My Heritage: A View From The “Great” American Indian Wars

John Carpenter Ford

My post of January 12, 2013, mentioned my maternal great-grandfather, John Carpenter Ford, from Wake County, Raleigh, North Carolina.  John’s U.S. Army Enlistment Records of August 14, 1888, show his date of birth as January 15, 1864, which would have been just one year before “The ‘Great’ American Indian Wars began (1865-1890). His enlistment record also shows that this 24-year-old stood only 5’8” tall, had fair skin and grey-blue eyes.  He was assigned to Infantry Company D, 17th Regiment out of Washington, DC.

Fort D.A. Russell, Cheyenne, Wyo. 1910

After serving 3-1/3 years in the Infantry, Private John C. Ford, just shy of his 28th birthday, was discharged on December 10, 1891, from Fort D.A. Russell, in Laramie, Cheyenne, Wyoming. His record also included “General Order 80,” which was the U.S. War Department’s credit for battle participation and “Adjutant General Order 90.” The date of John’s discharge would also have been one year after the Wounded Knee, South Dakota, Indian Massacre. This regrettable and tragic clash of arms, occurred December 29, 1890. It was the last significant engagement between Indians and soldiers on the North American Continent, ending nearly four centuries of warfare between westward-bound Americans and the indigenous peoples.

On December 29th, the U.S. Army surrounded a band of Ghost Dancers under Big Foot, a Lakota Sioux chief, near Wounded Knee Creek and demanded they surrender their weapons. As that was happening, a fight broke out between an Indian and a U.S. soldier and a shot was fired, although it’s unclear from which side. A brutal massacre followed, in which 230 Indian women and children and 120 men at the camp were killed. Army casualties were 25 dead and 39 wounded. The total casualties were probably the highest in Plains Indian warfare except for the Battle of the Little Bighorn. The battle aroused the Brules and Oglala on the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations, but by January 16, 1891, troops had rounded up the last of the hostiles, who recognized the futility of further opposition. Although he didn’t speak of his infantry service that I am aware, this engagement could have left deep emotional scars on John and have been the cause for his later irascible disposition.  When he passed away at age 97 on November 12, 1961, he was only one of two remaining Indian War veterans.

With his father, Robert Jackson Ford present as one of three witnesses to his Wedding Ceremony, John married Mary Susan Morris, age 20, also of Wake County, Raleigh, on September 23, 1894.  The irony of their relationship–she was full blooded Native American and just three years later he had put the Indian wars behind him, and John and Mary Susan found each other and were married.  Although, it appears that John may have lied to Mary Susan about his age as 27.  He listed his year of birth as 1867 on the marriage register of Wake County, North Carolina.  And the Decennial Census records beginning with the 1870 Census listed his year of birth as 1867.  I believe he used his brother William Sherman Ford’s year of birth instead of his own to keep the 10-year age span from his wife. I discovered further evidence of John’s birth year as 1864 when I looked at his brother William’s death records at  There, William’s year of birth was listed as 1867. And, our family always went with John’s military records–which means John was in fact 10 years older than his wife, Mary Susan.

The following link tells the story of the Wounded Knee Massacre in South Dakota in about four minutes:

As an American whose Native American heritage comes from my maternal great-grandmother Mary Susan Ford and my paternal 11th great grandmother, Pocahontas, my heart aches for all of those involved in these horrific injustices.  And it aches, too, for my maternal great-grandfather, John Carpenter Ford, who because of his enlistment in the Army became a part of this unforgivable moment in history that haunted him apparently for the rest of his long life.  You see, he and my great-grandmother separated in the early 1940’s because he was too difficult a man to live with.  He moved to the National Soldier’s Home in Washington, D.C. where he remained until his death in 1961.  Mary Susan lived with maternal grandparents until she passed away suddenly in her sleep.  She was 73 years and 7 months old–and I was just 14 months.

THE MAKING OF A NATION – by the Voice of America. (A podcast about the Sioux Indians and the Battles of Little Big Horn and Wounded Knee.) 

