Monday, March 28, 2011

From Jack

The following was first published in the Chattanoogan in 2002:

Recalling Antietam And Some Parentless Children

by Jack Reeves
posted September 18, 2002

September 17 marked the 140th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, the deadliest day in American history. Some 6,500 men died, more than twice the deaths on September 11.

Another 15,000 were wounded and would recover. But many would never walk on two legs or work with two arms again.

The casualties at Antietam were four times greater than the number of Americans killed or wounded at Normandy.

The Civil War, though five generations behind us, still touches our time. I believe that its effects have shaped me.

My paternal great-grandfather and great-grandmother are buried in Cobb County, near Marietta, Georgia; my maternal great-grandmother and great-grandfather in adjacent Cherokee County. I recently made a pilgrimage to their graves.

Cobb's Kemp Cemetery is frozen in time, a stark anomaly to its suburb environs. I parked the car. From a distance the family name stood out: Andrew Jackson Reeves, 1849-1921; Martha Mitchell Reeves, 1852-1927.

When they were born, Abraham Lincoln was an Illinois lawyer. During the Civil War, they were in their teens. They likely saw Atlanta burning.

I ran my fingers over the time-eroded names and mused on the transitory enigma: life.

I drove to Little River Cemetery. I thought of the people who were born, married, raised children, died, and were buried in this circumscribed world delineated by landmarks known as Sweat's Mountain, Rube's Creek, and the Alabama Road.

My grandmother's father, Isaac Wood, and mother, Annie, are buried at Little River. She and Isaac had five children.

My grandmother, Carrie, was the youngest. Isaac died when my grandmother was two. Her mother, Annie, died three years later. The five children were parentless.

Her epitaph in the records of the Woodstock Baptist Church reads:

"The last tribute of respect to the memory of Sister Annie Wood. She was born in 1851 and early in life gave herself to Christ.

"She was the wife of Isaac Wood who died several years ago, leaving her with five small children which she tried to raise up for Christ. She was the daughter of affliction but bore it all with Christian patience. She died June 10, 1884.

"May a smiling Providence bless here doubly orphaned children and may it be the chief desire to imitate her many Christian virtues."

Annie Wood was 33 years old when she passed away. I can imagine the trepidation she must have felt when her husband died and with five children faced survival on land still bearing the ravages of the Civil War.

What fear and grief must this child - who became my grandmother -have experienced when the person who loved her the most disappeared?

How did this void get interpreted in her life and, ultimately, in the lives of her children?

Fortunately, a widow named Haney took the children under her care.

All of us are children of children past. Our ancestors' lives -their struggles, loss, courage, decisions, and values - become the amalgam of our lives.

Annie Wood, my great-grandmother, a widow with five children, gripped me. When she passed away my grandmother, Carrie, was five.

How might this tragedy have touched Carrie's son - my father, also named Andrew Jackson - who shaped my life? What of me - in the chain of time - may be the expressions of that event 118 years ago?

There is some bereavement, I suspect, that by its depth, because of its indelible nature, is passed on. It's elusive, but I believe it can survive in subtle ways.

I don't know the specifics, but I suspect the chain's intact.

Jack Reeves


mythopolis said...

I always enjoy these kinds of reflections. The understanding and appreciation of a family's path through time, across generations.

Stickup Artist said...

This gave me goose-bumps (chicken skin, a body rush, my hair stood up on the back of my neck) upon reading. So deeply reflective and beautifully communicated. It strikes me as odd how young this country really is, especially the west, and how little most of us understand or know about that history.