How do I contact you in Heaven?

If you tell God no because He won’t explain the reason He wants you to do
something, you are actually hindering His blessing.
But when you say yes to Him, all of heaven opens to pour out His
goodness and reward your obedience.
What matters more than material blessings are the things
He is teaching us in our spirit.

Charles Stanley


(my godpoppa and me on the day of my wedding–with Mother looking on,
he was the priest who presided over my wedding in 1983)

I use to write letters.

Real letters with a real pen and real paper.

Real words.

Real scratched out mistakes.

Numerous misspellings.
Typos.
Grammatical errors.

There was no spell check—only a dictionary.

Sometimes your letters were typed, sometimes written by hand.

Mine were always by hand.

I use to write you so many letters.

You use to write to me as well.

I still have a box with so many of those letters and cards.

If the truth be told, we really meet through a letter, you and me.
In 1975.

I still have the card you sent.

When I went away to college, I use to sit at the bus stop writing feverishly before the bus arrived,
whisking me off to yet another class miles across campus.

I’d sit in the park, back propped against an ancient oak tree, writing.

I sat up late on the night before my wedding, writing.

We wrote one another long before there were computers…
ages before there was texting.

We wrote on paper and cards.
We put stamps on envelopes and we put letters in a post box.

We would each excitedly spot that telltale script…written and addressed
with our name—
it would arrive in the day’s mail.

I checked my box at least twice a day.

Wonderment and even excitement filled our thoughts.

We’d each steal away…to a quiet private place as we’d tear open the postmarked envelope.
Savoring the “Dearest Jules” or the ‘Dearest Godpoppa”

Apprehensive and anticipatory wonder mixed with anxiousness…
coupled with a deep sense of joy…
accompanied the arrival of each letter and every card.

What was the word?
What was the news?
What was the need?
What was the advice?

We wrote for nearly 40 years…back and forth…just you and me.

The subject matter growing often hard and difficult with time.

Those letters…the writing and the receiving.
The intimate words shared between a surrogate father and his adopted goddaughter.

The pouring out of the most sacred and secretive thoughts from the novice to the wizened
sage.

Confessions.
Encouragement.
Idle chatter.
Hope.
Love.
Compassion.
Warnings.
Advice.

You were born in 1922
You were adopted in 1923.
I was born in 1959
I was adopted in 1960

Lessons taught and lessons learned.

And yet now, now when I need to hear from you the most, how do I write to Heaven?
How do I address such a letter?
What would you tell me now…how do I proceed?
What should I do?
What would you say?

I’ll be waiting…and I’ll be listening.
Somehow I know you know.

“Out of the heavens He let you hear His voice to discipline you;
and on earth He let you see His great fire, and you heard His words from the midst of the fire.

Deuteronomy 4:36

lessons from a difficult sister

Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
for myself, I have chosen your altars,
my King and my God.

Psalm 84:3


(Léonie Martin, known as Sister Françoise-Thérèse)

Since I was adopted as a baby I’ve never known whether I had a sister or not.
I did not have a sister in my adoptive family.
However, I do know what it means to have been a bit of a difficult child.

I was rather headstrong growing up.

I wouldn’t say I was difficult, but that label might need to be addressed by my mom and dad,
and since neither of them is here to add to or refute such a claim, we’ll just keep it as headstrong.

I was often willful, somewhat defiant and had a mind of my own.

I knew what I liked and what I wanted despite those wants and ideas not always being the
wisest of thoughts.

After reading the following story about a rather obscure woman and nun,
I found that I could actually relate to her story.

She is what I call a shadow dweller—a person who lives in the shadows of a more prominent sibling.
A girl who wrestled with her own standing in life and what hand she had been dealt.

That’s the thing…isn’t life just merely a matter of what we make of it…
or on the other hand, it’s what Life makes of us?

Either of which makes us, in turn, who we will become

Will we choose to rise above or will we simply succumb?

Will we allow all of the negative to swallow us whole or will we learn to stand up and out
of the negative, rising up to our true potential?

We can either give in and up or we can purposely and willfully fight our demons in order
to be who we are truly called to be.

And who we are called to be might just be a person who is content living in the shadow
of a more famous sibling…

“Léonie Martin is arguably the least known and admired member of her entire family,
but I doubt she minds.
She’s used to being in that position.”

I’ve written often about one of her sisters.
A now well know sister, who despite having lived a very short life, dying from TB at the age of 24,
made a tremendous impact on the world.

