Monday, November 30, 2009

Thank You For The Kreative Blogger Award

I was amazed to be nominated for the Kreativ Blogger award as I struggle daily to garner the new vocabulary and skills of a blogger. However, I want to send my heartfelt thanks to two wonderful people nominated me for this award, Renate of Into the Light and Hummer of Branching Out Through The Years . I am so appreciative of the thought, even though it has taken me a couple of weeks to figure out how to accept the award. Old dogs and new tricks sort of thing. I also wanted to thank Linda at FlipSide, as this award gave me the opportunity to widen my scope and to be welcomed into this community of bloggers.

According to Linda, the winner of the award has to list seven things about themselves and then pass the award along to seven other bloggers.
1. I am a storyteller, writer, and then genealogist. Genealogy comes because I need it for the stories.
2. I love puzzles of all kinds, in fact I sometimes get down right compulsive about puzzles- most especially of the genealogy type.
3. Road trips and writing about the people I meet along the way are my favorite kind of vacation.
4. My big black German Shepard, Colldubh, goes in & out with me & is ever at my side.
5. Even though I live in the mountains and have few visitors, I have a really great Christmas light display.
6. I whine and snivel about my lack of computer know-how. Sometimes, my son lets me get away with this assumed disability, but it is more difficult now that he lives several hundred miles away. Also due to my son's and granddaughter's help over the Thanksgiving holiday, I am able, only somewhat able, to navigate these blogger waters.

7. I have a son and two daughters, all of whom are very bright, interesting, passionate and compassionate; two granddaughters and two grandsons who have the same attributes as their parents and I absolutely dote upon all of them.

I hope that I am not making a huge faux pas, but my month long stint as a blogger in your community really does not give me enough background to know much about the myriad of wonderful blog sites. However, daily I am finding new and interesting sites, writing, stories, and pictures – and for that I am thankful.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Letter From My Uncle Ralph

A few days ago, I posted a poem, My Uncle Ralph Never Wrote to Me,that I wrote a couple of years ago when I was transcribing the letters my uncle, Ralph Jabez McPherson, wrote to his sisters between 1980 and 1985. He was born in 1904, so he would have been about 76 to 80 years old at the time. He told of the events of his daily life, tidbits that he thought would entertain his sisters, but the parts I loved the most were when he told stories of his McPherson family.

This is one of my favorite pictures of my uncle (upper left). He loved baseball and reportedly was quite a good baseball player, though I don't know what position he played. McPherson guys loved their baseball, from Wisconsin, to Minnesota, to California. Uncle Ralph's great smile tells the tale of a man who loved baseball.

Below is an except from a letter he wrote on 25 April 1984. My Uncle Ralph was "wordy", his letters ranged from 4 pages on day when the news was light, to his usual 8 to 12 pages. I have kept his wording and spelling for that too tells part of the story of my dear uncle that I knew not so well.

To me this is a wonderful look into the world of my Minnesota McPherson family, the family of my father, aunts, uncles and grandparents, as well as great uncles and great grandparents. Enjoy, as some of this will resonate with many of you. Uncle Ralph was really rather an Everyman. Although he tells stories of his own family, you may find similarities with stories told by your aunts, uncles, parents and grandparents. He writes these letters with unique sense of a common history of time and place.

"Getting back to family. Dad leased the old Newman place, 360 acres between Fort Ripley and Crow Wing , we were a ½ mil off of the state highway, a quarter of a mi from Crow Wing lake & a mi from Dead lake & two mi from the old Lennox district school.. That was in 1913 & we lived there till the fall of 1918 & Helen & Allen were both born there & I rode a horse over to the county clerks place 3 mi from us with all the data. at that time (Meyers was the clerks name & he was a farmer besides being county clerk. It was a pleasant place but on 3 sides of us was all pastured timber & thats were my real education with work began. Before I went to school in the morning s had to get up to help feed the stock, milk 2 or 3 cows and clean the barn & besides that when I got home after school saw wood with a bucksaw for plenty of wood till the next night. The only part I hated was putting up ice in the winter as that took 3 or 4 weeks as 4 or 5 neighbors would get together & put up anywhere from 50 cakes to a hundered & it was a lot of work. Our cakes generaly measured 12” x 20” X 4' & we put up 60 cakes sawing the cakes with an ice saw is real slow in the water so saw a long slab in the water & pull it out on top of the ice with a team of horses & compared to up & down sawing in the water, out in the air it seemed like the saw went thru the ice like a knife to hot butter.

