The Stories We Were Told

“What stories were you told about your babyhood?” asks a writing prompt.

mom and me

Well, I had in an unfriendly beginning. I was unplanned, and although this leans toward melodrama, the honest truth is, I was not wanted.

I came into the world when Dad was 40, mom was 37, L was 16, J was 12, and D was 8 years old. At this stage in the family’s life, everyone was busy with sports, cars, growing up and even, in 1962, growing slightly old.

My mother, who from childhood had only ever wanted one daughter, had given up hope. My brothers, embarrassed by their parents behavior, protested the thought of ever babysitting or changing a diaper. My mother didn’t relish dragging a diaper bag around again. Plus, she herself was embarrassed because she had heard ladies from the church whispering about So-And-So who had children later in life (“My goodness. You’d think they wouldn’t let that happen at this age,” etc.) Appearances were everything to my mom, especially as seen through the eyes of the church family, so she procrastinated telling her friends the big news. In sum, my mother was depressed about this pregnancy and even confessed me to when I was teenager that she had wished it (me) away. That’s hard to hear when you’re 16 and on any given day not feeling a reason to be alive, anyway.

However, and she was always quick to get to “However,” when I was born, the story changed. I was told, many times, that upon the announcement of my gender, my dad and our pastor, who waited with him in the waiting area, danced a jig of happiness.


My mom was now in her element. She was ready to girl-it-up!

My brothers warmed to me, but they never babysat or changed a diaper, partly because boys usually didn’t do childcare chores back in that day and partly because my mother claimed ownership of me the way an explorer plants a flag to express ownership. I was hers. This also meant no babysitters. Ever. OK, twice she tried, once with an aunt, once with a church member, and both reported disastrous outcomes. That was the end of babysitters.

I developed, according to a sparsely filled baby book, at an average rate. My first word was “dog.” One evening after church, I was carried into the house and placed on the floor where I stood and walked to an ottoman, climbed it and stood up like a circus bear cub to the roar of my audience’s applause and whoops. I would never repeat the stunt no matter how they coaxed.

I had a rich vocabulary at an early age and used words that stunned my mother because they were not part of our family’s regular lexicon. She though I was a genius. I suspect I was listening to the television more than she thought. Still, I was using big words in the correct context to the extent that it spooked my mom.

When I was potty training, my parents were in the midst of remodeling their new home somewhat, mainly moving one wall, but apparently, the move was a topic of many conversations. One day, while on my potty chair, I shared a genius idea with my mother: “I know! We can move this wall over here, and this wall over here!” The end result was that I would remove the wall between my brothers and me. I loved to be with them.

I had a few precocious moments but was usually well-behaved. Once I ate little red bumps off of tree leaves and convinced the next door neighbor who was one year younger to also try this new treat. Our mothers panicked and called the pediatrician who said we simply ate insect eggs and would be all right. I can’t imagine the din and feverish reaction this would cause in 2017. But in the mid 1960s, our culture was a little less worried about events like this.

Another time, while my mother was tethered to the phone on the wall, I found a Windex bottle and stood on furniture to spray the ceiling–the brand new, expensive, texturized ceiling I was warned to “Never, ever get wet, or it will crumble and fall to the floor.” To this day, I don’t know what imp spirit possessed me and caused me to disobey in such a blatant way. It wasn’t my usual modus operandum.

I had a pink flannel blanket that I carried for a while, but my mom eventually talked me into giving it up.

My imagination was robust. I had an imaginary friend I called “Tacko,” who, in my head, looked similar to Alvin of the Chipmunks. I pretended with dolls and stuffed animals constantly. I pretended to do homework in a big blue notebook because I observed at least one brother at least at one point doing homework (not a popular past-time with them, as it would be me later.)

I was not a healthy baby/child. I started out with eczema, and I had lots of bouts of tonsillitis and strep. I had chicken pox and other common childhood diseases, but seasonal allergies plagued me. “Seasonal allergies” is such a benign term for what effect they have on a child. At four years old, I was hospitalized for a few days for kidney tests. I had repeated infections.

During this stay, Doctor’s orders were that I was not to have anything to drink before the tests. One morning, my parents (Look! Dad appears in my story!) arrived just before the early visiting hour to find me on tip-toes on a makeshift stool at a water fountain or sink in the room trying my best to get a drink. The separation at night from my mother was worse for her than me. Every day at the proscribed visitation times, my parents brought me a new toy, usually a Barbie, so that stay had its perks. All of my life, my bladder and kidneys have been a little wonky. I still remember my roommate, Terri, and her cast, the first I had seen. That cast was so glamorous. She let me sign it. That was a big moment for a four-year-old. I still remember it, 50 years later.

