Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

© 2006-2015 All rights reserved

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm a retired teacher turned writer. Ferradiddledumday (my Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story) and Stuck (my middle grade paranormal novel) are available from Cedar Creek Publishing.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Setting a Watchman

I'd pre-ordered Harper Lee's new (?) novel  Go Set A Watchman when Amazon first announced it was available. It arrived the afternoon of July 14, and by late that night I'd finished it. From the pre-publication hype, I knew two things: (1) It wasn't as good as To Kill A Mockingbird, and (2) Atticus was revealed as a racist.

I'd already read the first chapter online, so I knew (Spoiler Alert!) Jem had died before Go Set a Watchman began.

For those not familiar with the multitude of media that gave away the plot: Scout, called by her grown-up name Jean Louise, returns home to Maycomb from New York City where she is now living and discovers that home isn't what she thought it was. Her father, though elderly and suffering from arthritis, still goes to his law office daily but now has a young partner, Henry Clinton. Her brother Jem died from a sudden heart attack (but we know from TKAM that heart trouble ran in their mother's family). Her Aunt Alexandra, who'd added a streak of racism and hypocrisy to the book TKAM but was noon-existant in the movie, keeps house for Atticus and still tries to make a lady of Jean Louise. Calpurnia, now elderly, no longer works for the family. Jean Louise has trouble coping with what she learns about Atticus and Henry.

I've been mulling over what I thought of the book for over two weeks. There are a lot of layers to this book, and it could have used a bit more editorial polish. Despite its rough edges, though, I really enjoyed it. Like Mockingbird, Watchman has some wonderful descriptions of small town life and the people in it. Some of the flashbacks to Scout's childhood are laugh-out-loud funny—for instance, when Jen, Scout, and Dill play revival and when Scout has a wardrobe malfunction at her first formal dance.

Part of the charm of To Kill A Mockingbird  is that it's told in first person in the voice of a child, who will obviously see certain things and not see others. The third person viewpoint in Go Set a Watchman puts distance between Scout  and the reader but allows us to see more of other characters. And it allows us to gain a different perspective of Jean Louise who, though all grown up and living in the big city, is still very Scout-like. However, her childlike innocence and her belief in her father is shattered when she learns that he, like most of the white men in Maycomb, is a bigot.

I think the realization that Atticus was a man of his times was also shattering to a lot of critics and readers. But, those of us who were children in the 50s shouldn't have been surprised. We heard the same prejudice from our parents, our neighbors, and even some of our teachers. If a man was to be a success at his business back then, he had to conform to a town's standards.  It's just the way things were.

When Harper Lee wrote Go Set a Watchman, she was old enough to realize what small town standards were. That many critics expected a book conceived and written in the late 50s to echo today's values and standards is unrealistic. Harper Lee, like many successful writers, wrote what she knew.

Boo Radley was missing from Watchman, and I couldn't help but wonder what happened to him. After he came out, did he go back in? Perhaps in Watchman, another Boo Radley has come out—but this time he's Atticus.

Go Set a Watchman reinforces the idea, used in so many other novels, that you can't go home again. And just maybe you shouldn't go there.

Some blog posts about the book worth reading are Eric Schnurer's: "Et Tu, Atticus," Mark Lawson's review in The Guardian, and Randall Kennedy's New York Times review. I pretty much agree with all three.


Sunday, August 02, 2015

July Sky

We've had some lovely clouds in July. Here are some cloud pics from the end of the month:



Monday, July 13, 2015

Untangling Caldwell Roots

Another genealogy post. If you're not kin to me on the Ruble side, this likely won't interest you.
Updated on July 30, 2015

Last year I posted about my tangled Ruble roots. I was particularly interested in my great-grandmother—Margie Caldwell Ruble—and her father Alexander Gibson Caldwell. My Great-Aunt Leona had written down the children of Alexander and his wife Marcellus Surber Caldwell:
  1. Anna B. Caldwell: born Dec. 17, 1850
  2. Wm. C. Caldwell: born May 9, 1852
  3. John B. Caldwell: born Aug. 15, 1854
  4. Tilman E. Caldwell: born Nov. 11, 1856
  5. Maggie L. Caldwell: born May 9, 1859
  6. Alexander J. Caldwell: born June 10, 1862
  7. Montra A. Caldwell: born Feb. 25, 1866
  8. Margie O. Caldwell: born Feb. 25, 1866
  9. Lorence O. W. Caldwell: born May 5, 1869.
Leona added a notation that Montra and Margie, who were born nine months after the Civil War ended, were twins.

Margie had been the one to marry George William Ruble, though I've found a few sources online that say "Margaret." I figure that Maggie, not Margie, was likely Margaret. I dug up a lot of info about Margie's mother online but almost nothing about her father. 

After joining, I was able to dig a bit deeper. For instance, I found the 1880 census for Craig County, where twins Margie and Montra were 14. Since Maggie—who would have been 21—and Anna—who would have been 30—aren't listed, it's possible that they were married.

Some of the kids likely went by their middle names “Clifton W” must be “Wm C” and “Byron” must be “John B.” 

I also learned a bit more about my g-g-grndfather. Alexander G. Caldwell, born April 1, 1822 (though some sources say 1820), was married twice—the first time to Matilda (whose maiden name was possibly also Caldwell) on August 9, 1842 and the second time to Marcellus Surber on July 31, 1850. 

When the 1850 census was taken for District 8 of Botetourt County, on July 23, 1850, the 30-year-old Alexander and his daughters  Jane (1843) and Caroline V. (1846) were living with his sister (or possibly sister-in-law) Martha Caldwell Craft, her husband Frederick, and their two-year-old son William, and her infant daughter Jane. Apparently Matilda had died prior to the census.