Her parents were just recently recognized by the Pope as exceptional.

All of her sisters sought the vocation of serving Christ.

One sister, however, had a more difficult path to walk than that of her siblings.

And the thing is that once she found her way…Grace prevailed over a lifetime of trial,
willfulness, and difficulty.

Here is the link to Léonie Martin’s story…the sister of The Little Flower.

What We Can Learn From the Forgotten Sister of St. Thérèse of Lisieux

Mother’s Day–happy and nostalgic

The two most important days in your life are the day you are born
and the day you find out why.

Mark Twain


(me and mom circa 1980 )

The fact of life is that we all have two parents.
A mother and a father.

If life is as we would wish it to be, we will know both of these parents.
They will love us and we will love them.

We will all grow together through both ups and downs.

Yet if life opts for a different path, we may or may not know our parents…
or we may not love them and they may not love us.

However, the fact of the matter remains— we all have had two parents.

And we all had a mother who carried us for, give or take, nine months.

If you’ve ever been pregnant, you know that those 9 months can be joyous, fretful, painful,
jolting, frightening and certainly changing.

Most of us have one mother…
I, on the other hand, had three.

My first mother, my original mother, my birth mother, is unknown to me.

In early 1959 a 23-year-old woman became pregnant.
Plans did not go as perhaps they should have and this young woman up and moved away
from her home…moving to a large city where she could blend in and become,
for the most part, anonymous.

She never traveled home for those many months as her pregnancy was her secret to keep.

She gave birth to a premature baby girl and left the hospital shortly thereafter.

Leaving behind…me.

I eventually went into foster care until I was adopted by the woman who would become my
second mother, or what is commonly known as an adoptive mom.


(me and mom on my wedding day, 1983)

When I was a teenager I was sent another mother…a God-mother.
I say ‘sent’ because I honestly believe God sent in a pinch hitter because He knew
the turns my life would take and that I would need someone to catch me when I’d fall.

And I fell many times.

This third mother was the wife of the Dean of the Cathedral of St Philip.
Both she and her husband designated themselves as my God-parents.
They were keenly aware of the fact that I was in desperate need for Godly parental guidance…
and it was at such a pivotal age.

They offered stability, encouragement and a clear Spiritual direction.
This Godmother taught me the importance of what it was to be a Godly woman, wife and mother…
despite all evil attempts to disrupt such.

She also taught me about Spiritual healing…healing that was crucial to my very survival.


(a grainy photo of Ginny Collins from 1978 / Julie ‘Nichols’ Cook)

Tragically, due to my brother’s mental illness, my adopted family was a caustic and dysfunctional mess.
It was an illness that took a grave toll on all of us,
but perhaps none greater than upon our adopted mom.

My brother and I were both adopted, five years apart, and we each had different biological parents.

Mother died very unhappy and prematurely at the age of 53.

My Godmother then stepped deeper into the fray of acting as a surrogate guide.
Her support and guidance remained a key part of my life until up until the time she died.

She died two years ago at the age of 94.

On the polar opposite end of the spectrum of life and of the two women, I eventually lost,
is my biological mother.
She is now 83 and is still living–but where I truly cannot say nor of what path her life
eventually took.

Maybe one day we will meet and I can tell her something very important.

Maybe I will be able to say to her “thank you.”
Thanking her for the selfless gift she gave me…that being the gift life.

Had she been selfish, putting her life and plans first, you and I wouldn’t be currently sharing
this moment together.

And I wouldn’t have my son or his wife or their two children in my life.

The choices we make in this thing we call life all have far-reaching and lasting effects…
be they negative or positive.

Life is positive.
Abortion is not.
My biological mother chose life rather than my death.

So today I want to thank all three of these women…
these three mothers who were, unbeknownst to one another,
intertwined in a single life..that life being mine.
Be it either briefly or for far much longer, they each gave me various gifts of love.

A love that now lives on in two precious little grandchildren…

And so on this Mother’s Day 2019, I want to say thank you to three women.

Firstly, thank you to my biological mother for the choice of giving me life.
I miss not having known you.

Secondly, to Mary Ann my adoptive mother, thank you for taking me into your heart and raising me–
a role that was no easy task—I have missed you terribly.

And finally to Ginny, my adopted Godmother, thank you for instilling in me the
importance of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…thank you for teaching me
what it means to live, to love, to confess, to repent, to forgive and to be forgiven…
I miss your wisdom.

And lastly, I want to thank a fourth woman.