In addition, when I was a baby, my mother noticed that when I was in my bed, my legs fell flat to the bed, knees and all. She suspected something was wrong with my hips or legs, but I developed on time. However, my feet have always turned out, so I walk like a duck. My right foot turns out further than my left, which I see clearly in snow prints every year. I was put in corrective shoes with the promise that if I wore them as directed, I would finally get that puppy I had wanted, but I just could not do it. My mother and doctor gave up when she told him I would simply sit on the couch and not play or walk as long as I had them on. So now I leave duck prints in the snow.

The worst injury I’ve ever incurred happened in early childhood. I was toddling over a kerosene lantern while the family was camping. I knocked it over, and it blew up between my legs. D grabbed me out of the fire. I wore bandages around my thighs for a time and had very light scars at least until my early 20’s. The only memories I have of that event are lying on a doctor’s table with my brothers standing around me giving me lots of attention, with J forming a Play-Doh duck to distract me, and then at home, when I slid off the pink sofa with the metallic thread in it, how it hurt.

My first childhood friend, Susie, lived right next door. On summer days, my mother says I could hardly wait to eat breakfast and get dressed so that I could go out to play. Susie was one year younger, and I’m ashamed to say that although I loved her, I was able to manipulate her emotions. When we would bicker, she would say she was going home and would begin to put her shoes on at our back door. Not wanting her to go but not wanting to ask her to stay, I would ask my mom for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich because I knew Susie would want to stay for that. It worked like a charm–many times, I’m ashamed to say.

Finally, I loved books. The stories, the pictures, the front and back covers–I loved every part of a book. I still have some today that enjoyed back then and attempt to read them to my granddaughters. A few years ago, I found one book that had been lost on line and ordered it. I shared it with my mom and asked her if she remembered reading it to me. I was able to write a column for Mother’s Day about how much her reading meant to me. And I can still remember what I think is the opening line of my very first book: “Good morning, Mr. S

unshine. Have you seen Tommy?”


In sum, I’d say my early childhood years go like this: “Mother … nonevents … Mother.” It all began and ended with her bookending my preschool years. Our brains are fabulous receptacles. I’m glad to put down some memories here before they are gone, like the title of my first book whose pictures I can still see and whose words I can still hear in my mother’s voice, but whose presence is long gone.




On Her 90th Birthday, to Her Great Granddaughter

This lovely woman celebrated her 90th birthday on December 10, 2015. She is my mother, Delphia Lucille Garrett Batt.


We had a small gathering at the MCL Cafeteria, a restaurant she enjoys, on December 5, and that is where this photo was taken.

I asked her for some words to pass on to Josie. This is what she said.

Dear Josie,

As I think of you on my 90th birthday, there are some things I want you to know and remember.

First of all, in all of my life, no matter what I was facing, the Lord has been with me and helped me through my hard times, and he will always help you.

He helped me through The Depression, WWII, and Grandpa Batt’s passing. Even when I wasn’t going to church regularly as a young adult, I believed when I prayed that God was with me, helping me, and he was. He always knew what was best for me.

Here is another example of that. When I was younger, I really wanted a baby girl, but I had a boy. Four years later, I had another boy. Four years after that, I had another boy. I thought that having a girl was not going to be part of my life. And then eight years after the last boy, my daughter was born. That baby girl was your grandmother, Linda. I believe she was born at exactly the right time in my life, an answer to prayer that came later than I wanted but worked out perfectly!

You are almost three years old now, but I enjoy remembering when you were just a few months old, how I rocked you at my house and you fell asleep. I like to think about how you liked music at such an early age. You liked it when I turned up the music and we danced with you!

I love for your Nana to tell me daily all of the cute things you say and do. I find myself smiling when I think of you or look at your pictures at my house. I worry when you are sick and pray for you. I love when you run to me for a hug.

I just want you to know that I care about every little thing in your life. I hope you always remember me and remember my prayers for you, that you grow up trusting in the Lord and grow up knowing your “Grandma Lou” loves you very much!

