To Think That We Saw it on Maplewood Drive!

Today I dare to express a little sentimentality to all those erstwhile dwellers of the old neighborhood, who allowed us into their lives, as they brought their love and blessings to the blue house.  Which began as white and changed to gray, but still remains blue within our memories:

     ODE TO THE BLUE HOUSE

    A little magic wrought

As sight unseen and ears unheard

A tiny tear escapes, without a word

T’was only yesterday

The children ran

Waving stop! stop! at the ice cream man!

Upon the Tinkling Creek

Cousin Charles SwearenginI just learned my cousin Charles Swearengin passed away this morning. He’s pictured to the right. The following poem is excerpted from our Kentucky book and was written and addressed to Charles by my brother many years ago. May they both rest in peace.

Upon The Tinkling Creek
Composed By Byrd Adams, Jr.

Let’s talk across the mountain, Charles
And down the hollow road,
Passing by the old graveyard
Remembering tales of old:
How Granddaddy built his house
Upon the tinkling creek,
Adding rooms as babies came
To fill a mansion, sweet
Aunts and Uncles now grown old,
And I along with them,
To fill this sacred country with
Our voices growing dim.
Pause to rest a moment here,
My rifle on my knee,
To take a rabbit on the ground,
Or gray squirrel in a tree.
I’m in no mood to fire a shot
Upon this sacred day,
Where rabbits hop, and stop, and hop,
And gray squirrels come to play.
I’d rather pause among my kin
To spend a day or week,
Here where Granddaddy built his house
Upon the tinkling creek.

The Man Who Thought his Daddy was a Booger

My mother talked a lot about her ancestors and I remember being enamored by her story about her Great-Grandpa Alfred Honeycutt. He would never speak ill of anyone, she said, and if others said something bad about somebody in his presence, he would say something good about them.

The men in the community often gathered around the pot-bellied stove at the general store to gossip (of course they didn’t call it that as only women gossiped in those days). Knowing Alfred’s proclivity for thinking only good of people, one day when they saw him coming they started bad-mouthing the meanest man in the county (Mama never told me his name so if anyone recognizes him as an ancestor by his occupation please forgive me).

As the men talked they kept an eye on Alfred, stopping to give him time to comment. “Well,” Alfred said after a long pause, “he’s a good whistler.” The man was an engineer on the railroad and was well-known for his whistling as he ran his train through the small community. Grandpa’s response tickled the men no end and the story was passed down – for over a hundred years!

Another story that was passed down, but in secret, so I did not learn of it until I was in my thirties, was Alfred’s ancestry. He claimed to be a “base-born German Jew”. Some said he was raised by his grandfather and took his surname from him.

It seemed Alfred had told someone his father was a “Berger” or “Burger” – something like that. Because some of the Amburgeys in the area had shortened their name to Burger or Burgey (and the original name was Amberger) this was seen as a vital clue to his identity. The family wondered which Amburgey man had fathered him but had found no strong evidence in that direction.

I, too, searched for clues. Alfred had recorded in his military records that he was born in October, 1832 in Buncombe County, North Carolina. This was the only solid evidence I could find about his birth, and came from him. I worked around that while looking for any Burgers, Burgeys, Bergens, etc. in that area. Nothing fit. I’m not a genealogist but I believe I’m a fair researcher.

Alfred was in Letcher County, Kentucky by 1851 when he married his first wife, Elizabeth Amburgey. She gave him three children before she died, and in the 1860 Census, the oldest child, Robert, age eight, was living with the John Pigman family. The other two children, Thomas, age 2 and Phebe, age 6, were living “in houses nearby.”

In February 1861 Alfred married his second wife, Elizabeth Reynolds, who was a cousin to his first wife, and in November 1861 joined the Confederate cause in the Civil War for a period of one year.

During Alfred’s enlistment in the Confederacy, Union General James Garfield*, later to become, in 1880 our 20th president and the last one to be born in a log cabin, took possession of Piketon (later Pikeville) on February 19, 1862. Garfield wrote to Assistant Adjutant General J. B. Fry that there had been a marked change in favor of the Union among the citizens of the neighboring Virginia counties (Pikeville lies near the border of Virginia). He said that at the foot of the Cumberland Mountains several meetings had been held inviting him to “come among them and promising their cordial support.”