Thank you, Abby, my dear daughter-n-law…

Thank you for loving our son.

Thank you for opening your heart to us and our family…
and thank you for the gift of two precious babies…The Mayor and her new Sheriff…

Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things
your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live.
Teach them to your children and to their children after them.

Deuteronomy 4:9

a little more empty during a tough year…

“Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not;
and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


(The Very Rev. and Mrs David B. Collins–David and Virginia “Ginny” /
Julie N.Cook / 1981)

In this grainy old photo you see two people who were very much in love—

…and those two people were two individuals who I loved very much as well.

He had been a Naval Officer during WWII and she a staring actress in the original
production of Carousel on Broadway—and yet they somehow met, fell in love, married
and loved one another well into their 90’s….

And they had each loved me.

The year of the photograph was 1981 and it was taken during an evening
a group of us had met up at our favorite British Pub in Atlanta.
The Churchill Arms.
One could have walked into this pub and felt magically transported across the
proverbial pond to a different place and time.

I think both young and old in our group that night wished we were all in England–
during a different time.

Back then, back when I was young, at that pub on Thursday nights,
the Atlanta Bagpipes and Drums would hold court and practice.
There were the nightly dart competitions.
And on Friday and Saturday nights, a dear older lady would play the piano
as everyone would gather around to sing rousing renditions of Waltzing Matilda,
Keep the Home Fires Burning, Over There, etc….
all the while enjoying a pint of Whitbread, Guinness or New Castle….

Funny thing thinking about a bunch of late 70’s college kids singing Waltzing Matilda
and actually knowing not only the words but what the song was about and when it had actually been popular….

I think the pub is still there…where it was back in my youth…
But it’s now a modern trendy sort of place sans all the typical Anglophile
paraphernalia.
No longer does it harken back to a better place and time.
As it beckons to the cutting edge millennial…with it’s more otherworldly
bar atmosphere of the 21st century.

It was probably an odd place for a group of college kids to gather along with their
parish priest, the current Dean of the Episcopal Cathedral of St Philip…along
with this vicar’s wife…..but the church was no small parish,
he was no small church vicar and we were no average lot of kids.

There was very much a homey feel here, there was a fire place, lots of wood—
a place we, a bedraggled little extended “family,”
could all gather to enjoy one another’s company.
A place we could chat, catching everyone up on life at our various colleges and
hear what we had missed at Church.

The drinking age at the time was 18 so we were all good and by the time this
picture was taken, I was well into my early 20’s.

I’ve written about both of them before.
For various reasons…be it because of my adoption, my faith, my family, my life…
as they each had had a prominent role in my small corner of the world.

They each taught me a great deal about life, love, living, dying, fighting,
believing…. as well as lessons about Faith, God, hopefulness, healing and Grace.

They each saved me, more times than I care to recall, from myself.

They each knew of the failings and egregious actions of my life yet
loved me none the less.
As I certainly worked hard at testing that love many a time.

I am who I am to this day because of them.
Better because of who they were.

They actually laid hands upon my head, several times, as they prayed for healing.

Not for a physical healing but for a more profound and more important healing.
A deep spiritual healing.

He was adopted, just like I was.
We shared that—just as she shared us.
She knew the importance of deep healing.
And she knew how important such healing was for both of us and to our pasts—-
to the two people she loved.

They had 4 children of their own…
and then there was me—the surrogate 5th.
They claimed to be my Godparents…by proxy really…for when I was baptized
as an infant, our paths had not yet crossed.

The relationship was set in motion in 1966 when they first moved to Atlanta
in order for him to take the over the position of dean at the Nation’s largest
Episcopal Cathedral.

They are not my parents yet my own parents knew of the great importance and role
this couple played in my life…and where there was jealously there was also
a knowledge that the relationship was necessary for all of us….
Just as their children knew that they were sharing their parents with me
and yet they often spoke in terms of me being “the truly good child”.

Over time, I learned, as I grew and matured, that they needed me just as much
as I had needed them…
life has a way of teaching us such things.

The end of the year will mark a year since he’s been gone.
Her passing was on Tuesday….
And now they are Home, together.
This I know.

Yet that doesn’t make me less sad.
Doesn’t make me feel less lonely.
Doesn’t stop from reminding me that all my parents are now gone…
along with an aunt and uncle, a brother and cousin along with all grandparents.
That all are gone…but me.

Odd how that makes one feel.
Even at almost 60 years of age.
Good-byes are never easy.

There was a time when I could not have weathered this tremendous amount
of loss I’ve experienced this past year…
but I now have a deep knowledge and understanding of Grace.
I am saved by that Grace.
They taught me that…and then some…

indebted

“I don’t know who my grandfather was;
I am much more concerned to know what his grandson will be.”

Abraham Lincoln

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy;
they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”

Marcel Proust


(the cousins circa 1966 )

Family.
A difficult and delightful hodge podge and conundrum all rolled into one.
For good or bad…we all have family….

Do you see the wee awkward one there, the little one in green sitting in the
middle on the couch in this grainy old family photograph?

That would be me.

Little did I realize then that the two cousins, brother and sister, sitting to my immediate right and left would eventually come to be two of the most important people
in my life.

The age difference is 5 and 8 years respectively.
Enough of a deep and wide chasm to keep the young cousin at, what was hoped to
be, a safe distance.
Being just that, I was the little cousin who was to be endured during holidays,
for what was hoped to be only for a day at best.

The only catch was the fact that the two girls were also just that—
the only two girls in a sea of boys with a doting grandmother who had raised
two boys yet always yearned for a girl.
Of which forced these two mismatched girls to spend more time together than either
one particularly cared.

So should it come as any surprise that the older of the two girls tried twice to do
away with the younger one?

How was the fact missed that when these two cousins were once visiting their
grandparent’s farm, deciding to go out for a ride on the horses,
the older one opted not to secure the younger one’s saddle, leaving her dangling precariously between a deep raven or a bed of overgrown brambles…
with the only choice of survival being the brambles….

Or what of the time the older one was told to prepare the younger one something
for supper…and so, what was dubbed a cannibal burger, was quickly served…
simply being a raw hamburger patty that perhaps was hoped served as a last meal….

The teenage boy you ask??
Well he simply had no time for any such foolishness, opting instead to spend
time his own way…away.

And little did any of us know that on that picture day so long ago that
two in the photo would leave us far too soon.

I lived in the family of the younger of the two brothers.

A quiet lazy man who called Atlanta home.
Ours was a small family of four.
The other and older brother lived with his young brood up north in a rural
city in the same state.

The distance often limited the times spent together as “family.”

The oldest cousin in the photo was soon to move states, off to college,
where he would eventually go on to medical school,
marrying and forging his life there, away,
as it is to this very day… so his presence now is of little consequence.

Add also to the photo the fact that two in the picture had been adopted…

And so it was with my having been one of the two adoptees.

Such was that I always had felt a deep void in my heart.
I always felt a disconnect from my cousins…
as if I really wasn’t related and therefore I was always an outsider,
not really related.

We all shared the same last name,
but at some point prior, I actually had had a different last name.
Different family traits, different everything.

Of course today my grown mind knows better and that such a thought never crossed
the minds of my cousins. Simply put, I was just the little cousin…
Yet in my mind I always felt separate from what made the family just that,
a blood bonded family.

As time passed all the cousins went their own separate directions…to school,
careers, marrying and forging lives of their own.
All except for the two youngest boys.

The youngest cousin there on the floor was only 3 years older than me.
We were very close growing up, as our ages dictated that we were the two
relegated to spend the most time together.

We were the best of friends, growing very close over the years as we each dealt
with our own varying family dysfunctions, that was until he was tragically killed
in a car wreck at the age of 23 while at age 20, I was left to pick up our pieces.

My little brother, the youngest of all the cousins would eventually commit suicide
as he could never reconcile himself to having been “given up” and then in
turn adopted…despite the fact that he was always loved and cherished within
this family.

There would always be the occasional wedding or funeral that would bring everyone
back together….
but time, age and distance had placed a divide in the family,
creating a group of strangers rather than bonded relatives.

My family of 4 eventually became a family of 3, then it was down to 2 and
this past March, it became only a family of 1.

Their family of 6 eventually became 5, resting now at an original 4.

But as theirs was the greater in number, it only made sense that their family’s
numbers would grow exponentially…
blossoming to the current total of 31 while mine is up to 4 with a
5th on the way.

But oddly and blessedly enough, time would be kind as it always has a way
of coming around full circle.
It has allowed for the bridging of the chasm of both age and distance…
in turn rendering all of the divides no longer relevant….delightfully
null and void.

Each cousin has lived through, as well as survived, their own life’s tumults…
And the realization and acknowledgement of such has provided a bonding effect.

Those two cousins who sat on either side of me all those many years ago,
along now with their spouses, swooped in to take my small brood of
a family under their care when it was most needed.
And when things became really difficult, they merely intensified their care.
And that care continues as I continue putting the pieces of loss back together again.