IMG_386716 weeks

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Favorite Childhood Christmases

8mmMy childhood pictures are around 50 years old now, including crumbling movies filmed on an 8mm camera with hazardously hot bulbs. These artifacts won’t last forever, so I’m recounting memories here, saving my story.

I’m a child of the 1960s and 70s, and like many white American kids, I arrived into the burgeoning middle class, Baby Boomer wealthy, to parents who survived the Great Depression determined that their kids would “have it better than we did” i.e., never go hungry, have a few comforts and enjoy occasional simple entertainment. That was my wealth.

Our house was small but new and pristine, built with a GI loan during the space-age, Cold War era, the time when our culture seemed to have one foot on the moon and one foot on a Schwinn bicycle pedal. Powerful personal technology was just a gleam in a developer’s eye.

Before the age of seven or so, Christmas was personally devoid of any significant reason for the season except for what I learned while memorizing short poems for our church program. So at that age, it was all about the toys.

catalogOh, how I loved making wish lists from Christmas catalogs, a practice I learned from my brother, Donnie. Even before one can create a list, one can definitely mark a toy on a page with a giant “X.”

One special Christmas, I received a favorite gift: a blue, quilted double stroller with white pom pom fringe on the canopy, seen below. JOY! I could stroll TWO babies at once! My entire life, I’ve been enamored with strollers and their features, which I believe was birthed that Christmas morning.


Another beloved childhood gift was a Baby First Step doll, just like this one. Battery operated, she toggled from one foot to the other like a mini-Frankenstein monster. I loved her. She survived many a trip over the edge of the coffee table. Later came Baby First Skate, which was simply the same doll with plastic “skates” attached. My next-door neighbor and first friend had matching dolls. Heaven!

baby first stepbaby-1st-step-photoshop

As did many American families in the 1960s, we decorated a perfectly shaped, shiny aluminum tree instead of a real one. The trunk was nothing more than a painted wooden rod with holes drilled at a slant into which we pushed silver branches whose ends flared like the bells on trumpets. The stems were scratchy, but the “needles” of the bells were smooth. I distinctly remember gently pushing my nose into the bells and looking at my fractured reflection. My mother said one reason we purchased the artificial tree was that I was allergic to pine. (I had all kinds of allergies as a child, from air-borne to eczema.) But I also believe that

65 don and me

Donnie and I, circa 1965

the stark trees mirrored the mid-20th Century influence on our culture: manufactured, marketed, mainstreamed–and did I mention, they were shiny like rockets and stars?! Of course they were the trees of the future! (Until Charlie Brown set us straight in 1965.)

We hung plain glass ornaments, red, green, gold. I enjoyed making faces and seeing my fish-eyed reflection in the bulbs.

We also owned some of the glass ornaments inspired by German craftsmanship, although I doubt my dad, a WWII veteran, knew their origin back then! Maybe he wouldn’t have minded; I don’t know.

We didn’t hang garland or tinsel on the tree because it was showy enough, and we didn’t use lights because they would melt the aluminum.

I couldn’t wait for the sun to set so that we could turn on the color wheel. Ours had four colors: red, blue, green and amber yellow. I waited each revolution for the vibrant blue to come around and secondly, red. I didn’t care for the green or yellow.

color wheel

I remember lying on the beige sculpted berber carpeting (that looked like lumpy oatmeal) watching the colors climb one wall, travel the ceiling, cross the reflective tree and down the opposite wall. It was hypnotizing. The bright bulb behind the colors sometimes got so hot we smelled burning plastic, a signal to turn it off. The wheel was always too hot to touch, one of the first dangers I can remember.

In both of the following photos, I am with my second of three brothers, Jack, at Christmas. He is 12 years older than I; Larry is 16 years older. I loved Jack dearly, although I can’t remember living in the same house with him very well and Larry not at all.

Note the cherry pink sofa with metallic silver thread running throughout the fabric (more space age influence). It was a bit scratchy. In the photo on the right, notice the contemporary “blonde” furniture. On the left, there is a shift to natural wood color. It was on the underside of that coffee table that I wrote a terrible message to my youngest brother (the one eight years older than I): “I hate Donnie.” I forget what instigated that sentiment. He probably looked at me or snapped his fingers at me, more than enough effort to make me mad, which of course, was his goal.

