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The Ancestral Home

Friday, July 28, 2017


Lots of people ask me what my name means. Zickefoose is a corruption of the German name Ziegenfuss, which means goat foot. It's not derogatory, not based on our looks. It refers to a nimble way of walking. Much better! I have had only two bad falls in my life, and both were when I was hugely pregnant. Amniotic fluid is a great cushion. Just ask my kids. As for the falls, I'm sure I can arrange more as I get old and doddery. But for now, I'm getting around pretty good. That was always what my grandparents said when asked how they were. It was all about mobility. I never understood why they emphasized how they were "getting around" then, when I was a little kid, and I moved as easily as I breathed. I get it now. Oh boy do I get it. 

Zickefoose is quirky enough that, when I got married and the pressure was on to change my name, I didn't. Wouldn't. Couldn't. I am a Zickefoose and will always be. Actually the decision had been made when I was very young. I loved my name, even though I was last in every line. I loved being my father's daughter, of being identified in some tangible way as his. He was a very cool man. My mom knew we'd have a special bond, with me being the last of six kids. She wanted my middle name to be Dale, to honor him. My dad voted it down. So my middle name defaulted to Sue. Which honors no one. A placeholder. Damn, and oh well. Why DOD, why?? Well, you know now that it would have been the right thing to do.

 Once I started doing freelance art as a freshman in college, I figured if I was going to hang out my shingle, I might as well have a memorable last name, one that, once learned, isn't forgotten.

What follows here is a small and shallow exploration of Zickefoose roots in America. I'm doing it mostly so my kids and family and I have a record of the things I've been told about our line. I don't expect it to be particularly interesting to anyone who isn't a Zickefoose, but I'm glad to know these things. Some people, like my brother Bob and especially our first cousin Brad Braga, have an aptitude for genealogy. Brad has an entire climate-controlled room in his Marshalltown, Iowa basement devoted to family photos and original records. He can answer any question we throw at him about who's related to whom and how.  He is a meet keeper of the Zickefoose flame and records. I am thankful for Brad. We all are.  He can explain what a third cousin, once removed, actually is. I can have something like that explained to me a hundred times and still not get it. Genealogy is like math to me. Genealogy lore goes through me like a dose of salts. So I'm determined to record it so I have it.

In 1751, Johan Jacob Ziegenfuss came to America from Germany. It's thought he had a son named Peter, who settled near the little town of Blue Grass, Virginia, in Highland County. At that time, Blue Grass was called Crab Apple Bottom. I guess I can see why they changed the name to Blue Grass.

  Peter had a son named George. George settled near Pipe Stem, West Virginia, with a land grant. At that time, Greenbriar County, WV, encompassed Pipe Stem. Larry Zickefoose, historian and genealogist for the West Virginia clan, says that during the time George was living there, you could be born, live and die in the same spot, but the county lines were changing such that you'd have lived in three different counties.

 So whether the Ziegenfuss/Zickefooses come from Virginia or West Virginia is a bit muddled. George's son, Benjamin, married his first cousin, Susannah Buzzard. DOD had told us this, and West Virginia genealogist Larry Zickefoose, who's written a book called From Zigenfuss to Zickefoose, confirms this. Marrying one's first cousin is forbidden in the Old Testament. 

This photo of Benjamin and Susannah entrances me. As I look at the pair, the set of their wide mouths and the shape of their heads, with prominent cheekbones and high foreheads, is very familiar to me. Susanna in particular looks like my dad's sisters, in a big way. 
The cheekbones alone belie their bloodlines. 

My father always said that he thought Ben and Susannah went west to escape the disapproval of their family. I'm glad they did.   They lived for a short while in Ohio (!) and Indiana, then settled in Henry County, Iowa, near Olds, around 1837. They had eight children. The first three were born in Virginia, the fourth in Ohio on the way to Iowa.  Their sixth was Western Summers Zickefoose, born near Olds, Iowa in 1842. That would make him just the right age to get caught up in the Civil War. He fought for the Union, with the 25th Iowa Regiment.

