One of the things that I like best about living in a little town is the layers of connection that I have to places and people and things, some here now and some gone, some connections known and others unknown. This is a story about those layers of connection, and a valentine of sorts.
In the mid-1960s my mother owned a knit shop in downtown Lexington.She rented a little space on the first floor of a three-story brick commercial building constructed shortly before the Civil War. That building still stands, across a side street from the 1847 Lafayette County Courthouse, affectionately known as the Cannonball Courthouse for the Civil War cannonball still in one of its columns. In 1966 my mother and father had been married for almost 20 years and had no living children, having lost their son Keith to premature birth some 18 years earlier. They desperately wanted children and at 38 and 39 had almost given up hope. In December of 1966 they heard back from a social worker they thought had forgotten about them: a woman was due to give birth soon and wanted to give up her child for adoption. My mother hurriedly sold her knit shop to her friend Beryl and threw herself joyously into being a stay-at-home mom, first to me (in the third week of January, 1967) and later to my brother Jim (in October of that same year). My parents, at almost 40, suddenly found themselves with not one, but two babies only ten months apart in age. My mother's friend Beryl was delighted to find herself the owner of the little shop chock full of skeins of colorful yarn. She often told me as I was growing up, "If not for you, I wouldn't have my little shop!"
In the summer of 1998 my son, Dylan Keith (named after the brother I never knew) was ten years old and I was dating Marion. Mare had bought a three-story commercial building downtown that he was rehabbing and we were laboriously chipping off what we thought was stucco from the interior brick walls. My son and one of his friends ran in with Super Soaker water guns and drenched Mare, me, and the wall behind us, leading to the discovery that the walls were in fact coated with popcorn ceiling texture which slides right off when wet. My mother came by later that day to see the progress of the rehab and stopped in the side doorway of the building, eyebrows raised and a widening smile on her face. "This was my knit shop!" she declared. Mare and I hadn't known that until that moment.
Eight years ago I bought my house, and a couple of years thereafter set out to discover who had built the house and how old it was. After spending most of a winter week in the Courthouse going from deed to prior deed to prior deed, I had my answer: James Crawford Kelly, in the fall of 1887. Further digging into old records yielded a Kelly family history in the library, where I learned Mr. Kelly was 57 years old and his wife 53 when they decided to move to town and build a house just down the street from their church. A short walk through Machpelah Cemetery with White Trash Bob, and we'd found their gravestones and those of several family members, and all had flowers on them. We wondered who'd put those flowers there.
Last summer I was painting the east side of my house when I heard a reedy little voice say, "Yoohoo!" I turned, and there in the front yard was Miz Beryl, who didn't mind the dust and paint chips one bit when I gave her a big hug. "Do you live here?" she asked. "I just live around the corner and I didn't know this was your house." Miz Beryl is now 93 years old and in fine weather she makes a circuit from her house around the corner, down the sidewalk past the funeral home two blocks away, up the side street, and back to her house. Once she discovered this was in fact my house, she paused almost every day on her walk to chat with me and give me encouragement. The day that Marion and I put up the first porch posts on the new porch, Miz Beryl stopped, clasped her tiny hands together, and said, "Ohh, I hope you make it look like it did when I was little. You know, my great-grandpa built this place." Mare and I nearly fell off the porch. Gently, afraid she'd misremembered, I asked, "Miz, Beryl, who was your great-grandpa?" Without hesitation she replied, "James Kelly." Mare and I were astonished. "You never told me this before! How is he your great-grandpa?" She paused. "I can't remember all the names. Willa Curtis was my grandfather. You look it up, honey, fill in the blanks." My copy of the Kelly family history contained only the two pages about James Kelly, his wife, and their children. A trip to the library and I had the thread: James Crawford Kelly and Maria Louisa Duncan Kelly had a daughter Alice, born in 1859. She married Willa Curtis and they had a son named James Boyd Curtis, born in 1882. James Curtis married Elizabeth Noever and they had a daughter in 1921 named Beryl. There was the proof; Miz Beryl is indeed the great-granddaughter of the man who built my house. James Kelly's son Aubrey (who Miz Beryl called A.O. or Aub) owned the house until 1952, so Miz Beryl would certainly have known it as a family house.
This is what keeps me living here in this town when sometimes I think it would be easier to live elsewhere: the warp and weft of history and, I dare say, love, running through my family, this house, my friends, the people who came before me and the people who will be here after I am gone. Extraordinary.