From The Mountain
Mark J. Tidwell
My nephew Travis Tidwell has recently gotten me semi-interested in some family genealogy. I deal with a lot of genealogical questions on a daily basis at the library. Maybe that is why I have sort of an aversion to the subject outside of work. Folks seem to call daily from far off places wanting to know about their roots in Jellico. Lots of patrons also come in and look through some of the assets we have. One thing about genealogy is that it involves a lot of work, time, research, and sometimes money and travel. Sadly, the bottom line is some things are just lost forever to the heavy hands of Father Time and unrecorded history.
Travis and I spent some time lurking around in Census records, death certificates, and cemetery books. We had some feel for the branches of the family tree before we began sticking our noses into long departed individuals’ lives. Some things are really tough to get a handle on and trace back. I sure wish I had paid more attention to my grandparents’ stories and tales of my lineage back in my youth. Sadly, I didn’t. Now they are long gone and all their encyclopedic knowledge of the family pretty much went with them decades ago.
One day Travis and l loaded up in the old fifty-one model Jeep and headed into some deep country to look for some graves. It had been years since I’d visited some certain overgrown, now-forgotten cemeteries. It was a cool winter day, so with no top on the old military Willy’s we became keenly aware of why World War Two soldiers, the first of generations of Americans to tackle rough country in the Spartan go-anywhere contraptions, quickly named that genre of vehicle “Pneumonia wagons.”
We rode out in the woods now about the same body temperature of the corpses we were looking for. Then it was afoot through the woods. Our blue lips soon got some normal color back as we ascended a steep ridge and produced some body heat. I navigated ever so carefully, knowing that only fifty yards could mean the difference in finding the overgrown resting areas, or missing them entirely in the spooky dead-of-winter woods.
“Eureka!” An eerie white stone caught my eye. Then within a few more steps I stood at my great-great grandparents’ final, peaceful resting place. Travis carefully studied the inscriptions of his great-great-great grandparents. We had the death certificates with words like “cardiac dropsy” and “complications from asthma on them. But in reality, their stone markers and medical problems did little for us on this side of time’s looking glass. We came away not knowing these particular ancestors any better than before the bouncy Jeep ride.
But when we mounted back up in the Jeep, Travis said, “Uncle Mark, the smell of a Jeep sure does remind me of Pa.” If’n I hadn’t blinked fast, a tear would surely have run down my cheek. We had truly touched base with my late father and Travis’ grandfather in an intimate, unexpected way. Dad loved his Jeeps and he rode us kids and grandkids all over the place in them. It was as if he was actually, for a scant few seconds, with us out there in that gosh-forsaken place. I’d count the journey as a successful ancestor hunt, connecting with one we truly loved and knew in a round-about way through those lost to time.