Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving in perspective

Thursday, November 27 is the day in 2008 designated Thanksgiving Day. We gather with family and friends to give thanks for the blessings of the year and to feast on turkey and all the trimmings that make for a royal dinner.

"A truly American holiday," we think. With visions of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts coming together in 1621 to celebrate one year of survival in the New World, their Wampanoag Indian neighbors gathering with them, with a three-day feast and festival, we consider that event to be the first American Thanksgiving.

But was it? More investigation into history will show us that the Plymouth Colony celebration was not the first Thanksgiving, even in America.

The celebration predates 1621 by thousands of years in other parts of the world. Many cultures had days of thanksgiving at harvest time, to celebrate victories in battles, to recognize the hand of God in the affairs of men. We have but to read ancient psalms to see that giving thanks lay at the heart of worship and recognition of Diety. But in America, was there a time before 1621 and the Plymouth Colony gathering that could be termed America's "First Thanksgiving"?

Florida explorer Juan Ponce de Leon arrived in America in 1513. He claimed the land he had found for Spain. He led his entourage to solemnly give thanks for safe passage and for the land they would explore for the King of Spain. He was followed by other conquistadores who did likewise in succeeding years. Some of these days of Thanksgiving were led by Hernando de Soto in 1529, by Father Louis Cancer de Barbastro in 1549, and by Tristan de Luna in 1599. These periods of Thanksgiving were along the coasts of Florida, that land of waving palms and tropical sunshine.

Add to the Florida celebrations another early Thanksgiving Feast by Spanish explorers, this one held in Texas as Francisco Vasquez de Coronado and about 1500 of his men held a day of Thanksgiving in May, 1541. In fact, so positive was the Texas Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) that this was the "first" Thanksgiving in America that the organization erected a plaque at the Palo Duro Canyon in Texas in 1959 marking it as the location of "the First Thanksgiving."

France got into the battle for exploration of the New World. In 1564, a group of French Huguenots landed along the St. Johns River in Florida and began a settlement there. Like others who had braved the ocean voyage and had arrived intact in the new land, a Thanksgiving Day marked their feat in 1564.

In September, 1565, Pedro Menendez de Aviles, an experienced admiral from Spain, settled St. Augustine, Florida and called the people together for a mass of thanksgiving. Joining the settlers were the nearby Seloy Indians. The feast for that occasion was garbanzo beans, garlic-flavored pork, hardtack biscuits and red wine.

This festival, coming at the first permanent settlement in America, is considered by many historians to be the first and most continuing Thanksgiving on American soil by foreign settlers. In fact, there has been a quarrel between those who hold to the St. Augustine theory and the Plymouth Colony theory of "first Thanksgiving" site.

Then came the claim of the Jamestown settlement in Virginia, and the 1610 date for its Thanksgiving celebration. Why did this one not hold as the first of the English colony Thanksgivings in America? Settled in 1607, Jamestown had a hard time existing. Disease and starvation were rampant. When Lord De La Warr came in 1610 with supplies, the remaining colonists took heart. The Jamestown Colony did not list the word "Thanksgiving" as the intent of the celebration led by the Rev. Richard Buck and Ensign Anthony Scott as this colony took on new life. But Thanksgiving was implied in the gathering and determination to make Jamestown a permanent settlement.

A painting commemorates another English colony Thanksgiving held in 1619 at Berkeley Plantation in Virginia, about thirty miles north of Jamestown. Captain John Woodleefe had this written declaration which began the first Thanksgiving there: "Wee ordaine that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned for plantacon in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetualy kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty god." It is believed that Thanksgiving Day was held in November when the ship arrived from England. The painting, "The First Thanksgiving," by Sydney King, shows the ship in the James River and the thirty-five men kneeling on shore.

It is interesting that regardless of the country from which the early settlers came, whether from Spain, France or England, they recognized the providence of Almighty God in guiding them through treacherous seas to a land, not necessarily "flowing with milk and honey," but with challenges, hardships, disease and enemies to be overcome.

Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, lobbied for and wrote numerous articles and pamphlets calling for a national day of Thanksgiving from 1846 until 1863. President Lincoln, during the Civil War, decreed that a day of Thanksgiving be held on the second Thursday in November. The day was changed a bit but finally came to rest on the fourth Thursday of each November by decree of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, signed into law in 1941. It is held on a Thursday from the English tradition of Calvinistic "lecture-days" and harvest festival days. For over six decades now we have held Thanksgiving Day on the fourth Thursday of November.

c 2008 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published November 27, 2008 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Look at Owltown

Travel Highway 129/19 south from the old courthouse square in Blairsville and you will come to the Owltown District of Union County lying around the vicinity of the Experiment Station. It was the last of the fourteen districts of the county.

This district numbered 1409 was signed into law on April 4, 1887. Court appointed commissioners John M. Rich, Milton G. Hamby, and Quiller F. Reece had been assigned the task of laying out the lines of the proposed new militia district. Daniel Mathis, Thomas Fields and other citizens had petitioned for the new district and signed a request for it with the Court of Ordinary in Union County. Portions of already-existing districts of Arkaqua, Choestoe and Coosa were surveyed and made a part of the new Owltown District. Mr. William Colwell, County Ordinary, signed the completed papers and the new district was summarily formed.

One is reminded of the words of naturalist John Muir, who in 1867, passed through beautiful Union County, Georgia on his walk from Louisville, Kentucky to Cedar Keys, Florida, a journey of over one thousand miles. He wrote of this mountainous region: "Oh, these vast, calm, measureless mountain whose light everything seems equally divine, opening a thousand windows to show us God."

Whether Muir passed through what became Owltown twenty years after his visit, we know not. But he could well have been describing that section of Union County nestled along the Nottely River and its tributaries. County Historian Edward S. Mauney, in his description of Owlton in 1950, said of it: "Being no less mountainous than the county's entire terrain, with its dark recesses called coves, the natural habitat of that wise old bird, the owl, suggests what is believed to be the origin of the name." (p. 72, Sketches of Union County History III, 1987).

Hoot Owl Town and Hoot Owl Hollow were eventually shortened to Owltown. Others have thought that in addition to being "the natural habitat of the owl," Owltown may have received its name from a settlement of Cherokee Indians with Chief Owl as its leader.

Some of the early-settler families that chose Owlton as their place of residence were Hamby, England, Fortenberry, Rich, Davis, Stephens, Reece, Spiva, Akins, Curtis, Majors, Fields, Mathis, Colwell, Bowers, Rider, May, Crump and others. Even today, these family names remain in residents in the coves and hollows of District 1409 and elsewhere in Union.

If John Muir did, indeed, traverse land in what became the Owltown District twenty years after his sojourn here; he would have seen cleared patches in the bottom lands where the farmer settlers grew corn, potatoes, cabbage, onions, beans, wheat, rye, oats and flax. In garden patches were tomatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins and peppers and in yard patches, herbs like sage and rosemary for seasoning. Growing out from their mountain cabins were the beginnings of mountain orchards of apples, pears and peaches. Owltown has been noted as a place of production of good-tasting, juicy apples.

On the mountains were chestnut trees, the annual fall crop of which provided food for ranging hogs and cattle, and enough to pick up and haul to market in Gainesville over the Logan Turnpike. This extra crop from the forest helped to provide coffee, tea, sugar, cloth for making clothes and even shoes for members of the mountain families.

Another distinctive early industry of Owlton was the gold mine at Owltown Gap. The yield of this mine is not currently known, but it, along with the Coosa Mines, caused enough excitement to produce a mini-gold rush to Union County in the heyday of gold mining here.

Fort Mountain is within the area of Owltown District. The ancient fort, some of the remains of which can still be seen, is a great mystery. Legend prevails that it was built by a contingent of Spanish conquistadores who came through the region in the sixteenth century under the leadership of one Juan Pardo and built a fortress on the mountain. Lost in mountain mists and lack of records, we may never know the origin of the fort on this mountain.

Out of Owltown have come many distinguished citizens. To name a few, the following come to mind. Rev. Milford G. Hamby was a noted minister in the North Georgia Methodist Conference. Mr. Newton Curtis was termed a "good teacher" and an able debater. Solomon Hill Rich and Nancy Conner Rich had a son named Charles Edward Rich who was a noted Baptist preacher and educator. The Rev. Luther Colwell, another long-time Baptist minister in Union County, was a son of John Theodore and Amy Elizabeth Bowling Colwell. John Theodore Colwell was county ordinary when "the old courthouse" on the square was built in 1899.

