Thursday, August 23, 2012

Enriching roots

the family tree that hangs in my grandma's house
I mean the title of this blog in many ways. I like trees and the various parts of them. I like the idea of always stretching higher and never ceasing to grow; I also like being anchored and growing deep in a place. I had the pleasure of sitting down with my Grandma a couple weeks ago to look at old pictures. I had come only hoping for pictures of my Grandma as a young girl. I would never have expected such an exploration of my roots as I got. Since so many generations of my family spent at least some of their lives in the same fold of Black Mountain as I did, I was able not only to look at pictures, but to drive to the places where my relatives lived and worked. I came away feeling even more anchored to the people and the place they called home for a time. It is a wonderful place to grow from.

Last year I started watching and listening to Henry Louis Gates, Jr. explore the family line of various famous people. I've never considered myself much of a history buff, but learning about how individuals came to be who and where they are is fascinating to me. I'm not very impressed by genealogies as a list of names without faces or stories. There is very little for me to connect to in just a name. But back to Henry Louis Gates. I first became interested in watching a documentary on him tracing the roots of famous African Americans, trying to trace them back to Africa. Because that task is so difficult in the case of African Americans, what with the splitting of families and the taking of masters' last names in the era of slavery, I saw what a treasure finding those people (even their names) and their stories truly is.
Alfred and Martha Peters,
my great-great-great grandparents

Right: Ira Peters, my great-great grandfather
Of course, not long afterwards, I reflected that I had never bothered to gather this information about my own family. But there I was, sitting with my Grandma, when it landed in my lap. "This is your great-great Grandpa." (He's the one on the bottom right, with the darker eyes.) His name was Ira Peters. He wasn't originally a Peters, though. We don't know what he was. He was left on the Peters's doorstep as a baby and they raised him. I never knew there was an adoption in my family! I happen to think adoption is pretty cool. Of course, this means I can't trace any medical history back further than Ira Peters, but it's a small price to pay, really. :) This is the family his birth mom knew would take good care of him. Their names were Alfred (1830-1910) and Martha Peters (1830-1900). I don't know any other stories about them, but it looks like great-great-great Grandpa Peters might easily crack a smile.
Lucy (Martin) Peters,
my Mamaw's mom

Lucy (Martin) Peters,
my great-great grandma
So Ira was born in 1861. That means the Peters were 31 when they became his parents. In 1891, when Ira was 30, he married Lucy Martin, who my Grandma calls Grandma Peters. He died in 1908, around age 47.  Lucy, though, lived to be 90. My Grandma knew her and she actually died in the house where we were talking. She was my great-great-grandma. But I knew my great-grandma, Mamaw, so to me this lady doesn't feel far removed; she's Mamaw's mom. I loved seeing pictures of her. She must've been some kind of tough lady. Grandma said that since Ira had died young, she was left to raise (I think it was 6?) kids by herself. So she ran a farm and raised the kids herself. She made sure they all (including the girls) got an education, which was not common back then. I admire this lady. Just look at her. In every picture (and there are several), she looks so spunky and no-nonsense.

Mamaw Sherman in front of her house
up Gap Branch in Lynch, KY

Clifford and Gertrude Sherman,
my Papaw and Mamaw Sherman,
my great-grandparents

So "Grandma Peters" lived to be 90 and had a lot of kids. One of them was my Mamaw, Gertrude (Peters) Sherman. Mamaw was born in 1899, I believe. She lived to be 100, which means our lives overlapped until I started college. She married my great-grandpa, Clifford, and they had 6 kids. I knew each of them to a great or lesser extent. Here are a couple shots of them that I like. (I knew my "Papaw Sherman" too...but I'm just following the women here, for brevity's sake.)
She and Papaw Sherman raised their family up Gap Branch in one of the little houses built by the coal company for its employees. Grandma once called it Shack 11, but immediately made sure to let me know how nice they had made the place. Later, they moved a few miles up the valley to Cumberland, to the house where I was sitting with my Grandma. I remember celebrating her birthday every year in that house with family and a few family friends. We crammed 50-70 people in their house and all tried to come close enough to see the cake when we sang "Happy Birthday."

