Ancestors: Sam, John & Will. Part Two: John

11 Feb

I wish I’d had a chance to know my great grandfather, Reverend John N. Stallings, but he had been dead many years by the time I entered this world at noon on a cold New Year’s Eve.

I might have been born the first local baby to arrive in the New Year but on the way to the hospital, & being in full labor, my mom & dad stopped at Saleeby’s where he bought her two loaded foot long hotdogs, which she ate. As long as I knew her she swore those two hotdogs pushed me prematurely into the world 12 hours ahead of winning a ton of prizes reserved for the first baby born in the New Year.

Not only was my great grandfather dead by the time I greeted the world (no doubt belching onions & slaw) but his son, my grandfather was also dead & I never had the chance to meet either of them. I understand, however, that father & son were as different as night & day.

You can actually Google my great grandfather & find out a lot about him. There’s something sort of exciting about being able to do that, but then, he was a colorful character driven to excel in many venues & it’s no surprise that Google holds him successfully suspended in time during his era & his success.

I don’t know much about his years as a boy but I DO know that he went to law school while he was raising his family. He became an attorney & practiced law as his family grew & grew up. After getting them mostly raised he went back to school & became a Baptist minister.  His two career choices seem somewhat divergent but I suppose it shows his broad scope of interests & his general diversity, which isn’t a bad thing. But I do wonder if his careers ever overlapped & how. I don’t have time to speculate about that now but I’ll bet there were some interesting stories floating around in the family anecdote pool.

The son of a Baptist minister himself, I’m assuming his ministerial calling was as great as that of the law because he continued practicing both actively throughout most of his productive years & did some pretty amazing things.

At the close of the War Between the States, he organized a local police organization to help keep order and diminish the possibility of any repercussions that might arise from the freedom of the slaves. He was a member of the 1875 Constitutional Convention. He also taught school for many years at Warsaw, Magnolia, and at the Clinton Female Institute & founded several North Carolina churches.

During his busy life as lawyer, minister and teacher, he found time to establish The Clinton Caucasian, a newspaper which was later edited by the Honorable Marion Butler; journalist, politician & senator. He gave up the practice of law in 1886 and became President of Thomasville Female College in Thomasville, NC.

The church I remember almost from the womb was the Stallings Memorial Baptist Church in Salisbury, NC. Great Granddaddy John was actually the minister there as well as the founder. When I was a small child my grandmother … his daughter-in-law … was the matriarch of that old church; the “go to” person to get something done or from whom to find out a bit of history. She always had the current minister over after Sunday services for lunch because that was just what she did.

Today we are scattered &, as far as I know, I am the only surviving descendant.

On my last trip home to visit the church in 2006 we arrived unexpectedly after the Sunday service. The assistant pastor was in his office. Surprised, but pleased to meet us, he gave us a tour of the church & the new addition, of which he was terribly proud.

Stepping into the old part of the church & into the sanctuary took me back many years; the smell of the church, the stained glass windows with real “picture stories” that I remembered from childhood, the pews I sat in with my mom & grandmother. I remembered Vacation Bible School there & carrying the Christian Flag & where the doors led that are on either side of the alter. I remembered, as a child, being intrigued by the baptismal pool that was back lit; a large stained glass illuminated picture of Jesus at his baptism.

In the women’s bathroom there was a very small toilet … child size … that I loved when I was the perfect size to use it. The assistant pastor laughed when I asked him if it was still there & smiled at my reaction when he showed me that it was.

The church has a History Room now & the pastor couldn’t wait to show it to us. Walking through the door the first thing you see is a black & white photo of my great grandfather. It is one of three originals. I have one but don’t know where the third one is. When we walked in, Willy in true Willy fashion said, “Hey, I know that dude.”

The History Room is not only filled with items from years gone by … pictures & ancient collection plates, my great grandfather’s Bible … it is filled with my family history … photos of my grandmother, of my aunts & uncles, of my mom as a child, her parents together. In that room the power of the things I remember & the things I don’t is overwhelming.

In his private life my great grandfather was an artist. He gave some of his art work away but never sold any. I have one of his original charcoal sketches; a flop-eared dog wearing a scarf around his neck.

He also made furniture. I have a corner chair he made out of cane & it has the original upholstery. Additionally, I own a broach that had belonged to my great grandmother. On my next trip home I plan to donate the chair & the broach to the church’s History Room where they really should be & where they belong.  I can’t quite make myself part with the charcoal drawing of the flop-eared dog that is over 100 years old & still charms me … not yet.

I wonder how much my great grandfather, without ever meeting him, has shaped me. I remember a relative remarking once, “Linda gets her artistic talent from him.” I’d like to believe that that is so.

*         *          *

In my grandmother’s dining room, hanging on either side of the window were pictures of HER mother & father. I don’t remember her ever sharing much about either one of them but they looked sad, neither one smiling … & weary; both wearing black. What I remember most about those pictures in large round frames is that one or the other of them would fall off the wall with some frequency but would never be damaged & the ancient glass remained intact.

When the pictures would fall, my grandmother would solemnly & prophetically predict that someone was going to die. And someone always did.

Image

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4 Responses to “Ancestors: Sam, John & Will. Part Two: John”

  1. monkeys22013 February 13, 2014 at 2:57 am #

    Now we know where you get all your talents from, very interesting Linda

    Like

    • heimdalco February 13, 2014 at 3:27 am #

      Thanks, Leslie. I think he was a”cool dude” just like Willy said & I DO love the drawing of the dog. I wrote a poem about this great grandfather in my book & also used the picture of the dog.

      Like

  2. Willy S. February 15, 2014 at 3:03 pm #

    You’ve always said that the dog is “almost smiling” and I’ve always thought he was a sad looking dog … maybe getting ready to be visited by a dog doctor who was going to take his spleen out or something. But that’s just my two cents about him … good drawing tho and I’d hold onto it.
    As for the corner chair, it just cries to be sat in and even tho it’s a little rickety, Max our cat would enjoy it.
    Enjoy your writings

    Like

    • heimdalco February 15, 2014 at 5:21 pm #

      Thanks, Willy. I looked at the dog & looked at him & went back & changed him in the blog entry to a flop-eared dog, which he is more than almost smiling. I believe as a child (& I’ve seen this drawing all my life) that I loved looking at that picture so much that in my mind I’ve always THOUGHT he was almost smiling when in reality, it’s always been ME who was smiling when I looked at him.

      When we can find a free weekend I really want to take the chair to the church; another thing that’s been around all my life. I was never allowed to sit in it as a child but when no one was looking I pulled the decorative nail-heads out of the upholstery. It survived my childhood but I’m not sure it would survive our fluffy 16 pound cat, Max.

      Thanks again for the kind words.

      Like

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