The Seasons Turn : Photo Friday

Today is the first day of Fall 2011 and here in northeastern Pennsylvania it is reliably gray and damp.  A hint of color perked me up, though.  Grabbing my camera I raced to beat the torrential rain and captured these early signs of season’s turning.

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Family Secrets Lurking 2.0 – Wordless Wednesday

Family Secrets Lurking 1.0

Family Secrets Lurking 2.0

Serendipity Surrounds the Secret

Robert and May Stephenson Minor were reported to travel extensively, and I have always presumed it was due to wanderlust and adventure. The Donald Minor Postcard Collection (1906-1910) contained examples of photo cards from Niagara Falls, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Chicago, Charleston, West Virginia and Markleton, Pennsylvania; postmark ink lent support to the family recollections. The notes from these same cards offer a different explanation, however, particularly when read after the 1941 exchange between Robert and son Donald.

In a card postmarked from Pittsburg, Pennsylvania on 24 March 1910, Robert writes:

Arived here all right – feeling fairly well to day can’t tell you just where to write yet or less you write to the saint Charles hotel.  I would be there.  On my pill every day. R. M. 

Robert writes again on 5 April 1910:

 Donald are you well and enjoying yourself. Is rover all right.  I would like to have you over here to be with me for company.  we might go a hunting with rover.  I am not feeling very good I have the headaches prety bad to day.  What are the folks doing.  Could you wright to me.  From Papa

Donald was just shy of his eighth birthday when his forty year old father sent this card, inviting the boy and his dog, Rover, to come hunting. Robert’s headaches must have been a debilitating, chronic fact of life which even a young child would have known about.  I am not sensing adventure in the travels of 1910; Robert, it seems, suffered from migraines that took him on a search for relief, not a journey of adventure.   The card’s postmark reveals the clue about where he sought relief that spring of 1910 – Markleton, Pennsylvania.  Nestled in the Allegheny Mountains, this town was home to a grand health resort.

Robert Minor traveled a lot in 1910; Donald’s postcards indicate that Robert was in Pittsburgh in February and March; Markleton in April; Buffalo in May and June; Pittsburgh in September; and  Markleton in October – with Donald.

This card was sent to Donald by his uncle John P. Minor, Robert’s eldest brother.

Donald how are you geting a long ar you having a nise time dont you get lost in the mountans from Uncle John P Minor

Don’t get lost in the mountains, like the secret of Robert’s condition.

I wonder how long Robert suffered from headaches.  Was Robert hospitalized in 1941 for the same chronic condition?  When did his headaches start? What events precipitated his incapacitating condition? And how did these absences affect little Donald?

The secret lurking in my work room is become sharper, easier to imagine and envision.


Family Secrets Lurking 1.0 – Amanuensis Monday

Family Secrets Lurking 1.0

Family Secrets Lurking 2.0

Serendipity Surrounds a Secret

A family secret lurks in my work room, its edges smudged by family pride and shame and simmering disputes.  Penciled thoughts leap from papers long forgotten; stamps and postmarks reveal clues that no one thought to hide.  The secret’s outline is becoming sharper.

Robert Minor was born in 1869, the youngest child of a well-to-do stock dealer in southwestern Pennsylvania.  Francis Marion and Mary Jane Gwynn Minor passed on Greene County farms to each of their four children, with Robert inheriting the Home Farm, also known as the Jacob Myers farm.  Like his family before him, Robert was to become a stock dealer, raising his two children, Helen and Donald, with his wife May Laura Stephenson Minor, on the Home Farm.  What was on the land was far less valuable than what was IN the land, and once the coal  rights were sold in the early 1900s, the family’s opportunities multiplied. Stories floated during our family reunions, whispers of fabulous wealth and travel, all lost to the depression and the world war that followed.  The details remained in the shadows.  I thought nothing of it, until I began collecting and curating family records.

Four days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, my great-grandfather wrote to his son, Donald Minor, from the Mercer Sanitarium, Mercer, Pennsylvania.  The nurses were all working somewhere else and the “guests” receiving Dr. Richardson’s treatments needed to find new quarters.

December 11, 1941

Dear Donald, Received your letter and will say that you got a good price for your calves. Please excuse this pencil riting (sic) My ink is set up in the (cupboard) or the (clothes press) will in riting these few lines. Dr. Richardson wants me to write you. Won’t you please get me a room in the Washington Hospital. Please do that much for me as he says all the nurses are away working. Do it at once and please and thank you. Yours respect (sic), your Dad

My mother was a young girl at that time, and vaguely recollects discussions surrounding her grandfather’s hospitalization.  One fact stuck with her – Robert Minor ended up at Mayview, a psychiatric hospital outside Pittsburgh.  A cousin remembers stories of misery and desperation, with Robert pleading to be removed from the hospital.

