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What I Did on My Summer Vacation, Part III

My sister keeps asking me if I’ve finished the last post about our summer vacation yet. Um, no. Why not? I don’t know. I thought this would be the easy one. Anyway, here goes!

IMG_3762

On the Sunday after the second family reunion, we visited Independence, Missouri, with two of our cousins. We planned on touring the Harry Truman home, but there would be a 3-hour wait until it started, so we went looking for something to do in the meantime. Cousin D had heard about a restaurant he wanted to try, but it was closed. We found a local cafe that seemed to be doing a brisk business, usually a good sign, so we stopped for lunch. I indulged in chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes and gravy, which was comfort food at its best. I’d like to show you a picture, but I’m afraid I didn’t even think to photograph any food on this trip. I was too busy eating.

We still had a couple of hours on our hands, so we drove around some beautiful, tree-lined streets, admiring stately old homes set back on lush green lawns. Eventually we found ourselves at the Bingham-Waggoner Estate, whose sign proclaimed, “Voted the Best Historic Home Tour in the Midwest.” Well, how could we pass that up? As it turned out, it was the only home tour we took in the Midwest, but I’d say its reputation as “the best” was well deserved.

You’ll soon see why I’ve had so much trouble with this post. I took way too many photographs, and had a terrible time trying to decide which ones to leave out because I want to show you everything! Here are some of my favorites:

IMG_3775The Neverending Porch: It wraps all the way around the house

The estate is named for its best-known residents. The original six-room house was built in 1852 by John Lewis. George Caleb Bingham, a well-known artist, politician and military man, lived there from 1864 to 1870. The final residents were the Waggoner family, who made their fortune milling flour. They bought the house in 1879 and occupied it until the death of the last member of the family in 1976. From 1895 to 1900, the house was enlarged to 26 rooms. The home has been beautifully restored to its turn-of-the-century glory mostly with original furnishings owned by the Waggoners.

IMG_3783The Parlor

IMG_3778The Study

One of the most wonderful things about this place is that you are allowed to TOUCH things! You can sit on the furniture, play the piano, get as close as you want to everything. It was amazing!

Music RoomMusic Room

The intricately inlaid piano bench is not original to the house, but is an example of “prison art” of the era. The beautiful Eastlake-style organ is also not a Waggoner family piece, but perfectly fits the period and spirit of the home.

IMG_3794Dining Room

This room is so elegant, with an African mahogany table that can seat up to 20 for dinner. The built-in china cabinet contains original family silver. If you’d like to have a dinner party here, you can rent the room!

IMG_3795Many chandeliers in the home are fitted for both gas and electricity

Kitchen triptychKitchen: All the Modern Conveniences

IMG_3814A Gentleman’s Necessities

A bathroom on the second floor was outfitted with this convenient shaving stand in addition to a toilet, marble sink, and surprisingly modern-looking tub with tiled shower, circa 1900.

IMG_3811Child’s Room with Hand-crafted Doll House

IMG_3810Doll’s Trunk

IMG_3820Upstairs Sitting Room

If I recall correctly, those are portraits of the original Mr. and Mrs. Waggoner on the wall.

IMG_3824Sewing Room

IMG_3823Steamer “Trunk”

According to our tour guide, this rather massive piece of furniture would be packed up and taken along when the family traveled to Europe by ship. Even empty it must weigh a ton! My back was aching in sympathy for the long-dead servants who would’ve had to manipulate this thing down the stairs and onto a wagon or truck.

IMG_3829Master Bedroom

Every room in the house has its own unique, hand-painted border above the picture rail. Each one was appropriate to the occupant or use of the room, and each was beautifully executed.

IMG_3826Lady’s Lavatory

IMG_3827Dressing Table

IMG_3825Nightcap, Anyone?

IMG_3837Servant’s Room

The large attic space on the third floor was given over to servants’ quarters and play space for the children. It was probably cozy in the wintertime, but it was uncomfortably hot in July.

IMG_3833Quiet Corner

There are a dozen of these beautiful dormers in the attic. The little doors open to storage space between them that was interconnected. Apparently crawling around and popping in and out of the doors was a favorite pastime of the children in the house.

There’s no reputation of the house being haunted, but I have to admit I had a startling experience in the little room above. I took a couple of steps farther into the room, intent on that lovely chair, and glimpsed this out of the corner of my eye:

IMG_3834-3Spirit of Play

I admit my stomach gave a quick jolt in the few seconds until my mind realized it was a mannikin! I don’t know if someone with a sense of humor put it there on purpose, or if it had just been forgotten there. I don’t think anyone else on the tour even saw it.

IMG_3841And that was it, the tour was over and so was our vacation.

You can probably see why we didn’t make it back in time for the Truman house tour, and also why we didn’t really regret it. Those are my cousins walking toward the sunlight, as I called out the eternal chant of the photographer: “You guys go on ahead, I’ll catch up!” We were all tired, happy, and ready to call it a day.

The next day, my sister and I were on our respective airplanes, heading in opposite directions for home and our everyday lives.

