults to take us there, so going to a playground was only an occasional pleasure for us.
The swings and slides were fun, of course, but the best of all were the merry-go-rounds. They were magic. The horses came in all colors and styles and there were also lions, tigers, and other wild beasts. For parents with babies too small to sit on a horse, there were chariots where they could be seated and enjoy the ride. Being a fan of the Black Stallion books, my mount of choice would usually be a black horse with a flowing mane.
My favorite merry-go-round had music from a Wurlitzer band organ. In my memory, it played one tune over and over but I never got tired of it. I do not know the name of the song but I can recall the melody and the words I put to it in my head. Beside the organ was a bass drum. A mechanical arm would strike the drum to the beat of the music. The drumstick had hit that drumhead so many times, it had worn a hole in the center, which was patched with tape.
Riding around and around with the music in my head, in my fantasies I was riding a real horse. When the ride ended, we would all exit and run around the pavilion to line up for another ride, over and over again, until we had to go home.
This summer, my son Joel told me he wanted to show his family where I had lived as a child and where his grandparents and mine had lived, worked, and gone to school. I did not tell him about the carousels before we made the trip. I wanted it to be a surprise. My favorite was closed for repairs, which is forgivable after nearly 100 years of delighting children, but my second choice was open and running.
This merry-go-round was in pristine condition. The pavilion it is housed in looked newly painted. Inside, around the top of the carousel, the panels painted with pastoral scenes and faces of Indians and frontiersmen looked as fresh as they had when they were first made. There were no wild animals to ride, but the horses were beautiful. They were of all colors and styles: some tossing their heads, some with fierce defiance in their eyes, and some intent on racing forward. The old music had been replaced with a modern sound system. This music was more varied, but it was still instrumental, with no lyrics to impinge on a private fantasy.
My son pointed out what a feat of engineering the carousel was. As a child I had never taken note of this. The large, round platform held 72 horses, four abreast. Each horse was suspended on a pole from a jointed rod which extended from the center pole. As this rod turned, each horse galloped independently of its mates. Platform, horses, hardware, and riders were all supported by guy rods from the single pole in the center. A motor turned the whole mechanism through a complex series of gears. Our ancestors managed to work wonders without the help of computers.
With still no admission price, and no posted age limit, I mounted a horse beside my grandson James and was carried away. The magic is still there.
I did not ride over and over again like I had when I was a child. Once or twice was enough. I wanted to take pictures, which was a challenge since the merry-go-round moves faster than my shutter finger, but it was pleasant to sit on a bench alongside the wall and watch my child and his enjoying themselves.
I look forward to going back again to ride the merry-go-rounds. Of course, it would be best if I were to take grandchildren with me.

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Grandsons are fun to have around. Their fascination with tools and machinery makes them easy to entertain. In March, I took Tristan and Conall to the PioneerVillagein Green Cove Springs. This museum collection of old buildings and items from the 19th and early 20th centuries portrays early life in rural Florida. As we went through the grounds and buildings, I pointed out various objects to the boys and described what they were used for and why, many of which are now to be found only in museums. I drew the boys’ attention to the bell atop the little church tower and told them how it would be rung to call people to meetings. In the store, most of the goods were behind the counter, not out on shelves, which not only gave customers more personal service, but undoubtedly cut down on thefts. (People of the past were not really much different from us.)

I actually remember many of the old timey items being used during my early childhood. Rewind a half century or so. My great-Grandad had a little store that supplemented his farm income. I did not need to read the sign in front of a great wooden hulk to know that it was a threshing machine like Grandad’s. I remember seeing it in operation once when I was very small and I can’t forget how noisy it was and how it would shake. What is a threshing machine? A precursor of the combine, it would separate grain from straw. I believe Grandad was threshing oats that day. The machine was stationary and they would feed the oat hay into it with pitch forks. It was powered by a flywheel connected by a belt to the power wheel of a tractor. Before they had tractors, I suppose they used horses or other means to run those machines. And before they had machines, they did it by hand. That we are here today attests to the fact that they got the job done one way or another.

I remember Grandpa Rogers using a horse-drawn plow, mowing machine, and hay rake like those on display, before he got his first tractor. He kept his Belgian draft horses, Jessie and Duchess, around for years even after they retired from employment. I would ride Duchess when I was older, but that’s another story.

The houses had antique stoves similar to those my grandmothers used before they got modern stoves. I remember Grandma Masters feeding sticks of wood into her kitchen range. Grandma Rogers had a kerosene stove. The modern gas and electric ranges that replaced them were easier to cook on. I remember many of the kitchen utensils displayed, some still in use but others having been consigned to history. I remember Grandma Rogers using a crank churn to make butter, like one shown. I’m sure it was more efficient than the older upright churns, also on exhibit. I explained all these things to the boys and related my memories of them. They did not act bored.

