Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Angels Abound

*Look for a new posting each Tuesday and Friday*

A couple of years ago following one of my "much too short" visits to Mother's house in Tiptonville, I shared with Miss Catherine's family a typical day for our "Bubba." A vainer woman would be appalled at my sharing these "all too personal" details, but I believe Mother's many friends, former students, and even her younger family members will appreciate how well Miss Catherine has adapted to her "circumstances"; Remember her biblical motto: "In what-so-ever state I am in, therefore to be content." And for the most part she seems to be content.
Mother's routine, two years after this letter was written to the family, has not changed too much.  She requires a little more assistance for some of the daily tasks, but her appetite remains fairly good and her disposition is still strong.  She still enjoys her twice a week trips to Lakeview for dinner; and while she is not always sure who is coming up to greet her, she retains that graciousness that allows her to say: "Well, I'm just fine, and how are you doing?"  Only after the visitor has left the table does she look toward Sue and says: "I think I should know that lady that just spoke to me, but I'm not sure what her name was."

Angels Abound

A day in the life of Catherine LeDuke

            The morning started off just the way the previous night ended; with a kiss.  I woke Mother at 9:00, as usual.  When her eyes opened she immediately leaned up toward me, wanting me to lean down and give her a hug.  I told her it was time to start another day.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Pink Afghan Finds a Home

*Look for a new posting every Tuesday and Friday*

A previous posting started the Afghan Story and this one finishes it.  As I stated in my letter to Henry, I was saving the pink afghan in anticipation of the Lott family getting a "Lott" bigger.  Of course I had no way of knowing in 2006 exactly when, or if, I would add to my granddaughter collection, but I managed to hold on to the new pink afghan found at mother's house and surprisingly I knew where I had put it.
Catherine and Kate at Lakeview
Mother's globe-trotting days had ended by the time of Kate's baptism in September of 2008 so their first introduction did not take place until a couple of years later.  Jennifer tells me that Henry and Kate ask about "Bubba" often and remember the purple foil-wrapped Hershey's Kisses that mother gave them from the candy dish near her favorite chair in Tiptonville.  More than once, on my visiting trips, I have brought them each a handful to refresh their memory of her. 
September 14, 2008

Dear Katherine Margaret Lott,

Henry and Kate outside Tiptonville Presbyterian
            If I may be allowed to set the stage properly, the year is 2086 and you have gone to visit your brother Henry.  You are both older than I was when I first wrote these letters many years ago.  I know ya’ll remember me; the very funny old man with the two day old beard and a hearing problem that drove every one a little batty.  You came to many of the PPPP events each summer and helped me get up and down stairs.  But neither of you could ever beat me at Michigan Rummy or Backgammon.

            On this particular day you and Henry are stretched out in front of a big fireplace.  You brought with you the big box of memories that your mother kept and added to regularly all the years of her life.  And on your laps are the two afghans which I gave to each of you before you were even one year old. 

            Go ahead, Henry, and read aloud the letter that came with your afghan explaining the origin of both your lap robes.  That’s right Kate.  That’s your pink afghan that I mentioned at the end of Henry’s letter.  Of course, I got the date wrong.  It was actually given to you in 2008 not 2009.  Your mom and dad were a little ahead of my time table.

            I’m writing this letter a few days prior to your Baptism that is coming up this Sunday morning.  Go ahead and tell Henry to dig out the letter I wrote after his Baptism.  The words and sentiments expressed in that letter really apply to you both.  Most everyone mentioned attended both ceremonies.  The most notable exception was the absence of your Great-Grandmother Bubba.

            In the two years between these events Bubba’s health has taken a turn for the worse.  She turned 92 this past January and while she is still living at home with your Aunt Sue, she is simply not able to make long trips any more.  When I told her you were being baptized this Sunday, she asked me to be sure and give you a special hug and kiss from her.  She wished she could be here Sunday for you as she was for Henry.  At her church, the Tiptonville Presbyterian Church, she has asked the preacher to say a prayer for you and to announce to the congregation that her very special Great-Grand Daughter Katherine Margaret Lott, was baptized this day, at this hour.  It’s almost like you’re getting two ceremonies for the price of one.

