Heirlooms

"2 : something of special value handed on from one generation to another " – Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Thunderbolts and subtle truths~

on September 7, 2013

Ah-ha moments, those moments of enlightenment when circumstances, events, or life come into such clear, high-def focus, leaping off of one’s rational, theoretical page and into one’s emotional, passionate heart. In my 50 years, I have experienced them often, more in the last 20 years, as I have moved beyond self-absorption and into parental love, when I have responded more with giving love and less on taking and hoarding love. Sometimes those moments hit me like a thunderbolt. Sometimes they hit me more subtly, gradually, taking their time to reveal their truths.

While in Logansport this summer, my parents had a church function that required their attention. While they attended to those responsibilities, I took the opportunity to visit some local cemeteries in the interest of genealogy research. I remember once in high school, I had spent an afternoon with my grandma and grandpa, visiting the graves of deceased relatives and putting flowers on the graves of our Hoosier ancestors. This was a regular ritual honoring that grandma performed. She visited the graves of her beloved family: Hazel, Merl, Milda, Alfred, Sarah and baby Patty. I am sure there were others, too, but these family members comprised her most frequent visits. I remember going to two or three different cemeteries. Mount Hope Cemetery is located in the heart of Logansport. Crooked Creek Cemetery is located out in the countryside near Royal Center, where grandpa Conn’s people had their deep roots, just 20 minutes outside of Logansport. Many family names are also located in the Royal Centre and Kistler cemeteries.

In baby Patty’s obituary, it is stated that burial was to take place at Mount Hope. But I had this vague, unsettled hunch about that. I could swear she had been buried in a small church cemetery in the Hoosier countryside. After a little digging online, I found two entries for Patricia Ann Conn’s gravesite on find-a-grave.com. One was for Mount Hope Cemetery in Logan, the other was for Crooked Creek. I fact checked this with my mom and she confirmed what I believed to be true- baby Patty was laid to rest at Crooked Creek. She explained to me that they had planned to bury Patty at Mount Hope but they had to purchase the plot. Before the burial could take place, Uncle Harvey Spencer notified them that there was a place available in a family plot at Crooked Creek cemetery. My mom told me that Uncle Harvey even built her tiny casket.

Last winter I upgraded my stupid phone to get myself a smart phone. I suffer from a severe lack of direction, both literal and sometimes emotional. But armed with my smart phone GPS, I set out on my mission to find baby Patty for myself. As I drove through the country highways and small country roads, I thought about the farms in this area. Grandpa was born near here. Can I find that farm still? My ancestors, Conn, Spencer, Kennell, and Cogley, rooted themselves on this land several generations ago but where did they come from before that? And how many times did grandma and grandpa make this trip to visit this grave? My memories of grandma are so grounded in her gracious love for her family. She had a present under her tree for everyone, a card with a small monetary gift on every birthday, and family bragging rights on every kitchen visit. These were my thoughts as I drove those roads.

It was a beautiful summer day. Mapquest led me easily to Crooked Creek Church Cemetery but I never would have found it on my own. Crooked Creek is a small cemetery so it did not take me long to find the family graves. Throughout the cemetery, I saw names I recognized but their connection to me was yet uncertain. Rekindled in my heart is the desire to know. Where have I come from? What stories remain unheard, untold? And then I saw it. I saw Patty’s gravestone.

located at Crooked Creek Cemetery, Royal Center, Indiana

located at Crooked Creek Cemetery, Royal Center, Indiana

I stood there for a moment, struck a bit numb. Patty’s name on her tombstone is not spelled correctly. Do you see it now? I did not actually notice it at first but it hit me within a few seconds. And then my memories flooded back. Cards, checks, envelopes, notes, even books – repeatedly throughout my life, grandma mis-spelled my name. I remember as a youth thinking that it was odd, cute, almost ridiculous that my grandma did not know how to spell my name. Was she just in a hurry? Or was it simply one of her challenging words? I have words that I constantly have to write or type slowly, ones I repeatedly mis-spell: d-e-F-I-N-I-T-E-l-y, r-e-c-E-i-v-e, e-t-c-E-T-E-R-A.

I have not been able to find a birth certificate for Patty, to determine how it is spelled on that official document, perhaps because one did not exist as she was likely born at home in 1936, perhaps because her untimely death at just 7 months old finalized the need to ever file for an official birth certificate. Her obituary spells it P-a-t-r-i-C-I-A but was that an editorial correction? Or, was P-a-t-r-i-C-A really grandma’s preferred spelling? All of these thoughts and emotions flooded my heart in a matter of seconds, covering years, decades.

Now I stood at this site, shamed and humbled, pained and touched, enlightened and ignorant. How many times did my grandparents visit this place, this pain? How many tears were shed here? How long does it take for that kind of pain to heal? Sometimes, the more I search, the more questions I carry away with me.

Thunderbolts and subtle truths. Some answers, more questions. But this I know is truth, and it is a truth I learned from my grands: Love. Love. Love.

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