No longer was I just the little annoying cousin but I had become more
like the younger sister…
a sister who they each knew would need their love and support.

Family, as we most all know, is a complicated affair.
Never perfect, never what we hold in our minds.
However we are blessed when we realize that our adversities can actually provide
a unifying factor.

Despite having known these people my entire life, I don’t think
we actually got to truly know one another until we became adults.
And since neither of them read this blog I don’t think they’d mind
me telling you how very lucky I consider myself having been “stuck” in the
middle on that couch so very long ago…

Family, for good or bad, we usually all have one….
and how so appreciative I am that this adopted child was blessed by one
with such a tenacious zeal.


(both of my cousins with their mother, my aunt, my now 92 year old aunt,
almost 3.5 years ago in Savannah at my son’s wedding / Julie Cook / 2014)

Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their
own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

1 Timothy 5:8

prepping for awareness…

“Earth’s crammed with heaven…
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes.”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

And you thought I was going to be talking about prepping and not about
that kind of prepping…
but prepping is indeed prepping…as in getting prepared…
for something…and today, I am prepping….

We should note that March is National Colorectal Awareness Month.

That is why it is August and I’m just now getting around to being aware.

Also…

I think most of us know that when we reach a certain age, our doctors
always start recommending certain tests and screenings.
They hit you with that…
“you know…now that you’re over 50…”

That’s why at 57 I’m suppose to be having a colonoscopy every 5 years…
and yet here it is well past 7 years and I’m just now getting around to doing such.

I would rather volunteer to have a root canal in North Korea before I’d volunteer
for a colonoscopy….just saying.

It’s not so much the actual procedure, that part is a piece of cake…
cause you’re asleep…good sleep too…just saying…

It’s rather what all is involved in the prep for this type procedure that is so….
in a word,
awful.

We can send men to the moon, with talk of Mars being next, and yet we’ve yet to come
up with a people friendly colonoscopy prep.

I have seen those commercials…
you know the ones…
the ones with the little blue and white box that talks to us
explaining that “it’s as easy as get, go, gone.”
No prep there.
But that’s a test for those age 50 at an average to minimal risk for colorectal cancer.

I’m not average.

If you’ve never had to go through such a prep just know that it seems to be a
challenge for any and all who participate. Even my doctor’s PA,
who I really love by the way, shared with me that she simply stayed in her
bathtub throughout her perp.

Really?

Her own little horror story followed with the very next breath telling me
that the prep has gotten so much easier than it use to be.

Really?
You’re in a bathtub and you’re telling me it’s now easy…
yeah…right.

After reading through the prep procedure papers the only thing different that
I can see is that I can start the misery at 9 AM verses say noonish…
That way the misery lasts all day long verses afternoon and night.

During the last prep seven years ago, I lost 6 pounds—
which mind you is a great thing, but what I endured while losing 6 pounds left
an indelible mark on my psyche.

Laying on the bathroom floor, trying to simply sleep,
wrapped in only a beach towel, can be a bit traumatizing.

For whatever reason,
this body of mine simply doesn’t handle invasive trauma very well.
My mind does okay…tough as nails….
the body however is entirely a different story.

As you may recall, I’m adopted.

Whenever any of us goes to a doctor, they always ask if we or a family member has
a history of___________
filling in the blank with anything from heart disease to cancer…

Being adopted I can’t answer because I have no clue.

I have however always battled a lifetime of IBS, or what my pediatrician would
tell my mom, “she has a nervous stomach”…later in college they called
it a spastic colon.
Nowadays it’s known as IBS…
I simply call it a lifetime of angry and unappreciable guts.

Plus I’ve had my fair share of misery with a peptic ulcer.

So colonoscopies, for me, have been long before age 50.
In fact in college I felt more like a lab rat at the University’s Health
Center than I did a student seeking medicine.

So I know procedures and I know preps.
It’s just that I dread each one like a hole in the head.

There is a childhood memory however, that I carry with me to this day…
a memory that cuts right through my attempted humor over “prepping”….
a memory that reminds me that prepping and screening for cancer, any sort of cancer,
is a very serious matter that can mean the difference between life and death.

When I was a little girl my mom had a dear friend.
The two moms use to always get us kids together and we always had
such fun…there was a daughter my age and we always played at one another’s
houses— going to birthday parties together, trick or treating together,
the circus together…we did everything together as families.

