Walt Whitman’s Battles of Chancellorsville: Horrific Wounds, Night Fighting, and Other “Strange and Fearful Pictures”

Mysteries and Conundrums blogs about Civil War Battles in Virginia stir deep emotions in me as I try to imagine the fear. horrors, and impact of families during these times. The Bolling family, my grandfather, 3 great grandfathers and their families (descendants from the Bolling family originally from England) and descendants of John Rolfe and Pocahontas, lived for decades (1802-1946) on Elys Ford Road immediately adjacent to major Civil War Battles at Chancellorsville, Five Forks, and the Wilderness Farms. In fact the now infamous “Widow Tapp” was my 3rd great grandmother. The bulk of the Bolling descendants also lived in Stafford and Spotsylvania Counties, and in Petersburg. Where Widow Tapp lived a simple and poor life in Spotsylvania County, Robert Bolling IV in 1823 built the Bollingbrook Mansion, known today as Centre Hill Mansion Museum. Thank you again for these wonderful posts.

Mysteries & Conundrums

from: Harrison

This year’s sesquicentennial commemorations of the Battle of Chancellorsville will build upon long traditions of eyewitness, published narrative and non-eyewitness scholarship.  Yet I’ve been fascinated lately to realize that Chancellorsville inspired Walt Whitman to make, forcefully, one of his earliest contrarian forecasts for writing about the Civil War, a view that he later expressed in the now-famous sentence, “The real war will never get in the books.”

Whitman’s longest-known rumination on Chancellorsville, dated May 12, 1863, asked

Of scenes like these, I say, who writes—who e’er can write, the story?  Of many a score—aye, thousands, North and South, of unwritten heroes, unknown heroisms, incredible, impromptu, first-class desperations—who tells?  No history, ever—No poem sings, no music sounds, those bravest men of all—those deeds.  Nor formal General’s report, nor print, nor book in the library, nor column in the paper, embalms the bravest, North or South, East or West.


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THANKFUL THURSDAY: The Best Things In Life Are Free – Part 1

The best things in life are free, especially the gifts of our ancestors whose trail blazing contributions started first in the colony of Virginia (Jamestown, 1607) and then in Plymouth (1620) over 400 years ago. These settlers from England, Wales, Scotland, Holland, and Ireland bonded together to form our religious, social, business and industry, government, education and transportation infrastructures that continue today. But wait a minute. We should pause here to remember that their legacies and gifts are free to us but came at great costs to them. They gave up everything to journey across the seas; they suffered hunger, disease, and death aboard ships; they lost many family members—especially heavy losses of women, in their initial settlements due to cold, hunger, and disease. They were befriended by Indians and then battled them for land to build homes and towns and to cultivate crops; waters to cross, bridges to build and waters to fish in; and hunting grounds for sources of meat. With industry came slavery and then brothers fought brothers in the American Civil War.

Rev James Blair

Rev James Blair

Yet, everywhere we look we can see the benefits of their often inhumane struggles which gave us the freedom of religion and speech, their cultivation of tobacco and other crops that attracted purchasers from around the world, the creation and building of colleges and universities like William and Mary in Williamsburg by commissary Rev. James Blair (related to me through my paternal 2nd great grandfather and my 1st great aunt). He became president of William and Mary in 1693 and served in that position until his death in 1743; and, the University of Virginia (UVA) in Charlottesville, founded by our third president, Thomas Jefferson, after he completed his eight year term of office from 1801 to 1809. He founded UVA to give young people in Virginia a school where they could learn to be our country’s leaders of tomorrow. Upon quick reflection, I ask myself “how can so many Americans remain unaware, apathetic, dissatisfied, or even hostile about how far we’ve come and what we have achieved?”