Addicted to Genealogy

For the Love of a Dear Sister

sistersAfter many years as an (the world’s largest online history resource) subscriber and enthusiastic supporter, I went looking for a similar but free resource for a friend of 40 years (who’s like or better than a biological sister to me) who has never been consumed like me by researching family history

In fact, I immersed her as my genealogy cohort when she mentioned to me that she knew little about her family. Her father passed when she was 13 when he lost control of his propane tanker truck, and her mother, who she continues to mourn, passed away from brain cancer 12 years ago.  I asked her for a few simple facts, names, dates of birth, city, state, entered them into Ancestry as a new tree, and one entry led to another, and so on . . . most of you know this storyDanville Register - Sat Aug 14 1971 - William Irvin Owen

When I found the August 14, 1971, newspaper article about her father’s accident and listed his relatives in the obituary portion, that’s all it took.  I had hooked her and the addicted researcher behavior in me took over my life again.  Within a matter of few furious days I gifted her a tree of 368 relatives and 82 photos.  So obviously, she was on high with delight and wanted to continue this trip and get to know her family for herself.  Thus, my search for a free online family history database resource.

Finding the Mother Lode

I first looked at FamilySearch, the genealogical organization operated by the Genealogical Society of Utah (“GSU”), and the genealogical arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is the largest genealogy organization in the world.  It is this organization that we can thank for digitizing billions of family history records.

And yet, here is this completely FREE genealogy website with billions of indexed records, access to billions of pages of unindexed records (most of them original source material), with a significant educational component (the Wiki and Video Courses), a collaborative family tree (featuring sources, notes, record hints, photos, stories, etc.), and only five percent of a genealogy enthusiasts audience of 100 use it–and 95 out of 100 in this audience were aware of it and had visited it (according to Randy Seaver, author of Genea-Musings Blog).

At any rate, I took my friend’s small tree, used my Family Tree Maker (FTM) software and downloaded her tree’s .ftm file into a GEDCOM (.ged) file so I could upload her file into FamilySearch’s database.  My only other option would have been to re-enter all her family history data manually into FamilySearch (FS).  Next, FS uploaded the information into its database, but it didn’t add all her records automatically.  I was required to do a one-to-one comparison of her records to those possible duplicate records already in FS.  On a small file this isn’t so bad, but on a file as large as my tree (12,000+ records) this would be a tedious and exhaustive process–a real downer.  Perhaps this is why people choose not to transfer their files to FS?  Or, maybe because it’s a collaborative database and they are not willing to share or have their data edited by others who they do not know or feel they can trust their genealogical skill sets?  Bottom line, my dear sister friend was euphoric to have her own family tree and to be able to manipulate it on her own.  My sister and I are going on a short out of town trip very soon to hear her son’s band play and this will be an opportunity for us to revive our genealogical buzz.

Awaiting Another Intoxicating Adventure 

Meanwhile, in my endeavor to try out and test FS, I queried the database about my third maternal great grandfather Henry Ford–a brick wall in my tree.  I didn’t nail down Henry’s data, but I discovered there were two conflicting records for my second great grandfather–the father of my maternal great grandmother, Mary Susan Morris, who was the wife of John Carpenter Ford.  One record had his death in 1880, which agreed with my record, but a census record showed an inmate in 1900 at the North Carolina State Insane Asylum.  So, I contacted the FamilySearch research support team. Within a couple of days I received the most unexpected in-depth research about the conflicts and directions to further resources about these people. And, to boot, FS researchers complimented me on one of my blog posts that they had found and read as a result of their queries on my behalf.

So now, the genealogical addict in me is adding my public tree (slowly and surely) using the GEDCOM file upload and one-to-one record comparison method to see what my sharing and comparing of these data might bring to light.

Coincidence or Destiny?

Census records from 1870-1900 reveal that my maternal great grandfather, John Carpenter Ford (1864-1961)–one of the last of 2 survivors of 19th Century Indian Wars and infantryman of Company D., 17th Infantry–was born and raised just off of Forestville Road in Forestiville, NC –known since the beginning of the 20th century as Wake Forest.

Forestville NC Baptist Church 1860

In 1960, nearly 100 years after great grandpop John’s birth in Forestiville, NC,  and one year after his death at the United States Airmen’s and Soldier’s Home in Washington, DC, my family (unaware of John’s birth location), moved to Forestville, MD–just a hop, skip, and a jump off of Forestville Road, MD.

Fifty-five years later, my parents are the last of our family of five to remain in Forestville and in their home that still shows good as new!

Both Forestvilles made for great beginnings and very likely a final neighborhood for our very senior parents who still have one couple of old-time friends just outside of their backyard.

