Thursday, September 26, 2013

Summer Fun, September 26, 2013

We are all intertwined in one another's story.
We are all a part of each other's communities
despite our seeming differences.
~Ciona D. Rouse

Greetings to all of you from San Diego as summer draws to a close and fall has officially begun.

This Sunday is the birthday of Cathrina Clark, wife of Jerry Clark, of Lubbock, Texas. Best wishes to Cathrina for a wonderful birthday. The first picture shows Cathrina with her husband of 7 years Jerry Clark.

Cathrina: It's been another great year! I'm feeling very blessed this year. New job, more time off. I love being on the same work schedule as Jerry! Have so much to be thankful for. Glad Jerry was able to make the reunion. He enjoyed seeing everybody! Your grandkids are precious! Enjoy!

This Sunday, September 29 is also the birthday of little Alexandria Cotton, another Texan in our family, who will turn two years old. She is the daughter of Heather and Sean Cotton and the granddaughter of my cousin Paula Harrell Tuzzolino. Lexi and her sister are the two Ggranddaughters of Vicki Gower Johnston of Oak Harbor, Washington. Lexi and her family live in San Antonio, Texas.

With the arrival of fall, I am reminded of how quickly the seasons change. In the last few months, in all of our families, there has been lots of travels and activity, milestones and special memories and, hopefully, plenty of summer fun. The following photo presentation celebrates our family and shows a sampling of all the various activities, births, reunions, vacations, and a wide variety of happy events.

- - -
Steve Shepard

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Reflections on a Journey, September 19, 2013

Families are messy.
Sometimes the best we can do
is remind each other
that we're related for better or for worse...
and try to keep the maiming and killing to a minimum.
~Rick Riordan 

Hello Family and Friends,

Greetings to all of you from Northern California where Cindy and I find ourselves during this extended time away from home.

Later this month is the 92nd wedding anniversary of my late grandparents Leroy Gower and Nola Shannon Gower. They were married in Mountain View, Arkansas on September 29, 1921 when grandpa Leroy was a young man of 22 and grandma Nola was a just a teenager of 18. They both have been gone now for many years, but their influence remains in the lives of all of us who knew them.

They were both born near Mountain View, but after they married and then had their first two children (Hank and Maida), they left Arkansas and migrated westward as did many other family and friends. Their first move was to Okemah, Oklahoma; after 17 years there they moved to San Diego where they lived almost all the rest of their lives.

The first picture was taken in 1953, in Yosemite National Park, during a memorable family vacation. It was taken about 10 years after the Gowers had moved to California. It shows Nola and Leroy with me sitting in front of them. This image is from an old, wrinkled photograph, hence the marks and scratches. 

Their early years in Mountain View and then their move to Okemah have been on my mind a lot recently as a result of a visit my mom and I made to Arkansas and then Oklahoma earlier this month. Spending a few days in Mountain View gave me a much better feel for the kind of people they were: their simple needs, their religious beliefs, their down to earth approach to life, their love of family and neighbors, their easy going ways, their acceptance of hard work, and their willingness to take with grace whatever life brought them.

After a few days in Arkansas, mom and I drove from Mountain View to Okemah, Oklahoma and made the same 300 mile journey that mom had made as a baby back in the fall of 1925 with her brother Hank and her parents Leroy and Nola.

The second picture was taken in a museum in Fort Smith, Arkansas, one of the stops on the journey to Okemah from northern Arkansas. It shows a typical wagon from the early 20th century and may have been the kind of transportation Leroy and Nola used to get to their new home in Oklahoma. It wouldn't have been a very smooth ride -- especially for the 2 little ones -- but it would have been a common way for a young family to make the 300 mile journey in the 1920s.

Mom and I took it slow when we drove that same route recently and it still was an easy day's drive for us. We wound along SR9 out of the Arkansas hills, past towns like Fox and Peed, and then suddenly found the 21st Century when we joined super highway I-40, which took us all the way to Okemah. For them, on dusty bumpy dirt roads, where every creek was an adventure and every Indian sighting made them wary, the journey a century ago must have taken several days, perhaps a week or more. Mom as a 1 year old, and her brother Hank as a 3 year old, made the journey even more challenging for 26 year old Leroy and his sturdy young 22 year old bride Nola.