            I want to say a word to both of you as you sit there all nice and warm and cozy.

I want to make sure that the box of memories that your mother so lovingly put together for you is handed down to your own grand kids.  I’m especially concerned that the two of you pass on all the books and letters and writings of, and about, your Great-Grand Father James Neville LeDuke and your Great-Grand Mother Catherine Patty LeDuke.

            These are two very special people that should never be forgotten.  Unfortunately neither of you has any direct memory of either of them so you must rely on the contents of your memory chest.  Hopefully you will remember much of what I have told you about them and what your mother and your Aunt Amanda have shared over the years.  Don’t let the flames of these wonderful ancestors of yours die out.

            You are both so very lucky to have had Jennifer and Dan as your parents all these years; and lucky to have the ancestry of them both.  Learn all you can about both those family trees and pass everything down to all those that follow you.

            May God bless you in your last years as he has blessed you from your baptism through all your life.                             

                                    I’ve loved you both always,           
PaPa Duke.


Jimmy LeDuke (I'd love to hear from you...feel free to comment below, or click HERE to send me an e-mail.)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Welcome, Henry, to God's Club

 *Look for new posting each Tuesday and Friday*

My last post had a picture from my grandson Henry's baptism, so this seemed appropriate as a follow-up. Before Catherine LeDuke returned home from her Atlanta trip in October of 2006, we reminisced about the previous day's church service and how special the gathering of so many of our family had been.  I summed up Mother's thoughts in a note to Henry for inclusion in his memory box.
October 16, 2006

 Dear Henry,

            Yesterday you were baptized at the church your mother grew up in, St. Timothy United Methodist Church in Stone Mountain, Georgia.  You won’t remember the event because you were only 6 months old.  Somewhere in a shoe box or a scrap book you may find some pictures of the occasion.  But just in case you can’t find any I want to leave you a few of my thoughts concerning that day.

            To begin with you behaved better than any infant I have ever seen at a baptism.  When some strange person grabs you out of your mother’s arms and splashes water all over your face, you have every right to scream your head off.  But you did not.  Then that water splasher paraded you up and down the aisle showing you off to a bunch of old people that you will never see again.

            When you finally got back into your mom’s arms she sat you down on the front pew where you proceeded to stare at the Preacher lady throughout the entire service.  Never once did you make a peep.  It appeared you were hanging on every word from the pulpit.  Any drug problem you may have had during your lifetime can probably be traced to whatever your mom gave you that Sunday morning.

            Seated beside you and your mom and dad on the front row, was your daddy’s mother and father and your mom’s mom.  But behind you on the next four pews is the real story worth knowing about.  All four rows were packed with family and friends.  You had four girl cousins that probably have tortured you at every family event you have ever been to while growing up.  You had a batch of Aunts and Uncles that know just how to stuff five dollar bills into birthday cards. 

            And behind us all was yet another pew full of your mom’s and your grand mom’s friends from the Stone Mountain area.  They were there because your Mom is a very special lady with a truly close knit family of friends.

            I was also there with an extra Grandmother to help keep you spoiled all your life when visiting Atlanta.  But the most special treat of all was that you had in attendance someone that very few people get to have, your Great-Grandmother Catherine LeDuke, of afghan fame.  Ask any body in your family and they will tell you that your Great-Grandmother is actually one of God’s special angels that he loaned to Earth.  And she was there to see you receive the most important sacrament of your life.

            What I want most to have you know about this event is that the gathering of this many people, just for a show starring you, speaks volumes about the kind of family that you have been lucky enough to be born into.  You have two loving parents who have a very large cast of characters behind them.  Everyone in this Henry James Lott production has a special part to play in your life. 

            Learn to appreciate each one of these weird players.  They will move in and out of your life with each act and each scene that makes up your time on this earth.  You will rarely see them all on stage at the same time, but you can be sure that they are forever on call awaiting their cue.

