Friday, October 21, 2011

Before My Time But I've Been Told

At-a-vism. n. (ă't-ә-vĭz'm )
[French atavisme, from Latin atavus, ancestor : atta, father + avus, grandfather; see awo- in Indo-European roots.]

1. The reappearance of a characteristic in an organism after several generations of absence, usually caused by the chance recombination of genes.
2. The return of a trait or recurrence of previous behavior after a period of absence.
3. Same as my daddy and his daddy before.

We've gone back to the Duck River more times, by far, than any other river. Maybe there's a reason we hadn't thought about much before - especially on this section.

Great-great-granddaddy Felix K. Zollicoffer (the first Confederate general killed in the Civil War) grew up on the Duck River in Maury County just upstream from our put-in at Williamsport:

He married great-great-grandma Louisa Pocahontas Gordon (supposedly descended from her middle-namesake) who was born and raised right at our take-out:

At river mile 98, at the mouth of Fattybread Creek:

Louisa's father (therefore another great-etc.-grandfather) was John Gordon. He built that house that is now a rest stop on the Natchez Trace:

Gordon House on Natchez Trace Parkway

(So shouldn't we rightfully be able to just sleep there Saturday night?)

John Gordon also ran a ferry across the Duck River there, and, among other adventures, ferried Andrew Jackson and his men across the river. Just before they passed Jackson Falls on their way to the Battle of New Orleans.

For some reason there's a big plaque for him hidden in plain sight in front of the Custom's House in downtown Nashville. It gets about the same number of hits per day as his great, great, great grandson's blog.

But the best explanation for why we keep going back - whether we knew it or not - may be in General Zollicoffer's official biography:

A granddaughter who was reared by Mrs. Gordon wrote an interesting account of her early life at Gordon's Ferry. She referred to her grandmother as "the widowed young wife with a family of eight children, battling and struggling among the canebreaks, with no neighbors save the Indians." She spoke of learning her ABCs from between the lids of the family Bible, and of the children playing with their dusty companions, the little Negroes, hunting chestnuts and scalybarks with which the woods abounded.

Years later the Gordon home, a brown brick house said to have been one of the most elegant in Hickman County, became a mecca for the grandchildren who returned each summer to spend their vacation at Grandma's. Here, both young and old rode horseback over the Indian trails, paddled up and down Duck River in "Uncle Scip's" canoe and swam at the shaded beach where Fatty Bread Creek flows into the river.

The Zollie Tree, Raymond E. Myers, pp. 18-19


In general, I think Davis Birdsong likes the changes that are taking place. He hasn't been fenced off from their fruits. The old way was cob-rough on him and his, back through his parents to his old grandmother, who was another thing and had seen The People in the time before the cedar. . . . He recalls years when his wife had to make her housedress out of flour sacks, and the milk for his kids was short. That's past now. He prospers reasonably from the change, and his razor-minded son will go to college.

And yet his gaze can turn back, too. Not long ago he and I went to look over a lost 140 acres on a dry creek, far back in the cedar. After the road to it played out at a wash, we left the pickup and walked, and along the way we came on a place with junk scattered around and a concrete well curb and the tumbled fire-blackened stones of a foundation and a fireplace under a pecan tree. Davis stopped, and grunted.

"What?" I said.

"Nothin'," he answered, and leaning over stared down the dark eight-inch tube of the well, crisscrossed at its mouth with ragged spiderwebs. Davis said: "Went dry."

"You can't tell just looking like that," I said. "It might be a deep one."

"Used to run over like a sprang," he said. "Hit was artesian."

"You knew it."

"I reckon," Davis said. "I growed up where you see them rocks. . . ."

We walked on parallel to the dry creek, ascending, but the ghost place had reached him and he felt like talking.

"We didn't have nothin'," he said. "I mean, nothin'. Two mules and a wagon to rattle into town with ever' two weeks haulin' a load of posts. A ridin' horse, wind-broke. Some old pieces of arn you could farm with, a little. Choppin' cedar. Putt coal oil on ever'body when they got hurt or sick. Coal oil on a cut. Coal oil on a rag on your neck if you tuck down with flu . . . But you know somethin'?"


"We didn't live bad," he said. "They was a garden patch under that artesian well and it'd grow might near anythang. I mean. And we kept a cow most of the time, and hogs. Good house. Plenty of wood to burn in winter. And old Maw she kept thangs right."

He lingered. He said: "I bought Louise a warshin' machine last week."

"Save a lot of work," I said.

"Yeah," he said, but kept looking around on the crumbling white soil beneath the cedars.

"God damn it!" he said finally.

"What's the matter?"

"Nothin'. Just God damn it . . . "

Goodbye to a River, pp. 269-73.

1 comment:

Brandon Whitehead said...

Thanks to whomever posted this blog. I am also a family member of the late Felix Zollicoffer. He was my 4th Greatgrandfather. I enjoyed reading about our family history.

My Name:
H. Brandon Whitehead
I live in Hermitage, TN