Wednesday, August 09, 2017

people of place -- part ii

I may have lied to you yesterday.

I claimed I was not a person of place -- or a "someplace" person, to use Goodhart's term. At most, I am an "inbetweener."

But I certainly could have been a person of place. I share a lot of the same values -- with the obvious exception that I believe the world is better off with free trade and better access for trained immigrants across borders. Thus, my hybrid status.

What I lack is a place. And that became evident to me during our visits to four cemeteries on our trip south. What better locale to consider being a person of place than in a cemetery. You can't get much more place-oriented than when your body is planted.

The Powers cemetery sits on a hill above the county park. Almost all of the original graves are people who lived, but who were not born, in Powers. After all, the town was incorporated only a century ago.

The gravestones read like a genealogy of my grade school days. All the families are there. Bushnell. Adamek. Shorb. Frye.

And, of course, my brood. Rolfe. Munro. And one Cotton grave -- my older brother who died of a burst appendix when he was less than two months old. My mother has a plot next to his.

The cemetery brought home a hard fact of life in Powers. When we left Powers in 1957, I had a lot of relatives in town. Aunts. Uncles. Grandparents. Cousins.

They are all gone. Some are buried here. Others moved away. There were about 1500 people in town when we exited stage right. There are fewer than 700 now. And, it appears, most are families whose names I do not know when we lived there.

If Powers was to be my place, it appears that time has passed.

And it was not for wont of trying. When I graduated from law school, I talked with a lawyer in Myrtle Point who was thinking about retiring. He liked me, without really knowing me, because "my grandfather was a good man. What could be more "somewhere" than that?

I did not take him up on the offer. He has now moved on, but the office still houses an attorney. That could have been me.

Better yet, Mast Hospital, where I was born, is just across the street. But it is no longer a hospital. It is a rest home. Talk about closing the circle. I could have simply been carried from my office to my convalescent spot.

We visited my half-sister's grave in Coquille. She died of birth complications -- a death that sounds like a diary entry on the Oregon Trail rather than Oregon in the 1970s.

We also stopped in Norway (Oregon has some very interesting second-hand town names) to search for the graves of my mother's grandparents -- Curtis and Dora Rolfe.

Both were born in Quebec in the 1850s, moved to Minnesota and then on to Powers, dying in the early 1930s. My mother, born in 1928, barely got to know them.

Their migration (that started in England in the early 1600s and moved through Massachusetts and Vermont before Quebec) may be one reason I am not a person of place. At least, on my mother's side of the family. They were an incredibly mobile group.

Not so, on my father's side.

I grew up on tales of being a fifth generation Oregonian. That certainly sounds as if I could be a person of place. And our visit to the Dora cemetery is evidence enough that I could have been.

My great-great grandfather, John Alva Harry and his wife Chloe Amelia Cook (who bears an interesting relationship to my mother's family, something to relate in a bit) came to Oregon in the early 1850s eventually settling in a Coos County broad valley. In the 1870s, they established an inn in Sitkum known as the Halfway House (half way between Coos Bay and Roseburg). "Sitkum" is Chinook for "half." ( I point that out because Mexpatriate is a diverse place.)

Sitkum is a special place in my memory. When I was around 4, our family spent the summer there logging. It is one of my few childhood memories -- and it is extremely clear.

I spent my days wandering the banks of the East Fork of the Coquille River doing the things boys do, along with my faithful dog companion Uncle Jiggs. (You may recognize the name.) Once I found an abandoned fishing tackle box. At least, I thought it was abandoned.

At night, my father taught me how to tell time. And how to count. Using coins. Coins turned out to be an inspired technique. I learned the algebraic concept of how an 8-based number system (think quarters) can coexist in a decimal-based system. They were heady days.

On our Monday drive, none of us knew exactly where the site was. But I had no doubt about its location. We were parked below a bridge on the river and a large house (the Halfway House) was across the street.

We missed it on the first pass through Sitkum -- which consisted of a few dilapidated buildings. But, once I put the elements together, we found where we spent that special summer. A house is now built on the site, but it is no less special.

According to the Dora cemetery, this could have been my place. John Alva Harry's son and my great grandfather, Osmer Colfax Harry, settled a claim in Dora in the early 1950s. The family was to farm the land for decades. His daughter, Beatrice, the poet and my grandmother, married mu grandfather,Jesse Ray Cotton, in 1919.

The new Cotton family did not appear to be people of place. They moved from farm to farm in what was to be a marriage marred by personal tragedy -- most of it swaddled in the whispered tones of polite society. Their only child, my father, was raised by his aunt and uncle.

What was possibly my opportunity to become a person of place was simply not to be. Instead, I started life as a gypsy. To hear my mother tell it, our young family lived enough places before I was 6 to require our relatives to use an Etch-a-Sketch as an address book.

Oh, yes, I was gong to tell you about my great-great grandmother, Chloe Amelia Cook. When her husband John died, she married a fellow by the name of James Laird. Thus, adding another layer of local relatives to our family. The Dora cemetery if filled with marhers for Harry, Laird, Butler, and Cotton. Such as my great grandfather James Andrew Cotton, who lived to almost 100.

But that was not her greatest contribution. While running a relationship calculator on my family tree, I discovered something very odd. In addition to being my parents, my parents are also my cousins. In fact, they are each other's cousin.

Not like Ozark cousins. The relationship is rather attenuated. They are ninth cousins once removed.

Chloe is the culprit. Nicholas Noyes and Mary Cutting married in Newbury, Massachusetts in 1640. Little did they know when they launched their DNA into the world, that their streams would reunite when Chloe married John in 1857. And again when my parents married.

Thus, I am my own cousin. And I suspect that is a far better tale than being a person of place.

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