Native Americans, White People, and Scottish-Irish Emigrate to North Carolina

Native Americans

A recent blog post focused on my maternal great-grandmother Mary Susan MORRIS‘s family–our native american heritage through the Morris branch–and the freshly fallen bricks of a wall I had been up against for years.

White People

Not abandoning this wall, but continuing on, I returned to my maternal great grandfather–Grandmother Susan’s husband, John Carpenter Ford’s (1864-1961) family. Similarly, I found myself at yet another brick wall at his paternal grandfather, Henry Ford (1790-1830)–not the infamous innovator of the automobile industry.

Henry Ford’s birth and death have been recorded as North Carolina in many public family trees.  These trees also show that he and Peggy Rigsby had a son, Robert Jackson Ford, father of my great grandfather, John Carpenter Ford. Henry’s marriage to Peggy is documented in the North Carolina Marriage Index (1741-2004) as 5 Aug 1816 in Raleigh, Wake County, North Carolina.  Without any evidence to the contrary, we suffice that this Henry is my third great grandfather, who we also believe was of Scottish/Irish descent based upon the etymology of the surname Foard, Foord, and Ford as it became commonly spelled.

Scottish/Scotch-Irish Migration

The term “Scotch-Irish” is an Americanism, generally unknown in Scotland and Ireland, and rarely used by European historians. In American usage, it refers to people of Scottish descent who, having lived for a time in the north of Ireland, migrated in considerable numbers to the American colonies in the eighteenth century.

Scot Immigration USThe Scotch-Irish, or Ulster Scots had prospered in Ireland until changes in English policies led many to migrate to America, where most settled in Pennsylvania. They began to arrive in North Carolina in the 1730s, leaving Pennsylvania after crops were harvested in the fall and arriving in the Piedmont in time to plant winter crops and seedlings that they brought with them.

On small farms these Scotch-Irish settlers grew corn for home use and wheat and tobacco for use and for export. They raised livestock and drove them in large numbers to northern markets. Settlers built stores, grist mills, sawmills, and tanneries. Blacksmiths, carpenters, coopers, potters, rope makers, wagon makers, and wheelwrights established many local industries. Brewers, distillers, weavers, hatters, tailors, and others practiced their trades either in isolated homes or in shops in towns.

“The Guttenberg Project:  Scotland’s Mark on America,” published in 1921

In 1682, a number of Scottish nobility and aristocracy first left Scotland and settled in New Jersey and the Carolinas. During the following century a constant stream of emigrants both from Scotland and from Ulster, Ireland came to the colony.  The largest influx of Scots/Scots-Irish into North Carolina was in the form of Protestants–largely Presbyterian but also Anglican due to religious persecution.

Cape Fear is in the lower right.  The pin points to House Creek in Raleigh where my Ford ancestors lived.

The red arrow points to Cape Fear. The red pin points to House Creek in Raleigh where my Ford ancestors lived.

From 1715-1773 tens of thousands of Scots settled in North Carolina on or near the Cape Fear River. Cross Creek, now Fayetteville, was the center of these settlements. It was in this area of North Carolina that my Ford family’s history is first documented.  In fact, my 2nd great grandfather lived and died in the House Creek area of Raleigh, Wake County, and still today there are thousands of Fords who still live in North Carolina.

Gov. Gabriel Johnston, of the province of North Carolina from 1734 to 1752, appears to have done more to encourage the settlement of Scots in the colony than all its other colonial governors combined.

Between 1729 and 1740 scots were in Virginia. A strong infusion of Scottish blood in New York State came through settlements made there in response to a proclamation issued in 1735 by the Governor, inviting “loyal protestant Highlanders” to settle the lands between the Hudson River and the northern lakes.

The first Presbyterian Church was organized in Albany, New York, in 1760 by Scottish immigrants who had settled in that vicinity.

In 1773 Scots penetrated to and settled in Kentucky.  By 1790 seventy-five thousand people were in the region and Kentucky was admitted to the Federal Union in 1792.

According to the United States Historical Census Data Base (2002), the ethnic populations in the American Colonies of 1775 were:

English 48.7 %
African 20.0 %
Scottish/Scot-Irish 14.4 %
German 6.9 %
Scottish 6.6 %
Dutch 2.7 %
French 1.4 %
Swedish 0.6 %
Other 5.3 %

By 1779 they had crossed the Ohio River into the present state of Ohio. Between the years 1730 and 1775 the Scottish immigration into Pennsylvania often reached ten thousand a year.

