6/30/08

A story to be told

Ninety Eight years ago, a couple left Kansas heading for southeast Alabama. He was an Iowan Indian, she was a young french girl. They had married and become the beginnings of a new American family. They had 8 children. He had served for the Union Army as a cook and was a part of the "occupation troops" that stayed in the northern Alabama region. He fell in love with the south and determined that it was a far better opportunity than the Kansas Territory his ancestors and her family had believed the west to be.

He returned home from the war (Civil War - in the south it is "The War") a disappointed man. He had seen things that made him feel his patriotism was somewhat misplaced. As much as he felt the cause was worthy, his feeling was more that it was worthy to keep a country intact, not to keep a region under some control. He had joined the Union Army to establish himself as a "citizen" of this country where his own heritage established he was a savage. His experience left him changed forever.

As Popman Linton and Granny Linton traveled back to the south with their wagon, few possessions, eight children, mule and ox, they knew the world was changing. They also knew they were changing with it. Little did they know how quickly and unbelievably fast the world would consume their offspring.

They settled in Athens, Alabama. Popman opened a small country store and began farming a bit. He and Granny (a redhead of french ancestry) ran the store and became full fledged members of a budding community. Popman worked hard to hide his native heritage taking on the look of regal gentlemen he saw in the larger cities. He grew a debbonaire mustach and kept his hair closely cropped. Granny simply adored him as did his children.

They worked with "sharecroppers", farmers and small businessmen in the area. They were quickly accepted and they quickly began their role as citizens. There are many stories about Popman- including the one about how he designed a burglar alarm from an alarm clock and walked two thieves barefoot to the Sheriff's office after catching them trying to steal gasoline in the middle of the night. Much of the land he bought eventually ended up deeded in the names of those who "sharecropped" with him as he was man of his word. He believed in building a community and he believed in keeping honest men as friends.

Their youngest daughter, Georgia Pearl, was just a baby when they made the great crossing. Her name alone indicated the southern heritage Popman intended to instill into her life. Georgia Pearl, however, was a pampered baby and a beneficiary of his flawless skin and dark eyes. She had her mother's penchant for adventure. She quickly became the light of all eyes both within the family and within the community. Until her dying day at age 100, she was always the spotlight in the room. Her beauty and charm never betrayed her.

In the same community at the time was the Pylant family. Archie was a budding railroad engineer. His son Pedro was the same age as Georgia Pearl. There are many stories I heard in my distant past from my great aunts and uncles about the love that blossomed between Georgie (the name my Grandmother soon was tagged with) and Pedro. The story of their marriage is the one I find the most entertaining.

Georgie was the baby of the family. Both her sisters married and moved away at early ages leaving Georgie as the sole female child in the household. She was truly the apple of Popman's eye and the eye of many a young suitor. Pedro was a handsome fella. He was tall, athletic and his curly red hair made him uniquely interesting especially to a young girl with a redheaded mother and dark haired siblings. She often said he was the "prettiest thing I ever saw". She was Homecoming Queen - I have her dress. He was Homecoming King and the star football player of their little country school. THEY were in love.

Georgie didn't have the courage to tell her parents she was in love and engaged. She was, after all, their baby and they had big dreams for her. She conspired with her sisters to keep the secret and they conspired to get the wedding plans in order. The wedding was a simple eloping in the middle of the night. Georgie always did things in a rebellious manner. The twinkle in her black eyes meant more than just a healthy girl, rebellion was her forte.

It was in the middle of the night that Effie and Birdie came to the window, crawled in, dressed her in her new wedding dress they had made for her and helped her climb out. In the middle of the night she and Pedro eloped and got married. In the middle of the night, Pedro shoved her back into that window, she took off the dress and hid it! It was several days before the family knew of the nuptuals. I have always assumed that Pedro finally insisted on having his wife to himself. I can only imagine her presentation to Popman and Granny when the truth came out. No one ever shared those details with me. Grandmother only once shared with me this much of the story. It was a rare moment when she truly wanted her then rebellious granddaughter to know that she didn't write the book on secrets and rebellion that she told me this much.

I never met Popman and Granny. I only briefly met Pedro. He was "estranged" from my Grandmother and her family due to his addiction to alcohol. I feel like I knew them all completely however. My Grandmother, Great Aunts and Uncles and Mother spent a large part of my lifetime sharing the stories with me. My mother has even written two large notebooks of short stories outlining her life adventures and the stories of the past that were shared with her. She wants us to never forget the family from which we came.

Those stories have made me into the person I am today. They made me appreciate the times I have now when others say "oh those were the days". I caught myself saying those very words the other day as we passed an old shut down gas station with a rusted out truck abandoned in front of it - more than likely a 40 or 50 model something. Oh how simple those times seemed to have been.

I am grateful for things like air conditioning, cars and electricity. Those simple days were only simple in what they had not. They were not simple in the effort it took to make up for that. The great part of that simplicity that I think I miss today is the fact that instead of opening a website or a book from the library, stories and information were shared face to face. You had to be a neighbor because your contribution to the community meant your survival as well. You had to get along and resolve your disputes with other ways instead of lawsuits that put a dollar value to every wrong you felt had been done to you. Most of all, you had to share your history with your children and their friends because it was the only way to get them to grow past your failures and into their success.

I still have neighbors - those down the hill and those across the country. Technology has allowed me to expand the list of people I call friend. However, it has also allowed me to become more secluded and withdrawn in my life and less willing to share openly with others. Technology has allowed me to experience new horrors and fears further causing me to want to withdraw. I have to remember that my parents, their parents and the parents before that depended on ONE ANOTHER for everything. I have to remember that it's people who make the difference, not technology. I have to remember that being a good neighbor far surpasses the need to protect myself from every new fear someone tells me I should have.

Yes, simple times were easier in many ways. But, when I am laying awake at night and the sensation of the ceiling fan as it slowly circulates the cool air created by my air conditioner around me, I am ever so glad that those simple times have evolved. I don't particular like sweating 24 hours a day. I do, however, plan to go visit a favored neighbor this week and listen to his stories once again as he describes his lamentations for days gone by.

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