From Here–An Ambrotype by Gary Thomas

I just love this poem by Gary Thomas about imagining the lives behind the faces of an old photograph! I like to think that when I do this, in some small way I’m reaching out and touching someone’s spirit.

Background photo: Frank Thomas Manipulation and design layout: Elizabeth Stark Background photo: Frank Thomas
Manipulation and design layout: Elizabeth Stark

Gary Thomas grew up on a peach farm outside Empire, California, and still remembers how to drive a Caterpillar tractor.  Prior to retirement, he taught eighth grade language arts for thirty-one years, and junior college English for seven—sharing, reading aloud, and discussing at least one poem every day with his students.  Over the years he’s presented poetry workshops for a number of statewide organizations, festivals, and conferences. He has had poems published in California English,In the Grove, Time of Singing, The Comstock Review, and in the anthology More Than Soil, More Than Sky:  The Modesto Poets.  He will have his poems included in the anthology The Biggest Valley: Poems from California’s Heartland, forthcoming in Winter 2016.  He is the vice president of the Modesto-Stanislaus Poetry Center, an actor in community theater, a fair-to-middlin’ gardener…

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Sibling Saturday


This angelic portrait of my brother George and me, taken around 1960, was our father’s favorite of the two of us. It held the place of honor on the desk in his study long after George and I were grown.

I remember it took the photographer a while to get George to stop crying; he finally gave in to the distraction of a squeaky toy. I was most concerned about the cut of my bangs.

John Brown (~1595-1686): My Progenitor–And Everyone Else’s,Too, It Would Appear


Now, where was I with the story of my Brown ancestors? Ah, yes, coming back from a series of delightful digressions. (My mother would say I keep losing the plot.)

I began the story of the Browns with Jonathan Brown and his wife Sally Fitts because they are buried in Candia, New Hampshire, the next town over from where I live, and I feel the closest kinship with them. (Jonathan and Sally are my great-great-great grandparents.)

However, the story of the Browns in New Hampshire begins much, much earlier, with Jonathan’s great-great-great grandfather John Brown (~1595-1686), who was one of the early settlers of Hampton, New Hampshire.

I’d been aware that Brown is a very common surname in southern New Hampshire, but I didn’t realize just how many people I must be distantly related to until I started looking more closely at the Brown genealogy.

As you can see from the following family tree, my mother traced her patrilineal line from her father Ronald Dalrymple Brown (1899-1985) back to John’s son Benjamin Brown (1647-1736).  But if you continue to scroll down, you’ll see that John had a total of five sons, who in turn had seven sons. In fact, a quick Google search on the following keyword search string gave me 28,800 hits: “‘John Brown’ 1595 Hampton New Hampshire.”

It would appear I’m not that special in being a direct descendant of said John Brown.



Speaking of Sheep


I continue to get a kick out of reading J. Bailey Moore’s discussion of farming in Candia, New Hampshire in the first quarter of the nineteenth century. I offer the following passage as an example of an author who is not afraid of digression. From fettering sheep to the life of Samuel Johnson to haying, without so much as a “But I digress . . . “!

The sheep of those days often caused their owners much trouble by jumping over the walls and fences into the cultivated fields under the lead of an old ram or bell wether. In such cases fettering the legs of the sheep was considered the only remedy.

The reference to sheep recalls a passage in Thomas Carlyle’s great essay upon the life of Dr. Samuel Johnson. After quoting the statement of the German philosopher, Jean Paul, that a whole flock of sheep will jump over an imaginary pole after the real pole over which the bell wether has jumped has been removed, Carlyle declares that the great masses of mankind are utterly incapable of guiding themselves and, like stupid sheep, they too must have their bellwethers and jump over nothing, blindly following those who undertake to lead them, whether in the matter of fashion, politics or religion, without knowing or caring to know why they are led this way, that or the other.

Haying begins soon after the 4th of July. A few patches of grass around the house are first moved, and soon after the red-top and clover fields are attacked.1

Uh oh. My digression from the subject of Brown family history wouldn’t be a case of the pot calling the kettle black, would it?

1J. Bailey Moore, History of the Town of Candia, Rockingham County, N.H., from Its First Settlement to the Present Time (Manchester, N.H.: George W. Browne, 1893), 259.