Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


             Our coast-to-coast journey and back is nearly over. What a trip it has been! We left about a month ago and are we ever ready to get home and sleep in our own bed again.

The goals we had for this trip were all attained and then some. What took us back east originally was the family reunion in Williamsburg, Virginia. Along the way we were able to stop and visit with friends and family, although not nearly as many as we would have liked.

The research into my family genealogy produced far more than I could have fathomed. And along the way, I was assisted by a number of folks who gave of their time and energy, along with their expertise in history and genealogy, making my efforts to connect the family dots, so to speak, much easier.

One place I had intended to stop was Des Arc, Arkansas. Isaura and I left Tennessee, drove diagonally through Arkansas from northeast to southwest. We encountered a lot of traffic which meant that we would not get to Des Arc before the museum there closed. The Texas unit my great grandfather served with sailed from Des Arc to Memphis, then by train to Corinth, Mississippi. I phoned the lady (Monica Smith) at the historical museum (Lower White River Museum State Park) in Des Arc and explained my dilemma. She went ahead and researched my great grandfather’s unit anyway and sent me invaluable information. She uncovered the names of the paddle-wheel boats operating out of Des Arc to Memphis in April of 1862. I can assure you that I was blessed and excited to have her support. She is going to continue to look into other files which may provide further specifics as to movements and locations.

We stopped in a La Quinta Inn & Suites in Sulphur Springs. Texas. Our first day we drove to Marshall, Texas where I was able to show Isaura the old Roots home where my father was born. It was built in 1887, and my grandparents moved in as newlyweds in 1903. Though the home is now owned by others, there is a sign out in front that says, Roots–Starr Home (I have no idea who the Starr folks are). I haven’t been to Marshall since 1971 when my grandmother Roots passed away, and my brother and I moved our dad to Dallas. I parked on the street and walked up to the front door. A middle-aged lady answered pleasantly, so I explained who I was and that this had been my grandparent’s home. The three of us stood on the porch and chatted for some time. I discovered that her mother was related to my dad’s cousin (Ruth), and that a half-sister of Ruth (Rosa) was still living (94), currently being cared for in a nursing home a few miles outside of Marshall. That means Rosa is the daughter of my Grandmother Roots’ brother, Albert who used to take me fishing on Caddo Lake (Can you say crocodiles?). Isaura and I spent about an hour with this dear lady, who remembered me as a little boy visiting Marshall from Connecticut in the early 1950s. She said, “I remember you. And you had a brother.” I was floored! She then looked at my wife and said, “His father was a very handsome man!” This was true. My parents moved from Marshall to New York City in 1934. My dad looked just like Clark Gable. He even had the mustache before Gable began to sport one. My parents would often eat out only to have maître-d’s mistake him for Gable. He would assure them that he was not, but they didn’t believe him! Quite a few meals were comp’d, I’m told.

After an hour with Rosa, Isaura and I had a time of prayer with her and said goodbye. I leaned over to kiss her on the cheek, whispering, “God bless you, dear one.” She looked at me, and in true Texas drawl, said, “Thank you, Sugah!” What a joy to meet this lady after 60 years.

On Sunday, August 17, we drove to Sulphur Bluff, Texas to attend the United Methodist church where my great grandfather spent his final decade of life. After the service we walked out behind the sanctuary and began looking for his grave stone. We found it easily enough; took the obligatory pictures; and then headed for Lone Oak, Texas where my mother was born. It has been a number of years since I was there so I was not able to find the home she was born in. It was a town of 500 when she was born in 1915. Today it boasts a population of 598. We drove up and down every street but could not locate the home. I’m thinking it must have been leveled.

So, we finally drove toward the western horizon, passing through Amarillo, Texas; Albuquerque, New Mexico; and stopping in Cortez, Colorado for the night. The next day we drove up Highway 191 toward Provo, Utah to visit family. But what a surprise awaited us on that highway! The Manti-La Sal National Forest is stunning! The proper superlatives escape me. The rock formations are breath-taking. I wanted to stop and simply soak in the beauty of these awesome earth and stone upheavals, but we were expected in Provo, so I begrudgingly pressed on. If you haven’t seen this part of the country you simply must make the effort. Lord willing, I’ll be back again someday to really take it all in.

We’ve been relaxing and visiting Isaura’s brother Tony and family here in Delta, Utah where Tony has built up a sizeable dairy operation. It has been good to see everyone.

I’ve been asked to preach at their church here in Delta this Sunday, after which Isaura and I will begin our final leg of the trip home, arriving Monday night. Can’t wait!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Noodling and Slugburgers

              This morning I am sitting at my computer in my hotel room in Sulphur Springs, Texas. Isaura and I drove from Counce, Tennessee yesterday after having spent several days with our nephew’s in-laws. It was a restful time which we both needed.

