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Long ago: A dear departed sister July 31, 2012

Posted by Jenny in history, literature, memoir, poetry.
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My grandmother Sybil (r.) and her sister Celia (l.), about 1891

This is taken from a memoir entitled “When I Was a Girl” by my grandmother, Sybil Crowninshield Kennedy Bennett. The series starts here and alternates every other post.

I can’t write much about Celia Mary. It is too sad for me. She was born November 26, 1890. I was born September 27, 1889. We were never separated until I was fifteen and went to Weedsport High School, coming home each weekend. Then after a year at home, I went to college. She was quite small, not much over five feet tall, and slender, except when a little baby. She had lots of dark brown curly hair which was worn in long beautifully kept curls down her back and tied with a bow on her left forehead until she finished high school. Her eyes were blue but had large pupils and were a softer color than mine.

She was as bright in school but more gifted than I. She could recite in public long dramatic pieces and poetry, which was the fashion then. She played the violin quite well and wrote poetry herself. Some of it was accepted by newspapers and magazines, especially “Poetry” magazine, edited by Harriet Monroe.

She was very frail and had many periods of staying at home to build up her health. She taught high school in Cato [NY], Port Washington [Long Island], and Long Branch, New Jersey. English was her subject and she was successful and happy when not sick. She died after an operation, April 26, 1924, the greatest sadness in my life.

[My grandmother speaks of her and Celia’s love of books, how they read many classics but also lighter material:] The Disciples Church had the Elsie books. Luckily Alice [their friend] went to that Sunday School and we could trade with her for that delicious trash. Mildred Mehan, the girl next door, didn’t care about reading but by persuasion and since she didn’t like to be left out, would go upstairs [to the school library] on a Friday and we could sign a book out in her name. So we had three or four to read each week and usually finished them long before Friday.

“Little Women” was the very best of all. We read and reread and lived with Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy. I was Jo; Alice, Meg; and Celia, Amy. Mildred who was no good at that sort of play was Beth, who was too sick to do much and soon died, so we could go on without her. At times Celia did both Beth and Amy. The house where they lived was so vividly imagined that when I visited The Orchards at Concord, Mass. after I was married I couldn’t accept it. It was all wrong—I was nearly in tears.

[She describes a club formed by a small group of her friends:] The Secretta Society had at most five members, Mildred, Alice, Celia, and I, and later, Louise Taber. We met every Friday evening taking turns in our homes for a literary program and refreshments. We usually read aloud in turn from a book of poems and sang songs. Mildred and I could play the piano. Mildred had a beautiful singing voice and it was a pleasure to sing for quite a long time. Then we had fudge and popcorn and lots of fun. I can’t think why we had such happy times so simply but we did and felt well entertained….

Celia Kennedy. Photo courtesy of Corinne Lively.

*   *   *

Note from Jenny: After Celia died, her mother collected her poems into a book titled “Pinafore Poems,” of which I have a copy. Its cover has a charming red checked pattern with a title designed to look hand sewn. It was illustrated with silhouette pictures done by Laura H. Crowninshield, a cousin who became a fashion designer in New York City. Here is one that I especially like.

“Notoriety”

Clementine had a birthday cake—

A cake with fat pink candles.

There were little paper baskets, too,

With butterflies for handles.

Seven candies were in mine,

But the little Slater boy had nine!

Each of us had pink ice cream.

A plateful—a lot.

And a piece of frosted birthday cake,

With frosting birds on top.

The Slater boy ate his up fast—

But I kept trying to make mine last.

Then Clementine’s Uncle Jim came in,

And told us all about a bear!

But Billy Slater knew it first.

He said that he was there!

He said he killed bears quite a lot,

And drank their blood—he’d soon as not!

I brought my basket home with me,

With butterflies on the handles.

I wish I had a birthday, too,

With pink ice cream and candles—

And, mother, wouldn’t it be fun

If we had Billy Slater come?

