Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Nostalgia

Here's a poem from Ed that definitely captures the spirit of Christmases past much better than my little blog of yesterday.  Leave it to my younger brother to show me up!

Christmas Nostalgia

Memories pour down
Like December’s rain
Nostalgia fills me

 Until I am carried away
With a flood of emotions
I abstain control

Letting them run free
Like a swollen river
Redefining its course

Intrigued to see
What this intangible force
Can unearth

Possibly death
Decaying bones
Or perhaps treasure
It’s all a risk

Lights cover the Christmas tree
Their twinkling becomes
A hypnotic focus

As I travel back
Like Dicken’s Scrooge
With Ghost of Christmas Past

Music fills the home
45’s on a gray fold out player
Belt out scratchy Christmas songs
Crosby, Ives & Nat King Cole

Brothers, sisters and parents
Bustle about
Wrapping presents
For each family member

Gifts purchased
With pennies saved
From money earned
Throughout the year

It is not the amount spent
That matters
But the price paid
And sacrifice is the sum

So the presents mound up
Their numbers multiplying
Until the floor is covered
With boxes of charity

Ave Maria plays
And I am transported
To midnight Mass

Veiled women
And suited men
Pack the Mission Cathedral

Christmas hymns sung
Latin liturgy choreographed
The heat of human bodies
Makes one sweat

Or is it the ritual of the Eucharist
And the narrow escape
Of Alter Boy conscription

Pungent Incense
Rises from a laver
Swung on gold chain

As the Robed procession
With pomp and circumstance
Exits like royalty
And so do I

My paper route awaits
The Business world
Stops for nothing
Only manna is sacred
So the pedals turn
On my goose necked bike
I deliver the urgent news
Of after Christmas sales

With songs and Liturgy
Fresh in mind
I am alive
Under star filled skies

Like the shepherds
Tending flocks
I hear the angels Chorus
And am filled

With gifts
Of hope
And transcendence

Time Blurs
Nostalgia fades
I return to Christmas present

The rain still falls
But now from my eyes
I abstain from controlling it

Ed Northen

Monday, December 23, 2013


 Last weekend, I was reading an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer when I came across a sentence mentioning that a number of years back tinsel, as it had originally been manufactured, had been taken off of the market because it contained lead.  What struck me immediately was not the part about the lead but how many years it had been since I had actually strung tinsel on a Christmas tree. One of the few things that I remember about Christmas time as a child was how we all hung tinsel on the tree.  The tinsel of youth was not plastic-y, but had a very metallic feel to it. It would easily tangle and usually when you went to pull one strand out of the pack, you would have to shake it loose from all of the others so that you could place it on the tree.  There were two styles of tinsel decorators in the family – each of which reflected our personalities.  There were those who liked to grab a handful and just sort of fling it up on the tree, then there were other family members like me who wanted to hang it strand by stand so that nothing overlapped and everything hung down symmetrically.  The point about the tinsel is that it is one of the very few actual memories that I have of childhood Christmases, but even that memory I think was a cumulative result of the repetition of tinsel stringing year after year so that, like the strands of tinsel of the tree itself, it was one phenomena built up of many singular parts.

In addition to the tinsel, there are a few other things that I remember. There were large colored lights and bright bulbs.  The bulbs were delicately made and shattered easily. You could expect at least one family member to drop one so that we had to all stop until it was cleaned up and while you felt sorry for the person who dropped it, you were glad it wasn’t you.  In later years, I think we may have strung popcorn, too.  Tree decoration was always a family event, though not everyone was always there.

Every Christmas also included going to Mass on Christmas morning.  It was always tough to wait through Mass until we could come home and play with the toys. There were always Christmas carols our house, too, and for me the singing of Christmas carols is still one of the visceral experiences of the holidays.  Even when the Masses were still in Latin I loved singing the songs. 

One thing that almost everyone seems to remember from Christmas is the making of Christmas cookies.  In Mary’s family it was always lebukuchen and pfeffernussse; in   Lora’s it was cucidatis and gigilanis (spelled wrong, not doubt) – both invoking ethnic traditions.  Our cookies were much more pedestrian. In fact, I can’t recall what they were, though I think that peanut butter and oatmeal got involved somehow.  And I think there were cutouts.  We always fudge made though, and somehow a fruitcake always showed up as well. I also remember the sticky mess that resulted one year when Mom tried to make divinity. 

During the years that we lived with my grandparents – four in all – I can not remember a Christmas tree at all, though I am sure we must have had one.  What I do remember is riding my bike to Woolworths downtown in Santa Ana to by a gift of perfume or jewelry for Mom from money that I saved up from the paper route.  Perhaps the Christmas that sticks most in my childhood memories is when I was in third grade and my brother Steve in first and we both got red bicycles.  It was the classic case of a kid getting exactly what they wanted.

