A Sense of Place on Christmas Eve

Life without internet, Cedar Rapids, Iowa. 1986-1987

It’s been a quiet day in Big Grove where ambient temperatures were in the 50s and remaining snow melted.

I spent most of the day organizing material for a longer piece.

The idea is to organize documents and artifacts, dating from before I was born until the present, that are currently stored in a hodgepodge manner, using three-ring binders. Having lived a stable life, such documents survive. Once organized, I’ll write and pin a timeline to a bulletin board where I can hang stories, maybe twenty of them. It sounds straight forward, but the documents and artifacts are spread everywhere in the house. I relish the work.

A sense of place will help organize the stories once written. In presenting family history, I see a couple of narratives first.

The first place will be Lincoln County, Minnesota where my maternal great, great grandparents settled in the 19th Century. I visited there only once yet while there I collected a thick sheaf of documents, artifacts and experience.

I’ll write our history coming up in Southwestern Virginia. A published family history mentions the first presence of our ancestors in mid to late 17th century. I made three or four trips to the home place, including some as a child. I have a banker’s box of documents I collected from a man in Saint Louis who spent his retirement researching the Deaton lineage. I’m not sure how much of that is relevant but it needs review. If needed I’ll make a trip back to Virginia to research important missing pieces.

The culture of Northwest Davenport played an important role in my K-12 years. I will focus on the time immediately after my parents wed until I left grade school. It was a time when the Irish and German immigrant culture was in transition to something else, although we wouldn’t see what it would become until the time Mother moved to live with my sister toward the end of her life.

In addition to family history, I expect a brief remembrance of the late 1960s and early 1970s in Davenport and Iowa City.

There will be a story about the three years I lived in Mainz, Germany while in the U.S. Army. More than anything after schooling, military service helped me learn to live on my own and exposed me to a variety of people and experiences.

I’ll tackle my transportation career and our nascent family life in two places, in Iowa City after getting my masters degree and meeting Jacque, and in Merrillville, Indiana where we lived for six years.

Other places that seem important at this writing are Colorado Springs, Thomasville, Georgia, Orlando, Florida, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Chicago, and our more than 25 years here in Big Grove.

There will be stories focusing less on a sense of place and on a broader, subject-specific narrative. It seems easiest to begin writing by understanding the collected artifacts and memories, by crafting a narrative about the place where they were significant.

I’m a long way from getting stuff organized. For now, it’s time to gather and finish making our traditional Christmas Eve dinner of chili and cornbread.

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