Those first Christmases are resting in peace, the way my head is resting on Jack’s shoulder in this picture. Childhood Christmases lie in nostalgic warmth, free of anxiety and responsibility. And although I can’t claim a Norman Rockwell or Little House on the Prairie Christmas with cozy fireplaces and one-horse open sleighs,  I did have the icy reflection of that tree, the glow of the color wheel, the crackle of wrapping paper being stepped on, the warmth of the camera lights, the laughter of my brothers, the whirring and ringing of toys, the couplets memorized for the Christmas programs, the Elvis, Bing Crosby and Beach Boys carols, the Indiana snows, the deliciousness of many Christmas Eve ham dinners– I had it all.

The memories are fading like the home movies and photos. But I like to think that someday, I’ll be able to see them again, clearly–maybe even be in the middle of them again, experiencing them and not just remembering them, with an even deeper appreciation for the blessed life I was given: temporal joy in the midst of eternal joy, the same way the Baby Jesus was nested in finite time for us to enjoy forever.

Thank you, Mom and Dad.

My Maternal Grandmother, Vestal Pearl Campbell Garrett Nickol

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Vestal Pearl Campbell Garrett Nickol

Birth 9 December 1906 in Kentucky

Death 27 September 1979 in Muncie, Delaware, Indiana, USA

Read obituary here.

Was she Vestal Pearl or Pearl Vestal? I’ll never know for sure, but one thing I know; no one called her “Vestal.” Oh, the wrath that name would evince.

And that idiosyncracy is an indication of her feisty personality, which is mainly how I remember her. She died when I was just about to turn 17.

Her mother was Rettie A. (Decker) Turner Campbell. Her biological father is a mystery, although I have received a hint through that might eventually lead me to a conclusion. (See James Matthew Woolverton, born in Pulaski Co and his wife, Aggatha Williams.) Family members told Pearl that her biological father’s surname was “Garrett,” which is confusing because she eventually grew up and married my grandfather, Bradley Garrett. Anyway, her father’s identity is unknown.

Pearl was her mother’s third child of four. She assumed the surname of her younger sister, Nell: “Campbell.”

When Pearl was seven years old, she contracted an illness that left her virtually blind. My aunt, Evelyn (Nickol) Wesner, told me yesterday that Grandma told her she suffered a malarial fever and measles that took her sight. Since they lived in a very rural area with little professional care available, we can only trust Pearl’s word about the actual cause. In any case, it doesn’t appear to have been congenital.

IN 1918, Pearl’s mother, Rettie, collapsed and died. I cannot find any information about that event.

So at age 11, Pearl had no father, no vision, no mother.

She went to stay with her older sister, Ethel, for a time, and then with her grandmother, Emaline Decker.

A kind woman name Delphia Newland sponsored Grandma so that she could attend what was then called, “The Kentucky School for the Blind,” 1846-1937.


While Grandma was there, she learned to do many tasks that allowed her to live quite independently, in some ways. I found documents that showed her participation in a musical play performed by the students. One of the most fascinating things she told me about her time there was that she met Helen Keller.

I believe she was a dancer in this program, as her name is listed here:


She is also listed in this roster:

To His Excellency, 
Edwin P. Morrow, 

Governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. 

Sir : — 

The number of pupils under our charge during the past 
year and eight months in the White Department was one 
hundred and fourteen and in the Colored Department was 
sixteen, making in all, one hundred and thirty. 

She was still listed in an annual report for 1923.

Recently, my aunt, Pearl’s youngest daughter, told me that while at the school, Grandma was courted by one of the teachers. They actually ran away together to elope, but they were stopped before a marriage could take place. The teacher was let go from his position at the school, and Grandma was taken back as a pupil. I am 53 years old; this is the first I’ve ever heard of this story!

I can’t find documentation for when she married my grandpa, but Mom was born in 1925, and Grandma was married before Mom’s birth. I know that Pearl and Bradley met while working in a hotel in KY. I do not know the name of the hotel or what jobs they were doing when they met. I know that Grandma was thrilled that Grandpa preferred her to her younger sister, Nell, who always garnered attention for her exotic looks (Nell’s biological father was Italian) and for being the baby of the family.

Grandma and Grandpa moved to New Castle, IN, because Grandpa found a job at the Chevrolet plant there. My mother, their first child, was born in New Castle on 12/10/1925, and was named Delphia Lucille, after Delphia Newland who sponsored my grandma at the Institute for the Blind. Grandma chose “Delphia,” while Grandpa chose “Lucille.” Here are Pearl and “Lou,” as my mom was always called.

