Friday, January 19, 2018

Cemetery Tales - Star Gap/Acre Field Cemetery

It was 2001 and my first trip to Mountain City, TN.  I was staying over in Ashe Co., NC with a Dollar cousin who loaned me her Ford Explorer.  She didn't want me taking the back road over and wanted me to drive through Boone, NC to get to Johnson Co., TN.  It was funny to me because I had driven more than my share of back roads...but she didn't know it.  I have to admit it was one of my favorite genealogy adventures.

Knowing that the my first stop should be the library, I wandered around the town streets of Mountain City.  I had a general idea of where the library was and this wasn't a big town.  I parked the car and walked into the library, set my stuff down and began to look around some of the books.  I picked a few up and walked back to the table.  Across from me was another woman looking through her own books...and naturally we started a conversation.  We began talking about the family lines that we were looking at (this is a great conversation starter for anyone research genealogy).  She told me her families and I told her mine...and when I mentioned Dollar and Friddle - she told me that I needed to contact Carmen Johnson.  I looked at her and pretty much said "That wouldn't be I am Carmen Johnson."  She then told me her "handle" on the Johnson Co., TN newslist (Back in 2001 - genealogy information availability on the internet and email contact was still in its infancy.  Genealogy newslists were a great way to make contact and get information.) and I immediately recognized her.  I didn't know her real name because I either hadn't paid attention or she hadn't mentioned it.  I learned that her name was Jenny and ironically she lived in Spokane, WA and here we were in Johnson Co., TN sitting in a library when our home towns were only 2 hours apart.

Jenny was actually a native of Johnson Co., TN and was just visiting family.  I decided to take advantage of her knowledge of the area and asked her if she knew where the Star Gap cemetery was.  I think the answer was no...but we got directions and we were on our way.  I will never forget going to that cemetery.  We turned off the road to go to Star Gap cemetery and it was probably a little more of a back road than my Dollar cousin wanted me to travel on.  It was a narrow dirt road but to me it seemed just fine...after all it wasn't on the side of hill climbing a steep road.  This was pretty simple compared to the Idaho dirt roads I was used to.  It seemed like we had been traveling for quite a while and it seemed as if the trees were closing in on us as the road was narrow and the vegetation was thick.  While I am not worried about dirt roads...there is one thing I don't like...when another car is coming from the opposite direction.  I had to back up about 20 or 30 feet to find a spot where I could pull over and let the other car pass.  I did roll down the window and ask how much further we need to go and was advised that it was in another few hundred feet.  It was really rather remarkable...we traveled on this narrow road surrounded by trees and it suddenly opened up in rather lovely meadow with a cemetery just off to the left.  We got out and walked around the cemetery and while I found a lot of familiar names, I didn't find the gravestone I was looking for which was my great grandmother's little brother, Charles Frederick Dollar.  I should have looked further because it was there - see FAG # 74609427 .

Bessie Friddles Cress - Phillipi Cemetery, Johnson Co., TN
Jenny and I then made our way to the Phllipi Cemetery where I was able to find my great grandfather's niece and her husband's grave quite easily (See above).  It was right along the road.  I think Jenny even remembered her.  I have at some point visited with her daughter.  She told me that when she was a baby, my great grandmother have traveled back to Tennessee and had stopped by to see her mother.  The cousin (Lois) was a baby at the time or at least quite young.  Lois said that her parents didn't have a lot of money and she was mostly dressed in hand-me-down clothes.  My great grandmother, knowing this, went and bought a few outfits to take along on her visit for the little girl.  I think Lois told me that they were still in her cedar chest and had always been treasured.  Just goes to show that one person's simple act of kindness can be remembered for a lifetime.

Moses Friddles - Hawkins Cemetery, Johnson Co., TN
We then attempted to find the cemetery where my great great grandfather was buried.  It was located at Hawkins Cemetery.  I know from what my Dollar cousin said that it was quite a trek to get there and was located across a field full of cows.  She had already gotten a picture (see above) Jenny and I never quite got that far...after a lot of driving we decided to give up as we couldn't find it and Jenny and I both had to make our way back to our respective "temporary" homes.

