Memories From Earlington: A Beginning" # 1

Several weeks have passed since I wrote my last column for the paper [The Messenger, Madisonville. nt]. Since then I was asked to speak to the Genealogical Society on "Earlington Times and History." I’ve never felt as if I were an authority on Earlington history. I usually just questioned Mattie Martin Francis, Jay Marquess, Raymond Larmouth, Eleanor Rich or Frankie Carroll. So, I wondered what tidbits I might have stored in "my" memory that could be of interest. I tried to analyze what in my column seemed to catch people’s interest. What was strange to me was that many were not local or did not know the people about whom I wrote. Thus, it was not so much the locality (although it often was) that bound us together but more often the times. I reminisced about an era and its events which had common threads for many. These events didn’t just happen "to me." They stirred similar memories of others—of making lye soap, piecing quilts, drawing water from a well, learning to read with Alice and Jerry and Wagonwheels. These are memories from "our" pasts. They make us a kind of kindred spirits.

My maternal grandmother (May Byrd, a poetic name in itself) was above all a teller of wondrous stories. From my earliest memories I remember her spinning yarns and ghost stories (which she always "swore" were true). Her stories were not simply facts but descriptions of each character in physical detail with personality traits. Even in her Bible stories she made sure she used descriptions such as "red headed," "handsome," "stuttered," "morally weak." Her prophets were not characters but friends with familiar faces and personalities. I figured since she read her Bible each night for over seventy years, she "knew" these men on a personal basis. She saw traits in them I never saw but was hungry to hear about.

When I began genealogical research, I wanted more than names and dates. I wanted to know what the people looked like. Did they have red hair (like my grandfather)? Did they walk stooped over (like my great-grandfather from his 50 years in the coal mines)? What were their struggles, their dreams, their fears, their contributions? The answers to these questions were not to be found in the census, marriage & tax books, Gordon’s History. The facts were there, but to find "the rest of the story" I needed descendants, friends, photos, annuals, letters, old newspapers. Here, in these "records" I found my passion. I began to write "my stories" using my Grandmother Byrd’s slant incorporating whatever historical facts I could find. Now I feel compelled to ask as many questions as I can as I realize as Eleanor Armstrong Rich’s mother used to say, "None of us were put here for forever." Facts in our memories fade, and human repositories for these memories leave much too soon. Mr. Walter Martin in his "Tales of Old Earlington" nearly a century ago wrote frantically to preserve history by recording the lives of our pioneers. He grieved over how much could never be saved and that he did not have the time to get to everyone’s attic. I have tried to reprint many of his "classics" to renew our acquaintance with these hardy (near-forgotten) people. His daughter Mattie Francis said that he would have been pleased to know people would remember that part of their past for another century.

I am fascinated by a 1905 photo of the Bee’s building with unpainted boards, tall windows with wide shutters, and huge double doors. The street is dirt. A short Martin smoking a pipe is standing with a stocky town marshal (Clarence Mitchell) who resembles an English bobby. A note on the back notes that Albert Larmouth (in a dark suit with his collar turned up and wearing his hat at a jaunty angle) is one of the reporters and James E. Fawcett (with his high starched collar, mustache, gold chain, and holding a copy of the Bee) is the associate editor. Oh, yes, to me the old adage about a picture being worth a thousand words is true. What is worth much more is a picture with notations on the back. And, yes, Mattie Helen Francis knows the meaning of that as all her photos have notations!

So, this is how I began the columns. I never dreamed I would receive a call from a wife whose day was brightened by seeing her husband’s name in print (a loved one that she felt had been forgotten). I never knew I attended school with the great-granddaughter of Wm. Riley Brown (who in 1870 settled in a meadow just outside of town which came to be known as Brown Meadow). Or that she respectfully brings floral tributes to his grave when she returns. I would not have thought people would gain new insights about their ancestors from reading the column. Or that cousins would find each other from a story about their ancestors. Or that hearts would be touched by precious memories of departed friends. Or so many would express sorry at the departure of the column. I am truly humbled by the outpouring.

In the process of writing the column, I too gained many memories and continue to write these and share them via the net. I began writing to preserve memories of my yesteryear but continue to write to preserve those of others. I write because it makes these people come alive to me. I write because it is my passion. I hope you enjoy "the stories" I continue to write. Your encouragement and comments have been greatly appreciated. Thanks so much.

10/22/01 Ann Gipson