Heart of a Southern Woman

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Catharina Revaro Botto Raffo–My Italian 2nd Great-Grandmother–52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, #36



Mirror from Revaro family in Italy

“Mirror, Mirror, on the wall…tell me your stories, tell them all!”  (by Helen Y. Holshouser with prompting by sister Anne) This beautiful mirror hangs in my sister’s home today in 2014.  It has been in our family for  almost 200 years, maybe more. It belonged to my second great-grandmother, Catherina Revaro, born about 1825. I do not know where Catherina got the mirror, or how long it might have been in her family, but we are told it is a family piece from Genoa, Italy where she was born.  We have an oral history story passed down in our family about Catharina.  Mother always said that Catherina, called Catherine in our family, was the daughter of a wealthy family in Genoa, Italy. They had a large department store there and in Rome perhaps. Catharina was a student in a private girls school, located  in a convent. However, she had fallen in love with a boy named Luigi Botto!  They supposedly left Italy together, coming ultimately to Richmond, Virginia where they married and had two children, James Lewis Botto 1857-1923, and Mary Catherine Botto, 1858- 1906, who married James Kerse and became my great-grandmother.  Catherine married a second time to Nicholas Raffo in 1866, and had another son named John Francis Raffo, 1867-1951.

I have always loved all things Italian, perhaps this line of relatives explains that trait or propensity! In fact, it was pursuit of knowledge of this, my Italian heritage which originally got me started in genealogical research! I quickly learned that they were not easy to research, because a lot of the records were written in Italian and/or Latin! However, after many years of working on this effort, and help from other researchers, I have put together this picture of the Italian branch of our family. 

My first effort was to prove just how my great grandparents came into the country! My first find was a family of Bottos (I did not have her maiden name Revaro at the time.) who arrived on July 18,1844, on the ship Constantine in the port of New York from Genoa, Italy! I was so excited! On board you can clearly see the family with Joseph Botto, 38, Marie, 36, Luigi 12, Catharina 14, Benedict 10, Maria 8 and Giacomino! Wow, what a family! Luigi at 12, matched the 1832 birthdate I had. But weren’t they very young to be marrying? And the whole family was with them! Hmm, didn’t quite jive. But it was all I could find, in this my first week of ever doing genealogical research! I still thought this must be my family. Maybe this was Luigi, and Catherine was elsewhere, or maybe the other way around. Or maybe they were already married, a shotgun wedding?! LOL Obviously, I needed more information. This is the Constantine’s passenger list for you to see:  

Botto family on ship Constatine, July, 1844

source: ancestry.com


I decided the family above could not be my Bottos, when I followed them to Kentucky, then when I actually met on ancestry some of their descendants, living in Boston, Massachusetts, I learned  this was their family, not mine!  Back to the drawing board, I found many Louis Bottos,  and few Catherines. But finally, I found this document, and I believe it fits better than most, the ship’s passenger list includes both a Luigi Botto age 26 and a Catharine Botto age 20, on board the ship Switzerland, arriving in 1855! That would be perfect timing for them  to get to Richmond,Virginia and have two children in 1857 and 1858!  However, if the marriage certificate below is correct for them, they should have been in Richmond by 1853! Oh dear, this is the way genealogical research works, just search, and search, and eliminate and search some more! 

Botto ,ship passenger list with Luigi and Catherine

source: ancestry.com

source infomation for passenger list for Luigi and Catheribotto

source: ancestry.com


Keeping this, I went on to research more and see what I could find.  I knew that Catherine had married a second time because she had a son named John Francis Raffo that I could see on the censuses. So I searched for both Raffo and Botto information. Finally i found a marriage certificate on ancestry.com for Nicholas Raffo and Catharine Botto also Catharine Revaro, father Anton Revaro! There was her maiden name! Alleluia!  

Name: Catharine Botto
[Catharine Revaro] 
Gender: Female
Age: 43
Birth Date: 1823
Marriage Date: 7 May 1866
Marriage Place: Richmond, Virginia, USA
Father: Anton Revaro
Spouse: Nicholas Raffo
FHL Film Number: 33620
Reference ID: p 90


It wasn’t long before I decided to take my DNA through ancestry.com, which showed I was 5% Italian in my ethnic makeup. Cool! That combined with knowing Catherine’s maiden name, helped me learn much more about my family, including meeting  cousins and other people researching them! One of those folks was a researcher who spoke Italian and Latin and researched original records even from the Vatican! I was very impressed! Diane ended up finding the birth certificate of  my great, great grandparents, Louis Botto and Catherine Revaro. On the certificate you will notice that her name had been anglicized to Rivers, and his was written as Botte, typo or a name change, I am not sure. I already had the date of the Raffo marriage from censuses, and the date on the Botte marriage certificate agrees. However, the Botto name appears on censuses and many other records. the ages and dates of birth don’t match for Catherine, but this doesn’t overly worry me as I find this often the case.  This gave me his parents names as well! My Italian roots were growing! 

Virginia, Select Marriages, 1785-1940 about Catharine Rivers

Name: Catharine Rivers
Gender: Female
Age: 22
Birth Date: 1831
Birth Place: Italy
Marriage Date: 3 Sep 1853
Marriage Place: Richmond, Virginia
Father: Andrew Rivers
Mother: Mary
Spouse: Louis Botte
FHL Film Number: 31855
Reference ID: p 1 # 39


So, we have Catherine Revaro coming to Virginia from Italy and marrying Lewis Botto in 1853,  naming their children James Lewis and Mary Catherine Botto.  In 1866, Catherine married for the second time. I have not been able to ascertain what happened to her first husband, however,  no death notice, find-a-grave document, no military record that I can find! There are other Louis Bottos in the United States as well.  In the Richmond City telephone directory of 1876, Catherine is listed as Catherine Botto, widow of Louis Botto! In 1876, she was a widow all right, but the widow of Nicholas Raffo who had died in 1873! Catherine ‘s first husband must have died, besides being listed as a widow in the phone directory, when Catherine herself dies in 1903, we can find an obituary in the Richmond Times Dispatch newspaper that states that a “solemn requiem mass” was said at her funeral at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, the church where the family attended for years. She would not have been thus honored if she had divorced. The Catholic Church would not have allowed it. 



Mrs. Catharine Raffo

Mrs. Catharine Raffo, mother of Mr. James L. Botto and Mr. John F. Raffo, of the fire department, and Mrs. Mary C. Kerse, wife of Sergeant James H. Kerse, of the First Police Station, died Saturday morning.  Her funeral will take place Monday morning at 10 o’clock from St. Patrick’s church. The interment will be in Mt. Calvary.

The following gentlemen will act as pall-bearers:

Honorary-Richard M. Taylor,

H.M. Smith, Junior

Dr. David Coleman

Dr. W. H. Scott

John Frischkorn

John Mann Jr.

Joseph H. Webb

Edgar Shine


F.J. Purrater,   Anthony Griffith,

Claiborne Epps,  Andrew Donald,

Frank Overman,  Peter Gonella,

Captain W.B. Whitlock,

James Burke

Raffo died April 25, 1903, at the residence of her son-in-law, James H. Kerse.  2612   East Grace St.


The funeral will take place Monday morning, April 27th,  at 10 o’clock, from St. Patrick’s Church with a requiem mass.