Western Summers was my great grandfather. 

He was at Vicksburg and other battles along the Mississippi, and was with Sherman around Atlanta and on his famous march. As they marched through the Carolinas Wes got malaria, and was sent north on a boat. He regretted missing the grand mustering in Washington D.C. Western's older brother, Clark, was killed at Arkansas Post and died in Wes's arms. He had been hit in the temple by a spent Minie ball. I remember DOD saying, "It never even broke the skin."  

Western was in Buell's Army of the Ohio, reinforcing Grant after the first day of fighting, when troops were being boated across the Tennessee River all night long. But Wes never got off the boat to join the fight at Shiloh. Good thing. 

My sister Micky has a tin plate and cup that had belonged to Western Summers, part of his mess kit. He lived through that terrible war and went on to live a full life. Missing Shiloh might have been the key there. Attaining the age of 83 is remarkable for a man, for those days. 

Western Summers' grave, Asbury Cemetery, Henry Co., Iowa

Western Summers Zickefoose, my great grandfather.

Martha Jane Yancey, my great grandmother.

Wes went on to marry Martha Yancey and have a son named Charles Summers Zickefoose. He was born in 1878, and remained unnamed for two years. Not sure what that's about. What do you call him until you decide what to name him? Hey You??  I remember Grampa Charlie Zickefoose being pretty crochety, but then he wasn't feeling well by the time I came along. My grandmother Elnora Zickefoose was the sweetest person you could imagine, so she more than made up for that. Whenever Nora would hear us Zickefoose kids singing in harmony, she would say, "They got that from the Yancey's." That's still a catch phrase in our family. It came from the Yancey's. Thank you, Martha, for giving us our musicality. It somehow escaped my dad. He loved music and could sing just fine, but had little sense of rhythm. Singing (or dancing, Ida said) with him was an adventure in compensation.

My DOD, Charles Dale Zickefoose
He may not have had much rhythm, but there was a lot he could do. Like, everything.

 I love the fact that my immediate family originated in Iowa, my grandparents and both my parents being born there, thanks to Ben and Susanna's moving west. When we moved from the Midwest to Richmond, Virginia in 1962, we were coming back to the homeland, though that fact was lost on me then. I remember missing terribly the big skies of the Great Plains. I was born in South Dakota and lived my early years in a suburb of Kansas City, Kansas. We were used to seeing the weather coming. In Richmond, we had to look straight up through the trees to see the sky, and storms always took us by surprise.

So you might imagine the feelings that coursed through me when my brother Bob gave me and Liam a route home from his place in Mt. Solon, Virginia, back to Ohio, that went right through the ancestral Zickefoose home along the Virginia/West Virginia line. (We were heading home from the wedding of Bob and Bonnie's daughter, Holly).

There are not many places in this world that I look at and say, "Yes. I could live here." But this was one of them. Rt. 250 went up, down and around through gorgeous healthy national forest with scattered agriculture and mountain vistas. 

Speeding car out the window photo. Near Blue Grass, Virginia. Ohhh yeah. It's sooo beautiful here.

Liam loved the ride so much he rolled down the window and hung his head out like a dog. He couldn't get over the views and the beauty of this place.

Before long the highway, which was all but deserted, rolled down into a valley where beavers had made a beautiful series of ponds, like beads on a big watery chain.

The clouds and reflections were perfect.

I've never seen Liam respond to a landscape the way he did to this one. We pulled over and got out to revel in it. 

I loved to think that our ancestors may have ridden or driven wagons along this route and loved this valley, too. I wondered if the beavers were there then.

I don't know if a landscape or a place can be so deep in your genes that you somehow know your ancestral place when you see it, but Liam and I knew something special was going on here.

I am grateful to have children with a sense of place, genetic or not. Who know beauty when they see it, and stop to wallow around in it.

