Archives for the month of: August, 2013

I am a tree-hugger. Whenever I meet one that I love, I really do want to wrap my arms around the trunk and feel that immense strength, hoping to absorb some of it.

I’ve visited the giant Cedars in remote western Montana…last year it was giant Sequoias in the west…this year it’s Live Oaks in the south. When I read about the Angel Tree, I had to visit…

The Angel Tree is in a park owned by the city of Charleston, even though it’s on John’s Island, a bit out of town. The tree has a very sacred feel, but it is named after the Angel family who used to own the property. The tree is estimated to be 400-500 years old, which means it was here when only Native Americans lived in the area, before the Europeans arrived. In 2012, developers proposed a giant condo complex nearby that would have possibly altered the environment in the area, but other lovers of this tree prevailed…Thank You!

Looking for the Angel Tree takes you on the highway out of Charleston, on the way to Kiawah Island. There is only a small sign to mark the tree and you turn onto a very rough dirt road that might discourage you from going further if this weren’t your destination. You drive through what could be a spooky forest of oaks draped in Spanish Moss until you see a clearing on your left. There is a small sign on the right and before you reach the drive, you see the tree and you are in shock at the size. The park is fenced in with a small log building, a couple of portable toilets and a few picnic tables. The cabin has souvenirs and a couple of women selling sweetgrass baskets on the back screened in porch. But, you’re here to see the tree.

You can’t get it all in one photo. It’s 65 feet tall and spreads over 17,000 square feet. The limbs are so heavy they’ve drooped to the ground. Ferns grow along limbs. You need to see people beside it to comprehend its size. After that intro, the tree speaks for itself, different from any side. There are abundant signs reminding visitors not to climb the tree, which is tempting, and not to carve it. Horrors!!!

imageDSC_0568DSC_0574On one side, the limbs on the ground look like individual trees until you see what they are…DSC_0577


I gave the tree several pats and hugs and left with a wonderful feeling of having shared a treasure of the earth back in the South Carolina forest. See if you can find me in the picture. I’m the tiny human, realizing her place in the universe is all relative…DSC_0573


Knowing where your relatives came from is intriguing, at the very least. Maybe it will explain something, anything about us. All those questions…

The family member I know the most about is my father. I have pictures of him from baby to the end of his life. He was born in 1912, so way back there. I have a book someone did of Hamilton genealogy that goes back to Thomas Hamilton leaving Scotland for Maryland and then joining a group that moved to Kentucky.

The greatest source I have is a book, “The Sun Shines Bright,” written by my great-aunt, Sue Hamilton Jewell, a book of stories about the family in Uniontown, Kentucky in the late 19th century into the early 20th, including a few about my Daddy as a child.

My great-grandfather, grandfather, and father were all born in Uniontown. Here’s a photo I found that must be the Main Street that she wrote about, where even a 3-year old could be sent on errands.


Last week, I journeyed to Uniontown on the Ohio River, near Illinois and Indiana. I had no idea what I would find. Getting closer made me very emotional as I drove past fields of corn in rich agricultural west Kentucky, called the Upper South.


My great-grandfather was a grain dealer with an office in the warehouse on the river. My great-grandmother was from a plantation near New Orleans…another story to find. How did they meet? They had a great love story. Nine of their 12 children survived to adulthood, living a Tom Sawyer childhood along the river, “Our River,” as they called it.


…and later…


They had a staff of servants to help with the large home they finally moved into. Their land covered about half a block, with a diversity of neighbors on each side. There were 14 rooms with a 40 foot hallway the younger kids raced up and down on velocipedes pulling wagons. My great-grandfather was never bothered and must have been the kindest of gentlemen.