Friends invited to attend Interment Mt. Calvary.

Washington and New York papers please copy.

 –published in the Richmond Times Dispatch, April 26, 1903




Catherine Botto Raffo's funeral announcement, Apr. 28, 1903, The Richmond Times Dispatch

–published in the Richmond Times Dispatch, 1903 


Five years after her death, her granddaughter Marie Botto Kerse, my Great Aunt, wrote this tribute to Catherine which was published in the Richmond Times Dispatch as well, in 1908:

In Memoriam

In sad but loving remembrance

of my devoted Grandmother,

Catherine Botto Raffo

who died five years ago. 

April 25, 1903.

Every year the good God calleth

some loved one to endless rest,

and our hearts, though filled with anguish, 

can but cry, “He knoweth best.”

But a year and distant cometh,

when we tread the vast unknown, 

we shall find our ransomed loved ones,

seated ’round the great white throne.

Marie B. Kerse–genealogybank.com, Richmond Times Dispatch

“Loving remembrance of my devoted Grandmother”! Those words say a lot about Catherine Botto Raffo! How interesting. I’ve been thinking of her children. James Lewis was born in 1857, his sister Mary Catherine in 1858, they were only 9 and 8 years old when their mother remarried. Had they known their Dad at all? Then their stepfather dies when they are 15 and 16! After her marriage in 1866 to her second husband Nicholas Raffo, her son John Francis Raffo is born in 1867. His father dies in 1873–at six, he probably only had hazy  memories of his father. Those are rough  events in young lives. The Civil War was waged during their childhoods, Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy! What must they have seen and heard! 

Yet, we know that John Francis Raffo grew up to become a firefighter, then chief of the Richmond City Fire Department, spanning a fifty year career with them!  One of John Francis’ great, great-grandchildren sent this picture to me, which I treasure. Yes, his descendants are alive and well and going strong.  I am regularly in touch with one of them on facebook, and another I have met in person. (more of that at a later time) Among them are soldiers, a priest, and many other s including genealogists. This is a line of descendants any mother would be so proud to call her own! 

Raffo family

left to right in this photo of the Raffo family taken on their front porch in the Churchill area of Richmond, Virginia: 1. John Francis Raffo, Jr. (Jack) 2. Nicholas Coleman Raffo 3. Frank McLaughlin Raffo 4. John Francis Raffo 5. Mary Margaret Finnegan Raffo (Minnie) 6. Anita Raffo 7. Catherine Raffo Beaty 8. James Coleman Raffo 9. Anna Raffo Eagle 10. Mary Margaret Raffo (Minnie) abt. 1918 Churchill, Richmond, Virginia, USA, given to this author by Coleman Raffo, 2014

Catherine’s daughter Mary Catherine Botto married James Kerse and became the mother of my grandfather Thomas Philip Kerse.  She had four children in fact,  but two of them died young, Andrew Leo in infancy and  Kate, the twin of Marie, died at age 17 of a burst appendix.  In fact, because Kate died of a burst appendix,  when her brother Thomas Philip came down with appendicitis in his early twenties, the family hired a private duty nurse to take care of him. That nurse turned out to be Katherine Steptoe Kerse,  who married Thomas Philip and became my cherished grandmother! They went on to have seven children, twelve grandchildren, 18 great-grandchildren, and so far, 4 great- great- grandchildren!  We have several college professors, lawyers,  building contractors, teachers, and firefighters! Catherine can be proud of this line of her daughter’s.

Now James Lewis Botto was very different from his sister and half-brother it seems. He was a local politician, and owned a night club in downtown Richmond called  St. Helena’s.  He was married with six children, four sons and two daughters. Both daughters married men of excellent standing from great families in Richmond. The father and two of his sons went to jail. The father, James Lewis,  for only 3 months for bringing illegal liquor into the state to sell at his club during prohibition! A rum runner in the family! The other son, William Joseph Botto, a policeman forced to resign, went to jail only 30 days on this same charge, but then he was charged with domestic violence in 1914, assaulting his wife!  He left his wife and disappeared. She had him declared dead after several years! In 1930, he disclosed who he truly was, just  before he actually died in a hospital in New York! It is hard for me to believe this happened in my own family! Another son,  John Francis Botto went to the penitentiary for 15 years for attacking a 13-year-old girl! Good gracious–what happened in this line of family?! As bad as this seems, we must remember that four of the six children in this family turned out to be excellent citizens, it is not right to judge them poorly  on the merits of their father and two brothers! However, it is curious, just how is it that some siblings make such bad choices with their Dad, and most make great choices. The heirs of this family were all female, so the Botto name from James Lewis’s line died out, there are descendants, just not with the Botto name. Since he was the only male heir of Luigi Botto, his line of Bottos did not continue. 

I knew we had Italian ancestors, my mother talked about it a lot. But I did not know they were alive and that I could have gotten to know them while growing up!  What a shame to miss knowing family until you are in your sixties! I have a clue as to why this might have happened .  Catherine Botto Raffo died in 1903, having outlived both husbands by many years. We were told that Catherine was an excellent money manager, and indeed, when she died several things were published in the Richmond Times Dispatch giving us a glimpse into her business acumen. As a successful business woman, she had amassed  a fair amount of property. I don’t know how she left it, or if she even had a will, but according to the paper, in 1907, John Francis Raffo sued his half-brother James Lewis Botto et al (did that include my great-grandmother Mary Catherine Botto Kerse? Probably.)  I don’t think that is all that unusual however, heirs who inherit equally–one or more want to keep the property, others want their money for their share perhaps. Whatever the situation,  John Francis Raffo sued and the court ordered that the lots in downtown Richmond be sold, and the money divided.  I imagine that caused great division within the family. Perhaps the Raffos and Bottos no longer spoke, how sad. What would Catherine think? Would she focus on the positive, the many descendants who’ve done well, been responsible and active citizens. Or would she just be devastated about her one son’s family and the  two of his sons who got in so much trouble! What an interesting family, wish I knew more, perhaps I will learn more one day.  Finding interesting stories like these, and meeting living cousins, discovering lines of relatives you didn’t even know existed, that’s what makes genealogical research so exciting!  

Che cosa hai intenzione di fare sulla famiglia ? Loro amore ! What are you going to do about family? Love them! --Helen Y. Holshouser











This gallery contains 12 photos

Max A. Holshouser, Designer and Builder of Decks, Stone Patios, and Other Projects Large and Small, Part 3 of 3


I have been showcasing my husband Max Holshouser’s talents for the last two installments of this well deserved tribute! Max is a quiet man who would never tout  his own horn. Therefore it is easy to overlook what an amazing talent he is! Having been married to him 43 years, and having this forum to write about ancestors, and ancestors to be, gave me the idea to record some of Max’s accomplishments for his own descendants, and current friends and family as well! He is a doer, he quietly goes about honing his crafts and artistry. 

One of the many incredible things I’ve seen Max do is make a cross for children to put flowers on to celebrate Easter. When my sister Anne Prince retired, after teaching 4th grade for 33 years at Saint Christopher’s, a private boys’ Episcopal School in Richmond, Virginia,  she wanted to leave a special gift for the lower school.  She commissioned Max to make a cross that the children could “flower”. I had never seen such a cross! It had many holes drilled into  it so that the children could place the stems of their flowers in the cross. There were enough holes for all the children ages 5 to 12  to reach and use. After flowering the cross,  in a chapel service, it is rolled out to the entrance  of the school for display.   The service was one very meaningful to the whole school! The cross opened so that it could be cleaned and cared for.  A small plaque explains that it is a gift from Anne Prince, what a treasure! 

