This is a story about connections—the thousands of individuals and their spouses and the families they brought along with them—whose beginnings can be traced back to William Lee and Eleanor Ann Selina Shelby Henderson of Bethesda Presbyterian Church near Lindale, Smith County, Texas.
The Hendersons were not, of course, “the beginning.” There were generations before them just as there will be generations yet to come. If we go back far enough, we could find branches of the family rooted in Adam and Eve, no doubt. For those who wish to trace back and back and back, this effort should be a help to get them started, but that is not the purpose of this effort. This is to help us know how we connect.
For years, as my mother hauled me off to Memorial Services on sweltering July days at Bethesda, I have met people—tall people and short people, fair complexioned people and dark people, old people and young people, children and octogenarians, affable people and dour folk, blue-eyed people and brown-eyed and green-eyed individuals, ramrod straight people and round-shouldered folk, fat people and people as thin and straight as the fishing poles their progenitors tossed into the Sabine River to catch the elusive catfish.
I have been told that all of these people are “connected.” They are aunts and uncles, in-laws, and cousins to the fifth and sixth generations. The way they were connected was a mystery. I didn’t listen carefully to my mother and grandmother. I didn’t get the connection. The truth is I wasn’t interested. In my very young days I wanted nothing more than the sermon to be over so that I could play with my cousins under the giant oaks that surrounded that little white church and sample all of the fried chicken, potato salad, fresh sliced tomatoes, blackeyed peas, home-baked bread, berry cobbler, chocolate cake and iced tea for which the women in “my” family were famous.
It always mattered that my roots were there—born on April 8, 1922, not more than two miles from that little church, when my parents had been but three years married. It always mattered that my infant brother, stillborn a year before my birth, rested in the cemetery behind the church along with countless family members.
It always mattered that, from time to time, throughout the years when I was growing through adolescence to young womanhood, to a young married woman and having children of my own, that I could go back from time to time. Mostly it was funerals that took me “home.” I missed many of those last rites as more pressing matters—or so I thought at the time—kept me busy with my career, running a home and rearing my own five daughters.
I remember with a smile and appropriate nostalgia that my own religious faith is rooted in that place. Bethesda was my first church home, and though I left it at age six never to go back for anything other than reunions and funerals, it made a profound and lasting influence on my life.
The story of connections could begin “once upon a time,” and perhaps it will . . . eventually.