So, I drove to Uniontown with this info, along with the knowledge that the town had suffered greatly from the Ohio River floods of 1884, which brought Clara Barton to town for the first Red Cross relief effort as the river raged for weeks through the Ohio River Valley and all the river towns in its path. The 1937 flood left my widowed great-grandmother to be rescued from the second floor balcony by rowboat. The damage to the house and the remnants of the flood led to her death by pneumonia. This must be just a regular flood in this faint photo…


I knew the latest population was 1,000 and I found it on the map, but it was missing from my iPad map. How do you lose a town in an aerial shot? Scary. What would I find?

There was a town still. A levee keeps the flooding away, but the river has changed. I first looked across, imaging a shore where kids could swim across, barges and riverboats coming ’round the bend with my relatives waiting.

There was more than I expected actually. No old buildings, but a post office, VFW, cafe, two grocery markets and a marine store for the boaters who launched their boats on the river. I drove around enough to get a feel for where the house might have stood, picturing what I could from stories…the family eating fried chicken, Kentucky ham, homemade peach ice cream, and asparagus they grew in the yard. They gathered with their friends for burgoo, a community stew of whatever was brought. Such an isolated little town, a river town.

A young girl with a Kentucky drawl at Floyd’s Food Market gave me directions to the cemetery and I hurried before dark to a small cemetery surrounded by cornfields ready for harvest. Where to look? It was all very clean and well kept, divided into about four areas. In frustration, I parked and walked up the little hill. I remember Aunt Sue writing about the babies buried on the hill.

Suddenly, there it was…


…my great-grandparents. And the babies were beside them, touching little headstones for Annie, Nell G. and Merritt.


Behind them were my great-great grandmother and their oldest son, who I actually remember. Then I found two of their daughters. One died after the birth of her second child and her sister married her widower. All three of them, Verg and the two sisters he loved, all buried together. There were some others near, too. I looked and looked for any of my grandmother’s people because she grew up here, too. I didn’t find anyone…another story.

In the end, I stood by the gravestone and put my hand on it and my eyes were overflowing with tears. I thanked them for all the love they passed down. I thought of all the generations that have followed them…

One last look at the wide Ohio River, which is now kind of My River, too.


Then back to Floyd’s for a souvenir…


What did I find out? Lots more than I ever dreamed, but I’ll leave it with this…some of the best things about my family were born in a little town on the Ohio River. No flood will ever take that away. And now that river runs through me…

You gotta go to Graceland…right? Twice before I’ve been at the famous gates after it closed. This time, I had to go inside. By pure chance, I promise, it was the end of Elvis week in Memphis, the 36th anniversary of Elvis’ death. I still remember where I was when I heard the news…my husband, four kids and I were visiting a high school friend in Austin that day. The shocking news came over the radio. Another icon gone…

This time we started early, arriving just as the 5K Elvis run/walk ended. There were the gates…


and various Elvis fans and Elvis look-alikes…


You can’t walk up, so we bought our tickets, got our audio guides, and took the shuttle up the drive. This is how they control the never-ending stream of visitors. The house isn’t really huge, but the grounds are lovely. The neighborhood isn’t the best, but it fits. Elvis’s family reigned as the ones who came from so little to reach the top.


My audio guide didn’t work, which was ok with me. The effect of the crowd all listening to the guides creates a reverent quiet as you tour. Or, maybe they really were in that much awe.

The decor is perfect for a 22 year old, newly rich phenom who purchased a dream home for his Momma and Daddy. It speaks for itself…


Elvis was part of my growing up years, even if I wasn’t a rabid fan then or now. I love a lot of his songs, I love his story, but I didn’t swoon. But, I can’t help but love anyone who left such a legacy. Walking down the rows of gold and platinum records and albums…


…then a room with records to the high ceiling, I had to wonder how many more came after he died.


My favorite place is the wall outside where so many fans sign that they must have to clean it yearly to make room. It’s a lot of “Love ya, Elvis,” like yearbook signatures of your past.



How many generations are in this picture? I think at least four. Elvis lives on…


On the 36th anniversary of his death, I joined the mourners at his grave, reading the notes on arrangements from fan clubs around the world and tributes from individuals.