Max made this cross to flower for Easter for Anne Prince.


The items Max has made are too numerous to feature all of them! However, this cradle that he made for his daughters to sleep in as infants, has held all of his grandchildren as well, and is truly special. Max designed it to function turned upside down as a cofee table, so that it is always in use!  Next to the cradle can be seen a very unique piece of furniture Max designed.  It is a porch table that we painted all one color, but it was made up of six triangle tables that fit together to make one big table, yet could be separated and used as individual tables!  We have used it for a long time, often in pieces scattered about as needed. Then there is the lovely shelf he made for Ali  our pianist and percussionist, with music notes cut into the side! Annie chose a LOVE shelf like the one featured in the first part of this series and it hangs in her home today. Liam is thrilled with his large name that hangs on the wall in his room, and the hockey stick that functions as a coat rack for him. The mantle is another extra effort that Max decided was needed so he designed and built one just for us. Beside the mantle you can see shelves covering one whole wall of the living room that Max made, using heart pine supports to match the heart pine mantle. 

Cradle made for Ali by Max in 1974, still in use  40 years later for grandchildren. Ali likes it. Mattress made by Brenda H. Goodman, Max's sister.DSCF9977 Max made, music shelf for Ali Liam sign made by Max for Liam Mantle Max is making for home in Youngsville DSCF7824DSCF0139


Before we could possibly finish a round up of the “projects by Max” exploration, we have to look at some of his large construction projects! Thankfully for the family, there have been many over the years, all of which have added pleasure, enjoyment, and beauty to our lives! Just look at this incredible craftsmanship!  

In 1974, we moved from an old Victorian to a small row house in Chesterfield County outside of Richmond, Virginia. We did that because we thought the county schools were better than the city schools and had a child getting ready to start school, Ali was 2! (planning ahead!). We chose a very modern redwood house, so different from the lovely old Victorian we had lived in for several years. There was no deck, nothing in fact, on the back of the house we had built.  Max set about to remedy that immediately, designing and building the incredible deck pictured below! Notice the detail if you will, I loved that deck! He made parquet floors, benches with backs, flower pots on the corners, and gracious steps leading down into the yard! We had many parties and family gatherings on that deck! Max’s attention to detail always amazes me! That’s Ali, age 2 sitting on the steps of the deck. 

DSCF0040 Deck on Watchsprings Ct. Deck with Ali on steps at Watch Springs Ct.


After moving to Raleigh, NC in 1980, cheering for the Wolfpack at NC State University and engaging in all of the volunteer work that a growing family gets involved in, we found ourselves at a crossroads for many reasons. In 1995, I got a new job in New Bern, North Carolina and we decided to move the family to the coast. We bought a house in the town of  Havelock, North Carolina as the mental health agency, where I was a psychotherapist, served 5 counties surrounding that area.  In Havelock, Annie started highschool and  Max took a job designing multi-million dollar bottle filling machines for a company called Aylward. At home, he decided to turn his skills from building us a custom-made breakfast nook table, to constructing from scratch, a stick-built shed. He constructed it pretty much all on his own, after designing it of course. He put in a ramp so that he could easily store the ride- on lawn mower! It’s fun to look back and see it come together in pictures! 

Home on Deerwoods Trail, havelock, NC, 1996-2000 Home in Havelock, NC DSCF0068 DSCF0072 DSCF0076 DSCF0082 DSCF0089 DSCF0092


The last of this chapter/tribute to Max’s artisanship, I want to show you where we live now in 2014, and have for the last ten years. We downsized from Havelock, 2350 sq. ft. to 1250 sq. ft! I had become sick with severe and chronic heart disease, and the kids were off -married for Ali and college for Annie, so it didn’t seem we needed much. We needed a one level house for me, back near Raleigh and the hospitals and medical centers where I was spending a lot of time those days.   Max had actually had to have open heart surgery as well, but he had his aortic valve fixed, whereas I was inoperable. So after recovery, Max was back in the game! Teaching at Wakefield High School nearby, Max found this house for us and we fell in love with our neighborhood and diverse neighbors! And I lived! The docs said maybe only five to eight years, max, but its been 15 years, and the blessings continue! Max and my daughters, friends and family who love and support us are a large reason I am still here and thriving! I had gotten so weak, I had to use a wheelchair to go far. But I used my wheelchair like a four-wheeler, running from front yard to back, and sliding out to garden, crawling back in to move again!  Max deserved a medal for helping me succeed! Among other things, he built a deck and ramp in the back yard that was artistic as well as functional! It served as a privacy fence surrounding our patio, so that we could have intimate alfresco dinners with friends!  We have loved it! I watched as Max built a small deck and bench onto the existing screened porch, then gaped as he actually soaked the wood, and curved it, to make a beautifully curved, gently descending ramp! At the bottom of the ramp, Max designed a circular patio that his lifelong friend, Tommy Wagoner, son of a stone mason and a stone artisan himself,  taught him how to build, and indeed, built it right along with him! Friends, now that is one golden one! They built borders, measured and scraped, poured gravel, leveled, laid cement, leveled, laid stone, leveled, so forth and so on…you can see the stunning result! They worked so very hard, and we have enjoyed the beauty for years now! Just last week,  Tommy and his wife Mary came to visit, and very soon Tommy could be seen walking intently around the patio, checking for cracking and upkeep! LOL  We’re being careful of your baby Tommy, Max respects the hard work as well as the joy! 

DSCF9982 DSCF9984 DSCF9986 DSCF9991 DSCF9995 DSCF0001 DSCF0005 DSCF0012 DSCF0009 DSCF0012 DSCF0018 DSCF0024 DSCF0038 DSCF0058 patio garden blooming with daylilies Patio with flowers, file pic front garden with tall liles front garden with iris 2




This gallery contains 40 photos

Max A. Holshouser, Part 2 of 3, Toys, Baking, and String Art!


In the last post, I told you about my husband Max’s love of woodworking and working with stained glass. I want to continue by sharing with you some of the many toys he’s made over the years, some of the special baking he’s done, and his string art! I told you he is a man of many talents, and I wanted to be sure his grandchildren and all his descendants know what a talented man their ancestor Max was! In the next and last part of this tribute I am writing for my husband’s 65th birthday, I want to show you some of his bigger projects, like decks and stone patios! I wish I had one tenth the talent Max Holshouser has! I was smart enough to recognize genius when I saw it, and have always been happy I married this man! 

Let’s talk about toys! Max loves to make toys! His children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews have been the happy recipients of some of his talents. One of the first amazing things I remember his making was a fire engine! Not just any fire engine, but one that was like four feet long, with a rope that wound up, to be the hose, and extending and swiveling ladders! His nephews were the proud recipients of this amazing toy! Made about 1978, it is still being played with by his great-nephew today in 2014! In this picture, our daughter Ali, now grown, is showing off our gift to her cousins!  



Toys by Max, fire engine with ladders exended, plane and Ali!