"We always had about 20 head of horses & about 30 head of cattle with at least 4 or 8 head of milking all the time as in those days when you went to the store you took 35 or 40 lbs of homemade butter, also eggs & in season garden produce & most of the time would have a little change coming back.

"There was still timber being cut in Minnesota then & the lbr camps logged in the winter when they could ice the skid roads so Dad always sent two teams up to the logging camps at that time a team would earn as much as a man. Altho you had to put special shoes on the horses . The show were built so you could replace the caulks in the shoes & the horses wouldn't slip. Another thing for 4 or 5 years in the fall he would send two or 3 teams & wagons to North Dakota to take in the wheat harvest, about a 3 days drive & he could always get some one that was going up for the harvest to take them. Dad only went up once & he said that was enough as that time nobody every worked in the lmb camps or harvest cams without getting lousy, as in those days there would be 35 or 40 men to a bunk house.

"Ourselves with our grain there was a harvest crew that went around from farmer to farmer & generally thresh all they had in one day. The famers had to feed them but they slept around the harvest rig & I don't believe I ever seen one of them wash his hands or face altho the farmer would set out warm water, towels & soap. I never seen one of them use it.

"In 1915 Dad took a job in Brainard one winter & altho it was only 12 mi he came home by rain Sat nights. It was the only way to get back & forth & 3 mi from us was the Lennox flagstop. All it was was an old box car with end doors & a potbellied stove & was half tore up from people trying to get wood for a fire. Mother & I would take Dad to meet the train going to Brainerd about 9 PM Sunday nights & he would come back Sat nites around Midnight. That winter was exceptionally cold so we always had to take plenty of wood to keep warm & it was quite a job for me going on 12 to harness the team about 11 PM & the horses didn't like it either. In 1916 Clare brought the grandfolks out to the big house on the lake which he had leased & the following hear Walt brought his family out & leased the old Foster place so for awhile there were 7 McPhersons going to the Lennox school. Almost half of the school. Also Like I said the Main Rd from Minneapolis to Duluth followed the river nearly all the way & about that time Dad got the contract to maintain 4 mi of state highway. He didn't have to put in over 3 days a week & that was with a land leveler with 4 horses. Most of the time I would be the one to work the road as you had to walk it all.

"In 1918 Bertha & Cecil got married & Leon & Minnie Clouse took Cecil & Bertha & Dad & Mother over to the preachers house. He was also a farmer & was hauling manure but all he did was change shoes not his overalls to marry them.
"Also soon after that Clare took the contract to Maintain 4 mi of state hiway up by Barrows about 8 mi up the road so Dad leased the place by the lake & also the Foster place a mi from there & let the Newman Place go. That house had 17 rooms & a full basement, so we moved in to half of it before Clare had got ready to move the Grandfolks and Jims kids to Barrows. Besides Gladys(Jerry) was getting married. The guy she married, I've forgot his 1st name but his last name was Brankel, he was a sharp shooter with the Canadian Princess Pat regiment during the war.

"On there wedding day it was snowing, Clare & Walt were both out west but there were about 30 people there for the wedding not counting the kids. I was upstairs changing into my suit of clothes when I heard someone yet the house is on fire. I run down the stairs & outside & looked up & the whole roof was a fire. I run back up stairs & change into my work clothes again & instead of throwing everything I could out the window I left everything upstairs. With that much help we got everything out downstairs, I can still seek like carrying the stoves out with fire still in them. It was still a big loss because there was 600 bushels of potatoes, 100 gal of sorgham 700 to 800 jars of fruit in the cellar besides most of the bedding , clothes & so forth besides a tough winter to get thru, we had another house a mi from there to move to but all the stock & fee had to stay at the place on the lake so it was a chore to go over twice a day to milk & take care of the animals.

