Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Old Schoolhouse

None of my generation went to school there, neither did my parents’, but my grandmother did and who knows how many others of our Porter and Stauffer ancestral extended families. By the time I came along, it was no longer used as a schoolhouse, but it was still standing. We have a nice picture of it from a photo book of my grandparents’—from the days before “I came along.” Earlier than that, though, is the picture of the school children with my grandmother Fern (then Porter), age six or seven, labeled on the front row. (When did our culture decide on a change from sober pictures to smiling ones?)

In 1992 when we made our first family-history, or ancestor, tour, one of our stops was at the school. It was weathered, the bell was gone, and lush vines were enjoying a happy life on the outer walls, even across half the front door. We peeked in the windows but couldn’t see much. We had in our group that day three school teachers of today’s generations—daughter-in-law Ginger, daughter LynĂ©e, and myself, so we had our picture taken sitting on what was left of the front stoop.

As we drove away down Truman Road, we didn’t know it was the last time we would see the school standing.

The next time we were in Michigan, we drove by—and stared. The school was gone—almost. The only thing left was the chimney. Of course we had to take a picture of it. We learned later that it had burned down, and our hearts said a fond farewell.

But that wasn’t the end of our adventures with that old schoolhouse. When we went back on another “ancestor trip” in 2007, we had trouble identifying the spot where the school had been because even the chimney was gone. The site was surprisingly overgrown. But surely the chimney might still be there, we reasoned, right where it fell. So my sister, my nephew, and I went tromping through the undergrowth in search of it—and there it was, all stretched on the ground and overgrown.

Grandma (little Fern in the picture) has been gone almost sixty years now. It is mostly from her side of the family that we have such a rich ancestral heritage. How I would love to spend an afternoon with her, sharing her past and my present. I would ask her how long she attended the school—come to think of it, I’ve never heard what she did for high school. I would ask her how she got to and from school in the early days, especially on icy Michigan winter days. With her born in 1894, I’m guessing cars weren’t common for rural farm people until she was almost grown.

For my turn, I would tell her about her grandchildren and great-grandchildren who love the Lord, about the intense struggles some of them are dealing with, and how I’m sure some of the strength of the faith that sustains them had its roots in her and Grandpa. What should I describe to her that would leave her shaking her head? Computers? Cell phones? Moon landing? No. I see no reason to mention those things. She had a rich life in her time. I’m not going to suggest she missed out on something just because I have it and she didn't.

Except maybe air conditioning...? Surely am thankful for that these days.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Storms and an Anchor

Lots of thoughts are whirling in my head and my heart this week. It’s nice to be home after so much traveling, and I have caught up on a few things. But we can’t find a pair of Fred’s jeans from our June trip—hey! jeans are too big to lose in a little house like this, and I can’t find some very important papers related to my writing. Things like that are so distracting.

Much more distracting are things happening in the lives of some of our friends. The doctors detected several months ago that the baby my writing friend was expecting had a serious heart problem. Baby Annabelle was born two days ago, and the doctors were right. She’ll be having her first surgery this weekend. As far as we know, her mommy hasn’t had a chance to hold her yet. All we in the writing group can do is stand by, pray, feel helpless, and pray some more.

Last month one of our children’s school mates at the mission school in South America lost her battle to an aggressive cancer. This week another one has gotten word that her cancer prognosis is not as good as they at first thought. The word “aggressive” has been used again. We long ago lost track of how many of us who lived and worked together at our beloved Lomalinda have ended up with cancer. Several have lost their battles, and a few of us—for whatever reasons God has—can, for now, be termed “survivors.” Could it have been something in the locale itself? Is there any common denominator? I don’t think it would help to know.

I learned last weekend that a sweet friend at church was so upset back in May over her dear friends who lost so much in the flood that she couldn’t help anyone because she was crying so hard. A few are getting back into their homes after much hard work and financial expenditure, but a number of houses along the roads sit vacant and haunted, with windows gone and dregs of their lives still scattered across the yards.

An agent and his “reader” are taking a second look at the proposal and sample chapters for my novel. I’m very conflicted about all of it right now—but I did work my way through the whole of it this week and reduced the chapters from ninety-nine to sixty-two. Many of them were way too short before. But that’s of least importance in light of all these other things, as well as some things too close to the heart even to talk about. I’m glad that this week I was reminded of a song about anchors and storms, Ray Boltz’s “The Anchor Holds.”

