Sunday, February 22, 2004

Hazel, we miss you already...

They buried Hazel in Miller Cemetery in Starks on Wednesday. Hazel Gillis Standley was born October 30, 1925, at home on the old homestead according to her daughter Beverly Jackson, and died at home in the arms of her family, as it should be. Hazel was a no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners straight shooter, in the proud tradition of Redbone women. I did not know her as well as I would have liked nor as long as I would have desired, but the good works one does lives long after them. We have the Starks Historical Society today because Hazel and a few others dedicated many years and countless hours to give us a repository of our families' histories. Thank you, Hazel. Blessed be your memory among the stories of our people.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

Introducing Myself

My Christian name, as my grandmother would say, is Raymond Lawrence Bridges. If I were Mexican (and we almost were) it would be Raymond Lawrence Bridges y Droddy, which would be more fair because such a big part of my story comes from my mother. I think she ought to get more credit. Since I was raised by my mother's mother for so many years, I think I should also link to her name, Ashworth. So I would be Raymond Lawrence Bridges y Droddy y Ashworth. That still would not tell enough of the tale. On my own, I would add Perkins because of the essential role that name has played in my story. And I'd add Bunch, too. I have such a beautiful image in my mind of the two Bunch sisters, Anna and Mary. Because I know they added steel to my inherited character I would include their name as well. I am rich in the number of names I can claim as my own.

My father's name was Lawrence. We lost him in 1952 in a mismatch between a semi and an automobile filled with people hurrying home to Christmas late one night in East Texas. With his death though, I lost his story and his family's stories. I have since sought out and heard many of his family's stories, but I didn't grow up with them, so they don't resonate as strongly on a personal level. So the Lawrence Bridges part of my name is my father. Raymond was pulled from thin air. There is no history of it in either of my families. My father, who was only given one name when he was born, started using Raymond with the intention of making me a junior. He died before he got to do that.

Over my lifetime, I have been called at least a dozen variations of my several names. My earliest remembered name is Sonny. When I started school, I was introduced to Raymond. It took me months to get used to it. After living a couple of years in Houston, I moved to a small town near Houston. The kids at my school started calling me Houston. That lasted until I went back to Houston, a couple of years later. The kids in Houston saw me no different from themselves and went back to calling me Raymond. When I moved to California with my mother and sisters in 1963, I was called Ray. I heard Tex a couple of times, but thank God, it didn't stick. Ray sounded fine to me, cool even. I was in California now, a new person. A new name felt good.

Recently I outgrew the name Ray. I began considering it a name given to me by others and without reason. It was just laziness of language that gave it to me. I began encouraging people to use Raymond with mixed results. In writing I would use Raymond Lawrence Bridges which sounded much better to me than just Ray, but I didn't think it reflected me as I had come to see myself. I even invited a few of my cousins who have always known me as Sonny to go back to using Sonny. That didn't work either.

I decided that I could choose the name by which I wanted to be known. Looking first to all of my called names over the years, I chose r. Houston Bridges. I was born in Houston. It was used with great affection by good friends the several years it was used. I live in California, but I have retained that Texas and Southern flavor that expatriates cultivate so meticulously. As I thought about it, I started to become comfortable with the name. Within weeks of introducing the name to my close friends and immediate family, it began to take..

You can continue to call me anything you want. As long as I know you're talking to me, I'll answer. I have always been known as Sonny and will always respond to it. It identifies me from a particular time in people's lives. I will always be Raymond Lawrence to my Aunt Melvin. Most of the kids from high school will always know me as Ray. I have started signing my stories and letters as Houston. The r is retained in lower case because I'll be Ray to a lot of people for a long time, but it also has another value known only to me.

Y'all say hi to Houston.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Meeting Cousins

When I was growing up in East Texas, "cousin" was an almost magical word which filled me with joyful anticipation. My grandmother would say something about my cousins coming, and I knew that fun was imminent. I had the potential for having as many as 68 to 86 first cousins. (The number varies because I'm never sure when to count stepchildren. The Texan in me tends to go for the higher number regardless of its sustainability. So if you over heard me at a cocktail party bragging about how many cousins I had, you heard 86. Then I modestly smile, and reduce the number by 4, allowing as my siblings are not cousins, although with so many cousins marrying cousins in our family, I wouldn't be surprised if someone told me that my sister was also my cousin. And we wonder why yankees make fun of us, bless their hearts.)