Did deteriorating wealth lead to deteriorating mental health?  Were Robert and Donald estranged? What circumstances led to Robert’s stay in the sanitarium and from what was he recuperating?  Was the Mercer Sanitarium more hotel than hospital, like the Victorian health resorts?  If so, then a move to Mayview would have been a very jolting experience.

A secret is lurking in my work room and I aim to coax it out.  “Please do that much for me. . . ”

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Norman Scott Strickland — Family Birthdays: Wordless Wednesday

Norman Scott Strickland, born September 14, 1928 in Chase City, Virginia, and pictured here as a high school senior in about 1945.

 

My father would have been eighty-three years old today.  The fourth boy of George and Florette Sayles Strickland, Norman grew up on the family farm outside of Chase City, Virginia.  When the eldest brother, Sidney, got to seventh grade, George decided to buy a bus and transport his children and those of his neighbors into the city schools.  Within a few years George had at least four buses and was responsible for closing several area one room school houses.

During high school Norman drove bus #3; his pals Charles Duckworth and Grayson Mullins also drove buses for my grandfather.  Charles related in a June 8, 2010 letter that all the guys had nicknames — Norman was “Chick”, a kick off from Strick; Charles was “Duck” and Grayson was known as “Moon”.

After Chick, Moon and myself had finished our school routes, we each had two routes, we would gather in one  of the buses to wait for the bell to ring.  On one morning it was noticed that I had on mismatched socks.  The three of us decided to wear our socks mismatched the next day.  We did and with in a few days all the high school was dressed in mismatched socks.

My father was a good kid, quiet, reserved and never in trouble.  In fact, those are adjectives that probably described my dad every day of his life.  Norman was also responsible, smart, caring, and ever ready to lend a hand and share a smile —

 a true friend to a host of people.

A Tribute To Gunner: Remembering September 11, 2001

Not too long ago I met a story.  While walking my dog I stopped to wish a neighbor well with his move.  He waved thanks and kept walking toward his house, and the fellow taping up boxes looked up and beamed.  I thought he was grateful for the coffee approaching in my neighbor’s hand until he exclaimed “Puppy!”  Tall, lean, with a ponytail in back, this fifty-something man walked over, said hi to me, then crouched to say hello to Cappy.  I call this the working hello and I know that the person greeting my dog not only likes dogs but works hard to understand and communicate with them. In this relaxed fall morning a story unfolded.

Dave got his first work dog as a young Vietnam soldier. When this pup was shot literally from underneath him, he was given another to train and work.  “War dogs you don’t get too attached to. They are there to do a job.  You’re eighteen, away from home, and you love them, but you don’t get too attached.”  That’s how Dave became involved with civilian search and rescue teams.

In the 1990′s Dave was employed as a veterinary assistant in an Atlanta Emergency Clinic.  One morning he found a young stray tied to the clinic door, with two broken legs and a ruptured spleen.  The doctors for whom he worked didn’t believe in euthanizing if they felt there was a reasonable chance of saving an animal.  They did their magic, and then it was Dave’s turn to do his.  In caring for this nine month old pup Dave recognized that special blend of courage, smarts, loyalty, and desire to please that search and rescue work requires.  He put in a call to a buddy at the nearby military base and soon the flat-coated black lab graduated third of thirty in the search and rescue training program.

“Gunner was my soul-mate.  He was so special.  There are forty-two people on this earth, walking around today, because he found them.  Special.  We were there after 9/11.  Gunner was amazing.  There was too much noise at the site.  I could only use hand signals.  I’d send Gunner out; at thirty feet he would stop and wait for my command.  I would move my hand.”  At this Dave held out his right arm and, with his index and third fingers extended, he made a small horizontal wave.

“Then Gunner would start his zigzag pattern back toward me, sniffing. That’s how they teach them to search a grid.  When they find someone alive, the dog is trained to jump up and down and make a lot of noise. When they find a body or body part they sit.  We went to search and rescue, and of course you know it turned out to be all recovery.  Gunner would go out, search and sit.  Search and sit. He found 30 intact bodies.  Thirty! Out of 300 that means my Gunner found ten percent of the bodies recovered.  Everything else was an arm here, a hand.”  Dave paused. He retired Gunner after that mission was complete, and they traveled together on Dave’s new job as a mover. Gunner succumbed to cancer in 2008.

”He was my soul mate. The dog to replace him hasn’t been born.”

Here’s to all those brave teams of men and women and dogs, who tirelessly searched for days and days through the rubble of the Towers.

Here’s to all those brave teams yet to be created, who will go out again and again, anytime there is tragedy, risking their lives so others may live, or find peace of mind.