Martha Caldwell Craft

But where was Alexander's baby daughter, Anna (or Amy or Ammy), born in 1850 after Matilda had died and only 4 and a half months old after Alexander married Marcellus? It's a mystery. Given the date of the census, I'm guessing that "Anna" was actually born in either Dec. 1849 to Matilda or Dec. 1851 to Marcellus. 

By the 1860 census,  when Alexander and  his family were living at "the Valley of Craig's Creek" in Craig County, Marcellus is 25 and the girl is listed as 10-year-old "Ammy."  I've even found a source or two online that gives Ammy's birthdate as 1851 and lists her as Marcellus's child. Alexander's family in 1860:

By 1860, Jane had likely married, but 15-year-old Caroline was still at home. The family had also increased by four children: William, Byron, Tilman, and Margaret. (One online source said Marcellus had had twin girls in 1858 and a boy born possibly 1860, but the children died shortly after they were born.

The Civil War interrupted Alexander's family life. He served as a private in company B (the "Craig Rifles") in the 28th Virginia Infantry which became part of the Fifth Brigade, Army of the Potomac. He missed some of the action, though. From various pay reports, he was present on Sept/Oct 1862 but was "absent, sick at hospital" for November and December 1862 and "absent," sick on furlough during January and February 1863. His pay reports indicate he was back with his unit from May through Aug 1863, but he was AWOL during Nov/Dec 1863. Was he at Gettysburg with Pickett's Division in July of 1863 where many of the 28th fell?

Eventually, he returned to his regiment. However, he spent a lot of time sick. He was in Chimborazo Hospital in Richmond from June through September of 1864. 

At some point, he was sent to White Sulphur Springs in Greenbrier, no doubt to recuperate. In 1864,  he was issued new clothes.

However, he was soon back in the hospital again, and then was on "furlough at home" during November and December of 1864, returned to his unit in January 1865, but in February 1865 was again sent to Chimborazo Hospital, this time with "chronic dysentery." I wonder if his health problems probably kept him from being killed in battle.

By the 1870 census, he was doing farm work, and his family had increased again. Alexander J. had been born shortly after his father had gone to war; twins Montra and Margie were born 9 months after the war ended, and Lorence was born in 1869.

Alexander Gibson Caldwell died August 21, 1900, of "old age and heart trouble," His widow Marcellus applied for a widow’s pension in 1901. Since she had to sign with an X, it seems likely she couldn’t read or write.

He didn’t get his confederate stone until 1932 when his son Alexander Jackson Caldwell applied for it. 

The stone now marks his grave in the Looney Cemetery in New Castle, Craig County.

In the 1920 census, Marcellus is listed as living with her son Alexander and his family, and she's now listed as being able to read and write.

The Caldwell lines are still tangled. Who were Alexander Gibson Caldwell's parents? His FindaGrave site says James Caldwell, but I can't find any documented family trees on Ancestry that list Alexander G. as a son of one of the James Caldwells. Another source gives his parents as Edmundson G. Caldwell (1790-1851/54) and Sarah Crist (1791-1891!) who were married in March 1811 and were in  Botetourt County, but again I can't find any documentation—and he's not mentioned in Edmundson's will.  

Update: In an 1867-68 Craig County Chancery Court case wherein Alexander G gives testimony about Hugh N. Caldwell, the son of James, Alexander identifies his relationship to Hugh: "We  are  cousins  &  we're  about  second  or  third  cousins.  My  first  wife  was  the  sister  of  Hugh  N  Caldwell  and   daughter  of  James  Caldwell.  I  am  well  acquainted  with  the  plaintiff.  I  have  known  him  ever  since  he  was  a  boy." 

Alexander G. Caldwell is not the son of Absalom Dempsey Caldwell & Delilah Walker. That would be Alexander Looney Caldwell, b. 1825. 

Will I ever untangle these roots?

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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

George Slept Here

Since it's too hot (mid-90s here!) to do anything, I'll just post pictures of what George the cat does on days that are too hot for him to do his cat-work. He sleeps.

If it weren't so hot, he might sleep outside. But when temps hit the 90s, George heads indoors. Sometimes he sleeps with a friend.

But usually he sleeps solo.



Monday, June 22, 2015

Summer Solstice Storm

In my part of Virginia, we've had rain almost daily for the last couple of weeks. The rains, which started the day after we'd finished haying, sometimes began  like this.

Some days we've had rainbows.

Often light rain falls, but we've had several thunderstorms. With the daytime temperatures in the 90s, we've had both heat and humidity, so the air-conditioning has been running a lot. We've lost power a couple of times and had it flicker other times.

Here are some pictures from Sunday, the first day of summer. We actually had two storms that day. The first storm rolled in from the west in the afternoon. It brought wind and rain to the north before it hit us.

Rain beat against the front windows, and wind over-turned some of my porch plants.

The clouds lifted . . . 

. . . and blue sky appeared overhead.

But clouds hung around and soon we had a bit more rain.

The rain moved to east of Smith Mountain.

The setting sun caught the clouds above the mountains in Bedford.

When the sun dropped even lower . . . 

. . . a rainbow appeared in the southeast.

More clouds appeared as night came on.



Thursday, June 11, 2015

Smith Farm Hay

Hay was cut yesterday on Smith Farm. It was raked and baled today.

The tractor is in place and ready to start raking the front field.

Unraked hay in front field.

Hay partially raked.

Close-up of raked hay

Same field, different view.

Finishing a row.

Hay raked in side field.

Smith cabin behind the side field.

Close-up of hay rake in back field

Raked hay in back field.
The edge f the trees leads downhill to a spring.

Baled hay in front field.

Close-up of a fresh bale.

While clouds piled up during the day, no rain fell. Part of the hay is baled on the Brown Place, but some was too wet to rake. Maybe tomorrow. . . .

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