IMG_3869Almost Home

IMG_3503The Two of Us

This one’s for you, Sis. It was the adventure of a lifetime. I’m so glad we got to do it together.

My thanks again to all of our lovely cousins (and Aunt Lori!), who so graciously hosted us and never for a minute let us feel like we were strangers. You made us feel like we’re part of the family. More than that, you made us know we’re part of the family. Love and hugs to you all!


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What I Did on My Summer Vacation, Part II

IMG_3859On the Road: Christopher S. Bond Bridge, Kansas City, Missouri

After five days in Nebraska, my sister and I reluctantly bade farewell to our new-found family, climbed into our rental car, and headed back to Missouri to attend a second family reunion, this time with some of Dad’s paternal family. They hold a “cousins reunion” every year on the Fourth of July, and had welcomed us to come if ever we could. This was the year! July 4th was exactly a week after the Nebraska reunion, and the location less than four hours away by car. It was an opportunity not to be missed.

IMG_3526Kansas City Skyline

As we unpacked and began to relax in our hotel room, suddenly both our cell phones began making unfamiliar, urgent noises. Then sirens began going off outside. Seriously? A tornado warning? Uncertain about what to do, since neither Maine nor California is prone to tornadoes, we went downstairs and joined the small crowd in the lobby. A few people were clearly very frightened, but most seemed calm and many crowded around the front entrance to watch the weather. Within moments the power had gone out, the wind picked up, and sheets of rain were blowing first one way then the other across the parking lot.

IMG_3545-1Tornado Watch

A tornado (or two) actually did touch down in nearby Lee’s Summit, tearing off roofing and air conditioners at a shopping center, tipping over a semi and flattening a huge striped tent where fireworks were being sold near the high school. At the hotel, everyone went back to their rooms when the sirens stopped, the power came back on in an hour or so, and we were treated to a spectacular sunset display as the storm clouds broke up.

IMG_3558-2After the Storm

The next day we went to our cousin’s lakeside home. It’s just the kind of place I love — a smallish stone cottage that’s grown over the years — porches enclosed, deck added, and so on — with the original structure and details still visible. Its position on a hillside above the lake gives a bit of a treehouse feeling, along with a lovely water view. It’s compact, comfortable, and charming, and it accommodates a surprising number of people.

IMG_3584Bird’s Eye View

There I met three first cousins with whom I share a grandfather, along with their children and grandchildren, our cousins once and twice removed. Many others were cousins to each other through their mother’s family, so not related to my sister and me by blood, but they welcomed us anyway. Everyone was curious and wanted to hear our story — how we were connected and how we found each other.

I suppose most families have a “skeleton in the closet.” Our father’s skeleton, the one that haunted him all his life, was the fact that he was illegitimate. It was apparently not much of a secret that my grandmother Grace was already pregnant when she married. Her husband raised Dad as his own son, and Dad thought of him as his real father though he knew from an early age it wasn’t really so. Grace was not a happy woman and blamed Dad for her “Sad & sorry predicament.” This was no doubt one of the issues that caused him to run away in his early teens.

WeddingPortrait-Grace_babyLeft: Grace’s wedding portrait. Right: Grace and the baby who became my daddy

Grace, whose fiancé was away serving in the Army, went to work as housekeeper for a man whose wife had died leaving him with five young children. He was handsome, she was pretty. I suspect both of them were lonely, and the inevitable happened. No one knows the precise details of what followed, but when Grace’s sweetheart came home he chose to marry her knowing she was carrying another man’s child.

Obviously, an illegitimate child could be a fairly large skeleton in its biological father’s closet, also, especially if he were a man with a significant position in the community. After our Nebraska family found us, I dove into Ancestry.com myself. I followed clues in some notes Dad had left and was able to identify his father. The pieces fit together perfectly.

grandfathers-childrenGrandfather and his children, about the time Grace knew them

I connected with the family through Ancestry.com, and their own research verified mine. They have been gracious and accepting ever since learning of our existence, which did come as a surprise to them. The cousins we met on this memorable 4th of July are the children of the youngest boy in the photo above.

Our Independence Day gathering was climaxed by going out on our cousin’s pontoon boat to watch fireworks from the water.

IMG_3661Dockside Sunset

IMG_3679Fireworks Flotilla

IMG_3697Waiting for Darkness

FireworksCelebrating in Red, White, and Blue

It was the perfect ending to such a momentous day.

I grew up with no knowledge of my father’s family at all. Meeting and getting to know — in person! — literally dozens of extended family members has been one of the most rewarding and fulfilling experiences I’ve ever had. I hope that somehow Dad does know we’ve found his family, and how happy his family is that we did. They’re wonderful people, on both sides — warm, open-hearted, intelligent, talented, and funny. I wish we could have known them sooner, and oh, how I wish he could have known them. I believe he’d have loved them as much as we do.

We had one more day in Missouri before flying home, and two of our cousins took us to explore the city of Independence, where we toured a beautiful historic estate. That’s going to need its very own post.