Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Making Connections in Southwest Virginia

One last blog post for 2014. This one is for my niece, Sonya, because she wanted to know.

Despite my absorption with researching ancestors—“the dead ones,” as my daughter once said—I cherish good times with the live ones. Sunday, December 21, 2014, a lovely day of sunshine and blue skies in Smyth County, Virginia, was a day of connecting with living family members.
In the morning, Myron and I drove to Rich Valley Presbyterian Church, one of my favorite places in Smyth County. Established in 1836, this red brick and white stucco church’s significance to my father’s side of the family goes back about 120 years. Usually when I go there, I wander through the cemetery, snap pictures of tombstones, and peer inside the sanctuary at its original dark oak woodwork and pews angled toward the pulpit front and center. 
Beautiful doors at RVPC.

Inside the sanctuary at RVPC.

But this day was the first time I had attended a worship service there.
Being the Sunday before Christmas, we sang old favorite carols—“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” the best. Two little girls sang a duet, lost their place and giggled, gathered their composure and sang on. A young mom told the children a story about Mary. The pastor preached that being favored (or chosen), as Mary was, results not because we are worthy, but we are worthy because we are favored, the same theme as my morning Advent reading.

After church, we stayed for a pitch-in dinner. The best part was meeting Pratt descendants: Greg Pratt and his daughter, Lauren Grace, named for Grayson Pratt; Champ Clark and his mother, a Pratt: Hal and Lynn Campbell and their sons, Will and Patrick. Hal is a mover and shaker at that church, not to mention Southern States cooperative in Marion, where my nephew-in-law, Andy, is the manager. The Pratt descendants compared notes on which Pratt we called 3rd great-grandfather or grandmother.
In the afternoon, we visited with my aunt Noby, who is recovering from a fall, and her son Garry. My brother from Connecticut and my sister and her husband from Missouri joined us. We have all commenced upon the area for the wedding of my brother’s granddaughter.
In the evening, the wedding of my grandniece, Brandi McCall and her groom, Allen Fry, took place at Emory & Henry College Chapel. Warm hugs for a frazzled but lovely mother of the bride, my niece Teri, and her ever calm and wryly smiling husband, Andy. I spotted sister of the bride, Cassie, at the end of a hallway sitting on the floor in her maid-of-honor dress, her high-heeled feet stretched out in front of her—typically Cassie. “These heels hurt my feet; I had to sit,” she said. Entering the sanctuary, we took seats with another niece and her family and my brother’s wife.
The groom stood tall in his Navy uniform, the bride smiled on the arm of her father, who handed her over to the groom. There were candle-lighting and vows; they kissed and strolled down the aisle, husband and wife. The bride came back for her paternal grandmother and pushed her in her wheelchair out of the sanctuary. It was all over in a hummingbird sighting! All that preparation and anxiety became history. The reception was a brief and sweet family reunion.
Wedding of Brandi and Allen.

Monday, December 22, 2014
I’m back on the trail of the “dead ones.” By mid-morning, the sun broke though the December sky laced with angel hair clouds. My husband and I drove through the valley on highway 42 snaking alongside the North Fork Holston, passing familiar cites: Tate Moore’s store (boarded up and empty), my parents’ first home after they married in 1940 (still occupied), the location of my dad’s service station, all in Broadford; Ralph Spencer’s store at Chatham Hill, now closed. Our destination: Ceres, Bethany Rd., and the Bethany United Methodist Church and cemetery. We found it! No problems!
Standing on the grounds of the church my great-great-grandfather, Jacob Waggoner, helped found in 1867,[1] I felt awestruck. It’s a plain building, erected in 1880, lacking the beauty and grace of Rich Valley Presbyterian, but nonetheless historically significant. The original church, Doak’s Chapel, built by Jacob Waggoner, Elias Repass, and Felix Buck, trustees, was replaced by this building. Stark white, two front doors, an evergreen tree next to one corner, an outhouse at the back, his and hers. 

Pulling my coat tightly around me against a cold, brisk wind, I ambled among tombstones in the cemetery. I was hoping to find the grave of Anna F. Harman Waggoner, but it was not to be. “Anna, are you here?” I whispered. Tears filled my eyes. (Why? I wonder.) Anna died so young, in 1871 at age 37 after giving birth to her ninth child. The earliest death date I could find on a tombstone was 1880. If she is there, her marker is unreadable or her grave is unmarked. I felt sure she was there, but where?
This seems to be the oldest section of the cemetery. Several unreadable tombstones dot this corner.

Later, in Marion inside the courthouse, I found a deed that helped answer a question, but also raised another one. Such was my on site research day!

[1] Bland County, Virginia, Deed Book 1: 296-97, Robert and Margaret Doak to Elias Repass, Felix Buck, and Jacob Waggoner, Trustees, 4 November 1867; County Clerk’s Office, Bland. Though the deed shows Jacob Waggoner among the original trustees of Doak’s Chapel, the history published by the Bethany UMC omits his name: “Bethany United Methodist Church, Ceres, Virginia, 1880-1980,” 100th Anniversary celebration pamphlet published by the church; digital copy sent to the author by the Bland County Historical Society, 2 July 2014.

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