The return leg of our driving trip back east for the Coppage-Coppedge 66th Family Reunion began Sunday, August 10th. We said goodbye after breakfast and headed for Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, in Charlottesville, Virginia. We took the walking tour with a guide and I found myself being impressed once again by this man who was our third president. Besides the fact that he was the author of our Declaration of Independence, he had an insatiable appetite for learning – always learning. He taught himself seven languages, he was a tireless builder/architect, and he was an inveterate inventor. For example, in his home in Monticello, he designed the home himself so as to take advantage of maximum sunlight. The placement of all the windows was done so that regardless of the time of day, sunlight would come into the home. To enhance this, he created certain wall paints to embellish the lightened effect. He even built a skylight! What intrigued me most was the hidden pulley system he made for a set of doors for the interior of the home. If you pulled on one door, the under-floor pulleys would automatically pull the other door closed (or open) at the same moment. The home was filled with all sorts of gadgetry like that. Overall, the entire place was designed for a farmer, which he was. He would get up each morning when he could read the hands on the clock. Then he would sit at his writing desk and spend the next two-and-a-half hours writing. Every day!

We spent that night in a hotel in Bristol, Virginia which is on the state line of Tennessee. I received a phone call from a friend who drives truck informing me that we were in his neck of the woods. Bob Paris had been driving some long haul stuff out to California and stopped in our church one Sunday, and we’ve been friends ever since. Just so happened that he lived right near Bristol, so we met for lunch and got caught up. Great to spend time with this Christian brother.

We rolled into Jackson, Tennessee that evening where we were warmly greeted by Robert & Susan Reeves in true Southern Hospitality. We met them three years ago when I officiated at Josh & Amy’s wedding in Great Falls, Virginia (Amy is their daughter). When they heard we were going to be driving across country they insisted we come and spend some time at their home. They are such gracious folks, we couldn’t say no. They even hooked me up with a friend of theirs named Harbert (not a misspelling) Alexander, who is an historian, particularly on the Civil War, and specifically on battles and engagements of Tennessee units. Since my great grandfather, Rev. Daniel Thatcher Lake, was from Carrol County, Tennessee, Harbert was very interested in helping me find information and records on the family. This will be on-going so I’ll update you as we move along. Harbert has written several books, and is the caretaker of the local library in Jackson. He took us in to see a Civil War display that he and others have assembled in the library which will be part of a permanent display.

The Reeves took us to their cabin for a few days by the Tennessee River near Shiloh. What a beautiful setting! The river is spectacular in its own quiet way. We went “noodling,” which is a type of fishing new to me. Catfish is the big catch in this part of the country, so there are various ways to catch these fish. Noodling is where you take a length of cylindrical Styrofoam, such as is used in swimming pools, cut a length from about a foot to two feet in length, then you run a line about twenty-five feet through it with a hook and weight at the end and plop that guy right in your favorite spot. The Styrofoam floats, plus it’s colorful, so you can see it from a distance. If there’s a fish on the line, you’ll know it because it has moved away from the string of noodles you’ve put out. The other day, Robert and I put out 24. We only caught one catfish, but released him back to the river.

Speaking of catfish . . . if you’ve never been in the south and feasted on catfish and hushpuppies, you have more living to do! Seems like everything in the south is fried, and this classic meal is no exception. So, one evening we went to a local catfish restaurant and gorged ourselves. The hoity-toity of the world would look down their noses at such blue-collar faire, but let me tell you – if you haven’t had it, you must try it. Put it on your “bucket list.”

We bid our friends farewell yesterday morning, and drove to Corinth, Mississippi where my great grandfather fought with the 9th Texas in the Civil War. He was wounded nearby, ambushed crossing the Hatchie River, possibly at Estanaula Landing. The battles of Shiloh, Tennessee, and Corinth and Iuka, Mississippi were pivotal for the south. In losing these battles, Grant and his army were able to gain direct access to the Mississippi River and thus sail down to Vicksburg, Mississippi where the siege began, and the south was unable to ever gain control again. The south was effectively boxed in and the squeeze began.

Corinth was critical because of the railroad crossing. Losing this crippled the south in moving men and supplies. So Isaura and I stopped to see this small town with its classic old homes, and quaint downtown area. We were told we absolutely must stop and have a Slugburger and milkshake at Borroum’s Drug Store. We were intrigued, if not repulsed, by the term Slugburger. Mr. Borroum was a surgeon in the Civil War. At the end of the War in 1865 he opened this pharmacy which his family still runs today. Somewhere in the early nineteen hundreds, meat was a bit scarce, so some enterprising fellows by the name of Weeks added soybeans to some meat and created what became known as the Weeksburger. Because it was only a nickel for the burger back then, it became known as a Slugburger. The slang term for a nickel was a “slug.” Aren’t you glad it isn’t what you thought it was! We each had one (with mustard, pickles and raw onion – standard) and a chocolate shake. The interior of Borroum’s is classic Americana – a step back in time.  

