Sunday, August 9, 2009

Sing it with me~Take me home, country roads, to the place, I belong. West Virginia

The rolling hills of central Ohio made the perfect backdrop for the conversation I was having with my eleven year old son. The sun was shining. The radio was silent. Kevin gave a short, gleeful gasp every time we crested a hill or rounded a blind corner. The ride through Knox County was as unpredictable as boarding a roller coaster at night.

The first Amish buggy we encountered was quickly followed by a sighting of two barefoot, bonnet-clad young girls walking on the side of the road. About two miles later, strapping field horses pulling a flat bed yielded to my Honda Odyssey. Kevin’s questions began to come quickly now-Why do Amish People live without electricity? Do they use American money? Had I ever seen Amish people at Kenyon College, my alma mater in Gambier, our destination on this leg of our four day adventure? My answer was resolute, “No, I do not remember ever seeing Amish people in downtown Gambier during my four years there.”

Kevin and I had set out on Wednesday morning to meet my father and aunt in Massillon, Ohio. From there we would spend two solid days traveling throughout West Virginia, stopping to pay respect to many Martin ancestors, and visit with many Martin relatives who are still very much alive.

Bringing Kevin on this journey was vitally important to me for many reasons. First, he is my child who absolutely thrives on the one-on-one attention afforded to him by his parents. Given that he had just returned from two weeks away at camp, I missed providing this attention as much as I knew he missed receiving it. Kevin has also shown an interest in my genealogical pursuits over the years. He is a reliable photographer and videographer. More importantly, he asks really great questions. I often have to adjust my perspective before responding, considering different points of view to answer thoughtfully and honestly.

The top rationale for Kevin’s presence is also the most sentimental; Kevin represented the future of the Martin family tree, a flesh-and-blood link to the fourth generation around the table with my great aunt and uncle, and the eighth generation as we traversed the banks of the Monongahela River in search of Allen Martin. Can you imagine your great, great, great, great, great grandchild on a quest for your gravesite 200 years from now? My family history, Kevin’s family history, is still relevant today.

Due to the reading I had done in preparation for this trip, I was ready to meet the relatives who warmly welcomed my traveling group into their homes. Lucie Anne Mellert, my father’s first cousin, is the daughter of Grace Martin Taylor, a famous West Virginia artist most renowned for her block paintings. Grace is the older sister of my paternal grandfather, Howard Garrison “Abe” Martin. Lucie Anne, her husband Bill, her son Jim and his wife Mary, enlightened us on Grace’s life and her career. Lucie Anne personally led a tour of the University of Charleston’s Erma Byrd Gallery, the permanent exhibit of West Virginia women artists in which three of Grace’s works are prominently displayed. I left Charleston with a deeper appreciation of this pioneer of the art world and a 1928 self-portrait that I hope will be a catalyst for many proud discussions in the years to come.

No “roots” trip is complete without stomping through cemeteries. We certainly had our fill. The Martin family is well-known through Monongalia County history, both before and after the Civil War and the succession from Virginia. Some Martins were even delegates when the new state of West Virginia was recognized in 1863.

Allen, the first to come to the territory from Maryland in the early 1800’s, and his wife Arlotta Maddox Martin, “were buried at a place called a Bend of the River near Little Falls” (Morton, A History of Preston County, West Virginia, 1914). My father Gary, my aunt Kitty, Kevin and I all walked along the bank of the Monongahela River on the land once belonging to the Summers brothers. Alexander and Jonathan Summers witnessed Allen’s will in 1817. Other sources in the area confirm a Summers Cemetery along these shores, though the recent (in the last century) damming of the river certainly changed its course in some places. Regardless, our foursome retraced my father’s bike route from four years ago to pinpoint the place where he had found many large field stones, most probably used as grave markers in the early 19th century. While not completely successful in finding Allen during this trip, we still remain confident that he is resting exactly where he wished to be.

Allen’s son, Turner, remains the most elusive of the ancestors, and my group needed reinforcements before tackling his mission. We, therefore, drove for just a few minutes to Oak Grove Cemetery in Morgantown to visit our Civil War hero and Turner’s son, John Wesley Martin. Not as remarkable then as it would be now, John Wesley fathered twelve children. Three of the last to be born to John Wesley and his wife Mary Ann died at an early age and are buried neatly in a row next to their parents. After recent interest in this family’s history, a new grave marker commemorating the lives of these three children was erected alongside the three, small illegible stones.

Just up the hill (more like a mountain) from Oak Grove Cemetery, lies East Oak Grove Cemetery, the final resting place for John Wesley’s son, Joseph. Joseph and his wife Anna broke tradition and chose to be buried in a huge mausoleum building in the center of the cemetery, overlooking the city of Morgantown. The mausoleum is surrounded by family plots, however. We found more Martins, Bowlbys, McClures, and Breakirons within eyesight of the formidable front steps of Joseph’s final home. My dad and aunt had been here before, as Joseph lived a very long life and passed away in 1970. I was born by then, but do not remember him.

