My grandfather was my day-to-day father figure, and I can relate some special memories of times we shared. But those are Papa stories, not Daddy stories.
Papa taught me how to drive, and how to write checks, even how to manipulate my mother and grandmother to get special favors. But his idea of discipline was as far removed from “the rod” as humanly possible, and a “spoiled child” was the result.
This Father’s Day, I’ll be making last-minute plans for yet another trip to Pennsylvania in my never-ending search for my father’s story, those years before my birth, and the years after he was no longer a part of my daily life such as it was at age 3.
But before that trip, our family will assemble to honor the fathers among us, and to recall some of the fathers in our past.
Some of us spent Sunday with descendants of Marjorie Jemima Justice and Joseph N. Hughes, whose son, Homer Joseph Hughes, was the father of the MOTH.
We do this every year on the second Sunday in June, a tradition that began as “Decoration Day” at Pantertown Cemetery just east of McCaysville/Copperhill. Although we don’t gather at the cemetery anymore for a Sunday morning service, a ritual that was discontinued a few years ago, we do manage to go by to see the graves, all decorated and neatly manicured.
The big event of the day, of course, is the Reunion Picnic at Ron Henry Park on the Toccoa River where we gather for fun, food, and fellowship. We swap news, share photos, and on a good day, welcome some newcomers to the group. The mountains are filled with Hughes families, many of whom don’t really want any more cousins, but others who are just discovering what a great family this is.
According to “Facets of Fannin, a History of Fannin County, Georgia,” the history of the cemetery begins with our ancestor Joseph N. Hughes who had chosen land in the family cemetery and requested that his 10 children and all grandchildren be buried there beside him.
It is said that his is the oldest grave in the cemetery, now called Pan-Will, serving the Pantertown and Williamstown communities. His father was James Walker Hughes, one of perhaps as many as 14 children of Andrew Jackson Hughes who settled near the North Carolina border in the 1850s, and was the first pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Turtletown, Tenn.
James served in the Confederacy but had a brother, David Newlon Hughes, who was in the Union Army. The story is told that James was captured by the Union and that his brother David changed uniforms with James and helped him escape … but with the promise that he would go home and stay out of the war.
David stayed with the Union until the war’s end, and James went home, never to return to battle.
Although some men in the Hughes families were farmers, others worked in the copper mines, a risky business at best.
The story is told that Homer Joseph (son of Joseph N.) and his brother Andy were eating breakfast when their brother Manuel came into the kitchen and said to them, “If you don’t be careful when you get down in the mines, you will get killed.”
They laughed and asked why. Manuel said, “A big rock will be hanging over you.”
Homer later told that when he got down in the mine, he thought of what Manuel had said and he looked up and saw the big rock. He stepped to one side and the rock fell. Manuel never went into the mines because of the vision he had.
Homer was not killed directly, but died of the dreaded copper mine associated lung disease, silicosis, at age 48. Homer had served in World War I, and all six of his sons followed in his military footsteps.
One of them, Joe, returned from war to work in the mines. He was killed in a mine accident in 1951. One of his grandchildren lives in Cherokee County with his family. (Didn’t see them at the picnic!)
Ah, what stories. And what fathers.
This year we congratulate our newest father, Kevin, and add a very grateful thanks to son-in-law John, who has been, for 15 years, his children’s only parent. And a huge thank-you to the MOTH, the one father I know who lives up to my Papa’s standards.
Juanita Hughes is Woodstock’s official historian and former director of the Woodstock Public Library.