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

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