And how about this six-foot long train? Made about the same time, it has always been stationed at our house for the many children who pass through to enjoy! And they have– both our children and grandchildren have played with it repeatedly! The logs in the log car, have been used for swords, for counting, and a million other things over the years! The train carries reindeer at Christmas time, but has carried army men, Barbie dolls, and a million other things over the years! Notice in one picture below, that our cat Pandora even liked the train! 

Toys by Max, train DSCF9873


This summer of 2014, brought one of Max’s greatest creations so far! He made a Noah’s Ark for his grandchildren, Liam 6, Katy 2, and Evie 8 months. He made pairs of animals and a ramp to go up onto the massive ark! Waiting to welcome the animals are Noah and his wife! The kids love it! 


Toys by Max, Noalh's Ark for Liam and Katy and EvieToys by Max, Liam and Katy play with ark

Max made several of these planes, he loved them himself,  but gave others to friends and family. The puzzles are so delightful and so much fun, we have enjoyed them with the kids and grandkids for years!  Besides the animals, bunny, squirrel, turtle and others, I love the  partridge in the pear tree! Can you tell that hanging up are some trivets? They are so cool, I love them! Then you can see the turtle with the secret drawer in its box! And last but way not least, you can see how much our baby Ali enjoyed the rocking duckie her Dad built for her! There were others,–too many to show, marionettes, and bean bag toss games for home and school! This Santa’s helper  was almost always in his workshop out in our garage! 

Toys by max, plane from front Toys by Max , plane from back Toys by Max, Puzzles , puzzles Toys by max, A partridge in a  pare tree Trivets by MaxTurtle Box made by Max HolshouserTurtle Box with drawer openToys, Rocking Ducky made by Max

How many talents can one man have! Thank you God, many! Besides woodworking , making toys, and being a stained glass artist, Max is a baker and a cook! His mother loved to decorate cakes, and Max must have inherited the genes from her!  Furthermore, one of our daughters, Annie Holshouser, has become a pastry chef! She has just recently gone back to school to earn this certificate, after graduating from Appalachian State University with a business degree some years ago! Do I see a bakery in her future? While Annie has finished her first wedding cakes and won awards lately, her Dad must have inspired her as he produced special cakes year after year for their birthdays! Below I’ve showcased just some of his cakes.  Remember that Annie is really Margaret Anne, and was called Maggie until she decided she wanted to be Annie in highschool! The wedding cake is by Annie, the flowers are made of fondant!  I just had to show you! 

Baker Max makes Winnie the Pooh Cake for Ali's 2nd birthday Baker Max and cake with Snoopy for 3 y o Ali Baker Max, 3 year old Ali loved having Ernie at her party! Baker Max,  Annie was always in love with the mice! Baker Max, birthday cake spelling Maggie Baker Max, agift for Maggie Baker Max , map of NC  for Ali's fourth grade classAnnie's first wedding cake wins a bronze medal!  March 31, 2014

We can’t stop thinking about the baking and creating Max has done over the years without discussing his gingerbread creations! Many, many Christmases our home has been decorated and scented by Max’s incredible gingerbread creations! Before we even had children, Max would begin making something from gingerbread just before Christmas!  We have pictures of many, but i cannot find a picture of one I remember especially well, because it was three feet high! It was a big doll house built of gingerbread, and our only daughter at that time, six-year-old Ali, loved it! (Annie was born two years later.) I cannot believe I cannot find a picture of that incredible house! The first small house shown below was the very first that Max made for us in 1972! He made an enchanting village, trees, snow and all out of gingerbread! I was hooked for life! Look closely at the tower thingy, oh gracious, that was amazing. Unfortunately, the top wouldn’t stay on, so it sat beside the tower for the season, looking stunning! But the piece de resistance was the carousel! Oh how I remember the beauty of that thing! He made reindeer for the horses, and  it was  just a beautiful creation! Using his stained glass skills, he made colored panels for the top of the carousel, out of melted lifesavers! I have a soft spot for carousels, and for my husband Max! LOL Once again I’m sharing one of our pastry chef daughter Annie’s creations with you as well –notice she won a blue ribbon for the gingerbread house she created this past year! 

Baker Max, decorating gingerbread house DSCF9891 Baker Max gingerbread tower Baker Max Baker Max, carousel, gingerbread Annie Holshouser's first gingerbread house wins the blue ribbon, Dec. 2013



Do you remember ever seeing string art ?  It was very popular in the 1970’s, and appealed to Max and me strongly! He loved making it, and I loved seeing it! He ended up making several pieces for us, and several for gifts for others.  String art was made by covering a board with a cloth, or staining it, then placing nails into the wood to form the pattern of the shape you are trying to create! Next you would take your string, yarn, whatever fiber you might choose, and wind it around the nails in specific order so that you would end up with a beautiful pattern, words or shapes! One of the first things Max did was the huge suspension bridge in red on a stained wooden background. That was much lovelier than this picture shows, and we enjoyed it on our walls for many years!  One of our cousins was president of his Civitan club, and liked his design immensely. I hope you will enjoy seeing these and let me know what you think and what is your favorite! 


String art by max, suspension bridge String Art by Max, sailing ship tring art by  Max blue and red circle String Art by Max, Civitan String Art by Max, star like String Art by max DSCF9908String art by Max, owl

Before we leave, let me show you a couple more types of fiber art, string art–in this case cross stitch done by Max! He went to North Carolina State University so  of course he had to do their symbols! They were done years ago but remain on our walls today. He did other crossstitched items meaningful to me especially, but these will take us out of this chapter in the reviewing of Max’s artistic talents. In the next part, I can hardly wait to show you what Max has done as far as bigger construction projects! Less you think I am bragging  mightily, remember that I am trying to detail Max’s legacy and abilities for his descendants so that they might know him! I encourage you all to do something similar, so that following generations will know you and your loved ones also!

Needle Craft by Max, NCSU symbols


This gallery contains 40 photos

Max Alexander Holshouser, Family Man and Extraordinary Craftsman–52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, #35


Max Alexander Holshouser was born September 2, 1949 and turned 65 years old this week! I am blessed to be his wife of 43 years this December, 2014.  We have two daughters, Margaret Anne Holshouser, originally called Maggie who decided she wanted to be called Annie about age 14;  and Ali–Alexandra Kathryn Holshouser  now married to Greg Orcutt with three children. Our family has been blessed a million times over by the presence of our intelligent, quiet, strong, independent, mild-mannered, Max Holshouser! Max grew up in rural North Carolina in the small town of  Richfield.  He played baseball and football, fished and studied.  Max attended NC State University where he excelled in woodworking and majored in Industrial Arts Education. He first worked in industries more than education, among other things designing machines as a mechanical designer and draftsman.  However, in 2001 Max returned to the classroom  at Wakefield High School in Wake County, North Carolina where he taught CAD Drafting, Engineering, and Architecture for twelve years. While working in the professional world, Max raised two daughters and  took care of a disabled parent, his Dad, the last seven years of his life. Max taught Sunday School, lead the youth group, and lead family camp retreats for his church at Western Boulevard Presbyterian Church. He served as a Legislative Chairman for almost every PTA in every school his children attended, until he stepped up to serve as President of the Wake County PTA Council, helping coordinate conferences and volunteerism throughout Wake County, North Carolina. Unfortunately, at fifty, his wife became disabled with heart disease and again he found himself  the caretaker.  All of these trials and tribulations,  joys and adventures are part of Max Holshouser for sure, but he has another dimension to him that only people who get to know him realize–he is a craftsman with boundless talent! His abilities have brought immeasurable joy to our family and to others. He has gifted many of his accomplishments over the years, and I just have to tell you about the incredible talent Max Holshouser possesses, or better yet, show you!  Happy Birthday my cherished husband, this is a tribute well deserved! 



