Pictures of a beautiful life (Part One)

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Sherwood Homestead

My Grandmother’s fond memories of her childhood

By JASMINE WILLIS

“Childhood is not from birth to a certain age and at a certain age the child is grown, and puts away childish things. Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies” Edna St. Vincent Millay

After an inspirational road trip to our old hometown my grandmother was gracious enough to share some family treasures with me. Some of which I would like to share. Verna Jean Willis grew up on a farm in Wellsvile.

My grandmother shared some insight on what it was like being a child in the Great Depression.

“We lived on a farm and we were poor,” Verna said. “We had things from the farm to eat. My mother made almost all our clothes, and we went bare foot a lot. I remember placing cardboard in the bottom of my shoes when they would get too worn down.”

Verna recalls all the local farmers helped each other.

“We were a close knit group,” she said. “We helped each other harvest. That was our social life in the farming community, other than going to church on Sundays.”

We visited the old Sherwood Homestead. It was there my Great-Grandmother Ina Church had an emergency appendix surgery on her mother’s kitchen table in 1908. The Sherwood cemetery is nestled in the wooded area that slopes down the hill. My grandmother’s Uncle Abram Slocum lived there the whole time she was growing up.

Off to the Great- Great- Grandmother Addie Adams homestead, Verna pointed out some other cherished childhood memories. Her uncle Herb Adams owned the farm and grew potatoes.

“We would come up here from the school house down the road and after being very tired and hungry we would visit our uncle,” Verna said.” Aunt Maggie had marshmellows, which were a great treat to us. We would stop there to get warmed up.”

Our ancestor Henry Adams from England used potatoes in the 1600s to make beer.

“This is a very old family tradition,” Verna said about potato growers in the family lineage. “Farming was hard work but lovely. We made our own play time. We made fur hula skirts and tied them around our hips with belts. We picked berries, played house, and walked in the swamp collecting frogs and polly wogs.”

Baby animals were part of the turf growing up on the farm. This was true on the Ray Church Homestead. My great grandfather purchased the farm in 1916 from his uncle Abram Slocum and owned it until his death in 1966. His nephew Alan Kruger bought the home and rebuilt it. My grandmother was born in the house with help from the mid-wife who lived next door.

“We had fun with a baby lamb,” Verna recalled. “Our neighbor had three lambs, and could only keep two, so he let us have one. We raised it on a  bottle and she was with us a long time. She had babies and for a long time my father had sheep on the farm. My father wouldn’t let us milk cows, because he was afraid we would get stomped on.”

At what was once my grandmother’s childhood home she got teared up seeing most of her childhood gone.

“It is sad for me to see the barn gone,” she said. “We would jump in the hay piles and feed the horses. I loved watching the large forks lift the hay into the barn. My siblings and I were in there to spread the hay around so it wasn’t in a huge pile. I really loved this place.”

(This is the first part in a series on my grandmothers stories during a Mother’s Day road trip to Wellsville Ny)

Barcelona Harbor Lighthouse: A Safe Passage in time

 

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Lakeside Bed and Breakfast in Barcelona Harbor. Photos By Jasmine Willis

By Jasmine Willis

As summer winds down, and fall approaches around the bend it is time to reflect on the beauty around us.

On what was meant to be a simple drive to Barcelona Harbor to take in the sun and fresh lake water became so much more.

I noticed a very old lighthouse resting on the hill.

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Barcelona Harbor Lighthouse. Photos by Jasmine Willis

A nice talk with one of the harbor staff members led me to a brief story of it’s history.
The lighthouse itself was built, along with the lighthouse keepers home in 1828. It was erected by the Federal Government in 1829.
The Lakeside B&B was originally built in 1830 for the Underground Railroad. The home had a secret tunnel in the basement , which emptied out under the lighthouse buried deep under the hill.

