Sunday, January 2, 2011
Primary Source Documents
Letters from Papa
In this picture you see Willis Parsons examining ripe apples in his orchard. The picture would have been taken sometime in the early 1920s, somewhere between Parsons Drive and Maple Road to the east and west, and Genesee Street and Salsibury Road, to the north and south...Perhaps he is in the backyard of the family farmhouse on the corner of West Genesee and Parsons Drive. Of course, in those days, roads like Parsons Drive and the others mentioned here were, for the most part, nothing but dirt farm roads.
This past fall, while I was visiting, my cousin generously gave me original copies of letters written in 1924 and 1925 by Willis to Marion while she was teaching in Omak, Washington. The letters came from my cousin's mother, my Aunt Helen, Willis's granddaughter and Marion's neice. Helen died in October while I was there; these letters were in her effects. Included in the letters was a missive written by Helen to Aunt Martha, Marion's sister, in 1935.
Reading Willis's letters one gets a feel of what life was like on the farm before the farm became a neighborhood and a school. One begins to sense emerging feelings of unease about the viability of the farm as a sustainable business. He talks about picking cherries in the rain and the picking lasting almost a month; they were badly in need of hot weather and if he put some of his crop in cold storage, he might be able to hold on for better prices the following year. He indicates a growing interest in the real estate business. One can almost feel the wheels turning in his mind; perhaps the only salvation he sees is to sell off the farm. He would have to make that sacrifice mean something. He would have to create a community. At this time, he has already begun to plan the new school with Judge Terziev and others in the area who had already bought into the Parsons' acreage.
For a writer of narrative non-fiction, these letters are gold. They help those of us here in the future understand, or at least glimpse, the thinking processes and problems of those in the past who took their stories with them to the grave.
In Helen's letter written in 1935 she talks about a horrific rain storm, about spending the night at Grandma Harkness's with Ruth and Janet Parsons. These are names I hadn't heard since childhood. Genealogy records show Grandma Harkness to be part of the Terry and Parsons family who had donated the original one-room school on Terry Road.
Writing The Brass Bell has been 75% detective work, and 25% writing.
If anyone has any information about Grandma Harkness, Guy Terry Parsons, Sr., Charles Herbert Parsons, or Alice "Allie" Terry, please contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org
I still have a ways to go before I am able to untangle the web of the Parsons, Jerome, Schuyler, and Terry families, from whose farms sprung what is today Westvale, and from whose vision gave rise to the Cherry Road School.