Here's a little movie of Route 250 near the Virginia/ West Virginia line. I hope you've enjoyed this exploration of Zickefoose roots as much as I've enjoyed ferreting out the information and photos. Many thanks to Bob Zickefoose and Brad Braga for keeping the genealogical flame for know-nothings like me.

And because it was the song in my head the entire drive, here's Jonathan Edwards and the Seldom Scene with "Blue Ridge."

Hey 21! Phoebe's All Grown Up!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017


 I was thinking last evening about how very, very different the weather was on the evening of July 10, 1996. It was cool, cool enough to slow the crickets down and make me stretch one of Bill's great big fleece pullovers over my head and heaving abdomen. I sat heavily in a cedar Adirondack chair, long since rotted away, and submitted to a video interview by Bill, holding a camcorder on his shoulder (remember those?) It was bigger than his head. He was asking me questions about how I thought our baby would be: what she'd look like, whether she'd have long legs like his or short ones like mine.

July 10, 2017. Now THAT is ugly. In the most beautiful way. I was frantically picking wax beans in the garden, trying to get a meal before it hit. I failed. My favorite weather: the leadup to a thunderstorm. I HAVE to be out in it.

At the time I was a bit annoyed, as only a full-term pregnant woman can be, that he would subject me to this interview, and I told him he had to avert the camera while I puffed through the contractions, dammit! I didn't know it then but I was in active labor, and technically probably should have been at the hospital. When I did get to the hospital they checked me and started rushing around like their gowns were on fire, but it was to be another 12 hours of fabulous back labor before Phoebe made the scene. I pretty much knew there was no big rush. There was an herbed chicken with sweet potatoes roasting in the oven, and a pint of ice cream in the freezer that I intended to eat, because my midwife had told me they wouldn't let me eat once I got to the hospital. Well then! I had the hardest 24 hours of work in my life ahead of me, and you have to eat to work like that. We didn't go into town until midnight. Phoebe arrived at 11:41 AM July 11, 1996.

I watch that prenatal interview now and I'm so glad we have it, because so much more than what I hoped for that mystery baby has come true. I couldn't have dreamt a baby like that one has turned out to be.

"Good" doesn't quite capture this light, does it?

We all went out on the deck last night to bask in the after-storm light. I was so overcome I was unable to speak. This is a new thing with me...I stutter when the light is good. I stutter when I see deer doing good things that need to be photographed. When a worm-eating warbler shows up at the studio window, as one just did. I literally cannot form any words. I see Bill and Liam looking at each other and then at me, the way the Jetsons looked at Rosie the Robot when she'd get a short and go on the fritz and throw her metal claws up in the air and spin around in circles like a big clanky phalarope.

I know my brain is changing as I age, and this sudden incapacitation in the face of great beauty is one of the early heads-up I suspect. Or I could call it rapture. Yes. Let's call it rapture. 

All this beauty gave me to contemplate about what can happen in 21 years. One moment, you have a squirmy little girl with a tuft of copper on her head who can't even sit up

so you fake her taking a great balletic leap as she lies on a blanket

 and the next you have a lissome woman at your side, who is not only standing up but walking alone.

Phoebe is both an object of contemplation and a muse.  She is also my friend. As is her brother. At this point, they are giving me far more than I give them (well, if you don't count Bowdoin's spring semester bill gaaaaaackkkk). Together, they plug me in each night, help keep me going.

Playing the Jungle Gym game with a very young Jemima Jay, the kids cracked up when Chet Baker inserted himself into the scene. You have your hands out. Pet me then. Pay no attention to the little bird on the basket. Do not even look at her.

This sustaining love they both receive and give has only grown through the years. 

When she could still outrun him... (October 2014)

and when she no longer could. (June 2017)

When she got back from Panama, the longest time she'd ever been away from Liam, from us, from home. 

That love between them is my favorite thing about these kids. 

On this, Phoebe's 21st birthday, I wanted to celebrate her, and I could easily spend all day posting photos and writing captions. But I thought I'd pick out just two things to celebrate. And those are the love between her and Liam and her maximum bird magic. 