Fast forward to the present. A few weeks later, Tristan helped me clean out a shed where some things had been stored untouched for more years than I care to admit. There were buckets of tools and sundry items, covered with dust and rust and unidentified debris. One by one, I emptied and sorted through them. Discarding the trash, I picked through the relics and asked Tristan if he knew what things were. If he didn’t know, I would tell him and explain their purpose: a vise, a drawing knife, a carpenter’s plane, some electrical components, and so on.

There was a fuse from an old electrical box. I explained to Tristan that these were used before circuit breakers like I have in my house. I didn’t tell him the story about when I rearranged the fuses in my grandparents’ cellar. I didn’t want him to get ideas. Maybe when he’s older I’ll tell him how they were many different colors, to my eyes randomly placed, so I proceeded to organize them into a prettier pattern. Of course, since each was of a different amperage, this affected some of the circuits in the house. When the adults went down to see why the electricity wasn’t working, I had to explain how the fuses had moved from one socket to another. I got into some trouble over this, but at least no one got hurt.

Fast forward another half century or so. I imagine my grandchildren going through my attic after I’m done with all my material things. I imagine them saying to their children or grandchildren, “Do you know what this is? Do you know what it was used for?”

“This is an electric typewriter. That’s what people used before they had personal computers. And what’s this? It’s a manual typewriter, which they used before they had electric typewriters. And here’s my grandmother’s old sewing machine. She used this to sew clothes with before they had … (a more efficient invention might be mentioned here).” What other gadgets that I now use will be replaced by new ones that I cannot envision? If I could, I’d invent them myself.

I’m not advocating that we live in the past, although a return to a simpler life style wouldn’t hurt us. I like writing on my computer, even though it seems to have a will of its own at times. I don’t have to rely on white-out when I make my myriad mistakes. It’s so easy to edit, and I don’t have to retype whole pages to get a manuscript to look right. But it won’t work when the electricity goes out, like the old manual typewriter did.

Much lore was lost with the passing of my grandparents’ generation and those before them. While my family was fortunate enough to have listened to the old stories, how many did we miss? We need to insure that what we learn and do today is shared with our descendants. An appreciation of our heritage enriches us. When we know how our ancestors lived, how they grappled with challenges and overcame obstacles, we have a better understanding of ourselves, of our own strengths and needs. Knowing where we came from better equips us for our future. Our children and grandchildren will have richer lives if we continue to pass down the lore.

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In my childhood, sweets were not as readily available as they are today. One of my pleasant memories is of getting to lick the bowl after someone had mixed up a cake or a batch of cookies. Today, as I was beating some batter, I remembered a time a few years ago when my grandson Tristan was visiting. One day I made a cake. As I was pouring the batter into the pan, I asked him, “Who should I be today? Grandma Masters or Grandma Rogers?”

You see, my grandmothers were quite different individuals, but there were lessons to be learned from each. Both were strong women who reared their families during the Great Depression and made sacrifices during World War II.

Grandma Masters was French Canadian, one of 11 children who grew up on a farm. She once told me that when she was a child she had only one dress. On washday, she had to hide in a corner until it was clean and dry. Life was more comfortable after she married my grandfather, a factory worker, but they still had to be frugal. During the war when sugar was rationed, they used saccharine in their coffee. After the war, they continued this habit for the rest of their lives. Grandma Masters was also very clean and I swear you could eat off her floor. It was not surprising, then, that after she finished making cookies, she would scrape the bowl so clean it hardly needed to be washed. There was little left for an eager child to lick.

Grandma Rogers was one of two surviving children whose father was a wall paper hanger. She did not suffer as much privation as a child, but she married a farmer and the Depression hit them hard. She never talked much about the war when her only surviving son was a soldier in the Pacific theater. I can only imagine her anguish. She, too, was not one to waste anything, but when she finished a bowl, she would leave a satisfying amount of batter in it. I don’t know if it was because her arthritis made it harder for her to scrape the bowl clean, or if she was only trying to please a treasured grandchild.

Anyway, I briefly explained to Tristan the differences between my two grandmothers. Again I asked him which one he wanted me to be that day. Not surprisingly, he chose Grandma Rogers. I obliged him and left a generous amount in the bowl for him.

Today as I poured my batter, with no grandchild in attendance, I declared, “I should be Grandma Masters today.” Actually though, my performance fell short. Scrape though I might, I still had to wash the bowl.

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Bonnie T. Ogle

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