Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Nell Bumgarner and "Old Lucasville" -- Shared Expressions

 Nell and Guy

The ability to communicate what is important to us. Doesn't everyone feel that desire? We have important ideas to share, yet we often struggle to write or say exactly what we feel. Sometimes our problems with expression frustrate us so much that we give up without writing or saying a single word. But, what if we accept our personal limitations and try. I knew a lady who took on that task, and it made all the difference.

I Cannot

There are stories I wish to share with you
To convey the essence, and feel, and charm
Of long-ago memories that live within me.

To write is my desire, yet I am hindered;
I have neither command of words nor expression,
Nor power to say what I would.

I lack the ability to select and condense;
I prefer to write as the snatches drift by.
I cannot tell you what's in my heart – but I'll try.

--Nell Bumgarner

Nell Yeager Bumgarner (1895-1994) was a local treasure. A writer, a poet, a nature lover, and a rather eccentric human being, Nell was a true Lucasvillian. She was a meticulous, learned woman who could spin tales of area lore so vivid and detailed that you felt as if you were living her past while reading her works or listening to her verbal renderings. And, did she ever preserve local color and detail. Her gracious heart and sharp mind graced our community for nearly 100 years.

Nell loved to write her memories and memoirs on her “vintage, World War I era L.C. Smith typewriter.” Her daughter, Laura Rachel (aka celebrated actress Laurie Franks) compiled many of Nell's stories, poems, and sayings. To commemorate her mother's life, Laura Rachel presented the finished product to her mother on the occasion of Nell's ninety-ninth birthday – a book Laura Rachel appropriately titled Lucasville Lore. The book contains page after page of what Nell referred to as “memories grabbed out of a handful of mist.”

Nell Bumgarner was born in Lucasville, Ohio, on September 9, 1895. She was the sixth child of Civil War veteran, Benjamin Yeager, Fife Major and Principle Musician of Company H. First Ohio Volunteer Heavy Artillery, Union Army. Yeager entered service at age fifteen and married Nellie's mother, Rachel Jane Brant, when he was twenty-six and she was nineteen.

Nellie – her childhood name – wrote for the Lucasville Rural Gazette during her high school years, then was stenographer for Bannon And Bannon, attorneys in Portsmouth, Ohio. Later, she clerked, took dictation, and kept books at the Joseph H. Brant Store in Lucasville until her marriage to Guy Bumgarner in 1928. Guy was a teacher, a mentor of Roy Rogers, King of the Cowboys. In 1953, Guy was a surprise guest on the popular TV show “This Is Your Life” honoring Roy.

Guy died in January 1976, and after that great loss, Nell began to compose many memoirs, writing recollections in earnest at the age of ninety. (Let that be a lesson, in itself, of the importance of industry at any age.) She spoke of her greatest hope: “Before I go, I have something to say.” That “something” was bountiful beyond measure.

I had the good fortune to visit Nell one day as she held court in her Lucasville home. Hours passed like minutes as she weaved her stories, each a gem in the strand of her life. She spoke with the authentic voice of a sage, and I tried to absorb every word, even the dollops of digressions and occasional repetitions. Sitting there, somehow I knew I was receiving a precious gift from the heart and mind of a very special soul. I began to understood why Nell wanted to share her life with me and with others. She cared … about people, about history, and about community. Nell revered her life on earth. As I went home after my visit, I knew Nell Bumgarner's legacy would live on long after her demise.

Nell revealed her purpose in the Foreword to Lucasville Lore. Read these words to that prayer she composed in her nineties …

Lord, Father, help me to write. In the long hours before sleep or that follow sudden awakening, sometimes toward morning, my old mind is so crowded with stories, perhaps some worth preserving, from age three on into my nineties.

I yearn to write of Old Lucasville and its dusty streets, the condensation of many dusty, early roads that led into and out of it; of remembered stories of people I've known and loved through the years; of precious scenes that can never be relived except by means of the inadequate pen. A title comes to mind, then a scrambled bit, frustrating me at the idea of recording them. Will you, Father, please bless and help me in any worthwhile efforts my lazy mind and hand put forth? Please help me overcome the inhibitions and faults I struggle with, and guide me. Keep me mindful of Mildred's three gates: Is it true? Is it needful? Is it kind?

Father, you have given me a life so full of beautiful and interesting things to write about and have blessed me with opportunities to absorb from unusual and capable others some of the tools that could make it possible. I am so very grateful for everything and everyone you have given me. Truly, my cup runneth over. Thank you always.”

The prayer is emblematic of Nell – seemingly fragile yet incredibly substantial, a person of grateful compassion and strong faith. Her mention of “Mildred's gates” is likely a reference to a poem by Beth Day.

Three Gates of Gold

If you are tempted to reveal
A tale to you someone has told
About another, make it pass,
Before you speak, three gates of gold;
These narrow gates. First, “Is it true?”
Then, “Is it needful?” In your mind
Give truthful answer. And the next
Is last and narrowest, “Is it kind?”
And if to reach your lips at last
It passes through these gateways three,
Then you may tell the tale, nor fear
What the result of speech may be.

by Beth Day 1855

Nell Bumgarner's mindful observations serve us well. They are timely reminders to her beloved Lucasville community of its eternal obligation to others. True, needful, and kind – these words imprint the legacy of a wonderful pundit, a rare keeper of local history. Thank God Nell's “cup” did run over, for her “handful of memories” are inestimable gifts. It is my hope the “Lucasville lore” comes to the mind of area residents. That would make Nell very happy to know people still care about her hometown. Allow me to close with Nell's observation of “Old Lucasville ...

My memories of Lucasville form a dear and enthralling picture. Oh for an artist's brush and an artist's touch by which to memorialize each person, each scene – the myriad of experiences. Lucasville was the loveliest place, I think, in all this world, to be born. Now at the advanced age of ninety-two, as I review my life from birth to here and now, thankful tears fill my eyes and prayer my lips.

By 'Old Lucasville,” I mean to include the surrouding area. Because it too, as comprehension grows, becomes part of life. The history of Lucasville from my birth year (1895) until now (1988) is my history too – and I am happy for it. Such a period it was that none can ever be like it.”

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