1924 McPherson brothers and a cousin taking a swim
Back row: Harold, Allen & Clive McPherson
Front row: A Foss cousin & Ralph McPherson

"The next spring we got everything moved over where we were living. Meanwhile Uncle Jim had taken a job as a road boss building a new hiway between Worthington Minn & Sioux Fall S. Dakota & he had hired Bill BC who was a year older than me & 4 or 5 other young fellows from Little Falls that was our age & he said he would give me a job if I could get there. This was in 1919 & I was 15 but could easily do a mans work so Dad & I went over to the county road master & he gave me a job 6 mi from where we lived, 25 cents an hour(10 hour days) so I walked that 6 mi twice a day & worked 10 hours for 10 days. That was all I wanted, enough for train fare & a suitcase. Of course a big adventure as it was my 1st time away fro home.

"So you may get tired of reading will let you rest or until next time. Of course have lots to write about yet if you can stand it I will.
"Love, Ralph & Sally"

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Carnival of Genealogy's Orphans and Orphans: Baby Irene

I glanced at the title of this COG, and thought, “Nope, I don't have much to say o this topic.” Then I read past the “first type of orphan,” and I read about the second type, the reverse orphan who has no one to tell their story. I had that clenched, breathless feeling – like being hit in the solar plexus -- doubled over, protecting and gathering strength to get up and go again. I knew this was a story I had to write.

Baby Irene, while the first, is only one of many reverse orphans in my mother's family. She was born on June 9, 1904, the first child born to my grandparents Agnes Laura Keyes and Frank Clemmon Sigford. She died on Friday, September 1, 1905 after a lingering illness spanning at least 4 months. The Grant County, Oregon death certificate indicates the cause of death as Marasiuus Juvenile, probably Tubercular sclerosis. Baby Irene Sigfrit (spelling according to death certificate and newspaper clipping) was laid to rest in the Canyon City cemetery. These are the documented facts of her short life.

I have other memories of this child that I never knew. When I was a little girl, I remember the large oval gilt framed picture of a beautiful baby girl hung prominently on a living room wall. I was always told reverently, “that's Baby Irene, Grandma's first baby who died when she was only 1 ½ years old.” She was named after my grandpa's favorite sister, Lettie Irene Sigford. Many years later, long after my grandparents had died, my Aunt Joyce then had the picture of Baby Irene hung in her dining room, next to the hutch that housed precious family trinkets handed down from my grandmother.

As I became the keeper of old pictures, records, and letters, I came across a letter written by James E. L. Keyes, my grandmother's father, in which he sent words of sympathy to his daughter for the loss of her first child.

Mitchell Oregon

Sept 9th, 1905

Mrs. Agnes Sigford

Dear Daughter I received your letter yester Day was sory to hear of the death of your Baby. I simpathise with you with all mi hart. I was at Barway haying and did not hear it til yesterday. We are all well I am figuring to send a few horses to Serman Co to Day I will send Ray with them. Olga was getting alright last that we heard from her. Please write soon from your father


Much later, and after the death of the last of my aunts on my mother's side, I received, in the mail, a box of miscellaneous papers, pictures, books, and memorabilia. This box also held the picture of Baby Irene that I remembered from my early childhood. The lovely old gilt frame had disappeared, leaving a strangely more dull picture, with the heavy cardboard backing of the day cut in an irregular oval shape. The picture still is not in a oval gilt frame, but I have scanned the picture into my computer and touched up a copy so as to resemble my memory of the picture I knew as a child. I promised myself that I would look more closely at the life of Baby Irene. I never did until now.

One of the interesting things about this little girl is even though she had a very short life, she was remembered and talked about often. Her brother and all of her sisters grew up knowing Baby Irene. Even my sister and I who were born over 40 years after her death grew up knowing that the picture on the wall was grandma's first baby. I never, until this moment, realized the impact that baby had upon my grandma to keep her memory so fresh in their minds.

If the cause of her death (Marasiuus Juvenile, probablyTubercular sclerosis) was correct, this child that I has always imagined to have died of a disease such as pneumonia or whooping cough, most likely died of a genetic disease. Current useage would be “tuberous sclerosis” or TSC syndrome. In the late 1800s, the term “marasiuus” was linked with mental illness and epilepsy, which would indicate that the benign tuberous tumors were located in her brain, but possibly around the heart as well. Had she lived she might have suffered mental retardation, epilepsy, autism, cardiac and/or renal failure. Even now it is hard for me to reconcile the lovely picture of Baby Irene with this terrible disease that ravaged her little body and took her life.