So today and tomorrow, we are visiting Sulphur Bluff, Texas (a few miles north of Sulphur Springs) where my great grandfather is buried; Marshall, Texas where my father was born; and Lone Oak, Texas where my mother was born.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Westward Ho!

             Today (Sunday) begins our trek back toward the west. We’ve been spending the last week with family and friends in the Virginia area after making the drive across the country.

My brother, John, and I squeezed in our compulsory rounds of golf, even getting a round in at the Bull Run Golf Course. Being a Civil War junkie, I enjoyed wandering the grounds in the area of this famous battle site. A couple of years ago we attended a reenactment of the Battle of Bull Run on the actual site. It was fascinating watching as the opposing forces maneuvered and parried with their troops, canons, and cavalry. The Confederate forces called this the Battle of First Manassas. Union forces called it the First Battle of Bull Run after the name of a stream in the area. This was the first major battle of the Civil War, and it was a stunning loss for the boys in blue, dashing all hopes of a quick end to the recently begun dustup.

The primary reason for Isaura and me coming back east was to attend the 66th Annual Coppage-Coppedge Family Reunion (ours is Coppedge from my mother’s mother), being held this year in Williamsburg, Virginia. We drove down on Wednesday, settling into our reserved cabin on a military base just a few miles from our reunion site. Referred to as the Cheatham Annex (part of the Yorktown Naval Weapons Station), John, Isaura and I were able to spend four nights in a great little cabin on the banks of the York River as part of the MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation) program for military personnel. We’re going to have to come here again!

The whole area of eastern Virginia drips with history. Revolutionary War battles and Civil War battles took place at every turn, including sea battles like the Battle of the Monitor and Merrimack (aka, the “Battle of Hampton Roads,” March 9, 1862), the first battle between two ironclad warships which changed the way naval warfare would be conducted forever. Though the exchange of cannon fire resulted in a questionable draw, there was no going back to the wooden sailing ships.

The most interesting part of our visit here was our tour of the original settlement site of Jamestowne (old English spelling). Go back in American history and you’ll recall that it was settlers from England in 1607 that first found safe harbor in what would later be called Jamestown. Can you name even one of the three ships that brought these first settlers? They were the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery. Our guide was actually part of a six-person team of archeologists digging up thousands of artifacts just in the past six years, providing a much clearer picture of the people who first settled here. Captain John Smith and Pocahontas are all part of this, but it may not be quite the story of romance that we’ve been led to believe. It is true that Pocahontas was a princess of the Powhatan tribe, albeit, a very young princess of about ten years of age. Captain Smith was likely in his late 20s. Pocahontas did play a significant role in maintaining peace between the settlers and her tribe. However, a few years later she was kidnapped by Indians from another tribe along with some English sailors, meets an Englishman by the name of John Rolfe whom she marries, moves to London when she is just twenty and becomes the toast of the town. Just as she and her husband are sailing back to the Americas she takes ill and dies at age 22.

The most intriguing bit of information that has been recently unearthed about the Jamestowne Settlement has to do with Jane. Our guide explained that when the sickness of 1609-10 occurred, it decimated the settlers, reducing their number to 60, down from several hundred. Conditions grew so bad that they were eating anything and everything, including horses, rats, dogs, snakes and so forth. Besides all of this, the most disturbing bit of information drawn from the diaries and records of that time was that “an untold number of the English fed on the meat of their dead fellows.” This report of cannibalism has been verified and validated by the archeologists who discovered the remains of a young girl of about 14 who was a victim of this barbarous act. Not knowing who this girl was, she has been named Jane. There are several books about her and this sordid matter. The archeological dig in Historic Jamestowne continues. What else might they discover?

A true blessing from this part of our trip was the chance to visit with my friend and retired Navy chaplain, Rick Wilkins. Rick drove up from his home in Virginia Beach and had lunch with John, Isaura and me at the Langley Air Force Base Officers Club. After lunch, Isaura went shopping at the Exchange while we three guys played a round of golf at Eaglewood, the base course. I was soundly thrashed by my two ingrate opponents! Licking my wounds, we rejoined Isaura and had a delightful dinner at The Olive Garden before saying goodbye to Rick.

