My distinguished forebear left a tantalizing trailFor years I’ve been fascinated with my great uncle, Jim Wood.
By: Dave Wood, columnist, River Falls Journal
For years I’ve been fascinated with my great uncle, Jim Wood.
He was a farmer, carpenter and veteran of the Spanish-American War, the only Whitehall citizen who served in that conflict.
Now there’s a paving stone at the beautiful veteran’s memorial at Greenwood Cemetery, the only tile representing that war.
When it was over, he came home emaciated and wrote to his mother from Fort Snelling that he wanted to be a nurse.
That didn’t happen, but he married Olive Tull, a nurse, from Chicago of all places.
He died a year before I was born, but I have discovered photographs of him, dressed in a frock coat. Unlike the rest of us Woods, he was exceedingly handsome, with hair, very black hair, with a huge handlebar mustache to match.
I also have discovered his childhood diaries from age eight in which he records his progress at school, how he followed his father around the farm and into town.
He attended the Baptist Church in Whitehall on Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, and Wednesday evenings. That made sense because the Wood family came to this country from England because of religious persecution.
His father’s cousin Nathaniel was the founder and president of Wayland Academy, a Baptist prep school in Beaver Dam and later president of Newton Baptist Seminary in Massachusetts.
His own grandfather Alvah was the first preacher in Whitehall’s Baptist Church, and his father, after years of backsliding, was converted to the faith and became a stalwart member as well as a candidate for the state senate on the Prohibitionist ticket.
His mother Mary was a pillar of piety and also president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, Whitehall chapter.
My father’s oldest cousin, Elmer, once told me that Uncle Jim was the only Wood of his generation who “took a drink” once he married the fancy Chicago lady and regularly hobnobbed with the local gentry and served something called “highballs.”
Surely his mother would have disapproved, for in a letter about an Indian uprising she wrote to a niece saying, “Trouble is brewing — if I may use such an objectionable term…..”
Uncle Jim’s kid brother was my grandfather, who told me Uncle Jim was stubborn as a mule and when he helped grandpa out after he retired and grandpa paid him, he would go immediately to the bank and deposit it in my grandpa’s name, which screwed up any semblance of bookkeeping grandpa ever managed.
I’m also in possession of several of the magazines he subscribed, to, including several issues of a huge glossy journal called “Scientific American.”
I was digging around recently in a big wooden box called “Uncle Jim’s Stuff,” and I found a picture of his regiment lined up at Camp Poland, Tennessee.
Underneath the yellowed photo was a paperbound pamphlet, yellowed with age and crisp to the touch.
Here’s a facsimile of the cover
BY: JOHN E. REMSBURG
Published by the Truth Seeker Company
28 Lafayette Place $3 Per Year
The little book was a diatribe about “Christian falsehoods,” like “Remember the Sabbath Day to Keep it Holy (Commandment Four in case you forgot).”
When Remsburg gets going he take no prisoners, wondering how the puritans could have believed that murder was a lesser crime than working or celebrating on the Sabbath.
So Uncle Jim was 24 when he bought that pamphlet, still unmarried, living at home with his parents, grandparents and older brother Archie, recently married to the daughter of George Dissmore, the town’s new preacher.
I’m trying to imagine him up in his bedroom reading Remsburg by candlelight and discovering that even Christ was not above breaking the Sabbath.
How did all this come about? Was it all those prayer meetings? Or was he currying favor with that fancy lady in Chicago?
I’ll never know but I would certainly like to.
Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 715-426-9554.