I think it started with the clock. Maybe she was trying to connect to me sooner, but until I began a cleaning ritual the other day with the coming of the cooler fall weather, I wasn't listening. Likely it's a ritual she herself participated in back in the day when she was more than spirit and had a body concerned with earthly things.
My cleaning ritual actually started with another seasonal ritual I have developed over the years that keeps me connected to my ancestors. I enjoy changing out seasonal things in my home. Some main items that I change include salt and pepper shaker sets from my collection once a part of my grandmother's collection. Many of them have seasonal themes. But it is actually my great-grandmother who seems to be reaching out to me right now.
I have an old cabinet that holds my sets. At one time I counted over seventy of them, but I have more now since I've continued to collect over the years. The old cabinet actually belonged to my friend's grandmother which connects me to the history of the area where I live also. On top of the cabinet sits an old clock.
I've had the clock for probably fifteen years at least. My father passed it to me probably the first or second year he came to visit after I moved into this house twenty years ago this December. That along with some other furniture that he had from his father's house. There was a chifferobe and dresser that was part of the bedroom furniture that was in my grandfather's bedroom. Before he died, my grandfather told me the bedroom set was a wedding gift to his parents when they were married in 1885. My father also brought up a rocking chair from my grandfather's house. The chair may have also been in his bedroom though I can't be sure. I don't recall the chair from all the times I visited my grandfather's house growing up. Maybe the clock was also in my grandfather's room but I also don't remember it. My father had someone take a look at the clock once for more information. It was manufactured by the New Haven clock company and popular in the 1880s-1890s.
I have moved the clock around to a few places in my house but mainly it's been on top of one piece of furniture or another and not often thought of. I took pictures a few years ago to go with a family story I wrote on this blog but that's about all. My dad told me the clock had been rescued from a fire; the photos I took shows the evidence of that.
This year in my cleaning mode, I took the old clock down from the cabinet and began cleaning it in earnest. I used spray furniture polish both inside and out. I never noticed that the winding key was still inside. I did note the mark on the glass where my father had taped it shut in transit as the latch is no longer working or missing. I cleaned the glass face a little also which has a floral pattern along the bottom edges painted on the inside. I discovered the clock face has a patented date of February 1879.
I believe the clock also may have been a piece originally owned by my grandfather's parents. Perhaps it was a wedding gift as well. They were married on a Wednesday just after the new year, January 7th to be exact. She was eighteen; he was twenty-five. They were married by a justice of the peace at a neighbor's house, Mrs. Mary Duiguid's, in the small town of Sinking Fork, Kentucky. I think they began housekeeping immediately. Their firstborn son came along eleven months later on December 1st and as is typical of time and place, she gave birth roughly every two years for the next twenty. Her last child, also a son, arrived in January of 1905, when she was 38. In total she delivered nine healthy children who all survived to adulthood; four sons and five daughters. My grandfather was her seventh child, born the day after her 33rd birthday.
She was an orphan according to my grandfather and raised by the Davenport family. I learned a little more about her in later research. Her mother died before she was five. Her father died just days after she turned nine. She had a stepmother and two half-siblings who were just two and one years old when their father died.
My grandfather had this to say about her: “My mother had black hair when she was younger. Her father may have been part Indian. She was a kind woman who never let her kids talk bad about anyone. She would stay up for us kids all the time. She'd be up reading. She read everything she could get her hands on. Fannie Thompson, my aunt, died of measles. Her baby girl had it, too and died. My momma took the baby for a while but she died. She took care of sick people. I guess that's how she got sick and died.” He did not tell me what his father was like. The only known photo of his father was taken when he was older and for some reason, he insisted on a scowl for the photographer.
My grandfather would have been about ten years old when his mother took part in the big baptizing in August of 1910 at the Sinking Fork Christian Church. She was 43 at the time. A couple of her daughters also joined the church then.
She watched all of her children grow and most of them married. She even had the chance to see four grandchildren born, although two died in early infancy. In October of 1925, shortly before her 59th birthday, her husband died. He had pneumonia and asthma. My grandfather described the circumstances of his father's death but did not talk about his mother's death. “I believe Doc Baker killed my daddy, gave him quinine,” he said. “I was living in Churchill at the time and came by to see him. The doctor was just leaving and I asked him how he was doing and he said, 'fine.' My sister Zeffie fed him his dinner and he was dead by 8 o'clock that night.” The next month, the family lost their mother who died of pulmonary tuberculosis. She was born not far from where she died, about a year after the civil war ended. Her maternal grandmother was still living at least until she was about 15. She may even have been named for that grandmother's father, Oliver Bryant McCraw. She used Oliver's middle name for my grandfather's middle name as well.
My grandfather said he bought his daddy's property, 163 acres, from the other siblings and later his Uncle George deeded him his property “even though I didn't want it.” He described his parents' house as a two-story log house with a big room downstairs (my notes give a dimension of 18 feet square) and then the kitchen/dining room. There was a closet door to a winding stairway for access to the two rooms upstairs. He said the kitchen was built away from the house originally. There was a fireplace upstairs but they never built a fire up there; his father was afraid of fire. “I built me a house and tore it down,” my grandfather explained. It would have been this house where the furniture and clock came from.
Since then I have thought constantly about her and what her life must have been like. I combed through and gathered what photographic evidence I have which is not a whole lot. When I shared them with a friend recently, he kindly colorized them. The first one startled me as the coloring made the picture come to life. Looking into her eyes, she became more real. Her eyes are kind indeed and remind me of my grandfather's eyes.
With my great grandfather's scowl in the only photograph I have of him, I wondered what kind of man he might have been. At the same time, I recalled the story my grandfather told of how his father bought him a used fiddle for $10 when he was about fifteen which he played nearly all his life. When he finally passed it to his son, he said it felt like parting with a member of his own family. Despite any of my great-grandfather's potential shortcomings, with these reminders, I felt my great-grandmother was telling me that no matter what, all parents love their children and I will leave it at that.
Stories like these are what helps connect generations and I leave this story here for others; publishing it ironically on her very birthday. What else, grandmother Ollie, do you want to tell us?
|Tombstone of John W. and Ollie Watts, Riverside Cemetery, Hopkinsville, KY|
The rest of the colorized photographs with special thanks to Scott Janicki: