Thursday, March 11, 2010

One step forward, two steps back, step to the side, dip and turn.

You might ask if I research every day. The answer is yes. That doesn't mean that I log into Ancestry.com or launch Family Tree Maker every day. If all I do is click on a suggested link and incorporate the findings of one record or integrate a distant cousin's tree into my own, then I'm missing the point.

A couple of weeks ago, I started reading a book called "The Worst Hard Time" by Timothy Egan. The book made the New York Time notable's list and was on the "Buy 2, Get the 3rd FREE" table at Barnes and Noble. There isn't anything specific about the Hanson/Hicks family tree in this book, but it does talk about the great dust bowl disaster of the 1930s.

On the trip home from Orrick, Missouri after dropping off mom's grave marker, Walt and I stopped by Lampe, Missouri to visit my Uncle Thurman Hicks; one of mom's brothers. He had a box waiting for me full of old photographs. I'd also brought some photographs for him to identify. Through the course of an afternoon's conversation I found out quite a bit about the world of my mother's childhood and left with even more questions. My mother had spoken about "the flood" many times. The flood of 1951 took my grandmother's piano, linens and the crops. Thurman named the faces in the photographs and I wrote quickly, hoping there would be another day for questions. When he came to the photograph of the Riverside Home, he stopped. Thurman Dudgeon and Julia Pigg Dudgeon had grown prize-winning watermelons. I had always thought that their daughter Frances and her husband Tillman Hicks, my mother's parents, had lived in a house next door. No, Thurman said. Tillman was a sharecropper.

I'm only on page 167 of "The Worst Hard Time," but already have found the impact that the dust storms of the 1930s had on Missouri and the rest of the midwest's farmers. Dust pneumonia caused by the top soil blown from Oklahoma, Kansas and the Dakotas ate away at livestock, women and children. The great depression and drought took all but the most stubborn and those with nowhere else to go. The rains didn't return until 1940; by then, mom had graduated high school.

Growing up, my mother washed our clothes in the bathtub and hung them on a line in the back yard. In the winter, they hung strung up throughout the bathroom, kitchen and garage. My brothers and I all hopped in the rinse water together until I was 12, churning what soap remained into a frothy light blue soup. We walked everywhere the bus couldn't take us. Saturdays, we had macaroni with ground beef, tomatoes, onions and garlic. Sundays were pinto beans and cornbread. She sang Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ral as her fingers danced across the piano and when she laughed, she'd catch her breath and not make a sound. When she talked of her childhood, it wasn't of the tenant farmer's house next to my great-aunt's farm. Of the younger brothers and sisters she raised or getting up long before daylight to spread lime on the corn and potato fields before school. She spoke of Grandpa Dudgeon's watermelons. Grandma Dudgeon's Sunday silk dresses and the ladies that would come share sweet tea in the parlor.

Nothing new on Ellen yet. Although I did find through the that my g-grandfather Alfred's (Ellen's husband) brother Joseph was born in Ontario, Canada on 21 July 1889 [Ancestry.com. Ontario, Canada Births, 1869-1909]. Another puzzle piece: their mother's name was Elizabeth (Joiner) Barrie.

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