Scotland immigration_tableIn 2000, the state of North Carolina had more citizens of Scottish ancestry than any other state or country.

And, like so many other of my posts that I have written while journeying through stories and searching for historical records that give me new and improved evidence about the life and times of our family’s ancestors, I must end today’s post here–with many questions still unanswered…until next time.


The Guttenberg Project:  Scotland’s Mark on America

Our Native American Heritage–A Follow On

 My post  just a few days ago focused on our native american heritage and the tribes who resided along the borders of the Chesapeake Bay.


First Lady Edith Bolling Galt Wilson

In my April 24, 2014 and December 3, 2012 posts we looked at our paternal Pocahontas ancestry–First Lady Edith Bolling Galt Wilson, and our lineage to Pocahontas through the ancient aristocratic Bolling family.  


John Carpenter Ford

My post of January 12, 2013, mentioned my maternal great grandfather, John Carpenter Ford, from Wake County, Raleigh, North Carolina and his native american wife Mary Susan Morris.  The irony of their relationship–he was the next to last survivor of the various Indian Wars that spanned 1865-1890–and four years after those wars ended we found them together in Washington, DC, where they married on September 15, 1894.

Once again, social media–this time, LinkedIn, helped me tie these people together and to understand the depth and the breadth of our Native American legacy across North America.  Within a discussion on LinkedIn was an article with maps by Aaron Carapella, a self-taught mapmaker in Warner, OK.  The maps he designed pinpoints the locations and original names of hundreds of American Indian nations before their first contacts with Europeans.   Pictures of the maps and the article about Carapellaand our Native American Tribes by Hans Lo Wang of NPR follow:

 The Map Of Native American Tribes You’ve Never Seen Before

by June 24, 2014 4:03 PM ET

Aaron Carapella, a self-taught mapmaker in Warner, Okla., has designed a map of Native American tribes showing their locations before first contact with Europeans.

Hansi Lo Wang/NPR

Finding an address on a map can be taken for granted in the age of GPS and smartphones. But centuries of forced relocation, disease and genocide have made it difficult to find where many Native American tribes once lived.

Aaron Carapella, a self-taught mapmaker in Warner, Okla., has pinpointed the locations and original names of hundreds of American Indian nations before their first contact with Europeans.

As a teenager, Carapella says he could never get his hands on a continental U.S. map like this, depicting more than 600 tribes — many now forgotten and lost to history. Now, the 34-year-old designs and sells maps as large as 3 by 4 feet with the names of tribes hovering over land they once occupied.

Carapella has designed maps of Canada and the continental U.S. showing the original locations and names of Native American tribes. View the full map (PDF).

Carapella has designed maps of Canada and the continental U.S. showing the original locations and names of Native American tribes. View the full map (PDF).

Courtesy of Aaron Carapella

“I think a lot of people get blown away by, ‘Wow, there were a lot of tribes, and they covered the whole country!’ You know, this is Indian land,” says Carapella, who calls himself a “mixed-blood Cherokee” and lives in a ranch house within the jurisdiction of the Cherokee Nation.

For more than a decade, he consulted history books and library archives, called up tribal members and visited reservations as part of research for his map project, which began as pencil-marked poster boards on his bedroom wall. So far, he has designed maps of the continental U.S., Canada and Mexico. A map of Alaska is currently in the works.

What makes Carapella’s maps distinctive is their display of both the original and commonly known names of Native American tribes, according to Doug Herman, senior geographer at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

This map of Mexico features both the original and commonly known names of some indigenous nations. View the full map (PDF).

This map of Mexico features both the original and commonly known names of some indigenous nations. View the full map (PDF).

Courtesy of Aaron Carapella

“You can look at [Carapella’s] map, and you can sort of get it immediately,” Herman says. “This is Indian Country, and it’s not the Indian Country that I thought it was because all these names are different.”

He adds that some Native American groups got stuck with names chosen arbitrarily by European settlers. They were often derogatory names other tribes used to describe their rivals. For example, “Comanche” is derived from a word in Ute meaning “anyone who wants to fight me all the time,” according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

“It’s like having a map of North America where the United States is labeled ‘gringos’ and Mexico is labeled ‘wetbacks,’ ” Herman says. “Naming is an exercise in power. Whether you’re naming places or naming peoples, you are therefore asserting a power of sort of establishing what is reality and what is not.”

