“I hate to see the evening sun go down,” from, The Saint Louis Blues by W.C. Handy
It was the night of March 24, 1980. Day 142 of the Iranian Hostage Crisis. Me and my husband Peter were staying at my grandmother’s house in Cottage Grove Oregon. We had just moved back to Oregon after living in Austin Texas for four years and were staying with my grandmother until we found a place to live.
My Uncle Frank was also staying at my grandmother’s house. He had recently retired from the Navy after thirty years of service. His oldest daughter Susan was attending the University of California in Berkley at the time. He planned to move his wife Yasue and his youngest daughter Joy from their home in San Diego California to a new home Springfield Oregon.
He was staying with her while he looked for a house to buy.
My grandmother’s television set was on in the living room and the four of us gathered around it to watch the premier episode of Nightline. It was a new late-night news show that would soon become the most popular news show in America.
The next evening, we had a bowl of pinto beans and buttermilk cornbread for supper. After we were finished eating and the table was cleared of dishes, Peter picked up his guitar. My grandmother loved music.
Whenever the two of them got together she would ask him to sing with her. He would play his guitar while she sang along.
On this evening his guitar was out of tune. He hummed an old blues tune while he turned the tuning pegs on his guitar.
My grandmother came out of the kitchen. I “know that song” she said, “my papa used to sing it.” With his guitar in tune, Peter stummed the melody he was humming while from the dining room doorway we heard the mournful sound of my grandmother’s singing voice. “I hate to see the evening sun go down” she wailed.
She belted out the lyrics to The Saint Louis Blues with the bluesiest voice I had ever heard her use.
Later that night while we were waiting to watch the second episode of Nightline I asked my grandmother how her papa learned to sing and play The Saint Louis Blues.
I knew it was one of the most popular songs of 1918, but I didn’t understand how such a song became known to people like my great grandfather at a time when there was no radio shows or television programs to promote and advertise it.
“Peddlers” she said. “Music peddlers would come around and sell copies of sheet music. They knew that almost every family had someone who could play the piano, or fiddle and they would stop at most houses and sell sheet music of the newest songs.”
The television cast a soft glow in the corner of her dimly lit living room, while she sat in her rocking chair near me, my uncle and my husband. We watched as the words, Day 143 of the Iranian Hostage Crisis filled up the screen. We listened as the newscaster announced, “This is ABC News Nightline, reporting from Washington D.C. here is Ted Koppel.”
Thinking back on what she told me about sheet music makes realize how much the world changed over the course of her life.
How did she feel about the technical advancements that were made in the forty two years that passed from the time her papa bought a copy of The Saint Louis Blues sheet music from a door to door peddler to the time that the four of us sat in her living room and watched live news from Iran unfold before our eyes. We watched while viewers all accross the country watched Ted Koppel the same time as us.
Popular culture had really changed since she was a little girl and it is my regret that I didn’t have the foresight or the brainpower to think to ask how she felt about that.
“Every day holds the possibility of a miracle.” Anonymous
His name was Kenneth David Roe. I called him Uncle Bud. When he was a young boy, he almost drowned in some high water that flowed under a bridge near Chatham Mississippi. Some of my relatives say it was a stroke of luck that he was found alive, others say that it was a miracle that he survived.
I’ve only heard the story in bits and pieces. It seems that everyone who was there had their own vivid memory to share. Except Uncle Bud. To my knowledge he never spoke of the day.
I’ve not heard anyone say why he was in the water that day. Did he fall off the bridge? Did he jump in? Did someone push him? I really cant tell you.
My Uncle Frank said that he was pretty sure it happened in Lake Washington, a body of water that exists near the Ferguson Place where the family lived and worked.
As far as I know, my mother is the only person still living who witnessed the search and rescue. She recalls standing on the bridge. She says that the water was higher than usual that day, that it almost reached the bottom of the bridge.
