Friday, June 26, 2015

John Emerson, Ordinary Patriot

John Emerson, Ordinary Patriot
By Mark Wright

John Emerson was no one remarkable. A resident of Worcester County, Massachusetts, Emerson stood 5-foot-10, had gray hair and was about 54 years old in the summer of 1776.

America declared its independence on the fourth (or perhaps, more correctly the third) and on the ninth, Emerson enlisted for nine months of service in the 3rd Worcester County Regiment with a rank of captain.

John Emerson the officer was no one remarkable. I have no idea if Emerson fought in any battles, though there is some evidence to suggest troops who trained under him went on to fight in the Battle of Saratoga. But I do know that he served. And if, like me, you celebrate America's Independence on the Fourth of July, then you consider Emerson a Patriot.

Emerson is my sixth great-grandfather. I descend from him through my paternal grandmother, who was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. It is a great honor to say that I, an unremarkable person, come from a Patriot with deep roots in the American colonies. The Emersons were indeed a remarkable family.

Emerson's great-grandfather was an English-born Puritan minister, Joseph Emerson, who arrived in Concord, Massachsetts Bay Colony, as a young adult. I descend from the reverend and his first wife. Famous American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson descends from the reverend and his second wife.

John Emerson's younger brother Ezekiel Emerson graduated from Princeton and sat on the board of trustees for Bowdoin College and the Medical School of Maine.

Compared to the reverend, the essayist and his own brother the college board trustee, John Emerson was no one remarkable. But in a crucial moment in the founding of a nation, my direct ancestor answered the call to serve.

Even if John Emerson was an otherwise ordinary man, the time in which he lived demanded extraordinary courage. On this July Fourth, I would like to take a moment to honor my Patriot ancestor. John Emerson was someone remarkable.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Foster Park Chronicles - a Novel in Progress


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Chapter One

Graham was sprawled out on the floor playing a video game with a friend on a rainy October afternoon when the doorbell rang. His parents were on a weekend excursion with their BMW motorcycle club. Probably just UPS delivering something for dad, he thought, and paused the game.
"I'll be right back," Graham said in a languid Saturday tone. "Help yourself to a root beer."
“Cool. Thanks,” said his friend.
As Graham hurried down the hall, the doorbell rang a second time. "Coming," he hollered. It rang a third time. And then a fourth. "Geez. I'm freaking coming. Hold the eff on."
Graham opened the door to find a rather tall, slim-shouldered man. The guy, who was wearing jeans and a gray long-sleeved TCU T-shirt, looked lost and agitated.
"Thank God," the man said. "I was hoping you would be here."
Graham squinted, thinking he was seeing things wrong. It looked like a familiar face, though one with slightly more prominent, less rounded, cheeks and deeper bags under his eyes. He had a few stray gray hairs. And his shirt seemed to commemorate an event that had not yet happened. This could not possibly be who it looked like.
"Hey," Graham said. "Are you a relative of...?"
"No, no. I know what you're going to say," the man retorted.
“What? How would you know?” Graham shot back. “Who the hell are you?”
"I'm not some relative of his. I am him."
"Bullshit," Graham snarled. "The real Mark would have corrected his grammatical mistake."
"Fine," the visitor said. "I am he."
"Ah," Graham said, genuinely scared by the man’s reply. "Is this one of those dreams within a dream that's so vivid it seems real?"
"Kind of an Inception thing? No, I wish. You’ll like that film," the man muttered. "Look, it’s just … I need your help."
"You can't be here," Graham said sternly. "This is impossible."
"But I am here."
The visitor tapped his keyless remote. His shiny silver four-door parked at the curb replied with a single squawking sound to confirm it was locked.
"That's my 2012 Sentra. It's a fairly ordinary car in most respects."
"Uh, so you’re saying?” Graham stammered.
"It's three years old now. I mean, in my time."
"What kind of freaking joke is this?"
A familiar voice called out from the hallway. "Graham, is everything all right? Who's there? Nick? Lance?"
"Don't worry about it," Graham shouted. "I'll be right back."
"OK. Cool."
The visitor on the porch lowered his voice to a whisper. "I see. So I am here already. Where is my little blue Mazda? What, did I walk here or something?"
"No, I picked you up and we went to CD World and Jack N the Box."
"Then, I'll leave you to it," the visitor said. "But I'm going to need your help. I know it sounds really nuts. But I accidentally time traveled here. And I need your help getting back."
"I have a thousand effing questions,” Graham said. “First off, why are you avoiding yourself?"
"Because I might need to pass for him. I don't want to put him through the stress of meeting his older self if I can avoid it."
"I'm just delirious or something," Graham said. "This can't be freaking real."
"Proving it will be easy. Meet me at 7 in Foster Park, on the bridge by our football field. Don't bring 16-year-old me or Nick or anyone else. Let's try to keep this from getting complicated."
As the man departed down the steps, Graham noted his slight limp, as if he were bothered by knee pain, and the otherwise familiar long stride of his friend. He could stand to lose a few pounds, but not too bad of shape for a 30-some-odd-year-old, Graham thought. He still has all his hair. Graham closed the door, shook his head and unfurled a string of profanities under his breath. "Just un-effin’-real," he mouthed as he slunk down the hallway back to his bedroom.
"Sorry I kept you waiting," Graham said to his teenage friend.
"No problem," the 16-year-old Mark said. "Everything cool? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“I’m fine. I’m fine,” Graham said. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Oh. No reason. Hey, I was just looking through your CDs. Can I borrow Pearl Jam Ten? I'll bring it back after I copy it over to a tape. I just need something to listen to while I mow the yard. I’ll get it back to you tonight even."
"Yeah, yeah," Graham said. "That's fine. Bring it by next week or something. Now unpause this bad boy. I don’t have all day."