Illustration for “Notoriety” by Laura Crowninshield

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Snowbird Creek July 29, 2012

Posted by Jenny in conservation, Nantahala National Forest, nature.
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This large, deep pool on Snowbird Creek glinted with a peacock green color

This post is one of a series about “North Carolina’s Mountain Treasures,” lands targeted for higher protective designation by the Wilderness Society.  For more information about this campaign, please visit the Mountain Treasures website.

Snowbird Creek is a major stream that drains the roadless slopes lying west of Robbinsville in Graham County NC.  The watershed extends from Hooper Bald (5425′) on the north to the Snowbird Mountains on the south. (Don’t confuse this area with Snowbird Mountain on the A.T. between I-40 and Hot Springs.) The area was logged in the early 1940s, and signs of old logging operations remain, but its remoteness gives it a feeling of pleasant obscurity. It’s mainly visited by roadside campers and trout fishermen.

Snowbird Creek

Snowbird Creek isn’t all that easy to get to. I used three different sets of questionable directions and triangulated between them. I got there.

The main thing is, after you pass Robbinson’s Grocery, look carefully for the bridge where Big Snowbird Road turns off Little Snowbird Road. Then you’ll drive past some designated campsites to the end of the road at the place called Junction where the logging company shifted from standard gauge to narrow gauge.

Logging trestle on the creek

My goal was to follow the King Meadows trail from the creek to the top of Hooper Bald. I’d read that the trail was overgrown in sections, so I brought a topo map. After about a mile I got more and more of this kind of stuff:

Blowdown across trail

And then, where the trail entered a rhodo zone, the footway disappeared, except that you could see people had gone upslope looking for it. I followed their tracks for a while, but I knew the trail wouldn’t suddenly head straight up the ridge when it had been contouring along comfortably. The improvised footway went underneath some rhodo.

It was dark in there!

I went back down looking for any sort of rough bench the trail might be following. Something vaguely looked like sidehill construction, but it led straight into more rhodo. I decided that five more miles of this kind of uncertainty up to the top of Hooper Bald was more than I wanted to deal with, so I retreated.

Snowbird Creek itself has a more heavily used trail along it, but it takes a very gradual ascent with many stream crossings, more suitable for fishermen than for my style of hiking. Backpacking to the upper creek (with wading shoes) and doing a bushwhack from there might be interesting.

As I drove away, I started thinking about other short but interesting hikes I might do in the general vicinity. On the approach to Stecoah Gap, it suddenly hit me that I could hike on the A.T. from the gap toward Cheoah Bald. I hiked only as far as Locust Cove Gap, but I saw a couple of interesting wildflowers.

Yellow fringed orchid

The yellow fringed orchid runs the same range of colors as the flame azaleas, from yellow to true deep orange. This was about halfway along that spectrum.

Then I saw a lily like a Turk’s Cap except about a third of the size. I took a couple of pictures with the blossom against my hand to show the scale. When I got home, I looked it up and found that it was a Carolina Lily. I don’t believe I’ve ever noticed one of these before!

Carolina Lily with my hand behind it for scale

No, I didn’t pick the blossom (God forbid), I gently pulled the stem into the sunlight for a better picture of the colors.

All in all, a good day.

Lily bud with Christmas ferns

Long ago: The violin maker July 19, 2012

Posted by Jenny in history, home, memoir, music.
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My great-grandfather, Edward Kennedy

This is taken from a memoir entitled “When I Was a Girl” by my grandmother, Sybil Crowninshield Kennedy Bennett. The series starts here and alternates every other post.

My father, Edward Kennedy, had almost no schooling. He was the oldest child and was kept out of school to go about with his father, who worked on farms in the neighborhood. There was no compulsory school law and as the child of Irish immigrants in the 1850s, no great encouragement to go to school. He had a quick responsive mind, a very good memory for everything he read or experienced and extremely skillful hands. He could “fix” almost anything.

He was born May 18, 1850, and brought up in the country about two miles south of Cato [NY], near Brick Church. At eighteen he had a ruptured appendix, which was called then “inflammation of the bowels.” He was an invalid until about twenty-five. Later, doctors could never understand how he survived. At the age of sixty-five, by x-rays, it was found that he had many intestinal adhesions, almost obstructing his bowels. Eating and digesting were serious problems and caused him to be always very undernourished. He lived to be seventy years old.