Uncle Frank remembered seeing my grandmother run alongside the water and up on the bridge. He said “she was crying and hollering” while family, friends and neighbors poked the water with long sticks, trying to find her son.
My grandmother said that he was under water for a very long time before someone found him.
I never heard tell of who it was who rescued him. But someone found him and drug him out of the water.
My grandmother recalled that after he was pulled out of the water someone in the search party pushed on his chest to get the water out of his lungs.
Uncle Frank never forgot the sight of seeing his brother laying on his side while muddy water spewed out of his mouth.
No one alive today can say for sure what day, month or year that my uncle almost drowned. But the wonder of it all is that he lived to see another day and that the God-given outcome of was a good one.
His survival ensured the preservation of the Roe family unit. For if Uncle Bud had died in those dark muddy waters there would have always been an empty seat at my grandmother’s table and the course of the Roe family would have been changed forever.
Lake Washington is part of the Mississippi. It is a large bend in the river that is cut off on one side by land. It is a U shaped body of free standing water that resembles a lake.
The Ferguson Place was a cotton farm where my Henry David Roe, Ruby Isaacs Roe and their two oldest sons Eugen Roe and Kenneth David Roe, along with twins Herman Frank Roe, and Nannie Elizabeth Roe, lived and worked. They entire family worked in the fields. Even the twins who were about five or six years old at that time.
“We were taught over and over again what steps to take in case of an approaching tornado. Listen for sirens, go to your basement or cellar, or a closet in the center of your house, duck and cover, wait it out.. We talked about it at home. The newscasters reminded us. We practiced. But we’d never— not once— discussed what to do after.” ― Jennifer Brown
I work Monday nights as a closing server at IHOP. The IHOP I work at closes at eleven on weeknights. I generally get home around midnight. This night was no different.
I had only been home about thirty minutes when I heard the siren sound.
The piece I planned to write would tell how my fourth great grandfather, William Dawson, and his family were forced out of their home by a band of lawless men during the Great Louisiana Hurricane, of August 19, 1812.
An outline of the story sat on my desk in front of me. My plan was to tell the story in two or three short paragraphs, post it on my blog and go to bed.
That didn’t happen.
Outside, the siren blew and the wind whistled and whirled while I huddled inside. I waited out the storm in a designated safe room with my worried daughter, two sleepy granddaughters, an inconvenienced Siamese cat, a frightened Pit Bull, and a Chihuahua eager to attack the storm.
Hunkered down in that room I started thinking about my long-gone relatives. I tried to imagine the fright that overcame them the night of the hurricane when a pack of wild dogs and a band of lawless men appeared at their door.
What were they doing when the outlaws rushed into their cabin?
Did William Dawson hear the dogs barking before the men appeared or did they take him by surprise?
Was his son, my third great grandfather, seventeen-year-old Thomas a good big brother to fourteen-year-old Samuel, twelve-year-old Mary Jane, and six-year-old Robert? Was he entertaining them, trying to distract them from the hurricane when terror came knocking?
Was William’s wife Dinah McCormick Dawson holding baby Fanny in her arms when the bad men started making threats and demands?
As a violent rotating column of air roared above our house I imagined the shock I would feel if our home was suddenly invaded by a group of criminals who threatened our lives and forced us to flee into the wind ravaged night.
I knew then that the story I planned to tell about William Dawson and his family was no longer the story I would tell. The story is bigger than the mere genealogical anecdote I had planned to write. It is a tale full of real life human suffering.
With sympathy for the trauma my ancestors suffered and out of gratitude that they survived. I am compelled to tell a deeper and more meaningful story so that everyone who reads this blog post can understand the reality and seriousness of the disaster that befell my relatives on that dark and stormy night so very long ago.
HOW I LEARNED OF THIS STORY
I learned that my fourth grandparents, William and Dinah Dawson were chased out of their home during a hurricane while I was reading a book titled Our Dawson Kin. The book traces the lineage of William and Dinah Dawson down to my mother’s generation. It was compiled by a distant cousin, Sally Morrrison Patin. I have never met this cousin but I would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank her for compiling such a comprehensive and interesting genealogical record of our shared family history.
