Commentary
7:30 am
Fri August 15, 2014

Literary Ancestors

My mother’s mother was named Ellen Morden Long. She was born in New York City in 1884, but lived her married life in Syracuse, New York. Ellen Long had a grandfather, my three times great grandfather, named Ralph Morden Long. He was born in 1788 in eastern Pennsylvania, but died on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, not too far from Brantford, where he was taken during the Revolutionary War by his grandmother Ann Durham Morden, who must have been a “loyalist”—on the British side, to flee to Canada. I have two more great-times-X grand parents, and the record, as compiled by my cousin’s daughter, and that line gives out with the 1715 Mordens from northwestern New Jersey, a hop from western Pennsylvania. My cousin Em’s mom gave her the middle name of Morden because, she said, of its scholarly "genes."

Grandmother’s grandmother on her father’s side was also from Canada, and others of her people date all the way back to the early 1600s in New Amsterdam (Manhattan) where a great-great whatever was a smith in the colony, and there were ancestors from the Netherlands over ‘way back then.

I’ve been using the IU South Bend Schurz Library to research the literary members of this diverse clan.

So . . . My Grandma Ellen had a cousin on her father’s side named Morden Heaton Long (that makes him my first cousin, twice removed) who, living in Edmonton, Alberta, wrote two books. My mother took me and my sisters on visits to Syracuse to see Grandma Ellen during the late 1950s. Among things I remember from these visits was her wonderful attic. This being the house where bother Ellen and father Robert Ball raised their six children, the attic was full of old toys, but mostly old books dating from their childhoods—adventure stories and child-centered histories with illustrations. There I discovered The Boy Allies from World War I, who roamed all over the European Theatre of War having heroic adventures. There I laid up in the attic and read for hours first editions of The Hardy Boys, Frank and Joe—much more “adult” in their earlier incarnations. I remember from back then, at about age ten or twelve, the cover of Knights Errant of the Wilderness,  and my grandmother bragging of my ancestor, Long, who wrote it in 1919 for Canadian schoolchildren. Last month, having nothing to do but participate in the editing a scholarly journal, two books, and the university’s alumni magazine, teach a course in the freshman Summer Bridge program, nurse my garden and keep the house up, do a weekly radio show, and a weekly Irish session, I found and ordered from a used book store that very book in that very edition. Further, I found an edition dating from 1942 of that same Morden Long’s  A History of the Canadian People, covering the very early story of that nation. I also found and ordered, but have not picked up, a book of poems by my grandmother’s cousin Edna Jacques, who is listed among the best loved poets of Canada, who lived from 1891, and whose poem was read at the dedication of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington D.C., and who lived in a Saskatchewan town called Moose Jaw. 

Retirement—if I could call it that—is “never a dull moment.” While I have engaged all this genealogy and literary activity the tomato plants have not been idle. The tallest have reached six feet and all are laden, so canning season starts only a week or two away. The sunflowers are over ten feet high and bright yellow blooms are exploding. The piles of wood—gee, I haven’t even told you about the trees, the axe, and the chainsaw—are awaiting splitting to stove size for the winter. Stay tuned for the further adventures of David James and WVPE’s Michiana Chronicles.