"A thousand windows," to quote from John Muir, open throughout Owltown. One has but to drive its roadways to be surprised by beauty and a quality of "divine light" that emanate from a lofty past and point toward an optimistic future.

c 2008 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published November 20, 2008 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A day to honor those who served

In the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the Armistice was signed ending World War I. The shouting and celebration would come later, commemorating this auspicious event in world history.

On November 11 each year we observe Veterans Day to honor all military men and women of the United States who have served in the past and who currently serve.

President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed an observance of Armistice Day on November 12, 1919. Wanting to commemorate the actual day of the signing of the treaty to end World War I, Congress requested in 1926 that the day of tribute and remembrance be set for November 11. Signed into law (specifically Act 52, Statute 351, 5 U. S. Code, Section 87a) the act was approved on May 13, 1938. Since then November 11 (or for a period of time, a day near November 11) of each year has been set aside as a legal holiday in which Americans recognize the value of freedom and those who won and maintain it.

In 1953, a veteran named Al King of Emporia, Illinois, promoted Armistice Day as a day to honor all veterans, not just those who had fought in World War I. A bill was introduced to Congress, passed and signed into law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower (himself a decorated general and a veteran) on May 26, 1954. The word "Armistice" was changed to "Veterans" on November 8, 1954. Since September 20, 1975, when President Gerald R. Ford signed a law declaring that the observance would be held on the actual day—November 11—of the signing of the Armistice, Veterans Day has not moved about to gain the convenience of a "long weekend" off from work. America has kept November 11 as a time to thank veterans for their unselfish service and to remember outstanding events in the battle for freedom.

For almost two years now I have had almost daily contact with veterans. Most of you know that my beloved husband, the Rev. Grover D. Jones, who served admirably in the U. S. Navy during World War II, has been a resident of the Georgia War Veterans Home in Milledgeville. Now in a skilled nursing unit of the Vinson Building, his daily needs are met by a staff who see their job as a calling. I am grateful that the facility is available to Georgia veterans who need the care.

Others and I have been greatly concerned that 81 of the mobile (still able to walk and care somewhat for themselves) veterans in the Wheeler Building domiciliary unit were given notice to find another place to live by November 30, 2008. Today's local paper stated that most of them have found new places to live before the deadline set for their evacuation.

The sad commentary on this situation, to me, has been that "no funds were available in Georgia's tight budget" to care for these 81 veterans. In talking with several of them, I learned that their small monthly stipend would not allow for rent and other living expenses, and many of them did not have relatives with whom they could live. Would these veterans be put out on the street, homeless and forgotten, with little thought of their care during their declining years?

My cry on Veterans Day is that Georgia and America should find ways to care for those who were willing to give the supreme sacrifice for our country. Those who returned from war are often crippled in mind or body. The cruel streets and bridge shelters of America are no place for them to have to lay their heads. Indeed, it is time we reconsider our priorities on this Veterans Day, 2008. I offer the following original poem in tribute:

Autumn for the Veterans
It is autumn for the veterans.
Like falling leaves their lives
Ebb out into the great beyond.
No fight is left.
Their battles behind them now
They may have nightmares about Anzio,
Storm Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands,
Bivouac at Guadalcanal or Peleliu.
They may relive the trauma of Normandy beachhead
To set a day in history: D-Day, June 6, 1944,
Operation Overload.
Many were at the Battle of the Bulge,
Tens of thousands of young soldiers
Barely out of boot camp
Facing the enemy head-on.
In this autumn of their lives fears return,
Play on the dark wall of memory
Where courage again meets the enemy,
Fellow soldiers fall on foreign soil,
Where cities built from civilization's cradle
Crumble in the ruins of war
And innocents are set adrift or meet untimely deaths.
In the Pacific Enola Gay bore "Little Boy"
And Hiroshima was laid to waste.
Three days later, as if more destruction ordained the victory,
Nagasaki fell, scattered and scorched by splitting atoms.
"What did we do?" the veterans ask.
The question comes in midnight watches,
In noonday's red and purple fire,
In twilight's clouds like huge mushrooms
Hovering and smothering.
It is Autumn for the veterans.
Spring and Summer with their red-hot battles are past.
Purple hearts and silver stars lie in quiet displays,
Mix with golden falling leaves of Autumn.
Winter is very near—
Closer than we know.
-Ethelene Dyer Jones

c 2008 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published November 13, 2008 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Dr. Norman Vester Dyer, Educator and Philosopher

Dr. Norman Vester Dyer, Georgia Educator, b. March 10, 1885, Choestoe, Union County, Ga., d. December 28, 1968, Villa Rica, Ga.

