We are all visitors to this time, this place.
We are just passing through.
Our purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love
… and then we return home.
Australian Aboriginal Proverb
Searching for Archibald…
Lallie Smith was two months shy of her sixth birthday when her mother was buried on a cold, clear Tuesday in March, 1906. I have imagined a sad and confused little girl with dark hair, standing in the doorway of Plank Chapel Church before crossing the dirt road to the cemetery, holding the hand of an older sister or perhaps her father, Archibald Smith. On another cold February day nine years later, Lallie would stand in that same place as her father is buried beside her mother, right where I found them both some 85 years later.
Growing up at Plank Chapel Church, Arch no doubt heard his father preaching at the camp meetings often held there, probably trying not to wriggle through the long services. Even as a young boy, Arch would have grown up with sixty years of family history in that churchyard, where his great-grandfather had taken part in the first discussions about having a Methodist Meeting House. This area was home to Archibald and to my grandfather, but I was never told the story.
If I stand with arms outstretched in a sort of swiveled T, I can reach behind myself and also forward – a marker in space. Through this history, I can reach back to touch the past and forward to envision the future – a marker in time. Looking across the now paved road from Archibald’s grave, Plank Chapel Church sits in the quiet countryside much the same as it was one hundred year ago. ..reaching back / looking forward, parallel in time.
Family stories are not the kind that begin with “Once Upon a Time.” More often the first words are, “I remember,” or “My mama told me about the time that -“. A family history is many, many stories, layer upon layer, connected, intertwined, overlapped. Following people back through time, I find more of a web than a branching tree. The connections are not just up and out. They cross over and back from branch to branch and from family to family …a nexus of individuals, neighbors, community, church, and land, sewn together in one history. These are the threads and bits of fabric for stitching our own pieces of patchwork, a mix of heredity, environment, experience, and a dash of audacity.
Archibald Arrington Smith was my great-grandfather.