Joseph’s residence in Morgantown, the one in which he lived the majority of his life, still stands just minutes from East Oak Grove Cemetery. Joseph’s four children grew up at 240 Franklin Street, and the house and property remain in the Martin family. The youngest of these four children lives just two blocks away from his childhood home. Hubert, the 89 year old younger brother of my own grandfather, and his wife Traudel, invited us to their lovely home for a small reunion of sorts. Hubert and Traudel’s children Liz and Chris (again, first cousins to my father and aunt) were also there. The youngest of Hubert’s children, Glen, was out of town on business, but kindly sent his own son as a representative of his family.

The brunch was excellent, as usual, but the conversations in that home last Friday were extraordinary. Traudel revealed how she was working in her native land of Germany as an interpreter for the army when she met the young Dr. Hubert Martin, a dentist assigned to the occupation forces in Heidelburg. Kevin and I were able to corner Hube, himself, at the end of the dining room table and invited him to speak of his own experiences during WWII. Uncle Hubert is a quiet man, so engaging him in conversation, especially a conversation in which he is the main topic, is a tricky prospect. Maybe because it was a child asking that Hube enthusiastically answered every question asked with vivid detail.

Our large group began to splinter after brunch and I followed my dad and Uncle Hubert out to the back porch. Three generations of Martin’s discussing the evolution of the family from hard-working farmers on near desolate land, to a teacher in a one-room school house, to a mail carrier who lost his job whenever the “wrong” political party came to power, to the prominent professions of Hubert’s siblings, my dad and aunt, and now me. As Kevin arrived on the scene to document the moment on film to support my own note-taking, we all just looked at him and wondered about where his life will lead him, the fourth generation present on this day.

This party would not end until we would wind our way up to another mountain top cemetery. The Bethel Church is no longer standing, instead replaced by a fairly modern single family home. However, the cemetery that was attached to the original church survives and has been expanded ten-fold. The stone for Amelia Martin was not difficult to find. It was close to where the old church had stood in the late 1800's, and her stone was modern, relatively speaking. The fact that Amelia’s 1882 grave is in Bethel Cemetery is not the impressive aspect of this story; the mystery is that Turner, the husband who died some 30 years before his wife, is not there.

Why Turner and Amelia’s grandchildren would erect a new stone for Amelia with her vital statistics engraved, then add “Also in tribute to her husband” remains the most elusive unsolved puzzle on the Martin genealogical quest.

With full stomachs and the stories provided by Hube, Traudel and Liz while up at Bethel Cemetery swirling in our heads, dad took the wheel once again and drove Kitty, Kevin and me to the home where he and Kitty had grown up outside of Wheeling. We were now entering my reality, my memories. I had visited my grandparents, Abe and Ruth Martin, at 833 Mozart Road, many times during my childhood. My grandfather had attended my wedding in 1994 and he had met my two oldest sons. In my youth I had played on the swings at the end of the driveway, sled down the steep slopes in winter, and chased a few crazy dogs around the big back yard. My three most vivid memories are watching my grandmother make animal shaped pancakes, snuffing out the candles on the dinner table, and riding my bicycle around and around the basement garage. It was a beautiful home.

Unfortunately, the home we approached on this last part of our trip did not live up to our memories. The house and the grounds were just not kept up to the standards of the Martin family, and we quickly left. I’m not sure if any of us will ever return to “the house on the hill.”

My grandparents are buried not far from their hilltop home, on a steep slope of Halcyon Hills Cemetery. The story goes that my grandmother wanted to be at the top of the hill, near the road, so that she would have something to do by watching the cars. I remember my grandfather’s funeral much more than my grandmother’s which makes sense. I was in sixth grade when Ruth died in 1980 and grown, married with two children when Abe passed away in 2000. The four of us spent a few minutes clearing off the flat plate that bears their names, commented on the vastness of the countryside, and then we were on our way back to Massillon.

Kevin and I left early Saturday morning. Our goodbyes and thank yous to my dad and aunt were pleasant, yet efficient. I planned to stop by Kenyon on the way home since I hadn’t been on the beautiful campus for nearly ten years. I also wanted to share that part of my life with Kevin. Afterward, we planned to stop by the Kinney’s house in Beavercreek for a late lunch and arrive home in Henryville by 8:00 pm . We left Kitty’s house at 8:15 am.

The drive up the hill to Kenyon’s campus reminds me of the drive up to my grandparent’s old house on Mozart Road. Kevin and I are both excited. We’ve had great conversations and did some serious mother/son bonding. I felt strongly that I could easily and quickly write a blog about this trip, getting back into doing what I love doing best. I have several other genealogy subjects for which I can write on, as well. In the near future look for a story about searching for the Staats Cemetery in Fortville, Indiana, assisting a man who lives in California find the family cemetery in Indiana in which he will now spread his mother’s ashes, and an on-going project to help a woman better understand the life and death of her mother.

As we reached the top of the hill in Gambier, with the splendor of Middle Path on our right, I turned the van left and headed to park in front of the bookstore. It was at this exact moment that the black buggy caught my eye. Right there, in the middle of Gambier, Ohio, the center of Kenyon College, three young Amish women were setting up a stand to sell homemade baskets. Less than thirty minutes before, I told Kevin I had never seen Amish in Gambier. Obviously, things change. But it is the constant of family that keeps change in check and manageable. I now hope every time Kevin sees the circular, double pie basket we bought in Gambier he remembers our “roots” trip to West Virginia and will pass along the stories of his family to his own children.

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