Mamaw Sherman raised her own six children, who are or were fine people to know and I knew/know them each, since everyone who was ever related to my Mamaw has never stopped getting together for family reunions twice a year. (We usually only make one of them, though.) Mamaw also took in her aging mother for the last five years of her life. When she was 60, she started raising one of her grandsons and did a very fine job.
Juanita Sherman around age 14
my grandma
my Papaw and Grandma when they were dating
One of the children she raised was my Grandma, who was born in 1930. She was a cute little girl from all the pictures. I'm not sharing them all here, but I plan to make good use of them. :) She grew up in Lynch during the Depression. When she was 19, she married my Papaw, Jim Slusher, who was one of the orneriest men I've ever known. We all loved him for it. They got married in 1949 and were married over 50 years before he died when I was in college. They lived in Lynch, too, mostly downhill from where Grandma grew up on Gap Branch. Grandma told me how glad she was to move into their little (but "bigger" to them) house that had two bedrooms plus one that was converted from a little porch. They raised their four kids there -- a fact which amazes us all when we think about it. I think it was around 1992 or so that they moved in with Mamaw and Papaw Sherman to take care of them as they were getting older. (Grandma would talk about when the older generation stopped "keeping house," a phrase I like a lot. It's a good job description.) She has always quietly taken care of whatever needed done, making it seem effortless. She is still very good at keeping house, and we were well-fed during our stay with food she had grown just down the hill.
My dad and his cousins in Mamaw's yard. That's him on
the left in the loud pants. He says I don't understand.
My mom and dad when they were younger than I am now

Grandma's second child and first son was my Dad, James. Unfortunately, I didn't scan many pictures of him on this trip, though this one stood out! My mom thought he looked cute, I guess. They got married 35 years ago and lived in the town between Lynch (where my dad grew up) and Cumberland (where my mom grew up): Benham. I grew up there until 1990. Like his dad, my dad was a coal miner and worked in Lynch. (My great-grandpa, Papaw Sherman, had a job working the trains at the mine in Lynch.) In 1990, my dad was one of many coal miners laid off and we moved to central Kentucky, where I spent the second half of my childhood. My parents still live in the house I grew up in there. We visited the mountains often, since it is where both sides of my family are from.

In 1981, James and Libby Slusher had a daugher: me! Four years later, they also had a son, but he'd be mad if I re-posted the picture I scanned of him here! :) I wonder what parts of all these people ended up in this little face and how much of my personality was handed directly to me from some of the people in these pictures.
little me
I feel so rich! I have all these pictures on my computer to share. I felt rich hearing personal accounts of years and people I never knew. I feel rich being able to talk to and spend time with my Grandma, who still works as hard as women half her age! I feel rich because I knew and remember four of my great-grandparents. I feel rich hearing of the hardship that had to be overcome in order for things to work out for me to even exist! My family is made of people who were born in and who took in. My family was a group of hard-working people from the mountains of Kentucky, largely coal miners and teachers. They lived long lives and each generation cared for their parents in their old age. We raised our own food (still do to an extent!) and loved sharing food together. We weren't rich in money, but each generation did very well with what they had. It is a proud legacy I hope to carry on. Thanks for letting me share some of it with you!

me and my Grandma after looking through all these pictures
(same place as the picture of my dad in those pants!)


Jacqueline Coldiron said...

You have done a wonderful job telling the history of your dad's family. I knew your Great-Grandma Sherman, actually have a quilt that she quilted for my mother. I also know your grandmother and your mother. I must admit I do not know or at least remember your dad. I knew both of your mother's parents along with her brother and sisters. You have great roots, I am sure you will stand firm for a long time. Deep rooted trees don't blow down easily and you certainly have the deep roots. Thanks for a look into the life of the Sherman's.

Mrs. Slusher said...

I can't get over how similar Brandon's facial features are to Grandma's. Crazy! And I think Eden favors your baby picture too!

Anonymous said...

My mother, Bette June Haley Maples speaks fondly of Juanita and Mrs. Sherman.We visited them a long time ago.