by Dale Reeves
Harvard philosophy professor George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Won’t it be interesting to look back at the years 2020 and 2021 and see what the history books say about these years that we have lived through? I am grateful that this summer has provided several opportunities for me to learn from those who have paved the way before me . . . and I find myself being extremely thankful for the lessons they have passed on that have enriched my life.
My grandparents, Albert and Lillian King, farmed outside of Maysville, Kentucky. When I was a child growing up, our family would drive down Rte. 52 on the Ohio side, or Rte. 8 on the Kentucky side. I knew that my granddaddy had a big farm where he raised cattle, and grew tobacco that would be sold in the warehouses in Maysville. Because he and his farm were bigger than life to me, I naturally assumed that the bridge spanning across the Ohio River from Aberdeen to Maysville was “Granddaddy’s Bridge.” As a young child, I literally thought it was his.
My grandmother Lillian’s father, “Papa Poole,” lived to be 104 years old. I was eleven years old when we celebrated his 100th birthday at the Felicity Church of Christ, where he attended, and I can still remember all those dollar bills hanging from the money tree the folks at the church gave him. I knew that he was a poet, school teacher, a carpenter, and beekeeper, among other things. He was born the year after America’s Civil War, and died in 1970. I remember how our family would stop and see him in his home in Chilo, which sits near Lock 34 on the Ohio River. As a child, honestly, I was a little afraid of a 100-year-old man, but I’ll never forget that often when we would stop to see him, he would either be writing a poem, reading his King James Bible, or singing “Oh, How I Love Jesus.”
A Cemetery Tour
The last Saturday in June this summer, I enjoyed going on a “cemetery tour” led by my Aunt Norma Thurman, the only matriarch left from my mother’s side. Aunt Norma will be 93 years young this coming October, and her mind is as keen as ever. Her two daughters, Debbie and Diana, accompanied her on the trip, as well as our Kentucky guide, my cousin Ken Chamblin, his wife Joan, my cousin Carol, my brother-in-law Ed, and one of my nieces, Anya. Of course, that day had to begin with a visit to Magee’s Bakery in Maysville, where I purchased several of their famous “transparent tarts.” These little treats have been popular in that neck of the woods for many decades, and actor George Clooney, who is from that area, has been known to share slices of transparent pie on movie sets.
As Ken drove us from cemetery to cemetery and gravesite to gravesite (do you know the difference between the two?), we would park our cars, get out, and then listen to Aunt Norma recount some of the family history from her front seat in one of the vehicles. Her memory astounds me, as well as her ability to articulate the important narratives regarding each family member’s legacy. We visited the graves of my Uncle Jr., his wife, and one of his sons at the Charleston Bottoms Cemetery near the river. We took in the beautiful view from Bladeston Cemetery where my great-great-grandfather, “Andrew Jackson Poole” (born in 1830), was buried in 1894. Do you have an “Andrew Jackson” in your bloodline?
The tour continued in Neave and Powersville in Bracken County, where some of my granddaddy’s family is buried, including Molly Belle—who was blinded as a child while playing a game of “mumbley-pegs.” This is a very old game in which players try to flip a pocketknife from various positions so that the blade will stick into the ground. Yeah, I think I learned from Molly never to play that game. We then drove through the town of Brooksville, and marveled at many of the homes Papa Poole built as a carpenter that still stand to this day. When we reached the cemetery where “Papa,” Samuel Clement Poole, was buried along with his wife Emma, it seemed appropriate for us to sing together, “Oh, How I Love Jesus”—which was one of his favorite hymns. My grandparents are also buried in that cemetery.
Other stops along the way included driving through the tiny town of Willow, where my mother, her brother, and two sisters attended a one-room schoolhouse. Several valedictorians from our family came out of that little school—and they didn’t have the Internet or laptop computers! We visited the cemetery at Germantown, which is next to the church I attended with my grandparents as a child—and paused to give thanks for my Uncle Kenneth’s service to our country in World War II. He drove a tank at the Battle of the Bulge and could never hear very well after that. I am grateful for him and his loving wife, my Aunt Anna Elizabeth. Another highlight of the tour was having to walk past cows and cow patties to visit the little overgrown gravesite that is on the property of the Meyers family (my Papa Poole married Emma Meyers.) This gravesite began when a little girl in the family died.
My cousins placed flowers on thirteen graves that day, and it is a day that I will relish for a long time, as Aunt Norma told us so many stories that have gone into making me who I am today. That day we experienced what is described by the psalmist in Psalm 145:4, “One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts” (NIV).
Nothing Came Easy
Then, in July this summer, my wife and I headed down I-75 to meet up with her parents, who live an hour south of Nashville, Tennessee. We met them in Chattanooga, so that we could drive their car along with ours the rest of the way to our final destination in Daytona Beach Shores, Florida, where we have vacationed with their family for more than thirty years.
My wife drove their car and her mother Nancy rode with her, while my father-in-law, Larry, rode shotgun with me. It’s amazing how fast the five- or six-hour drive through the state of Georgia flew by this year (the variance is based on traffic in Atlanta and Macon), because Larry and I talked the whole way until our overnight stop in Valdosta. Then, the next morning we talked for the next three hours until we reached the condo where we would be staying on the beach. On our return trip, we had nine more hours to chat all the way back up to Chattanooga, where we would part ways again and each head to our respective homes.
I’ve been married to Larry’s daughter for 36 years, but during those eighteen hours on the road together, I learned many things from Larry’s life I never knew. Growing up in the coal country of the hills of eastern Kentucky, with six brothers and one sister, nothing came easy for Larry and his family. His strong work ethic that he has passed down to his three children was forged in Jenkins, Kentucky. He was twenty-one years old when he married his bride, who was only eighteen at the time. In those days, in the years between the Korean War and the Vietnam War, many men got married, and then went off to serve their country. Larry enlisted with the U.S. Marine Corps, and headed off to boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina.
Leaving a Legacy
Larry credits the typing class he took in high school (the only guy in a typing class with all girls) as giving him the opportunity to do some things in the service, and then later, as he worked for the GM plant in Norwood—opportunities others would not have. When we discussed the impact of Covid-19 on our nation the past two years, Larry recounted the days when the polio vaccine became available—and how it was a game changer for the nation’s healthcare system. Those days on the road with just my father-in-law and me I will cherish.
I am also very thankful that Larry has spent a significant amount of time on Ancestry.com, working on lineage books for many people in our family, including me. He has met several of my cousins through this process, and because of him I know that when my ancestors first headed this way from England, their surname was spelled Ryves. The oldest relative he has tracked down for me was Robert Ryves, born in 1490 in Dorset, England. I kinda like that last name. Maybe I will adopt it as well.
Knowing our family history is so important. Learning from the good, the bad, and the ugly in our lineage is helpful as we forge our own way through life. And leaving a legacy for others is of utmost importance. I am so grateful for mine.
“A good life gets passed on to the grandchildren” (Proverbs 13:22, The Message).