Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas...from Vietnam

Thanksgiving Day 2013...the day before Ev returned to Vietnam
The hands on the clock in Vietnam just ticked past Christmas Eve into early Christmas morn and the phone rings here in Iowa. Ev's voice is on the other end of the line wishing me a Merry Christmas. He sounds mellow. He is just getting ready to turn in for the night, but wanted to call home to send his love.

Even though we had all read Ev's email yesterday relaying lots of stories of his recent travels in the north of Vietnam, it is so much better hearing from him in person. As much as I love to read about his adventures, hearing his voice centers me. It reminds me that my son is living a life he has chosen for himself and actively pursuing memories that will stay with him for the rest of his life.

Merry Christmas, Ev, and all the best in this New Year. Stay safe.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

the Older Brother

I just discovered this blog post in my drafts file this morning, December 21 2013; it was written over a year ago and stashed there for safekeeping. In light of a recent development concerning our man Horace and his cemetery work, I decided to publish this piece, for the record, about the Cleveland brothers of Massachusetts.

In the summer of 2012 after I had completed my Master's thesis and graduated, I indulged in a little "fun" research. This indulgence started out totally innocent, but turned rather quickly into an obsession over the next few weeks. I am the first to admit that I tend to get sidetracked during historical research by some little scrap of irrelevant information that leaves me scratching my head. My major prof used to refer to this as my magpie obsession with shiny objects. The shiny object of this story was a letter in which the landscape architect Horace William Shaler Cleveland wrote about an older brother who lived in Iowa. Because the brother was not the focus of my thesis (Horace was), I grudgingly set this tidbit aside. However, when visiting with a distinguished professor and Cleveland scholar about my graduate work, I learned that the older brother Richard Jeffery had lived in Olin, Iowa, a tiny town in Jones County and had died there in 1877. With that little morsel, I started an all-out assault armed with Google and my Cleveland file folders. After numerous Google searches, I discovered that Horace's older brother Richard Jeffery had relocated from New York state in 1835 to settle in Whiteside County, Illinois, where he was one of the founders of Prophetstown.

A piece of the puzzle had just dropped into place. I knew that my man Horace, the youngest of the three Cleveland sons of Massachusetts, worked as a surveyor and then taught school in Prophetstown around the same time his older brother was living there.  Digging a little deeper, I found a biographical listing for Richard Jeffery in the 1879 History of Jones County.  Richard Jeffery Cleveland married in 1838 and then moved with his wife Mary in 1840 to Jones County, Iowa. They settled in Walnut Forks, where he purchased 220 acres of land.  As the area grew, the village came to be called Rome, and later Olin, IA. When Richard Jeffery moved from Illinois to Iowa, Horace also left Prophetstown. Instead of moving to Iowa with his brother, he headed back to the east coast and married. He and Mary Dwinel started their family and Horace set about learning his life work of landscape architecture.

What drove me to pursue that little thread of information about the Cleveland brother living in Iowa? I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I, along with other historical researchers, never really know why a subject's life unfolds as it does unless we are fortunate enough to uncover a primary piece of evidence that spells out the why's and how's. Cleveland scholars have never been certain why H.W.S. Cleveland landed in Prophetstown-and this puzzle piece certainly is not irrefutable evidence. It does, however, make sense that the youngest Cleveland brother probably joined his older brother in Prophetstown, stayed on while family was there, and then left when family moved on. Historical documents are full of stories where the oldest son blazes a trail and then calls for the rest of the clan to follow.  I am comfortable with how this story of the Cleveland boys might have worked out. Scholars have also speculated on the reason why Horace Cleveland eventually re-located his East Coast practice to the Midwest. Some believe that the lack of work out East pushed Cleveland west; other say his desire to play a part in the planning and design of the expanding frontier pulled him to Chicago. The deaths of his middle brother in 1843, his mother in 1850, and his father in 1860 might shed some light as to why Cleveland decided to move out west in early 1869.  The only living sibling of Horace's immediate family, was living in Iowa. Maybe it was as simple as that.

The search was on. I was determined to learn about Richard Jeffery Cleveland. Perhaps a glimpse into his life could reveal further information about Horace Cleveland. This is what I have discovered about the older brother. He was a Harvard graduate--Class of '27. He, too, was a surveyor, who worked in the General Surveyor's office in Dubuque, IA. He was listed as a founding father of two towns.  R.J. held the position of postmaster as well as justice of the peace in Olin, IA. He enlisted as a Civil War Iowa Volunteer in the 9th Infantry Co. B. And it was this little discover about his service to his country that sent me down the road early one summer morning to search for evidence of Richard Jeffery Cleveland's life, and death, in Olin, IA.

After walking the grid back and forth across the Olin Cemetery grounds, I found a marble headstone, along with the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) star, bearing the name of R.J. Cleveland. The family plot contained his grave site and that of his wife Mary E. Cleveland Lowry. His widow had outlived her husband and remarried. The good Rev. J. Lowry is buried next to Mary, two graves over from R.J.

In the end, this indulgent research provided a possible clue to a long-niggling question that I, and others, have had about Horace's motivation for settling here in the Midwest. This is exactly what I love about historical research--finding those elusive pieces to the puzzle. Especially when they are discovered in an out-of-the-way cemetery in Jones County, IA.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


Early Christmas present to Ev, published 1881
My son left for Vietnam last Friday after an extended stay in the States. Ev arrived home in June, then spent some glory days exploring Iceland with the family, catching up with old friends in Minneapolis, Iowa City, and Denver and reconnecting with family members in north central Iowa and Kansas City. He ventured out to the Nevada desert to partake in Burning Man in late August and explored Seattle with his father. His time here was well spent.

Ev is now at the Taiwan airport on a 10-hour layover, awaiting the flight on his final leg back to Hanoi. Once there, he will look for a teaching gig and settle in, but also hopes to do a little traveling around the north of Vietnam before heading back to Saigon.

This is the time when I am the most anxious; Ev is traveling without a phone, so he cannot keep us updated as to where, when, how he is doing.  I long just to hear his voice so that I know he is OK. I wish him well on his journey,  but this mother-worry never seems to go away.

Setting aside my worry and sadness, I relish the time that we did spend together over these last few months.  During the warm afternoons of September and October, we would head out in the old pickup driving the back roads looking for woods to tromp or an old cemetery to explore. We were never disappointed in our many adventures.

As my firstborn, Ev spent many hours exploring the outdoors with me--as an infant and toddler in the backpack and as a little hiker under his own power.  Over these past few months, we have re-kindled those precious times, making new memories. And these memories are what now sustain me...until this boy traveller returns home from his own adventures.   

Do Something Wild Next!

The Primo Ride

Thursday, November 21, 2013


I miss you most
When the gold-mittened hand of the sassafras tree
Waves goodbye as autumn fades.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Saturday, August 31, 2013

The perfect retreat for these blazin' hot days....

Tuesday, August 27, 2013