I conduct all my genealogical research for this side of my family with my aunt Gerry Roe. My aunt and I have a different approach to genealogy. But we work well together and make a great team.
She knows who begat who and can place just about any family name in its proper place on our extensive family tree.
Me? I work to discover what was happening in my ancestor’s world during their lifetime. That allows me to give them and their actions historical context.
LOUISIANA HURRICANE AUGUST 19, 1812
On 9 July 1812, news that three weeks earlier the U.S. Congress in Washington, D.C., had declared war on Great Britain arrived at New Orleans, the location of the US naval station the farthest from the nation’s capital. Captain John Shaw, USN, commandant of the station, had at his command some four hundred officers and men, distributed among two brigs of war and eleven gunboats. Just as Captain Shaw was attempting to set his small force on a war footing, a devastating hurricane struck the Mississippi delta. The 19 August hurricane was the worst experienced there in years. It set back military preparations many months.
An excerpt from a report from Captain John Shaw to Secretary of the Navy Paul Hamilton is posted below.
New Orleans, August 23, 1812
I greatly deplore the necessity I am under of communicating to you, the calamitous condition of the small naval force attached to this station–of the City of New Orleans–and, as I presume, of the surrounding Country; produced on the afternoon and night, of the 19th instant, by a hurricane (from the N.E.) which, both in violence and duration, exceeded anything of the kind, within the recollection of the oldest inhabitant of the country:
The Brig Enterprize, which, by considerable exertion, I had got fully manned was driven ashore, high & dry…….
In November of 1803, one month after the US Senate ratified the Louisiana Purchase Treaty, William Dawson, along with his older brother Thomas Dawson and fifty eight other male US citizens signed an oath to remain loyal to the United States of America before taking possession of tracts of land they each had obtained from the Spanish government some time before.
The tracts they obtained were located outside the boundaries of the Louisiana Purchase about one hundred miles from the city of New Orleans, in an area known as Feliciana Parish.
The terrain of Feliciana Parish was marked by tree covered hills. Ancient cypress, majestic oak, and evergreen pine trees dominated the landscape. Bears and wolves roamed the hills.
The land was uninhabited by humans when the settlers arrived. Spain had allowed wood choppers from Virginia to settle the area to fulfill a pressing need. Shipwrights had set up dockyards along the nearby waterways and timber for building and repairing ships was in great demand.
The land obtained by William Dawson contained one thousand acres. It was bordered on one side by the Comite River, a navigable body of water that flowed through the low-lying bottom lands that lay to the south. He took possession of the wild undeveloped land with his wife Dinah, eight-year-old son Thomas, three-year-old son Samuel and baby daughter Mary Jane.
With little outside help he cleared and improved the land. He built a cabin, outbuildings and fencing. He cultivated the earth and raised crops.
His little family grew. A son named Robert was born in 1806 and a daughter named Fanny was born about five years later.
The Dawson family lived in harmony with their neighbors for close to nine years.
Then disaster struck.
I can’t say for sure what time of day the hurricane made landfall in Feliciana Parish. There is no record of what time it struck the Dawson property. But at some time on August 19, 1812 the family’s amiable way of life on their tract of land came to an end.
On that terrible day William Dawson and his wife lost everything they had worked so hard to gain. Powerful winds blasted the landscape, lightning lit up the cloudy sky, The storm surged, heavy rains fell, the Comite River and nearby waterways rose, murky water spilled over as flood waters covered the ground.
But it wasn’t the wind or the flood waters that brought doom.
A pack wild dogs and a band of lawless men arrived at their door. The men forcibly drove the Dawson’s away from their home. They threatened to “strew their bones into the hurricane” if they refused to go. The father, mother and their five children fled to the state of Mississippi for protection, leaving their home and the fortunes of their descendants behind as they escaped into the night.