Despite the stew that is my diminishing memory, there is one feeling that I recall quite clearly and that I think kids today must still feel.  That is the feeling of waking up early in the morning – 4:30 or 5- and having to lie in bed for a tortuously long time until our parents were up.  Then we would rush out high on excitement as soon as Mom or Dad would tell us it was time for us to get up and surround the tree.  This past weekend, when my grandsons Connor and Andrew came over to exchange gifts, I could relate to their antsy-ness while they waited around for the adults to finish talking. When it was finally announced that it was time to go open gifts, I was right down there with them at the Christmas tree. I still remembered how that felt and didn’t want them to have to wait.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Our Family - And Freedom of Religion

        No one who has been reading the account of our family that I’ve been posting on the Northen history blog could accuse the Northen’s of being an overly religious family. At least two member were either hauled into court or kicked out of their congregations for failure to attend church. Against the background of this religious indifference, I was surprised to learn that Edmund Northern, the first of our ancestors to actually be born in this country was involved in trying to advocate for a modest freedom of religion.
        Unlike the Puritans in Massachusetts or the Quakers in Pennsylvania, the English who settled Virginia came strictly for the money.  Some thought they would get rich and then hit the road back to England while others saw that there was a great opportunity to become a land owner and build up their wealth that way. Despite not being religious-minded, all of the who were allowed to come to Virginia had to pledge their allegiance to the Church of England (the Anglican Church), and attendance at services was mandatory.
When William and Mary came to the thrown in 1689, the Acts of Toleration were enacted and ten years later the word about them finally reached Virginia.
        This did not mean that people living in Virginia automatically began the church of any religion they wanted to. Church attendance was still mandatory and the Anglican church was the only game in town.  Those wanting to build a new church had to apply to the governor for a permit.  The first religion to challenge this rule was Presbyterianism.  The Presbyterian Church was the official Church of Scotland and was brought into Virginia through Scottish merchants.   In many ways it was like the Church of England.
Records show that in the year 1724 a group of five prominent men from Richmond County Virginia made a request to be able to have a Presbyterian church.  The request to their request reads  “The petition of Richard Branham Gentlemen Robert Phillips, John Brown Edmund Northern, William Waker and Thomas Smith for the liberty of a Prsbiterian meeting house, is continued till next court to be considered.” When the next court date came, their petition was push back. This was repeated several times. At last action was taken and the decision was expressed in these words: “Petition being this day taken into consideration.  It is the opinion of this Court that the petition doth not lye before them, and do therefore reject the same.” In other words, their request to build the church was denied. Even so, it is interesting to think that one of our ancestors was involved.
      Several years later, one county over in Northumberland County, a second request was made for the right to build a Presbyterian Church.  It was to be built on the land of a man named Joshua Nelms.  That request, too, was denied, but it is interesting to note that some time later, Sarah Northern – Edmund’s daughter married Joshua Nelms.  They eventually moved to Frederick County, Virginia which at that time was at the edge of the American frontier. Because it was a much less “civilized” area, people were left more alone to practice religion as they pleased.  It was hardly freedom of religion in our sense of the word, since Catholics and Jews were really not welcome, but at least it was a beginning.

(The Northen History blog that I referred to in the first paragraph is a private blog limited to family members.  If anyone is interested in reading more about the family and would like to access it, just go to www.northenhistory.wordpress.com.  You’ll get a note saying that you need permission in, but then I’ll just approve it and you will be able to put in your password and access the blog.)

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Kaleidoscope Goes Digital

Perhaps, it was inevitable – the country’s oldest magazine of disability literature and art is going digital.  As of January, Kaleidoscope will no longer publish in hard copy.  The magazine that for 30 years has given writers with disabilities the opportunity to see their work arrive in an envelope in the mailbox or see it sitting among the periodicals on a library periodical shelf will now, like its companion periodicals, Breath and Shadow and Wordgathering, be completely online.  To those for whom publication means having something concrete to hold in their hands, this is likely to feel like a loss, but in another sense it is likely to be a boon in disguise.  From their new venue at www.KaleidoscopeOnline.org, the work of the writers and artists it features, will hit a much larger audience.  Gail Willmott, the journal’s editor, has widely kept access to the magazine free on line – subscriptions were $12 a year – making it its contents available not just to search engines but to links in Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and other sites.  It also resolves problems for visually impaired or blind readers who, unable to read a traditional print journal, will now be able to access it through screen readers. 

Kaleidoscope holds an important place in disability literature, being among the first to publish writers like Anne Finger and John Hockenberry, who are now well established. It was also through Kaleidoscope magazine that a call for poetry was put out that resulted in the publication of Towards Solomon’s Mountain in 1986, the first volume of poetry made up entirely of the work of writers with disabilities.  Let’s hope the new twenty-first century incarnation of Kaleidoscope proves just as rewarding.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Northen Family History Blog