Perhaps Alfred was one of those persuaded by the General. On August 22, 1863 Alfred re-enlisted, this time on the Union side, and mustered in on October 10th. He was honorably discharged at Catlettsburg on December 17, 1864 and mustered out on December 24th in time to be home for Christmas. According to the Adjutant General of the State of Kentucky Historical Data Systems, Inc. Alfred was discharged in good standing from both the Confederate and Union armies.

When Alfred went off to war for the Union Elizabeth was expecting their first child together, Ulysses S. Grant Honeycutt (called Grant), my great grandfather, who was born February 18, 1864.

While I was attempting to trace Alfred’s parentage I came across a book called “North Carolina Bastardy Bonds” by Betty J. and Edwin A. Camin and ordered it. On page 23 was a listing for Susannah Hunnicutt (Honeycutts has had various spellings) in Buncombe County, in October, 1832.

These bonds were posted because of the birth or impending birth of an illegitimate child, and were intended to protect the county or parish from the expense of raising the child. When the pregnancy of a woman or birth of a child was brought to the attention of the court, a warrant was issued and the woman brought to court. She was questioned under oath and asked to declare the name of the child’s father. The reputed father was then served a warrant and required to post bond.

I sent to Raleigh, North Carolina for a copy of the original bond and received a photostatic copy which said the father of the child was William G. Davis.

I’ve wondered since then if Alfred even knew the name of his father, or if he’d been told his name was “Berger” etc. Then other things about him came to mind, how he would never speak ill of anyone, how he appears to be a man of conscience and integrity, not afraid or ashamed to change sides in the war when he felt it was the right thing to do. But sometimes one has to quit being nice, and just tell it like it is.

Alfred, who never spoke ill of anyone, when asked who his father was, may have said his daddy was a booger. If so, for generations to come, soft-spoken Alfred’s comment would be taken for an answer to the question. Instead of what it was: a condemnation of the man, most likely already married, who brought shame to his mother.

“booger (slang): a worthless, despicable person”

Note: Most everyone knows President Garfield* was assassinated but many may not be aware of what happend after he was mortally (?) wounded. I decided to add the following story from my Kentucky book to this post for those who may find it of interest:

Evil Knows No Bounderies

Do I believe a future President of the United States was “cursed” by the evil that swept the mountains, or tainted by his short sojourn there? Of course not. President Garfield’s assassination is just a case in point, that evil knows no boundaries. It is ever present, in every place, in every age, in some form.

At the 1880 Republican Convention, Garfield became a “dark horse” presidential nominee on the 36th ballot, and won the election by a margin of only 10,000 popular votes. On July 2, 1881, in a Washington railroad station, after only six months in office, Garfield was on his way to visit his sick wife in Elberon, New Jersey, when he was shot by a loopy pretender who had sought a consular post.

Mortally wounded, President Garfield lay in the White House for weeks. Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, tried unsuccessfully to find the bullet with an induction-balance electrical device, which he had designed. Garfield was treated by many doctors, or rather, mistreated, according to history. A number of atrocious treatments were tried out on him, and although sterilization had been preached it was not widely practiced.

President James A. Garfield died on September 19, 1881. At the autopsy, examiners determined that the bullet had lodged itself some four inches from the spine in a protective cyst. Their conclusion? Garfield would’ve survived if the doctors had left him alone.

The murderer argued at his trial that he did not kill the President; the doctors deserved all the blame for his death. That argument didn’t work in the 1880s and Guiteau was hanged on June 30, 1882.

President James A. Garfield was the last of our presidents who was born in a log cabin. Six months was not long enough for him to make his mark on history, yet in that time he attacked political corruption and won back for the Presidency a measure of prestige it had lost during the Reconstruction period.

Meanwhile, in the Kentucky Mountains where he had waged successful battles for the Union, the War continued in the mountain feuds; hardly a county without its “war” as a struggle for political power was waged between the former Union and Rebel forces. Both sides fought to capture local offices, with the ex-Confederates losing out to the “good old Union boys”, who elected their former comrades to fill the log courthouses and to run the counties. (Harry Caudill, Night Comes to the Cumberlands).

The “Union” boys indicted the “Rebels” for war crimes, charging defeated Rebels with murder, arson, rape, grand larceny, treason against the Commonwealth, conspiracy, etc., and the Confederates fought back with a vengeance. In fear for their lives, Jurors became reluctant to convict them.

When officers traveled with the few who were convicted, they were set upon by well-armed members of the opposing side, who demanded the prisoners be set free.

The feuds in the Kentucky Mountains would come to represent to many the backwardness of a mountain culture as defined by the famous Hatfields and McCoys.

Meantime, the foolishness of the supposedly civilized world leading to the death of a President would merely be buried in the annals of history, proving that, indeed, evil knows no boundaries.

September 11th, 1960

On September 11, 1960 at a conference in Sharon, Connecticut a bunch of young conservatives, led by William F. Buckley adopted The Sharon Statement:

“In this time of moral and political crises, it is the responsibility of the youth of America to affirm certain eternal truths.

We, as young conservatives, believe:

That foremost among the transcendent values is the individual’s use of his God-given free will, whence derives his right to be free from the restrictions of arbitrary force;

That liberty is indivisible, and that political freedom cannot long exist without economic freedom;

That the purpose of government is to protect those freedoms through the preservation of internal order, the provision of national defense, and the administration of justice;

That when government ventures beyond these rightful functions, it accumulates power, which tends to diminish order and liberty;

That the Constitution of the United States is the best arrangement yet devised for empowering government to fulfill its proper role, while restraining it from the concentration and abuse of power;

That the genius of the Constitution–the division of powers–is summed up in the clause that reserves primacy to the several states, or to the people, in those spheres not specifically delegated to the Federal government;

That the market economy, allocating resources by the free play of supply and demand, is the single economic system compatible with the requirements of personal freedom and constitutional government, and that it is at the same time the most productive supplier of human needs;

That when government interferes with the work of the market economy, it tends to reduce the moral and physical strength of the nation; that when it takes from one man to bestow on another, it diminishes the incentive of the first, the integrity of the second, and the moral autonomy of both;

That we will be free only so long as the national sovereignty of the United States is secure; that history shows periods of freedom are rare, and can exist only when free citizens concertedly defend their rights against all enemies……….”

Although nearly fifty years have passed since this statement was adopted on September 11, 1960, ten of them following the assault on America on September 11, 2001, I believe America still holds these truths to be self-evident.    God Bless America.

Appalachian Rhapsody–God’s Comic Intervention

Out of the void of darkness came the Big Boom and another mountaintop in Appalachia tumbled down the mountainside, buried a graveyard, filled up a stream and killed a fish. The fish asked why but nobody answered. A small boy heard and looked up at the old man sitting on a cloud, coughing and waving away the coal dust. “Gee whiz, God,” said the boy, “Whatcha letting them do that for?”

And God laughed. “T’ain’t funny,” said the boy.

“Oh, yes it is,” said God, slapping his knee, almost choking on his laughter, “you’ll see.”

The boy grew up and became a man. He went to Detroit to work in the car factory. He sent money home to his maw to help care for the other youngins, and one of them even became a mining engineer and told the mountaintop removers where to set the charges. More Big Booms, more mountaintops crashing down into the valleys. Huge machines now did the work requiring fewer and fewer workers. While the valleys filled up with all this debris more and more people left the wrecked mountains and moved to the cities.

There they married people whose ancestors had left the mountains over the past two hundred years, generations that had mingled and merged with others throughout these United States. Whose genes had  grown weaker and weaker the further they had strayed from their source. Weak brains had become rampant in the populace, and it was the ones with weak brains who had plundered Mother Earth and destroyed the mountains. Others of the weak brain had stood by and watched the plight of the mountaineers with disinterest, even prejudice.

But with the new infusion of the blood of the mountain people who were forced to move to the cities, a new race was born. They came to be called the Neomelungeons.

“So you see,” said God to the boy who had become a man and was now a very old man. “By letting the weak-minded destroy the mountains, I brought forth a new race. The blood of your ancestors was kept sacrosanct behind your mountain walls, where they retired after your Revolution. In their blood lives on the history of America, forgotten by many whose blood has been diluted this past two hundred years. The mountain blood is that of the mixed races of all people, come together for a divine purpose: to help mankind evolve to the next stage of your journey on your return to the One True Reality. Your place of origin at my side.”

The old man said: “Well, pon my soul and honor!”

A Message From RFK: Fear Not the Path of Truth

There are people in every time and every land who want to stop history in its tracks. They fear the future, mistrust the present, and invoke the security of the comfortable past which, in fact, never existed. — Robert F. Kennedy, June 8, 1964

A thought keeps running through my mind like a moving line across the bottom of a television screen: we are all doing the best we can. I recognize enough truth in it not to yell delete! as I’m told my eldest brother always did when he had a thought he didn’t like, or to say erase! which I tend to do. It must be a family trait–I wonder what word my mother used? Probably balderdash! as she loved drama.

