Monday, July 4, 2016

Nowhere Like Home..

A number of years ago, after the death of my maternal grandmother, I ran across a picture that sparked my curiosity.  We were in the process of cleaning out my grandmother's house and I stumbled across a shopping bag stashed amongst many other items and boxes.  It contained dozens of old pictures from the early 1900's.  My Mom recognized the faces enough for us to determine these were pictures of the Battle family - my maternal great grandmother's family.  

The man with the hat sitting on the front steps is my maternal great, great grandfather - Benjamin Franklin Battle.  My Mom vaguely remembered a big old house in Bibb County that she visited as a child, but she didn't know if this was the house or whose it was.  For over ten years I tried to find out more, but the Bibb County of today is no reflection of the area as it was in the early twentieth century.  Back then, it was a bustling place and area around Ashby, Six Mile, and Brierfield had numerous nice homes and businesses.  This all came about after the destruction of the Civil War - the area became a boomtown due to the mining nearby.  Today, the area is rural farmland and little remains of the structures that once stood.  There are a few older homes in nearby Centerville, but the towns of Six Mile, Ashby and Brierfield are all but gone.

None of this helped my search.  For years I came up empty and the house in the photo remained a mystery.  This all changed a few months ago.  I ran across a book entitled "The Heritage of Bibb County,  Alabama" on the internet and ordered it.  This book would reveal, not only the story behind this house, but its owners and a substantial amount of history about my family in this area.  It seems the house was called the Battle-Hutchinson Home.  It was built in 1915 by my maternal great, great grandfather, Benjamin Franklin "Frank" Battle.  Apparently he purchased materials for its construction from an old hotel built in the 1800's at Oakley Switch, somewhere south of Ashby in Bibb County.  Frank apparently built the house from scratch, repurposing beautifully carved wood and red granite doorknobs from the old hotel.  The house had a generator for electricity, somewhat rare for a country house at the time.  He also dug two cisterns and created a filtering system for purification of the water.  The family made some extra money by operating a boarding house for men who worked for the Southern Railroad Company.  They apparently would change trains in Ashby and needed a place to stay overnight. The property was also a working farm and Frank installed a cannery as well northwest of the house.  

Frank sold the house and farm in 1929 to his nephew, Paul Hutchinson.  Paul and wife Eva continued to farm the land and occupied the house until 1951.  Afterwards, Paul's brother Jim rented the house until 1989.  Eva Hutchinson sold the house in 1991.  The house sat empty for a number of years and Mother Nature had begun to reclaim it.  My Mom remembers driving by the house, sitting way back off the road, crumpling from neglect. 

About the time it was scheduled for restoration, it burned to the ground.  Today, nothing remains.  Frank and his wife Rena Merchant Battle moved to a smaller house nearby, next to the country store and blacksmith shop they ran in their later years. Frank would die from burns he suffered when attempting to burn out a yellow jacket nest.  Rena and oldest daughter Ruby lived together and continued to run the country store.  Each of them were US Postmasters during this time.  At some point, their second home also burned and Rena spent her final years living in a trailer on the same site.  After Rena's death, Ruby lived alone until her passing in the 1970's from tuberculosis.  
It is crazy to think that my great-grandmother Pauline Battle Poe grew up in this house.  She never mentioned it, just the good memories of her childhood in Brierfield.  She lived until I was in college, so I knew her well and I remember many talks between her, my grandmother and Mom about Bibb County, but I never knew the details  Below is a photo of Pauline and her sisters Ruby and Maud, taking pictures:


...this is the way I like to think of them - in the prime of their lives, living with loving family members in the big, old house in Ashby. 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Beautiful Night in Berlin

Sometimes life gives you a gift - a little morsel of bliss offered up just through good timing.  Such was the case one cold winter night in Berlin.  It was late.  We had spent the day trudging all over Museum Island.  Either due to poor planning or a sense of adventure, we found ourselves standing in front of the Altes Museum.  Before us was one of Berlin's wide open spaces.

Since the end of World War II, Berlin has been completely reborn - cranes continue to dot the skyline as the Germans continue to try and erase the destruction wrought by one man's quest for supreme dominance.  It was here, in the very space in which we now stood that Hitler, a name synonymous with wickedness, once rallied his evil empire.

As we walked through the Lustgarden and towards the still bustling Unter den Linden, we found ourselves passing the Berliner Dom.  Like much of Berlin, almost completely destroyed in the war, this beautiful church and it's grand dome have risen again like a phoenix from the ashes.  The official cathedral of the city and its largest, the current edifice stands on a site occupied by a religious structure since the fifteenth century.  In a city as newly built as modern Berlin, it's easy to forget that this place is actually very old.  This church and its Lutheran history can be traced back to Martin Luther.  Although the version destroyed in an air raid in 1940 wasn't very old, the land on which it rested is one of those spots that humanity for some reason has consistently considered sacrosanct.  As a result, as one version falls, another rises to take its place.  The current building only dates to 1953.

It was one of those winter nights in Germany where the very air stung your skin as the wind funneled between buildings.  Dumb me had on a flannel cape and gloves, but under that only a short sleeved shirt.  You get to the point after being out in this kind of cold where you just grow numb and I had reached that point.  As we walked past the Dom, we noticed people were actually being let inside, which was unexpected as it was after closing time.  We climbed the stairs and determined that as long as we pretended we meant to be here walking through the door, we could escape from the cold for just long enough to allow for the feeling to reestablish itself in our extremities.

As we approached the door, a gentleman manning the entrance said something in German.  I, not knowing my strasses from my ausfarhdt, answered his unknown question with a nod of conviction and a German inflected "yes" as we didn't hesitate for him to object and headed inside.  Apparently that was all it took, even though we looked the part of frozen tourists, even with camera in hand.  It was time for vespers and we had been allowed into the Dom to participate.

The Dom itself is masterful in its elaborate detail.  White carved angels and golden embellishments glowed under the flicker of soft light and candles.  There were very few people inside and as the service began it really felt like we had been allowed a glimpse into the life of the real Berlin.  There was  preaching and singing, all very simply done.  But is was the absolute peace that radiated throughout the grand space that was mesmerizing.  The man across the aisle to my left was elderly and alone.  He seemed very lonely - like he was traveling a very dark road and was hoping to find a roadmap back to the light by being here.  Even though I could only imagine his true story, somehow in this huge space, every person was encapsulated in his/her own bubble with just the silence for company. What a beautiful and unexpected experience to stumble across on a cold winter night.  

Monday, May 13, 2013

Love at First Sight

The Winged Victory of Samothrace is my all time, hands down, without-a-doubt most favorite piece of art in the world.

I first met her about fifteen or so years ago on a slow night at the Louvre.  I was rushing around trying to fit in as many pieces of art I could in the small window I had available.  I had seen the Venus de Milo, the Mona Lisa and others - I snapped a picture and rushed, seen it, done it, check.  The Winged Victory was the only thing in the Louvre that caused me to physically sit down and stare.  I sat there, pretty much by myself (that in itself an unusual event in the Louvre) and just took it in.

I'm not sure what it is - maybe the graceful lines or the majestic place it has perched at the top of one of the Louvre's main staircases, but it just got me...and all these years later - it still does.

I got to visit her again recently and I think I figured out what the draw for me is - it is the purest symbol of raw freedom that I have ever seen...and I love it.