|John Clendening, about 1885|
Luckily, the two combined to finally give me an answer to a family member lost over time: What ever happened to my grandmother's father, who left his two baby daughters to be raised by his sister after his wife died in childbirth? Did he intend to leave them only for a short time? Did he plan to send money or return one day? Did they ever see him again? Where did he go?
During a cold winter in Kansas a few years ago, I began sorting every picture and letter that my mother and grandmother had saved. Somehow in the hundred years that had passed, my mother managed to save her mother, Pearl's, few written letters from her father, John, written in the 1890's.
The few letters carried sad and somber tones:
August 25, 1895 Denison, Texas
I halve had beter health this summer than yoursal. I could not brag any fefor few 2 years. People ses that I look beter than yousal. We halve had now rain for a munth and it is getting very dry hear. The worms took to the cotton and hurt it right smart but we wil make some and I guess that it will be worth just as much as it would have bin.
Septemeber the 13, 1896
I halve received to letters from Pearley sinse I halve ritin last....
I don't hear much bout Christmas this year. Times are prety hard out in the country because the people did not rais much last year.
We had our picture taken when we wer hunting and will send it to you. it is only tolerable good wane. It was taken down at the forks of the bagey river in the Indian territory.
My mother and grandmother never spoke of John, and his letters stayed hidden in my mother's underwear drawer until her death. Last year research done by our cousin, David Peters, found out that J.C. Clendening was buried in the Grayson County Poor Farm in Sherman, Texas. David notes, "John C. Clendening has the definition of a tragic character: losing both of his older brothers in the Civil War; his first child dying as in infant; then losing his wife at the age of 37 in childbirth leaving him with two little girls to raise alone. It is hard to imagine what the weight of the world must have felt like to him. Moving to Texas and starting over must have been his thought at the time he left."
Jack and I decided it was time to find my great grandfather's grave. On our first trip to Sherman, physically searching for the Poor Farm Cemetery we looked for help and direction from the libraries, courthouse, and a postman delivering mail in the area where we thought we might find the cemetery. No luck.
Six months later and with more information than our maps, we drove to Sherman. Still after several hours of driving and searching we found nothing but a park, which we walked from East to West and North to South. Nothing.
At last, and with the perseverance given to me by my father, I politely asked a crew of city workers if they knew anything about this lost cemetery. Immediately, one man looked at me with a smile of curiosity. "Yes, Mme, I know right where it is. If you can wait till 4:30 I can take you right to it."
Across the street from the park stood a row of Honey Locust trees guarding one cock-eyed gate. Like Sleeping Beauty, the fence row of gnarled trees protected the view of the long forgotten cemetery.
|The Grayson County Poor Farm Cemetery|
|The resting place of each unfortunate is marked by a head and foot board, each made of well planked bois' d-arc, painted white with the number of the burial, which is kept in the "dead book" at the superintendent's office.|
|The city worker and gentleman who helped us find the lost cemetery.|
Now we know that my great grandfather was laid to rest December 5, 1925 somewhere on this hillside in Sherman, Texas.
We don't think he ever returned to see his family again. How long he continued to "rite" is unknown. His daughter, Pearl, lived in Ardmore, Oklahoma from 1914-1920, so she may have been able to find her father in Denison or Sherman, but we will never know. More mysterious abound than were solved, but at least he is at rest in my heart.