I saw one more Elvis wannabe…


…and completed the tour. I’ve been to Graceland…

Driving through Arkansas, we were looking for some catfish. The restaurant we wanted was a few miles from the interstate, but not open for lunch. Nick’s BarBQ & Catfish was ahead in Carlisle, but it seemed too good to be true to have something so good just feet from the interstate. But, the parking lot was full with semis and local cars and you could smell the good smells from outside, all good signs.



No frills, just terrific catfish, fried like it should be. They also served tater babies, wedges of seasoned potatoes. Yummy! I had steamed veggies to cut all the fried food. The whole menu looked great.

The greatest moment was two old men, wrinkled, bent over, who shuffled in together. Old friends out to lunch. We could hear them discussing the situation in Israel. I heard one say, “it’s not in scripture, although I had no idea what that was related to. On they talked, while the tv in the corner covered the news. And then their lunch arrived. I turned around to catch them as they took each other’s hand, bowed their already bent over heads, and said grace amidst the noise of the restaurant.

Precious moment captured in my memory forever. Special lunch on the interstate…



I was standing in a grocery line today and noticed a man about my age in the next lane. My goodness, he looked grumpy. I realized it was merely something that seems to happen as you get older. I think our smiles start to sag along with everything else. And nothing ages you faster than to have that turned down mouth look. Then I could hear Louis Armstrong singing…

When you’re smilin’, keep on smilin’,
The whole world smiles with you.
And when you’re laughin’, oh when you’re laughin’
The sun comes shinin’ through.

But when you’re cryin’, you bring on the rain.
So stop your sighin’, be happy again.
Keep on smilin. Cause when you’re smilin’,
The whole world smiles with you.

In customer service, we are taught that a smile can be felt through the phone. Try it – it’s true. When we smile while we talk, it comes through in our voice. It’s a good thing to remember.

We’ve all heard all the smile benefits, so I’ll just stop here. And remind you to keep on smilin’. You can’t help but feel better when we think of something that makes us smile and we all have something to smile about.

I’m trying to plan a vacation, a meandering trip through several states. A leisurely look at our beautiful country. I’ve decided which way I’m headed…now to get ready. What the heck? Getting ready to leave is a trip of a different kind.

So, I need to clean the house. That’s for the house sitter or whoever takes care of the pets, picks up the mail, etc. Heaven help me if they have to experience the level of mess I overlook in my day-to-day living. I need to make sure I have my long list of what to stick in the car updated. When I drive, I pack for most every emergency, so there are first aid kits, flashlights, snacks and water, radios…not to mention clothes, maps (well, iPad), etc. I’ve learned to take a power strip to plug in all my electronics.

I’m taking another trip this fall by plane, so the packing will be very different, especially with the weight rules. To see the difference in travel packing, I always think of the time my in-laws traveled by car to see us. They were going to stop along the way, so they had fishing poles and tackle boxes, lots of bags, and coolers. On the way, they had a wreck that totaled their car and put them in the hospital. When they recovered, they flew home and my husband went with them. This was way back in the 90s, before all the travel restrictions we have today. He had to wrestle them (in wheelchairs) along with all of their car gear through the airports…a nightmare at the least. In spite of it, we treasured the mental picture of him getting them home along with his version of the trip. I still smile as I remember him telling me.

As you can see, I’m not cleaning the house or packing…I’m writing. That’s another thing…as organized as I am, as much reading and researching as I’ve done to make sure to not miss anything of interest on the trip, I’m still procrastinating on getting life at home ship-shape. Oh well, I know I’ll get everything on my list checked off…even if it’s midnight the night before I leave. It all gets done somehow…or not. And, it’s all ok.


It’s been a long time since Aunt Polly said to Tom Sawyer, “Well, go ‘long and play; but mind you get back some time in a week, or I’ll tan you.” I was thinking of the changes in the freedom children used to have and how cautious parents must be today. What I realized is that there always have been perils for children and there always will be.


