In Celebration of My Mother—and Seminary Hill Natural Area

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A bit of straightening up the home my mother lived in for 58 years uncovered several things she wrote. Her creative writing—and to-do lists—was on scraps of paper, stationery, the first few pages of notebooks, in the middle of otherwise empty spiral pads. She loved to write, but for whatever reason (probably lack of self-confidence) she didn’t share it. Except for notes on cards to friends in need of cheering, which she did beautifully up to the end when she had to dictate them.

She died one year ago today. She left behind her writing and her championing of what is now Seminary Hill Natural Area. In 1980 she conceived of and led the march to save the hill she lived on from the loggers’ chainsaws. (I’ve written about it here and for the local newspaper many times, and you can read a column in the Chronicle here about the history, written by then mayor, Bill Moeller and a post by me last year about my mother’s love for the natural world is here. A search of her name at Chronline.com will bring up more. She is locally world famous.)

But before that she spent hours walking the trails, leading Girl Scout day camps there, paying attention to the seasonal changes in the forest, and getting dirty.

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Here is a poem she wrote (with apologies, she writes, to Helen Hoyt, who penned a version of the quoted lines):

Seminary Hill Natural Area

“Little park that I pass thru
I carry back a part of you.”
To make a cloudy day less drear
the memory of you more dear.

I took “some of your cleanness
some of your shade
some of your sky
some of your calm
as I passed by.”

I took some of your sweet vanilla leaf,
tasted your grapes
your green salal
I heard your busy little wren
—Lost track of time
under your spell.

Little park!
I’m glad you were there
when I passed by.

Stellajoe E. Staebler
    December 22, 1979

The park is still here because you passed by. Thank you, Mama. Thank you.

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My sister and I are at two of the other places she loved, to honor her on this anniversary: Lake Quinault Historic Lodge on the Olympic Peninsula where we sat in front of the fireplace last night and toasted her memory, and later today at Kalaloch Beach, where we will scatter some of her ashes. She is with us.


The annual Seminary Hill Natural Area clean-up, usually on Earth Day, which is tomorrow, will be held this year on May 4 from 10-12. Meet at the Barner Drive entrance. All are welcome.

Notes from Three of Earth Farm: Buttercup

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I don’t know why I resent the change of season that forces me outside to work. When I get out there I love it. The intoxicating woodsy smell, the warmth in the air, the budding, well, everything. I come alive.

Until I start the work part. Then it’s hot. I’m sweaty. I’m quickly overwhelmed by all that needs to be done. I want to crawl back into the deep winter cave.

So I do some, enough to feel the satisfaction of accomplishment, then stop. Today my goal was to finally get the meadow cleared of winter blow down so my friend who mows for me can get the job done. When it dries out enough. He doesn’t like to wait until it gets as long as it is now. We’ve had so much rain the past couple of weeks, the grass has gone crazy. But he couldn’t mow because there has been so much rain the past couple of weeks.

I quickly abandoned my three-years-running idea to mow a labyrinth in one corner of the meadow. Nearly impossible with my non-motorized mower. I don’t need one more hard thing to keep up with. But I did finally give it a shot instead of just thinking about it.

After I unloaded three heaping barrows full of branches, including some from the edges that weren’t in the way of the mower but that would soon be covered with the creeping blackberry vines I did not pull out pinning the branches to the ground, I moved on to my garden. It needs way too much for the time and interest I had today. Focus, I told myself. Do one thing.

I got the buttercup out of the strawberry bed. I hate buttercup so, so, so much. Yeah, cheerful little yellow flowers (later), makes you want to bust into song. Right. Not so much. It takes over wherever it goes, which is everywhere. It is impossible to pull out. It grows too tall to just let it be ground cover. Did I mention I hate it?

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It comes up wherever there is a crack. Such a bloody opportunist. Note my peas coming on!

Fortunately, it came out of the fertile soil in the strawberry patch amazingly easily. I didn’t even try to get it out of the native soil flower bed or the cracks around the raised beds. Another day. Last time I took a hoe to a bed of weeds, I tore my trapezius muscle and was out of commission for a month, which didn’t really break my heart. Summer before last I put black plastic over a whole strip to kill the buttercup, where I wanted to continue the brick walk above ground in a bed of wood chips. Then last summer the moles destroyed much of the walk that is already in the garden and I’m feeling defeated.

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I don’t really hate that chives are coming up in my tiny patio. But there’s the buttercup too. I took a shortcut and didn’t put plastic under the bricks. Now I have to take them all out and put down plastic. There are no wise shortcuts in the garden.

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And what is this stuff anyway? I pulled it out of the root vegetable bed (there beyond the one where carrots, beets, and parsnips have poked through), but have still to pull it out for the green beans. Fortunately it comes up easily.

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Rhubarb. And I’ve just remembered you aren’t supposed to let it flower. Oh well. Whatever.

I pulled a few more weeds, then called it a day and spent the next 30 minutes wandering the property and reminding myself why I love it here. Seems like the smart way to finish off any period of work. Like meditating: note what is going through your mind (so much to do), then dismiss it. Or to quote Scarlett: Tomorrow is another day.

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The rhodies are coming. And the one I feared wouldn’t survive the tree limbs that fell into it is full of bud.

 

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My apple trees, that once again didn’t get pruned this year.

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My mother’s old-fashioned bleeding heart.

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The lilac is about to burst.

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Euphorbia. I just let it have its way. It’s all that will grow in the crappy soil and it doesn’t care if it gets no sun or bakes.

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My home on the hill.

365 Days: Life After Death

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Spring was busting out. Leaves were popping into being around chartreuse flowers that dripped from branches of big leaf maples. Oregon grape was decked out in yellow and fronds were unfurling in sword ferns. Apple and cherry trees in the neighbor’s orchard were dreaming about exploding. Though she couldn’t see it, the dogwood below her window at her assisted living home was blooming. Though she could no longer walk there, the forest she’d spent hundreds of hours exploring for more than five decades were full of the trillium she loved best of all, in their annual death throes. She’d told us she loved us over and over.

And then she was gone.

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And so it is now. 365 days later spring is bursting forth again. I love that the first anniversary of my mother’s death falls on Easter. I trust she has experienced her resurrection. That she has been reunited with her love. That they are communing with their parents and siblings and beloved spouses. That maybe she has let go of her rigid refusal to enjoy adult beverages and joins the cast in daily “fivesies.”

I have enjoyed a resurrection too. Rising at my usual early hour a few days ago, the sun casting rays through the maple tree, as it did that weekend last April; the mountain emerging through the fog; the updating I have been doing on the house—it seems like forever—nearly complete and fresh and beautiful and filled with light, I thought:

I have never been as happy as I am right now.

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I have emerged from the tight bud of the long years of caregiving, and just as my mother has been set free to burst into bloom again, so have I. Sometimes we all require proper distance from what we have loved, to be reminded of its beauty. So it is with winter and spring, with death and resurrection, with the return of the light.

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I also love that her youngest great-grandson will turn three on Mother’s Day. They are coming to the homestead (I think) to celebrate, and we will honor three generations of mothers, one just out of reach, the other two carrying on into the future—carrying her into the future.

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I took a walk in her beloved woods yesterday and felt her there walking just ahead of me, showing me the way. I will be forever grateful that each year from now until the end of my own days, her resurrection date will coincide with the new life all around me. I miss her. And she is with me every day.

…it became difficult to tell just what it was that was singing—
it was the thrush for sure, but it seemed

not a single thrush, but himself, and all his brothers,
and also the trees around them,
as well as the gliding, long-tailed clouds
in the perfect blue sky—all, all of them

were singing.
And, of course, yes, so it seemed,
so was I….

—excerpted from “Such Singing in the Wild Branches”
by Mary Oliver

(Read my words about my mother’s death here and the days following here.)

And now, come with me into my mother’s woods.

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A grave marker proclaiming that she lived and she died is in a cemetery twenty miles away; but she will always live here on these trails in these trees she saved. And in the hearts of those she loved and who loved her.

My Family of Storytellers for 385 Years in America: Part 3

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Someday I will transcribe Joel Brigham (Goodell) Baker’s letters from the Civil War; they are truly amazing. For now, we start with why his last name is Baker, instead of Goodell. 


Jotham and Annie Goodell; July 5, 1881

While Jotham and Annie were still in Canada, Jonas Baker and his wife, Phebe Goodell Baker, came from New York State to visit. Phebe was the sister who cared for Jotham during his childhood [after their mother died when he was seven months old]. Phebe and Jonas had no children and begged Jotham and Annie to give them their four year old son, Joel Brigham. Jotham felt he owed his sister a debt and only by giving up one of his children could this debt be paid…. From that time on he was known as Joel Brigham Baker. In 1881, before her death, Annie made a formal legalized statement of these facts. —From Ethel Goodell’s “My Goodells in America.”

Anna Glenning Goodell in said County and Territory being duly sworn says that she is the mother of Joel Brigham Baker deceased. While a resident of [?] when Joel was but four (4) years old Jonas Baker and his wife Phebe [Goodell] visited us and insisted on adopting Joel as their Son and [?] to make him their heir we reluctantly consented and from that time he took their name and became a member of their family.  —Signed Anna Glenning Goodell

Subscribed to and sworn to this the 5th day of July 1881. —W.M. (?) Goodell, Justice of the Peace

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Cpt. Joel (Goodell) Baker, Civil War

Army Potomac
May 19th, 1864

My dear Wife:
…Such mangled as I saw on the field were awful. One boy had his right cheek torn off, leaving the teeth all exposed. Arms and legs were lying around and everything else looks awful…

12 miles from Richmond
May 31, 1864

Dear Wife:
All well, fighting every day. Nobody killed in my Co. yet.

Prospect Hill, 11 miles from Richmond
June 1, 1864

My dear Wife:
We have been long quite still for a few days and are getting rested and I am as well as ever but somewhat thin as I must have lost at least 30 pounds since leaving Baltimore.

Cold Harbor Battlefield
June 5, 1864

Dearest Wife:
Oh how sad I am today. Day before yesterday our regiment was ordered to charge the rebel fortifications before us. They were very strong with many large cannons so placed as to rake us in every direction and manned with thousands of rebels with muskets. Our lines were about 100 rods [550 yards] from the rebel lines. (A man not six feet from me is just shot so you see under what circumstances I am writing.) The ground over which we were to charge was undulating…On we rushed down into the ravine…[?] of canister which mowed down men by dozens. The muskets also opened upon us but in the face of this terrible storm of lead and iron the men still unhurt pushed steadily on but dropping with fearful rapidity. The company seemed to melt away. Lt. Nichols was near me. I saw him seize his left arm and cry out with pain.… On I pushed with the little handful of men left. A moment more and alone I stood…. A moment I paused – – looking back the ground was covered with my poor boys lying down. I ran along the line and shouted for them to get up and press on. Only one boy answered my call. ‘Captain, I can’t. I’m wounded.’ O God, what an awful moment. All alone. Where could my men be. Dead or wounded? or had they quailed before the storm and laid down to escape the bullets? A moment longer I spent to look…. Then I turned and ran back into the ravine where I was out of danger…. I was the target for hundreds of rifles and the bullets flying around my head seemed like a sworm [sic] of angry bees. But not a scratch did I receive except that several holes are in my pants and coat.

…Don’t publish my letters.

God keep you all
Your husband, Joel

And to his sister. Interestingly, we know from the letter to this sister with an undisclosed name and his mention of a “brother William’s death” and his shock to hear of “Emeline’s death,” that he apparently kept in touch with them after his adoption, or perhaps reconnected. According to the genealogy records, William and Emeline were sisters of Joel Brigham (Goodell) Baker, children of Jotham and Annie. The rest of the family had crossed the country to Lyndon, Washington Territory, saving them, I suppose, from conscription into the Union army. But, they were busy fighting the Indians.

November 13th, 1864
Near Petersburg, Va

My Dear Sister:

…Whilst I have been in great danger all summer many, very many, have been killed around me, and more have received painful wounds. I have escaped unharmed, but my dear friends who lived in less danger have been taken away. Indeed I have great cause to be thankful for that kind watchful care Providence has bestowed upon me. But is there less evidence of the dealings of Providence in those occurrences which cause us grief and mourning than in those which afford cause for rejoicing? I believe not….

I am your Affectionate Brother
Joel B. Baker

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And now fast forward to WWII. Why is there nothing about WWI?

In the drawer was also another file of stuff from my father’s service in WWII. Reading the requisition lists, the lists of what he was sending home, the certificate of embarkation to go home on the S.S. Frostburg Victory more than 70 years ago, I was suddenly in his head, in my mother’s head; waiting, waiting, and finally it was over and he was home.

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There was one more letter from my aunt to him, as well. As I have read these 1500 letters, especially the few between the siblings, I hear their personalities clearly. And their love for their family.

In her letter, I believe the “I’m about to do my part” was code for her hospital unit was about to move, getting around the censor, hoping he would understand, I imagine. As non-combatants, they both moved from country to country, keeping behind current action as the Germans were pushed out. She from Africa to Italy and now about to go to France. He from England and at some point to France. I wonder if the ham and eggs was simply humor or something more.


Lt. Helen Staebler Martin Kranish

September 1st, 1944

Dear George,

Received your letter of the 18th yesterday. As to your first question about a meeting = I’m about to do my part. How about you doing yours? I have the ham – you get the eggs! … Yes, I’m sure that we have the finest parents and the best family in the world to go back to. Was there ever a mother more faithful about writing…than our mother? I doubt it…. I feel so sorry for the people in our unit who say that they would just as soon stay over here – that they have nothing to go back to.

Sincerely, Helen

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From Ella (my grandmother) at age 83. Written to her daughter Helen and husband Carl. After her stroke in 1975, she couldn’t do anything but write. Between the stroke and her nearly lost vision, her handwriting—never very good—was nearly impossible to read. But my aunt kept her 12 page letters…and now I have them. This one is from an earlier time, because I could read it.

March 19, 1964

Dear Helen & Carl

…Well, I made it by 8:30. Up, bath, fixed my hair, had breakfast and done some repair work on the chicken house window so the dog can’t paw at the glass. He gets so wild at being tied up all the time.
     …I don’t know as there is much to relate today except it’s nice weather but cold. Did have a nice blizzard again on Tues. but didn’t last long. Don says he thinks maybe the frost is all out of the ground. Ice went out of the lakes just over nite and a day of wind. The ice fisherman will be unhappy….

Love, Mom

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From my father to his mother on the first anniversary of his father’s death.

October 25, 1952

Dearest Mother –

It doesn’t seem possible that a year could fly by so quickly. Perhaps to you it hasn’t seemed so short.. But if it has seemed long, Mom, it is the longest one you’ll ever experience. Perhaps tonight you find it hard to forget the agony of lonesomeness. But being you, I have not the slightest doubt that you’ll find it easier & easier to remember the good times & happiness & to go on making your life full & useful. I pray that when I’m as old as you are I will have lived & been living as worthwhile a life as you.…

Love,
George

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There was also a letter from my mother to my father on the occasion of his mother’s funeral. She was not able to go due to illness.

9/18/1977

Dearest George,

It was so hard to say good-bye to you this morning. It was one of the most – if not the most – frustrating moments I’ve experienced since that early foggy morning at Jefferson Barracks —- wanting you to know how very much I care, how much I want to be by your side, yet for your sake not wanting to break down.
…I also feel very frustrated and “left out” because I can’t be there to honor “Mom.” She was a great woman in many ways. She meant a lot to me (especially during those long months and years you were away), in spite of some things I’ve said which I could not adequately express to you, and for which I’m sorry I tried….

Always, Stellajoe


And finally, from my sister who was living in Ann Arbor when my grandmother (Goodell) Staebler lay dying, writing to my mother.

September 7, 1977

Dear Mother,

…It’s quite an experience to see all 6 of the “kids” in one place, caring about Grandma and supporting each other. I watched 4 of them arrive and go into Grandma’s room: First myself, at midnight, then Daddy came and sat beside her holding her hand and talking gently to her, and Melvyn bending down and saying cheerfully, ‘Hi, Mom.’ A little later Lloyd was there, sitting with his head bowed down on the bed. And the next day Helen came, walked straight into the bedroom, and Grandma was weeping in her arms as Helen said over and over ‘I’m here, Mama, I’m here now.’ Donald stood in the background or sat in the next room but always came running when he was needed… And Ruth was always there—hasn’t had much sleep. All in all, it’s quite a thrill to watch them.

I love you – Jo Ann

My family Goodell. I miss them. There is a hole in my heart that their absence has hollowed out and only the memory of them can occupy. And now I am it, with my sisters and cousins and our children and their children, and legions of family out there in the world whom we will never know; writing down the story, adding to the story, and saving and passing on all the words—with maybe a little more organization.

Thank you for taking this wordy journey through time with me. What can I say: I come from a wordy family.

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My Family of Storytellers for 385 Years in America: Part 2

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Aurilla Stevens, c. 1823

Aurilla Stevens, my great-great grandmother, was born in 1803 the town of Painted Post in New York State, the eldest of a family of four. She came to Michigan with some neighbors when a young woman, leaving her father, mother, brothers, and sisters. From Detroit she rode an Indian pony to what is now Ypsilanti [40 miles on the current interstate], following an Indian trail of notches cut in trees. (Source: a 1931 speech given by her niece, Rilla Goodell Dunlap, who lived with her aunt from an early age following the death of her mother.)

After being acquainted one year, Aurilla Stevens and Jothan Goodell were married and…bought 80 acres of land [near Ypsilanti, Michigan) from the government at one dollar and twenty-five cents per acre… They fenced a little yard around the house with bars to protect themselves [from wolves]… In felling a tree, it struck the corner of the house, knocking their gun down and damaging it so they could not use it. A very large bear got in the enclosure. [Jothan] told [Aurilla] to watch it while he ran to [the neighbor’s] to borrow a gun. She climbed a ladder and went on top of the house. [The bear] came and put its feet on the rounds of the ladder then went around out of sight. She climbed down, grabbed the axe, got in and closed the door and said if it tried to get in the window she would chop its feet off.—Rilla Goodell Dunlap, 1931


William Goodell, 1837

December the 23, 1837

My Dear Son and Daughter these lines leave me in comfortable health though I feel old age creeping on me very fast: This puts me in mind to lay my head on Jesuses breast and breathe my soul out directly there and let my body moulder in the ground: …Last September I looked for my Son Jonas and my Daughter Phebe to come see there old Father but I looked in vain: I know it is a long journey…: I do not blame you for not coming tho I want to see you and all the rest of my children: …I find my Blood is cold and I don’t go out much only from the house to the barn: Yes my work is most done: I can’t write much it makes my head crazy: …My son Jonas and Daughter Phebe the God of all Grace enlighten your path and give you grace to help in every time of need is the Prayer of your Father William Goodell

William died in 1843, so he was not on death’s door. Before his death, he went to live with Jonas, who told him he would have to work as long as he was able, and when he was no longer able, he would have to hand over his $8/month pension from his service as a private in the Revolution to pay his keep.


Joel B. Goodell, 1855

Cambria
Jan. 8th, 1855

Dear Brother & Sister,

… I should like to take a peep into your happy home and if all is favorable as soon as my school is out I shall take a short trip up there. So you must not be abashed at all if the Pedagogue gives you a call sometime unaware. There is to be a donation party this week at a Rev. Bent [?] in my district and perhaps I may seek enjoyment at his abode too, as it is quite a popular place and large company generally attend. It so happened that I could not help taking his daughter to a “visit” one evening and the old mans attention to me since is remarkable. He often pauses and never fails to bow through the window. I tell you the success of a teacher is insured when can by some such simple means make firm friends with the old fathers and mothers in his district. All must use policy in settings through the world.… Joel B. Goodell

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Rev. Jotham Weeks Goodell (father of Phoebe Goodell Judson, founder with her husband of Lyndon, Washington, and author of A Pioneer’s Search for an Ideal Home, written from her journals at age 95). Jotham also wrote a series of wordy articles for the Oregonian about the wagon train’s forced winter layover in “the great Salt Lake” among the “depraved” Mormons who threatened their lives and extorted their money, copies of which I also have in my possession.

Grand Mound, Washington Territory
Nov. 28th, 1855

Maria wishes me to set down and give you full particulars of our indian war. At different times last summer there were rumors afloat that the indians through the entire region had conspired to exterminate the inhabitants but no one believed it. It now turns out that it was too true… Fifty men were immediately sent out from this place to cross the Cascade mountains and demand the murderers. They crossed the mountains and had nearly reached the plains on the opposite side when they met a frenchman who had just passed through a body of not less than 3000 indians lying in ambush ready to receive them. The french were not molested as the indians did not intend to make war upon any but the Bostons as they term the Americans. Our men thus fortunately warned made their retreat.

Rev. J.W. Goodell

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Original letter.


J.W. Goodell, Jr. 1859, ten years old at the time he and his brother and buddies “sallied out for adventure and got it” near Grand Mound, Washington Territory.

Four boys had planned for some time to escape for half a day from the [military style] discipline that had become so irksome that at times there was a feeling that we had rather be killed by the Indians than to live in a fort…. We were free out on the bounding prairie alone. I do not now remember that we intended to kill [the Indians] outright, but the best of my recollection, we had decided to torture them with slow death…. Our weapons were manvine pods, about the shape and size of a baseball, which exploded on impact in a puff of blinding smoke.


From Phebe Goodell to her sister Maria, 1850s. A letter full of religious pomposity but for a reference—written sideways across the top of the first page—to the…

…dreadful murder of poor Lucretia…. Two of the Williamses were murdered soon after [they] were left down there. I believe it was a judgement sent down upon them.

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Original letter.


Melanchthon Zwingle Goodell (another son of J.W. Goodell, the preacher of wagon train/Mormon/Indian Wars fame) wrote this in his old age of his youth, in a letter to his sister.

…After Will moved to Pacific County Henry and I walked to his place over the old mail trail from Gleneden (upper Lincoln Creek) to Willipa. As Henry decided to stay sometime at Will’s it was up to me to return home to Adna alone. Being a kind of nervous kid I dreaded such a long lonesome walk through the woods so Will took me as far as South Bend and got me started on a roundabout way. I crossed the bay on a tug, took a stage along the ocean beach to Peterson’s point, then on a small steamboat across Grays Harbor and up the river to Montesano. From Montesano I went by stage to Olympia and then by train to Chehalis and then home. It was quite a trip for a kid like me then.

Coming up in Part 3: first hand accounts of the Civil War battlefield. Warning: Graphic descriptions may not be suitable for all readers.

My Family of Storytellers for 385 Years in America: Part 1

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It is a family tradition that a Goodell either talks or writes.” —Ethel Goodell Clark, my 4th cousin once removed, in her history, My Goodell Family in America.

I’m embarking on my next writing project, to story the 1500 letters my dad and two siblings wrote during WWII that were saved by the recipients, collaged with memories they and my grandmother wrote of their lives on a farm in Michigan. At least that is my intention; I’ve yet to figure out how.

I was sure I had seen a book a non-family member wrote that included a section, at least, about the history of the farm and the family who lived there. (Really dry, I recall thinking. It may have been when I first thought about having a go at it myself.) I thought I saw it in a file drawer in the basement storage room disaster area some time ago. I finally went looking for it this week, not that I really need any more material.

I knew there was a (large) drawer full of family history stuff. I did not know the extent of it. I didn’t find the book, but oh my oh my! I dragged half of it upstairs to my father’s desk by the electric fireplace where I now spend any time I don’t have to be doing something else. (It’s blessedly rainy this week, plus I’ve been nursing that torn trapezius muscle, storied here—which is much better, BTW—so I can put off all that needs to be done outside.)

The first thing I looked at contained the quote at the beginning of this post. She sure got that right.

My paternal grandmother was Ella Louisa Lucretia Goodell Staebler. Our ancestors came to America 385 years ago this month. It seems like a good time to see what they had to say over the 13 generations from them to me.


On April 30th, 1634, Robert and Catherine Kilham Goodell and their three small children set sail from Ipswich, England on the ship Elizabeth and landed at Salem, Massachusetts. They were on the first ship of English emigrates to come to America, seeking freedom from the religious persecution of King James I and subsequent political persecution of King Charles I.

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Subsequent generations participated in the Civil War, the Indian Wars, and World War II, (interestingly, I’ve not found anything about WWI), farmed the land, crossed the country by wagon train, founded and settled towns, were leaders in their communities, lingered at the edge of the Salem Witch Trials, lived the Great Depression, and raised families. And they wrote about it. They wrote letters and newspaper stories, memoirs and family histories, and passed on oral narratives. And the saving didn’t start with my parents’ generation!

Here are a few juicy bits. Of course there is more to all of these stories, but the point is that I come from a family of storytellers, and savers, and people who cared to learn the stories of their forebears and pass them on. Not all of these stories are of those in my direct line (e.g. those who crossed the country by covered wagon and settled not twenty miles from where my parents set down roots in 1946, and less than ten from where I now live), but they are family.

(Note: There are a Joel (Goodell) Baker and a Joel Goodell; two Phebes and a Phoebe, and two Jotham Goodells, along with Jothan. I haven’t completely straightened all of it out yet.)


Robert Goodell, 1675

In the beginning of December (1675) Giles Corey unreasonably beat Jacob [Robert’s son] with a stick of about an inch in diameter nearly a hundred blows…About ten days later, Corey went to the house of Zachariah Goodell and told him that his brother, Jacob, had a fall. He was afraid he had broken an arm…Jacob was then thirty-four years of age and up to that time, he had been lusty. Now Jacob went very ravel and stooping and was very pale and his eyes sunken…Jacob died a few days later and an inquest was held. They made the following report: ‘we find several wrongs he hath in his body as upon his left arm and upon right thigh a great bruise which is very much solid and upon the veins of his back in color differing from the other parts of his body we caused an incision to be made much bruised and run with a jelly and the skin broke upon the outside of each buttock.’ For this Corey was fined. Later, as the time of the witchcraft trials, Giles Corey was found guilty of ‘stomping’ Jacob to death and himself was ‘pressed’ to death as the penalty.” (Ethel Goodell Clark)

And this, after Robert had sold some of his land to Giles Corey! But what ho? It seems “there is a different slant on this story” says Robert Goodell, a 20th century descendant of the first Robert, and a retired M.D., as reported by a Leland Goodell.

It seems Jacob was very troublesome to his family, indicating that he was probably ill. He kept running away from home and Robert had to make long trips to bring him back. It was in desperation that he was apprenticed to Giles Corey. It is not surprising that he and Corey (who was noted for his bad disposition) had a fight. After the fight, Mrs. Corey put Jacob in an ox cart and took him home. An autopsy showed that Jacob’s heart was not normal and for that reason Corey was acquitted.

However, an internet search collaborates the first story, that Giles Corey was found guilty—not acquitted—and fined. And later put to death for witchcraft. Corey, of course, was not my family, but even Henry Wadsworth Longfellow included the Goodells in his play about the Trials (taking poetic license, perhaps, and saying it was Robert, not his son, who was murdered).

Look! Look! It is the ghost of Robert Goodell
Whom fifteen years ago this man did murder
By stamping on his body! In his shroud
He comes here to bear witness to the crime!

Back to the internet story:

Seventeen years later, when Martha Corey was arrested for witchcraft, Giles testified against his wife and then recanted. Perjury! Leading to further suspicion of witchcraft. He was convicted for ‘standing mute,’ thereby refusing trial. In the entire history of the United States, Giles Corey is the only person ever to be ‘pressed to death’ by order of a court. It took two days to slowly crush him to death by placing weights on his body. Infamously, his last words were, ‘More weight.’ His wife, Martha, was later convicted and hanged.

Next up in Part 2, jumping a century and a half forward: My great-great grandmother in the wilds of Michigan and horrific letters from the front lines of the Civil War.

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