Yes, you did, Mom, I say over my right shoulder, and your wife told me so I say over the left. I know this is bizarre but every time I attribute something to one of them I feel they are complaining behind my back. Just one more proof that I’m crazy. However, I think I always suspect that people on the other side are listening when I talk about them because Mom always told me never to speak ill of the dead. If they couldn’t hear me, why would she think I should worry about it? Or was it just one of those what if things, like what if her deceased sister-in-law could hear her say what a bitch she was? Would she have enough pull in Heaven to get Mom thrown out? I’m sorry. I know that’s ridiculous. I really do have some wierd thoughts, but consider the source. Balderdash! That was mom.

Anyway, I really have tried to refrain from speaking ill of the dead, as I don’t want to offend them, but it’s getting to where too many people I know have passed on, which means I’m running out of ones I can speak ill of and muteness does not come natural to me. As for my mom and brother, I wasn’t actually saying anything bad about them, I was just commenting. You mean I can’t even comment? Jeez!

Well, back to the subject. The first reponse I had to the thought we are all doing the best we can is well, yeah, that’s true if you take into consideration their blah, blah, blahs–listing the perceived faults or handicaps of people I know who are still living. But at this I did yell erase!, knowing that is not what was meant at all.

Because that’s when it finally came to me that I’ve received another love message from the Universe; this one is meant for all the people out there who keep worrying about what’s going to happen to our country, and why things are in such an awful mess. The message is that we’ve just got to play out the hand we were dealt, and quit blaming ourselves for every rotten card that came out of the deck with the devil’s pawprint on it. Maybe someone stacked the deck, and heck, John Wayne could’ve found a way out of it. But since he’s not here we are all doing the best that we can, on Super Tuesday and every other day of the week.

Another message, this one from Bobby, runs across the bottom of my screen. It’s from his last speech on the night he was assassinated. Fear not the path of truth for the lack of people walking on it.

I’m trying, Bobby, but we sure do miss you.

 

 

 

The Human Condition: Poop Has Always Been With Us

Woe am I, the haunted, beset by fates unkind; blessed with a royal demeanor and cursed with a common behind – the human complaint

Not long after my first husband and I were married we found we both liked to read in bed. One night he was reading a history about ancient Rome and I was reading the latest Perry Mason mystery, which he had ridiculed as low-brow. Upon discovering a new word, something he enjoyed immensely, he stopped to tell it to me; tepidarium, he said, was a Roman word for bathhouse. 

Immediately, I picked up a notebook and pen from the nightstand, suddenly inspired to write a poem. Although at that time attempts at poetry was not my normal thing, the verses came flying out of the stratosphere (or scatological sphere?) so fast I had to hurry to get them down before they left again:

“If all men joined together on this earth in dreams of royal origin in their births, then each must blush for shame at his delirium when nature prompts him to the tepidarium.

“I wonder too, if kings join in the mirth when they bare their royal backsides to the earth, or do they dignify and grace their lonely station as they join the common herd in defecation.”

Now I don’t know where the words came from but there they were, and as far as I can tell, were original. However, later when I looked up tepidarium in the dictionary to see the definition for myself, I realized the poem had a fatal flaw. According to Websters Unabridged a tepidarium was described thus: “in the ancient Roman baths, the warm room, situated between the steam room and the cooling room.”

I had equated a Roman bathhouse with a modern day bathroom, which has both a bathtub and a toilet. But in Rome, bathhouses and latrines, where the defecating was done, were separate. And latrine does not rhyme with delirium. If you can think of an appropriate word that does, please let me know as it will make the poem salvageable. Although I doubt that anyone will ever want to publish it.

Actually, Rome was more like my early Appalachian home, the bathhouse being situated in a washtub that hung behind the kitchen stove and the latrine at the end of a path leading away from the house. An interesting difference though, was that the Romans, instead of using pages from a Sears catalogue as we did, since they didn’t have them, used a communal sponge on a stick–rinsing it out after each use.  Duh!

But it surprises me still that my intellectual husband, upon hearing the recitation of my poem, just stared at me without a comment, his mouth gaping open. Were he behaving normally, I would’ve expected him to show off his superior knowledge about bathhouses and latrines. I think my poem flushed the word tepidarium right out of his mind though. Or else he quickly decided, to paraphrase Aeschylus, that even if one is wise, he may sometimes deem it profitable to appear to be foolish.