Pearl and Lou

Grandma and Grandpa had many children together. Because Grandma could not see well, my mom and her subsequent siblings did much of the daily chores and held advanced responsibilities in their household. Even as a young child, my mother was asked to check the vegetables my grandma cooked with to make sure there were no rotten spots or garden worms in the food before cooking. She often dictated to my mother how much of each ingredient should go into each recipe, when and how to stir, etc. Therefore, my mother learned to cook at a very early age, often while her mother called out directions from a bed in another room.

Grandma had a strong drive to care for the elderly. She would go out of her way to make sure elderly neighbors had all the food and medicines they needed when others forgot them or neglected them. She left Indiana and went back to Kentucky to care for her own grandmother when she was near death. In this photo, Nell is on the left, Grandma Emaline center, Pearl right.


Curiously, my grandma was able to find work as an LPN in Muncie. I have wondered more than once how she could care for the sick when her vision was so poor. My aunt and mother have told me that for years, she sat at the bedsides of the very ill, often working the midnight shift. Nurses before her would lay out medicines or whatever she might need to have done before she arrived. So she was able to do things like provide a cool cloth, food and comfort. My mother was charged with washing and starching Grandma’s white uniforms.

Because of her good reputation, doctors knew her by name and recommended her. She was able to network with health professionals and get help for the poor in her community by brazenly picking up the telephone and calling those who could help. The Ball family legacy is huge in this town, and my grandmother often called people in that family to procure help for others.

My grandfather died when he was only 40 years old. This left my grandma with no support before there were social programs. She became depressed and emotionally distracted and absent for a while. Then she met and married Orval Nickol, had two more children with him, and lived with him in peace until she died.

In her later life, she had extensive surgery to correct her vision. The doctors had to go into the eyeball itself and remove scar tissue. She had corneal transplants which required vertical stitches along the front of her eyeball. Recovery was long and arduous, but she could finally see better. She always wore thick glasses, as in this picture at Evelyn’s wedding:

GRandma and mrs smith

Some incidental things I remember about my own grandmother are: she smoked cigarettes but did not drink or swear (in my lifetime or presence, anyway). She liked the hymn, “How Great Thou Art.” She had a good sense of humor but a quick temper. She sat in one upholstered swivel chair in her living room on South Liberty Street most often. I loved to swing on her front porch and sing. The first time I ever ate canned green peas was at her house, and I asked for 2nds and 3rds. She had a garden. She liked “Little House on the Prairie,” because I believe it reminded her of her childhood, in a way. Her voice was on the gruff side, and she could get loud. She was not overly affectionate with me, but I do remember sitting on her lap in that chair. She was quite bossy with my mom, which amused me when I was a teenager. I believe I knew she loved me.

In later life, she had heart failure. At one point she was overmedicated in the hospital and nearly died. She returned home but died about a month after that ordeal.

It was her custom every day to take a nap right after lunch. One day, she fell asleep and never woke up. One of the worst days of my life was having to go out to our garage where my mom was cleaning something and tell her Grandma had passed.

The most pleasant story I have is one Grandma herself told me. When I was very small, maybe two years old, I was sitting on her lap in her house. The Beatles were on TV, and when they finished singing, they waved goodbye to the crowds. I began to cry, and Grandma asked me what was wrong. I sobbed, “They wave goodbye to me!” I think I was probably watching the teenaged girls cry and sensed something sad was happening, and so I may be able to go on record as the Beatles’ youngest-ever fangirl.

I feel relieved and sad to have finally gotten these events deposited somewhere where future generations can see them, if they choose. I’m sad because I wish I had appreciated my grandma more and asked even a small percentage of the questions I wish I could ask now:

Tell me every single thing you can remember about your grandmother and mother. Tell me about when you lost your vision. Tell me about your first day at the Blind School. Tell me how you fell in love with my grandpa. Tell me how you felt about my mother. Tell me how hard it was when Grandpa died and left you with all of those children. Mom says that after he passed, you did not behave like yourself for a while. What were you feeling? If you could have chosen any vocation, what would it have been? What did you think when I was born? How would you like to be remembered?

And I would say thank you for the rocking chair you bought me when I was a child. I still have it. I painted it, and now it belongs to my granddaughter, Josie. And I would tell you that I have the rocker that sat in your house for years. Sometimes when I sit in it, I think of you. You are not forgotten.