Isaura and I will begin our trip back to California by first heading west to visit Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello! We’ll be stopping in Jackson, Tennessee; Sulphur Bluff, Texas; Dodge City, Kansas; and Delta, Utah before returning home to Ripon, California.

I’ll check back with you next Wednesday!

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Travels with Chuck

             My apologies to John Steinbeck for the title of this week’s column, Travels with Chuck. Steinbeck wrote a book about his travels across America in the early to mid-1960s. Driving his old pickup with a camper, his companion for this extended cruise over the highways and back roads of America was his dog Charley, a French Poodle. His book was a travelogue entitled, “Travels with Charley: In Search of America.”

As of this writing Isaura and I are in Atlanta, Georgia where we have spent the last two nights with our friends Bob and Lori Page. The reason behind this particular trip centers on a family reunion. Next week (around the time you read this in the Ripon Record) the Roots side of the family will be making its way to Williamsburg, Virginia where we will participate in this annual pilgrimage of reuniting those who are of the Coppage/Coppedge Clan. My mother is a Lake. But her mother was Mage (rhymes with sage) Lake, née Coppedge. This side of the family came over from England to the New World early in the 1600s.

So last Sunday we spent a couple of days in Monterey celebrating our son-in-law Ken’s 40th birthday with our daughters and grandkids. Tuesday morning Isaura and I slid into our newly acquired set of wheels which we bought from Jenny & Josh (our youngest daughter and her hubby) a couple of months ago, and headed for the east coast. Packed to the gills, it was a kick to get out on the open road, what poets and singers euphemistically call a “ribbon of highway.” The BMW 330i took to this road trip like a fish to water.

Because we were sandwiched for time, we chose to consume long stretches of road each day so we could get back to Virginia for some time spent with friends and family. Tuesday morning we drove from Monterey, California to Williams, Arizona. My hotel of choice when traveling like this is Best Western because they are focused on the traveler. They are always accommodating and I have never been disappointed with their rooms and other amenities. Williams, in case you’re not familiar with the territory, is the small town in Arizona known as the Gateway to the Grand Canyon, which Isaura and I visited a year and a half ago when I performed a wedding for a Marine friend in the Scottsdale area.

Driving through Bakersfield on our way into the desert is always a reminder of just how diverse the topography in California can be. I must confess to not being a big fan of the desert, even though I spent many summers at the Marine Corps Base at 29 Palms with an artillery battalion. Besides desert tortoises, jack rabbits, Gila monsters, and more sand and tumble weed than you can imagine, I was glad to see this region of the country in my rear view mirror.

On Day 2 we drove on Highway 40 across the northern sectors of Arizona and New Mexico. What a beautiful stretch of landscape! The table top upthrusts of earth formations is mesmerizing in its beauty, color and form. We stopped for lunch with a friend in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Shenandoah Brown is the widow of RP1 Jim Brown, U.S. Navy (Retired) whom I had the distinct privilege of serving with in the lead-up to the Iraq War. He and Shenandoah drove out to California in 2008 for my retirement from the Navy. It was good to see her and catch up on all that has been happening in our lives. We ended up rolling through the Texas panhandle and into El Reno, Oklahoma that evening. El Reno is just west of Oklahoma City.

The third day we drove through the remainder of Oklahoma, then across Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama and into the Atlanta suburbs of Georgia where we were able to catch our breath at the Page’s before driving the last eastward leg of this trip to my brother’s in Virginia. Bob and I served together from the outset of the Iraq War until my retirement. He and his family have been great friends. While in the Atlanta area I wanted to also see my Marine Corps boot camp buddy (45 years ago!), Joe Harden and his wife, Susan. So last night the Roots’, Page’s and Harden’s met for dinner at a local restaurant. What a wonderful time we had! It all ended much too soon.  

Allow me to make some observations garnered from this trip.

1) America is an amazing country! The abundance of its bounty is simply amazing. And the beauty of this land is stunning. You simply have to take the time to drive through and appreciate its incredible majesty. God must surely have enjoyed being the Creator when he formed this land.

2) Everywhere you look there are vast stretches of land. Isaura looked at me and asked, “Why are we always being told that we are over-populated?” Good question.

3) The interconnectedness of our highway system is impressive. Rolling along from state-to-state is a breeze. There are no required stops, and the navigation is very doable if you plan your trip ahead of time.

4) Trucks! My word, what a lot of trucks there are on our highways! I’ve known this, of course, as my step father was a vice president for DSI, the trucking division of Del Monte Foods. But what a reminder of the importance that trucks play in providing you and me with goods and services. Ditto trains. We saw numerous trains along the landscape hauling who knows what to whatever destinations were on their bill of lading.

5) People. I love the American people! More on this next week.

I’m out of time and space. More next week!