Banks County Opinions...

OCTOBER 29, 2003


By: Jana Mitcham
The Banks County News
October 29, 2003

Homegrown music at the family reunion
I hadn’t really heard much about “Grandpa O’Kelley,” as he was called, but at the O’Kelley-Minish reunion held earlier this month at Erastus Christian Church, I found out that Robert O’Kelley was an inventor, a schoolteacher and a musician who made his own instrument, and that he picked out his bride on his way to war.
I hadn’t been to an O’Kelley-Minish reunion before, but Grandmother – Ruby Gillespie, who married into the O’Kelley name — had called the Saturday before to tell me that the O’Kelleys were trying to round up a good crowd because Grandpa O’Kelley’s fiddle would be on display, and played, for the first time in...forever.
Grandmother told me that Grandpa O’Kelley lived with my grandfather’s family for a while when Granddaddy was a boy.
“Troy loved Grandpa,” she said, adding that he would have loved to have seen the homemade fiddle.
None of his grandchildren had seen Grandpa O’Kelley’s fiddle, possibly ever, or at least since it had been stored away at his death.
But one grandson borrowed it for the reunion and had it on display — it sang out the notes of “Amazing Grace” for possibly the first time in about 100 years.
I listened to some of the stories about Grandpa O’Kelley.
He was an inventor, one person said. And a schoolteacher — “he was very intelligent.”
He served in the Confederate War, earning commendations and fighting in battles with names like the Wilderness. He was injured before Gettysburg, so he didn’t fight there; if he had, my family might not be here today.
As he was riding away to war, he saw a girl of about 9 years old out playing in her yard. Story has it that he pointed to her and said, “I’m going to marry her one day.”
And he did. After he returned home from the war years later, he and Lucy Sailors — then about 14 or 15 — were married. One of their sons, George Earl O’Kelley, was my great-grandfather.
Before he left for the war, or either shortly after he returned from the war, no one is quite clear on that, Grandpa O’Kelley made his fiddle. A closer look revealed the seams and the pattern he used for creating the instrument. After about 140 years, more or less, the fiddle still had a voice; maybe the strings slipped a little too much for staying in tune for more than a song, but it was there for that song, so many years after a young man’s hands first fit the pieces of wood together.
It’s strange to think of the turn of history that leads to today — Grandpa O’Kelley was not killed at Gettysburg, as so many were; rather, he returned home, married, had children, who had children, who had children. And here we are, history in action, eating too much food at a family reunion, and marveling over the creativity of an ancestor we never met.
Jana Adams Mitcham is features editor of The Jackson Herald and a reporter for MainStreet Newspapers.

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The Banks County News
October 29, 2003

Have a safe and happy Halloween
Carving pumpkins. Choosing costumes. Buying candy. It’s easy to get wrapped up in Halloween’s fun. Unfortunately, Halloween is a holiday that brings more than little ghosts and goblins to your door - it can also result in many unnecessary injuries to children.
To prepare children for a safe Halloween, Scottish Rite Children’s Medical Center in Atlanta offers these safety tips:
•To make sure drivers see your child, costumes should be light-colored or decorated with reflective material.
•Children should only cross the street at corners and should walk on sidewalks or near the curb, not in the street.
•Choose flame-retardant costumes in case children walk near burning jack-o-lanterns.
•Use face paint instead of a mask. Masks can be uncomfortable and obstruct a child’s vision when he or she is crossing streets or going up and down stairs.
•Avoid costumes that include toy guns or knives which could be mistaken for real weapons.
•Supply your child with a flashlight and make sure he or she only walks down well-lighted streets.
•Tell children not to go to houses without porch lights on and never enter a stranger’s house or car.
•Know your child’s “trick or treat” route and encourage him or her to go with a large group. Younger children should be accompanied by an adult.
•Make sure kids do not eat treats until they get home.
•Parents should thoroughly inspect candy and treats in a well-lighted area and should throw away candy that shows any signs of tampering or is not in its original wrapper. Fruit and homemade goods should also be checked for anything suspicious.
•Parents of young children should discard Halloween treats that could be choking hazards, such as gum, peanuts, hard candies or small toys.
The Banks County News
Homer, Georgia
Telephone: (706) 367-5233 Fax: (706) 367-8056

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