            Henry, always be thankful for the depth of family and friends behind your Mom and Dad.  God has put you in a special place with a special group.    
            Yesterday, in front of all these witnesses He declared that you are a member of His family too.  May you be blessed all your life as you are today.



Jimmy LeDuke (I'd love to hear from you...feel free to comment below, or click HERE to send me an e-mail.)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The "Afghan," A Family Tradition

*Look for a new blog posting every Tuesday and Friday*

Bubba and great-grandson Henry

In an effort to share all things "Catherine" my posting today is a letter I wrote to my first and only grandson before he was born.  At family gatherings Henry is outnumbered when surrounded by my other five beautiful grandchildren.  The picture at the right was taken at his baptism at St. Timothy's United Methodist Church in Stone Mountain, Georgia.  We have always marveled at the way he is staring at his "Bubba"; her students have always paid close attention to her.

March 27, 2006

Dear Henry James,

Happy "Zero" Birthday!!!!

          Your Mother may have already opened your present for you a few days early.  Or perhaps a few days late if I remain true to form and don’t mail it in time to arrive before you do.  At any rate I wanted you to have a few facts about this afghan so that you might appreciate it more.  Like when you are old and gray and sitting in front of an open fire dozing in your recliner with a scrap book full of pictures of your grand kids in your lap.  Spread out over your tired legs will be this afghan.
          My, how time flies.  It seems like only yesterday when you weren’t even born yet and already you’ve got one foot in the grave.

          A few months ago when I learned of your existence I began thinking about what I should get you to start you on the road to “Tradition Appreciation.” You see, I have most all my life held the opinion that the fabric that holds families close is the formation and maintenance of “Traditions”.
          Now you need to understand that a tradition by my definition need not be old in time to be important to those who embrace a particular tradition.  Nor does a tradition require a large number of participants to make it important.  It can actually be meaningful even if only one other person is involved.  However, I encourage you to include others as much as possible, to enhance the shared moments of those special activities.  Nothing will give you more pleasure than recognizing with a loved one that a new tradition has just been born.
          And traditions do not have to be monumental to be meaningful to those in the circle.  The small, intimate events that get tapped for inclusion can be the most fun for all that share that particular moment.
          And perhaps most important of all, traditions don’t have to last a lifetime.  They can be allowed to fade quietly away as the parties of that tradition move on to other times, other moments.  Granted, it’s more fun to nourish them all but we must be realistic and let some move into our memory scrapbooks to be savored during those quiet times in front of the fire place.

                                 Which brings us back to your afghan.

          Several years ago your Great-Grandmother, Catherine Frazier Patty LeDuke, henceforth known as “Bubba” (another story for another time), entered her afghan period.  During this phase of her life she made the yarn industry happy—ecstatic even.  If your last name was LeDuke, if you were married to a LeDuke, if you knew a LeDuke, if you knew someone who knew a LeDuke, she made you an afghan.
 Mother mixed and matched her yarns well and to the best of my knowledge no two of the 683 afghans were the same, at least not the same color.  They were however, virtually all the same pattern.  Just look down at your lap and imagine 682 other wavy lined spreads scattered through out the world, bringing joy, peace, and warmth to 1364 other knees in front of other fire places.  Now that’s a tradition shared by many. 
          Now it was my intention to pass on to you the afghan that is in my lap now.  But it’s reddish in color and has too many salsa stains on it.  Your mother would not approve.  So when I was in Tiptonville last month, I decided to check and see if there were any unclaimed afghans laying around.  Low and behold I found a brand new one.  Unfortunately it was almost entirely pink.  Now I don’t know how things are in the year 2086, but in our time your father would not allow you to sleep under a pink afghan.  Soooooo, I kept looking.
          And right there on Bubba’s sofa was the very afghan that covers your lap right now.  A beautiful, acceptably appropriate blue one that I knew your Daddy would let you keep.  The only problem was that it was one that Mother had made for Sue.  Once I explained my desire to put a “Bubba”ghan in your lap, and the color restrictions, Sue quickly agreed to give her blue afghan to you. 

