My sister Kay and I took Dad and Mom to Clarksville, Missouri yesterday. It’s only about an hour north of where we live but it might as well have been on another planet – it was just not anyplace we ever visited. My grandmother grew up in Clarksville. And her parents. And her grandparents. So for our Dad this place has significance but for me I only remember a sky-lift that operated there years ago that as a kid that I was too scared to ride. My great-grandfather died long before I was born and my great-grandmother died when I was only seven. As a child I only traveled to Clarksville once and I don’t know why; it was after Great-Grandmother Jenkins had died. Maybe we went to visit her grave – I’m not sure, I only remember being scared of the sky-lift. The sky-lift now sits still and rusted like some ghost from the past. It hasn’t operated in years. All that’s left in Clarksville for us are ghosts of the past.
But for a long time Dad’s been talking about Clarksville and his visits there as a boy – Dad’s 84 years old now. His memories are clear of his time spent in Clarksville and he loved his grandparents and they must have loved him, too. All of his memories of Clarksville as a boy are happy and he cherishes the time he spent there.
Dad (and I) favor his granddad (my great-granddad) in appearance. It’s strange to see photos of someone who you never knew but with whom you share a remarkable resemblance. Here’s what I know about him: Clarence Crockett Jenkins was the Post Master for Clarksville around 1910. He was also the Town Constable or Sheriff for a while. He and his wife Augusta (Gussie) had two children: Kyra Kathleen (our grandmother) and Clarence Jr. For some time they lived in a home that was at the base of ‘The Pinnacle’ – a mound of earth that enables spectacular views of the Mississippi River from its top. Later the (now defunct) Clarksville Sky-lift was built on that site and their house was razed.
Much has happened since the 1930’s when Dad spent time in Clarksville as a boy. But yesterday we got a chance to ‘walk back in time’ with him. Clarksville today has some antique shops and there’s an art glass studio and a great little coffee-house but not much else. We found the local cemetery but Dad couldn’t find the family plot. We encountered another family at the cemetery and Dad (who has never met a stranger) explained that he was trying to find his grandparents’ graves. Frances, the lady at the cemetery (she and Dad became fast friends) suggested we go back into town, hunt down the mayor and ask her to help us. We did. Or I should say, Dad did.
He talked to every person in town he could find and while Mom and Kay and I were looking through some antique shops Dad had managed to locate Mayor Jo Anne Smiley who not only found the Jenkins/Gauding/Fielder Family plot on an old map but copied it for us and gave us directions. This was on a Saturday. City Hall was officially closed AND the Mayor’s position is voluntary – NO PAY. Mayor Smiley you are my new hero!
Needless to say, after visiting the few blocks of Clarksville that still exist we made our way back to the cemetery, found the gravesites and made Dad’s day. Watching while Dad honored his grandparents and great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents, I imagined a little boy in the 1930’s holding his granddad’s hand and walking proudly through the small town of Clarksville. I thought about the visits to the ‘Flower Show’ with his grandmother that earlier in the day Dad had told us about. He claims he hated being dragged to those ‘Flower Shows’ as a boy but I suspect he traveled back there yesterday, too.
Things have changed a lot in Clarksville in 80 years but much seems to have remained the same: the kindness of strangers; the friendliness of folks on the street; the pride of community. I’d like to think that my great-grandfather would have extended the same kindness to strangers as Mayor Smiley did. Dad seems to believe he would have. The stories he tells indicate that Great-Granddad Jenkins was a very honorable man.
I wonder if Mayor Smiley knows that she’s walking in the footsteps of former Post Master Clarence Crockett Jenkins?
Walk proud Mayor, walk proud!