It started early, with Charlie Macaw.  This bird, whose vise-like bill could crack a Brazil nut, decided Phoebe was her baby. And all babies need attention and preening.

Phoebe knows that better than anyone. She is who made Jemima the character she is. As my DOD always said, "Attention makes the pup." It's been borne out again and again. Ask Chet Baker. Ask Jemima. As fate would have it, Phoebe was home during the critical socialization weeks of this jay, giving her the undivided attention that gave her confidence and strength of character.

Did this love and affection cause Jemima to be hopelessly imprinted on humans? Nope. Not by current indications. More on that later. Data is still coming in in great batches.

Can you love a wee little jay and still set her free? Yep. You can. 

Can rehab be fun? Yep. It is (except when it's not.)

 I present Phoebe and the Amazing Inflatable Blue Jay.

On your birthday, Phoebe, I wish you all the happiness in the world. I wish you best friends and delicious food and beautiful days. I wish you the sustaining love of your family and bird magic, every day.

I wish you joy enough to leap for.

Keep those snaps and texts coming, baby. I'm on my way. 

A Zickefoose Wedding

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Of all the rituals we humans carry out, weddings, I think, are the loveliest. Weddings are about promise and hope, about looking forward and believing the best of each other. Weddings celebrate the leap of faith we take when we mingle our fortunes with those of another, for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.

Holly and Josh, July 2, 2017

It's no small thing, this making of promises, and we assemble everyone we love around us to witness as we put on ritual costumes and gather ourselves for the big leap. When I'm sitting in a wedding crowd, I scan the people around me as the vows are said, wondering what thoughts are rushing through their minds. For no one can hear two young people take those vows and not think about how those weighty, until-death-do-us-part promises have manifested, or will manifest, in their own lives. I find the whole thing fascinating, bemusing, affecting. But if I ever was, I'm not a wedding weeper now. I just settle back and dig the scene, the slight individual variations on this constant theme of everlasting promise and hope.


My beloved brother Bob Zickefoose and his wife Bonnie were celebrating the union of their daughter Holly with Josh this magical day at the Irvine Estate and House Mountain Inn in Lexington, Virginia. What a place to hold a wedding!! The day was soft and warm, the evening was deliriously cool, dry and beautiful, and a fresh breeze was blowing across the patio and dance floor.

The view went on and on. 
There was no place else you'd want to be, and that's saying something.

All afternoon, I had the immense privilege of watching my three nieces and nephews-in-law wrangle their adorable babies. I was humbled and nostalgic as I witnessed their everyday, every-moment feats of good parenting. To be a toddler's parent is to subjugate oneself to the needs of an often irrational, always adorable small small human.  Here, Christy with Ben.

Josh (my niece Katie's husband) with Simon. 

Melting yet?

Cate (Ben's big sister) watches Max and Will break-dancing, flinging their legs around and under their anchoring hands in a mad buzz-saw circle. Cate, I'm with ya, girl. No doin' the coffee grinder for me, hell to the nope. 

Liam shows how you dance with a baby in a convenient sling. 

I absolutely adore this shot, for its unposed beauty, for the interaction between my niece Courtney and her sweet Charlie; Charlie's dad Tyler leaning in; the smile passing between Cam and Courtney's wee daughter Amy; the smile on my niece Clare's face.  Wow. Hold an iPhone up over your head so you can't even see what you're getting, and see what you get. Sometimes you get a painting.

My sister Nancy boogies with Claire, Cate and Amy. Nancy was not ready to go back to the hotel at 10:30 pm. I love that about her, love watching her get those little girls shaking. 

There were little girls in dresses everywhere I looked. That alone would get me up that mountain.

There would be a few tears, but only a few. There was too much fun to be had!

Cate (Christy and Will's wee girleen) was being noncompliant; not exactly bad but not real good; setting off on her own despite her parents' spoken admonitions. I followed, just to be safe. Finally she turned around to head back to her folks and gave me my favorite shot of the trip.  Fairies are real!!