THINGS I WISH I KNEWABOUT THIS STORY
How did they escape? On foot? By wagon? Horseback? Boat? Pinckneyville Mississippi is about twenty miles north of the spot where their cabin once stood. How long did it take them to get there? What possessions were they allowed to take?
These are things I wish I knew.
William Dawson used the courts to try to get his land back. But all his efforts failed. I can’t help but wonder if politics played a role in his unsuccessful efforts.
In 1810 American settlers, dissatisfied with Spanish rule, successfully revolted against Spain. They established a new country that they named the West Florida Republic. William Dawson’s land—along with the rest of Feliciana Parish—was part of the new country. He lived under the rule of the West Florida Republic until he was chased out of his home in 1812.
One year later the United States of America claimed the lands of the West Florida Republic. In 1813 Feliciana Parish joined the US. It became part of the newly formed state of Louisiana.
William Dawson was using the courts to try to regain his land as late as 1826.
In the twenty-three years that passed from the time he obtained his land till his last recorded court date his tract of land existed under the jurisdiction of three different countries. He obtained the land under Spanish rule. He lost the land to outlaws during the West Florida Republic’s rule. The outlaws had possession of his land when the US took control of Feliciana Parish.
Which government had jurisdiction over land rights in Feliciana Parish?
Spain granted him the land but he belonged to the group of people who had revolted against their rule. What were his chances of convincing a Spanish land agent to testify in his behalf?
The crime that was committed against him and his family was committed in a country that no longer existed. Where could he go for justice?
His land was occupied by the outlaws who stole it from him when Feliciana Parish became part of the United States. Did the US courts recognize those men as the rightful landowners? Is that why he was ultimately denied his land rights?
There are so many questions surrounding this story.
“They love each other. They’re brother and sister. It’s one for all and all for one.” Joseph Ziemba
The 52 Ancestor’s in 52 Week’s topic for this week is Prosperity. As soon as I saw the topic, I knew that I wanted to tell the following story.
This story is from 1946. That’s when my eldest maternal uncle, Eugene Roe, sent a portion of his military pay home to my grandparents, Henry David Roe and Ruby Elizabeth Isaacs Roe. He sent the money so they could move his younger brothers and sisters out of the poverty-stricken Mississippi Delta where he had spent his entire life before joining the Navy.
My grandparents purchased Greyhound Bus tickets for themselves and their five younger children with some of the money he sent. Starting in Greenville Mississippi they traveled two thousand, three hundred and seventy-three miles across the country in search of a better life. They ended up in the little town of Dorena, a wooded enclave in the Willamette Valley area of Oregon.
Dorena offered the hope of a brighter future due to its thriving lumber industry and the promise of work with the Army Corps of Engineers on the Dorena Dam building project.
My uncle was wise beyond his years. Thanks to him giving my grandparents the resources they needed to get out of Mississippi his siblings all went on to live lives of security and comfort. They all prospered far beyond what he dared dream for them in 1946.
And so did he. My uncle eventually joined his family in Oregon after he left the military in 1952. He continued to live there for the rest of his life.
Me and many others in my family believe that it was the foresight and generosity of my uncle that changed the course of our family’s history forever. And we are thankful
This one of my favorite family stories and I have heard many different versions of it throughout my life.
But as so often happens with family stories , I found that there is much more to this story than I originally thought.
This story has a backstory. And it’s a good one!
Please read on.
My Great-Uncle Kelly and His Time in the CCC
My uncle and my grandparents learned of the opportunities awaiting them in Oregon from the two eldest of my grandmothers’ three younger brothers, Benjamin Franklin Isaacs, and Herman Kelly Isaacs .
The two young men had been stationed at different camps in Oregon during their second stints in a voluntary public works program named the Civilian Conservation Corps, a program also known as the CCC. From 1933 to 1942 more than three million unmarried young men—aged 17 to 28 served in the program and my grandmothers’ brothers were among them.
