Friday, January 28, 2011


Late last summer, my Conneticut cousin Mark came for a visit. The last time we'd seen one another was in 1965 at a small family reunion; we were both 12. Mama, my brothers and I took the Greyhound from Dallas to Norman, Oklahoma to Aunt Mildred's house, where the reunion was to be held. Although it had been a couple of years, she, Uncle Forest and their kids once lived in Euless, Texas and so I knew those cousins. Mark's parents Rosemary and Hank and his sisters Margaret and Judy were also making the drive. That would be our first and only meeting.

I've mentioned before about how oddly comforting it is to meet a relative for the first time. You can't deny physical simularities and mannerisms. Mark is tall: 6'4 or 6'5 with Dudgeon dark hair and eyes. He has our great-grandfather John Pigg's profile and smile. He laughs easily and has a gentle curiousity about our family and its history and by the end of the first afternoon, we decided to take a road trip.

Two of my mother's brothers, Thurman and Dennis, still live in Missouri. Dennis is the youngest of the Hicks children and the last to leave Orrick. After a little arm twisting, he agreed to be our tour guide for the afternoon. The plan would be to pick him up in Springfield, drive to Orrick, and return to Springfield that evening. I don't remember ever meeting Dennis, but all of the Hicks children bear a striking resemblance to one another and so meeting one is like having a piece of Mama with me for a bit.

We picked him up around 10am at a church in town where his wife June works and headed north on Hwy 13. Walt and I had made the drive the previous October to lay a headstone for Mama, but had taken the interstate. Dennis took the backroads pointing out pieces of history as we drove. So much had changed: the movie house, where the flood had taken this friend's house or that cousin's. Where the high school kids would neck on Saturday nights.

We arched south of Richmond on Hwy 10, then joined Hwy T winding through Camden and more stories. Dennis has my grandmother's softspoken rappid fire technique for fitting 10 minutes worth of information into about 2 seconds. Grandma Frances would call every year on my birthday and I'd freeze as my mother handed me the phone. "I can't understand her, Mama." "Youbeinagoodgirlforyourmother?" Grandma asked. Mama whispered,"Say yes." Needless to say, I didn't catch most of the Camden stories.

Hwy T rejoined Hwy 210 just outside of Orrick. I knew my way from there. We turned west on Brashers Road and then right on Hwy Z: downtown Orrick.

One hundred years ago, Orrick was a bustling farm town on the banks of the Missouri River. Today, most of the land has been purchased by corporations, shrinking the small business man to near extinction. Mark and I wanted to see the stories. Grandpa Pigg's bank, the drug store, where Aunt Eliza lived, Grandma and Grandpa Dudgeon's farm. We'd heard the stories; Dennis knew where they took place.

I asked Dennis if any of the old folk were still around. "We'll see." and walked into the bank. "I'm Dennis Hicks," he announced to the teller, "do you know me?" Turning my head to Mark, I whispered "He's going to get us shot." Mark nodded. "No sir, I don't believe I do," she replied. We thanked her and went next door to the post office. "I'm Dennis Hicks, do you know me?" he asked the postmaster. "No sir, I don't." "Hi, I'm Donna Hanson, Tillman Hicks' granddaughter. This is my uncle and cousin." I explained why we were there and asked if there was a town historian or one of the older residents who knew my grandparents and would share stories. "Well, there's John Allen Lee." Great!! A lead. "Could you tell me where Mr. Lee lives?" I asked. "Well, I'm not allowed to do that, I'm sorry." We thanked him for his time and left thinking that just driving by the old places would be a treasure in and of itself.

Just as we started to cross the street to our car, we bumped into a woman leaving the VFW. "Hi, I'm trying to find John Allen Lee. Do you know where he lives?" I asked. "Sure" she smiled.

Mr. and Mrs. Lee were wonderful hosts. They remembered Dennis.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Look it Up.

Wednesdays were vocabulary word day in grade school. "Mom, what does reticent mean?" "Look it up." was always her reply. About 1964 a book salesman knocked on our door and sold mom two copies of the Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language (enlarged from the consise edition) with Student Handbook. With student handbook means that the first few pages include color pictures of the presidents from George Washington (1789-1797) to Lyndon B. Johnson (1963- ). I wrote "1969" in black pen when Nixon took office.

