Friday, September 5, 2008

Roots Revisited

In a famous novel published a few years before I was born, Thomas Wolfe wrote You Can’t Go Home Again. I wonder how often writers who get nostalgic for an earlier time and place have referred to that book and to those immortal words. I don’t get back to Elnora as often as I’d like, but when I get the urge it’s almost like I’m being drawn to that tiny Daviess County town of my youth like a paper clip to a powerful magnet.

Such was the case a few days ago. I have been wanting to go back home for months but at the last minute always found something else that required my attention just a bit more than my need to travel the hundred miles from my home on the southeast side of Indianapolis to my parents’ former home on the northeast side of Elnora. However, on August 26, the magnet pulled so hard that Carol and I headed south on those Indiana roads that have become so familiar to me over my lifetime that I could almost drive them blindfolded.

Because we have a dog that we left at home in his kennel, we were on a fairly tight schedule. I had several things I wanted to accomplish on this little excursion and tried without much success to prioritize their importance. First, I have an ancestral family photograph that is at least a hundred years old. I had an educated guess as to the identity of the subjects, but I wasn’t 100% sure. So I needed help with that. Then, I have recently reconnected with Bill Porter, a classmate and good friend from Elnora’s Class of 1961. He and his bride Judy Campbell Porter have been friends of Carol and me since our dating days. Unfortunately, we hadn’t seen them for many years, so we were eager to visit with them and not only share memories, but catch up on our current lives.

When we arrived at Elnora, we headed to Fairview Cemetery (must be an old folks thing) to pay respects to my parents and the many other Johnson, Hannah, and Rench relatives resting there. Since I had recently written about a family friend, Harve Vories, I also wanted to find his headstone to determine his date of death. When we found the marker, I was shocked on two counts. Harve died in 1967, the same year our first son, Scott, was born. So the stool he made for Scott took on an even more special meaning knowing Harve was 90 years old at the time he made it just months before his death. The tombstone also marked the death of Harve’s wife, Dell, in 1943 at the age of 64 years. Although Dell died one year before I was born, I felt so badly that I had completely forgotten about her when I wrote the “Harve” article. Now I do remember that he mentioned Dell often during those many times I visited with him during my childhood. He missed her very much and I can’t believe I had blocked her from my mind.

As we drove past my grandparents’ former property at the east end of Main Street, I stopped and took a picture of the only thing that remains from my youth, the concrete steps leading up to the front yard. The house was replaced many years ago. After mentally wiping away a symbolic tear, we drove one block north where I took four more pictures from various angles of my parents’ tiny two-bedroom house. It’s pretty much as I remember it, complete with the same rusty TV tower that was attached to the house when I sold it following my mother’s death in 1974. The siding has been upgraded, however, giving the house a fresher look than it had when we owned it.

Following a quick trip through the downtown area where most of the buildings of my youth are either empty or gone, we headed out to Bill and Judy Porter’s beautiful home. Judy had prepared a delicious lunch and we all had a great visit, but as Bill so accurately put it, “It’s hard to catch up on forty years in just two hours.” He was right and I hope we get to see them again real soon.

Following a quick trip to meet Ron Critchlow at the Elnora Post, we headed for the country south of town to visit with my only remaining living relative in Elnora, Marietta McKee. Marietta and I are direct descendants of the Hannah pioneers who founded the town in the early 1800’s, when it was Owl Prairie long before being renamed Elnora. Marietta’s grandfather and my great-grandfather were brothers, making the two of us very distant cousins. Marietta is in remarkably good health and proud of her 92 years on this earth.

Her son, Paul McKee, and his wife, Nadine, were at Marietta’s and we all had a wonderful visit. I showed Marietta the picture I had with me and she confirmed my thoughts that the people in the picture were my great-grandfather William Hannah and his wife Amanda. Also in the picture were my grandparents, Jim and Alice Hannah Rench, their infant firstborn daughter, Audrey, and my grandmother’s brother Curtis Hannah and his wife Myrtle. I knew that my Aunt Audrey was born in January, 1906, so I was able to positively identify the picture as having been taken sometime during that year.

All too soon it was time to head back north to the place I now call home, knowing my real home will forever remain secluded in those vivid memories of so many years ago.

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