As some of you know, for the past few years I have been doing quite a bit of research on the Northen family (both sides).  It's been true detective work with many missing pieces and false or conflicting clues.  Since there is likely to be no definitive end to it and parts of the puzzle are forever lost, I'm going ahead and beginning to write up what I have found, as some of you have urged me to do.  The way that I will do this to start on my father's father's side, beginning with the most distant member of the family that I know about with the last name of Northen and work my way forward.  To do this I am going to create a new blog on Wordpress, dedicated strictly to the family history. It will be called NorthenHistory and each post will be dedicated to a different relative.  Some will be longer and some quite short depending upon the life and times of the individual..  I am going to keep the blog private, so if you are interested in reading it, please let me know and I will send you an invitation.  I can only send out ten, but doubt I'll have more than ten interested readers, so please let me know if you'd like to be included.  You can either post a comment below, email me at emmlp@aol.com or let me know via my post of Facebook.  As soon as I hear from a few of you, I will get started.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

We Came from a Donkey and a Goat

            Whenever we talk about family history, Lora loves repeating that while the Northen side of the family may be able to trace itself back to royalty, her side goes back to a donkey and a goat.  This weekend in Buffalo, she got some insight into that theory.
One of the highlights of our trip to Buffalo over the weekend was a visit to Lora’s Aunt Lucy who is now living in an assisted residence in Kenmore.  I’ve always enjoyed Aunt Lucy.  Whenever I have seen her in the past, she has come across as a very positive, youthful person.  In June she had to have surgery in which a large portion of her colon was removed and she was given a colostomy bag.  While she was recovering in the hospital, her husband (Uncle Joe) suffered a stroke himself and died.  He had been told that when Aunt Lucy got out, they’d have to move to assisted living.  If you knew Uncle Joe – ‘nuff said.
            This was the backdrop to the visit that Lora, her brother Mike, Bev and I  made to see Aunt Lucy, so we did not know how we would find her when we visited her in her new surroundings.  Though the assisted living complex has the vague nursing home feel of all senior citizen complexes when you initially walk in, her room itself was light and airy and, once in, there was no sense that she was in a residential facility at all.  Aunt Lucy was actually quite glad to see us and insisted on giving us ginger ale and chocolate candy.  Though she seemed older and a bit weaker she was actually in good spirits and seemed to have had no cognitive losses from her so-far terrible summer at all.  Mike prompted her with a couple of questions about the family and she gave some background about her own father, Joseph (Giuseppe) Albanese, who is also Lora and Mike’s grandfather. While much accorded with what we knew, there were some surprises.
          Everyone knew that Joseph Albanese had been in an orphanage in Palermo but was not sure how he had gotten there.  According to Aunt Lucy, he had actually been born in CĂ©falu but raised in Temini.  His mother died when he was young, within a few years of his birth.  His father remarried and he had a half-sister Mamie, but the second wife  may have died as well.  I’m not clear about that.  One of the things that he did when he was young was to take vegetables from his neighbors in Termini into Palermo by way of donkey and sell them.  Then he would bring the money back to them in Termini when done. When he was still fairly young, his father was kicked in the head by a donkey and died as a result of the injuries.  That is when Joseph was placed in the orphanage in Palermo.  It was a seminary orphanage and apparently he did not care for it too much and tried to run away with a friend several times, but then would always get hungry and come back.  Because it was a seminary orphanage, at the age of sixteen he either had to make a decision to become a priest or else leave the orphanage.  He chose to leave.
           His trip over to the United States was sponsored by his Uncle, also named Joseph, who lived in Mt. Morris, New York.  Aunt Lucy says that he barely brought anything with him except a change of close, but Lora says that he came over with a trunk that is now in Eli’s possession.  While in Mt. Morris, Lora’s grandfather (i.e. Aunt Lucy’s father) had several jobs including doing shoe shining and repair. Aunt Lucy says that in her old home she still has the shoe kit.  [As an aside, According to Aunt Lucy one of the Albanese family, named Dominic Albanese, who was a barber, was also the mayor of Mt. Morris. Bev says she has tried to confirm this but cannot.]  Joseph gradually made his way over to Lake Erie.  Lora has always said it was because he loved the water so much, having lived in Palermo, and needed to be near it.  First he lived in Dunkirk and eventually moved up to Buffalo.
            Mike asked Aunt Lucy how his grandparents were met.  It was pretty basic.  There was a man, named Russ, I think who was known as the singing butcher.  Her was Joseph’s paisan, meaning, according to Aunt Lucy, that he came from the same neighborhood in Sicily as Joseph.  One day he was hanging around a store – perhaps the butcher shop – and noticed Lena Varco.  He was attracted to her and asked to be introduced.  That was pretty much it.  Early in their marriage they lived on Trenton St. in on the lower west side of Buffalo, an area basically considered an Italian ghetto. Aunt Lucy said the address was 111. (I think.)  We drove by to see it, but the house –as Mike already suspected – was no longer there.  The area itself looks quite depressed.  Later they moved to Niagara St. and the house where Lora was born.  That house is still there.  Mike told us that one day when he was in the neighborhood with a community outreach project that he saw people sitting on the porch and, when he explained that he had lived in the house at one time, invited him to come in.  He said much of it still looks the same as he remembered it.
            I know that I have left out a number of detail, and perhaps have gotten some of the things Aunt Lucy told us backward, but it was a really memorable visit.  Aunt Lucy obviously enjoyed it too because when someone poked their head in the door to tell her it was five thirty and dinner was being served, she merely looked at us and said that she would be able to get something to eat later. At least now we know that there is indeed a donkey in the Ventura family story.  Lora says that we just needs to find out where the goat comes in.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Road Trip Into History - Part 4

