Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Autobiography or Diary of Mary Jane Dudley Donaldson

In honor of my maternal grandmother's birthday, the story of her early life in her own words:

I was born June 26, 1898 in a big one room log house. I was the youngest of seven, six boys all born in this house. It was in Clinton County, Ohio on a mud road called Mud Switch. It was a big event when I came along with six brothers and I stood a rough time. We built two other rooms later.

We had three acres of ground my father gardened for food. My mother canned a lot of vegetables and dried beans and corn. We all picked blackberries and grapes to can and make jam and jelly.

My father cut wood and cross ties for the B & O Railroad also fence rails. There was a woods across the road from where we lived where my father worked. It was owned by S. S. Puckett who had a [illegible].

I would go with my father in the woods to play. I would gather hickory nuts, hazel nuts, and acorns. My father would trim a big tree when he cut it. I would help him pile brush and he would cut a big limb for me to ride as a horse. I would watch the birds and squirrels.

My mother would drive a horse and buggy about two miles into Lynchburg and wash and iron all day for 50 cents to a dollar to help make a living for us all. It was hard to get along there.

My mother would bring home what we call whole wheat flour (25 pounds would be 25 cents a sack) to make our bread. My father would buy white corn and shell to take to the mill to grind for corn meal to make corn bread. We would all shell corn at night, also shell beans.

We would gather maple sap in the spring to make maple syrup. It would take a lot to make a pint. I helped to gather it from sugar maple trees and boil it down in a big iron kettle which we also used to make lye hominy and boil white corn to get the shells off in the lye. It had to be washed a lot before use.

We also made our lye soap in the big kettle to wash with. We used fat [illegible] and grease and dripped our lye. We had a big barrel out by our back door with a big old tub with ashes in it which we put on top of the barrel under the roof. My father would save the hickory ash when he cut a tree to put in the tub and when it would rain it would run into the tub in the ash making the lye. We also made apple butter in the kettle and we made dried apples.

We lived by a big ditch which we called the township ditch. I would play in it in the summer and skate in the winter. There was a big pond below our place where my brothers and other neighbor children played in the ice a game called shinney by hitting a can with a club to see who made the goal post first. I would get hit on the head but I was not the goal. My brothers would try to make me stay home but I would slip off and follow.

I and my two youngest brothers went to a one room brick school and walked about two mile. We got there before it started, 8:30 a.m., and would not get home till around 5:00 p.m. We wore heavy clothing and gingham dresses and wool stockings my mother knit, and high top shoes. We had heavy snows then and it would drift over a rail fence where I and my brother would slide over the top.

We had a one room white frame church beside the school where we would go on Sunday. We would all go and if anyone got sick, folks would go and cut wood for the stoves. The ladies would cook the meal for the help.

We would have box suppers to get money for our church. We would fix a box with food and put our name inside and sell it to the highest bidder and we were to eat with the fellow who bought it. Sometimes we were not pleased with the fellow.

We also went on hay rides with a big wagon and a team of horses hitched to it filled with straw and blankets over it. We would sing and ask riddles and in winter there was bobsleds which some had and would hitch to with sideboards on and hay to go sled riding for miles, and sometimes to spelling bees and ciphering matches to other schools.

How would you folks like these times today?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

My Dad

In addition to being Father's Day, today would have been my dad's 79th birthday.  Russell Lee Davis was born June 19, 1932 and died August 18, 2003.  This is an abridged version of the eulogy I delivered at my dad's funeral on August 20, 2003:

Many of you who knew my dad probably remember him as a quiet, shy man.  That was only his public persona.  I would like to share some of my family's memories of the real Lee Davis.

When we started talking about our memories of my dad, we discovered a common theme - fishing.  My dad loved to fish.  He would always get his fishing equipment together the night before a fishing trip.  He told us kids to keep our distance from him for fear that we would tangle his line or be stabbed by a fish hook.  How many times did we hear him say, "Don't step on any fish hooks!"

He also had his bait routines.  To make doughballs, he would spread newspaper on the kitchen floor and sit down with some Velveeta cheese and a box of Wheaties, knead them together, and form them into small balls.  He also caught his own night crawlers.  After dark he would grab a flashlight, a tin can, and the closest kid and head for the backyard.  He would hold the flashlight, the chosen child would hold the can, and we would creep around the yard capturing night crawlers.

My dad at East Fork Lake, near
Williamsburg, Ohio in 1998
My dad wanted all three of his kids to be good fishermen.  Russ still fishes, but dad wasn't as successful with Cheryl and me.  Cheryl's first fishing trip was almost her last.  The first time she tried to cast her line out she hooked her sweater instead.  Dad told her he would never take her fishing again, but later relented.  I recall one of the last times I went fishing.  I was around 10 or 11 years old and hooked a real fish - a trout - for the first time.  I started to reel it in and thought I had caught something the size of a small whale.  It was hard work, but dad wouldn't help me reel it in.  I suppose this was one of those parenting moments to build my character and teach me self-sufficiency, but the only thing I learned was that fishing wasn't much fun.

My dad also enjoyed hunting.  Cheryl and I never went hunting with him, but, as adults, we did go with him to check out his favorite hunting spot before squirrel season began.  Russ and my mom did go hunting with him, serving primarily as hunting dogs.  Mom was the more successful in the role.  While hunting in some high grass, dad instructed mom to walk in front of him and scare out rabbits.  She agreed to do so, as long as he didn't shoot her.  Sure enough, she scared out a rabbit and he shot it.  Mom told him that she was the best hound dog he ever had.

As a child, dad also did some trapping.  One day, he and a friend set out some traps.  On their way to school the following day, he and his friend checked the traps.  The good news was that they trapped something.  The bad news was that it was a skunk and, as dad put it, they "got skunked."  They then proceeded to school.  Upon catching their scent, the teacher told them that if they would just leave and go home, she wouldn't even mark them absent.

Having heard our fishing and hunting stories, you might think that my dad was the stereotypical slovenly male.  This wasn't the case.  He was very particular about his appearance and even dispensed fashion advice to us.  On days when he went to church or some place where he would need to dress up, he was obsessed.  He would ask if his tie was too long, if it was too short, if the knot was straight.  His hair had to be perfect, his shoes shined, and his socks absolutely had to coordinate with the rest of his ensemble.

Dad rarely shopped for his own clothing, but when he did, the experience was nearly unbearable for anyone accompanying him.  He wore exactly the same type of pants to work every day, but Russ remembers spending an hour with him, shopping only for one pair of work pants.

His obsession with finding the perfect clothing also surfaced when he shopped for my mom's Christmas presents.  Each year he recruited me to go Christmas shopping with him.  I remember one excriciating evening when dad and I spent what seemed to be hours at McAlpin's trying to decide between two outfits he had selected.  After weighing the pros and cons of each outfit, he finally decided on one.  Incidentally, I was back at McAlpin's a few weeks later when my mom exchanged the outfit he had taken so long choosing.

My dad could be very stern, but he also had a playful side.  Since he worked early hours on the railroad, he was usually home when we got out of school.  Cheryl remembers watching the Flintstones and Tom and Jerry cartoons after school with dad.  Russ remembers how tired dad would be after work, but that he would still play with him.  He would tell Russ to get his marbles and plastic army men and they would shoot marbles at the army men.  Dad enjoyed sports and often took us bowling and to play putt-putt golf on his off days.

My dad and his granddaughter, Alyssa
 However, his playful side really kicked in when he became a grandfather.  Although he occasionally disciplined Alyssa, he was more often her partner in crime.  For instance, one day he took a plastic newspaper wrapper, formed it into a ball, and threw it at her.  Alyssa pretended to hold a baseball bat and took a swing.  This continued until Cheryl walked into the room and reminded them that they shouldn't throw things in the house, to which dad replied. "She started it!"

Dad also enjoyed his time with Quincy and looked forward to playing baseball with him.  Each time he saw Quincy he said, "Boy, he's really going to be something."

I hope you have enjoyed hearing a few of our memories of my dad.  He had a great sense of humor and would rather be remembered with laughter than with tears.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Haven't I Heard This Story Before?

Chancey Shaw was not a model citizen in his hometown of Ripley, Ohio. He liked his drink and had been arrested a couple of times for assault. Although he lived in a hotbed of Underground Railroad activity, his goal wasn’t to help escaped slaves on the road to freedom, but prevent them from doing so while padding his pockets a bit in the process. Chancey was a nephew of my fifth great-grandfather, Russell Shaw. Peter Shaw, Russell’s brother, was Chancey’s father. 

 The Ohio River was the dividing line between slave state of Kentucky and possible freedom in Ohio. In Ripley, on the bluff overlooking the river, was the home of Reverend John Rankin, a Presbyterian minister and outspoken abolitionist. His home was a landmark for escaping slaves, who looked for the lighted lantern the family left in a window. The Rankin family and some other Ripley residents would hide slaves in their homes, then transport them north to another stop on the Underground Railroad. The residents of Ripley were well-aware of the Rankin family’s abolitionist activities.

John Rankin House, Ripley Ohio
The Ohio River had frozen over in February 1838, creating what could be an easier escape  for slaves than rowing across the river in a skiff. Later in the month, though, the ice had started to thaw. On a frigid late February night, Chancey Shaw positioned himself on the banks of the Ohio River hoping to nab an escaping slave and collect a reward from a grateful slave owner. When he heard the splashing of water and the cracking of ice, he must have thought that this would be his lucky night.

A slave woman and her two year old child struggled to cross the river on the thawing ice. In her desperate escape, the woman fell through the ice three times. Chancey heard her coming and met her on the Ohio shore. He grabbed her arm and, surprisingly, said, “Any woman who crossed that river carrying her baby has won her freedom.” Then Chancey Shaw directed the woman to the Rankin home, where he told her she would find help. I would love to know what made the slave catcher give up a reward of possibly hundreds of dollars and have mercy on this woman and her child.

Does this story sound vaguely familiar?

A few years later after this incident, Reverend Rankin was visiting one of his sons at Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati. There, he related the story of the woman’s incredible escape to a professor at the seminary, Calvin Stowe, and his wife, Harriet Beecher Stowe. Years later in her novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, Mrs. Stowe based the character of Eliza, a slave woman who jumped with her child from ice floe to ice floe to cross the Ohio River to freedom, on the courageous woman who risked her life and the life of her child to flee the bondage of slavery.

If you are interested in the rich history of the Underground Railroad in Brown County, Ohio, I highly recommend Beyond the River: The Untold Story of the Heroes of the Underground Railroad by Ann Hagedorn.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Portrait of Jennie

I was searching through my ancestors’ names to get ideas for my blog and Jennie Ballein caught my eye. Now, Jennie Esther Ballein was my paternal grandmother, but the Jennie who captured my attention was her aunt. I haven’t done much research on Jennie Ballein, but I do know that she has a unique distinction in my family tree.

Jennie Ballein was born October 12, 1864 in Brown County, Ohio to Peter and Margaret Kincaid Ballein. At the time of her birth, Jennie’s father had just completed four months service in Company B of the 172nd Ohio Infantry during the Civil War.

Jennie grew up near Sardinia in Brown County, Ohio with her eight brothers and sisters. On September 7, 1887, she married John Rush Srofe of Green Township in Brown County. They had two children, a son, Clyde Leroy and a daughter, Berdetta. Jennie and John divorced sometime between 1910 and 1920 (obviously I need to do a little more research). John had remarried by 1921 and died in 1944.

Jennie, however, still had some living to do. At the age of 65 in 1930, she was living in Georgetown, Ohio with Berdetta and her husband, Harry Galliher. I’m really not sure what she was up to in the next 34 years. Yes, 34 years! I first became aware of Jennie when I found the newspaper clipping at the right in my grandmother’s Bible.

The caption below the photo reads, “CENTENARIAN – Mrs. Jennie Ballein Srofe, a native of the Sardinia community, who makes her home with her daughter and son-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Harry Galliher, of 431 Kenwood Ave., Georgetown, will observe her 100th birthday on Monday, Oct. 12. Members of the Georgetown Presbyterian Church will honor Mrs. Srofe Sunday with a cottage prayer meeting followed by a visitation by members of the church and public from 3 to 4 p.m. Mrs. Srofe was born in 1864 and was married in 1888 to John R. Srofe . A son, Clyde L., died on August 18.”

Jennie died on May 7, 1969 at the age of 104, the longest-lived person in my family tree. Consider the history she lived through – from the Civil War to Vietnam War protests. Presidential assassinations, two world wars, the Great Depression. Automobiles, air travel, space travel. Imagine the stories she must have told!