Things just hit you sometimes. Yesterday I was walking toward Rowdy the Rental Audi in the work parking garage, and I got a flashback of being a kid. I’d talked about missing my parents earlier in the day, which probably prompted the experience.
I suddenly felt the heavy weight of the humidity at my house in Gainesville, Florida, smelled the dark black earth, and heard the thump-thump of my dad, doing his favorite activity, known as “digging a hole.” If Dad was upset, frustrated, or just needed to get away from Mom’s antics for a while, he’d go out in the yard and dig. He used to joke that some of the camellias had been moved five or six times, for no good reason.
Today my friend Melanie Reed, who’s a native to these parts, went with me over to the Milam County Museum to do some research on projects we are working on. She’s looking into the history of two parks in town, while I was looking to learn more about the old church and home we own in Cameron.
I did find a postcard that was a picture of the First Christian Church building as it looked in the early twentieth century. That one burned down.
We met with Charles King, the director of the museum, who brought us some books with old photographs of the county. I was surprised to see so many large churches and schools in what are now tiny hamlets, like Maysfield and Milano. Charles and Melanie told me Milano (where our Master Naturalist Meetings are held) once had a population of 10,000! Wow! It’s between 200-300 now, though it seems like I keep meeting people who live there.
Charles was kind enough to dig up a book and newspaper article about the people who built our house on Gillis St., the Pope family. I’ll use that for my writing about that house on the Hermit Haus blog.
I think I have too many reference materials. But I tell you what, I like that I’ve become so curious about the things I run across that I look into lots and lots of details. Today I’ll share what I learned about a humble painter of ceramics. And hey, if you know anyone from Gainesville, Florida, ask them about her.
I grew up in a house full of china with flowers all over it. My mother had a really impressive collection of decorative plates, cups, and saucers displayed throughout our home, and many sets of china, which my sister and I split. I can’t believe my brother and I didn’t break things, but I think we had a deep fear of touching breakable objects instilled in us from an early age.
Mom had a strong set of likes, and those likes were very much like her embroidery themes: flowers, leaves, and more flowers. She had ONE plate with a person on it, this haunting blue scene of an 1890s style woman looking off in the distance. Of course I still have that. The blue lady originally belonged to my grandmother, so I know it’s old, but my limited French has stymied my attempt to pin down dates based on the back of the plate.
So, where did Mom get all those flowery items?
The mysterious Lula E. Moser
My mother really liked hand-painted china (ceramics, really). She especially adored the work of one of her friends in Gainesville, Lula Moser. I can remember driving to her house more than once to get ceramics and painted china from her. I had a white bunny with blue eyes for years, which I think is the only non-flower item they ever got.
Mom had many, many plates with painted pansies or violets on them. The photos I’m sharing are NOT all of them by any means. As you may have guessed, I got most of them, because I happen to also like pansies and violets. This has led to all of my houses having something to do with flowers in their theme, since that’s what I have and I love it. When I see all those Lula E. Moser plates, I think of Mom, just like with the embroidery she did.
I always wondered who Lula Moser was and why they were always visiting. So, who was Lula E. Moser? Good question. She was not a famous artist, but she sure loved painting ceramics. She was of my grandmother’s generation (born on my birthday, March 5, in 1903, in Ohio), and my sister tells me she lived in one of those lovely old houses across from the duck pond (also known as my favorite place on this here earth). Canova also said Lula was a beautiful woman with very white hair.
From my sleuthing I discovered she was briefly married to a man named Frank Parker (an Austrian, originally named Frank Joseph Paukert), who was a television camera operator way back in the 50s. I actually found this info on his naturalization form when he became a US citizen.
Most of her life, though, Lula lived alone in a big house, painting ceramics and talking to my grandmother and mother. My sister says that on most visits, they came home with a new object.
Lula died in 1989 and is buried in Ohio, where apparently the rest of her family lived. Why did she stay in Gainesville all those years, alone? A woman of mystery. Maybe I’ll name the woman on my blue plate Lula.
One thing my genealogy forays didn’t turn up is the fact that I’m descended from a long line of artists, mostly fiber arts, but many other types as well. What got me thinking of this was looking around my Bobcat Lair rooms and realizing that most all of the art is by someone I know, much of it by relatives. Granted, some of it may be “crafts” to some of you (needlework kits and such), but it’s all art to me, because the makers had lots of design decisions to make, even in a kit.
Let me introduce you to a few of my talented family members, then I’ll share some art by friends and acquaintances in another post. Note that most of the pictures don’t go with the text, since some of the things I talk about don’t have photos to go with them.
My maternal side in Florida was a bunch of crazed crafters/artists. The foremost in my mind was my great-aunt Susan Canova. Because of her mental health issues, she was mostly confined to her home (she liked to take stuff). But she made a living for herself by creating amazing table cloths, beadspreads, blankets, curtains and trim. I am happy to have a number of pieces of her tatting, a linen tablecloth with filet crochet borders, and other treasures. She was very productive, and I think it’s really cool that she made a good life for herself despite her problems.