While he was a student at North Carolina State University, Max made an executive desk as his design project for his senior year. It was made from mahogany, and was beautiful.  It was  6′ long,  3′ wide, and 30″ tall. The drawers slid in and out with total ease, and the wood was satiny smooth! I loved it! We moved it from apartment to house to house, with the rooms becoming smaller and smaller, and our children increasing in number, we just did not have room for it. Max gifted it to his sister for use in her upholstery business showroom in Myrtle Beach, SC. Unfortunately, in 1989, Hurricane Hugo hit and flooded her house and business, destroying the beautiful desk! That hurricane had much worse effects on the family than the loss of this desk, you may want to read about it in this post.

Max's six foot, executive, mahogany desk, made while a student at NCSU, 1970-71. DSCF9732


We married at Christmas in 1971. Max had been working on a rocking chair he was making for his niece Leslie. I remember it well, because, not only was it lovely, but he had to finish it on our honeymoon in order to deliver it by Christmas, 1971! Recently, we received a picture of our great-great niece using the darling rocking chair Max made 43 years ago!


DSCF9734 Amanda's daughter in rocker made by Max in 1971.


1972-1974, Max continued to make furniture, but he also started producing beautiful stained glass pieces. We lived in a modern apartment, and Max made furniture in primary colors to fit our lively, 1970’s decor! We had  red shag carpeting, and faux fur cushions made by his sister Brenda Holshouser Goodman to fit the modern chairs he made! The chairs were black and white, and Max made geometric cubes for tables to match! We had a green and yellow decorative dividing wall between our living and dining room, which lit up softly at night, all designed and built by Max! On the wall was a what-not shelf in lime green that spelled out the word LOVE! How romantic a gift from my new husband! Thank heavens we loved primary colors, because a friend and artist, Dennis Anderson, had given us a wedding present of two  6′ x 4′ canvas panels he had painted bright green in geometric shapes! It was the 1970’s! I always felt cheerful with that furniture!


DSCF9736Max made this what-not shelf, spells LOVE, for Helen in 1972.Notice LP album sand designed and built by Max as well.



Max gifted my parents with many lovely items over the years, and his own parents as well. In 1974 Max made an ottoman for my mother to match a  chair she had asked his sister to upholster.  Brenda upholstered the ottoman  to match! In 1973, the ottoman was white, now in 2014, my parents deceased, we own the ottoman which is still strong and sturdy and now covered in red by our talented Brenda of course!


Max's ottoman made for margaret Youngblood, 1974, upholstered by Brenda Holshouser Goodman. Max's ottoman built in 1974, still in use in his home in 2014, 40 years old!


While he was in college, Max worked for a company that created and installed stained glass windows in churches. He enjoyed working with the glass so very much that he continued to create things throughout his life. In 1974  he worked on several stained glass lamps that he then made more of and gifted to our parents, and our sisters and brothers. The first green one went to my parents and now hangs in  my daughter Ali’s home. The red one went to Max’s parents, but now hangs in our living room as they are also deceased. We have another blue stained glass lamp which was made originally for Max’s parents as well. It now sits proudly in our living room. I remember watching Max create the mold to shape the stained glass globe around! It was amazing to watch it come together. Over the years he made a transom window for some friends, and many small stained glass sun catchers. What a creative man!


DSCF9589 DSCF9788 DSCF9790 DSCF9596

DSCF9796blue stained glass globe


There is so much more I want to show you, I’ve hardly begun! I’d like to show you his string art, and his cross stitched designs that we have loved for many years! There are the decks, stone patio, and sheds he’s constructed!  Then there are the toys: trains, planes, puzzles, and Noah’s Ark among others! Come back for chapter two! Isn’t it amazing how many gifts God gave this man, my husband Max?! Some people sing, some dance, some are great orators, Max is an artist, an artisan, an awesome man! Happy Birthday honey, I love you with all my heart.

Click here for Part 2,  Max A. Holshouser, Toys, Baking, and String Art!

Click here for Part 3 of 3: Max A. Holshouser, Designer  and Builder of Decks, Stone Patios, and Other Projects Large and Small


This gallery contains 27 photos

W. Thomas Houchins, An Ancestor Gone Wrong –52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks #34


MOD, lover's Leap

Patrick County, Virginia, photo by Helen Y. Holshouser

If you’ve followed my blog, you know that I’ve written about many incredibly talented individuals with brilliant minds, and great leadership  qualities. However, in every family, there are a few members you don’t hear about.  That’s a good description of my great Uncle Tom Houchins. As a child, I knew all my great aunts and uncles who were Houchins, my mother’s mother’s family, who were also the children of Evelyn Langhorne–from a wealthy and influential family in Virginia before the Civil War. At least I thought I knew them!  I was in my late teens before I realized that there was another Great Uncle I had never heard of! He lived in Florida while we lived in Virginia, so it was easy to keep him unknown to young kids growing up. What amazes me is that my Mom  was one of six sisters who were very close, and very family oriented. They kept up with their own Aunts and Uncles, and therefore we knew them and our cousins as well! How could it be, that I learned as an adult that we had this petty criminal , irresponsible playboy, and business success all wrapped up in one, in our own family! Kudos Mom, as a mom of the 1950’s, you did your job of “sheltering the children” well!  In recent years, of course, I’ve  talked with my cousins as adults, and we realize our mothers were all aware of our great Uncle Tom’s exploits, but none of them told us–talk about a code of silence (!) and he wasn’t an axe murder or anything! Want to know just what he did do?

Some of it is almost funny, some is sad, some terrible! Take your pick, because you are the only judge. Thomas,  was born William Thomas Houchins 14 June, 1890, in Patrick County,Virginia, a beautiful,  mountainous area of Southwest Virginia. On the 1900 Census we can see the whole family intact for the very last time. Little did they know when the census was taken in June of 1900, that by October, their loving mother, aged 34, would be dead, and their father would leave them for another woman and to start a new family!  Four more months of oblivious childhood–then the reality of a hard life, a different life would set in! They had lived at one time with their grandfather, James Steptoe Langhorne. But he was not well, was blind, and would die within three years as well, so what were these children to do?! You can see on the census, six living children out of nine, as their mother died birthing twins in Oct.1900. (see blog post re. Evelyn here)  Another sister,Virginia Myrtle had died at age 2, about six years earlier. Katie, their oldest child and daughter at age 16 was my grandmother. Was she panicked when her mother died and her father left? Grief stricken I’m sure!  Her sister Julia was 15, Harry was only 13, but would be blind with the family disease by 17. Then there is Wm.Thomas, our  subject of this blog, at the tender age of 9, days before his tenth birthday! His whole world was going to come crashing down around his head! There were two little boys, John and Guy, ages 4 and 3 respectively, did they even remember being a family?