The year 2020 marks the one-hundred-year anniversary of the birth of Herman Kelly Isaacs.
I just learned this eighty-four-year-old story about him and his first short stint in the CCC.
When Herman Kelly was not yet seventeen years of age, he joined the CCC. He was sent up north to a camp in Pennsylvania. Not liking the cold weather up there he soon left his post and returned to the home of his older sister Effie Marie Isaacs Moore and her husband Albert Moore down in Leflore County. The poorest area in the Mississippi Delta.
A depression era recording of a song titled the CCC Blues is posted below. The song expresses the nature of the thoughts that most likely went through the mind of Herman Kelly Isaacs before he decided to leave the CCC.
As you just heard , in the song above, the song warned enlistees that one consequence of leaving the CCC early was that they would never be able to go back into the program or join the U S military at a later time.
But Herman Kelly was a clever boy. He figured out a way to beat the system. Two years after leaving the CCC camp in Pennsylvania he changed his name and signed up with CCC again. He signed up again using a different name. He changed his name and enlisted under the name of Henry Kelly Isaacs.
This time around he was sent to a place that was much farther away from home. He was transported all the way across the country to the Triangle Lake Camp in Lane County Oregon, where he stayed and completed his term of service.
Herman Kelly Isaacs continued to go by the name Henry Kelly Isaacs for the rest of his life. However, those who knew him best called him by his middle name Kelly.
Many people, including some close relatives, never knew that he used an alias. They believed his birth name was Henry Kelly. But now, knowing that his name really was Herman Kelly, explains away the confusion that followed when he named his first born son Herman Kelly Isaacs Jr.
Herman Kelly Isaacs wasn’t the only young man in our family to change his name so he could join the CCC a second time. His older brother Benjamin Franklin Isaacs liked the program so much that he didn’t want to leave once his time was done. He dropped the s at the end of his surname. He changed his name to Isaac so he could enlist for another six months. He used the Isaac version of his surname for the rest of his life. His descendants continue to uses the name Isaac to this day.
Beatrice Issacs Lisenby was the youngest sister of Ruby Isaacs Roe. She married Herbert Lisenby shortly after he returned home to Mississippi after completing his six month term of service in the CCC. While in the CCCC, Herbert Lisenby was stationed at a camp in Oregon. Herbert and Beatrice Lisenby eventually moved to Oregon, where they raised their family. They lived out their lives there.
All seven of the Isaacs siblings left Mississippi. Most of them settled in the Willamette Valley region of Oregon.
Three Isaacs sisters ( Effie Marie, Ruby Elizabeth and Beatrice) were laid to rest in Fir Grove Cemetery in Cottage Grove Oregon. Along with their husbands and a number of their deceased children. Isaacs brother Herman/Henry Kelly Isaacs and his son Herman Kelly are also buried there.
Thpre song CCC Blues comes to us from a field recoding made by Margret Valiant. She recorded the song in a migrant camp in Northern California, for the Farm Security Administration in 1936.
For 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. From the prompt for the week of February 18 to February 26. Prospertiy
“Kindred sprits are not so scarce as I used to think.” Lucy Maud Montgomery
Lucas G. Dawson Sr. Born 1843, Died 1916
It is written that “within scientific disciplines, discovery is the observation of new facts which explain knowledge gathered through previously acquired scientific evidence.” I don’t know if genealogy is considered one of the scientific disciplines, but I do know that myself and many other genealogists employ the use of the scientific method to trace our family roots.
Question, Research, Hypothesize, Test, Analyze, Conclude. Those are steps we take to find our ancestors and populate our family tree.
The acquisition of the new set of facts that led to my newest genealogical favorite discovery arrived on August 9, 2018, in a private message sent to the Ancestry.com account I share with my Aunt Gerry Roe.