Look at a map of Native American territory today, and you’ll see tiny islands of reservation and trust land engulfed by acres upon acres ceded by treaty or taken by force. Carapella’s maps serve as a reminder that the population of the American countryside stretches back long before 1776 and 1492.

Carapella describes himself as a former “radical youngster” who used to lead protests against Columbus Day observances and supported other Native American causes. He says he now sees his mapmaking as another way to change perceptions in the U.S.

“This isn’t really a protest,” he explains. “But it’s a way to convey the truth in a different way.”

Take a closer look at Aaron Carapella’s map of the continental U.S. and Canada and his map of Mexico. He sells prints on his website.

Remembering Loved Ones for Their Military Services

Thank You Veterans

Home of the Brave

About 1-1/2 years ago, I wrote a blog post From Everyday Moments May Come Precious Memories where I noted my feelings, ties, and respect for my mom’s grandfather, John Carpenter Ford; her parents, Robert Gideon and Loretta Ford; and her brother, my uncle, John Austin Ford.  The Ford family was intricately involved with me in my formative years.  You know the saying, “It takes a village…”.  Well this was especially true in my life because I spent nearly as many days living with them as I did with living my parents–every chance I could!

Each of these Ford men bravely fought for their country during historic wars and conflicts. And, we can never be sure to what degree their lives and personalities changed because of their individual wartime circumstances and conditions.  And, this is why I so appreciate them placing their lives on the line for us during these incursions.

Our Men Who Served

John Carpenter Ford  (1864-1961)

John Carpenter Ford

My maternal great grandfather, John Carpenter Ford, was born January 15, 1864, (a capricorn like myself), in the midst of the American Civil War, in Wake County, North Carolina (a Confederate state).  The Civil War was the bloodiest war in America’s history taking the lives of about 600,000 men right on their own lands and among their own people! When “Grandpop” or “Pappaw” as we called him, enlisted for a five year stint, he was nearly 25 years old.  According to his military records, he served in Company D of the 17th Infantry Regiment. Reviewing the timeline of Indian Wars and the involvements of the 17th Infantry, his enlistment would have placed him in 1890 in the midst of the Apache Indian War in Arizona and New Mexico, and at the Sioux Indian disturbances in Wounded Knee, South Dakota, November, 1890 – January, 1891.


John Carpenter and Mary Susan (Morris) Ford 1943

My great grandfather lived to be nearly 100 and in 1961 was one of only two of the last surviving veterans of the Indian Wars. Ironically, in 1894, he married my great grandmother, Mary Susan Morris, who claimed to be a full-blooded Cherokee from North Carolina. 



Private Robert “Roy” Ford (center)

????????????????????????John Carpenter Ford’s son, Robert Gideon “Roy” Ford, my maternal grandfather, at age 19 enlisted in the U.S. Army Signal Corps. On June 28, 1914, six assassins (five Serbs and one Bosnian Muslim) led by Gavrilo Princip killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg.  Just weeks later Austria-Hungary invaded Serbia–adding fuel to the fire that exploded into the Great War. Fortunately, four months after Roy enlisted, World War I ended with the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919.  Shortly after his discharge from the Signal Corps in 1919, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and served on the “Big Island” on the Central Pacific Ocean from September 1920 until September 1922.


PvtJohnAFordThe Invasion of Italy was fought September 3-16, 1943, during World War II (1939-1945). My Uncle John Austin Ford, was there having enlisted in the U.S. Army immediately following high school graduation.  He was only 19. During the course of the invasion, Allied forces sustained 2,009 killed, 7,050 wounded,  and 3,501 missing while German casualties numbered around 3,500. My uncle John was one of those wounded. Unfortunately, he lost his left eye.  Following his injuries, he was awarded the Bronze Star, and Purple Heart Medals for his valor during the battle.  Uncle Johnny passed away at the young age of 37, leaving a wife, a 15 year-old son, John, Jr., and a 5 month old baby girl, Tammy, whom he loved dearly.

A Hearty Thank You to All Veterans of All Wars and Conflicts for your services to me and our country!


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.