Houchins and Langhorne, Eve, 1900 Census, all family

1900 Census : Souce, Ancestry.com

I knew three of them fairly well. My grandmother died before I was born unfortunately,  and Guy died when I was only five. (now I know all of their descendants, my siblings and cousins! )  Great Uncle John and his wife Aunt Josephine lived in Staunton, Virginia where she taught at the school for the deaf. I remember visiting them often as a child. Uncle John was always mannerly and kind to me. Great Uncle Harry was blind when I  knew him, but he would come see us and stay for days. He would sit out on our front porch and play his banjo and sing!  I would sit at his feet and beg him to play more! more, more! Great Aunt Julia lived in Richmond where we did and we saw her often. When her grandson Billy Pat, who was just my age came to visit, I would get so excited! We would swim, and play and just got along famously. Aunt Julia herself was a lawyer–the first female ast. district attorney in the state of Va. Sometimes she scared me to death! She could freeze you with one look! LOL I’m sure that served her well in the courtroom! In actuality, she was a sweet, kind woman who would do anything for family.  I never knew my Great Uncle Tom existed, until 1966 or 7, when I was a Junior or Senior in highschool. That summer my parents went to visit him and took my younger brother with them! My brother would have been about 12 probably. While I was shocked to learn I had another great uncle alive and successful in Florida, I paid little attention. You see, this was the first time I was allowed to stay home alone with my older brother and sister while our parents were gone away for a week! A week! We had a ball, and thought little of whom they were visiting , I’m sorry to say! I now know my uncle was dying. I suspect Mom knew, and wanted to visit him one last time!  So sad to have been an oblivious teenager! He died in 1968, with no children, but an interesting life.

Thomas was 10 when his mother died. A wealthy close cousin,, Lady Astor, Nancy Langhorne, swoooped in and sent him to military school to continue his growing up! You’d think that would do it! On the 1910 census, taken on April 16, we can see that he is enrolled as a Major in the army and is stationed at Fort Myer Military Reservation in Alexandria, Virginia. He is listed as 23 and single on the census.  Did he lie, or is that a typo? We know that  in April of  1910, he would have been only 19, turning twenty that June! We are also told by family members that he had married one Martina Ruth Bowie on January 11, 1910, when they were both 19 years old!  Then we find the US Army Register of Enlistments where we find that Thomas was dishonorably discharged on October 26, 1911. Oh my gracious!

The only way to fill the years in between 1910 and 1930 when our couple is found in Chicago, is to listen to family stories. Thomas’s niece, the famous Mary Stuart of TV fame, wrote about him in her memoirs, Both of Me. She says he was known to have “shot a revenuer”  in the mountains of Virginia and that he joined the army to escape punishment! He would have been a teenager, home from military school, where would he have been living? So, he joins the army and we find him there in 1910. He also gets married that year. We are told in the family, that he deserts the army and heads off to who knows where, but wait, his wife is not with him. Apparently he is going to meet her, when he gets drunk, and marries another woman, becoming a bigamist! All before he is 20! This kid is in trouble–shooting, desertion from the army, now bigamy!

But he has an ace up his sleeve! He has a loving sister who is an attorney! And sure enough, his sister, only 5 years older, but married and living in Richmond, Va. by then, a ripe old age of 25, comes to his rescue! My Great Aunt Julia  helps him annul his bigamist marriage, she works with the army to get him his dishonorable discharge with no prison time,  and it seems there were no charges pending from the rumor that he “shot a revenuer”!  My suspicion is that this older and wiser sister of his also gave him her famous glare, and told him to grow up and fly right–did he?

The next census I can find, 1930,  shows my great Uncle Thomas living in Chicago, with his wife Lillian–in fact, they are listed as Thomas and Lilian Anglin, not W.Thomas Houchins and Martina Bowie, his wife! Wow! I would never have found them of course, except for family stories, not given by any of the sisters, but pieced together through the cousins when we were all over 50 and our mothers were gone! They took these secrets to their graves!

I learned that indeed, they changed their names, legally or not I do not know, but I doubt it..and there is more to the story! What name did he choose? Thomas Smith, or Jones, oh no — Anglin–Thomas Anglin–how sad! Thomas Anglin was his first cousin who lived in Oklahoma! The real Thomas Anglin was a State Senator there in fact–another of the good guys! The real Thomas Anglin  was the son of Pocahontas Houchins and her husband John B. Anglin, also from Patrick County, Virginia, who had moved to Oklahoma. I wonder if he knew? I wonder if our Aunt Pokey knew when  she died in 1927! Wouldn’t she have been furious at her nephew, her brother’s son, a criminal –that he would dare to take her famous son’s name! Can you imagine the family feuds that might have erupted! No Thanksgiving Dinner family gatherings for them! Apparently, it never happened!  Our Thomas Anglin and wife Lilian  lived peacefully and prosperously it appears! By the 1940 census, we find him and Lilian living in Dade County Florida, in Coral Gables! This is where my Mom, Dad, and brother visited him in the late 1960’s! They had a business school there that they owned, and apparently it was very successful! “Buyer Beware” rings in my ears! Of course,  we didn’t have computers  in the  years when he was alive. I understand that their school had a great reputation! He and Lilian never had children. I wonder , did they feel guilty; live in fear of being discovered?  It’s hard to believe–in the midst of attorneys, State Senators (in Virginia as well), actual revenue agents hunting moonshine stills, educators, and so on, how do you get one like this?  You could say he was  scared by his mother’s death and his father’s desertion at his age 10, that he was hurt severely, and perhaps so. It may be that something happened in military school to a young boy of 10–18–that’s a tough way to grow up! However, his brothers and sisters did just fine it seems. We will never know, but wow–what a discovery of a sad and eccentric member of our family! What a journey he had.

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Margaret Steptoe Kerse Youngblood, My Mother, 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, #33


Kerse, Margaret Steptoe

Margaret Steptoe Kerse Youngblood

Kerse sisters at Nancy's wedding

Five sisters participate in their sister Nancy’s wedding to Bob Guthrie in 1943. He was a pilot and was killed over France in WWII. l to r, Katherine Kerse Buck with husband Roger next to her.The next two adults are Guthries, she is Cilla Guthrie, sister of the Groom. The child is the flower girl, Claudia Burnett Williamson, daughter of Julia Louise Kerse Burnett standing with her. In the middle you see the bride Nancy Langhorne Kerse and her husband Bob Guthrie. Next is Margaret Steptoe Kerse Youngblood, with an unknown man next to her. The last sister shown is Janey Bell Kerse Sommers, and behind her on the end is Cecil Hogue Youngblood, Margaret’s husband, my father.

Kerse Sisters, improved picture

l to r, Katherine Langhorne Kerse Buck, Julia Louise Kerse Burnett, Evelyn L. Kerse Anderson, Janey Bell Kerse Sommers, Nancy Langhorne Kerse Goodell and last is Margaret Steptoe Kerse Youngblood

My mother, Margaret Steptoe Kerse (pronounced Kearse) was born February 21, 1918.  She was the fourth of seven children born to Thomas (Tom) Philip Kerse and Katherine (Kate) Steptoe Houchins. Kate was a nurse in a time when women traditionally did not have careers. Tom was an Irish Police Officer like his father. Both came from wealthy families at one time.  In the beginning of the marriage, Tom had a gentleman’s gentleman to care for him. The family always had a cook and nanny to care for the children. They had a small yacht called The Lady Jane from which they swam and had their friends over for parties. Their father and grandfather held tours and dinner excursions on the Lady Jane to raise money for charities in the Richmond area where they lived. You might enjoy a blog post about the Lady Jane written earlier, by clicking on this link. 

