Friday, August 23, 2013

The Spirit Letters - Part One

Editor's Note:  Grandma Audrey's own paternal grandmother, Amy (Hagadorn) Smith, was a spiritualist, a fact that Audrey apparently found fascinating. (I have to admit: so do I.) Audrey wrote at least three stories that referenced Amy's spiritualism. There's some duplication in the three pieces, but there are also enough differences that each story helps to flesh out the other ones, so that reading all three of them provides us with a clearer understanding of the facts. 

I don't know the chronology of the three similar pieces. I do know that two of them end abruptly, and one, the shortest, is the only one that has Amy's so-called spirit letters attached. My plan is to publish these writings in four parts, concluding with the spirit letters. 

Let's begin with a piece titled "Audrey's Book." If I have the entirety of it, it's slightly over four double-spaced, typewritten pages--a good first chapter, maybe the only one. This version is intriguing because it's a fictionalized account in which Audrey changed some--not all--of the people's names. Those of you who knew Audrey could figure this out on your own, but for those who aren't familiar with our family's history--and because Audrey uses real names in the pieces to be published later--here's the cast of characters in order of their appearance:

  • Amy Smythe --  Amy Lucinda Hagadorn Smith, Audrey's grandmother
  • Gracie -- Audrey herself
  • Min -- Minnie Lee West Smith Brower, Audrey's mother
  • Aaron -- Arba, Audrey's uncle
  • Eric -- Ernest, Audrey's father
  • Nell and Daisy -- the horses, most likely named Nell and Daisy in real life
  • Pax -- Stotts City, Missouri, where Ernest and Minnie met. Amy and Samuel's big log cabin was built in a small community known as Crossroads, four miles west of Galena, Missouri, and "a 45-minute ride" by train from Stotts City. 
  • Manuel -- Samuel S. Smith, Audrey's grandfather, Amy's husband
  • Rev. Jackson -- Sorry, no idea about his real name.
Okay, let's get started:


Audrey's Book

by Audrey L. Barclay

Amy Smythe waddled happily around the big log cabin putting hr house in order before time to meet the rain at the whistle-stop station three miles away. A small granddaughter, Gracie, was coming to spend the remaining three weeks of the summer before school started again. Amy hadn't seen Gracie since Gracie's mother had taken her and gone back to her parents nearly five years before. It was typical of Amy's character that her sympathies had been with the deserting daughter-in-law, and they had remained fast friends and corresponded regularly.

It had taken a bit of doing for Amy to persuade Min to put Gracie on the train alone for the 45-minute ride, but she had finally succeeded. The child was slowly recovering from several weeks of a low-grade fever, and Amy thought she needed the kind of care she could give her, and some good old country air. Amy was not a licensed physician, but she had come from a family of them, so she almost qualified. She did have a license to practice midwifery and was in great demand in the community for her services in that capacity.

Now Amy carried the last big stone crock of the still warm milk to the cool cellar and returned to comb her thin, white hair and change into a fresh calico dress. She called to Aaron, her son, to say it was time to hitch the team, Nell and Daisy, to the surrey. They wanted to be sure little Gracie wasn't left waiting alone on that godforsaken [station platform] in the middle of nowhere. It would be bad enough for her to accept the two people who were, literally, only names to her, although her mother had "faithfully" impressed on the childish mind the love and respect involved; that she must cherish Grandma Amy and Uncle Aaron. It was sad, but true, that Min had not done her duty as well in regard to the child's father, Eric. All Gracie knew of him was his name, that he and her mother had met when he had come to the small mining town of Pax with his father to build a schoolhouse, and that after four years of marriage they had separated. Never any explanation, but now Gracie was beginning to ask questions, questions that got only evasive answers. The small girl was intelligent enough to look forward to learning a few things from Amy.

It didn't take long for Gracie to become a member of the family. Amy talked to her as though she were an adult, about everything except those things that bothered her childish mind. They were adroitly evaded, while even more mysteries were added. For one thing, she learned Amy despised Manuel, her husband. She had borne him five children, yet the last few years had rejected him. She permitted him to stay in their home when his work made it possible, but would [no] longer be a wife to him. Gracie had but the vaguest memory of her grandfather, and when she learned he was buried but a few hundred yards from the house, she had a childish desire to visit the lonely grave. His had been the first and, for a long time, the only one in the acre of land donated for the purpose by a neighboring family.

