Monday, April 5, 2010

Grandpa Had the "Gift"

I was recently sent a 200 page account transcribed from my mother's paternal grandfather's written story of his life, penned in 1945 when he was 58 years old. It is so interesting!

It's packed with family fact and, I suspect, some lore, and the voice of the writing is true to its time period. It's not politically correct by our present standards. It covers the period of time from about 1860 to 1945 which is loosely when my mom and most of her first cousins were being born. It tells of droughts, financial crashes not just in the Great Depression but also in the late 1800s, and of the many things it took to keep a big family housed and fed through those years.

There were many surprises. One relative was a railroad engineer and perished in a head on collision with another steam locomotive when he rounded a steep curve in the track and didn't have enough time to come to a stop...they only had time enough to jump, and he waited till the others had (thankfully it was not a passenger train). It had been a misunderstanding on the part of the oncoming engineer as far as timetables. Eek. One of our matriarchs, in the widowhood of her later years, traveled now and then to spend periods of time with her grown children who were spread out over several states. One of them had renovated the downstairs of their house for her to have permanently so she didn't have to climb stairs, and had upgraded everything to modern appliances. That included a gas stove, but the family tragedy was when the hem of the mother's dress caught fire on it and she perished. Her daughter was so distressed over the accident that she and her husband sold the house and moved away from that town to a different state.

I never knew so many of my relatives lived in Missouri and Kansas, and that further back, their relatives lived in Indiana and Illinois. One of the later children ended up in Los Angeles in the 40s and gave a firsthand account of two earthquakes within two months of each other. Many of the men of the family worked with their hands and loved to build things. A lot worked on the railroad and later in machinery shops in the bigger cities where they moved if work was scarce during the war years. The women all did whatever they could, too, and most of them had jobs as well as children to raise. It was all a family affair, and children worked beginning in their early or mid seemed they wanted to and it all went to helping the family or starting their own a few years later.

At one point, my great grandfather lived up north and also had a farm near one of his daughters/son-in-law in Tennessee. He raised pigeons and Barred Rock chickens and shipped the squab weekly to Chicago via train. At one point when he was improving his property a bit, he needed a new well and was told by the locals about a man who could find water by "witchin.'" Sure enough, the man located a good water source near the house and one further out in the pastures using a dousing stick cut from the limb of a peach tree. The account goes into some conjecture about the skepticism my great grandfather had about it all, since a lot of folks lump the unexplained into the category of "witch" or the occult and that's something our family stays away from. But the douser simply used the rod to indicate the water sources, and upon digging in those locations, two reliable wells were dug.

The man showed my g-grandfather how the dousing was done and had him put his hand over the stick when it turned and try to prevent it from turning. The stick apparently moved against his hand with force and was not being manipulated by the douser. This is fascinating to me...I've heard of dousing before but of course never expected to read of it in a family firsthand journal. Different onlookers tried it themselves, but it didn't work. The man said only certain people have the "gift." Well, my grandpa, (g-grandfather's second son) was on location helping do some work and tried it himself by cutting a willow twig, and of all the children, he was the only one who had "the gift." My grandpa was a douser! I KNOW this never was a story passed down to us probably seemed too old-wive's-tale-ish or something and my people are not known to be openly superstitious (unless you ask them about certain things and I swear they are plenty superstitious). But G-Grandpa demystified it and said it really happened and there was no hocus-pocus.

Just wanted to jot that here...I love looking through this "family attic" of memories I never knew existed till now.

Mmmm, roast beef and some roasted white and sweet potatoes with garlic and sea salt are perfuming the house. Time for some eats. Hope your week is going well so far!


Michelle said...

So interesting, and what a gift you were given in that journal! I am still on the fence about dousing; just because something works (and I believe it does) or someone has experienced it first-hand doesn't mean it's NOT occult. Seems to be if a God-created law of nature was behind it, not only the "gifted" could do it. Just my own musings here....

Robbyn said...

Yeah, I'm not sure about it, either, Michelle. I know it's not something my Grandpa went around and did for others. When he tried the stick thing, it worked for him. There's still a lot we don't know about the makeup of this world and how it works, meaning what we've discovered in science is entirely limited, so I'm of the opinion there's an explanation for it and it's not the same as reading entrails or tea leaves. Women who used herbs to help heal and many who delivered babies were said to be practicing dark arts, when in fact that wasn't the case for most of them. I do find it intriguing that this lore I've only read about in books actually touched my own family's past...interesting :)

Wendy said...

That is so amazing! I would love to have something like your journal to share with my children, and I've been asking my relatives to write stories. None have, so far.

I guess the best option is, therefore, to start writing my own, and have my children add to it so that my grandchildren and great grandchildren will have what I do not ;).

Robbyn said...

Wendy, I didn't even know this one existed, so imagine my surprise! It would be great to start your own for your own children. I know one of the things that kept hitting me as I read was how history kind of repeats itself...there was so much about financial hard times nationally, crop troubles, times of prosperity and lack, how people had to work a lot of different types of jobs to make ends meet...etc. The attitudes and humor sounded so familiar it felt as if we're not alone at all in our circumstances but come from innovative folks who did what they had to and still really enjoyed a lot of life even though bad things happened sometimes. Write, girl, write! You have so much to share :)

tina f. said...

Some time ago a distant relative went to a lot of trouble to record my husband's side of the family and some interesting stories were included as well. The first patriarch came over on a ship in the 1700's. He fell off the gangplank and drowned! Another relative (female) was captured by Indians and managed to escape. It's so cool to have not only the actual lineages but some of the stories that go along as well.

Robbyn said...

Tina, that's a real treasure to have that record...I helped my former in-laws begin collecting their genealogy and compile pictures they had going back a long ways, and they sure had some fascinating lives on the family tree, and so many stories. It's so neat when those details get put together for future generations :)