Mom’s friend however had a condition that I did not know about.
I’m pretty certain the adults knew about it but back in those days, of the
very early 1960’s, not much was really known about treating ileitis colitis…
or what we know today as Chron’s Disease.
Such being that trying to “control” it through diet was about the only option.

And granted Chron’s is not cancer, it is however a disease that can be
screened for, treated and watched, lest it become overwhelmingly too late.

I didn’t know about her condition until late one afternoon when our phone rang.

My mom had gotten a phone call and I can still vividly see my mom breaking down
while on the phone, crying.
I had never seen my mom cry until that afternoon.

Her friend had had an “attack” during the day while her husband was at work and
her kids at school. She died a very awful death only to be found by her son,
in the bathroom, once they’d gotten home from school.
Mom’s friend was only in her early 30’s leaving behind a young husband
and two young children.

That episode left a lasting impression on me.

We tried to carry on together as families, but the husband eventually remarried,
moved away and stated a new life…

Knowing that I too had a troublesome gut, even as a child,
this one incident scared me.
I was determined from then on to be vigilant and proactive.
Mother’s pain over this sudden and tragic loss, made a deep impression.

Are we not always reminded in some sort of poignant way or another that we
are to take nothing for granted….

The one thing I’ve learned over the years is that we should always be proactive
when it comes to our health.
I’ve known many a woman who, for whatever reason, was unwilling to have a mammogram,
or to have one regularly.
I had many a female high school student who I knew were sexually active yet
refused to visit a Gynecologist.
I had a brother-n-law who would never have a colonoscopy and eventually died
from colon cancer.

So as far as our health is concerned, ignorance is not always bliss.

Yet that’s not to say that all screenings catch things early or in time.
But I honestly believe that by trying to stay on top of things we are better off
in the long run…

So….once again, I’m biting the bullet, or actually
more like drinking the full 64 ounce Miralx laced Gatorade, one more time…
while I go locate my beach towels…
wish me luck.

do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you,
whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.
So glorify God in your body.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Do you know this man? (a revised re-posting)

This is a post I wrote almost four years ago.
Since that time my father has passed away and in such,
I have lost one more person who could help with a few of the pieces of the puzzle.
Also in that time since passed, I had put this quest on the back burner
as I spent all my energies caring for Dad…
However in light of the 4th of July celebration and our Nation’s observation of our Independence,
I thought it appropriate to rerun this particular story about a lost soldier who offered
the ultimate sacrifice to this great Nation of ours….

Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into
the deepest valleys;
look on them as your own beloved sons,
and they will stand by you even unto death.

Sun Tzu

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(Capt. Frank F. Crenshaw)

No, of course you don’t.
I wouldn’t think that you would know the man looking
out from a grainy ancient photocopied image, but if you do…
I’d love to talk with you as I have a bit of a mystery on my hands.

This is Captain Frank F. Crenshaw, my great-grandfather.
I always knew that he was heroic in battle during the Philippines Insurrection;
a fallout from the Spanish American War, in which he was gravely wounded
as he lead his men against an ambush attack in a battle known as the Battle of Puttol.
He eventually died from his wounds….
But that’s about all I’ve know of this enigmatic figure.

I always knew that he was buried in a historic cemetery in the west Georgia city of
LaGrange, about an hour south from where I live now.
I’ve driven passed this cemetery for years,
always vowing to stop one day to find his grave.

And that’s exactly what my husband and I decided to do one Sunday afternoon
last summer (2012).
I just knew his was one of the old historic graves with the elaborate decorative headstones.
No problem—I’d find it right off the bat…

Two hours later, having wandered all over an old historic cemetery,
in the heat of day on a hot summer afternoon,
watching for copperhead snakes hiding amongst the rubble of an old cemetery,
and sweating like a dog…I was frustrated like nobody’s business.
“Where in the heck is he?” I lamented to my husband.
Capt. Crenshaw was nowhere to be found.
Ugh!

He had come from a rather well to do family of the area.
He had received a war hero’s funeral but as to where his grave was currently located
was suddenly a huge mystery.
This made absolutely no sense.
“I will follow up tomorrow with a call to the city, to the county,
to someone who knows this cemetery!”
I declare to my husband once we get back in the car headed home.

I called Dad once I got home.
This is his grandfather, his mother’s father.
He had no idea as to why I couldn’t find the grave and was not as up in arms over
the ordeal as I was—and that may have to do with the fact that he never knew the man.
I never knew the man either, but you didn’t see that stopping me!
I was now bound and determined to find him!!