The message read in part; Ms. Thorpe, several of the DNA matches of the tests you administered are matches with me…………. I’m confident that we are all likely third or fourth cousins. I have been reviewing each tree for the common person. I believe it to be Lucas Dawson. He lived in Feliciana Louisiana, reasonably close to southern Mississippi….…… My great great grandmother is listed as Marian Cage, mulatto, age 22 in the 1870 census. She had twins with the last name of Dawson, one of whom was my great grandfather. I believe Luke to have been their father……….
My first scan of that message was immediately followed by a more thoughtful read and I knew immediately that my newly discovered relative had done his research. Unexpectedly Lucas Dawson became a person of significance to me. Moments prior he had just been a name I was vaguely familiar with, one of eight great great grandfathers, an unexplored branch on my family tree.
But it became clear that I was about to discover his story.
My aunt and I joined forces with the writer of that message and together we soon discovered many meaningful facts about our mutual ancestor.
Our “Granddaddy Lucas” was one of the more than three hundred thousand young southern soldier boys who enlisted in the Confederate States Army to fight in the American Civil War. Captured in the Battle of Nashville on December 16, 1864, held at Camp Chase in Ohio, released from the Point Lookout prisoner of war camp in Maryland in February of 1865. He was one of the first of 24,000 southern prisoners set free at Aikin’s Landing Virginia. He was part of the largest prisoner exchange agreement of the war.
After Lucas arrived back home to Louisiana, he fathered twins with Marion Cage shortly before he married my great great grandmother Ann Hazelton Booker.
Father to my great grandmother Ary Dawson Roe, grandfather to my grandfather Henry David Roe, great grandfather to my mother Nannie Elizabeth Roe Cross. His line continues down through the generations on both the Marian Cage and the Ann Booker branches of his family tree.
As interesting and as valuable as all that information is to me, I have to say that finding Lucas was not my most favorite discovery.
Speaking for both my aunt and myself I must state that getting to know the person who led the way to uncovering the story of Lucas is our favorite genealogical discovery. For when we got the chance to meet our “new” cousin in person, we discovered we shared a deep familial bond. But even more consequential than our family connection We discovered something else. We discovered we shared characteristics both unique and precious.
We discovered in him a Kindred Spirit.
By Betsy Thorpe
For 52 ancestors in 52 weeks. From prompt for week of February 11-February 17 Favorite Discovery
“We should all have that one person who knows how to bless us despite the evidence, my Grandmother was that person for me.” Phyllis Theroux
I can’t recall what my grandmother was doing when I first made my promise to her. Was she busy at her sewing machine, tapping her foot up and down to keep the treadle going? Was she bent over the wood stove, lighting some kindling to start a fire? Perhaps she was in the yard tending to her roses, or on the porch snapping some freshly picked green beans. Was it while she was busy in the kitchen, boiling down some berries to make a batch of her much-loved blackberry jam? Its quite possible that I might have whispered it in her ear late one winter afternoon, while she was sitting quiet in her chair just resting her eyes.
I really can’t say.
But what I do know is that at some time during my childhood I promised my grandmother that one day when I was grown and married, I would have a daughter and that I would name her, Ruby Elizabeth, after her. I promised to give my future daughter her entire name, not just pass down half of it like she did when she named my mother Nannie Elizabeth, or like my mother did when she named me Elizabeth Ann. I promised her that my daughter would have the exact same name as her.
Years later I kept my promise. When I took my baby daughter to see my grandmother for the very first time she was swaddled in a quilt that my aunt had made—her name clearly embroidered on the front of the blanket.
I am glad that I kept my promise to my grandmother and so is my daughter. She is very proud to carry on the name of her great grandmother.
There is one other person in my family who had the same name has my grandmother, but it was a person that I never knew. As strange as it may seem my father’s mother was also named Ruby Elizabeth.
My grandmother had other granddaughters and great-great granddaughter’s who share the name Elizabeth, but to my knowledge my daughter is only one who fully carries her name. My youngest granddaughter, Mary Elizabeth, is the fifth Elizabeth in my direct family line to be named Elizabeth.