When we visited Okemah, we stopped at the old home on 4th St, the schools way across town on 2nd St, the Sonic Drive-In out on the Highway, and City Hall in the middle of town (which seemed little more than a one person office). Our first stop however was Highland Cemetery. The only members of our family still left in Okemah reside in that peaceful place on the hill just north of town. Among our kinfolk there are Leroy's parents George and Serena Turner Gower. The second picture shows the Gower headstone in that cemetery with the individual flat stones of George and Serena just behind the family headstone and to the left.

Being at these historical family sites and musing on the challenges of travel and migration gives me a greater appreciation for these ancestors of ours and all they endured to bring us to where we are today.
- - -
Steve Shepard

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Not As Bad As It Sounds, September 12, 2013

Even the smallest act of service,
the simplest act of kindness,
is a way to honor those we lost,
a way to reclaim that spirit of unity
that followed 9-11.
~President Obama

Hello family and friends. Greetings to all of you from Alameda, California on this day after 9-11.

Happy Birthday to Kelly Shepard Sauvage whose special day is today! My niece Kelly is originally from San Diego, but has lived with her family in Weatherford, Texas since 2000. She and husband James stay busy with their respective jobs and the many activities of their two boys Nate and Kyle.

The first picture was taken two weeks ago when a number of our family were gathered together at their home on Del Rio Court in Weatherford. It shows Kelly in the middle sharing a cheeky moment with her older son Nate. Also in the picture are Kelly's mother Jackie Perry on the right of Granbury, Texas, her niece Mandi Aquiningoc of Mineral Wells, Texas on the left, and me in the upper left.

65 And Counting. This past Monday was my 65th Birthday, which, as it turns out, is really not as bad as it sounds. The big day started, unlikely enough, in the tiny little nowhere town of Lee Vining, California, in the Eastern part of California just outside Yosemite National Park. In all honesty, Lee Vining was actually not a bad place to begin the 66th year of my life.

Granddaughter Preslea and I had driven there just the night before from the San Francisco Bay Area. We were there to pick up our son and father Nathan, who had just finished a hike to Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite. We had to drive the long way around to get to Lee Vining, in order to avoid the massive and historic Rim Fire which continues to char acreage in the mountains of California.

Memories of Yosemite. Being there gave me a chance to ponder the various times my family and I have been in the remarkable California playground of Yosemite over the years, camping in the Valley, day hiking the many trails, backpacking the high country, climbing Half Dome, watching the "fire fall", driving the incredibly scenic roads, and marveling at the amazing beauty of this national treasure.

Among my most memorable moments in Yosemite was the time in 1965 when my sister Linda and I - she was 14 and I was 16 - hiked from the Valley floor to the top of Yosemite Falls with some other teens. We took the strenuous 3.8 mile trail that switch backs to the top just to the west of the falls. Less than half way up she and I left the main trail and cautiously scrambled over some rocks and made our way to the water fall itself. We found a natural cave-like walkway that took us behind the roaring water as it tumbled 2,400 feet into the Valley. I can still remember it was very loud, nearly dark and dangerously wet on the slick granite beneath our feet. We stood there entranced by the rush of the water and the sacredness of that precarious place. After several moments we retraced our steps and caught up to the group heading to the top where the view was awesome. But our time behind the falls was the most profound experience of that day and will remain forever etched in my memory.

My very first visit to YNP was a dozen years before the water fall experience, when I was just 4 years old. My father, grandfather and other family members went camping in the Valley and hiked the Vernal Falls trail during our time there. My vague recollection of that particular hike came back to me just last Saturday when I hiked that very same trail again 60 years later. This time, however, instead of being WITH my father and grandfather, I WAS the father and grandfather trekking with our son and grandchild. Hiking that trail remains a wonderful experience even today and a thrill to share with family.

