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Friday, August 18, 2017

"Mail"

My great grandfather, Thomas Lafayette Lee, was a mail carrier in the days before cars, and a genealogist before libraries, almost in the days of pounding papyrus on the river bank -- well maybe not that far back.  He was born shortly after the American Civil War on June 9, 1870.  His name tells you something about him; Lafayette for the French aristocrat and military officer who aided the US in the Revolutionary War, and Lee... well, that side of the family has been getting some news in the press lately.

"Cousin" Robert E. Lee was intelligent and heroic, Lincoln's first choice to lead the US military when the Civil War started.  Lee inherited slaves from his wife's father, with instructions to free them within five years.  Lee wrote his son, " He has left me an unpleasant legacy".  Lee had runaways chased and whipped, but he did free them. He was a mixed bag of good and not.  I could say similar about my living relatives.  Maybe they should display the statues of him somewhere to explain the Civil War and how prejudice can end up killing millions of people?  That seems current.

The ultimate choice about the statues belongs to the people who still suffer from the legacy of slavery.  I understand there are Southerners who feel they're still suffering too.  My family lost status and money from being on the wrong side of history, and the South remains comparatively poor with lesser schools and health care.  I get it that there are people who hang their regional pride on the valiant fight Lee led when faced with fewer soldiers and less ammunition.  Hanging onto that isn't getting you anywhere.  Even Lee saw that and surrendered at Appomattox.

When my great grandpa was living in post-Civil War poverty, he got a job.  He wrote a family history, and included a description of his days as a mail carrier, earning $702 per year in 1905.  I'd like to share his story.  This is longer than I usually post, but I thought you might find it interesting too.  Imagine it in a heavy Tennessee accent...

I have had many experiences on my route.  Some were pleasant and some were not so good.  I had a fine bunch of patrons... although some were tough characters...  especially... in the mountain section.  However, some... were as fine a bunch of people as could be found anywhere... I liked them all...

I have been in some hard storms.  One time I had to run my horse to get out from under a falling tree.  One day the lightning struck eighteen times near my route.  I came very near being in one of the worst hail storms this country has ever known.  I just did get into a barn before it struck.  Much of the hail was as large as hen and goose eggs.  These sank into the ground as they fell.  Some went crashing through iron roofing.  There was one cyclone that passed over my route...  I was in the edge of another which did lots of damage to property, but no one was hurt.  I have been caught in rising streams of water, as the rocks were rolling under my horse's feet, and almost knocking them down.  I had to stay in one stream of water for almost half a mile in order to ford it...

One day I heard the sound of a run-away team approaching over a hill, while I was going up the grade on the other side in my buggy.  On they came in their mad rush to get away... and the only thing for me to do was to jump from my buggy without delay.  As they neared me my horse became frightened, and turned back.  Down the road he went, ahead of the run-away team, carrying all my mail, stamps, money and everything, with only myself left behind, and truly glad to be there.  My buggy was torn to pieces.  Most of the harness was torn from the horse.  My mail, money and everything was scattered, a piece here and a piece there.  With the assistance of some of my good patrons, we managed to collect all together... Another loaned me a saddle to ride back on, while others recovered the pieces of my buggy and brought it back...

My buggy was struck twice by cars... but fortunately with no serious results.  I have been thrown from my horse by his falling on me.  One time I was thrown clear over his head, landing in front of him.  Such was life on a rural route in the early days... At first our roads were bad... I rode horseback a big part of eighteen years... I have walked many miles with my mail satchel thrown over my shoulder through mud, sleet, snow and ice, over fields, and just any way to get there...

I loved my patrons and I miss the pleasant association with them.  Scarcely a day passes that my mind doesn't go back to the fond memories of meeting with them at the mail boxes, and our having a few pleasant words together.  Especially is this true of the children, all of whom I loved dearly.

I'm glad Great Grandpa got through his hard times with love in his heart.  You can't move forward when you're clutching the memory of mythological glory days and hate to your chest.

BTW, I've given up my rants about wildlife.  The deer ate all the pears.  They're gone.  That's it.  I'm done screaming like a crazy woman (this year), or at least I thought so until I saw they ate my tomato plants too.

Also, in case I wasn't clear enough about what I think about the KKK and Neo-Nazis, I'll let Trae Crowder express his point of view.  Caution, very coarse language.

5 comments:

  1. What a vivid picture your great grandpa painted with his words Linda...how tough those days must have been but he had obvious joy in his memories. I'm glad we don't get deer eating my tomatoes here...not sure they could fit in my tiny garden ;0). On a more serious note we have seen what is happening over the pond...it's so sad...when will will ever learn from the past mistakes? Here in europe things are pretty dire too.Have a good week ahead and stay positive xx

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  2. Too many people are ignorant of what has happened in the past, and as George Santayana said, "Those who can't remember the past are doomed to repeat it." At this point I'm just hoping that the grown ups prevail. Here's to hoping things get better on both sides of the pond Jane!

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  3. What a character your great grandfather must have been. And it must have been quite a struggle. As to being on the wrong side of history: I believe parts of all families have experienced that. The question is whether we learn from past experiences or not, no?

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