A friend of mine says his grandfather remembered running away from an orphanage in Texas with his older brother at the fence telling him to keep running. He was 6 years old and was on his own from then on. That was in the late 19th century and there were many dangers for a young child, from natural dangers to human ones, but he survived to a ripe old age.

My grandparents were raised in small towns or on farms where they had the run of the place. My grandfather wondered around town because everyone knew who he was and watched out for him. I know parents have always worried about what would happen to their children, but they used to be able to let them stretch their wings and explore.

My father spent many years in the same small town his parents grew up in and played with his brother and sister and cousins. The Ohio River ran right by the town, but none of them ever drowned in it. There were few cars, but I guess you had to watch out for buggies and horses, too. They probably knew who the creepy people in town were and stayed away from them. There have been sick minds since man was created, so we didn’t invent perverted behavior in this century. I can picture these kids running around that small town with all the freedom in the world, as long as they didn’t get into trouble, which meant damaging property or bothering someone.

J.C. Hamilton, Robert?, Ed & Sara Hamilton

In 1909, Bud and Temple Abernathy, the Abernathy Boys, rode horses alone from Frederick, Oklahoma (barely a state then) to Santa Fe, New Mexico. They were nine and five years old. Alone! Of course, their father was “Catch-’em-alive Jack” Abernathy, a US Marshall whose reputation as a marshall, a hunter and a cowboy helped save them from Indians and crooks they met along the way. Still, they had to cross a lot of land with the dangers of wild animals and the terrain. After that trip, they rode from Frederick to New York City and drove a car back (when there was only 150 miles of highway in the entire country). They did it alone and they were only ten and six! Even then, that was quite a big deal and they became national celebrities. Can you imagine any kids that age being able to do something like that today? Kids should read “Bud & Me” to at least be able to know that those kind of experiences once existed.


I grew up in the city, in the suburbs. We walked everywhere and I don’t remember too many restrictions. We had to watch for cars, but we were allowed to explore and walk to our friends’ houses blocks away. The biggest dangers were falling off your bike (we had no helmets) or jumping out of a tree. I’m sure there were cautions from our mothers, but we just went out and did what we did. If there was an accident, we went home and our mothers put a bandaid or iodine on it. Most, maybe all, of my friends’ mothers were at home and the neighbors all knew who we were, so there was a safety in that. As we got older, we moved where there was a creek behind the neighbors’ houses and we played in that, especially when the water was rising. We played on construction sites, we played with matches, we played after dark and we snuck out to play in the moonlight. We got scratched and banged up from time to time, but that was just part of it.

When I was a teenager, we drove everywhere. There were no cell phones or GPS, so our parents just had to trust us to get home safely. We explored all parts of the city and did crazy stupid things. We weren’t always smart, but we learned how to use our freedom the best we could. I’m sure my parents worried some, but they let us experience what was out there and find our own limits. We were lucky in that drugs weren’t common until I was in college and the worst that happened was that kids got into their parents liquor or drank too many beers.

By the time my children were growing up, it was a little scarier. There were so many more cars and we had television to tell us of kidnappings and other evil things. Some mothers were working and there wasn’t always the safety of knowing that there were other moms to let you know what was going on. We had creeks by both of the houses my kids grew up in and they played around them. I didn’t know until they were much older that they used to follow the creek all the way to the busy street and under the street to the other side. There were snakes and critters and all kinds of exciting things in the creek, but it didn’t bother me. That was part of childhood. I did caution them when we had a big rain and the creek rose and could have carried them away, but I’m sure they watched that rushing water with the same fascination I did. They also were free to walk around the neighborhood as long as I knew where they were headed. There were a lot of other kids around.

When my children were teens, insurance rates were rising for their age group for drivers, drugs were more common and alcohol was a bigger factor. City-wide curfews were coming into being and kids had to move from place to place to gather when they were out. The fun was getting harder to find.