However, due to this genetic disease, I may have another clue to my curious questions about my grandmother and her family. In a day when large families were still the norm, I was always curious why there was such a long span between children. Why was there was four years between the birth of Baby Irene and my twin aunts, Loise and Joyce? Why seven years between the twin aunts and my uncle Clem? And six years between my uncle and my mother? The answers to these questions that I got from my mother and Aunt Gail ran the gamut from “birth control”, “she just didn't want to have very many children,” or “she was always mad at grandpa and kept away from him” (this last quote told more about my Aunt Gail, than about the relationship between by grandparents). None of these made too much sense to me, especially considering that near the end of Grandma's childbearing years she had three daughters about 1 ½ to 2 years apart. Did miscarriages from a genetic disease account, in part, for the sporadic childbirth pattern? Also it is now known is that even if the parents are asymptomatic but having the genetic predisposition for tubercular sclerosis many times the fetus dies in utero. I may never have an answer to these questions, however Baby Irene may have provided another clue.

No matter what the circumstances of her death, Baby Irene's 1 ½ years of life was well remembered. Now, over 100 years after her birth, the story of this reverse orphan Baby Irene has been committed to print. T'is not the story I intended to tell, but then it's not my story.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Oyster Stew Tradition

Five years ago, I gathered many of the family favorite recipes together into a cookbook, Cooking Up Memories, that I gave to my extended family for Christmas. I included a recipe for oyster stew, which was a favorite of my father (Harold McPherson). The sidebar for the recipe was:
“There was probably nothing unusual about Daddy's Oyster Stew, except that I didn't know anyone else who liked it except for the two of us. Then I found out that it was a favorite of My McPherson Grandpa and Uncles."

A few months ago, I posted to a family website about my McPherson family's fondness for this dish. I immediately heard from distant McPherson relatives in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Missouri, Arizona, and even in my home state of Oregon. They told me of their McPherson family's fondness for Oyster Stew, especially as a Christmas Eve tradition. Some of these extended family members related how they counted out the oysters out into each dish, and if there were extra, only the adults got extra oysters in their bowl.

Now on Christmas Eve, I enjoy my bowl of oyster stew and smile to myself over this new/old tradition of my McPhersons.

Harold McPherson, 1951

Daddy's Oyster Stew
(serves 1 adult and 1 child)

Daddy heated a small pan of milk (about 1 ½ to 2 c milk) to scalding. Then added a can of oysters and simmered until the oysters were thoroughly warmed. He then seasoned it with 1-2 TBS butter, then added salt and pepper as desired. He served it with crackers. We enjoyed it immensely.

