I have a lot of ephemera in my life. Things that are mine and clutter up my life, things I want to hang onto, things that remind me of events that have a special significance. Things like my youngest daughter’s silky curl from her first haircut and my eldest’s first printout of “computer art” when I taught her to use MacPaint. And I own a lot of ephemera that I have inherited from parents and grandparents and greatgrandparents. I own the muzzleloader that my great-great grandfather Larkin used in the Civil War. I have some of the Confederate money with which he was paid.
I image what it would have been like to have lived at that time when I hold this money, and the hands that it has passed through. I know the stories – how he and his bride had a hardscrabble life.
Her name was Margaret Ann Davis Spinks and she was a young widow – she was born in 1840 in Cordele Georgia and rumor has it that she was part Cherokee Indian (in fact, her picture looks quite Indian). She married Garrett Spinks in Newton County – Conyers area in 1857. They had a baby in 1858 that they named Indiana Spinks. Garrett died around 1859 –my cousin said that Aunt Ethel said it was “lung fever” that he caught while on maneuvers. She met Larkin Pendley in church (at Stamps Chapel) and they were married in 1861 on January 25 in Stamps Chapel. James Hiram was born on June 8, 1862. By this time Larkin had purchased some land just outside the city limits of Conyers and had built a log cabin. The deed was never recorded – or if it was it has never appeared in the Federal records. He went to war, leaving Margaret with Indiana and James in that little log cabin. She struggled to get by and my Aunt Nellie told my mother that Indiana was badly burned by falling into the fireplace and had a bad infection, but she recovered, although she was badly scarred on her right arm.
When Larkin surrendered, it was somewhere outside of Savannah. The Union allowed him to keep his weapons, although they took what provisions that he had. It took him almost 3 weeks to walk home – he had no provisions, he was barefoot, had to beg for food and forage along the way, sleeping in ditches. When he got home, Margaret was just holding on – he planted crops and tried to make it as a farmer. They tried to register the deed, but could not pay the taxes (taxes were high during the Restoration) and lost the land. Larkin stayed on the land as a sharecropper. They had a couple more children, but Larkin died in 1875 – he and his young son John walked into Conyers to purchase a hatchet and while standing at the counter he had a “fit of paralysis”. They carried him home and he died two days later on March 27, 1875, leaving Margaret a widow once again. They buried him in the back yard of the old Whittaker place in an unmarked grave, as Margaret could not afford to purchase a tombstone.
Margaret struggled on living what my grandmother called a “hardscrabble life”. James Hiram took up the farming responsibilities and married Rebecca Chaffin in 1887. They had several children – but Little Jim that was killed by rifle Larkin carried in the war. Big Jim and Little Jim went hunting when Little Jim was 13 or so and as he held up a barbed wire fence for his father to go under, Big Jim dropped the rifle and killed Little Jim. It was years before Big Jim could look at that rifle – he gave it back to his mama. Big Jim and Rebecca had a total of 10 children, 7 of which lived to adulthood. Margaret had been “run off the land” by the Yankee who bought it – and he tore down the log cabin and built a big frame house that is still on the property today. She moved in with her son Big Jim in 1887 – along with her two daughters, Elizabeth and Nellie. Elizabeth married locally to a man named Joe Carter, but Nellie married a Swiss man and they moved to Slidell Louisiana. Margaret kept the few possessions she had from her marriage and treasured them. She never remarried.
By the time Big Jim and Rebecca had been married for 13 years, she decided to go live with her daughter Elizabeth and Joe Carter. Big Jim’s house was small and there just wasn’t enough money or room. That was about 1900. My cousin Lizzie has (or had) a letter from my aunt Ethel written in 1941 telling about that time. She decided that she could apply for a widow’s pension, and did so. Ethel said that in 1900 all Grandma Margaret had was the clothes on her back, her sewing box, a rocking chair, the rifle, the knife, a pistol and a bunch of papers and confederate money. Elizabeth and Joe had several children. Joe died young around 1912 and by that time Big Jim’s children had grown up and moved out – the oldest living boy, had moved out on his own (he joined the army) and my grandfather was around 20 years old and Margaret moved back in. The rifle then was given to my grandfather (Papa) along with Larkin’s other possessions and all the papers. Margaret moved back in with Elizabeth when it became apparent that Elizabeth would not make it on her own. In 1916 both Margaret and Elizabeth died of influenza and because Big Jim was so poor, he could not take in all the children – they were placed at the Georgia Baptist Children’s home (at the time it was where Hartsfield International is now.)
All these pieces of ephemera – little bits and pieces of lives that have been lived to their fullest and now all but myself and my children have passed away. I write down what I remember – but there are things that are lost forever. Here’s a picture of Granny – I don’t really know who she is. All I know is that my Daddy loved her very very much and missed her all of his life after she died. I have a little “clucky chicken” that she called her chickens with back in the 1930’s.
It makes me think about the transmission of the gospel. I used to think that 30 years or 50 years or even 100 years was a long long time to write things down. I don’t think so now. Memory really does last that long. And it’s a basic human urge to write it down or tell the stories so that one can remember. And so that your children can remember. I wonder about the Grail – I am sure that it existed and that someone held it in their hands and remembered. Where is my Grail? I think I want to find Stamps Chapel and I want to preach there, surrounded by the memories and ghosts of the past. Preach to my children and into the future.
The clucky chicken
The rifle -- a 1863 Enfield Tower (made in the Tower of London). It has 5 kill notches and a "W" carved in the stock where Walter Daniel started to carve his initals into his granddaddy's rifle.