My Northern Neck odyssey had proven as successful as I could have hoped for so far in the discovered of the burial spot of my grandparents.  I’d honestly expected to find a small overgrown cemetery with broken, illegible stones, so even  it would have been wonderful the original graves, at least I’d solved what had been a family mystery for those Northens who were not raised in the area.  My next destination was vaguer. Specifically, it was Bogey Neck road, the Northern clan area and the place where my contact James and the rest of the family had met Dad when he came back to his birth place in 1987.  I can remember coming down to pick him and Mom up in the sweltering heat with Eli and Maya in our little non-air-conditioned Hyundai, the cornfields bone dry. We had picked them up at his foster mother Leta’s house, however, and not down in the Bogey Neck region, so I had no clues other than seeing a picture of the water – presumably the Wicomico River – from Robert’s house. 
            Bogey Neck Rd. was lined with small houses, some red brick, some white clapboard, some relatively new, some quite old and faded, but none of them that looked as though it was inhabited by anyone with a large income.  I passed several dirt roads that appeared to go through woods down towards the water but they had signs posted such as “Trespass at Your Own Risk.”  At length, Bogey Neck Rd. ended at a fork of private driveways that appeared to view down to water that I could not see at the end of the neck.  There was nothing more to do. This was the first real failure, of the trip; there was nothing to do but turn around and head back down the road.  My only consolation was that at least I had been in the area, so was a tiny step closer to experiencing the area where Dad was raised.
            Before leaving Wicomico Church, I decided to look up the site of Wicomico High School.  Just as Bootsy Burgess had described it, it was about a quarter of a mile off of the main highway.  There was a new brick apartment building where the main part of the school would have been flanked by a couple of older, nice painted buildings that were now private dwellings and could possibly have been part of the school.  I took pictures just in case. 
            At this point it was already after 3 PM and the heat was increasing. I was hoping to make it back to the Northumberland County Historical Society to see what the opportunities for research were there.  On the way back, I crossed over the Wicomico River.  It was very blue and much larger than I expected.  I stopped on the bridge to take a picture.
This was the river where Dad and his brothers had earned money by crabbing when they were young.  This was the river where my Grandmother Mattie’s body had been found floating in September of 1931.   According to the Rappahannock Record, she was discovered about a mile down river from her home.  Looking across the river, I knew that one of those shores, was Bogey Neck. I wondered what it must have been like there in those days 82 years ago. 
            I arrived back at the Northumberland County Historical Society less than half an hour before closing.  A couple of people had stopped in to chew the fat and, like me, were interested in find out and talking about their backgrounds.  Not having much time, I wanted to get right to work.  The Northumberland County Historical Society puts out an annual journal –sized publications with articles about many aspects of regional history.  Rather than subject, the index was arranged according to last names and, unfortunately, there were no Northen’s/Northern index.  I did, however, spy one name I recognized, Richard Thompson.  Thompson was a member of the William Claiborne party, that in the days of Capt. John Smith, had sailed up the Chesapeake and claimed what is now Kent Island in Maryland for Virginia.  He was also one of our first ancestors on the Lewis side of the family.  When I looked up the article, the mention was of Richard Thompson’s son, Richard Jr, saying the king had granted him one of the first pieces of land in Northumberland County. (Unfortunately, it was Richard Jr’s sister we are descended from - so no land for us.)
I was given several folders with the label Northern/Northen on them. Most were information that I already had, but there was a chart and a couple of pages that added to my knowledge of relatives not directly in our line.  I asked to have a copy or two made, but given the shortage of time, even had it been new information, I would not have had the time to go through it.  What I did learn there, though, is that they have a back room with several sets of journals relating to the area history.  It could prove a wealth of information about those members of the family on the Lewis side who were active in the early days of Northumberland County and the Northern Neck.  On the next trip down, I’ll have to give myself plenty of time.
It had been a full day, to say least but even as I was riding back, my adrenalin was still going thinking of what I had been able to see for the first time and discover for myself.  About fifteen minutes past Baltimore, Eli called to ask if I could swing back by and bring Joey with me.  The dog sitter that they had lined up for the weekend had completely forgotten and made other plans.  I turned around headed back to Catonsville.  I  was actually glad for the stop.  I’d been so busy and had such limited time that other than the iced tea in Warsaw, I’d eaten only a banana and some string cheese all day.  Eli grabbed some dinner for me while I recounted some of what I been able to uncover that day.  Joey proved an agreeable companion on the way home. He didn’t mind that I loved to leave the windows open to let the warm air rush over me as I drove and rarely contradicted me when I gave my opinions of the day.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Road Trip into History - Part 3