The anchor holds though the ship is battered.
The anchor holds though the sails are torn.
I have fallen on my knees as I face the raging seas.
My anchor holds in spite of the storm.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Hannah Marie

Once upon a time there was a family with ancestral roots around Grand Rapids, Michigan. They knew a few things about their ancestors, such as Delilah who, they were told, was French and from whom the brown eyes in the family came. They knew that when Grandma Porter had surgery for cancer in 1930, "they found her so full of it that they just closed her up again." And they heard it declared from time to time that bad traits in the family, for whatever reason, were attributed to someone they called Great-grandmother Wells--whoever she was.

Though the family didn't know much about their ancestors, the ancestral heritage was unusually important to them. Every year on Memorial Day, as many of the family as could gather, did—even from out of state. They would drive by the brick farmhouse and little North Chester Baptist Church that had played important roles in their family history. They visited the graves of parents and grandparents and planted flowers at the headstones. And the patriarch of the family, Grandpa Hawkins, would take off his hat, bow his head, and express a prayer of gratitude for the spiritual heritage left to the family by those who had gone before.

Come to think of it, that was an interesting twist because Grandpa's own predecessors did not leave a trail of spiritual truth for him to follow. He led his father to faith just before he died, and in all the years I knew Grandpa, he didn't have any contact with his other relatives. That makes it all the more poignant that he so much appreciated the heritage into which he married.

Then one day in 1951, one group of the extended family, on furlough from far-away Africa, paid a visit to a fairly distant family member—and a seed was planted.

Beginning of Lifetime Hobby
Yes, that was my family, and I was fifteen the day we visited Guy Lockwood. He was a fellow Wells descendant, a cousin of Grandma Porter's, and a first cousin twice removed of my mother, Esther Hawkins Moneysmith. And he was a grandson of the legendary Great-grandmother Wells, who had died in 1888 when Guy was just seven.

The important thing that day was that Guy brought out and showed our family paragraphs he had copied from his grandmother’s Bible. It became clear that ancestral heritage had been important to her, too. It caught my interest enough that I copied it into a notebook. Though it would be more than a decade until, as an adult and young mother, I made my first effort to learn more about the Compton family, that exposure marked the beginning of our current family’s interest in our ancestral heritage. What a journey it has been, especially since the mid-1990s when the Internet became available!

Now, sixty years later, we know that Great-grandmother Wells, born Hannah Marie Compton, was a fine, godly woman, the youngest of eleven in a large, fascinating family. Wouldn't she be amazed to know that, more than a hundred and twenty years after her death, some of her descendants and the descendants of several of her siblings have connected with each other and continue to dig deeper into the family history—both before her and after her?

I'm going to use the above as a new introduction to the Wells page on my family-history website ( It tells about Hannah's family--from her grandfather who had his jaw shot off in the American Revolution to tidbits like the fact that her parents had at least eighty grandchildren.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Old Times and New

Almost sixty years ago we came together at a Christian boarding school northwest of Orlando. We shared an identity for which a term hadn’t yet been invented—“third-culture kids.” No, Ann and Mary Jane weren’t missionary kids like me, but they had grown up in other parts of the world. Mary Jane’s mother was an American missionary, her father a Syrian, and she was born in Damascus. Ann, American born, grew up in the oil fields of Saudi Arabia where her father worked for an oil company. Mary Jane was educated by her mother through Calvert School, as I was, while Ann attended an American school run by the oil companies.

Through the years we’ve connected only a couple of times, but in the next five days we’re going to see a lot of each other. This weekend, near the school in Florida, is the school’s biannual reunion. Because Ann and Mary Jane live even further from Florida than we are in Nashville, they have come to travel with us, both to and from. It should be interesting. Since the time when we were school mates, we’ve each lived a lifetime and raised families. Ann has two sons, Mary Jane two sons and a daughter. I have two daughters and a son. Mary Jane has two Japanese daughters-in-law.

We’ve shared a few memories so far. Mary Jane remembers that back in school I advised her to take the creative writing course I had taken. She loved it and is now involved in a writing group at her church. No, none of us had to sing for our breakfast because of showing up late, but I remember Mary Jane’s first Halloween “costume”—she showed up without the long braids she had arrived with a few weeks earlier.

Tonight we’re going to stay with a friend of ours east of Atlanta, a warm, friendly lady who has a big house. I met her when we were roommates at a workshop in the Philippines. On the way home Monday, we may try and make the whole trip in one day.

At the reunion, I’m going to meet a good friend I’ve never met. An oxymoron? Not in this day and time. For more than six years I’ve been part of an online chat group, all alumni of the school through none of us actual classmates. We’ve become truly caring friends. I’ve met all of the regulars but one at other reunions and been in the homes of two of them. It’s going to be great to see them again—even for just two days. But Tom I’ve never met in person, and I’m looking forward to it. Our group plans to eat together at Friday evening supper—provided the tables at this campground are big enough.

Yes, it should be an interesting five days.