* * *

Monday, November 16, 2009

Tombstone Tuesday:A Love Story in A Umitilla Cemetery

Note: On a research road trip, I stopped at The Dalles Public Library. While waiting for the Archive Librarian to show up, I was perusing a book of old 1926 newspaper clippings, when I came across a picture of two grave markers, one wooden and the other marble. The names on the markers haunted me. I searched census reports, newspaper clippings, historical information about the area, people and times. Finally, this story that I couldn't let go, unfolded -- part true, part conjecture, but a pure love story.
Judge Markham, Lt. McCaffery, and Hiram Jones, the proprietor of Jones Dry Goods Emporium, stood beside the four members of the Portland Masonic Lodge as they solemnly watched the casket lowered into the dry, sandy earth of the now unused and desolate Umatilla Cemetery. Each had felt that they had done their duty to their fellow Mason, Captain Robert B. Randall.
Lt. McCaffery had been adamant that a proper Masonic burial be performed. Judge Markham had leant his standing as a judge to give added import to Lt. McCaffery’s plea to have the burial here in this outpost rather than in the Masonic cemetery in Portland. Runners dispatched by Lt. McCaffery from Umatilla to the Masonic lodge to which he and Captain Randall were members had brought the four lodge members from Portland. However, Hiram Jones was the primary key to burying Captain Randall in this old cemetery. He had been harangued by his wife, Cynthia “to do what’s right.”
It all began when, in 1859, Hiram told his wife that they were moving again. “Cynthia, the work on the Umatilla Rapids is going to make that area grow. It will rival The Dalles and certainly outshine Walla Walla,” Hiram said with characteristic enthusiasm.
Hiram, there is nothing out there, just Indians and hot dry sand. There are no trees, and nothing grows out there. That’s what Martha Kimsey said when she finally talked Marcus into coming back here to The Dalles.”
That may be how it is now, but the government and the army are planning on putting a lot of money and manpower into making the rapids passable all the way up to Walla Walla.”
Cynthia was still hesitant. “I’d miss my friends and the church. I’d miss my garden.”
There will be new friends and new gardens. In fact, Charlie Tucker and his wife are planning to go too.” As an added inducement, he added, “Old man Farley says he will stake me to my own dry goods store in Umatilla. He knows that I know the business, what with my 5 years working under him. My own store --- our own store.”
After the winter storms had abated, a small band of wagons, heavily loaded with dry goods and household belongings headed east from The Dalles, bound to the land of the Umatilla’s and, more importantly, to the military outpost. Even though it was a small outpost, but the men were sure that in a couple of years Umatilla would be thriving, as would they.
Hiram started his dry goods store out of one of his wagons, moved into a walled tent, and finally, in 1862 he opened the doors of “Jones Dry Goods Emporium.” During this time, Cynthia Jones and Emma Louise Tucker, being the only two women in that barren land who were anywhere near the same age, became very close friends. Cynthia told Emma about where she had been born and raised in Iowa. Emma described the lush green English hillsides above the town of Tendring, on the east coast of Essex.
As the friendship grew, each of the women confided more personal memories to one another. “My Hiram is a wandering kind of man. He came to Iowa and met me at a church meeting. He was exciting. He had so many ideas and plans for the future. Just swept me off my feet. My mother, too. She thought he was just a darling.”
Emma nodded and said, “My mam liked my first love too.”
Cynthia went on, “Well, my mother never thought we would leave immediately to go to Ohio, much less on to Missouri. She would never have believed that we would end up in the Oregon country.” Then she asked, “Emma, was Charles your first love?”
Oh no. My first love, my true love, was Robert. I was only 16, and he was a worldly man of 26, almost 27 years old. He was a seaman, and he brought me gifts from wherever he sailed. We had always lived next door to his family. He brought me my first bracelet, from India, when I was only 10. After that there were wonderful trinkets from wherever he sailed.”
Whatever happened to him?” queried Cynthia.
Oh, he was gone a very long time. I thought he wasn’t coming back --- and then Charles asked me to marry him.” Emma sighed. “I was 18, almost 19 –almost an old maid. My mam said it was high time for me to get married.”
That is sad,” murmured Cynthia.
It was worse than sad. Robert came back not more than two months after Charles and I were married. I was even relieved when Charles said we were going to America. At least I wouldn’t have to see Robert, and feel so terrible. I knew I had made the worst mistake of my life.”
I thought you and Charles were happy together. You seem to be very close to one another.”
Emma sighed, and said, “It wasn’t Charles’ fault, so I shouldn’t hurt him for what was my mistake.”
The next year the rains came early in the fall, continued throughout the winter, and late into spring. Emma had a cough that she couldn’t shake. She took to her bed some time after the new year of 1863 blew in with even more cold rain. She coughed her way through the spring and early summer. Cynthia was relieved when Emma seemed to rally when the hot days of summer finally came. However when the cold rains came again in late October, Emma was again consumed by her cough, deep in her chest. She languished through most of November, with her friend Cynthia ministering to her as best she could. Then in late November Emma Louise Tucker left this world.
Cynthia missed her friend deeply, but as Hiram had predicted Umatilla was beginning to grow. The government was sending military engineers, the railroad was pressing ever westward, and Hiram’s business thrived. The activity went on with increasing fervor, until 1874 when the military actually sent a corps to begin removing the obstructions to the Umatilla Rapids. Hiram was providing the provisions to the small corp of engineers, and grew to be friends with the Captain. “Cynthia, he’s an interesting fellow. He’s been all over the world, a mariner he says. For the last 20 years he has been a military engineer. He’s worked on the harbor at Crescent City and in Portland. Now he’s heading up this corp of engineers to work on our Rapids.”
Hiram, why don’t you ask him to dinner some evening,” Emma said, more as a command than a question. And so it was, the captain came often to their home. He many times brought Cynthia a trinket from his travels, and told exciting tales to Hiram. He was quite a bit older than Cynthia and Hiram, so it was rather like having a favorite uncle come to visit.
One November Sunday, after church, Cynthia asked the captain to go with them to place flowers on the grave of her friend. Cynthia led the threesome to the old cemetery and the gravesite that she kept tidy for her friend. There in the old unused cemetery with scattered yellow-blossomed sage here and there, she knelt beside the grave she had so lovingly tended for more than a decade. She placed the flowers in front of the wooden headboard with the black letters carved into the wood