My family research in Richmond County proved rewarding. I felt pretty good after about having found the Old Northen Homestead and the Lewis graves at Oakland church. The one area in Richmond County, other than the historical society, that disappointed me was being able to find the Old Budweiser plant which, apparently has the grave of Peter Northen (one of the more prominent  family members), or a marker about him behind it.  Around 1 PM, then, I headed down to Northumberland County. 
            I was able to find the Northumberland Historical Society and walked in.  To my surprise, upon walking in, it looked like it had a fair amount of material, with their society magazine and many other books all spread out.  There was a ten dollar fee for researching.  I was met by Bootsy Burgess whose name I recognized from Lora’s and my previous trip there.  One of the things that she showed me was a large framed wall hanging the said Wicomico High School Honor Roll.  She said it had been hanging in one of the Methodist Churches, I think, and they were going to discard it so the society took it.  I found my father’s name on it along with John’s and Roberts, but not Dad’s sister Elizabeth. 
This was strange because neither John nor Robert went much beyond elementary school, but it also verified the story that all through high school Dad's last name was spelled with a second r.  After Looking at it, I realized what it was from one of the papers in the packet of documents about my father that my mother had send many years back.  It was not an academic honor roll, but a list of those from Wicomico school who had served in a branch of the armed forces.  I was also able to find Peyton’s and Calvin’s name listed under, Army.   I asked Ms. Burgess where the Wicomico High School had stood, knowing that it no longer existed.  She described the site to me on Brown’s Store Road saying that most of the original had been torn down and now there was an apartment building.  She also confirmed that the Northen’s had lived out on Bogey Neck road and was pretty sure that John Northen had run a crab shop from there.  She also said there were two churches out on Mila Rd., but, luckily, I had an address.  She invited me to come back and do some research that day if I had time; they closed at 4 PM.
            As with my search for Oakland Church, I had my trusty Google map with me.  Eli had helped confirm this for me the night before.  Once again it was a long ways down the road.  I pulled into a short dirt road and the church looked exactly as it did in a picture I discovered on line.   The cemetery was small so even from near the front, I was able to see two large markers that said Northern.  The first graves that I found were those of my Dad’s brother John and his wife Myrtlene. I had heard that John might be buried here, but even so this was a nice surprise.  James Hoffman had told me that my grandparents markers were small, not much more than a stone and might be illegible, but it was clear that, as with the Richmond County cemeteries these markers were pretty new.  It took very little time to find a large marker that said Northern at the bottom and then on the top the names of my grandparents. 

I was both delighted and disappointed.  Delighted because I had been searching for my grandparents burial site for a long time, but disappointed because there was one generic stone and neither of the original stone.  To me there is something about each person having his or her own marker that just seems more real to me, as though I can point to the spot and say that whatever remains of that person is buried there.  A couple things interested me about the marker, though.  First, it does not take a linguist to see that the stone was placed there by Crocker and Mattie’s children and that the inscription is an anachronism.  Knowing this also shows how oral tradition, even within a generation, can change things.  First of all, according to the E. E. Northen account of the family, written when my grandfather was still attending school in Emmerton, his name was Marcellus Crocker Northen.  My grandmother’s obituary and this grave marker, however make it clear that he was known as Crocker.  This latter also gels with my own memory from childhood when my mother would say that Dad’s fathers name was Crocker Marcellus and we would laugh at what a strange names that was.  Moreover, despite the spelling on his father’s and brother’s name in Calvary Cemetery, it was spelled Northern in Northumberland County.
While I was in the cemetery an electrical truck pulled up that was supposed to do some work on the church.  I asked if they were church members and might know anything about the grave yard, but they said they were just workers there and knew nothing about the church.  I did, copy the church address and name of the minister from the sign in front for future use.  My next stop was to just drive to Bogey Neck Road, the road where apparently the Northen clan was known to have lived.  It was not far and paralleled this one, leading out to the Wicomico River.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Road Trip Into History - Part 2

     Having had luck in the first stop on my journey with the likely discovery of “The Old Northen Homestead,” my next destination was Oakland United Methodist Church.  Sometime last November, I had received an email from a woman who was doing  research for a book on the church members who were buried in the cemetery.  She had seen my family on ancestry.com and wondered if I knew anything about Robert Northern.  I told her that, in fact, he had been my father’s older brother.  She said that he was buried in the cemetery, but that no one knew much about him.  With continuing emails, I also learned that my great grandfather, John P. Lewis and his wife were also buried in the cemetery.  So that is where I was headed. 
Without having had this information, I would have never thought to have gone to Oakland church cemetery.  It was very rural and quite a ways off the highway 3, the main route through Richmond Country.  The time was edging towards noon when I got there, and the temperature was approaching the mid-nineties.  What caught my attention immediately when I entered the cemetery was that the name Lewis was probably the most frequent name to appear on the head stones.  I wandered back into the cemetery trying to see if any of them were for John P. Lewis, and was having no luck when I came across my uncle Robert’s grave marker.

