Monday, December 1, 2008
Fran Alexander's Monday column in the Northwest Arkansas Times offers a bit of history of interest
CROSS CURRENTS: Magnolia girl goes home
Fran Alexander firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted on Monday, December 1, 2008
Maybe it’s our Southernness that makes us cling to home and land, or maybe it’s just that we are like salmon and are drawn to our places of origin. Maybe it is because we want to be with our families again, or maybe we need to be in a place that we have known all of our lives. Maybe we have to claim a tiny patch of ground as our own on this big round Earth to hold us, just us, for as long as a human can dream eternity to be. Or maybe, sorrowfully, we pick our last places in spite of knowing sacred ground is only sacred for as long as anyone cares to hold it in reverence.
When I go to Magnolia, it is a pilgrimage. There, and in the countryside near the town, lie the roots of what family heritage I know the most about. We are now seven generations in time past old Sam Alexander, who settled in the woods of south Arkansas, built his home and bought himself some slaves. All but one slave left him after the Civil War, and family legend assumes they departed because Sam was not a loved master.
Sam’s daughter, Frances Alexander, whose first name later became my mother’s second name and then mine (and later, ironically, my married name as well) would tell her children and grandchildren that after the slaves left, she and her sisters had to do all the cooking and farm work. The kitchens were outside in the back yards in those days, a circumstance that led her to a lifetime of fearing and hating dogs. Her father’s hounds would leap, bite and claw at the young girl for the cooked food she held high over her head as she rushed to carry it into the house. She grew up and married Robert S. Warnock, and they moved into town. He was successful in many businesses and built a large Victorian-style home on Main Street in Magnolia, where they raised a son and a daughter, my grandmother, Ora Warnock.
Ora grew up in Magnolia, went off to Virginia to college and then returned home. One evening she attended an introduction party for a young man from Iowa, Louis Kemmerer, who happened to be in town selling buggies. Something sparked, and eventually they married and left to travel the country as he promoted the buggy trade. After a few years, they came back to Arkansas and settled in the large home on Main Street, where they lived with Ora’s parents.
Two daughters were born to Ora and Louie, and my mother, Lois Frances Kemmerer, was the eldest. She too grew up in Magnolia, then attended the University of Arkansas, where she met Ernie Deane. They were married for five years before I showed up.
CROSS CURRENTS : A 94-year perspective, part 1
CROSS CURRENTS : A 94-year perspective, part 2
CROSS CURRENTS : A 94-year perspective, part 3
CROSS CURRENTS : A 94-year perspective, part 4
It has always been my intent to write this opinion column primarily on environmental issues, but I allow myself to stray from time to time. Last year when Lois turned 94, I figured she was long overdue seeing some of her life in print, and so I did a four part series about her (starting at www.nwanews.com/nwat/Editorial/54195 ). All my noble goals for raising enviro awareness over the years were shaken a bit after that series was published. I’ve never had more good feedback on anything I’ve written as those four articles on my mom.
My grandmother, Ora, used to say she had lived from the time of riding a wagon to town to watching men walk in space. Her daughter, Lois, was 7 years old when women got the right to vote. She witnessed two world wars, endured racial strife in Little Rock and lived almost long enough to see a black man elected president. Lois made it through 2007, so she got to meet her first two great-grandchildren, and she celebrated her 95th birthday in May 2008. She did not like the frailty and weakness she felt from all the years, advising me frequently, “Don’t live this long.” But, she kept playing bridge, writing letters and doing whatever she could as long as possible. She called me one day in April to report that her back hurt and was later diagnosed with a compression fracture.
My mom was a woman who drew much of her identity from my father and his professional life, usually introducing herself as “Ernie’s wife.” She, however, was the backbone of our family, and my dad readily admitted that while he could do the words, she had to handle the numbers. He always said he would have to die first (and he did), since he’d never figure out how to do his taxes and would rather go to jail than try. Although I realize she was a woman of her time and saw herself in only a supporting role, my greatest wish was that she could have realized that she actually played the lead. Ever vigilant about numbers, when she knew we had all finally mailed in this year’s taxes by the extension deadline, I think she could finally rest. Lois died on Oct. 16, and we took her home to Magnolia one last time.
I thought some of you might want to know. Fran Alexander is a local resident and an active environmentalist.
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