          So there you have it, a long Papa story basically about nothing.  Well not really about nothing.  You see, I wanted you to realize that whenever you hold this afghan you will know that a lot of loving hands were involved in getting it into you lap:
               Your Great-grand Mother made it.
               Your Aunt Sue gave it to you.
               Your Nana Duke washed it.
               Your Daddy picked the color.
               Your Mother unwrapped it   
               And your Papa Duke thunk it up.  
          So enjoy it ‘til you're 85 then pass it on to your great-grand son.  Since it’s blue it can’t go to your great-grand daughter.  But don’t worry, that pink one that I first found at Bubba’s is still in your family.  I saved it and gave it to your sister for her “zero” birthday in 2009.


On Friday, I'll share the letter written to Henry's sister Kate on the same "afghan" subject.

Jimmy LeDuke (I'd love to hear from you...feel free to comment below, or click HERE to send me an e-mail.)

Friday, February 15, 2013

Channeling Catherine LeDuke

I have recently been confessing my invasion of mother’s privacy and rationalizing my actions as justified in order to do a proper job providing tribute to her.  I know she would not mind if I was only concentrating on James Neville.  But Miss Catherine would not approve of the attention I am attempting to rain down on her.  Her humility is one of her strengths; and she has many.

Like many people of advanced age and possessed of some kind of infirmity, mother has questioned the logic of the Good Lord for not calling her on Home.  It is a difficult discussion to engage in with our loved ones, but our family has been blessed to hear her rise during these rare bits of depression and repeat a bible verse we have heard her recite so often, Philippians 4:11 "in whatsoever state I am, there within to be content."  Her good son, Richard, told of her using this passage in a comment at the end of a (lost) post on this blog in 2009.

I believe the point that mother would make is that, while she appreciates our efforts to place her on a pedestal, she would rather not be forced to have to balance precariously on such a lofty perch.  She would insist that whatever gifts she has, whatever accomplishments she may have achieved, are all God-given and not in fact unique in our community.  We have been blessed in Lake County to have many, many examples of individuals as worthy of “pedestal sitting” as she.  While I would quite agree, I will continue in my tributes to her and risk a scolding.

I will, however, attempt to “channel” Miss Catherine by giving a short lecture of encouragement to everyone who might be checking in to the blog site.  Each of you have family members worthy of the kind of attention that I have been giving mother.  It doesn’t matter what form your tribute takes.  What counts is that each of you will gain so much from the experience of researching your intended honorees.  Granted, researching is somewhat of a euphemism for snooping, but the point is that you will be amazed by the information you will learn once you get started.

I would give anything if I had begun earlier to seek details of people, places, and events of Catherine and James Neville’s lives.  All of their letters, files, and treasure boxes have raised many more questions than I can ever have answered.  If only I had begun interviewing, in earnest, Aunts, Uncles, friends of family, and my parents themselves, I would have a much better written legacy for my own grandchildren and even their grandchildren.

The WWII letters on display
It will make no difference what form your tribute takes; video tapes, tape recordings, written interviews, complete published biographies, or a simple box labeled “Mama’s Past”.  Trust me, someone in your family will come along one day, stumble over that forgotten box, and thank you for eternity for gathering information of your family.  They will appreciate it then and you will gain so much for the experience now while you are “snooping.”

As I come out of “channeling” mode, let me strongly encourage each of you to not let too much time slip away before you “immortalize” that important person in your life.  Don’t find yourself in the position that I feel I am in; saying “if only I had asked about…….when I had the chance.”

Looks like Miss Catherine has given you one last homework assignment.  Completing your work is mandatory; handing it in is optional.     

Jimmy LeDuke
(I'd love to hear from you...feel free to comment below, or click HERE to send me an e-mail.)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Reflections While Standing Before the Lincoln Memorial

*This essay was submitted in 1959 as an entry to a national contest on the theme, “Reflections While Standing Before the Lincoln Memorial” sponsored by the American Association for State and Local History, in conjunction with Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI), as part of a celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s 150th birthday.  The grand prize was $500 and publication in This Week magazine. Catherine LeDuke’s essay, written as a letter to one of her former students, won 1st prize for the state of Tennessee and second overall.  We submit it to you today, on Lincoln's 204th birthday.