One thing that strikes any of my family is the spelling of the last name.  My father always said that growing up his last name was spelled with a second “r” in it and that his brothers’ name still were spelled that way.  Near Robert’s grave I spotted another one that said Clara W. Bryant.  Bryant, like Lewis, is an extremely common name in Richmond County, but I recognized this as the married name of my Dad’s youngest sister Peggy.  (How she came to be nicknamed Peggy has always been a bit of a mystery.)  The dates on her tombstone read 1924-2007, so she was the last of my fathers siblings.  Near her was the grave of her husband and a stone that included both of their names.
      I made my rounds through the cemetery – a fairly large one for a church in a thinly populated area – inspecting all the Lewis stones with no luck.  I came back up to the church and was about to leave when I looked at one last Lewis marker.  Around it, I discovered my grandmother’s family.   There were John Pierce Lewis and Katherine Edwards Lewis (my great-grandparents) as well as John Ball Lewis and his wife Alice Ruic Lewis (my great-grand parents).  There was also a Maggie Lewis who was either my grandmother’s oldest sister or her aunt.  I can’t help but add that the “Ball” in my great-grandfather’s name was after his great-grandmother, Sarah Ball, who was related to Mary Ball, George Washington’s mother.
I was obviously excited about finding the site where my dad’s brother and sister and  my grandmother Mattie Lewis’ family were buried.  My plan was to head back to the Richmond Historical Society now that it was well past 11 AM. First, though, I wanted to stop by the  Calvary Baptist church where I knew my great-grandfather W.F.L. Northen (see blog about the man with many names) was buried.  I’d been there on the previous trip but it was on the way back to Warsaw and I wanted to check in to see if anything new turned up (well, not literally). 
     Rather than new discoveries, the visit back to Calvary cemetery (a much smaller one than Oakland) tended to deepen some understandings.  First of all, there is a joint stone saying “Northen and Bryant Families.”  After having seen my Aunt Peggy’s (Clara’s) grave this just cemented for me the relationship between the families.  Moreover, there was a grave there at Calvary that also said Clara Bryant.  It was next her husband and I recognized that this Clara was my father’s aunt.  A 1910 census records my great-grandmother Mary Elizabeth Northen as having had five children, only three of whom survived into adulthood.  My grandfather Marcellus Crocker was the oldest and his brother Robert was the third.  Those two I knew had lived.  I also knew that one brother Norman had died at four years old from congenital birth defects.  Norman’s grave was also right there.  Next to it was also the grave of a girl, Ruth Mytrle, who died at two years old.  This would have completed the list of the five children, three who lived and two who didn’t: Marcellus, Norman, Robert, Ruth and Clara.  It helped me form a better picture of my grandfather’s family.
      From my experiences with looking in cemeteries in Richmond County so far, it appears that there has been some kind of Renaissance in an attempt to maintain cemeteries.  It doesn’t take too long to realize that most of the stones that I have been looking at cannot possibly be the original tombstones.  From an informational standpoint, I am grateful for this and commend the churches who are involved in preserving family memories. It makes the difficult task of seeking out barely readable old stones from a hundred or more years ago much easier. At the same time, there is something about actually seeing and touching the stones that were put their when that person was originally buried that works on a deeper emotional connection and I wish that they had left the original tombstones when they also put in the new ones.
One last comment before finishing up with Calvary cemetery and heading on.  Here is my great grandmother’s grave marker (obviously new):

Newness aside, when compared to her grandson Robert’s grave marker above, what is most obvious is the spelling of the last name – no second R.  Mary’s two children who died young (Norman and Ruth) also have their last name spelled Northen. So obviously my grandfather’s name was originally spelled Northen as well.  What happened? One other rather eerie thing is that there was a grave there that read:  James E. Northen (1848-1900). Of course, Dad was James E. Northen as well, so this may be who he was named for.
     I headed back to the Warsaw and the Richmond Historical Society.  When I arrived back at the historical society, it was still closed despite the fact that it was now 12:45 and the hours said 11-3.   Thinking that perhaps the person running it was out to lunch I went  to a restaurant called The Daily News – named for the newspaper office next to it – both to wait out the time and to get out of the heat.  The restaurant was a bustling and lively place, so I had an ice tea at the counter, but, having only one day for my research only stayed about 20 minutes.  Once 1 PM came, I headed I went back over to the historical society, only to find it still closed.  Lora and I had experienced the same phenomenon on our previous trip down, closed when the schedule said it should be open, so I cut my losses and decided to head on down to Northumberland County for the next part of my trip.   


Friday, July 19, 2013

Road Trip into History - Part 1

After much procrastination, I’ve finally gotten back into researching the history of the Northen side of the family again.  On Thursday, I took at trip down to Virginia, to check out a few sites that I had heard about where I might pick up clues about my family. A bit of background.  My father, James E. Northen, was born in Wicomico Church in Northumberland County Virginia, but his father and all the Northen generations before him from the late 1600’s had been in Richmond County Virginia. There were places in each that I wanted to visit, and each county also has a small historical society. Geographically, Richmond County and its county city, Warsaw, were the closest so I headed there first.  Eli had let me stay overnight at his house in Catonsville, so I was able to get an early jump on things.