The afternoon rain slackened to a light mist. But the thick envelope of clouds wrapped the early evening sky in a cloak of midnight. The full moon was completely obscured. A few minutes past 7, Graham crossed the muddy clearing where his group of friends gathered on fall Sundays to play touch football. He slowed as he neared the bridge, taking a moment to discern if anyone was standing on the middle of the rickety wooden platform. The foot bridge spanned a narrow concrete drainage ditch at the south end of the park. Only during particularly rainy times was it necessary to use the bridge. Most of the time, the boys just ambled down into the ditch, bounded across the narrow trickle of runoff and eased up the slope on the other side.
Sure enough, there was a man on the bridge. It was Mark – and not the young version. His chin stubble was thicker than the wisps of fuzz that sometimes dotted his teen friend’s chin. And even at a distance, he seemed to exude a quiet confidence that his youthful counterpart rarely exhibited.
“You’re late,” the man grunted, his warm breath rising into the chilly autumn air like a phantom.
“You’re early … what, 15-20 years early,” Graham countered.
“Almost 20 years,” Mark said. “More like eighteen years and eight months.”
 “Damn. That’s effin’ unreal. I have so many questions.”
“We’ll get to that. I’m just glad you showed up. I started to think you weren’t coming.”
“I was feeding Winston and doing a few things around the house.”
“No one followed you, right?”
“Nah, Reser and Jon are over at Lance’s. And you – younger you – are with Nick and Pitney, apparently.”
“OK. Good. Good. Thanks again for meeting me. I’m going to need your help.”
“Hold up. Hold up. Before I agree to anything, how in the hell do I know you are who you say you are?”
“Ask me anything – about you, about me, about our friends.”
“Name my favorite band.”
“Metallica, but lately you’ve been on a heavy ICP kick.”
“OK, but anyone would know that.”
“Perhaps. Ask something else.”
“When is my birthday?”
“In December, nine days after mine.”
“Who is the oldest one of our group?”
“Jon. He turned 17 in April. Lance just had his birthday.”
“What kind of girl am I into?”
“Easy,” the man said. “Redheads. Dude, please. Give me something difficult.”
“OK,” Graham said, “so what is … the ultimate price?”
In a raspy, almost devilish, voice, the man slowly replied, “Eight dollars.”
With that, Graham, whose hands had been stuffed into the pockets of his black hooded sweatshirt, offered the man a fist bump and a quick glancing hug known to teen boys then and now as a bro hug. “OK. I believe you. You’re either Mark at age whatever or some shape-shifting demon who’s done his homework.”
“Yes, and I go by The Underlord. Now, Graham, prepare to do my bidding.”
Graham laughed and relaxed his shoulders. “It is close to Halloween. If I ever were to be accosted by demons, this would be perfect timing.”
“Yeah, perfect timing, all right. I might be stuck here.”
“But you’re a time traveler, apparently. Can’t you just go back to whenever?”
“2015? Yeah about that: I downloaded a time travel app on a whim. And, you know, it worked.”
“What the hell’s a time travel app?”
“Long story.”
Graham’s older friend pulled an almost flat, rectangular object from his pocket that looked like a tiny computer. “I’ll tell you about some things that Steve Jobs, God rest his soul, has not even dreamed up yet. But first we need to…”
The man briefly glanced at a picture on his device then tucked it away. He cackled so hard that he stumbled a bit before grabbing the bridge’s railing to steady himself.
“What’s so damn funny?” Graham demanded.
“It’s just hard getting used to you without a big thick beard.”
“Sweet. I want to know more. A lot more.”
“OK. But first, we need to warm up. All I have to wear is this damn T-shirt.”
“Yeah, I noticed that. So, TCU is going to win the Rose Bowl in 2011, huh?”
“Rob and I went to L.A. for the game. I have some funny stories.”
“Look, come back to my house. My parents are gone until tomorrow night.”
“You’re a lifesaver. My credit cards don’t work here, so I was facing a night in my car. I have 20 bucks, but I’m pretty sure this would be considered counterfeit.”
“Andrew Jackson’s head is huge. That’s kind of bad ass.”
“Hell, keep it,” older Mark said. “It’ll be worth 20 bucks in about 18 years.”
The man led his teen friend to his car. He showed him some modestly advanced features – the CD player, the radio controls integrated into the steering wheel – and tried to explain what a port on the dashboard labeled iPod does. They pulled up by Graham’s house on the northwest edge of the park.
“We should hurry in,” Mark said. “I don’t want the guys to come cruising by.”
He parked on the south side of the street across from the house so none of their friends would assume the unfamiliar vehicle belonged to someone at Graham’s place. They rushed inside and settled on couches in the den. Over a ham sandwich and a Sierra Mist, Mark began to explain concepts such as iPhone 4 and apps and Wi-Fi signals.
“I was looking up time travel apps for my phone, just for grins. The one I found was called Temporal Flux, and it was $7.99 before tax. And I normally don’t pay for apps. But I figured what the hell? It’s worth the ultimate price.”
“How did some program on your phone drop you and your car here?”
Continue here
“So, somehow, this effin’ junior in high school is your Doc Brown?” Graham asked. “I don’t know squat about how to help you.”
“No, no. I think I know how to get back. I just need your help pulling it off.”