Reflections While Standing Before the Lincoln Memorial

Dear Rufus,

Well, here I am again before the Lincoln Memorial, just where we stood together, you and I, after we had walked apart from the others of your class three years ago.  Do you remember as I do? There were six of you students and two teacher-sponsors who had refused, tired as we were, to cut short our tour of the city because of the rain. We never regretted it, did we?  Indeed the rain itself may have provided the privacy that let us have the Lincoln Memorial for our very own that afternoon.

The eight of us stood together before Lincoln’s statue and gazed into his eyes and seemed to feel a message from him across the years.  Then we turned to the inscriptions on the walls and several of you read in unison first one and then the other of those immortal speeches.  You were good readers, and the words so familiar to us seemed to come to life as we stood there reading, listening.  Perhaps because we were a bit abashed at so much emotion, we broke into smaller groups of two or three and walked quietly out of the building onto the colonnade that overlooks the city.  Across the mall we saw the Washington Monument and the Capitol.  Pieces of our history seemed to fit together somehow as they never had before, just reading from a book.

Then you turned to me and spoke, partly as pupil to teacher, but mostly as friend to friend, “What has happened to us now?  We don’t say things like that anymore.  We don’t have those high ideals anymore.”

Somehow you sounded down-hearted and depressed.  But the way you received my answer has made the conversation stay in my memory.  I said, “No, Rufus, you are wrong.  Perhaps we don’t make so much noise about our ideals, not nearly so much as we should, but the very fact that you and your classmates are here today shows that we do have respect for those ideals.  The fact that you stood together and read those words together and were so deeply moved by them shows that you young people understand and sympathize with – and share – those ideals.  The fact that we teachers gave our time to bring you here in the first place so that you might have an opportunity to read, to see, to feel the presence of the great men who have made your country great – and the fact that you cared enough to come – shows that those ideals are as much alive today as they were when Lincoln himself spoke of them.”

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Catherine Was a Writer

Check in on Tuesday and see just how good she was.

This is just my second posting since being back in the saddle after being bucked off my horse by Blogger.com and I have been struggling with how to launch into a new season here.   As many folks in my family know, for the past several years I have been rummaging through Catherine LeDuke's saintly life.

My motives were pure as I rifled through her file cabinets, book shelves, sock drawers, attic crevices, and countless boxes containing letters, class notes, awards received, old calendars, boxes of photographs, graded papers of former students, and reams of paper that are mostly meaningless; all just to learn more details about Catherine LeDuke.  If her mind was fully alert, she would surely be scolding me, saying: "Jimmy, what are you doing in there in my closet?". 

My forays into Mother's past started innocently enough when I came across that first stash of letters written by James Neville to his college sweetheart and wife to be, Catherine Frazier Patty.  Most all of these letters were addressed to Memphis, Tennessee, postmarked in 1936, and were mailed from the town of Spencer in the Middle Tennessee's Cumberland Mountains.  That was where  James Neville had gotten a "place" following his graduation from State Teacher's College (now Memphis State).  He was hired to teach Latin, Chemistry, History, and Civics at a small prep school called Burritt College.  And he was a lonesome dude.

Catherine, having also just graduated in the spring of '36, was awaiting a "place" of her own and just a few weeks later she was hired to teach Latin and English at Alcoa Middle School just south of Knoxville.  Soon letters were flowing between Spencer and Alcoa and plans began to take shape for a spring wedding once 'Duke and C had worked for a full school year and saved enough to begin life together.  If there are teachers reading this posting, you already see a major flaw in their plan.

I am saying no more at this time about this period of their life because after enlisting the aid of my daughter Amanda the two of us were able to put together a book entitled "James Neville and Catherine - A Love Story".  It tells the story of the events leading up to their marriage told with the use of only letters written by James Neville.  You see, her letters, written each day from Alcoa, have never been found.  I know they are in her house somewhere and someday they will turn up.