I arrived down in Warsaw at the Richmond County Historical society at about 10:30 and the hours on the door said it was open 11-3, so I headed out to do the field work, which is why I really drove down.  I had three places in mind to visit in Richmond County that I knew existed but had not been to before.  The first was the most mysterious.  I was trying to locate what, in a family history by E.E. Northen in 1900, was referred to as the “Old Northen Homestead.”  It was where my grandfather Marcellus Crocker Northen had been born and most generations of the Northen family from some time in the 1700’s.  At the time E. E. Northen wrote it’s history, it was still standing.  I’d been contact by a distant relative who said that he had been down their looking for it based upon clues in Northen’s book and gave me some directions.

According to my relative, the old homestead was listed as being next to The Old Bostwell House on Boswell Rd.  He said there were supposedly some family graves on the property.  To my delight, I found the Boswell property right near the end of the road and next to it an old housethat was decomposing, surrounded by farm equipment.  I knocked on the Boswell door, but got no answer so I began looking among a some bushes between the two properties.  I found a small buried plot, about half a dozen grave markers – but they all were for the Boswell family.  I was about to leave when I pushed aside a few weeds and found:

His wife Catherine Northen’s marker was next to it.   I was instantly excited because Edward Jones Northen was my great-great-great grandfather.  This showed me that this more than likely was the spot of the old homestead.  I went next door and began taking pictures of the site.  This is the house.  

This morning when I thought about it, I was chagrined to realize that something was not quite right.  Edward Jones Northen’s  (my ancestor) wife was named Sarah, not Catherine.  I also realized that the date was too late. However, he had a son Edward, Jr. who married his cousin, Catherine, so that’s whose markers these must have been.  Old notes from a deed, however tell me that Edward Jones’ Sr.’s son, George, who was my direct ancestor lived in the land next to Edward and Catherine - so this is still a prime candidate for the old homestead, after all. 

It was a hot day in Richmond County – in the mid-nineties, and just thinking about it is making me thirsty, so  I think I will post this for now and continue with the rest of the trip soon. The next place I wanted to find was a cemetery where my Grandmother, Mattie Lewis parents, were buried.  It was a hot day in Richmond County – in the mid-nineties.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Man of Many Names

        The grave stone of my paternal great-grandfather lists him as W. F. L.  Northen. Sources of family history list his name as William Fitzhugh Lee Northen. Nick-named Willie, he was described in the 1900 Northen Family History as having being 5 feet 10 inches in height and slender” with “light hair, red beard, and light blue eyes.”  I’d always wondered who the Fitzhugh Lee might have been since it clearly seemed to be some sort of family name.  An additional twist was added on a 1910 census in which his name is listed as W.H.F.L. Northern [sic]. 
        Last October, when speaking with James Hoffman a distant relative of who is also a descendent of Willie Northen, the mystery began to unravel. Hoffman told me that Willie was known in the family as the man of many names. Family legend had it that he was named after William Henry Fitzhugh Lee, the second son of Robert E. Lee who was passing through Richmond Country passed through the area with the 9th Virginia Calvary when Willie was born in 1863.  Apparently either one of his older brothers (Willie was the youngest of about 10) or his father met Lee and was impressed enough that Willie was named after him.  The facts about William Henry Fitzhugh Lee check out, so apparently a little Civil War history was injected into a name on our family tree.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Elementary School Graduation

       Today I attended my grandson Connor’s graduation from New Eagle Elementary School in Wayne, PA.  The elementary school only goes up to grade 4, so next year it will be on to middle school. The graduation was ceremony was a pleasant one – despite the torrential rain. The auditorium crammed with parents and the graduates participating themselves through singing and playing “Ode to Joy” on recorders.
        When I first began teaching at the end of the 1960’s I was full of enthusiasm about the transformative power of education., believing that if we could get kids excited about learning, the future of the country would be so much brighter. Forty-five years later, I’m a good deal more jaded. Fostering the love of learning has been replaced by the push for high test scores and battles over school safety. This past week, though, has restored my faith somewhat.
         Thursday last week, I attended the school’s Wax  Museum event for my grandson Andrew.  The way it works is that each student picks a famous person they are interested in learning more about.  They research that person and then write up a report.  They then dress up in costume as that person.  On the day of the event parents and students from all the other classes are invited.  Andrew’s event was held outside on a sunny day in a small park-like area in front of the school.  The children presenting were lined up around the area and had to stand stiff as though they were the wax figure.  Each child had a sticker  – black circle – attached to their hand.  When a visitor touched the circle, the wax figure came to life and delivered his/her speech.  Andrew came as Michael Jordan and had a constant line of visitors – many students from other classes – coming up to touch the circle and hear his speech. It was a definite success for him.
       Shortly after the wax museum, we went into Connor’s classroom where he was making a power point presentation.  The students could choose any subject and Connor chose France because his maternal grandfather is of French descent and Connor wanted to know more about his heritage. Other students in the class got to ask questions and the teacher gave him pointers – the pros and cons of his presentation (with a heavy emphasis on the positive).
       We all live in the shadow of 9/11, of xenophobia, homophobia and economic uncertainty.  As I sat at Connor’s graduation today, I was glad to have a chance to see that at least some of his generation will be leaving elementary school with a positive out look on learning and a chance to carry that into the future.  It is a hopeful sign, when teachers are actually being allowed to teach.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Praying in Bed

       Tomorrow will be the second year that Mom's birthday has come around since she died.  In remembrance, Ed wrote the following piece, originally titled "Reflections on Mom and Prayer." 