Thursday, May 21, 2015

I Have Never Lost...

I have never lost a family member to war.

Both grandfathers (Dutch Freise and Bill Wright) were veterans of World War II. My dad's oldest brother, my Uncle Terry, served in Vietnam. My dad was in the Army as Vietnam drew to a close, but he was never sent overseas.

Going back further on my family tree, two great-grandfathers on my mother's side (George Feurer and William W. Freise) served in World War I. William was severely injured by mustard gas in France.

I have a great-great grandfather (William S. Sunderland) and two third great-grandfathers (George W. Wright and Milton B. Slaughter) on my dad's side who served the Union Army in the Civil War. George's older brother Enos was disabled in the Vicksburg campaign of 1863 and discharged from his infantry unit.

Also on my dad's side, my fifth great-grandfather fought in the War of 1812 (Ezekiel Emerson), and at least three sixth great-grandfathers (John Emerson, David Burlingame, and Eleazer Ballou) fought for the Patriot cause in the Revolutionary War. Another sixth great-grandfather, James Sinclair, was a Quaker opposed to participating in war, but he is recognized by the Daughters of the American Revolution as a Patriot because he offered cider and supplies to the revolutionaries.

These are just veterans I know about. I recently uncovered some evidence that a second great-grand uncle of mine (a brother of my great-great grandmother Laura S. Williams) may have died in the Spanish American War. An old picture making that assertion is the only purported proof I have of John Stanton Williams' service, so that claim remains unverified so far.

If Memorial Day is meant to commemorate those killed in the course of military service for the United States, then my thoughts and prayers for those veterans is of a general nature. But from a broader perspective, when I consider ordinary folks who answered the call to serve at times of crisis, I can fix my thoughts on my ancestors and relatives who put their lives on the line to defend the American ideal.

This nation is highly imperfect. And how could it be otherwise in this period in human history? But the idea of America has always been worth defending. I am proud that so many people I descend from felt the same way.

Happy Memorial Day to everyone.

If the rain ever lets up in Dallas-Fort Worth, I will celebrate the long weekend with a round or two of golf and perhaps a barbecue. But whatever I do, I will take a moment to pray. I will pray for all the families who have been affected by military conflict, for those veterans who gave up their lives in the line of duty, and for those ancestors of mine who willingly served in the military in times of crisis and conflict.