The second picture (above) is from that summer of '53 trip to Yosemite and shows my grandmother Nola Shannon Gower standing in the Merced River keeping watch over me (on the left) and my siblings Linda and Gary. Select this link to see a photo presentation of our 1953 trip to Yosemite, which I included in this blog a few years ago.

The third picture shows me, son Nathan and granddaughter Preslea this past Saturday as we began our hike of the Vernal Falls Trail in Yosemite.
- - -
Steve Shepard

Thursday, September 05, 2013

The Arkansas Connection, September 5, 2013

Your past is just a story.
And once you realize this,
it has no power over you.
~Chuck Palahniuk

What a great experience the last few days have been in the town of Mountain View, Arkansas, where my Shannon and Gower ancestors had strong roots. For the first time my mom Maida and I attended the Shannon Family Reunion, held each year on Labor Day weekend in this historic town in Northern Arkansas. We stayed with mom's cousin Bernice Beckham, whose family graciously welcomed us. 

The first picture shows cousins Maida Shepard and Bernice Beckham side by side in Mountain View, the left half taken about 1940, the other half just last weekend.

1,700 miles separate Mountain View from San Diego, and in some ways it feels like a great distance, culturally, linguistically, and socially. But the feeling of family spirit this past week united each of us, whether Shannon kin from right here or from far away.

Mountain View, and Stone County in which it sits, is a beautiful place. I can understand why our Gower and Shannon ancestors settled here in the 19th century. Today the hills of Northern Arkansas are a wonderful vacation destination, and understandably so. Being here makes me appreciate even more the sacrifice and difficulty my grandparents experienced leaving here and settling first in Oklahoma and then in San Diego for the second half of their lives.

Shannon is the maiden name of my grandmother Nola Shannon Gower, who was born in Mountain View, and is where she met and married grandpa Leroy Gower in 1921. It is also where their first two children, Maida and Hank, were born in the early 1920s. Grandma Gower was not at the reunion, of course, having died in 2004. But I could feel her presence as I mingled among her many kinfolk.

Being in Mountain View gave us a chance to visit the final resting place of some of our ancestors, including my Shannon great grandparents Samuel Pickens Shannon (1859-1931) and his wife Finetta Dearien Shannon (1861-1960). Finding Gray Cemetery where they reside was an adventure in itself.

From Mountain View we headed west on AR 66 for a few miles and turned left at Happy Hallow Rd., which after just a few miles turned to dirt. After several more dusty miles we arrived at the Oyd Johnson farm and turned right on Bobcat Trail. In a phone call earlier that day, Mrs Johnson indicated it was the way to the cemetery. "If the sign is still there", she added.

As we slowly crept along Bobcat trail, we sought some sign, any sign, that a cemetery was nearby. But there was nothing. We did see an unlocked gate in the fence on the left so I got out of the car to investigate. Beyond the gate I saw some indication of faint tire tracks, but other than that there was nothing but bushes. 

After walking a ways I happen to notice a pile of stones just to my right. Kicking away some overgrown plants I drew closer and looked carefully at what appeared to be a grave surrounded by a small stone wall. To the left of that grave I noticed a flat headstone on the ground. I brushed away some leaves and uncovered a headstone that read "Finnetta Clemintine Shannon", with her dates on it. Her first and middle names were misspelled, but it was definitely her, my great grandmother. (see picture)

Next to her, beneath a badly weathered and barely readable headstone, was her husband of 50 years, the father of her 9 children, Samuel Pickens Shannon, my great grandpa. 

The joy of finding these two was tempered a bit by it being such an overgrown graveyard. They both deserve better. One could walk within a few feet of the place and not notice that they were there. As I carefully trudged around some more I counted 34 graves, only 4 of which had readable names on the grave markers. Many of them just had rocks for headstones. Nevertheless, to find Sam and Finetta was special. 

We drove the dusty road back to Mountain View with the sense that we had accomplished something important. The picture of our family's history was a little more complete.

- - -
Steve Shepard