Despite 2+ inches of snow on the ground from the night before (Wednesday, January 23, 2013), gusts of harsh winds, and mid-teen temperatures—very little in comparison to our ancestors’ times and travel conditions, so we happily packed up the truck, our three small dogs (Jake, Baby, and Odie), snacks, and warm snugglies, to take to the roads of Virginia again. We begin our journey by entering our itinerary into our iPad-based GPS system. We expect the GPS to guide us south from Calvert County, Maryland to our destination planned for late afternoon in Petersubrg, Virginia. Interestingly enough, Ms. GPS wants to steer us 20+ miles north and have us use Interstate 95 which is a much traveled road with little to no local scenery or history about our ancestors from hundreds of years before. It was at this moment that we decided we would show Ms. GPS who’s who in day tripping at our first leg of our trip. Thus, we ignored her voice as she continued to tell us; “please turn around at the first possible opportunity.” We are traveling south on U.S. Route 301 going through Waldorf, White Plains, and LaPlata. And, guess what? Our choice was “spot on”. We drove over the two-lane continuous truss Governor Harry W. Nice Bridge that spans the Potomac River between Newburg (in Charles County, Maryland at Cobb Island) into the town of Dahlgren in King George County, Virginia. We realized almost instantly that this was probably the route (in reverse) used by our ancestors when they migrated from Virginia and into southern Maryland. We spotted our first colonial history roadside markers in Dahlgren, Virginia.

Dahlgrens Raid Sign

Dahlgrens Raid History Marker

And now in King George County, my genealogy confirms that my paternal 6th great grandfather, Colonel Robert Bolling IV (1759-1839) married Sally Washington here on September 1, 1796.

Colonel Robert Bolling IV

Colonel Robert Bolling IV

This Robert Bolling in 1823 also built the Bollingbrook Mansion, now known as the Centre Hill Mansion Museum in Petersburg, VA. This will be our end destination when we tour it in Petersburg City at 6 o’clock. But there’s time for us to see much more of Virginia before we arrive at the mansion. I hope you will continue our journey with us in my next blog to follow.

What Our Elderly Can Offer

The post that follows below my paragraphs was sent to me by my daughter Jennifer after reading in early January a few of my blogs about our family’s heritage. It’s author is Bible Gateway, 5300 Patterson Avenue SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49530 USA. I’m thinking Jennifer forwarded this to me because she knows that I am a firm believer in collecting and mining data from our past to be appropriately used today or treasured for the future; I like to be active in my community; and, I feel strongly that baby boomers’ life experiences, talents, and skills should not be undermined or discarded because we have reached a given age. All of us are struggling as our society and morals erode away, traditions are disappearing, and our educational systems are failing to give our children the quality education that once was best in the world. Those of us who have work experience, honed our talents and skill sets, and wisdom that only life experiences can provide need to remain active for our own livelihood, but also to help our younger generations thrive in today’s world and to help them understand the consequences if we all don’t give our very best to honor our life and the lives of loved ones past and present.

Jennifer did, however, ask me to provide an introduction to the message below (from Bible Gateway) that shared with you our family’s recent experiences of trying to cope with our matriarch and patriarch losing their vibrancy and many times remembering their lives when they were children or 20 years ago but being unable to remember what they ate for their breakfast, lunch, or dinner, or asking us the same questions that they asked us moments ago or several times earlier in the day. And, too, I recently retrieved several boxes of family photos from the attic that were put there when my grandmother, Loretta, and my great grandmother, Lottie, passed away in the 1960s. So many of these keepsakes and pictures (including tin types, greeting cards, post card photos and messages, old letters) have no names, dates, or places on them. It’s so sad…so I say please, keep your family close, schedule regular quality time with them, and capture as much as you can about earlier times. Do it for them, do it for you, and do it for our children to help them learn to treasure their loved ones and the value of sharing.


According to recent statistics, the average church has an “experience bank” of about 3,700 years in their senior citizens. What a reservoir! What a storehouse! How many years of wisdom do the experts of your own family possess?

Those experts preserve traditions passed down from one generation to another. They provide continuity and stability. They demonstrate a living faith that links the past, the present and the future. However it is passed down, the generations of your own family have much to offer.

The greatest gift you may be able to offer the elderly is the opportunity to share their offering with you. Record on video or audio tape their memories of earlier times. Ask them for that family recipe and then write it down for those who follow. Pull out the family Bible or genealogy and transcribe the births, weddings and deaths of those they remember so that you will never forget. Seek the offerings of the elderly. You and your children will be the beneficiaries.