When I was growing up, I bet I had over a thousand cousins within a 100 mile radius. I'm using the Southern expanded definition of how many numbers you add before someone really isn't a relative anymore. For purposes of marriage, you're not supposed to marry closer than a third cousin. For purposes of loaning money, you stop at first cousin-once removed. That means you can probably loan the children of your first cousins money. All other cases are determined on an individual relationship basis. For purposes of attending funerals, it goes to about 4th or 5th. There aren't any hard and set rules, but for purposes of playing on the school ground and having a bully give you grief, it's as far out as a 10th-cousin and possibly more. We don't let people mess with us.

The internet has brought me contact with hundreds and possibly thousands of cousins in the 5th and 6th range. Now it's as if we all share backyard fences and can walk over and talk just about anytime we have something to say. Only you don't have to put on clothes to answer the door. Well so to speak, for chrissake. I'm not sitting here nekkid, but I don't have my shoes on and my hair's a mess. With each newly discovered cousin, though, comes a rush of pleasant anticipation. I just can't wait to meet them.

Maybe I'm just curious to see what they look like. There's a bond that's already there. All you have to do is uncover it, nourish it a little, and watch it bear fruit.

A couple of months ago, I drove to Huntington Beach, California to meet with a fourth cousin, once removed, Joan Williams-Harman. (She pronounces Joan as if it were spelled Joe Anne.) She is the ggggranddaughter of Mary Bunch who is presumed to be the sister of my ggggrandmother, Anna Bunch. The two sisters, children of Rhoda Mosely and Drury Bunch, married the two sons of Keziah Dial and James Ashworth, Aaron and Moses. That makes us really close the way I count cousins. Fortunately for me, she's one of those people that both get the picture and has a grasp on the details. She's fun to "speculate" with. (None of those snide yankee jokes about cousins speculating either.)

Joan taught school and was a librarian for enough years to now be retired. This is a picture of Joan:

So, Terry, Brenda, Linda, Michelle, Jeanne, Sharon and the rest of ya', the next time you see her name on a post or a comment, say hi to her. I've told her about each of you, so she knows you a little already, too.

Monday, February 02, 2004

Your Comments are Welcome

I hope we can expand the conversation. Your opinion is always welcome.
Forgotten Past, Remembered Stories

I resist writing in the "our people" voice because I'm not sure we have such a voice. If we are a people, we are a people with amnesia. We remember bits and snippets, but not the big story. I should have grown up with stories of my ggggrandfather and his brothers forging into Texas. Even with the Texans marginalizing us to the extent they did, we should have been legends in our own minds. Nada, though. Zip. No memories of Texas. We should have had legends in our family about the American Revolution. Ggggggrandfather and gggggrandfather were both tories fighting the rebels. What was that about? Did they care about the king of England or were they still fighting their old enemies among the Regulators? Were they driven out of South Carolina? Several Ashworth researchers have written that they sought refuge in a Cherokee Indian village for over ten years? Where are our stories about our time among the Cherokees? Why don't we have stories about the Civil War? Why did Thompson Lorraine name a son born immediately after the Civil War "Ulysses"?

A lot of my cousins are having an animated discussion about whether our Ashworth and Perkins ancestors somehow sojourned in Portugal before settling in South Carolina. That somehow relates to explaining the persistent family legend about being "portygee" and perhaps our being dark complexioned at the same time. To my cousins, talking about it isn't doing the research. Go out and do some research on more immediate questions. There are a million details about our families that we need to remember. What were they doing during the Civil War? Were they being hounded by the Home Guard? Were they secretly supporting the Union? Who ended up with the plantation in South Carolina?

There is a disturbing pattern to our lack of memory as a people. Are we ignoring the obvious? This is a pattern of a people not wanting to remember the past.