Grandpa’s grandpa: Why Should I Care?

“And then he chopped all six of their heads off. He was a great man and the sheriff always knew he could count on Joe Franklin.”

My dad’s brown eyes were wide with excitement and surprise as he told me about the time his great-grandfather killed six outlaws at one time with an ax.

I was ten years old, it was a summer night. I sat at our old aluminum table, barefoot, bare-legged and skinny as a fence post.

“Just one more,” I said.

“Sissy,” Daddy retorted. “It’s done past your bedtime.”

That scene was played out pretty much every night of my childhood. I was always the last kid at the table. I always begged for just one more story, then one more and then one more. I never outgrew my daddy’s stories.

He told ghost stories and old time stories. He told stories about the first Irishmen in Kentucky and stories about when he was a kid, stories about Hank Williams and stories about coon hunting. My daddy had a story about everything, but my favorite ones were about Joe Franklin, my great-great-grandfather. In my dad’s stories, Joe stood larger than Davy Crocket or Sam Houston or Geronimo or Sitting Bull or Daniel Boone. Joe was the ultimate hero in my dad’s stories.

Although many factors in the stories we changeable and had him doing impossible feats, like single-handedly clearing out a “bad house” in Louisville or saving Daniel Boone’s life [never mind that they didn’t live during the same time period.] There were some factors that were consistent. For example, Joe always came from “Old Mexico,” and Franklin was always a name that Joe just took and my dad never knew his real name. Joe had always been stolen from his parents and he always came to Gradyville at thirteen years old and later married a “Dudley” girl.  One other consistent factor in the stories was that his parents had been killed and he had been taken as a slave. Some of the stories had been told to him by his father, who also tended to “stretch” the facts until it was hard to tell legend from reality. But when I was ten, my dad asked me to make a very serious promise. He asked me to grow up and be a writer. He asked me if I would write the stories of his ancestors and in order to do that, he asked me to find the “truth” of his ancestors. So, since I was ten years old, I’ve been seeking to find out where my daddy came from, where I came from. I can’t write about people unless I know they existed and the hardest trail I’ve had to follow? Joe, the hero of my dad’s story. [Well, there was his great uncle, Henry Rogers, too, but that’s for another blog entry.]

Long after I made that promise, in 2010, my dad had been diagnosed with cancer and given a year to live. My siblings and I were taking turns staying with him and caring for him. I was there one night after dark, sitting beside his old wood stove. Daddy never had heat in his house and he heated his little trailer with a wood stove right up until he was too sick to stay in it. He sat in his favorite chair, a straight wood one with a back that looked like a ladder and a bottom made of hemp that he had put in that chair back in the 1970s. He looked at the pictures lining his walls, photos of his parents and my mom, photos of all his children and grandchildren. Daddy loved his photos. He loved his family. “Sis,” he said. “There’s a story I never told you before. And don’t you never tell this to nobody…” but here I am, about to tell it to my readers because it needs to be told. “Dad,” he continued, “once told me that Great-great-Grandma was living out West and she was raped by an Apache.” He turned back to me and said, “I never told nobody that before. My daddy only mentioned it to me once.” Then he was done. He never said another word about it. I couldn’t put the pieces together. I thought he had his facts wrong. My great-great-grandfather was born in “Old Mexico.” I kept thinking that he always used the word “old” to differentiate between original Mexico and New Mexico. I had found census records, stating he was born in Mexico City and some said “Old Mexico.” Even the newspaper articles I had found said “Old Mexico.” So, how could his mother have been living in Apache Territory? I had spent my life believing that my great-great-grandfather was descended from Aztecs or Mayas or some other Meso-American tribe. I learned everything I could about the Aztecs and Mayas. I learned to speak Spanish and a little Nahuatl. I read books, watched documentaries, constantly searching for clues to the past so that I could write the story that needed to be written.