Aside from the over 10,000 words in this particular dictionary, you'll find sections on astronomy and space, biology, chemistry (including nuclear energy and valence... another vocabulary word), the plays of Shakespeare, modern physics, Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, homonyms, music history highlights, the Constitution of the United States, and calorie chart.

Other than magazines and the Bible, these two dictionaries comprised our home library. Most of the time our black and white TV didn't work, so I'd read. I'd go for the illustrated words first: anvil, aphelon, carpel, cartridge, hen's egg, harlequin, nerve cell, samovar, tea shoot, and vandyke beard and wonder why some words were illustrated and others not.

If I let the book fall open to its comfortable middle: "nefarious, nepenthean, nephew, neuritis" with the only illustrated word located center page along the spine's crease: "nerve center." Seriously?

I volunteer at the local Family History Center on Wednesdays as a researcher/consultant. But most of the time, I tell stories. I brought in Grandma Julie Dudgeon's ledger today for show-and-tell. And then started reading a new book that I'd ordered from the Ray (Missouri) County Historical Society. I quoted the author, William E. Paulson, in last night's blog. What's unique about this recount is that he pieces together the stories behind the events. Mr. Paulson starts with Block 1 Lot 1 in the township and identifies the evolution of merchants and residents of Orrick from its dedication as a village in 1869 through the book's publication date of 1975. Here's one of my favorites:

"East unit of Lot 6: Mr. W.T. Bailey had been a harness maker for years, but always working more or less as a silent partner of E.L. Hunt in Block 15. Since about 1928, he worked for himself. However, the harness business was failing. In 1947, he retired and devoted full time repairing shoes... About this time, Mrs. Bailey developed an illness and the doctor recommended goat's milk. Mr. Bailey acquired several goats. He made halters for his goats and for others in the area. He started taking a national magazine covering the milk goat industry...and noted that not one of these magazines advertised halters, so he decided to place an ad just to see if there was any demand for the product. Soon he was devoting full time to filling orders for halters. When he died in 1948, Hallie took over the business and continued there until 1963. Breaking away for awhile, how may of the following parts of harness can you identify: pole strap, breast strap, hame strap, breeching, quarter strap, hames, back band, blinders, tail crupper, reins, belly band, traces, tugs, bits, halter, spreader..."

Language changes.

In his opening paragraph, Mr. Paulson states that "This writing covers not only my memory, but I have relied on writing of my father, Elmer A. Paulson, who was born and raised in southwest Ray county, a tailor in Orrick for over 66 years and a factor in potatoes for over 40 years." Okay, that made me smile. I'm not sure what a factor in potatoes is, but I'm sure that if I look it up, I'll find it illustrated.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

"I have come to the conclsion that History is not history; it is legend or just literature." (William E. Paulson, "Orrick as I Remember" 1975.

Once again today I found myself spinning wildly down a rabbit hole in search of some real pioneer stories. It started with my great-grandmother Julia Dudgeon's ledger.

Julie Dudgeon was a writer. As the Secretary for the "Ladies of Hope and Comfort," she documented not only meeting notes, but who was visiting whom, who'd just had a new baby or bought a new hat. She wrote in charcoal pencil the date, where the purchase was made and the price she paid somewhere on every piece of furniture she bought. And she kept a ledger to the penney of everything she and my great-grandfather bought and sold.

The front cover of the ledger reads "1896 to 1896," but the last entry is dated 1952. On the first page they sold a hog for $7.35, chickens and eggs for $6.00 and bought tobacco ($.10), curtains ($2.35), a dress ($.35), life insurance ($15.00),shoes ($1.00),an ax handle ($.15), harness tools ($.30) and whiskey ($.23) along with dried peaches, salt, stamps, nails, and bleuing. About every 6th entry was for more tobacco and with each entry, the pressure of the pencil heavier. Several were underlined. My guess is that grandma Julie didn't care for grandpa's smoking.

