Back to Our Roots

Saturday, November 05, 2011 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Digging for Roots, Days 4 & 5

VERNON, Alabama— Having accomplished our goal in Blytheville, it was time to move on to Tennessee and the area where Clara and her Mr. Wright wed in 1902.  When we explored the Lauderdale County area in the spring of last year, we located some sites we wanted to share with Mother.

Because the mighty Mississippi River is so wide, though, we had to drive north to Missouri to reach the nearest crossing.  At the state border with Arkansas, we were met with a curious sight.

US-61 at Arkansas-Missouri border
Forty years before St. Louis built its famous landmark, the Highway 61 arch was erected at the Arkansas-Missouri border in 1924.  The construction marked the completion of paving of the first stretch of highway through Mississippi County, Arkansas.  Previously known simply as the north-south road, the dirt path that was to become US-61 had been been the primary route from St. Louis to Memphis in the days before the automobile.  With the advent of the car, federal funding provided the means to improve the road.

Although a great improvement over the often muddy track it replaced, the road was victim of poor planning.  With little existing knowledge to draw from, planners poured a continuous concrete ribbon with no expansion joints.  As a result, chunks of concrete would break and pile up when the road expanded in summer.  The arch created its own problems, most notably preventing the future widening of the road.  Fortunately for the preservationists, the arrival of interstate highways diverted most traffic from US-61 and ensured the arch's survival.

Caruthersville Bridge
After crossing into Tennessee on I-155 and the cantilevered Caruthersville Bridge, the only span across the Mississippi River between Memphis and Cairo, Illinois, we headed for the tiny town of Henning (pop. 970), where, like Alex Haley, we traced some of our roots.  With Mother we revisited the Bethlehem Cemetery and the burial place of Clara's foster parents, the Ruckers.


Though we arrived after hours, we also drove Mother by the Alex Haley childhood home and museum in the town of Henning.  (Interestingly, Glen, the monument maker we met in Blytheville, had designed and built the Alex Haley memorial in front of the house, where the famous author is buried.)


And no trip to Henning would be complete without a stop at the home of our "adopted cousins," Frank and Pat.  Frank is the great nephew of Clara's foster mother and, as such, we consider this lovely couple our "kin" and wanted to introduce them to our mother.

Just as they had before, Frank and Pat welcomed us with open arms to their gracious home built by Frank's great grandfather just after the Civil War.  We enjoyed coffee and an intimate visit in their warm kitchen before continuing on our way.


An overnight stay in Jackson, TN, and we were on the road early so that Jeanne could arrive home in time to see her sweetheart before he had to leave town for a football game.  All three of us agreed that we could not have had a better trip.


The weather was beautiful, the temperatures perfectly comfortable, and the companionship wonderful.  Interestingly, it didn't strike us until near the end of the trip that Mother and her sister Claire had made a similar sojourn with their mother, Clara's daughter, when she was just about the age that Mother is now.  Ahhh...full circle.

ROAD NOISE:
  • Really?  Again?  For some odd reason, the scarf I wore the last couple of days was an object of great curiosity.  Though it had happened once earlier in the trip, on Thursday, I was asked four times how I tied the scarf (see photo above) and if I could please demonstrate how to tie it.  Of course, every time I re-tied, it looked worse since I was doing so without a mirror.  The last time of the day was at the hotel desk in Jackson as we were checking in.  Jeanne and Mother walked in after me and burst out laughing to see me re-tying the scarf yet another time.
     
More Photos

Tennessee Welcome Center (one of the places where I re-tied the scarf)
Alex Haley Museum in Henning
The wonderful Frank and Pat
Tank, Frank and Pat's talented pup
So glad she's home
The porch Jeanne and Don built themselves.  Wow!