Any time in my life when someone told me that I didn’t look “Indian” or “Native” I was secretly hurt, because I KNEW my great-great-grandfather WAS [I also knew my paternal grandmother had Cherokee ancestry. She wasn’t some fictitious “princess” or the product of a White wannabe, but that’s also a story for another post.]

I had done some digging and found census records and old newspaper articles about Joe Franklin. I discovered that his name had been Jose’ or Joseph Masilenia or Masinario [depending on the record] Pabilo, Pablis, Pablio [also, depending on the record]. I found his marriage certificate, signed with an X and a witness. His race was listed as White but his records were filed under “Colored.” I remembered a few years earlier that when nurses at the adult day care would ask my Great Uncle Junis about his rich skin tone and lack of hair he would respond that his grandfather was an Indian.

I had some relatives who told me that Joe wasn’t my real great-great-grandfather, that there had been some non-parental events. I hoped that wasn’t true. I realized that anything was possible, but I had grown up admiring this man. I didn’t want my childhood hero taken from me. To me, he was my Tecumseh, my Crazy Horse. He was my great-great-grandpa. Still, I made my dad a promise, that I would find the truth and so I set out to keep it, regardless of how it made me feel. I braced myself. Even IF Joe turned out to not be the start of my paternal grandfather’s line in Kentucky, I would still honor him.

Finally, after talking to a friend about DNA testing, I decided to bite the proverbial bullet and I spat in a tube for AncestryDNA and for 23andMe. I knew that there was a chance I’d get nothing, that all those genes I was looking for might be carried on the Y chromosome, or that Joe’s daughter-in- law may have been promiscuous. That was the rumor, but I took the tests anyway. I’ll get back to that in a minute.

Prior to taking the test, I had a wonderful woman from another state contact me. Her name is Susie. Susie had stories to tell me that added to what I already knew and I am forever grateful to her [thank you, Susie]. And before that, there had been Helen Flatt, who taught in the Adair County schools and at Lindsey Wilson College, altogether she taught for more than fifty years. Mrs. Flatt had met Joe when she was a little girl. He had worked for her grandfather. She said he was definitely not from around here. He had brown skin and he spoke with an accent. She, like everyone else, attested that he was from “Old Mexico,” but Joe told his granddaughter, my grandpa’s cousin, that he was not Mexican. Other old timers that I talked to, who had known my grandfather’s family, also attested that he was from “Old Mexico.” He had handed down to my Great-Uncle Junis that he was a Spanish-Indian, which is what my grandfather told my brother. He also told my brother that he witnessed his parent’s murder and his mother’s being raped when he was ten and then the De Haro family took him in and raised him until he was around 13 or 14 at which time he met James Sexton. One of the few kinds of Native DNA that 23andMe can detect, to the best of my understanding, is Pima. I have now discovered a photo of Joe and records indicating that he was actually born in Arizona, not present-day Mexico. At the time of Joe’s birth in 1840, Arizona was still a part of “Old Mexico.” It was common practice for Spanish priests and owners of haciendas to take Pima and Maricopa concubines and sometimes, wives.

 

Now back to the DNA test, my 23andMe results indicate that I had both a full-blood Native American and a full-blood Iberian ancestor during the early parts of the 1800s, hence, I believe them to have been Joe’s parents. Is this absolute “proof” that Joe was Pima? No.He may have been Papago or Maricopa or even Apache, but the time, place and alliances at the time of his birth do point toward Pima. Was his mother a Pima who was raped by an Apache? I have no idea. Was his father a Spaniard or a Mexican? Who would have taken a ten-year-old boy for a slave then? Again, I have no true facts, only theories. I hope this is an indication that I’m finally on the right trail. When I ran my DNA results through a calculator from Standford University it showed Native DNA, Basque DNA, Spanish DNA and general Mediterranean (including North Africa, Southern France, Italy, Romania, Greece, Turkey, Pakistan, Northern India) and Near Eastern DNA coming from multiple directions, but I DO have a strong Melungeon ancestry, as well. So, that is expected. I also have ancestry from the British Isles, almost half. Now, throw in a little Slavic and West Asian with a pinch of Finnish/Russian and East Asian and you have–ME.