Copies of this book are available at the Tiptonville Public Library and sometime later in this blogging activity I will probably make the book available to anyone wanting to read it.  I will just have to figure out how to put it out in cyberspace so it can be downloaded from our files.

The search for those missing letters led me to discover a trunk in her attic that netted an even larger cache of letters; 1500 of them, written by both Catherine and James Neville between 1944 and 1946.  It took Amanda and I several years to get a handle on the awesomeness of this "find," but the end result has been the recent completion of: "James Neville and Catherine - The War Years".  This book is finished but is still being "tweaked" a little.  We will be printing it shortly and placing copies in the Library.

My hunt goes on for the "Missing Letters of 1936," and as a result I came across another gem just a few weeks ago.  It's the basis for the posting I have already teased you with.  An essay written in 1959 by Mother and entered into a national contest.  She won first place for the State of Tennessee and second place Nationally.  AND  I  HAD  NEVER  SEEN  THIS  BEFORE.  Neither had my brother Richard or my sisters Cathie or Sue; and we were all still in school when this occurred.

We all know what a good teacher Catherine LeDuke was, and it is great to have this example of her own writing ability.  Wait until you see the posting on Tuesday and read the essay entitled "Reflections While Standing Before The Lincoln Memorial".

Tuesday conveniently just happens to be Lincoln's Birthday.

Jimmy LeDuke
(I'd love to hear from you...feel free to comment below, or click HERE to send me an e-mail)

Thursday, February 7, 2013

It's February 2013....


Well thanks to my daughter Amanda, I am back on my blog.  Three years ago, for those who are not aware, and for reasons I still do not understand, the folks at Blogger.com decided that I could not have access to my own blog site.  Now I will grant you that I was, and still am, a neophyte to the blogging community, and I had only been posting for three months when they pulled the rug out from under me; but I was trying real hard to fit into this twenty first century cyberspace world where I really don't even speak the language.

I was on a mission then to establish a connection with the family, friends, and former students of Catherine LeDuke.  My goal initially was to share the many letters of tribute which "Miss Catherine" had just received prior to her being honored at the first ever combined class reunion of all the high schools of Lake County, Tennessee.  Classes from the 1930's at Tiptonville, Ridgely, and Lincoln High Schools joined with the classes up to and including the just-graduated class of 2009 of the current consolidated Lake County High School for one giant banquet.

Catherine LeDuke was 93 when she attended that gathering and received a much deserved standing ovation when she was called on to receive her honor.  Over 400 had gathered in the gymnasium/dining hall and probably half of the people attending had been taught English, Latin, Spanish, History, or Drama by Miss Catherine.

Because so many people sent her letters describing their memories of either her or her fellow teacher and partner for life, James Neville, I vowed to share the content of those tributes with as many as I could.  That's how the whole blogging thing started.

I posted every night for 35 straight nights and managed to get through the mountain of mail; at least enough to feel I had shared with all who were following this endeavor.  The out pouring of love that was found in those letters was incredibly moving.  It was my intention to continue my tribute to my saintly mother by sharing bits and pieces of her life that many people were not aware of when I was unceremoniously knocked off my stage. 

I encourage anyone who has re-discovered or who is a newcomer to this blog-site to scroll down the right hand column of this page and re-read those early posts.  I think you will find some interesting stories there.  In fact I may resurrect a few of them and re-post them if they are pertinent to a new tale I am telling.


Sooooooooo, what's happened in the three years I have been away?

Well that's what we're going to talk about.  But first, I'm going to ease gently back into the swing of things with this blogging stuff.  I've got to re-learn the logistics of posting so I can make this site interesting enough to entice you back time and again.  AND.......if I go just a little slow at first, that will give you a chance to catch up on your homework assignment: by next posting in about two days I want each of you to read at least two of the old postings.  No book report will be required, but a pop-quiz could be in your future.

    An unbelievable, contest winning essay written by Catherine LeDuke in 1959 will be shared.  You don't want to miss this one.


 It's good to be back.  Please help me spread the word of this site memorializing Catherine LeDuke.

Jimmy LeDuke
(I'd love to hear from you... feel free to comment below, or click HERE to send me an email)