Yep, I'm bad. But nobody minds. I'm good at it.

 My date for the event was tall, blonde and handsome. I'd waited 17 years for him.

He was worth the wait.

Come over here and let me get your eyes against that smoky Blue Ridge. O beautiful boy!

I could hear the Seldom Scene's sweet tenor harmonies in my head. Blue Ridge...Do you call to all your children like you've been calling me? Blue Ridge...Why are you calling me home?

Ahh, now that makes me weep. Do click on the link. Listen to Jonathan Edwards' and John Duffy's voices fly across the mountains! Let it keep playing for "Wait a Minute." Oh my gosh. Good bluegrass...gets me in the rootsy feels.

Because I am the Science Chimp, it was only  a few minutes before I was summoned in to identify a large moth that had found its way into the dining hall. 

Polyphemus! Huge batty miracle of the Appalachian night. Oh!

I carried it outside--it was like carrying a cool, mechanically flapping bird--and released it. After a few false starts, it warmed its flying muscles sufficiently to rise into the air and circle against the Blue Ridge landscape during the wedding ceremony! Something beautiful, released and joyous. No metaphors there, nope.

And sharp-eyed Max found the first regal moth I'd ever seen under a railing outside, and ran to find me. ZOMG. The little child shall lead us. Woot!!! Bear in mind this thing is about 5" long. 

Well, to be precise, I'd seen a regal moth, but not wearing this fabulous King Clown outfit.

You may recall its weiner-sized caterpillar, the Hickory Horned Devil, from a previous blogpost. 
Click on that link, and you'll get the whole life story of the regal moth, as well as a 2010 vintage pic of the family pickin' pawpaws! It's a classic.

Ooga booga booga! his only defense

Being Science Chimp 1 and Science Chimp 2, Liam and I had to sneak off before dinner and find some wild food. 

Around the edge of the property, wineberries (Rubus phoenicolasius), native to Asia, were competing with native black raspberries (above) for space, and mostly winning.

Exotic or not, the wineberries were absolutely delicious.

Seeing my son in dress clothes slowly reaching through the thorny tangle for berries to feed his skirt-bound mama did a lot for me. Let me just say that skirts and dresses are USELESS. You can't do anything in them. Ugh. I will wear them for a few hours when required. Then it's back to the sturdy boots, pants and socks, which take me through the vegetation unscratched.

These things are GOOD!! Somebody said he looks like Malfoy here. Well he may, but there's not a cruel or evil bone in this boy's body.

Wineberries: for better or for worse, they're definitely winning here. We ate them all ourselves. Yep, we did. And we didn't feel guilty, well not very, because the food we were about to get was so darned delicious. 

But I'm getting ahead of myself. We were here not for giant moths, delicious food, or dancing fairies. We were here for Holly and Josh's wedding!

My brother Bob Zickefoose emerges with the bride.

And Josh walks her back into the hall. Everything is changed from this day forward.

And just before that magic moment and a lovely ceremony, Bob's son Aaron and son-in-law Josh K. played and sang some Beatles and Chet Atkins tunes. It was home-made music and it was wonderful to hear "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" and "I'll Follow the Sun" in this setting. And then my brother Bob sang a special song for the couple. I believe he borrowed the voice of an angel for the occasion. My updated iPhone always crashes now when I launch the Video function, so I missed the intro.

Bob and our sister Dancin' Nancy. 

Bob played the 1964 vintage Guild he bought when he was Liam's age. It's the only guitar he's ever owned, the only one he says he's ever needed. The fretboard is deeply grooved with use. Three stout screws and some glue hold the long-broken head together. Five more screws keep the bridge one with the guitar's cracked body. But it still keeps true. And true is what my brother is, in word, voice and deed. 

Father-daughter dance.

Late night cousin dances

The five Zickefooses. Barbara, Nancy, Micky, Bob, and me. How lucky can you get, to have such people in your corner?

I made this post for my family, but for you, too, because it was all too beautiful not to share. Here's to new beginnings and children well-raised!

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