 

Soooo….why did I do this? What does it prove? I did it because my dad asked me to find the paper trail to his family, for his mother and his father. I did it because I’ve wanted to know since I was a little girl just where my family came from. I did it because in my heart of hearts I’ve always felt that Joe’s courageous story needed to be told. I felt that this boy’s story was the story of many people who lived during that turbulent time, who saw horrible things, but Joe’s wasn’t just a sad story. It’s also a story that shows humanity at both its worst and its best. James Sexton didn’t have to give an orphaned boy from another culture a new home, yet he did. He didn’t have to give him brothers, yet he did. And to show his gratitude, Joe adopted a new name, “Franklin.” It means “free” and it was the middle name of one of James’s sons, Joe’s adopted brother. Franklin–FREE–became a new name for a new life, for a new family, my family. Joe lived a long life after coming here. He met a girl who would become his wife, who would raise a family with him. If not for Jose Masilenia Pabila Franklin I would never have been born. Regardless of the DNA test results, even if it had not indicated that I am likely his descendant, I think I would still call him my great-great-grandfather. I believe his life mattered and I’m so glad he lived.

The legacy of a good person should be kept alive so that those of us who come after can look at that life and know what it means to really live. If we fail to learn from the past, from our ancestors, we are bound to destroy our children. Without yesterday there is no now. Without now, there is no tomorrow. That doesn’t mean we should live in the past, but neither should we let it be buried by mounds of time dust. It was my father’s stories that kept my ancestors alive to me, that made them more than a name on a forgotten sheet of paper. I have heard it said that in some ancient African cultures the most important person in the village was the story-teller. He or she, depending on the tribe, would beat a drum and to the beat of the drum, they would recite the history of their people so that the children never forgot what was valued in life. I do not tell my stories to the beat of the drum but rather to the rhythm of a keyboard, but my purpose is not different than those ancient African storytellers of so long ago or from the Vikings who used to sing of their deeds or the Plains people of America who painted the deeds of their people on skins. If we do not preserve the knowledge of our ancestors, it is lost and in this digital age of disconnection, maybe it is more important than ever to connect to our families, our parents, our grandparents, our great grandparents, our children.

When I was a Kid in Kentucky

When I Was a Kid in Kentucky (8).jpg

I finally did it!

I wrote a children’s book. It’s about time. I mean, after all, I AM a teacher and I’ve been one most of my adult life, so it only seems fitting that I should write a book for children, right?

When I was a Kid in Kentucky is written on a third-grade reading level but the pictures and layout of the text make it an ideal read-aloud book for younger kids. I’ve already tried it on on a captive audience. It’s a great book to initiate discussion with children about how things have changed. I remember a Social Studies unit that I used to teach in first grade from Harcourt-Brace that talked about “Then and Now.”  This little book is perfect for that. It teaches children how some things change, but some things, like loving your family, never change.

I love the photography in this little book. It’s done by someone that means a whole lot to me, Rachel A. Warmouth.

I hope to write more children’s books in the future and I sincerely hope that children will be inspired to write their own “When I was a Kid in….wherever they are from” books. I think it’d be a great Language Arts/Social Studies/Art lesson. The possibilities are limited only by a parent or teacher’s imagination.

 

Yesterdays

barn1

Appalachian photo by RAW photography

 

I was born

to outhouses

pigpens

and tobacco patches

walked barefoot

amidst

blackberry briars

beech trees

and broken gray tombstones

 

I fell from

Shetland ponies

Kool-Aid summers

and barn rafters

hatched like

turtle eggs

Daddy took from

their momma

on a misty mountain morn

 

I smelled of

wood-burning stoves

po’folk

and “God will not abandon us,”

roamed free

up the hollers

across creeks

and into broom sage fields

 

I shivered

at Panther calls

mirages

and my daddy’s ghost tales

gobbled up

ripe persimmons

cornbread

and dry land fish

 

I kept hold

of all my heart’s

young tears

and filled up the swimming hole

where Johnny

was drowned

pressed the flowers

and kept yesterdays

alive.