For 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. Prompt for “Same Name.”
“You are the fairy tales told by your ancestors.” Toba Beta
SO FAR AWAY
He was a tall, handsome and adventurous boy. The only son of a well to do merchant. He captured my grandmother’s attention when she was a young girl and she fondly recalled his memory up through her old age. Her stories of him were vague, and the actual role he played in her life remains unclear.
My mother, my aunt and I, were all privy to her reminiscences of him. However, we don’t all recall her stories the same. I’m convinced that the boy’s name was Albert Thomas Firth Junior, but my mother is certain that his last name was Butts. My aunt disagrees with her. According to my aunt, the Butts family that befriended my grandmother were from Missouri, where my grandmother spent some years before her father moved his wife and children South to Mississippi.
I had the notion that the young pilot was in love with my grandmother, that he wanted to marry her, but that she chose my grandfather instead. My aunt remembers the story in a different way. She doesn’t think their friendship was ever that serious, but she does recall hearing that for some time my grandfather was quite jealous of my grandmother’s memory of the young pilot and that he would often tell her that she should have married that boy.
Until recently, when I did my research into the plane crash that killed Albert, I was sure that that he had taken my grandmother up in the air for a ride in his plane. But that can’t be true. My grandmother married my grandfather at least a year before he learned to fly and was the mother of a young son by the time he owned his own plane. Additionally, anyone who knew my grandfather would agree that he would never have allowed my grandmother to do such a thing.
More than forty years had passed from the time that he died, till the time that my grandmother told me about him. Of all the stories she told of her youth, the story of the daring young pilot was one of my favorites.
I just wish I had thought to ask her for more details. How did she learn that his plane went down? I wonder today if she was among the “large crowd” that witnessed the tragedy. Was she somewhere nearby? Did she hear the crash? His plane nosedived into a cottonfield. Was he flying over the cottonfield where she lived? I wish I knew.
But the big question I could have asked, one that is common to all, is this; Why did the memory of someone removed so far away by space and time, remain so near and dear to her heart? I could have asked her, but there really was no need.
I am a hopeless romantic and I always knew the answer.
For 52 ancestors in 52 weeks. From prompt “So Far Away.”
“We’re all ghosts. We all carry, inside us, people who came before us.” ― Liam Callanan
Unlike me and her three descendants who connect us my great-great-grandmother Emily Manus Isaacs, for most of her life, stayed :
CLOSE TO HOME
The word wanderlust is one of my favorite words. Fashioned of three soft syllables it rolls easily off the tongue. It is a fun word to say, it’s a whimsical word that sounds like its meaning. It conjures the romantic nature of travel and the poetry found in dreams of faraway places.
For me personally the word wanderlust best explains a trait that I believe that I inherited from my mother and from some of our most immediate predecessors on our shared family tree. While the manifestation of restlessness varies in my bloodline from generation to generation our mutual history reveals that an urge to travel exists in my background. It was passed down to me through the generations,
One way I like to describe my great-grandfather William Gordon Isaacs is to say that he was a rolling stone. One of ten children safely delivered to my great-great grandmother Emily Manus Isaacs, he was in his thirties when he packed up his belongings and moved his wife and young children away from his long-time home in Kuttawa Kentucky. For many years after he remained a rootless man, moving his family from one work camp to another, never staying long in any one place. He seemed always ready to move somewhere new, eternally eager to make a fresh start. Like the rolling stone that he was, William Issacs gathered no moss.
