Walking Down May’s Street: mappy monday

May Laura Stevenson lay under covers, listening to eight siblings rustle from bed’s warmth into cold, thick wool layers.  Procrastinating would not reduce her chores or delay the walk to school, so up she sat, throwing off her blankets, reaching for her clothes. In quick fluid movements May covered her shivering little body, and joined the familiar morning jostle.  Ice had to be broken from animals’ water troughs; pigs had to be slopped, and chickens fed.  Stalls needed to be mucked out, and cows milked.  Breakfast had to be fixed, the table set.

May’s early life was spent on Gabler’s Knob, a farm that looked out over the bustling river town of Greensboro, on the Monongahela River in Greene County, Pennsylvania.  Born in 1874, May was the seventh of nine children born to Ellis and Mary Jones Stevenson.

Prints of LightAfter a hearty breakfast the school-age Stevensons set off down the hill, past Dr. G. F. Birch’s orchard, and turned left onto the main road of the Old Glass Works*.  As William, Presley, Permelia, and May walked up the village street, they were joined by young Kramers, McCoys, Mercers, Blacks, and Gablers.  The wind coming off the river hurled the winter damp through their coats, and the would-be scholars hurried past Mr. Neil’s ferry, round the corner, and into the school house.  All together they learned to read, to write, to do their figures.  At day’s end, the group trudged on home, the Stevensons to return to more chores before settling down for the dinner and a good night’s sleep.

Floe on the SusquehannaOn Sunday, the family traveled into town, to attend services at Greensboro Presbyterian Church, on the corner of Clear and Second streets.  The sanctuary was just a block down from the Star Pottery and Tile Works, owned by Frank Hamilton and John Jones,  Mary Stevenson’s cousin. After church service, May and her family walked three blocks south on Front Street, to eat Sunday dinner  with the Jones’.  Uncle David and Aunt Cill ran Greensboro House, a family business handed down from father, John Jones, and the home to the Jones family since the late 1840s. Her double first cousins, Anna and Fannie, would regale May with stories about the latest hotel guests, and the difficulties steamboats had when the river ice grew thick. The girls imagined a day in spring when they would saunter down County Street to the quay, and board the Packet Dean Adams, traveling all the way to Pittsburgh, just to shop for a dress.  Laughter and dreams and family.

That is what I imagine for May, my great-grandmother, as I walk down May’s street in my mind. [click on the maps below for enlarged viewing]

*Some seventy years before May was born, the village on the banks of the Monongahela River had been occupied by the first glass making factory west of the Allegheny Mountains. German immigrants like May’s great-great-granduncle, Adolphus Eberhart, lent their expertise to the making of frontier window glass and bottles.

The World of May Laura Stevenson: (kinda) wordless wednesday

May Laura entered the world and like most babies knew only enough to scream for some food, and maybe a bit of heat.  What she didn’t know–wouldn’t realize for some time–was that she was swaddled immediately by family. Six older siblings would plant their first kisses; parents of her parents would come coo a lullaby.  Aunts and uncles and cousins would bring gifts and greetings as the the muddy roads permitted.  May Laura Stevenson, born April 29, 1874, would grow up along the Monongahela River, just outside the bustling town of Greensboro surrounded by her kin, and by the memories of those who had lived along those banks for decades.  Ellis and Mary Jones Stevenson came from settler stock, and among their ancestors were distillers and fullers, iron furnace operators and glass blowers, hotel owners and farmers. Phillips, Gregg, Stevenson, Eberhart, Jones, Rhodes–all families that had shaped the life along the Monongahela since 1800.  Baby May would find great comfort in that sense of place, in that network of love.  Life would hold some very hard lessons.

No Dirt, No Tree

Log Designs1

No Mud. No Lotus.

ON a cloudy September Sunday, I attended a Day of Mindfulness, led by the incredible teacher, Thich Nhat Hahn.  His dharma talk examined the nature of suffering, that most human experience that grounds us all.  By focusing on the present moment, he said,  we provide the space in which we can focus on our suffering, to cradle it as we would a small baby.  By paying attention to what pains us, we can transform that suffering, into compassion – for ourselves.  This compassion is the foundation of happiness, joy; a base for healthy communication and compassion for others.  Without this mud – this suffering – there can be no flower – joy, happiness, and compassion. 

This last year has been very, very muddy, and I am looking for flowers, for trees, in fact, with root systems to stop the erosion of this rainy life season….And I keep smacking into the words of Thich Nhat Hahn.

The suffering inside us contains the suffering of our ancestors, who may not have been able to transform their suffering…and transmitted their unresolved suffering to us.  If we are able to understand that suffering and thereby transform it we are healing our parents, our ancestors, as well as, ourselves.

The Art of Communicating

No Dirt, No Tree

I have found the mindfulness exercises to be moments of peace and comfort.  I focus on my breathing and in that space acknowledge my sorrow.  I don’t always feel better, or happy, right then.  But I can tolerate the pain, and see a path forward, and with relief know that I will heal, and joy will come.

This Thanksgiving day I am grateful to have experienced human compassion, a listening ear, a tight squeeze of love.  I am grateful, too, for the opportunity to offer that compassion to others, and to my ancestors, as well.  Their suffering is the dirt of my family’s trees, and with mindful genealogy perhaps I can transform their suffering into understanding and compassion – for my grandparents, my parents, for me, for my present companions.




A Positive Negative

Norman Strickland circa 1947

I love technology.

I love scanners, and computers, and on-line software, and blogs, and pack rat ancestors.

Oh, they are not technology. BUT I get to peek into their lives BECAUSE they were pack rats and I have technology.

Within a brown envelope of the Roanoke Photo Finishing Company, Roanoke, Virginia (just opposite the Post Office), saved by my father, were negative images of my dad, his brothers, his parents, and a little girl, just able to stand at her daddy’s knee.  That dates the group portrait with my eldest cousin to 66 years ago.  Now, IF all the other negatives belong to that same roll, the above image of Norman Scott Strickland was taken by a friend in 1947, presumably one of these folks:

Norman S. Strickland (19), second from left.

Norman S. Strickland (19), second from left.

Norman S. Strickland (19), with friend

Norman S. Strickland (19), with friend

Anyone have any clues about the photographers’ identity, please leave me a comment!  And anyone knowing about 1940s cars, what make and model do I have here??


When Negatives Are A Positive

People may call me a hoarder, a sentimentalist, a pack rat. But I prefer to think of myself as a Keeper of the Lore, continuing the work of my brilliant ancestors who kept receipts, photographs, letters, cards, documents, books, and negatives.  


Today, I felt like fossicking through my closet  family archives, and was rewarded with the discovery of 1950s negatives, treasured by father.  Let me demonstrate why a negative is worth a thousand words.

Original Negative, scannedScan the negative, like it was a photo (jpeg) file, and then use your scanner to modify the file before saving it to your computer.

Adjust color for a negative, scanned.Find the tab for adjusting the color of the photo/negative, and INVERT the color.

Inverted Color NegativeLike magic, an image has appeared without chemicals or dark room!!  Save this jpeg file to your computer, and you can spiff it up with a bit of photo editing.  I prefer to use the online service, PicMonkey.com.  Ultimately, I end my morning with this great shot:

Mystery Man from negativeSure, I don’t know this particular dude, but I do know that he was important to my father.  Even the tiniest peek into his past gives me a shiver of connection.

Anyone else have some negatives to share???