 

 

Along the Road…We Matter

DSC_6643It starts in infanthood. We come into this world needing to be noticed, to be cared about and we never outgrow it. As a baby, we need to be fed and cuddled and bathed. As a toddler, we need happy smiles and hugs. As a pre-schooler, we need affirmation that we are “big boys and big girls.” We need approval when we learn our ABCs or say our numbers. As a school age child, we need to fit in and yet feel like we are special. We need to be good at something and bragged on. As a teen, we try to find ourselves, to be cool, to stand out and to fit in. We don’t want to be the “weirdo” the “freak” but we do want to be different and special. As a working adult, we want to be valued by our co-workers, our friends, our spouses, etc. And as an elderly person, we want to know that we still matter, that we still have worth and that we are not a thing of the past. Throughout our lives, one thing never changes…we need to matter, to have worth and to be valued.

When we come to believe we have no value, that our lives don’t matter, suicide looks like an option. Sometimes, people sink into despair, getting caught up in drugs and alcohol. Sometimes, it’s as simple as hanging with some friends and just going along with the crowd (because of the need to be valued) and next thing you know, a person is hooked on something they originally abhorred deep down, but the need to be accepted or the deep-rooted belief that “I’m worthless anyway,” has taken ahold of them.  Some people turn to food. Some turn to keeping religious rules. Some bounce from one broken relationship after another

Then somewhere along the way we develop mechanisms to ensure that we get some kind of “energy” from other people. We are going to make ourselves matter in one way or another. Some turn to acting out in some way. It can be anything from belligerent behavior to a child stealing at school. It’s not like we consciously think about it. It just sort of happens to us like freckles appearing on our skin after too much sun. Some people become interrogators, pestering others to death with relentless questions. Some become intimidators, always trying to make others cower to their will by being gruff and forceful or an all-out bully. Some become aloof and indifferent, giving the dreaded silent treatment making others “pull” and “beg” for their attention and some become poor-pitiful-me people, always ailing and always complaining and always worrying.

No matter what life throws at us or who we encounter, there is one commonality among us all, regardless of our skin color, our language, our culture or religion, we need to feel like we matter, that we have worth, to somebody–somewhere. And anyone who denies that they need to matter is lying. Even the toughest “bad” guys I know of have had at least one person in their lives that, in whose eyes, they wanted to matter. I’ve known men who spend their entire lives trying to get one kind word from a father who couldn’t or wouldn’t give it. I’ve seen neurotic women cleaning baseboards at 3 a.m. just to get their shallow, disdaining mothers to speak one word of approval to them.  I’ve seen women become promiscuous because, deep down, they believed that was their only value. Insecurity often parades itself as arrogance. The most arrogant, boastful people I know are also the most emotionally insecure and unsettled fragile people with glass egos.

I guess I’m just thinking at the keys this morning. No matter who we are, what we’ve done or where we’ve been, we all have a need…we need to know that we matter. So, what do we do about our dilemma? How do we affirm that we matter? Maybe it starts with letting someone else know that they matter. Maybe it’s as simple as a smile or sharing lunch with someone. Maybe it’s just a phone call or a text message or even a Facebook post. Maybe one word is all it takes to let someone know, “You matter. Your life has touched mine in a good way.” We can’t touch everybody in the world, but we can all touch one person and who can say if that one person isn’t the one who needs it most from us at that very moment? I have not always taken every opportunity to be kind, to do good, but from this moment forward, I’m going to do my best and if I fall short of my goal, I’m going to just get up and start over again. Today…somebody needs to hear from you and they need to know that you think they matter and today, I am saying to everyone who reads this…you matter…and I’m glad you took the time to read my thoughts. Thank you.

