Going Up to Shiloh is the name I have given to this set of reflections about the immigrant experiences of my ancestors focusing on their journeys from east to west, north to south, west to east, and south to north. . . .beginning and ending with the journey to Shiloh Church in the rural community of Nella in Scott County, Arkansas. Although this blog is only one part of a larger project — which will ultimately include narratives from my mother’s lineages in the Sullivan and Wooten clans — I regard it is an important first step in writing a family memoir that I offer to generations past and future as a form of thanksgiving and praise for the many opportunities that I have been given across the past 57 years. (Yes, I was born in 1957!)
For the past couple of decades, we have seen multiple examples of writers who have made their extended families the focus of memoir reflections. Bobbie Ann Mason’s lovely story of her parent’s marriage, Clear Springs, which tells the story of life in a small town in Western Kentucky, is one of my favorites. Mary Gordon’s Circling My Mother and Michele Norris’s The Grace of Silence — about her father’s struggles with racism in Alabama and Minnesota — are also excellent examples of family memoir writing. Elsewhere, Richard Russo’s moving narrative about growing up with his mentally ill mother, while a very compassionate and empathetic narrative, may also be the most brutally honest book that I have ever read by an author determined to be truthful about himself.
I am currently reading David Laskin’s remarkable story about his own extended family. The Family: A Journey into the Heart of the Twentieth Century narrates what happened to Jewish immigrants in the context of anti-semitism and the disruptions of war. One part of the family ends up in New York. Another group emigrates to Israel. And a third group finds their own ways to continue living in eastern Europe even though, like the others, they end up being exiles from the particular community where they were born.
I mention these narratives because I am self-conscious about the fact that my own memoir reflections are a reflection of a wider cultural pattern as well as the product of my own sense of grief and loss. Yet, I hope that what I write is no less truthful for being part of wider trends. After reading Shirley Showalter’s wonderful memoir, Blush, about growing up Mennonite in Pennsylvania in the 1950s, I became even more convinced that it is possible to participate in trends while being rigorous and winsome at the same time.
I also hope that readers of this blog will take me seriously when I say that I don’t regard my reflections as definitive. Indeed, I am aware that others in the Cartwright family have written their own reflections. Aunt Dorothy (Snyder) has written a moving memoir, Our Journey Through Alzheimer’s: One Caregiver’s Story, about caring for her late husband Herrick. And my father, Billy Cartwright,wrote a piece that was published in the Scott County Historical Society about his relationship with his father Jess Cartwright. [provide URL]
As some of you know, Aunt Betty [Cartwright Scheffer Halford] helped Daddy by typing up his reflections. When she finished the project, she handed it back to him and commented that she had very different memories of their father. I assume that mental illness played some role, however small, in shaping his memories of Jess Cartwright, but even if Billy Cartwright’s reflections had been highly accurate, I anticipate that he and his twin sister would have had different perspectives to offer.
If anything, I hope that this blog about family history will stimulate other members of our extended family to offer their own reflections.
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