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.

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