I have a friend who is fascinated with genealogy, just as I am. She has told me the story of her great-grandmother, Dr. Elizabeth Durbin Irby Crow Smith, one of the first woman physicians in Northern Louisiana. As she passed away at age 73, she said to those around her:
It’s a shame for me to die and take all this knowledge with me.
Few of us will gain the wisdom Elizabeth did. She was a resourceful, twice-widowed mother of seven during the Civil War and Reconstruction in the South and the only medical doctor in a large rural area. Still, her words make me wonder: what have I learned in my lifetime that I hope to pass on to someone someday?
Elizabeth inspires her great-granddaughter, too. Today, at age 90, she continues to gather and organize her papers, photographs, and memorabilia for family members and others who she hopes will treasure them. Maybe it won’t be anytime soon. Maybe it will be far into the future. Even so, my friend finds her work meaningful, as I do my own.
In 2008, five years after we started our community/history project, Rob and I focused on doing more oral history interviews of neighbors, and we gave our project a name—Voices of the Violet Crown. Together, we created a lighthearted logo for it (left) to convey what we see as the spirit of the project. (Read more about the phrase “violet crown” here.)
Then it occurred to me that I am a voice of the violet crown, too. I began to envision a website where we could share what we’ve gathered in new ways. It also would be a place where I could articulate my experience of being a neighbor here and of coordinating this project.
Perhaps Voices of the Violet Crown was meant to be, when I look back at a few of the people who inspired me before I even knew what I wanted to do with my life.
- Author, historian, actor, and broadcaster Studs Terkel, who insisted that people’s stories of their everyday lives are worth telling, worth listening to, and worth sharing.
- Poet, writer, and social theorist Judy Grahn, whose poem “Common Woman,” celebrates the kinds of women whose lives often are overlooked, especially as they grow older. The long poem ends with her acknowledgment that she, too, is a common woman, whose strength and courage and persistence and love have made a difference.
- Scholar, essayist, translator, cultural critic, and writer Lewis Hyde, whose inspiring article on the art of giving, “The Gift Must Always Move,” appeared in Co-evolution Quarterly, No. 35, Fall 1982.
- Visionary writer, farmer, and activist Wendell Berry, whose fiction and nonfiction writings emphasize the value of memory and sense of place for a community’s citizens. (Dave Sikkema has a good blog series about Berry.) Here’s a quote from Berry’s nonfiction work The Long-Legged House (1969):
A community is the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared . . . the knowledge that people have of each other, their concern for each other, their trust in each other, the freedom with which they come and go among themselves.
I dedicate this blog post in memory of a few special Voices of the Violet Crown we have come to know through this project and as neighbors:
Al Boemer, Evangeline Bushacker, Judy Carlson, Don Gresser, J. D. Harper, Bob Harwood, Lydia Huebel, Dr. Glen Eugene (Pete) Journeay, Lois Kasper, Al Kirby, Margaret Lankford, Evelyn McCathran, Frieda Neff, Neb Parson, Ben Joe Petmecky, Sidney and Billie Shelton, David Sikes, and Bill and Ginny Williamson. Also, Sarah Walton Parmele Cooke, who lived to age 106. And, Diana Gresser Almaraz, Robert William Cooke, Karen Burns Dailey, Renald Ferrovecchio, Paul Foreman, John Leffler, Jenny Malin, Chris Noffsinger, Deborah “Debbie” Muehlbrad Rockett, and Ryder “Red Ryder” Schwartz, who all died far too young. (More about all of them here.)
I dedicate it in honor of neighbor Howard Bennett (at left in the photo, in 2010). He was Violet Crown Festival emcee for many years beginning in 2003, and he narrated our film A Community Mosaic. We can’t imagine anyone doing either with more heart.
And, I dedicate it in honor of my husband, Rob Burneson (at right in the photo). Without his love, support, and skill, the Voices of the Violet Crown project would not have been possible.
Next—”‘Sherman, Set the WABAC Machine!,’ Part 1,” on Voices of the Violet Crown.