He was about five feet five inches tall and never weighed more than 120 pounds. He wore clothes as loosely as possible to make him look larger. When he became well enough, he bought a carriage making and repair business on Main Street in Cato, where he built buggies and wagons, custom-made, completely with hand tools. He also did the painting and finishing, having a large upstairs room for the purpose. He allowed no one in while painting or varnishing as any movement would stir up dust and cause specks. When finished they had mirror surfaces. He worked very hard to find out how to do things properly, buying books and going to see other people’s work.

He played the violin self-taught and was crazy about music. He would sometimes play all day on Sunday on his violin, reading slowly through the violin parts of all kinds of music. He had a large book of 400 pages. He particularly liked the romantic and tuneful ones, operas and Strauss waltzes. He also enjoyed the church music by great composers that was occasionally played by musicians who visited our town. When he was ten years old he bought a fiddle for ninety-nine cents, after hearing one played at a country dance. “I was the most disappointed boy you ever saw,” he said, “when I found I couldn’t play it. I thought that the man who played it didn’t half play and that if I could have hold of it, I would make it sing.”

He never joined the church, formally, but attended regularly, his outside position leaving him free in his own eyes to criticize the sermons. Sunday evenings after church he would walk from one corner of the sitting room to its opposite, from the clock to the dining room door, preaching the sermon over the way he would have liked it.

[My mother and father] took a weekly newspaper, the Albany Journal, to keep up with the state political news. They also took The Outlook, edited by Lymon Abbott. Papa used to read every number, rocking gently in the big Boston rocker, upholstered by my mother in red plush, smoking rather negligently a pipe which had to be constantly relighted as he forgot to puff when he read intently. Mother used to say that he smoked matches.

He was a trustee of the Cemetery Association—important in Cato—and a director, then president, of the Telephone Company, a small independent one in which I held stock until 1959 when it was sold to a consolidated company. He was most influential on the School Board of which he was president for many years and succeeded in having the school changed from a two-year Union School to a full four-year high school.

After buggy making was done in factories about 1900, he put a gasoline engine into his shop (no electricity then) and did custom planing and lathe work and all kinds of repair work on farm wagons and machinery, even some welding. He employed a blacksmith sometimes but they were usually prone to sprees and he would get tired of their antics.

My father was very skillful with his hands and eyes. This, with his love of music, led him into his most interesting and valuable hobby. He took up violin making in his later years and made nine violins, all judged by people who knew violins as good, some as very good or superior. He reached everyone he heard of who had made violins and had the good fortune to buy from an estate the tools and books of an old violin maker, I think in Victory, New York. Papa ordered the wood from a Boston firm. It came looking like sticks of firewood. Spruce is the wood usually used for the tops and maple for the backs and the bouts, the curved sides which are cut in a sertain grain, then soaked, heated and shaped around a wooden form. The size and thicknesses are measured to one sixty-fourth of an inch. The backs and fronts were also graduated very carefully in thickness, tapering to the edge from the center under the bridge. They were roughly shaped, then slowly, carefully cut with a sharp chisel and finally a knife which really shaved very thin. The heads and necks were made to a pattern, and he made some of them. Since they did not affect the tone, he finally decided to buy them ready-made. It took him several months to make one violin. He worked evenings nearly always without any light except a kerosene lamp. Finally, when electricity came to Cato he was able to have his shop wired and to see better.

It is a sad thing to think that he did such painstaking work without proper light and in a place not too warm. It is that which makes me have such a tender memory of my father whose natural abilities of mind and hand were very great and who had such a little opportunity to develop them as much as he wanted to.

He was very popular and loved by people and had many friends always. Many people brought him presents, fruit, fish, maple syrup, a freshly caught turtle even. His funeral [in 1920] was very large and the people sad.

(To be continued)

I am very fortunate to have one of my great-grandfather’s nine violins. My brother possesses one of them also.