Like her father William before her, my grandmother Ruby Elizabeth Isaacs Roe was also in her thirties when the desire to travel overcame her. In 1946 she boarded a westbound Greyhound bus in rural Greenwood Mississippi. Traveling with my grandfather Henry David Roe, five children and all their worldly possessions, she left behind the familiar cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta that had been home to her since before her marriage and set out for the unknown wilds of the Great Pacific Northwest. She was a migrant mother, part of the Southern Diaspora, she was one of the more than three million white adult southerners who fled the South after the end of World War II. Men and women left in mass. Searching for a better way of life for themselves and their children in the most northern and western regions of the United States of America. Migrants of the Southern Diaspora helped reshape America by southernizing the communities they settled in. When my grandmother arrived in Dorena Oregon, she brought a love of country music and a set of southern cooking skills with her. For the rest of her long-life Ruby Roe shared her joy in southern regional pleasures with every guest that entered her home in the northwest.
My mother, Nannie Elizabeth Roe Cross is a globe trotter. I’m not sure when the travel bug first bit her, but I do know that following the honeymoon trip through Nevada and California she took with my father LaMoine Lee Cross in 1957, she planned many family trips, and vacations throughout the 1960’s and early 1970’s. Summer excursions to see local sights, like the Oregon coast, the lava beds near the town of Sisters, and Peterson’s Rock Garden outside of Redmond Oregon eventually expanded in to overnight road trips and full blown weeks long vacations. Thanks to my mother’s wanderlust, me and my two younger brothers, Randy LaMoine Cross, and Nicky Scott Cross enjoyed a backseat view of America. We watched the landscape change through the windows of our parent’s Rambler American automobile. The Redwood Forest, Disneyland, Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone Park, Devils Tower, The Great Salt Lake, the Gulf Coast, the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, and New Orleans were just some of the iconic places we visited. A few years later with her children grown my mother made her maiden overseas journey when she flew across the Atlantic to see London with my father. Since then Nannie Cross has visited more than fifty countries and has enjoyed sights on every continent on the globe except Antarctica. She is very proud of her travels and would be the first to tell you that she would probably never have had the opportunity to become a globetrotter if her mother, Ruby Roe, had not sought a better life for her family and migrated from Mississippi to Oregon when she—Nannie—was a nine year old girl.
Me? I am a free spirit. When I was young, I was bent on finding the real America and my lust for travel was couched in my desire to understand the world I lived in. I was determined to change the world, to make it a better place. I trekked from place to place never sure of my destination, not knowing how long I would stay once I arrived there. I suppose that in this regard I had more in common with my rolling stone great grandfather, than I did with my migrant grandmother, or my globetrotting mother. For according to the stories I heard about him when I was a child it seemed to me that William moved from place to place whenever the notion struck unlike my grandmother and my mother who each traveled with a definite purpose and after much planning. Me? I remain a free spirit, still on a quest to discover the true nature of my country, but I have changed. For now, when I embark on a journey I do so with a certain end in mind. I put much more thought in the details of my travels than I ever did during my free-wheeling days. In this regard I have become much more like my grandmother and my mother than I ever was in the past.
There is one more direct ancestor that is of interest here. Williams mother, Emily Isaacs. I don’t know much about her. Memory of her was almost lost to history. But thanks to a few legal documents, government records and one treasured photograph, I have enough information to thoughtfully speculate on how she lived her life. I can definitively state that for the greatest part of her life Emily stayed close to home. She was born on June 12, 1860 in Lyon’s County Kentucky, in 1879, at the age of nineteen, she married my great-great grandfather Benjamin Franklin Isaacs there. She passed away in Lyons County on November 18, 1936 at the age of seventy-seven. The only record I have of her ever leaving that area was when she gave birth to her first child—and my great grandfather—William on October 11, 1880 in Memphis Tennessee, almost two hundred miles away. I will never know why she gave birth so far away from home, or if she shared the wanderlust, that I believe I inherited from her son. I like to think that she did. It is possible that she possessed an urge to travel. Even if her urge to travel was strong enough to pass down to future generations it is imaginable that as the mother of ten children, she pushed her personal wants and desires aside while she cared for her family. The responsibility of caring for such a large brood would most likely overwhelm even the most free-spirited characters among us and keep even the most adventurous of souls close to home.