The forty-six year career as an educator ended for Dr. Norman Vester Dyer in Villa Rica, Georgia, after eleven years as principal at the high school there (1944- 1955).

He retired in 1955 from active work as a teacher, but not from work he loved.

One of his main aims after retirement was to write his memoirs. This he did in a book entitled Fugitive from a Georgia Schoolhouse published in 1961 by Thomasson Printing Company, Carrollton, GA. The foreword was by long-time friend and fellow Choestoean, Dr. Mauney Douglas Collins, another educator who had risen from humble beginnings to become, for twenty-five years, Georgia State Superintendent of Schools.

Together, these two men had been involved in Georgia schools as the educational systems progressed from one-teacher institutions to schools with multiple teachers well-qualified for the curriculum they taught and accredited by high standards.

Home-spun with advice and philosophy, Dr. Dyer often quoted his "xyz" formula for success in the classroom: x - work; y - play; z - ability to keep your mouth shut about matters that should be kept within the school.

His philosophy, both of life and for educational practice, included a ten-step ladder for success: 1. Loyalty; 2. Conscientious fulfillment of duty (solid work ethic); 3. No griping about salary, work hours, or duties; 4. No discrimination— democratic attitude about students; 5. Beginning with the child where he/she is and developing his/her potential; 6. Good discipline; 7. Friendliness; 8. Sense of humor; 9. Doing a good job in the teacher's own way; 10. Cooperation. (listed on pages 143-144 in "Fugitive from a Georgia Schoolhouse").

One of Dr. Dyer's favorite poems was "If" by Rudyard Kipling. He frequently quoted it in addresses to senior classes at graduations, to the seniors in his inimitable "guidance" classes as he sought to help them come to grips with purposes and goals for life; and at civic clubs at which he was often guest speaker. Some key phrases in the poem he practiced in his life: "Keep your head"; "Trust yourself"; "Wait"; "Dream"; "Think"; "Lose…Start again"; "Keep your virtue"; "Fill each minute… with 60 seconds of distance run."

After his retirement, he wrote a regular short, pithy column in "The Villa Rican" newspaper under the pseudonym of "Hill Billy Joe". In those columns, he gave thought-provoking, brief views of life, and ways of making one's time upon this earth more productive and memorable. To end this four-part tribute to the man who chose to sell his farm mule to apply the money to his education in the early 1900's, and became a legend in Georgia education, I close with two of his "Hill Billy Joe" columns: " 'To live in the hearts of those we love is not to die.' “

It is disturbing to us when we meet people who do not seem to care whether they live or die, or how they die. But it gives us a wonderful feeling when we meet people who have not thus lost their balance. These people have a warm place in their hearts for us, and a good wish for our well-being. We feel that they are living for something, and somebody, anyone they meet.

We like to read the life history of that kind of person. We feel that he has left something behind that will help those who follow. The good things of life are brought about by these kinds of people. The good works they do are not 'shuffled off' when they pass on." -Hill Billy Joe”

“'Root hog or die poor.'”

“This was an expression that was quite often used by one Old Timer in our community. He was an independent man who believed a person should work for what he gets, and not depend on some other fellow to keep him up.

By this philosophy of life he worked hard, 'From sun to sun' to provide his family with the necessities of life. He never did let them go hungry. Every member of the large family had to work in like manner. He would tell them, 'If you put your feet under my table, you have to work.' They understood his language and abided by it. That was in the days when 'children were to be seen and not heard.' A hard philosophy of life, you say. Yes. But it developed a fine bunch of independent and industrious children into sturdy men and women who were self-supporting." - Hill Billy Joe

At this turbulent election time, 2008, the work, words and philosophy of educator Norman Vester Dyer bear heeding.

c 2008 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published November 6, 2008 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.