My morning my thoughts go to you Father in heaven.  As I lay in bed I think of how my mother used to ask me, if I thought it was okay to pray while laying in bed, instead of kneeling. 

She grew up in the catholic faith where kneeling is important when you pray.  I still remember attending High Mass when it was in said Latin,  the smell of incense, tall white candles illuminating the church of a small mission church,  the Priest singing of the Liturgy.  In the pews there were laminated cards with the peoples responses printed on them in a foreign tongue. There was the continual rising to stand, kneeling to pray and sitting to listen, dipping of fingers in holy water, the signing of the cross in reverence, the little gold tabernacle on the alter, where the communion hosts were securely kept, along with the  chalice and wine.   It all reinforced the holiness of God.

From this environment we form our impression of who God is, of what pleases or is acceptable to Him, it’s difficult to break religious habits.  Especially from teachings which emphasizes how unhappy God is with you,(though he loves you) how you must do better before God will accept you.   But when you are nearing ninety and need a walker to stand, I am certain God is not angry with you, if He is then I would want nothing to do with Him.   

If this concept of God were true then they would have to rewrite the scriptures.  Put in stories where Jesus is indignant, knocking over old people with their walkers who would not bow to him.  Telling the hungry to bring him more food and wine when he stayed in their homes.   He probably would not have even stayed in the modest homes of people, demanding they put him up in luxurious palace.  He was too important, too holy, to be treated as a commoner.   Teaching them they were all miserable sinners and were lucky God did not destroy them, but he would intercede for them, for a price.  This would be the gospel of bad news.  Gratefully this is the antithesis of God’s nature.

My mother would lie in bed, and talk to God, this was her purest form of prayer.   Oh she would say the rosary, or recite the prayers of the saints she had memorized from the back of little cards but these were more of a formality.  To just talk, ask questions and struggle to reason, why life was so difficult, so unfair this was her purest form of prayer.  She used to tell me that she did not see the need to go to confession, to be forgiven.  That she could just lift up her head and look into the blue heaven above her, as she stood outside, hanging laundry, ask for forgiveness and pray for strength. 

This is a women who lived the hard times. She was never able to rise out of the devastating consequences of others, though she endured them with faith and tenacity.  She lived for others, a woman, who in the realm of her world did amazing things.  If she was on the nation stage, she would receive honor and adulations.  But her acknowledgements were a bag of groceries showing up on the door step, or someone paying her electric or heating bill.  There is a greatness of character that surpasses fame, this is the quality my mother possessed.  Who lived her life with sacrifice, endurance, patience and acceptance motivated by love and devotion, to her family and God. 

She no longer needs a walker, she has passed the test, heard the words said, well-done good and faithful servant.  She is having tea or in my mothers case, a hot cup of coffee,  with the widow who gave her last mite.

Mom, thank you for your example, for your prayers, for your, sacrifice devotion and love. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Our Family Connection to Scotland

Like half of the rest of North America, we can trace a branch our family back to Robert I, kind of Scotland, known better as Robert the Bruce (or Robert Bruce).  Where it ties in to our family is with Abigail Minty, the wife of William Northen that I’ve written about in previous Northen News posts.  Abigail’s mother was Margaret Fleming who had the line back to Robert Bruce. 
An interesting note is that Marjorie Bruce died at the age of 19 and her husband was only a few years older.  Her son Robert was born the same day she died.  The story is that she was out horseback riding and fell off the horse.  Robert was born premature.  It is always interesting when you see just how serendipitous it is that our family even exists, when you think about incidents like that.
By the way, the genealogy can be confusing because Stewart is often spelled Stuart, Robert Stewart was married several times and had two daughters named Elizabeth.  In any case, here is the line.

Robert Bruce I, King of Scotland (1274 - 1329)
is your 21st great grandfather

Daughter of Robert
Son of Marjorie
Son of Robert
Daughter of Robert
Son of Elizabeth
Son of Robert 1st Lord of
Son of Malcolm
Son of John 2nd Lord Fleming
Son of MALCOLM- 3rd LORD
Son of John 5th Lord
Son of John
Son of John
Son of Alexander
Son of John
Daughter of Alexander
Daughter of Margaret
Son of Abigail
Son of George
Son of Edward Jones
Son of George
Son of Willliam Fitzhugh Lee
Son of Marcellus Crocker
Son of James Edward 

For Amelia, Maggie, Connor, Jack, Owen, Andrew and Liam, that makes Robert Bruce their 23rd grandfather.