Lady Jane, boat belonging to Thomas P.Kerse

The Lady Jane

Mom was only four years old when a tragedy, her first (her mother’s fourth or fifth) hit the family! Mom’s older brother Bucky (Thomas Phillip Kerse Jr.) drowned in the James River!  He was only eight years old, and Mom was half his age! She remembered it well however, and talked about it her whole life, so we knew it was a defining moment for her. Because of his drowning, she made sure we were all excellent swimmers, and she never let us go down to the James River, so close to our house, without adult supervision! That was her strictest, and one of her few rules!  You can read the story of  Bucky’s drowning in this blog post if you’d like. Mom’s mother Kate, my grandmother, was only 10 when her own little sister died. She was seven when their family home burned to the ground!  Kate was 17, with five younger living siblings, when her mother, Evaline Langhorne, died in childbirth, and her father deserted the family to create another one. She must have been a strong woman, to have become a nurse while living with relatives, her siblings scattered, living in a city 300 or more miles from her beautiful mountain home where she was reared, in Patrick County, Virginia. These were the life experiences she brought to her own family, my mother and her siblings! 

Mom and her sisters attended Catholic schools and St. Patrick’s Catholic Church where the whole family was involved. Mom used to say that one or the other of the seven of them was often in trouble, and had to kneel and pray for repentance so often that their Mom sewed kneeling pads inside their skirts so that their knees wouldn’t get so sore! 

The depression hit in 1929 and my grandparents lost all their money, yet had to take care of their children!  In January 1930, more tragedy hit the family. My grandmother Kate was shot in the head by one of her patients! He had been in a coma, and upon regaining consciousness, he thought she was the enemy, or that she was going to hurt  him, and he grabbed a gun, one long in the room that no one knew was loaded. He shot my grandmother, then he died a few hours later, not knowing what he had done undoubtedly!  But the family suffered, she didn’t die, but was forever maimed, not quite herself as the inoperable bullet affected her speech and thinking ability. My mother was 12 years old when this happened! Gracious!  If we think of the time line of Mom’s life, age 4 her brother dies, age 11 her family loses money in the depression, and by age 12 her mother is shot and brain damaged. I am not sure just what was going on with her father during all of this, we heard little about him when we were growing up, even under direct questioning! I got the impression that he was pretty much absent, at least emotionally, and the second oldest sister, Katherine, aged 14 when her mother was shot, apparently took over the mothering/management duties for her four younger sisters. With all this adversity, the family could have been totally disrupted, instead, the sisters grew closer! You can see in the pictures above, they were often together. That continued all of their lives, so that their children, us first cousins, grew close also.

With this childhood in mind, what do you think my mother’s adult life might be like? Mother and her sisters were all intelligent women. Three of the five sisters finished college, Mom attended college for two years, She did not finish for various reasons, lack of money, war was looming on the horizon, and it may not have seemed that important at the time, although education was always important to her philosophically. I remember when she died and I was thirty, only a couple months from graduating with my Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology, I was devastated hat she died before I finished, because I knew how much it meant to her! My sister also earned a Master’s degree in Reading and Education, like Mom and her sisters; we were determined to be able to make a living. 

Mom was 21 when her father died, I’m sure that affected her concentration at school, and probably made her think she needed to be at home taking care of her Mom. I wish I had realized all of this growing up, I’d love to have talked with Mom about it. Somewhere between their father and mother’s deaths, the family sold the yacht to a local judge, and they all left the Catholic Church! Leaving the church must have been a momentous decision! I did ask my mother about this a time or two, and she always said she told my Dad that she would become a Methodist like he was, if he promised to go to church every Sunday and to raise his children in the church! He must have taken that seriously, because that is exactly how we were raised! There is only one question, it just so happens that I realize now that Mom and her sisters left the Catholic Church earlier for the Presbyterian Church just down the street from where they lived. Was this due to the influence of teenaged friends, convenience, a crisis of faith?  (That would certainly be understandable!) Just after her father died in 1939, Mom met and married my father, and my older sister was born in 1942, just before her Mother died in 1943.  One would think she had her new husband for support when her mother died, but unfortunately he had already joined the army preparing for WWII duty. She had a new baby, and shared an apartment with some of her sisters whose husbands were off at war themselves. They were together when their sister Nancy’s husband was shot down in his plane over France and killed. 

Mom showed what a strong woman she was all her years. She went out and got a job, using the typing and business skills she’d learned in college. Mom made sure her daughters could type as well, so that we would be prepared to get a job if need be.  She typed well, fast, and accurately.  She typed her way right into the mortgage business, ended up getting her real estate license, and had a successful career in realty and mortgage. From age 24 to age 37 she had four children, two girls and two boys. We would have run her ragged, except when Dad came home from the war, they moved in with his mother who had recently lost her own husband. Grandma stayed home with us kids once we were in school, so that Mom could work. Mom was a rare breed, a true career woman in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s! 

When I was a young child, b. in 1949, Mom always walked about two miles back and forth to catch a bus to work –sometimes we walked with her! When she was 36, my sister was 12, my brother 8, and I was 6. My younger brother had not been born yet! Thirty- six and she finally learned to drive a car! She surprised us all when she bought her own car after passing her driver’s test! I remember, it was an old, rounded, 1954 Chevy, brand new at the time of course! She was so proud of that car, and my older sister was so proud of her!  We lived on a hill, so our driveway was steep. One afternoon, a neighbor named Nancy and I both got in the car to wait for Mom to take us to Brownie Scouts! We must have been playing around and knocked off the emergency brake or something, because suddenly the car was rolling backwards down the hill! At that time, there was nothing across the street but woods and a creek. I remember that Nancy and I both jumped out of the car, and ran into the house screaming, “Momma, Momma, the car is rolling backwards down the hill! Momma, momma…!” LOL By the time we all got outside, of course, it was across the street, in the woods, all the way into the creek! Her new car!  LOL  Mom didn’t fuss at us, didn’t cry, just said something about being more careful and not being in the car without her! 

Mom was very creative and playful when she had the chance. She and my Dad played bridge every week with different friends. She created doll clothes, and played cards with us. My sister remembers how she loved to make special treats for the neighbor children at Halloween! She would dress up in a costume to deliver the treats at the door as well. I have pictures of her in a Halloween costume with my older daughter Ali. Unfortunately, she had passed away before my youngest was born. We loved hanging out with Mom, because she was fun! 

Ali age 4 , 1978, Halloween with Grandma Margaret

Ali Holshouser age 4 with Grandma Margaret Kerse Youngblood, 1978, Halloween

I remember that sometimes we would find Mom up alone, in the middle of the night, just sitting in the dark and quiet. I asked her once why she did this, and she said she was “practicing for when I am an old lady and blind!”–thus walking around in the dark!  I now suspect she was seeking some alone time in a household with 7 people including 4 children, a demanding husband, and a mother-in-law! During my genealogical reseach I have also learned that there was an inherited disease that caused blindness that ran in her side of the family. Retinitis Pigmentosa had blinded 15 people in earlier generations! 