Emma Louise Tucker

Born February 1830
Died November 1863.
The Captain stepped closer to the gravesite. He shook his head sadly and said, “I once knew a Emma Louise, back in England.”
Cynthia made a small sound of surprise. Of course, the sea travels, England, the trinkets from his travels --- Captain Robert Randall was Emma Louise’s Robert. Over the next year, Robert talked often to Cynthia and Hiram about Emma Louise and how they got separated. Robert told them that he had never married, never wanted to after he got back to Essex and found that Emma Louise had married. He often accompanied Cynthia when she went to tend Emma Louise’s grave.
Cynthia, I think when I die I would like to be buried next to my Emma Louise. We were never together in this world, but I would like to think we will be together in the next.”
Cynthia thought it was an old romantic fool talking and put the thought away. The work on the Rapids was progressing well during the early winter of 1875. Then one day, a young engineer rushed into the store, “Oh, a terrible thing has happened. A terrible thing.”
Hiram pressed the young engineer to tell him what had happened.
Captain Randall was all fired to sail across the rapids. He just kept a going, even though we told him the wind was picking up some. He just laughed at us, and told us that he was a mariner and knew about winds.”
Well, what happened, man. Just spit it out,” growled Hiram.
The sailboat capsized. Captain Randall was thrown overboard. We couldn’t find him. Ohhh, he’s gone.”
They searched for four days with no luck, and then several days later Captain Robert Randall’s body was pulled up in a fisherman’s net. Everyone knew that Captain Randall was a fervent Mason and would want to be buried with the Masonic rites, so they began preparations to ship his body back to Portland to be buried in the Masonic Cemetery with his lodges solemn rites.
When Cynthia heard of this, she cornered her husband, “Hiram, you have got to stop this. He has to be buried beside Emma Louise. Please Hiram, stop this plan to take his body to Portland. It’s only right that he be buried here.”
Hiram knew that when Cynthia really wanted something, she just never let up until she got her way. So he told Judge Markham and Lt. McCaffery the story of Robert and Emma Louise. Hiram was surprised at how quickly the Judge and the Lieutenant were able to change the plans, to send runners to Portland to get the necessary lodge members to perform the Masonic burial. And now, he and Cynthia were tossing a handful of sand onto Robert’s grave, which was next to his beloved’s.
Later that spring, Cynthia went to the old cemetery to tend the graves of her friends. She smiled as if she were meeting two old friends. Robert’s grave stone was finally in place. Now beside the slim wooden headboard of his beloved Emma Louise stood a marble slab with IOOF & Masonic symbols, a carving of the Umatilla Rapids, and inscribed

Captain Robert B Randall

Born in England 1819

Drowned in the Umatilla Rapids March 7, 1875.

Cynthia nodded with satisfaction. She knew that when the chilling winds of winter whirl the cutting sands over their last resting place and the searing summer sun dried all but the yellow blossomed sage, a love story that overcame time and place, would forever live in this desolate forgotten Umatilla cemetery.
* * *
(JGH Note: Although there was indeed a Cynthia who knew Captain Randall and Emma Louise Tucker who were buried side by side, the story is my creation woven around bits and pieces of research.)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Treasure Chest Thursday: My Mother's Poetry Book

My treasure is not all that old, or expensive, or fancy, but it is treasured.

In 1945 my Grandmother Sigford gave this book, The Standard Book of British and American Verse, to my mother on her 25th birthday. At time I was ten years old and I hated doing dishes at night. No electric dishwasher for me, just whining and complaining. One evening after dinner, while I had my hands immersed in a dishpan of soapy water, my mother placed this poetry book on the window sill above the sink. She made a makeshift stand, and so that I could turn the pages she gave me a long pencil with a good eraser -- in our house erasers dinna last as long as the pencil.