Now, I’ve watched my grandkids grow up playing mostly inside with television and video games. They ride their bikes, but not with the same freedoms we enjoyed when we could ride for miles alone. There is the fear of having the bikes stolen, the heavier traffic, the crazies we all know are out there. It’s just not as safe as it used to be. They don’t ride to the park for a quick game of ball or to climb rocks or explore creeks or make new friends in random places. They have helmets and padding and cell phones to check in and every protection there can be. It’s dangerous out there.

Today, it’s all organized for kids with parents swarming over everything they do. I’m not saying they’re over-protected, because I’m well aware of the dangers. I just don’t know how far we have come. We’ve conquered many of the childhood diseases that killed so many in the past, but we’ve taken away the ability to explore and learn what you can do by yourself. There’s a certain pride in knowing that you’re able to walk to the store by yourself or ride your bike to a far away place and return without anyone helping you. You gain confidence in your own abilities and skills.

This weekend, I watched a news story on the new plague of heroin users among our teens across the country. Heroin in the suburbs. What can you say?

Sigh…I guess we can’t go backwards. I wish I had answers other than turning back the clock. How can we find ways to let our kids be kids and explore this world safely? Something to think about…

Some friends and I were talking today about how we’ve reached the age when we’re really interested in our ancestry. Not that we weren’t before, but we probably just didn’t have the time to do the research and find the stories. And one of the things we all agreed was that we wish we’d asked our parents and grandparents more questions, learned more about them in the days before they knew us.

There was a day when I asked my mother about her grandmother and she started telling me the most interesting stories. I went home & came back with a recorder a few days later and had her repeat them, not knowing about the recorder. She sat at her desk illustrating her memories for me to explain things I wasn’t familiar with. That recording is a treasure, my mother talking and me asking the questions. Why didn’t I do more of that? How did I miss asking my grandparents and my father and my in-laws things that I wonder about now.

In this age of technological advances that change so quickly we can’t keep up, it’s amazing how little we had when I was growing up and how much I’ve seen in my lifetime. They were watching the changes, too. What did they think?

Here are five questions I wish I’d asked. I know there are more, but here are my first five good ones!

1. What did you do during the war? My father was a Lt Colonel in the Army Air Force in World War II and received the Distinguished Flying Cross. Why didn’t I ask him more about what his time overseas was like? My grandmother worked in a parachute factory. What was that like? My grandparents sent three sons and a son-in-law to serve and their youngest son didn’t come back. Why didn’t I ask more questions?

Here’s my father during the war…

Scan 28

He told me some stories, but not all.

2. What did you do for fun when you were young? Who were your friends? What did you play with? Where did you go when you were young adults? They didn’t have electronic games or television…what did they do?

Who is my grandmother’s friend in this photo?

Artie Holt West (right) & friend

What kind of lodge was my grandfather in?

Ben West lodge group (2)

Here’s my other grandfather’s fraternity picture…

Scan 49

3. What kind of work did you do or what did your parents and grandparents do? Or maybe, what was your first or favorite job? I know one great-grandfather ran a mill on the Ohio River and another one was a farmer and another one ran a wagon yard in Ardmore. One of my grandfathers worked for the telephone company on the wires when that was a new thing. What did the women do? One grandmother ran a neighborhood grocery store and rooming houses.

4. What was your house like growing up? How big, how many rooms, how were they furnished? That sounds so simple, but I know it was so different from the way we live our lives today. The way I grew up is different from my parents. I can remember our first dishwasher, clothes washer and dryer, television set, air conditioner. Our homes are so much more complicated today.IMG_3731


5. What were your dreams? I don’t know if they did as they were expected to and dropped their dreams behind them and found new ones or what they expected out of their lives.

It’s universal among my friends that we wish we’d asked more. We’re getting to the age where our children and grandchildren should start asking us. One of the problems is we think our life isn’t that interesting. We need to get over that and just remember and share. All of us have interesting stories…all of us.