Monday, October 18, 2010

My Uncle Roy

This is a photo of my Uncle Roy with a duck; he loved animals and had a special connection with them I always thought. He was a mysterious person in my girlhood. By the time he registered on my consciousness, I was seven and he was a grown man and traditions regarding his treatment in my grandma's household had solidified. Something was "wrong" with him, I gathered, and always had been and no one wanted to talk about it. He was mostly left alone, not spoken to and he didn't speak to any one. But I was drawn to him and curious and guilty as I grew older over the way he was excluded from the family and the community.

But it was a different time back in the hills of West Virginia. There were no diagnostic tests to determine where he placed on the autism spectrum (if that was his problem), there were no special tutors, no medication, no enlightened counselors and teachers to encourage inclusion in the classroom and at home. So my family made do and he stayed home and muttered to himself in front of the fire and when he walked the hills. Sometimes he brought me horehound candy and gum from his treks to a small store in the next town. And I took it and said nothing and so did he.

Anyway, I've written a book Mountain Girl that fictionalizes this situation and the girl in the story does connect with her uncle and reconnects him with his family and community. Wish I'd been able to do that but writing the book was cathartic and consoled me somewhat.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Country Churches

Ah, the little country churches of my childhood... This is the original Alderson church in Nicholas County, WV. My great-grandfather James Frame Brown was the first pastor, I believe. I remember my grandfather John Creasy telling me he donated timber from his land and also helped build it.

I attended this church when I was living on my grandma's farm and have fond memories of Sunday School in its basement classrooms with Koolaid and cookies for a snack. I loved the felt board easel with characters from the Bible stuck on it. And Vacation Bible School was the event of the summer. Now at home in Chicago or traveling, I'm always seeking out a humble little church like my first one.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Baptism in the Creek

This is just an amazing picture of my great-grandfather Rev. James Brown baptizing in Beaver Creek in West Virginia. The picture was folded so there's a crack down the middle but  I kind of like the effect. You can see my great-grandfather with his head of white hair and his long beard and dressed in a suit (!) out in the middle of the water with a believer.

I have no idea of the year here but I'm betting it's in the late 1800s because of the way the women are dressed in long dresses and big fancy hats. What a contrast with the barren hills and the humble house in the back. A lot of my relatives (including my grandmother) are probably in this picture but I don't recognize anyone.

Faith has always been in my family and I'm grateful for that because it''s seen me through some tough times.

Monday, October 4, 2010


I've been thinking about my grandparents this year because I became a grandmother for the first time. This is my grandma Rose and grandpa John and I loved them dearly. They look to be in their 70s here in what is obviously a somewhat formal shot (no smiles), maybe taken on a Sunday morning on the front porch of their West Virginia farm.

I remember my grandma as always smiling around me, though, as I joined in with whatever she was doing. I watched her sew on the old treadle sewing machine that you made run by pedaling with your feet. I used to watch her string beans and peel apples, always trying for that one long curl of peeling. I'd climb up beside her in the kitchen and "help" her cut open a chicken and clean out the insides before she cooked it for Sunday dinner. Sometimes I'd follow her to the chicken coop and we'd steal eggs out from under nesting chickens.

My grandpa took me with him as he worked outside. I helped stomp down the hay in a haystack and dropped potato "eyes" in rows he had plowed. He'd let me sit up on the drivers' seat of the old wagon behind the horses and sometimes would hand the reins over to me and let me "drive." Once I was pouting about something and he did some Irish step dancing to cheer me up.

My grandparents had 25 grandchildren but each one felt he or she was special in their grandparents' eyes. I hope I can follow that example with my new little granddaughter.