Cordelia May Ice

She was born on Sunday, the 28th of May, 1854 in Doddridge Co., [West] Virginia.  She died on a Tuesday 17 November, 1863 at the age of nine years.  Cordelia is buried directly in front of the front door of Center Point Christian Church.  The straightforward white frame church is typical of the time and region but is not the building she knew…not the same one in which her father was ordained an elder and her brother served as a leader and in which her nephew learned to preach… but it sits atop the site of the one she knew.  The church Cordelia knew was of hewn logs; this one has cheap siding over wooden clapboards.  Inside this plastic-clad church is a bronze plaque with her father’s name on it.  Other names include the other founding families.  Outside, with Cordelia, lie their mortal remains.

Her father, Isaac, and brother Andrew, were in November 1863, I believe, at Harper’s Ferry.  They were musicians in the 6th West Virginia Infantry (Union).   Who knows if word reached them of her illness?  For that matter who even knows whether she was ill?Were they able to obtain leave to bury their daughter and sister?  Good questions; no answers.

In 1896 Cordelia’s mother Elizabeth was buried beside her. Elizabeth has a stately tall marker. She was buried between her two children who preceded her in death: Cordelia on the left and Andrew on the right.   In 1882 the mortal remains of Cordelia’s older brother, Andrew Jackson Ice were placed in a grave in front of Center Point Christian Church.  A. J. succumbed to appendicitis, leaving six sons under the age of twelve.  The fourth son, Kromer, is my great-grandfather.  Isaac Ice is buried on the other side of Andrew.   He died 11 June 1905.  Daughter, mother, son, father.  Such is Ice Row.

In April 2010 I visited Center Point.  One reason for the visit was to locate her grave.  The morning was still and quiet.  Clear weather, cool steady breeze under blue skies.  The morning air was damp. There was enough winter left in the air to remind you that you weren’t quite into spring yet.  The spring growth was some ways behind Middle Tennessee: much of the vegetation was brown, crunchy, dormant.  And there was enough of spring in the air and green shoots here and there to let you know that life was around the corner.  A perfect metaphor for a day in the cemetery.

I spent a good deal of my morning in the oldest part of the cemetery among the field-stone-marked graves.  Only a couple had initials scratched deeply upon them; none bore CMI.  Their identities are now completely lost if ever they had initials.  Like the corpses absorbed by the earth beneath them, time’s long years eroded both name and memory. Whoever they are they were the early white settlers in this area, or at least the first to die and receive proper burial.  Their lives intersected in some way with the lives of my distant family; whoever they are they were involved in the life of the community and for all I know they planted and watered a congregation in which my family later served and worshiped and ministered.  They are important to me whoever they are.  I’ll never know.  And that was a strange feeling to face since I came all this way for answers.

I walked up high, to the top of the hill–Allen’s Hill– right up to the tree line and sat down in the crunchy grass to snap a few photos.  Many graves were early 20th century, some were recent, and one was fresh, but where is Cordelia?  The records I had at hand clearly stated she is buried in the Center Point cemetery, and the record provided birth and death dates.  Is she among those whose identities have been lost to time?  I fixed my attention on the fresh, maybe-only-a-couple-weeks old, grave in the middle distance.  If I were digging a grave in 1863 where would it be?

I tried to imagine the scene in 1863 from my vantage point up on the side of Allen’s hill.  It makes best sense that the family rests together.  This is Appalachian culture and for all the fierce independence shot through this time and place and people, there is also a mighty fierce interdependence.  Most families in this cemetery are buried together or as close as seems practical.  Where they seem separated in a few cases can be explained by intermarriage or feuds or both or neither.

In 1863 there were far, far fewer graves and the likelihood that the Ice’s are together moves me back down the hill.  I examine each of the identified graves, the old ones, the 19th century ones.  I find the Ice’s easily enough, the ones I saw on my 1998 trip.  No Cordelia.  A second time, each stone, front, back all sides…headstones and footstones.  No Cordelia. A third time…nope.  Frustrated, I walk down to the small covered bridge.  Walk over it, over the creek, an take a right up that hollow a mile or two or three, and you’ll get to the old Ice land.  I didn’t know that then.  I guess I’ll have to go back someday.

Back to the cemetery, I sit down again, this time in front of Isaac’s tall monument.  He was an elder at Center Point Christian Church, a patriarch in one of the founding families.  He was an elder at the time of her death, or so the record seems.  There is no good reason why she is not here!  

On my hands and knees with a screwdriver from the small tool kit I kept in the trunk, I probe the grass for flat headstones. And there she was.

Next to Elizabeth, covered in grass and dirt, was a small stone.  Looks to me like it fell backward years ago.  I cleared the earth and grass so visitors will know she is there.   My hands a sandy brown, I cleared and scraped and pulled weeds and thought of my three girls in Middle Tennessee.  In 2010 the girls were eight, five and two.  Zach was nowhere in our consciousness, and neither was Texas.  I didn’t set the stone upright, but I cleaned and cleared and at least made it visible again.

Maybe Isaac and AJ heard about Cordelia’s illness and were granted brief leave to rush home for a few days.  There wasn’t much for a musician to do at Harper’s Ferry anyhow.  It appears they spent most of the time watching and waiting for action that never happened.  Perhaps she died suddenly, unexpectedly, quickly.  Perhaps they learned of her death some days or even weeks after the fact.  Perhaps they made it in time to bury her.  Or they, like, me, walked up the hill and looked for her, not knowing where they might find her.  There is no doubt Isaac stood where I stood, looking down at the grave of his daughter, his only daughter.

At least now anyone who walks along Ice row will see Cordelia’s stone.  Center Point is a tiny village, the sort of place you get lost trying to find, or get lost trying to find your way from.  I bet in the last two years the only person to have seen her grave is the fellow who cuts the grass.  I hope he notices her, for every little girl who dies at the age of nine deserves at least a legible headstone, in a visible place, in hopes that someone will see, and pause a moment, be it ever so brief.  I hope he sees her stone and goes home to his family a happy and thankful man and I hope he counts every blessing he has.

God rest you, Cordelia.  We will meet in the resurrection!

Ice row: L-R, Cordelia, Elizabeth, Andrew, Isaac.  Nearby, in front of the church, is George Washington Ice and William Waitman Ice.  George is Isaac’s brother and William is Isaac’s other son.

Cordelia’s marker reads:

CORDELIA

DAU OF I & E ICE

BORN

MAY 28, 1854

DIED

NOV. 17, 1863

—-

Our darling one

hath gone before

To greet us on that

blissful shore.

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