I called my dad’s cousin, his 88 year old cousin,
who is also a grandson to this war veteran.
This cousin is also a bit of the remaining family’s resident historian.
He too was stumped to the lack of a grave.
But I was getting the feeling there was more to be known about the other side,
this long lost soldier’s wife’s side of the family than his—-
which I’m sure is due in part to the fact that he died at such a young age and she went on,
albeit it as a widow for the rest of her life, to live a long life well into old age.

This actually all started really a few weekends prior as I was accompanying my husband
while he was on a quest looking for some recreational property as an investment thought.
We were in the vicinity of the small middle Georgia town in which my grandmother
was born and raised.
I talked my husband into to driving to the town so I could find the city cemetery
and look for the Crenshaw family plot.

I called Dad on my cell phone and he told me where the cemetery was located—-
sure enough we found it.
The town is so small, that finding a city cemetery is not too hard as it just
can’t be missed sitting in the middle of town.
I bound out of the car and within 2 minutes, I spot the Crenshaw’s—
my great-grandmother is buried here but her war hero husband is buried in LaGrange—
“that’s odd” I muse but I’m so taken with this moment of lineage discovery that I simply
file that thought away for later.

My great aunt and her husband, my great uncle and his wife,
another great uncle who died as a child, plus their mom, my great-grandmother are all here.
I take pictures of the graves and markers while feeling a sense of melancholy resignation.
History, family and mystery all buried in the ground before me….
some of whom I knew and others I had never known…
and yet these people were connected to me, as I was to them—
and that connection is in part as to who I am to this day.
Funny how that all works.

Now lets fast forward to a couple of weeks ago.

I had let the whole grave marker search fall by the wayside during the winter months
as it seems other things just took over life.
I’d not thought much of it at all until a couple of weeks ago.
I had actually stumbled upon a number for the Troup Co Clerk of Courts which prompted me
to call inquiring as to how I could go about locating information about burial sites
in the city cemetery.
I was given a number to the city cemetery which I immediately called.

The man who answered probably regrets to this day having answered the phone after
I finish my story.
However he kindly takes my name and number and tells me he’ll “do a little research”
and will call me back the next day.
A week passes with no word.
I give it another go calling the cemetery office.
This time I get a machine.
I briefly recap my story, leaving my name and number.
Within just a few minutes the phone rings.
“Mrs. Cook, I apologize for not calling you back, but I’ve been doing a little research.
It seems your great-grandfather is indeed buried here, but…”
long pause…
“he doesn’t seem to have a marker.”
What!!” I practically scream.
“Well, for some reason, the family didn’t provide a marker.
Perhaps they were not in a position to do so.”
“Oh no sir,” I almost indignity respond,
“they could afford it if that’s what you mean.”

He proceeds to give me another number to the city archive museum of which
I immediately call and, once again, leave a message.
I later get a call from the city historian–a retired history teacher… of course.
I give him my story and he basically reiterates the story I know.
He has some old county local Domesday tome complete with deaths and burials.
Sure enough, Capt. Crenshaw is there,
or so states the book of books,
but as to exactly where, well that’s still up for discussion.
The million dollar question of the hour is–
where is he and secondly– why no marker– given his astonishing story…

And speaking of, here is his story…

My great grandfather, Capt. Frank Frost Crenshaw severed in the 28th Infantry, A Company.
He was a resident of LaGrange, Georgia.
He was first stationed in Guantanamo, Cuba, fighting in the Spanish American War,
with the rank of First Lt.
He was a member of Ray’s Immunes;
a regiment of southern men chosen specifically to serve in Cuba during the
Spanish American War.
It was thought that due to their being from the deep south,
they may be more “immune” to yellow fever
(what a comfort is the logic of our Government, but once again, I digress…).
His regiment was sent to Cuba where many of the men contracted “Cuban” fever,
what I am assuming to be Malaria.
At the end of the war, his unit returned to Georgia.
38 men from the unit died from the fever; my great-grandfather contracted the illness
but fortunately survived.
At the end of the war, his unit was mustered out.

The following year President McKinley appointed him to the rank of Captain
(which I am assuming was incentive for him to “re-enlist” in the then volunteer
branch of the US Army).
He was given command of A Company of the 28th Infantry stationed at Camp Mead in Pennsylvania.
His unit was immediately ordered to Payapa, Batagas Island, the Philippines,
where they were to take command of that particular Island as it had fallen to the control
of guerrilla insurgents.