That few hours was over 16 years ago.  Neither one of us has ever forgotten that day and we never hesitate to remind each other of our adventure.  Life may never give us the opportunity to spend any other time together (I hope that isn't the case) but neither one will ever forget that meeting.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Cousin Lowell

I received word last night that a cousin had passed away January 8, 2018.  I first “met” Lowell Johnson on the phone almost 20 years ago.  Back then we were using Family Tree Maker for our genealogy program and they had CD’s that what they called “World Family Tree” which was a collection of family trees that were shared by other members.  I found Lowell’s tree and was quite pleased to find a lot of similar information to my own.  This might seem shocking today, but they these files had the users’s name, address, and phone number on them.  I waited until after five o’clock (we did that then; long distance rates were cheaper) and called Lowell.  I still remember his deep voice as he answered the phone.  I explained who I was and who my parents and grandparents were.  We had quite a close connection as my great grandfather and his grandfather were brothers. 

My mother had gotten most of our information on the Johnson family on a long-ago conversation with my grandfather.  He had been pleased to share what he knew of his famly history.  I am not sure he thought there wasn’t anything terribly interesting about his family and he relayed much of the information that Lowell had, including an “unknown Johnson” who had married Nancy Mayfield.  It was just a few months before I made that phone call that a fellow researcher had sent to my mother the name of that “Unknown Johnson” …Moses Johnson.  I was delighted to spring that little piece of information on him and he was very happy to have that name.

Grace & Marian holding their sons
Lowell and Eugene - 1940.
During the next several years, emails and many phone conversations, we got a chance to know Lowell and his wife, Bonnie very well as fellow researchers.  We also found out that we had a lovely picture of my Dad and Lowell as babies being held by their mothers.  Lowell was three weeks older than Dad and was the closest in age to Dad of any of his cousins.  We also found out that Lowell had a bad heart.

In 2004, we decided that we wanted to go to North Dakota and meet a few of these cousins that we had met through phone and email.  We met up with some cousins from my Dad’s mother’s family (Pope) in Washburn, ND and then we traveled to the small town of Wahpeton to meet Lowell and Bonnie.  This was a big trip for my Mom.  She had had a lobe of her lung removed the previous year for lung cancer and was still on Oxygen.  Going over the continental divide was a bit hard on her as they had to turn up her Oxygen and Mom and Dad had to make arrangements along the way to fill her Oxygen tank.  Mom was determined to make the trip, and I am so glad she did.  Since they had to take more time than I did, I drove over a few days later to meet them.  The whole trip was so much fun for us as we were learning so much about Dad’s family and I am sure my Grandpa Frank was smiling down.  We then went over to Wahpeton and we finally got to meet Lowell and Bonnie.  Lowell had been outfitted with an LVAD (left-ventricular assist device).  Essentially Lowell was walking around with battery pack on his back to keep his heart going while waiting for a heart transplant.  For several hours, we set there sharing pictures and stories.  Mom with her Oxygen tank and Lowell with his battery pack.  We then went to dinner and shared a lovely meal. There was a bond between my Dad and Lowell and a definite family likeness. 
Dad and Lowell - 2004

Dad & Lowell - 2012

Several months later around Christmas, we learned that Lowell had gotten his heart transplant.  What wonderful news!  We lost Mom the next year (26 Dec 2005) to lung cancer.  Dad made another trip back to North Dakota on his own and he and I went back in 2012.  Dad and his girlfriend also saw them a few years ago.  In all this time, Lowell did very well.  His new heart had given him the gift of years.  Lowell still had health problems…but he and Bonnie were able to enjoy a little over 13 more years together.  Lowell was able to enjoy his children and his grandchildren.  He had been living on borrowed time for so many years, and when he received the gift of a new heart, he went about living to the best he could.

I will always be grateful to the family who donated their loved one’s organs.  They gave Lowell and his family the gift of life and time which is priceless.  I am so grateful that I and my parents had a chance to get to know the lovely man that was my cousin.