Scripture Readings: Psalm 145:3–7; Job 12:12; Psalm 92:12–15




And, as technologically adept as our younger generations are, the more likelihood that these video or audio memories will offer many more byproducts for conversations and get togethers’ to share and compare notes.

The Changing Story of Race in America & in Our Family

In my efforts to find out when and how the Boling family came to the infamous Ely’s Foard Road property in Spotsylvania County, Fredericksburg, VA, I was merging individual family timelines into one to identify the earliest beginnings of the family name at this residence. As always in research, one thing leads to another and I happened upon General Robert E. Lee’s use of Widow Tapp’s farm, of the Wilderness Battle Fame, as his headquarters. [The Battle of the Wilderness was fought on May 5-6, 1864. It was the beginning of the Overland Campaign, the bloodiest campaign in American history and the turning point in the Civil War in the Eastern Theatre.] And who was Widow Tapp to me? She was my 3rd paternal great grandmother and wife of Vincent Tapp. It was their daughter Sarah Elizabeth Tapp who married my 2nd great grandfather Lawrence T. “Larl” Boling in 1868.

Continuing on with my original research, I next stumbled upon a 2002 email posted online that identified my 3rd great grandmother as native american, connected with the Taptico and Wicocomico Indian Nation. This of course, I filed away along with my earlier research that already confirmed Powhatan Princess Pocahontas as my 10th great grandmother. So what’s the big deal–we know that the story of race in America is changing, and so is the way many of us identify ourselves. Anyone who has researched their family histories and gone back hundreds of years can see how people whose lives come together in community, at church, at work, or in social settings get to know each other and often form life long relationships, including inter-racial marriages. So, I reached out to the author of the email for help and was notified that the email address and the website reference no longer existed. Searching further to the person the writer was communicating with led me to a DNA Study on Melungeons. By definition Melungeons are of mixed Indian, White, and Black ancestry.

Bare naked baby butts

Butt…aren’t they just the cutest!

In a 2001 article written by Helen Campbell, Melungeon Researcher, The Powhatan Remnants, she details the coming together of European settlers, Powhatan Indians, and black people sold into slavery for tobacco farming. And, among the melungeon surnames below, you can see “Bolen,” “Bowlin,” and “Bowling.” And, note that the research into the Melungeon peoples has been going on for years and even with the recent release of the DNA studies some families are still questioning or disowning the results. As for me, I am honored to have people like Pocahontas and Widow Tapp among my ever growing list of ancestors.

And finally, below is the list of surnames from among several states whose heritage has been described as Melungeon. And, as for my original research as to how the Bolings came to Spotsylvania, Fredericksburg, and Ely’s Foard Road…my search continues.

Melungeon and Melungeon-related surnames (North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky)


Life Choices of a Roaring 20’s Teen Mom

Although chronologically, this post may be out of sequence, it will be one of several that I plan to write about my grandmother, Helen Louise Chambers Boling, who died at age 32 when my dad Frank Burton Boling was 16, and long before I was ever thought of.

It was my dad’s 13th birthday when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941). Immediately, there was an outpouring of America’s young men from factories and offices who lined up at military services recruiting stations. And, America’s young women got in the lines at those factories and arsenals to back fill those vacated jobs. These women produced military hardware and became known as Women Ordnance Workers or, WOWs. The Rosie the Riveter video below, symbolizes those who wore bandannas, hard hats and coveralls, and pulled the same weight as many of the men in their lives. They operated heavy cranes, milling machines, and countless other heavy tools that most of them had never heard of before the war. They also bagged gunpowder, made weapons, crated ammunition and did whatever else asked of them so that their fathers, husbands, sons, and sweethearts could win the war and come back home.

Already estranged several years from her husband, Jesse, and their three young children Frank, Delores, and Barbara, Helen Louise Chambers Boling was one of those women. She went to work at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds (APG) in Baltimore, MD. APG is the U.S. Army’s oldest active proving ground, established on October 20, 1917, (six months after the U.S. entered World War I). APG’s location allowed design and testing of ordnance material to take place near contemporary industrial and shipping centers. The proving ground succeeded the Sandy Hook Proving Ground, which was too small for some large weapons being tested. During World War II, staff at APG grew to a peak strength of 27,185 military and 5,479 civilians.

All fields of research, development, and training expanded. To meet the heavy workload of wartime, APG facilities grew as workloads swelled at the Ballistic Research Laboratory and materials production achieved increasing prominence in the nation’s scientific community. The automotive and armor testing activities were greatly enlarged, and the antiaircraft gun testing mission expanded. Family stories handed down tell me that Helen Boling worked on these gun production and testing activities.

The Maryland Historical Society confirmed for me that large houses in Baltimore City were converted to boarding houses/apartments to accommodate the increases in workers at APG. My grandmother’s death certificate from March 1944 confirmed that she lived on the East Side of North Eutaw Street in Baltimore (then known as Hamilton Terrace). Unfortunately the building where she lived no longer exists.

APG’s technological contributions to the war effort include the world’s first digital computer, the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Calculator (ENIAC), the first man-portable antitank weapons system (the Bazooka), and the first system-wide practical applications of Statistical Quality Control. These sophisticated statistical quality controls theories created by Bell Laboratories were first applied through Ordnance material procurement contracts in World War II. And, the “Rosie the Riveter“ movement received credit for helping push the number of working women to 20,000,000 during four years of war, a 57 percent jump from 1940.

Based on the whispers and mysteries that surround Helen Chambers Boling’s life and death, I’d say her work in these factories probably gave her the only sense of achievement she had. Helen was a teenager when she married Jesse Boling and she gave birth to her first two children when she was 17 and 18, followed by a third at age 22 in 1933. About 15 months later, she abandoned her babies and her husband. The girls never saw her again. My dad, Frank, who was about 11 or 12 then , ran into Helen on accident when he went home with a school friend and found Helen there. I can’t imagine the emotions that went through him at that time. The next time my dad saw his mother was when he sneaked into the W. W. Chambers Funeral Home where she was laid out. Since my dad Frank was the oldest of the children, his father worked and took to heavy drinking, the task of raising his sisters fell on him, starting at the ripe age of 5. His sisters were 4 and 15 months old. So there are no pictures that I am aware of my dad, and his sisters before their late teens, no pictures of Jesse, his dad, and definitely no pictures of his mother, Helen.

Charles R. Hale Brings to Life and Shares His Grandfather’s 1930’s Space and Time


The video that follows gives all of us genealogists and geneabloggers much to aspire to. The integration of Charles Hale’s research, background content, overall composition, photos, music, and the tone and pulse of his narrative provides a fabulous tribute to not only his grandfather’s story, but to Mr. Hale’s work as a family historian who gets what genealogy is all about. Mr. Hale, his family, and others can long value the legacy he has created in this video. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did and will share it with others who may be interested. Thank you Charles Hale.

“Breathing of an Ancestor’s Space and Time” by Charles R. Hale – YouTube



Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away

Author Unknown

January 24th – Join the Bolling Family Mansion Ghost Watch –


Reposted from PetersburgVACity.org

From Everyday Moments May Come Precious Memories

My Times with Four Generations of Our Ford Family in Maryland: 1947-1968

Mary Susan, Norma Florence, John Austin, and Loretta Ford

Mary Susan, Norma Florence, John Austin, and Loretta Ford

Following a restless sleep in which Childhood stories and memories kept creeping into my mind, I felt compelled to write them down for sharing with others before these memories get lost forever in the chaos of everyday life. Much of the following are reflections about the Ford family and my feelings, thoughts, and relationships with them.

John Carpenter Ford

John Carpenter Ford

John Carpenter Ford was my maternal great grandfather. He was born in 1864 in Raleigh, Wake County, North Carolina and passed in the fall of 1961 at his residence in the National Soldier’s Home, in Washington, DC where he had lived for 37 years. Grandpop was 97 or older when he passed. Some family members say he was 100.

Roy and Joanne

Roy and Joanne

Robert Gideon “Roy” Ford John Carpenter Ford’s son, was my maternal grandfather. He, too, was born in Raleigh, Wake County, North Carolina, and passed in our living room at our home in Capitol Heights, MD, in the fall of 1955 from a cardio infarction. He was only 57 years old.

Loretta Alice Lathrop Ford, my maternal grandmother (“mamma”), and wife of Robert Gideon”Roy” Ford was born in Wyalusing, Pennsylvania in 1895 and passed in the winter of 1968. I was 21 when she passed.

Private John A Ford

Private John A Ford

John Austin Ford was son to Roy and Loretta Ford and brother to my mother Norma Florence Ford Boling. He was my uncle Johnny.

From my birth on January 5, 1947 and for several years to follow my grandparents, Uncle Johnny, his family, and my parents lived in 3 single family houses whose properties were right beside each other in Capitol Heights, MD. To give you perspective into the closeness of our family’s ties, I can tell you that before my birth and during the 1930’s (the great depression period) they all had lived together, or, in adjacent row houses on Morton Street, N.E., Washington, DC. And when I say all, I should point out that these households included three to four generations over the years. So to repeat, our family was always close-knit and life revolved around needs, successes, and woes, as a family. I attribute my early bonding years and upbringing as the reason I was so attracted to Earl Hammer’s 1970’s TV Show, the Walton’s (about a close-knit 3 generational family that lived and struggled together during the great depression on Walton’s Mountain in Virginia).

I don’t remember much about my great grandmother Mary Susan Morris Ford, who was born on August 3, 1874–also in Raleigh, Wake County, North Carolina. Great Grandmother was John C. Ford’s wife. I’m told I was about one year old when I started stealing my blind great grandmother’s knitting from her and thought it was a game. I’m told though that she didn’t think much of my game playing. Great grandmother passed in her sleep at home on March 4, 1948. I also was told that my grandmother had one night gone to sleep with vision and the next morning woke without any. She suffered from glaucoma.

Grand pop (John C. Ford) or pap-paw as John Austin’s daughter called him lived to be 98. I’m told that he was not easy to live with and that’s why he removed himself to Soldier’s Home in Washington, DC to live. I remember him always walking with a cane that had possibly a snake’s head carved into the grip. He, too, suffered from glaucoma. He was the next to last survivor of the various Indian Wars that spanned 1865-1890.

Ford Residence Early 1950s

Ford Residence Early 1950s

In the early to mid-1950’s, I spent many a weekend with my grandparents and Uncle John’s family that included 6 children at the time. On Saturday mornings, we would pick up grand pop from Soldier’s Home and all of us helped with chores, played games, and ate my grandmother’s wonderful cooking at their house in Glen Dale, MD. Grand pop did present himself to the children as a crotchety old guy. And, we kids tiptoed around during his visits. But in the car from Soldier’s Home to Glen Dale, Johnny, Roy, Mamma, Grand pop, and me would sing old songs from the south like She’ll be Coming Around the Mountain, Red River Valley, Camptown Racetrack, and others.

On Sunday afternoons, my parents Norma and Frank Boling would join us for dinner and then take me home for the next school week in the evening. But, Sunday dinners were the absolute best. Mamma would always fry up chickens (home grown), I’d pull fresh vegetables from the garden for salad or Cole slaw (made with sugar and vinegar—not mayonnaise). We’d make baked beans with bacon and molasses, peel potatoes for mashed potatoes (we had dug them up and stored them in a dark, cool, cellar under the house), and bake up homemade biscuits–everything was fresh and from scratch. What a cook mamma was and every Sunday was a feast as I said. Most of my memories are from the 1950’s, our days and nights together as a large family in Glendale, Maryland. I treasure these memories as some of my happiest times as a child.

Although Roy passed when I was only eight in October 1955, my memories of our times together remain vivid. Roy, my grandfather, was kind and gentle with me. I want to say he was a man of few words. My mom, Norma, has always told me that his motto was: “If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.” And, I remember the night of his death, at home in my bed, just a room away from where he passed, that I was barely awakened from the feel of a hand of someone covering me up and touching me tenderly as though to say goodbye. To this day, I believe it was Roy.

I was Roy’s first grandchild and a girl to boot so I guess he and I bonded immediately. I am told he nicknamed me “pud’n head” as an infant because I was six weeks premature, tiny, and had no hair, eyelashes, or fingernails. (Not a pretty sight, I’m guessing!)

I had severe asthma up until I married and exercise or exertion triggered my asthma attacks, but I remember Roy helping me learn how to ride my big and heavy two-wheeled bicycle in the gravel driveway in Glen Dale. I also remember waking up on a cot next to him and mamma on weekend mornings (sometimes they would let me sleep between them if I had a bad dream or an attack of asthma). Mamma would cook salt mackerel fish, scrapple, pancakes, bacon, and the whole house would smell great. If you have never had salt mackerel fish, let me just say a little bit goes a long way. I can taste the salt brine even as I’m writing this now. They had a gas stove and percolated coffee on a gas stove top. I still can see Roy fixing his steaming hot coffee and pouring it from his cup into his saucer to slurp and sip the steaming coffee. And, I can still hear Roy’s smoker’s cough when he first awoke in the mornings. Before we would leave for home on Sunday evenings Roy would be in his yellow vinyl covered chair (upholstered by mamma multiple times over) watching Gunsmoke with a bottle of Gunther beer in one hand and his unfiltered Chesterfield cigarette in the other. And it never failed, just as the best part of Gunsmoke was about to be shown, a long train would come by just outside the yard and the picture and sound would go fuzzy until the hundred or so cars had passed. And, we would have to piece together the story.

Roy, Johnny and my parents were not church goers. But mamma was very spiritual. She taught me how to say my prayers, you know, the “Now I lay me down to sleep…” and how to talk with the Lord, how to always thank him for our blessings before we asked him for his help or blessings for every member of the family, friends, and neighbors—and even the health of our pets. I will always remember, too, the day I watched my Uncle Johnny wring a chicken’s neck and the chicken ran around headless for a few minutes after. And, too, I remember the big pots of boiling water and the smell of chicken feathers boiling in them. We would sit around these pots and pluck those feathers. Wet chicken feathers are another smell I won’t ever forget. And while I’m talking about smells,
Another smell I will always remember is that of spring and summer rain on the screened in front porch. We would gather on the porch to pop snap beans, shuck corn, to count the trains as they went by, or to hand sew, crochet or knit various garments. Mamma would recycle animal feed bags to make aprons and sometimes dresses for me. I remember when mamma was her happiest she would always be whistling, singing, and sometimes, playing a harmonica. She always tried to get me to dance for her.

Uncle Johnny’s personality was larger than life. He was always on the go; usually had a sidekick, and sometimes I was fortunate enough to ride with him. He and Roy were very close. They either lived together or next door to each other, they were both union-based steamfitters/pipefitters by trade. Today I guess they would be called heating and air conditioning installers/maintenance men. On their off-hours they raised pigs, cows, chickens, and farmed. Roy liked his beer. Johnny drank coca-cola in the old-fashioned green glass bottles. Unlike Roy, Johnny didn’t drink or smoke. And, I never heard either of them curse. Women also liked Johnny a lot. Johnny passed from a heart attack at home in October 1963. He was only 37 and had a new wife and 5 month old little girl. Johnny had said several times over when he wasn’t feeling good: “that if I die tomorrow I will have lived a full life.”