On June 5, 1900, Captain Crenshaw led his men,
who had been ambushed during a surprise attack by guerilla fighters in the area of Puttol,
the Philippines.
This was a counter attack in order to quell the entrenched militia,
as it seems that one of the trusted local scouts, who was working with the American unit,
deceived the Americans leading them into an ambush.

The American forces fought off the attack, with Captain Crenshaw leading the counter attack.
Captain Crenshaw had his men to take cover but as he rose to lead the charge,
his horse being shot out from under him, he was shot in the head.
Gravely wounded, he continued leading the battalion until the insurgents were defeated,
at which time Capt. Crenshaw lost consciousness.
Only two of the men received wounds, with Capt. Crenshaw’s being the gravest.

He was now paralyzed on his left side and blind in one eye and had lost a considerable
amount of blood.
Evacuated to Manila, he was eventually placed on a transport ship for home,
but due to rough seas in the South China Sea,
the ship had to head to a Chinese harbor to wait out the storms.
Capt. Crenshaw reported of the deplorable conditions,
while aboard the ship, to which he was subjected.
He had received no proper medical care, no surgeries but rather placed
in the cargo hold in the engine room with the men who were held there as having been
labeled as “insane”.
Being paralyzed and in considerable pain, he was unable to care for himself.
He bribed a ship’s steward to help tend to his wounds.

Once docked in China, he again did not receive adequate medical attention.
Almost 2.5 months after being shot in the head, with the musket ball still lodged in his skull,
both blind and partially paralyzed,
the ship eventually docked in San Francisco.
Captain Crenshaw’s uncle had made the journey form Georgia to await the arrival of his nephew
and to procure him proper medical care.
For reasons I do not understand, he did not receive medical attention in San Francisco.
He was placed on a train where he made the journey across country and was immediately
taken to an Atlanta area hospital for emergency surgery.

Sadly Capt. Crenshaw died on the operating table almost 3 months after having been wounded and not properly cared for, yet while fighting to defend his country’s foreign interests.
Captain Crenshaw was only 28 years old.
He left a young widow of 24 with 4 small children to raise alone
(my grandmother being on of the 4 children).

He is recorded as having been the only non-political figure to have ever lain in
state in the rotunda of the State Capital of Georgia.
There was a full military train cortege that escorted the body,
which was led by General John B. Gordon,
taking Capt. Crenshaw from Atlanta to the final destination of LaGrange, Georgia.
Upon his death,
Captain Crenshaw was awarded the title of both Major and Lt. Colonel,
as was put forth by the President of the United States …
and yet he is in an unmarked grave.

The story is a re-cap from the letter I have just sent to the current commander of the 28th Infantry.
It seems The Office of Veteran’s Affairs will provide any war veteran,
who is currently buried in an unmarked grave, a headstone.
I called Washington inquiring into the grave markers but was told I would need to document
his years of service or either document his pension.
“Are you kidding me? 1900 is a long time ago”
hence my letter to the Commander,
as well as copies to both of my senators.
As I told all of them:

It is my desire to be able to provide a marker for this fallen war hero.
It is also my desire to inquire into his being awarded a medal of honor,
posthumously, for his service, leadership and eventual ultimate sacrifice for his Country.
My father told me that his grandmother, who was 24 at the time of the death of her husband,
who was tasked with raising the 4 children alone,
had to actually sue the US Government in order to receive his pension.

So as you can see, I have a mystery and a mission.

Maybe this all matters so much to me because I am adopted
and the concept of “family” is of keen importance to me.
Maybe it’s because this family of mine is disappearing—
only my dad and his two cousins remain of this once older numerous clan—
I sadly feel time is not on my side.
Dad can’t even remember from day to day what I keep telling him about all of this.

And maybe, just maybe, this all matters so much to me because this was a young man,
not even 30, who gave his life for his country who left behind a young 24 year old wife
who had to raise 4 small children all alone–
with only 3 surviving to adulthood.
His widow never remarried as she considered marriage to be so sacred that it was a one
time deal– how I admire that commitment.

It was this young soldier,
not so different from today’s soldiers,
who was a leader of a band of men who fought so very far away from home,
the furtherest fighting of any American soldier to date as we had yet to be involved
in either World War.
It is this now forgotten wartime hero who was laid to rest in an unmarked grave exactly
113 years ago today who I now owe…as I owe him, his wife, his children (my grandmother) the decency of the proper recognition for his sacrifice to this country.

I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

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