Darlene

 

 

What my Soul Asks

 

What do you see?

I see a hummingbird

hovering in a beam of sunlight

eternity in a moment.

 

What do you hear?

I hear the singing wind

playing tree and dry grass instruments

same singings my ancestors heard.

 

What do you feel?

I feel the earth and sky

beating heart and whispering spirit

groanings of earth, calls of heaven.

 

What do you know?

I know at life-road’s end

leaving flesh, failures and fruitions

is required and I know that love

is the only luggage the journey allows.

Talking About TOUCHED

Touched

Copy of Touched Cover FINAL 1-29-13 A YEAR AFTER MY DADDY crossed over to the spirit world I went to visit an old friend of my family, Joyce Reeder. My dad had greatly respected her and always spoke so highly of her. She had been friends with my Granny Turner years before and had been good to my family from as far back as I could remember. So, after she read I Listened, Momma, Joyce and I spoke over the phone and she invited me to her home. I went in the hopes of hearing…you know…STORIES!

And Joyce did not disappoint me. She told me stories about the community in which I lived during my teen years and about a time I couldn’t possibly get from my memory,  the 40s, 50s and 60s. As I drove home I thought about one story in particular of a young man who loved a girl that was killed in a car accident and how he never married after that. I came home, plopped across my bed and closed my eyes, still thinking about the world in which my parents had grown up. I thought about my pastor, Gerald, and the world as it must have been when he was a boy and then, suddenly, an entire story, set in the year 1959-60, flashed before my mind. It was a story that had never been told, the story of a young man with an unprejudiced heart and non-religious spirituality in a community of the self-righteous.

It was Frankie Keilman’s story. I could see Frankie in my mind’s eye. I could hear his voice. I could see Elle McThacker, the Melungeon moonshiner’s daughter that he was forbidden to talk to and her good-looking scoundrel of a womanizing brother, Mickey. I could see her Mexican granny, Flor Pablo, all brown and hunched over, giving out ageless advice to her rambunctious off-springs. I sprang up from that bed with a Jesse Stuart “annointin’ on me,” as the old time tent preachers around here used to say. I immediately went to my computer and wrote. Within a few short weeks the book, which had been written in my mind in a single afternoon, in the space of what was supposed to be a nap, became a printed reality. That’s the only time I ever composed a book like a piece of Mozart music. Here it is, four years since it’s publication, and I’m still in awe of how the book came about.

People often ask me which book is closest to my heart. That’s like asking a parent of more than one child which one she loves the most. They are all close to my heart, because that’s where they all come from. Each time a reader picks up my novel, they take a trip inside my soul and discover an insight or two that I’ve encountered somewhere along my life’s journey. I like fiction because fiction contains more truth that fact sometimes. So, from my heart and mind to yours, I hope you enjoy a story inspired by an afternoon spent with a dear old friend. Thank you, Joyce Reeder, Momma, Daddy, Pastor Gerald, Faye Bault and Brooks Coomer. You all played a role in the thoughts that brought this book into being.

Where I Came From–for Momma, on her birthday.

18238644_1313412048743672_7992669858257454389_oI COULD GIVE YOU a long list of my publications and bore you with a recount of my humble, meager awards and accolades, but you can go to my author page on amazon or on any one of the publishing house sites where my books are listed and learn those things. I think I would rather talk to you about the really important things, the things that qualify me to write about the things I write about. I’d rather talk to you about what my parents taught me about living.

I was born in the Appalachian foothills, one among seven children. We were so poor that we had no indoor plumbing, no phone and no central air or heat. I remember when eating wild game was our main source of meat. Then we got a cow, but she ran over a bluff and killed herself. After that, we took to raising hogs and leasing tobacco crops. My daddy also worked at a sawmill where he sawed hickory baseball bats. He did everything he could to feed us and Momma raised a big garden every year. We raised anything that would grow, even our own peanuts. I say we were poor but I never felt poor, not until someone told me that I was poor. I was like Dolly Parton in her song, “Coat of Many Colors’. “I felt rich as I could be.”