My Paternal Grandfather, Joseph Bradley Garrett

Brad Garrett CropJoseph Bradley Garrett was my maternal grandfather. They called him Bradley or Brad.

He was born February 8, 1900, in Fentress County, Tennessee, and died July 4, 1940 in Muncie, IN.

jbgHis obit says he died in Yorktown, but he did not; he was buried in Yorktown but died in Muncie, IN, on W 8th Street. JBG was only 40 years old when he succumbed to cancer.

My mother, his eldest child, was 14 when he passed. Some of the last words he spoke, which she heard, were, “There’s nothing left for me in this old world.” When I was old enough to hear this often-repeated story from my mom, my heart broke for her in empathy. How could a father who was leaving so many children say those words? She did not seem to absorb them the same way I did and told the story more as an objective listener than his daughter. There was no welfare state; they were on their own, and Pearl was blind since childhood.

His wife, my grandma, was Pearl V. (Vestal? Not sure of spelling and she hated to be called by that name) Campbell. Bradley and Pearl had 6 children: Delphia Lucille (my mother, 12.10.25), Ruby Maxine (Higdon), Bradley Joseph (called Junior, although the names were transposed), Nellie Ann, Harold Lee and Benjamin Timothy, named after his grandfather Garrett. Pearl was pregnant when JBG died, and that baby did not live.

My mother says her dad suffered terribly, as a limit was put on the dispersion of morphine for pain. We do not know for sure the origin of cancer. He first noticed a problem when he was shaving and hit a mole on his neck. It became sore and never healed, and family lore says that was the origin, but that doesn’t seem likely in today’s medical expertise .

Lucille and car

Lucille and Bradley

JBG worked in New Castle, IN, at the Chrysler factory. My mom was born in New Castle. Then he worked at Chevrolet in Muncie. When the effects of the Depression hit, Grandpa put all of their material items (toys, a Victrola, etc.) in storage, and they moved to TN to farm a small piece of land near family. He may have actually sold the items instead of storing; they never saw them again. They did own a car, which was a rarity, and drove to TN.

JBG was gregarious by nature and often supplemented income by traveling sales. I know that he sold some sort of glass. I understand that Pearl was often jealous because of his outgoing nature. He would often barter for items such as a chicken for payment of goods.

Because of sales, he ventured into an area of black population, against the advice and warnings of his white community. He reported that he was always treated very well by his customers there and appreciated them very much. When black hired hands worked alongside him, he is quoted by my mom, “Black people can eat at my table any time,” which in the context of the day translates to lack of prejudice, at least in that instance.

Finally, my mother remembers JBG in glowing memories. He was handsome, intelligent, talkative, musically gifted regarding instruments and very emotional about the imminence of WWII, upset about the invasion of Poland in particular, not because of any ties there but because it was a small, defenseless country. He cared much for his personal appearance, was clean and neat. He did smoke, as did most people. He took care to roll my mother’s anklet socks just so in order to please her. He doted on my mother, while my grandma doted on R. Maxine. He spent money on her dresses that raised eyebrows and comments from others. He would say to her that she would be “his” teacher, meaning he thought she might be a professional teacher one day. Pearl chose the name “Delphia” for my mother for a woman who had paid her tuition to the Kentucky Blind School. Bradley chose “Lucille” because he liked the name. She went by “Lucille” her entire life. JBG was a Christian. His father, Benjamin, was a preacher in the Seventh Day Adventist denomination, but my grandparents did not attend church regularly. My mother did attend a Seventh Day Adventist school in Muncie, however.  JBG was about 5’11’, but the stories I’ve heard and pictures I’ve seen make him appear a large man if not by physical stature, by presence.

New Castle

My maternal grandparents, Bradley and Pearl Garrett

Lucille mom and dad2Lucille studio picLucille fam photo    Pics of Mom0009

In the Interest of Full Disclosure ~ OR ~ Pride Comes Before the Fall

Yesterday, family history pointed to a Samuel Clemens connection, which is pretty dag-gone good for this Hoosier girl. Before yesterday, my closest brush with fame was either A)That time I sort of won the spelling bee B) That time I saw a soap opera star in LAX. So, you know, being KIN to a great American novelist was pretty heady.

I had 24 hours of awesomeness, and then, THIS dropped in my lap today. Let me set this up by saying “Delk” is a family name:


Owens, Martin V. “Murder at Jamestown.” Jamestown, Tennessee, Sept. 10th. 