Amy always took Gracie down the road within sight of the plot when she wanted to go, but would never go near it herself. There was never any explanation for her attitude, and it remained a mystery to Gracie nearly half a century. As time passed, other mysteries were added, to which there would be no answers. However, time has a way of eventually clarifying most of them.

Once having successfully made the journey alone to visit Amy, and enjoying it so much, Gracie was permitted to spend several weeks of each of the two following summers at the farm. They were but a repetition of the first, but Gracie loved the time spent there. Uncle Aaron always let her ride the mare, Daisy, when he took them to the spring for water. Nell was a bit too skittish to be safe for the child. She walked through the woods and fields with Amy when she went searching for herbs for her home brewed medications.

Strangely enough, Gracie was bewildered by Amy's attitude concerning religious matters. Very little was said, really, except that Amy always spoke rather disparagingly of the only minister who lived in the vicinity. She showed such a charitable spirit to everyone, was so jolly and kind, really fun to be with, yet so adamant in some of her ideas, i.e., Grandpa and Rev. Jackson.

Gracie always liked to relate the story of how Rev. Jackson arrived at the farm on horseback one day just in time to share the noon meal. Among other things, Amy had prepared chicken and dumplings. The good man served himself generously of everything offered him, except the chicken. He took a second helping of the dumplings and gravy. After he went on his way, Amy broke into peals of laughter. To Aaron's question, she replied, "Pooor old sinner! He wouldn't eat the devil, but he'd drink his broth." Her little brown eyes literally sparkled with merriment.

It was just as well that Amy never mentioned her religious beliefs to her small granddaughter during the early years. There were, apparently, no other believers in anything occult in the community. Amy had become involved while still living in New York, where she and Manuel had lived until the children were grown, then they had started wandering from state to state in search of work.

Eventually, the eldest son, Oran, had married and went to California. By the autumn of 1909 he persuaded Amy and Aaron to leave the farm and make their home with him. That ended Gracie's summer visits to the farm, though she kept in close contact with her grandmother. Within a few years she learned the beloved old log house had burned down.

Shortly after Gracie was married in 1918, she learned from Amy that her father, Eric, had settled down from his wandering and built a small house for himself on the old farm. He had never remarried, but they had never met in all those years.

Then, in 1920, to Gracie's joy, she learned that Amy and Aaron were "coming home." She could hardly wait to take her infant daughter and visit her dear ones. She didn't know quite what to expect of Eric, but he readily accepted the role of father and grandfather. Then strange things began to happen.

Gracie learned things she had never suspected of her grandmother. All Amy could talk of was her experiences with those in the spirit world. It was frightening to one who had no knowledge of such things other than occasional references in something she was reading. The photos of herself that Amy exhibited were spooky enough to be frightening. Each one was surrounded by dim faces of people long dead. One such face had been completely obliterated with a pencil. Amy said it had been a photo of Manuel and she didn't want a picture of him around! No, she still wouldn't go near the rapidly filling cemetery.

It was evident that Amy was in no way senile, in spite of her 80 years. She was as mentally alert as anyone. She had simply become a devout advocate of spiritualism.

Still Gracie learned nothing to help solve the mysteries that so intrigued her, but another was added.

Amy stayed at the farm until 1924, never unpacking the huge trunk she had brought from California. She said she didn't want to have to pack it again when she "went to New York." She never revealed why she was going, nor for what she was waiting. She had no known living relatives there, and if she had communicated with anyone back there, no one in the family knew of it, but she seemed determined to go.

Then, in early Spring of 1924, Amy suddenly sickened and was gone to join her friends in Spiritland within three short days. Aaron and Eric, as a matter of course, had her remains interred beside their father, the first time she had been inside the little cemetery. Aaron and Eric continued living in the house until Eric eventually found himself alone. He had inherited the farm and stayed there until he, too, was stricken in 1951 and the house and all its contents came into the possession of Gracie. She had waited a long time, but now she was to learn a few answers and in the strangest way possible. Amazingly, Amy's sons had never bothered, in the 27 years since her death, to open the trunk.

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