Unfortunately, when Mom was just 50 years old, she had a severe heart attack, I ended up doing the same when I was 50–not the inheritance I wanted! My sister had gotten married a couple years before Mom got sick, my brother one year before, and I was a sophmore in college. My younger brother was only 12. Mom had to quit work, and quit driving, and had her wings severely clipped. It hit my youngest brother the hardest of course since he was still at home! She lived for 12 years however, dying at age 62, after nine more heart attacks! 

Mother was highly respected and liked by her boses, coworkers, neighbors, and those at church. She was friendly and always tried to help others.  She was a natural born leader who taught Sunday school, organized Bible School for the children, and generally took care of everyone and everything. In fact, she served as Superintendant of Sunday Schools at our church for many years! She also had liberal leanings politically, and taught her daughters to follow along through modeling. She worked at the polls because she believed in the right to vote so strongly. She also believed in Civil Rights for people of different races long before it was a popular subject. She believed it was important to take care of those who were poor, who had less than you. She thought it was a sin to have money in your pocket if another person was going hungry. I try to be like that today. Mother put her beliefs into action, cosigning loans for people who needed help buying a house or car. Delivering food and clothes, she was a busy woman. She was a free thinker, very open minded, and almost a bit bohemian.  When she died, the church was full of mourners singing her praises. We heard story after story of how she had helped someone or another, how she had changed their lives for the better! The church even placed a stained glass window in her honor in the women’s Sunday School Class! What an honor! 

Obviously  I loved Mom dearly, she was individualistic and special. We were lucky to have her! 

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Spangler, Mary Josephine-Poet in the Shadows of Her Famous Husband and Brothers—52 Ancestors in 52 weeks, #32

MOD, lover's LeapMary Josephine Spangler lived from the 14th of September, 1887- until the 7th of March, 1970. I would have been 21 the week after she died. Plenty old enough to have taken the chance to know her and some of my first cousins, 2x removed who lived in the mountains of Virginia, while I lived in Richmond, Va. –but I did not know of them! How sad! These were the children of my great grandmother’s children! She had died in 1900, they came along about 1882- 1892,  my grandmother’s first cousins. My grandmother, who knew them, died before I was born in 1949. Home from the war, four children and a mother to care for, my Dad was busy keeping up with his own 3 sibling’s families and my Mom worked full time (unusual for women of the 1950’s) and was busy keeping up with her five sisters and all of our cousins there! We had a full life, so we didn’t realize what we were missing! Fast forward 65 years, and here we have our first joint family reunion, with two families of my great-grandmother, descendants of two sisters: Fannie and Evelyn Langhorne. How exciting! We discovered a lot to love about each other, a lot we had in common, and some differences. We left the reunion, wanting more!

Fannie and Evelyn were two of nine children of James Steptoe Langhorne and Elizabeth Rachel Omohundro. Evelyn married Walter Thomas Houchins and had nine children of her own, with three dying in childbirth or early childhood. Fannie married Wallace Wolford Spangler and had six children with him. There were lots of cousins in our huge family!

Spanglers and Vippermans, 1915, may 16.

With stars in the family like the Spangler musicians– John Watts Spangler called “Babe” and dubbed the “Old Virginia Fiddler”; Dudley Spangler, also a recording star fiddler called “Babe”; Charles Langhorne, Tump, a fiddler and a state legislator—it’s easy to see, why a quieter, female, sister, Mary Josephine Spangler, who was a poet, might get little attention! After all, she was busy raising four children of her own, while her well-known husband Dudley played and sang for the masses! At our Langhorne family reunion, I had the absolute joy to see and get to know three of her children!  They are Margie Spangler Cartwright-92, William Wallace Spangler, 91, and Bernice Spangler Irvin, 84. They are all full of enthusiasm, knowledge, and generosity! They brought recordings of their Dad and Uncle Babe singing and playing for us to hear, which was wonderful! But they brought a special treat as well. They brought poetry with them, poetry that their mother had written and poetry that Margie had written and made into a song! I hope to share that with you in another post.

This is a poem by their mother, Mary Josephine. It is called simply, “Mayberry Virginia”. There is a true community nearby called Mayberry, where life was very simple in the early days. It is in fact, where Andy Griffith first visited and got his idea for the name Mayberry for the small town of his television show.  In this way, and in others, this poem is a marker of history, and shows that Mary Josephine was paying close attention to current events when she wrote it in the 1930’s. You see, the poem is also about the coming of the Blue Ridge Parkway to that area of Virginia. President Roosevelt and Congress approved the building of the Parkway in Virginia and North Carolina to provide a scenic trail for sure, but also to put hundreds, even thousands to work as the country was recovering from the depression. Work in Virginia started in 1936. The very end of the poem refers to an electric dam, and to Danville. One of our Langhorne cousins, Lucy Lea Rudd, shared with me that the Dams her Aunt Josie was speaking of are on the Dan River and were built in the 1930’s. They are in a canyon that runs from Vesta, south of Meadows of Dan, and Mayberry. Lucy said  that her father worked on them, which is why she knew they were built in the ’30’s.  How’s that for a bit of eye- witness history! Thank you Lucy Rudd! T he dams are owned by the city of Danville according to Lucy, and people have to have permission to go down to them. Mary Josephine knew all of this, and put it in  a poem! Well done my cousin!


“Mayberry Virginia” ©

 by Mary Josephine Spangler, in the second part of the 1930’s,



National-Park-Guide-NCs-Blue-Ridge-Parkway-PH1RIU63, ravel.usatoday.com/destinations/story/2012-07-12/National-Park-Guide-North-Carolinas-Blue-Ridge-Parkway/56155918/1

Three cheers for Mayberry Virginia,            

With roads of every kind,

Some go to the east; some go to the west,

And some ore the mountains wind.


The scenic highway’s coming,

Room for every soul,

We will not have to push or pull,

Just let the car wheels roll.


Blue_Ridge_Parkway, commons.wikimedia.org

Blue_Ridge_Parkway, commons.wikimedia.org

Our cattle will soon by traveling,              

Thru tunnels under ground.

The old jersey cow with the bell on,

Won’t even make a sound.


Crossroads will be bridged,            

Up toward the sky so far,

That when the planes fly over,

They’ll wonder what they are.


Then when our children start to school,

Underground or overhead,

None at the crossroads,

Will be found hurt or dead.


Graves now dot the hilltops,

But there will be no new ones then.

We all will live, I am quite sure,

Three score years and ten.


This road will take you to the mill,

That’s just around the bend.

Where buckwheat, corn, and wheat are ground,

Which ere you choose to send.


And when the northern tourists come,

That is seeking to get fatter,

We’ll stuff them up on buckwheat cakes,

And let them drink some batter.


Cold water is always flowing,

From mountain, hill, or lowland,

So when Miami tourists drink,

They’ll say, “Oh my, ‘tis grand!”


The Appalachian Trail comes by,

From Maine, to way down South,

But these tourists rarely stop to drink, no matter rain or drought.


Danville will hard surface,

Five miles, it is no sham.

500 men will hit this trail,

And build an electric dam.




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