This little village was shocked Monday afternoon about 4 0’clock by the commission of a horrible murder. Lemuel Delk, David Delk Jr and James A. Taylor murdered Martin V. Owens by stabbing him several times in the back and twice in the neck with pocket knives. The murderers were all prominent well-to-do citizens, and trouble is feared because the Sheriff refuses bail pending a hearing before the judge. There has been talk of a rescuing party. The cause of the tragedy has not been learned. All the parties were drinking at the time. Owens leaves a large family in indigent circumstances. [Source: Chattanooga Daily Times, Hamilton Co., TN, Fri., Sept. 1885.]

A “rescuing party?!” Oh, David Delk, Jr.! This is awful! Read on:

Another untitled article ~

One of the most brutal and cowardly murders ever known in this section was committed at Jamestown on Monday evening last. As usual, wild cat whiskey was the cause. A lot of it was brought into Jamestown, on Monday, and its effect was very soon visible, a general fight occurring on the main street. A brother of the murdered man was in the fight, and in endeavoring to get him away, Martin Owens encountered the three men, Lemuel and David Delk and their brother-in-law, John Taylor. They immediately set on him with their knives, almost cutting him to pieces. The three men were immediately arrested, and are now strongly guarded in the Jamestown jail. The county officials of Fentress Co. have now a very good chance of proving their determination to put a stop to the lawlessness by leaving no stone unturned until the three murderers have met with their deserts. We cannot expect Northern men to come down here and settle among us, if in our county seats, where are supposed to reside most of the representatives of law and order of the country, the arrival of a few gallons of illicit whiskey should turn the town into a Pandemonium, and end up by brutally murdering, as usual, a man who had nothing to do with the fighting. We are informed by a Revenue Officer, that it is thought that the whiskey came from Pickett Co., and that most, if not all, the illicit stills in Fentress Co. have been broken up.

Well. Whoever wrote this report was probably NOT a great American novelist but wanted to be.

One more:

“Jamestown Letter.” Jamestown has had quite enough of bloodshed for a while, as I think. On the 7th of Setp., Dave DELK, Jr., Lem DELK, and John TAYLOR killed Martin OWENS by stabbing him five times in the back, twice in the throat, these being the fatal blows struck by John TAYLOR. They had their preliminary examination and were permitted to give bail in the sum of $10,000 each. They are now footloose till a further hearing.” [Source: Rugby Gazette, Morgan Co., Tn, Sat., 3 Oct. 1885, Vol. 5, No. 40] 


Records show Lemuel lived to an old age, no records for David Jr.

And why am I reporting this? David Delk, Jr. is my 2nd great grandfather. Not that far removed from me–after all, he’s my great grandmother’s dad. This would’ve made his daughter, my great grandmother, only 8 years old when her dad killed someone in cold blood, leaving a woman to care for children when there was no social security or welfare state. It’s like he murdered a family.

Awful. Just Awful.



Dear Mark Twain:

“Why waste your money looking up your family tree? Just go into politics and your opponents will do it for you.” — Mark Twain

Well, I don’tTwain have time to enter politics, sir. I had to do this on my own, and look who I found.

It turns out that you and I are 4th cousins, 4 x removed, whatever that means. I do know that my 4th great-grandfather, Elijah Caleb Bernard Garrett, married Mary Ann Polly Casey, a member of your family, and by that connection, we share my 7th great-grandfather (your 3rd great-grandfather) Abner Brooks Casey. Among his many children, Abner had two sons, John and Jesse. I am descended from Jesse, you from John.

It’s nice to meet you in a different context, one other than among rows of desks in stifling classrooms on bright spring days ….

There is something moving about remembering sitting in lit class at Ball State University reading Twain, never dreaming I was even distantly related, of course.

But I was.

From Ireland (Abner) to Baltimore, MD, to South Carolina (Jesse) to Roanoke River Valley, VA, to Roan, TN (Aaron) to Pickett, TN (Elijah Garrett and Mary Ann Polly Casey Garrett) — comes one group of my ancestors. Looking at this little branch, immigration doesn’t seem so long ago, and I have one more connection to Ireland and a connection to one of America’s best known and beloved writers. Some say Huckleberry Finn is the best book every written by an American writer.

What does this distant connection mean? It doesn’t mean anything at all, really, in a practical sense–but it is a pleasant little novelty in my life now. And maybe my great-grandchildren x 7 will find this amusing and interesting. I hope so.