What's wonderful about this book is that the more I read, the more I felt like I was on an archeological dig, unearthing ancient shards of their daily lives. The stories that I've heard are of Thurman Dudgeon, the "Watermelon King." The truth is that they made 80% of their income selling chickens, eggs, a pig now and then, potatoes and vegetables from the garden. There's a $.15 entry for "advertising." Raise your hand (those of you with corporate jobs) if you've remembered to include advertising and marketing in this year's departmental budget. Smart businessfolk.

In 1902, they bought a cow ($20.00), a colt ($30.00), sewing machine ($10.00), $.20 for a haircut, more tobacco, $1.00 for the Orrick Times, sold hogs ($35.20), bought shoes ($2.00) and sold a skunk for $.45.

The last entry in the ledger reads "The flood came...stopped our bookkeeping."

The flood was in July of 1951; Grandpa Dudgeon died of prostrate cancer the previous November. My mother and uncles have all told me that grandma lost the farm in the flood. The house still stands and so I assume they mean crops, livestock, furniture... her way of life.

On the back cover of the journal, she wrote: "Laura [her sister] took her three litle children moved down in the Rine Island Saturday evening Mar 2, 1929. I am praying God to send them some help."

Monday, January 24, 2011


What do you do with a 30-year old macaroni necklace?

Going through boxes this weekend, I found a Father's Day card I made in 1959. I'm sure it spent time taped to the refrigerator and then later, tucked into an old shoebox. As children, most every accomplishment is an attempt to gain praise from our parents and loved ones. My father left when I was 7, but the need to please him did not.

Mom worked long hours to provide for us and so wasn't available for parent-teacher conferences, to watch me compete in sports, or to attend the school plays. She did make it to my 5th grade piano recital and walked to the community pool one hot afternoon to watch me practice sprints. And she kept macaroni necklaces.

Mom loved my adventures. The retirement complex where she lived in California had a central meeting room where the residents would play cards and "one-up": verbal banter with the winner being the person who's child or grandchild was the most accomplished. Mom would call before the weekly card game and giggle "Give me a story Donna. Wha'd you do this week??"

When my father died in 2005, I sat by his bed and whispered things I remembered from my childhood: watching him untangle Christmas tree lights on the livingroom floor; climbing up in his lap to watch Bugs Bunny before going to bed. Then I clipped a lock of his hair and taped it in the back of my passport and told him about the grand adventures we would have.

My brother Don and I found an old briefcase tucked in the bottom of a storage closet on his patio. The fittings were covered in mold from years of exposure. Inside were treasures from my childhood: a Scrabble board, his address book and business cards from the early 1970s, photographs of my mother, my brothers and me, and pictures of my children. Tucked in the back of the address book was a yellowed envelope in my handwriting. Inside was my college graduation announcement.

He was with me when I worked for Chase in Hong Kong and climbed the steep steps to the Big Buddah. He was with me when Woody and I sailed across the South Atlantic in a 34' CAL.

In 2009 when mom died, I taped both of their locks in the back of my logbook. It was the first time they'd been together since 1961. They were with me when I passed my Lear 60 SIC checkride. Last month, they were with me when I flew a light-sport aircraft from NW Arkansas across the Texas plains; through the I40 pass in Albuquerque, New Mexico; across the great meteor crater; through Sedona's canyons to Lake Havasu, Arizona. This morning, my logbook sits on the corner of my desk under my David Clarks. And I can hear my mother's voice whisper "Give me a story Donna..."

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Who are these guys?

I fade. Since I haven't posted since 3rd Quarter 2010, I wouldn't blame the two of you who follow this blog for not following the blog. Today, however, I could use some help.

The good-looking dark haired fellow in the top center of this photo is Thurman Dudgeon. My guess is that the rest are as follows:

Two tall men flanking him are either George Tate Dudgeon, James A. Dudgeon and/or William C. Dudgeon. The two women standing are probably Minnie Lee Dudgeon and Fannie Bell Dudgeon, his half-sisters with Linda Lyle. My 3rd great grandmother Martha Lou Phillips died; he and Linda married in 1877.

Any takers??