Points of View

DSC_1923I look through a viewfinder at least once a day.  Photography makes me practice seeing different points of view; the very act of framing the familiar often reveals a hidden detail that adds unexpected meaning, an “aha!” that leaves me changed.

Genealogy can be a framing exercise too, with questions serving as viewfinder. During research on my dad’s neighbors, the Crute family, I posed the question:  If the Crute’s provided regular part-time labor for the neighboring Strickland tobacco acres, did the Stricklands reciprocate and provide needed labor to the Crutes?  Looking for reciprocity opened up the space to confront the Jim Crow-era world that set the context for my father’s memories, and consequently the lore that was handed down to me.

Charles, Clarence, and Robert, along with their mom, Cora, figure prominently in Norman Strickland’s childhood.  The black family lived on the Boydton-Chase City Road, a bit west of the Dodson/Strickland farm in Mecklenburg County, Virginia from the 1920s through 1940, at least.  The family also included their father, Mathew (1883-1931) and siblings Willie Bee, Daisy, Alice, Angie, and Odie.

During that era of hardship my grandfather pulled out all the stops; he farmed on Oakview, invested in Chase City real estate, and purchased one school bus after another, contracting with the public school system to transport rural kids into Chase City’s schools.  I was told as a child, repeatedly, that George Strickland single-handedly shut down all the one-room schoolhouses in the area.

And he did it with the regular part-time help of Charles, Clarence, and Robert, according to my father.

Hunter's Lane, Mecklenburg County, VA 1932
The Dodson/Strickland farm was located between Route 46, or the Chase City-Boydton Road and the county road 679 also known as Hunter’s Lane, along Butcher’s Creek. It is thought the Crute farm was located along RT 46.

Mecklenburg County, VA 1932 Map Key


In the 1940 census, my uncles–Sidney, 17, Clifford, 15, and Paul, 14–were students in high school.  My dad,11, had just completed sixth grade.  Clarence Crute was 24 years old, farming on his own account, and evidently the primary support for his mother, Cora, and two sisters, Angie, 16, and Odie, 12, who were all listed as occupied in home housework.  Clarence had attained a seventh grade education, Angie a sixth grade education, and Odie a fifth grade education. The discrepancies in educational attainment and normal occupation are striking for the two families.

I once asked my father if George had used his buses to transport all the kids, or just the white kids.  Were all the one room schools shuttered or only the white schools?  Where did the Crute kids go to school?

Norman was stunned, I sensed, as he realized that he didn’t know where the Crutes went to school.  A conclusion is unavoidable:  George bought buses and transported white kids into better schools, into a system that went all the way through 11th grade.  But my grandfather didn’t buy buses to close all the black one room schools.  He didn’t even buy buses and hire the Crute men to drive the black kids who made it through the one room school curriculum into the local black high school, the Thyne Institute, founded on the outskirts of Chase City in 1877.

The explanations about the Crute contribution to the Oakview farm were woven as a story of reciprocity.  George needed help running the farm as his boys attended school and he gave the Crutes jobs and paid them with a fair share of the tobacco crop.  Granddaddy was a good and kind and fair employer, as the story went and the reality of the Crutes’ limited educational choices and work opportunities as a result were simply erased.

My family engaged in opportunity hoarding.

I don’t know where the members of this African American family landed after World War II.  From the records it appears that they, like my father’s family surged off the farms and into cities and towns with other work/life options.  But my father and his brothers had high school educations; Paul and my dad went on to college and into professional careers.  Sidney and Clifford held managerial positions for most of their lives.

What of the Crutes?  Did they migrate into the Bronx and Chicago and other destinations north?  What work did they find?  What dreams did they hold?

And what would their lives have been like, if instead of sitting atop a tractor or behind an team of oxen, they had sat on a bus?







Tick Ick

I began my day at the doctor’s reception desk, requesting the soonest available appointment for an inspection of my tick bite site.  I didn’t like the angry O that encircled the mouth bits that I hadn’t been able to extract.  The lady took me serious, and scooted me in for an appointment within the hour.  Let me back up…

I do checks several times a day on me and my dogs, trying to make sure that these creepy spider relatives don’t suck our blood.  We’ve got your American dog tick and your woodchuck and rabbit ticks. And we’ve got my favorite creepy crawler, the deer tick, carrier of a little bacterium known as Borrelia burgdorferi.  I am quite good at getting the critters before they latch on, but just in case I keep a tweezer and alcohol handy at all times.

I know exactly when this particular tick bit me.  I had one post-shower walk  in the yard at sundown on Sunday, and a couple hours later, I did another swipe up my legs and there it was.  I don’t know one tick from another.  All species are pulled off and flushed down the toilet with the same speed.  And then I watch the site, just to make sure that I don’t develop the BULL’S EYE.

Yesterday evening I did a double take.  USUALLY the mouth bits cause a LITTLE lumpy something as my body kicks them out.  But this looked mean.  Different.

I am not taking chances, y’all.  Lyme disease is endemic in Northeastern Pennsylvania and physicians around here don’t mess around.  That is how I came to sit patiently waiting in the windowless room.

The doctor examined my leg, and explained that ticks release proteolytic enzymes when they bite which causes bruising sometimes.  AND THAT IS WHAT I HAD EVIDENCE OF ON MY LEG!!!!  What relief!  Of course I will continue to monitor for Lyme’s flu-like symptoms, as per usual after a known tick bite.  But for now I am Lyme FREE!  (Also for the record, ticks have to be attached, sucking your blood, for about 36 hours before they can infect you with Lyme bacteria…)

But this incident got me wondering…what did my ancestors do about ticks?  Did they pluck ’em off?  Did they worry about getting sick from them?  Were there as many ticks then as we have now?

In the wild


I open my eyes to shadows from shade-filtered sunlight, an auspicious beginning to Sunday.  Hours into my morning walk I spot this Wild Geranium inconspicuously sharing leaf litter with ferns.  Spring woods are crammed with such delightful surprises.