Yesterday was certainly the most active Christmas I’d spent in a long time. That’s great, because going on walks with my kids is among the greatest pleasures in my life. I love listening to them talk about their lives, about local history, and about the plants and animals we see along the way.
The house we are staying in has views of the local Catholic cemetery, past the radio station. So, while our turkey was cooking, we took a walk over to see it. There were many, many headstones in the local granite, so the colors were nice. There obviously weren’t too many Catholic families, since certain names repeated often, such as Klein. There were many, many Klein graves.
There was a very large section of children’s graves, which made me sort of sad. You could tell when that flu epidemic occurred in the early 1900s. Declan and Rylie took a lot of artistic photos of each other, which is a charming thing they like to do. Kynan had gone running, which is also a thing he likes to do, but he joined us at the end.
When I started looking into my family history, I figured I would mostly find a lot of regular folks, farmers, etc. And that’s mostly what I found. I mean, aren’t most of us descended from regular folks?
But I also found some things that made me sad. The biggest one was finding people who had slaves, on both sides of the family. You can easily spot them if you look at census data, since it conveniently lists slaves as household members. Of course, now that I mention it, I can’t FIND any of them again.
Because this is the way my mind goes, I began processing my white guilt a bit more. Now that I know there are a lot of indentured servants, plus genuine white slaves brought to America for nefarious purposes, and I also know that some of my ancestors in the southern US had slaves in their households, I began to wonder if it’s why I had such a strong reaction to the civil rights movement of the sixties.
I can remember being really angry at kids who weren’t nice to the black students in elementary school (we integrated in fourth grade). I’ve always had some sort of visceral reaction to people who are treated badly just because of how they look, where they come from, what spiritual path they are on, or who they love. Hmm, maybe it comes through the genes after all.
Back to ancestors
I digress. What I did find on my dad’s side of the family were more soldiers than I’d anticipated, but really, they were during times when most everyone was participating in military action.
Speaking of skeletons in the closet, of course I found a couple of Civil War heroes lurking on Dad’s side, where there was a lot of action in north Georgia. There was my second great grandfather, Captain William Greenbury Lafayette Butt, of Union Georgia (where a LOT of ancestors settled in the early 1700s). He was on the losing side of that war. In fascinating additional news, his father was a postmaster, and also rather decorated: Judge Major John Butt III. Whew.
I also found soldiers who fought in the Revolutionary War where the US broke from England. One example is Henry Tilley, Sr., in my grandmother’s line, who had five sons who fought in the Revolutionary War. On the Kendall side, my fifth great grandfather, William Kendall, appears to have died from war injuries in 1777. I think they were on the winning side.
On the Kendall side, there was Enoch De Melvin Underwood, who fought in the war of 1812. He was a warrior! He is buried in the Tilley cemetary in Union County, Georgia, where a butt-load of family members are (ha ha, many of them are Butts).
I guess that makes me a daughter of all those wars, but I’m not planning to join any clubs. I’m not really big on wars in general. But I do understand that, when everyone is participating, it’s a good idea to participate.
Anyway, the Kendalls appear to have arrived in the Virginia Colonies in the mid 1600s, so the family’s been here a while. Those Kendalls kept good records, because they keep going and going until Richard Kendall, who was born in 1355! They also confused me, because in the 1700s a Kendall married a Kendall…possibly another skeleton in the closet? Why YES! John Kendall of the Revolutionary War, above, shows up in both lines!
Since this took me three days to write, I am going to stop. I hope you are able to find out where your ancestors came from and what they did. It can be interesting! Even if some of them were on the “wrong” side of history, it’s part of the story of who we are.
I said in my first post about family history that I didn’t “get” the appeal of genealogy. I am now getting it more, and apologize to anyone I offended by how I characterized my earlier disinterest in previous generations. I honestly DO see now that people are interested in more than just finding out if they were related to any kings or queens.
That said, hey, I have ancestors with “Sir” and “Lady” and “Viscount” and such in their listings! Knowing that I have slave ancestors on one side, I guess it all balances out.
When I delved into the past of my dad’s side, which are Kendall and Butts lines from north Georgia in the hills, I kept thinking surely I would run into a dead end pretty quickly, since “all those hillbillies” probably didn’t keep good records. Well, once again I was totally wrong.
People care deeply about migration patterns of early European settlers to the US, and there are very good records showing how my ancestors ended up heading as far as Arkansas. Where did they start out? Most arrived in the Virginia colonies in the 1600s. I read a tale on Ancestry.com of one Kendall ancestor who paid for his passage by putting his two sons into indentured servitude for three years. As soon as they were done, they got out of Virginia! People owning each other seems to have quite the history, and it applies to my ancestors on both sides.
Adventures in raising littles to become budding naturalists in their own back yard and beyond. The wonders of the natural world await if we could only take the time... Follow me on Twitter @naturemomtexas!