There were times when all my family had was each other and somehow, that was always enough. My parents taught us that love is the only thing of true value in this entire world and whatever is not of love, well, it’s not eternal. I have lived my mortal life in the light of immortality. We never believed in final good-byes, only “see you laters.” I recall a memory of one summer night when my parents were lying on a quilt on the hillside behind our house. We had no TV at the time and so we would play outside until dark and sometimes our parents would come outside and watch us from the hillside. This particular night I was talking about all the stuff that some of the kids at school had.

I can still hear my daddy’s voice saying, “If you ain’t got love, you ain’t got nothin’ in this life.”

Then Momma chimed in and said, “Money can buy you a lot of things, but money can’t buy real love. If you have love and family you have everything.”

Daddy said, “Remember that, Sis.”

My daddy was a storyteller and every night he’d gather us around the old aluminum kitchen table and spin his tales for us. He couldn’t read but he could remember and he had an imagination. He told stories that had been handed down from his grandfather and his childhood and he told stories that he made up. Each night I would be the last kid listening, begging for just one more story. My parents would have to make me go to bed. We had very few books, but we did have stories and then there was Momma’s sacred book, a high school literature book of poems by Edgar Allen Poe and short stories by O’Henry. I read those poems and I knew…knew with everything in me… that I was a poet, too. I started writing poetry on every thing that had a surface to write on, even my grandmother’s giant squash. I checked books out from the school library and read like there was no tomorrow. I fell in love with far away places and adventures. I loved stories written ones, spoken ones, sung ones…I just loved stories.

In the fifth grade the Gideons came to school and passed out little red New Testaments. It was the most special thing to me, my very own book full of stories. And in the back? Blank pages. I was certain that God himself had left those pages blank so that I could add my story to them. I took an ink pen and wrote an imagined story about my Great-great-grandpa crossing the Rio Grande and coming to the U.S. It was, of course, completely fabricated from Daddy’s tales and my imagination, but it didn’t matter. It was MY story. I think I was 9 years old at the time. But with the gift of a New Testament, a writer’s dream was born.

Momma believed in my dream. That Christmas we were so broke that it looked like we would get no presents at all. A charity group came to our house and brought gifts and fruit. I’ll always be grateful for that group, but Momma and Daddy wanted so much to get us something that they went to a loan company and borrowed a little money and that year when my siblings got toys, I got a college dictionary for Christmas. It was the greatest gift anyone has ever given me, because I knew that it had come with sacrifice and with hope. Momma said, “One day you’re going to go to college and make something out of yourself and you’re going to need to know all of these big words. I felt bad not getting you a toy, but I felt like that you would like this better.” I hugged that dictionary and thanked her for it.

A Bible and a dictionary in the same year. My future had been set in motion. Little did I realize that one day I truly would write my story and Daddy’s story and Momma’s story and maybe the story of a million other 9 year-old dreamers.

In the years to follow I held onto the dictionary. I still have it today. The cover wore off and I recovered it in discarded wallpaper. Eventually, even that wore off. If you were to visit my home and see that old book with no cover, you’d think maybe it was a piece of junk but it’s not. It’s a symbol of my mother’s hopes for me.

My mom left this world  at 38, one month before I graduated high school. She never got to see me go to college and use the dictionary that she gave me to help me through my classes. She never got to see me win the Art scholarship that made it possible for me to go, never got to hear me play guitar or got to see her grandchildren. But she did see. She saw it when I was 9 and she used her today to plan for my tomorrow. Thank you, Momma. Your dreams carried me through until I could see my own dreams and your dauntless, unselfish love, made me want to impact the life of everyone I meet.