Night after night, I emoted, cried, laughed, as I read poems by Marlowe, Yeats, Shelley, Noyes, Burns, Dickenson, and Poe - to name a few of my favorites. I was not the fastest dishwasher, but now a happy one. My mother considered the activity of reading was something only done when work and chores were finished -- which, in my mind, was never. Those nights of reading from her "poetry book" still permeate my being, my heart, mind and soul.

Below is a portion of a 2002, letter I wrote to Mother thanking her for those memories.

"--- so on this Mother’s Day I am thanking you for the gift of poetry that you brought into my life.

"As I was perusing THE POETRY BOOK ---the book that your mother gave to you, the book that I emoted over as a teenager, and the book that you then gave to me --- I read the Preface. The words Christopher Morley penned in 1932 are as true today as then.

A generous anthology of verse is a household necessity; it is the pantry-cupboard for the spirit on whose shelves are the nourishment for any emergency. … the poets have stored meat and wine and spices for every requirement. With queerly mingled joy the old lines come back to us …. We sing them to ourselves to a tune of our own:

"And now my own tune lives in my head: When I have fears that I cease to be; Come live with me and be my love; When in the chronicle of wasted time; Go and catch a falling star; When as in silks my Julia goes; Let the toast pass, drink to the lass; Wee, sleekit, cowerin’, timorous beastie; O my love is like a red, red rose; Scots, wha hae wi’ Wallace bled; God save thee, Ancient Mariner; She walks in beauty, like the night; Dash down yon cup of Samian wine; My name is Ozymandias, king of kings; How do I love thee, let me count the ways; Sunset and evening bar, and one clear call for me; That the wind came out of the cloud by night, chilling and killing my Annabel Lee; Aye, tear her tattered ensign down!; The owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea in a beautiful pea-green boat; O Captain! My Captain! Our fearful trip is done; I am nobody! Who are you?; The walrus and the carpenter were walking close at hand; But I shall name you the fisherman three, Wynken, Blynken, and Nod; Home is the sailor, home from the sea, and the hunter home from the hill; I never saw a purple cow; The fog comes on little cat feet; I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree; The woods are lovely, dark and deep; The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees, the moon a ghostly galleon tossed upon the cloudy seas.

"A million thanks for the “meat and wine and spices” that have, sometimes unknowingly, shaped my view of the world. Thanks for making dishwashing an adventure."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Wordless Wednesday: 1928 Planting Dry Land Wheat

Ruth (mother at 7) and Loise (aunt at 18) help Grandpa with planting

Tombstone Tuesday: Mt. Union Cemetery, Benton County, OR

By the end of October, this old oak tree, not quite green leafed but tinged with a reddish orange hue, still spreads its protective branches over the grave sites of my Keyes ancestors. The Mt. Union Cemetery is on a hillside north of Philomath, Benton County, Oregon.

The cemetery itself has quite a history. On May 11 1861, former slaves, Ruben and Mary Jane Holmes Shipley, deeded this land, which was part of the farm they purchased, to the be the site of the Mt. Union Cemetery. Their only proviso was that they and their family be allowed to be buried in this cemetery on the hill.

Commemorative Shipley Stone

The first of the Tennessee born Keyes family to be buried in this cemetery were the older Keyes brothers, John(died January 25, 1870, age 74 yrs, 15 days) and James (died October 29,1877, age 57 yrs, 3 mos, 17 days). The spire that marks their final resting place is under the spreading arms of the old oak tree. John Keyes' inscription is on the east side of the spire and James Keyes' inscription is on the west side

Gravestone for John and James Keyes

Inscriptions on the gravestone for James and John Keyes

A beautiful resting place for these two Tennessee brothers,
and early Oregon pioneers.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


Agnes Aurelia Brown Keyes was my great-grandmother. I never knew her. My mother, her granddaughter never knew her. My Grandmother and her daughter, Agnes Laura Keyes Sigford, never knew her. Now my grandmother and mother too are both in their graves, and that long ago life of Agnes Aurelia recedes further into the mist of memories, then into the thinning mist, so all that is left is this slender spire on a hill.

My lips tingle as I repeat her name, Agnes Aurelia; “Aurelia” hangs on like a lost song in my head. I do not want the memories of her to dissipate into nothingness. I look for her, and search for bits and pieces of the short life of Agnes Aurelia.

