Jim Terry
June 18, 2015
Precious memories--Part II--unseen angels
By Jim Terry

We left Charlotte and headed west to Texas. On our way my wife indulged me a desire I have had for many years to see the little town of Dayton, Tennessee.

Dayton, county seat of Rhea County, is the scene of a circus, known as the Scopes Trial, which hit the town in 1925. The eleven-day trial left the town with the derisive appellation Monkey Town. However, that was not my fascination with Dayton.

I have several photos, taken in the 1920s or 1930s, of my great grandfather and grandmother, A. L. and Sarah Barton Abel, standing beside the grave of his father and mother, Robert Perry and Mary Foust Abel, and the grave of his grandfather and grandmother, Cain and Margaret Buice Abel, my second and third great grandparents, respectively.

In 1811, Cain Abel and his wife, Margaret Buice Abel, settled about one mile south of what came to be called Smith's X Roads, or, present-day Dayton in the beautiful Tennessee River Valley. His two brothers, his sister and her husband, and Margaret's brother and his wife also settled in the area.

We arrived in Dayton late in the afternoon and asked at the town's visitor center for directions to the Abel Cemetery. A young man told us to go south to the third traffic light, turn right, go over the railroad tracks and take the narrow gravel road. I then asked him if he knew any Abels in Dayton. He smiled and said, "Why, you just go down this street toward town. At the first street, turn right and at the next intersection is a dry cleaners. Steve Abel can tell you anything you want to know about the Abels."

His simple directions took us to a neat and well kept building where two women were busy with customers. When one of them was available, I told her who I was and why I was in Dayton and asked if Steve Abel was there. "He's my husband, but he's not here. I'll call him and see if he is busy."

She punched some numbers into her cell phone. "Hi, Steve. What are you doing? Well, you need to come to the store, you have a cousin from Dallas here." She clicked off the phone and said, "He will be here in a few minutes."

Within five minutes, Steve Abel, born and raised in Dayton, walked into the store with his hand outstretched and a big smile on his face. "You must be my cousin." After a few minutes of running through the family tree, he reached into his pocket, pulled out his phone, dialed a number, and said, "I'm calling my brother, David. He's the one that's done most of the family research."

"Hello, what are you doing? Why don't you come up to the store, we have a cousin from Dallas here."

He then punched in a few more numbers. "Hi Mama. How do you feel? Are you doing anything right now? Can you come to the store. We have a cousin from Dallas here."

Within ten minutes Steve, David, their mother, Lois, and I were having a family reunion, smack-dab in the middle of Dayton, Tennessee. For all they knew, I could have been one of those professional genealogy frauds who ask for money to print that "book of our family that I'm writing."

However, these newly found cousins showed the same kindness and grace I remember exhibited by my great aunts and uncles of this family when I would visit them in my youth.

Steve's mother invited us to her home to look at some old pictures and talk about my branch of the family. Steve told me that the tradition of an annual family reunion, which the Abel family held as far back as 1916 and as recently as 1927, had been renewed a couple of years ago, with cousins from as far away as Washington returning to their ancestral homeland.

"Hope you can come back to the reunion," Steve told us. "We're expecting a big crowd and we have not had anyone from your branch to attend.

We followed the directions the fellow gave us to the family cemetery and were surprised at how well kept it was. When I found my ancestors' grave markers, they didn't look as they did in those old photographs. Both were now broken, the top halves on the ground. And both were stained with age.

It was late in the day and the cemetery now lay in the shadow of Lone Mountain. As I stood where my great grandfather and grandmother had stood many decades ago, beside tall, bright stones, one with 'Father & Mother' etched beneath two clasped hands, the other, tall, but straight and simple, the memories of these ancestors began to flow.

My memories of these people are vicarious. They are the memories told to me by my mother and her mother, and stories the descendants of these early settlers passed down. And, they are memories made from the photos of those pioneers. But in that old family cemetery in Dayton, Tennessee, on that day, I believe my precious memories came from the "unseen angels sent from somewhere to my soul."

© Jim Terry

 

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Jim Terry

Jim Terry has worked in Republican grassroots politics for 40 years. Terry was an administrative assistant to a Republican elected official in Dallas for twenty years. In 1996, he ran for and was elected to Justice Court 2 in Dallas County where he served eight years. Contact Jim at tr4guy@flash.net

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