Friday, March 01, 2013

The Last Spoke

Many speak of the greatest generation, coined by Tom Brokaw to honor those who survived the Great Depression and won World War II, but in my family, the greatest generation was born a few years earlier. Not only did seven brothers and sisters experience and shape those towering events, but longevity allowed them to stretch their legacy from the days of the pioneers to the modern world which surrounds us now. At 104, the last of that generation, Cornelia Murphy, left us this week.

In the late 1830s, three Murphy brothers journeyed down the Thigpen Trail from North Carolina to the pine forests of southern Georgia. They purchased a stretch of land on the Ochlocknee River. In country still considered frontier, they carved out a harsh but fruitful life harvesting the longleaf pines, gathering the turpentine and hauling loaded mule drawn wagons to the nearest mills.

A few miles from the river, their grandson Robert Murphy established his first home. In that house were born eight sons and daughters; my grandmother, Fonnie, was the oldest. After Fonnie came Claudie, Addie, Onie, Roy, Mary, Cornelia and finally Paul. Claudie died very young and as time passed the remaining Murphy children became known as the "Seven".

Robert Murphy's small tin roofed house near burst at the seams and in 1913, he built a larger house just up the hill. It still stands today.

My grandmother and her siblings shaped the early life of a young man. When roads were still dirt, television was black and white and the woods were still a wonder, I would sit at her kitchen table listening to stories of going to town in the horse and buggy, picking peas and fishing in the deep holes of the Ochlocknee. She insisted I learn to swim because she never did and a recalcitrant mule once nearly dumped her and her father into the river, where she surely would have drowned.

She remembered the novelty of airplanes, the great struggles of the depression and sending her oldest son off to war. She tended to hoard her small bits of money. Flour, meal and vegetables grown in the garden were staples. Candy was an occasional extravagance. Hard lessons from living through hard times created a restraint and reserve we rarely see today.

Her brothers and sisters, including Aunt Cornelia, never strayed far from these roots. The men remained farmers. The women married and left but never too far; Aunt Onie making it as far as Tallahassee. As they grayed, they still gathered every Christmas. Much to the chagrin of the next generation of women, it was years before they were invited to the sisters special afternoon meetings.

Uncle Roy was the first to leave us.Gone too soon in a family known for its longevity. My grandmother was next. The rest stretched their full lives well into their eighties with the majority making it to their nineties. Aunt Cornelia made it to the century mark and beyond.

With the "Seven", there was a tradition. One florist in town had a peculiar standing order; a wagon wheel arrangement with eight spokes. As each brother and sisters passed, it would appear at the front of the church with an additional spoke removed.

Today, the last spoke is broken and the wheel is no more.


Anonymous said...

Powerful writing about the power of families. Lost the last of my Dad's 11 siblings in December at 97. I wish that I had the ability to write about them as eloquently as you wrote about the "Seven".

BEZERKO said...
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