Before Johnny died though, Johnny could no longer perform the tough work required in steam fitting. So, he got a VA loan and put himself through business school, became an accountant, and then went on to be a taxi driver because he just needed to always be on the go. Unfortunately, two sailors attacked him and nearly killed him for the few dollars he had on him from fares collected. Even at 12, I could type and I typed up Johnny’s business school projects. Johnny taught me how to play double-deck pinochle cards—a game that still today my husband, Bob, and I play with my parents. In fact, during the last three weeks of Uncle Johnny’s life, nearly every day Johnny would telephone my parents to ask them to come play cards. In my mind, I have always thought that Johnny knew something was very wrong with him but he was not saying. We know the doctors had warned Johnny (who had had his first heart attack at age 30) to pace himself and to “stop burning the candle at both ends”. When Johnny passed he left a son, John Jr., 15, from his second marriage to Mary Williams. John Jr. was raised by the Williams family in Raleigh, North Carolina. He also left a 10 year old daughter, Susan, from his third marriage. Johnny married a family his third time around because his wife, Ellen, was already a mother to 5 before giving birth to their daughter Susan. And, Johnny and his fourth wife, Patricia, had a baby girl in 1962 just five months before Johnny passed. In that very short time, however, this new baby was the love of Johnny’s life. And when I think about my playfulness and quick wit, I think some of my Uncle’s rubbed off on me. I miss Johnny a lot. In fact, my middle son’s likable personality, his love of people, and high energy mannerisms, remind me of my Uncle Johnny. Shortly after Johnny’s death, my mom learned that she was pregnant with my second brother. And so, my parents named him after my Uncle John.

As more memories surface, I will probably add them here because reflections of the past can help shape our futures. And, most of us want to know from where we came and the kind of families and relationships that preceded us.

Diversity Among Friends in the 1950s

My maternal grandmother (mamma) Alice Loretta Lathrop Ford and her son, my Uncle John Austin Ford, were known for liking people and keeping them close. A few of these people stand out in my memories from the 1950s (in no specific order).

Robert Peterson, “Pete”: A 30ish, handsome, slightly built man of American Indian descent from Kingston, New York. Uncle Johnny befriended him and he seemed to be a great guy. Johnny introduced him to one of his stepdaughters. Pete was immediately smitten, but to no avail. By 1960 our families had moved out of Captiol Heights and no longer lived next door to each other. My parents moved us to District Heights, MD, (a big step up from where we had lived in our minds). When I was 13, I remember Pete found us in our new neighborhood and came by for a visit. That’s the last time I remember seeing him.

Alex Sorensen, from Sweden, rented my grandmother’s upstairs apartment that he helped her build in Capitol Heights, MD. I remember Alex had white hair and wore it in a crew cut. He was average height for a man and probably in his 60s. Alex was an atheist and I found my grandmother’s friendship with him strange because she was a devout christian and I didn’t figure the two would mix well. (Well, to my credit, I was probably 10-12 years old at the time.) Anyway, Alex was a great handyman, a great story teller, and quite a nice person to be around. Like my grandmother, Alex suffered from severe diabetes. I’m not sure why or when Alex moved on, but when he passed, authorities contacted my grandmother because he had no known family to contact. So sad.

Josephine ? was my grandmother’s and sometimes my mom’s “cleaning lady.” But their relationship was so much more than employer/employee.

1950s Shanty

1950s Shanty

Mamma and Josephine, despite the segregation and racism of the 1950s were very close. I remember Josephine wore the traditional corn-rowed hair and was always saying “yes ma’am and no ma’am.” But they also talked a lot together as women friends do. I remember at least one occasion when Josephine brought along her young daughter and son to play with me while she worked. I remember riding along a couple of times to take Josephine home at night. Josephine and her children lived in the “shanty town” part of Seat Pleasant, MD. The site of these dirt poor, falling apart dwellings left graphic and lasting images on my mind and in my heart. My stomach still churns when I think about the injustice of inequality that caused two strong, seemingly similar women to live such disparate lives during a time when most American families were thriving. In fact, when Mamma and Roy moved from Capitol Heights to Glendale, MD, maybe 20 miles or so, Josephine tried to trek on foot in December to get to them. Unfortunately, her body was found alongside George Palmer Highway where she had suffered a heart attack and died along the way. It was Josephine’s son who shared the news with my grandmother. My family was into taking pictures in the 1950s. I am so sorry we never got any of my grandmother and Josephine together.