She was born on March 6th, 1860, at the family homestead in Dufur, Oregon, along 5 Mile Creek in the hills south of Fort Dalles. The fifth child born to her parents, Sarah Almira (Duty) and Jonathon Perry Brown who came over the Oregon Trail in 1854. She joined her older sisters, Clementine, Elizabeth, and Sarah Ellen, and brother Erasmus Wellington.

The family lived on the Dufur homestead along 5-Mile Creek in the hills above Fort Dalles for over seven years, when tragedy struck. An accidental gunshot took the life of her 14-year old sister Elizabeth and devastated their mother Sarah.

New homesteading land in eastern Oregon combined with the grief-stricken memories cemented the choice to again strike out for a new home. Eight year old Agnes was of an age that she had lots of chores along the trail to eastern Oregon, what with trailing stock, setting up and taking down campsites each night, cooking, washing dishes and clothes, as well as watching her two younger sisters Molly and Effie May. They traveled through wild and desolate country that was still feeling the ravages and fear from the 1864 Shoshone uprising.

From Fort Dalles to eastern Oregon was a bone jolting trip. Agnes and her family followed landmarks many now strange to our ears: along the Old Dutchman road towards Fort Dalles, to the crossroad of the Old Military Road where they turned south, past Mud Springs, Haystack Creek, Buck Hollow, and Great Hollow near Tygh Road, past Antelope Valley, then turning westerly they paralleled the John Day River past Cherry Creek coming through the Painted Hills to their new homestead.

Agnes and her older sisters would have helped set up housekeeping in the log cabins at Johnson Creek, and later at Girds Creek. The Girds Creek home, nestled along Girds Creek with a steep northeast-facing hill behind the cabin, was better protected from the elements, as well as marauding Shoshone. For several years, Agnes Aurelia, her sisters and mother were the only white women in the area.

Family stories indicate that the cabin at Girds Creek burned to the ground. So the family, which now included two more daughters, moved a few miles north to a homestead on Shoo Fly Creek. a few miles north of Girds Creek.

About this time, early 1870s, two young Tennesseans, James E. L. Keyes and his cousin Zachary Keyes, drove a herd of Cotswold ewes from the Keyes' farm near Philomath in Benton county over the Cascade Mountains to Cherry Creek in eastern Oregon. Soon thereafter the cousins moved to just to the east of Mitchell, Oregon, where they established their homestead. They were energetic, handsome, and well to do young men who accumulated cattle, horses and mules, in addition to the sheep.

Eastern Oregon hills had a dearth of young women but Jonathon and Sarah Brown had three young daughters of marriageable age. The sixteen year old Agnes Aurelia caught the eye of James E. L. Keyes. He courted her, and on June 28th, 1877 they were married at the home of her parents. The young couple moved into the handsome Keyes homestead house on the hills east of Mitchell. Those were heady days for the couple. Keyes relatives came from not only Corvallis and Benton County, but also far way Tennessee, to visit or to stay before getting their own homestead

On March 30th, 1878, James A. Keyes, was born to Agnes Aurelia and James E. L Keyes. A little sister, Almira Jane, joined her brother, on January 8, 1880. Then a scant 1 ½ years later, and just four years since their marriage, Agnes Aurelia gave birth to her third child, another daughter, Agnes Laura, born June 8, 1881.

Agnes Aurelia did not live to raise her children as she died on June 15, 1881, a week after the birth of baby Agnes Laura. At the age of just twenty-one, young Agnes Aurelia lay dead, leaving her grieving husband James and three young children, two toddlers and a babe.

All that is left to remember the incomplete life of Agnes Aurelia Brown Keyes is slender white marble spire marks the place where she lay in eternal sleep in the old Mitchell cemetery on a windswept hill north of the little town of Mitchell.

(Note:Ruth Evangeline Sigford, my mother, the daughter of Agnes Laura, and the granddaughter of Agnes Aurelia, remembered hearing that her grandmother was blind before she died. A great-great-granddaughter of Agnes Aurelia, who is an M.D., told me that after the childbirth Agnes Aurelia most likely had a blood clot that lodged in the brain or possibly an aneurysm which would have cause blindness and death.)