Saturday, October 11, 2008

Nothing But Horse Thieves and Farmers!

"Jimmy" and Sylvia Evans on the front porch of their home.

If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton,
you may as well make it dance.”

~George Bernard Shaw

I was always a sickly child, the one to catch every cold, flu, and childhood illness that passed through the classroom. Yet, it wasn’t until the early 1970’s that I was diagnosed with asthma. How that pronouncement vexed my poor Mama! The diagnosis was simply more than she could abide, the camel’s back had broken. Over taxed with concern for my lungs, Mama often sent me away from our home in smoggy Louisville to the fresh air of rural Bardstown, where I could visit my grandmother. Unfailingly gracious, Grandma never failed to welcome me in when Mama couldn’t cope. It was during these visits that I grew to know Grandma as “a real person.” Intuitively, Grandma nursed my rejected spirit every bit as gently as she nursed as my ailing lungs.

When the day grew hot, Grandma would take a break from her gardening or cooking to sit and tell me of her latest discoveries. She’d recently been bitten by the genealogy bug and was absolutely brimming over with names and dates. I just thrived on Grandma’s stories of the past, and while I didn’t always understand just who she was talking about, I never tired of hearing the family lore.

One sultry afternoon, the family gathered to enjoy the cool shade of the wide front porch. Aunt Pam, only five years my elder, and I sat sunning our bare legs as Grandma finished telling another family tale. Grandpa, further back into the shade, was silently rocking, savoring a tall glass of Grandma’s sweet tea. Looking up toward him, his dark head silhouetted against the brilliant blue sky, I innocently asked why he never spoke of his side of the family. Grandpa rose up from the swing. Towering menacingly above me he thundered, “You don’t wanna know about them! They weren’t nothing but horse thieves and farmers!”

I was stunned into silence. While I knew better than to pester my Grandfather further, I also knew that I wanted to learn more about these forbidden relatives!

Live your questions now,
and perhaps even without knowing it,
you will live along some distant day into your answers.”

~Rainer Maria Rilke

How could a little girl ignore such an ominous comment? Grandpa’s terse statement planted seeds of curiosity. My fertile imagination bloomed with images of rowdy young farm boys making off on sleek through bred race horses. Where did the boys go on their joy ride? What punishments did they face when they were caught? What became of the poor horses? These unanswered questions of childhood have permanently altered the course of my life.

I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”

~ Albert Einstein


Dan Dutton said...

Hoorah for Climbing the Family Tree! Mary Beth, I'm so honored to have played any small part in encouraging you to share your stories with all of us.

I once listened to a man explain a painting I'd done, of John Henry, to an impromtu gathered round group of hotel staff (no one there knew that I had painted it.) - he spoke eloquently of how the image spoke of the struggle of African Americans for freedom, and the strength that grew out of the struggle. Afterwards I thanked him, and told him how mortified and out-of-my league I felt in daring to approach John Henry's story, given the history of racial divide in our country. He replied; "It's the fear of sharing our stories that keeps us apart."

So here's to telling all we can muster the courage to tell! I'm looking forward to following your blog!


Mary Beth said...

Thank you Dan. Your generous words of support embolden me to continue with this task of telling.

Please do follow the blog. Perhaps some of my research will be helpful in your “You’ll Always Come Back” project.

Dan Dutton said...

Thanks Mary Beth, I'm sure that the work you've done will ease the way for me, and many others, who have an interest in this period of history.

If you haven't already read it, I recommend "Slavery and Freedom on the Middle Ground; Maryland during the Nineteenth Century by Barbara Jeanne Fields. Although her history is mainly concerned with Maryland, there are so many similarities and comparisons with the so called "border state" situation in Kentucky that, for me at least, reading it has been very enlightening.

I recommend it for another reason - of all the books I've encountered about the Civil War, Ms. Fields is the best written - the ONLY one that I would have read for its excellence even if I hadn't needed information about this subject.