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Barcelona Harbor Lighthouse Keeper’s Home. Photo by Jasmine Willis

This allowed slaves to be taken across the 27 mile stretch of Lake Erie to Canada.
Now the home that gave so many people a safe harbor is a lovely B&B, and the lighthouse that offered it’s guiding light across the dark waters is a stone structure of hope. It offers us a glimpse of history and reminds us that in this seemingly dark world light does prevail and freedom continues to ring.
Barcelona Harbor had felt like a special place since the moment I set foot on her shores, and now I understand why. It truly is a safe harbor … a refuge for the lost.
When I look at these pictures or stand by these profound structures I will remember the stories, and I will imagine how those slaves must of felt seeing that beacon of light, and the door opening at the bottom of a hill to offer them shelter in the storm.

A Soldier’s Journey

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Pfc. Donald M Willis WWII US Army

By Jasmine Willis

Before he was a husband, a father, a grandfather,and a carpenter he was part of what is known today as the greatest generation.

Donald M. Willis joined the thousands of other young soldiers in the journey to bring back their countries freedom in the second great war known as World War II.

He was trained in Camp Upton, New York and Camp Eustis, Virginia, before sailing across the choppy ocean waters to Germany, where he feared he would have to fight his own family.

The 18 – year- old from Wellsville, NY came from German lineage. He thought he may still have cousins who lived over there, and told his commander this on the boat ride over. His commander told him ‘Believe me son, when they start shooting at you, you will shoot back.’

This was the story I heard growing up about my grandfather and his war. He had come from a long line of patriots, so maybe he felt it was his duty to be part of the ranks. Although he was drafted like many others in that time period it always seemed like he was proud to be part of this journey with his fellows.

Every year our country honors these men for their sacrifice, along with all those before and after them. I have been wanting to honor my grandpa’s story for a long time now. Recently I got my hands on some of his war letters to his family. In them he talks about the “frozen tundra” of the Upton Camp; the eagerness to be a pilot and the every day routines of training.

Most of these letters are to his mother to ease her mind her oldest son was well and staying out of trouble.

They haven’t made any films about my grandfather, or honored him in any legions, but whenever I see anything to do with World War II I stand proud and call it grandpa’s war. We honor him as his family, and we know the stories. We tell these stories to others in hopes of keeping them alive.

Donald M. Willis didn’t belong to the world, and that is quite alright. He belonged to those who loved him and those who fought beside him; he belonged to those fellows in his barracks who were just as honored as he was to fight for the country they all loved; he belonged to the stories we tell ourselves.

For the sake of his privacy I can’t publicize all 600 pages of his thoughts on the war, family, friends, and my grandma Jean. However, I can give pieces of it to those who wish to know another person of the greatest generation.

While in training to be a radio operator, Don worries about his little brother Fredrick getting a job; his father working very hard at the plant; his aunts and uncles and cousins; he even talks about the pride he takes in the special duties he performs for his platoon.

“Our platoon is always the first one to fall out in the morning,” he writes proudly to his mother. “I wish dad could have come down to see me, but it would have been difficult.”

“I get along fine with the fellows in my barracks,” he continues to write to his mother.” After I get out of here I will make some girl a nice husband.”

That girl was Verna Jean Church. After he was honorably discharged in April 1946 he came home to marry his sweetheart  he lovingly called Jeanie. They had seven beautiful children, and he had two other beautiful girls from his second marriage many years later.

Don was a church goer and a big band player. He loved the heartbeat in music.

“I have a chance to go to church every Sunday, but they are just general services. I don’t like those too well,” he writes. “This morning I was playing my Touette for the fellows, and the sergeant heard me. He asked me to come in his room and play for him. He said he knew some of the fellows in the band and he could get me in OK.”

Willis fought at the Rhineland and East Europe Battles, as well as being stationed in Japan at the end of the war. He received the American Theater Ribbon, two bronze stars, Victory Medal, and Good Conduct Medal.

Grandpa’s story may never be a movie, or spoken out to giant crowds by his fellow comrades on Memorial Day Parades, but that is OK. He passed away on June 4, 2002 and there was a 21 gun salute. There was a flag draped over his coffin and folded by two veterans. This was his ‘thank you for your service’ from his fellow soldiers.

This is my way of honoring his memory and being the keeper of his stories.