(Photo Below: A newspaper story about my Grandpa Bill getting his Navy "wings")

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Going to Augusta

Going to Augusta
By Mark Wright
I have never been to the Master’s. The venerable golf tournament, arguably the most significant on the Professional Golf Association Tour, is what the Georgia city of Augusta is most known for.
I have taken part in a less heralded occurrence in that city. I was born in Augusta on December 3, 1979 to a nurse mother and an Army doctor father from Texas. I was only there for about a year before my family returned to Texas. I was only around those parts for one Master’s. Sadly, I did not witness Seve Ballesteros’ first green jacket, in April 1980. Although, given that I was four months old at the time, I could have been at the bottom of a dusty red crater on Mars for all I know. I, of course, remember nothing of those sleeping, crying, self-wetting early days.
George W. Wright was also not in town for golf. Long before there was a Master’s, George was in Augusta for about a month in the spring and early summer of 1865. My third great-grandfather was there to occupy a Confederate arsenal in the months following Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox and President Lincoln’s assassination. In late June, George and his fellow members of the 28th Iowa Infantry Regiment moved on to Savannah, Georgia, where they were mustered out of the Union Army at the end of July after nearly three years’ volunteer service[1].
George, born in Ohio to a westward-moving pioneer mother and father, enlisted as a private in August 1862 at the listed age of 26 – I believe he may actually have been 25, four days after older brother Enos signed up[2]. Their regiment served with distinction, especially during the pivotal Vicksburg campaign in the spring of 1863. Enos D. Wright, two years George’s senior, would be discharged due to disability at the end of the Vicksburg campaign[3]. The campaign was a rousing success for the North. The Federals forced the Confederates inside the walls of Vicksburg in a decisively disadvantaged position and helped Gen. Ulysses S. Grant boost a sagging reputation[4].
Grant would go on to become the scandal-marred 18th president of the United States. George, meanwhile, would serve out the duration of the war, including that brief assignment in Augusta, and return home in August 1865 to the humble farmlands of Benton County, Iowa, where his wife, Sarah E. Curl Wright, an Indiana-born descendant of Scots-Irish Quakers, and their three children beckoned. A year later, in July 1866, my second Great-Grandfather Harrison “Harry” Henry Wright was born.
Somewhere along the way, the story of my third great-grandfather, a man who supplied me with my surname and my Y DNA, was forgotten to Wright family lore. My dad had never heard the name George W. Wright. I discovered George and many other ancestors and relatives when I began undertaking a study of the history of my father’s side of the family in early 2014. Even now, after many hours of research, I know precious little about George W. Wright, except what the documents reveal. I have seen his pension file[5] and the record of his headstone at the cemetery of the Veterans Home in Marshalltown, Iowa.[6] But many mysteries remain about this veteran of the Battle of Champion’s Hill, this brief visitor to Augusta.
I wonder why he died in his early fifties. I wonder how he felt about his service in the Union Army and what led him and Enos to enlist rather than wait for the eventual advent of a draft. Hardly a military lifer, George, like many of his contemporaries, was, at his core, a simple farmer. But for a little while, in his country’s time of need, he was a foot soldier.
Gen. Alvin P. Hovey offered this lofty assessment of Wright’s 28th Infantry Regiment in a May 23, 1863 report on the Battle of Champion’s Hill: “Of the Twenty-ninth Wisconsin, Twenty-fourth and Twenty-eighth Iowa, in what words of praise shall I speak? Not more than six months in the service, their record will compare with the oldest and best tried regiments in the field.”[7]
Generally, I am loathe to cast mortal men and women into the role of hero, nor do I assume that war a person's service, however honorable, is done purely out of virtue. But I find a lot of valor in Pvt. George W. Wright’s war record. I do think he was a hero in his own small way. He certainly risked his life and endured many hardships. I wish I could shake his hand and thank him or at least see a picture of the man who gave me my family name. It is just too bad I got to Augusta some 114 years too late.

[1] Logan, Guy E. Roster and Record of Iowa Soldiers in the War of the Rebellion, Together With Historical Sketches of Volunteer Organizations, 1861-1866, Vol. 3, 17th-31st Regiments – Infantry, pp.1240-1241. Des Moines: Emory H. English, state printer, 1910.
[2] Ibid, p. 1334.
[3] Ibid, p. 1334.
[4] Civil War Trust. Champion Hill – Champion’s Hill, Bakers Creek – Hinds County, Mississippi, May 16, 1863. Accessed 14 April 2015.
[5] Fold3. Civil War and Later Veterans Pension Index - Wright, George W. Accessed 14 April 2015.
[6] Headstones Provided for Deceased Union Civil War Veterans, 1879-1903 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2007. Original data: Card Records of Headstones Provided for Deceased Union Civil War Veterans, ca. 1879-ca. 1903; (National Archives Microfilm Publication M1845, 22 rolls); Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, Record Group 92; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
[7] Reports of Brig. Gen. Alvin P. Hovey, U.S. Army, commanding Twelfth Division, including operations May 2-20. MAY 16, 1863, Battle of Champion's Hill, or Baker's Creek, Miss. O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME XXIV/2 [S# 37]. Accessed 14 April 2015