The importance of preserving family stories

The importance of preserving family stories

Parrottsville native Agnes Ratcliff Lowe, now of Johnson City, examines a photo of herself taken during World War II when she was a proud member of the Cadet Nurse Corps. Her story will be featured in the October edition of Smoky Mountain Homeplace.

Preparation for the Newport Plain Talk’s yearly special edition Smoky Mountain Homeplace continues apace.

As you know, we have opted to continue last year’s theme “Let the Stories Be Told.” We again ask our readers to share their family stories and have them preserved for coming generations: the tales that are always told when families come together at holidays, funerals, and reunions.

Perhaps it might be the story of Aunt Mable imbibing a bit too much eggnog and subsequently draping herself in Christmas tinsel and dancing on the table.

Or it might be an account of Uncle Leonard’s determination to get an education, even though it meant he had to walk 15 miles to and from school every day to do so.

Maybe you have a veteran in your family whose story needs to be told.

Already some of you are hard at work and have even sent in your contributions. Thank you. Keep up the good work.

Last week I made two trips to Charleston, South Carolina, going down on Tuesday afternoon to witness the momentous occasion when our grandson Connor Dash arrived in all his glory for his first day of kindergarten at Drayton Hall.

I came home that afternoon, leaving his grandmother for a few days’ visit, then returned to collect her last weekend. As I listened to Connor’s excited accounts of his few three days of public school, I suddenly realized more than ever the importance of recording the stories of one’s family.

Connor will probably never live in Newport. His contact with local relatives here will be limited to brief visits in the summer and Thanksgiving—at least for now. Those trips are simply a flurry of activities, as we try to cram as much as possible into three or four days.

If someone doesn’t record our family’s stories, how will he ever know about the time his Great-Great-Grandmother Sisk stubbornly sat on the front porch of her brother’s home during the wake for his wife, refusing to cross the threshold because her newly-deceased sister once declared she hoped “Zollie never set foot in my house again”?

Or how will Connor learn about the adventures I had with Chris Austin, my next-door neighbor for over 60 years or the shenanigans his grandmother Kay-Kay had with her brother, sister, and cousins on Middle Creek and Bogard?

One person who understands the vital need to record a family’s history is a new friend of mine. Some of you may know her.

She’s Agnes Ratcliff Lowe of Johnson City.

Agnes was born and reared in Parrottsville and graduated from Cocke County High School in 1943, right in the middle of World War II. Her initial plan was to enter Fort Sanders Nursing School, following in the footsteps of her older sister Enid, but instead she accepted an invitation from a cousin and his wife to join them in Oak Ridge, the “Secret City.”

She worked at Oak Ridge from August of 1943 until February of 1944, then began her nursing studies.

The need for nurses was acute. Thousands of registered nurses had left their posts in American hospitals to join the war effort and care for our wounded soldiers around the world. Their departure left a desperate shortage of trained nurses and many hospitals faced the possibility of closure because they couldn’t meet their patients’ needs.

And that’s when the Cadet Nurses Corps came into play.

Young nursing students, such as Agnes, were rushed through their training and then assigned to posts at VA hospitals, Indian reservations, and other such locations. They had no overseas duties.

Not only were their school costs covered, they also received uniforms and actual pay, starting at $15 a month. Eventually they provided 80 percent of the nursing care on the home front.

Yesterday Agnes’s niece, Karen Smith, and I spent the morning in Johnson City with Agnes for one of the most astounding interviews I have ever conducted. Agnes is an amazing woman and her story will be featured in our upcoming edition.

Please take the time to share your family’s stories, too. We are all part of the same community and owe it to our children and grandchildren to leave a record of what our tribe got up to.

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