Sunday, May 24, 2009


Justin's last post, plus a recent drive through Tipton County, and a wedding notice in the newspaper, all got me thinking about Oak Hill, my mother's family's farm.

Oak Hill is a Tennessee Century Farm. It's also, according to my recollection, the oldest home in the state that's still lived in by the same family. It was established as a plantation in Keeling in 1832, although a Maclin (my mother's family name) didn't actually move there until 15 years later. By the time I was born, much of the land had been parceled off (mainly during the Depression) and the plantation had been converted into a dairy farm. The old house still stands, and I remember playing in its earthen cellar during a family reunion in the mid-1970s. Back then, my mother's great cousins, Lancelot and Helen Maclin, lived in the big house, and their children and grandchildren resided in another newer house down the hill. The last time I drove out there -- October 2008 -- it looked like my cousin Steve ( one of the grandchildren, who got married a weekend or two ago) had moved into the old house with his kids.

My mother had never spent time at Oak Hill -- she was raised all over Louisiana, and on Pedernales, an island in Venezuela, before she was parceled off to boarding school in Vicksburg, MS -- but the farm was writ large in our family lore. My grandmother, Alice Minor Maclin, had spent the summers there along with her siblings and cousins. Oak Hill -- we always called it "the farm" -- served as a makeshift summer camp during the Depression and the wars, and the cousin-children would be bussed in from Texas and Louisiana to stay there so that their mothers could more easily hold down the fort at home. Because our part of the family was so mobile (even my great-grandmother, Beatrice Maclin, didn't emigrate from England until the early 1900s), the Oak Hill branch of the Maclin family, which had resided in one TN county for the better part of the last 150 years, perfectly illustrated our idea of home. Five years ago, my brother even named his daughter Maclin.

Farm-wise, I don't know much about the Maclin crops. I remember the dairy cows, grazing between the tombstones in the old family cemetery, and a feist dog named Foo-Fi that I wanted to take home with me when I was about 7 or 8, when we stopped at Oak Hill for a few days on our move from suburban Chicago to Lafayette, LA. What I do know, however, is that I love, however distant, having some connection to the land.

Interestingly, through my mother's side of the family, I am related to all kinds of Memphis folk: Through my cousin Tempe Walker Chancellor, I am related (by marriage) to photographer Perry Walker, the Malco theater family, and my friends Adam and Jason Hoenberg and Katherine Greenwood. I'm also, according to this abstract, related to the Broadnax jewelry family via Imogene Maclin, a cousin who was born 9 days after the Battle of Shiloh and who lived to be 101. I also have a great uncle, Jack Findley, who emigrated from St. Andrews in Scotland (by way of India) to marry a Maclin girl and ultimately build most of the country club golf courses in Louisiana, including, I believe, the Tallulah Golf and Country Club and this course in Bogalusa.

And last fall, after that trek out to Oak Hill (supplanted by a trip to the original Gus' Fried Chicken in Mason), my friends Jay and Chanda from Portland OR and I stopped off at the Big S Lounge for a beer. There were two guys sitting on barstools who wanted to know who we were and where we'd been, and it turned out one of 'em was from Keeling. His last name, of course, was Maclin.

1 comment: