Mary Minerva Park (1822-1909)
“180thThanksgiving of Remembrance: The Dress & Caress”
4 May 2002
Of course I never knew MaryMinerva Park, in person that is. After all she was born 180 years ago as of 4May in the year of our Lord 2002, my 43rd Birthday. And though Icannot begin to describe the feelings that I have in words, I have, during somequiet moments of my life, felt her unmistakable spiritual presence. Call it aGod-given gift….I have no other explanation for this bond. It is as if she werean earthbound 3rd Great Grandmother that I’ve known all of mynatural life. In my study of family history, I have seen wonderful ancientphotographs of her and her children and grandchildren. The Grandmother to my Great Grandmother,Mary Minerva Cobb-Durham (1886-1974) of Danville, Kentucky, Mary was known towelcome all into her and husband, Richard Cobb, Sr.’s (1818-1900) homesteadknown as “Castle Cobb” in Lincoln County, Kentucky. A gathering place where voices of laughter and glee could beheard year round. Mary Minerva was a Christian woman who was full of love, andto see her face and eyes—a wealth of wisdom too.
I believe it wasonly with Mary Minerva’s guidance that I miraculously stumbled across thebeautiful late-1800s oil portraits of her and Richard in a vacant Lexington,Kentucky home in the Summer of 2001. These large portraits were not hangingfrom the wall; rather they were unceremoniously hidden on the floor; one behindan antique grand piano, the other beneath a window in a corner. Some familyresearchers and descendants had said that these portraits had been lost in afire years ago, and so I had abandoned my search for all purposes. I also havea copy of Mary and Richard’s marriage certificate, a testament to a union onearth of more than half a century—58 years to be exact, parted only by herhusband’s passing.
And it was Mary whospoke to me from the other side as I searched desperately for the final restingplace of her Grandparents, my Kentucky Pioneer 5th GreatGrandparents, Ebenezer Park (1747-1839) & Tabitha Mills (1752-1826). Afterall, thousands of descendants had searched in vain for nearly a century fortheir graves, rumored to be on Drowning Creek in Eastern Madison County by late1800s Park Historian, Nell Park Gum. To many, including myself, their place ofpassing made absolutely no sense as Eb and Tab were living along Station CampCreek (Middle Fork) in Estill County, Kentucky. Thus, the obvious question: Why would an elderly man (92 at timeof death) move to another county so late in this life?
Mary spoke tome--through a tiny scrap of paper I found lying at the bottom of an attic boxin the Special Collections and Archives at Eastern Kentucky University’sLibrary in Richmond. It was a brief but meaningful diary account, in which Marytold a family story nearly lost forever. You see, Mary was but less than 4years of age, when cries of desperation and the loud prayers of an elderly manwoke her from a sound sleep during a cool, crisp Fall night on 15 October 1826.She stumbled out of bed and entered her family’s living area, carefully takinga seat alongside the fireplace, where embers burned in an otherwise darkenedroom. Still half awake, yet scared and confused, little Mary watched andlistened to the clamor as her grandmother (Tabitha) drew her last breath in abed close by. Her tall, and somewhat lanky grandfather (Ebenezer), hands raisedin the air, prayed vociferously for God’s mercy at his wife’s bedside as herspirit left her body.
It was somethingMary had never forgotten. And because Mary’s parents, Colonel Eli Park(1787-1858) and Winnaford Dillingham (1795-1854) actually lived in EasternMadison County along Drowning Creek, her words did not fall upon deaf ears, asI now understood why Eb and Tab had died there instead of Estill County’sStation Camp Creek. They had in fact, moved in with their son, Eli to live outthe final years of their full lives. So, it was Mary then, who led me to thegraves of my Pioneer 5th Great Grandparents’ in the woods, buriedbeneath yellow pine trees, felled by an ice storm three years before. Therethey lay s short distance behind the site of her childhood home along DrowningCreek and the homestead where she and her husband, Richard exchanged weddingvows at a noon wedding on 3 February 1842, followed by an elaborate breakfast.
It was aone-in-a-million discovery, in the form of a tiny, obscure piece of paper—thevery road marker that guided me down a meaningful path to the two ancientstones in the wilderness that marked the long, lost final resting place ofEbenezer Park and Tabitha Mills. A revelation made possible at the hands of mybeloved 3rd Great Grandmother, Mary Minerva Park.
It should be nosurprise then, that on Friday night, 3 May 2002, in a gesture of reflectivelove, I placed my favorite family photograph (4-generation) of Mary MinervaPark-Cobb, with daughter, Betty (McKinney), Granddaughter, Mary (Yates) and aGreat Grandchild, in our living room in full view (Graciously given to me byCousin Roger Deane of Atlanta, GA). The three women dressed in beautiful, long,black dresses of the late 19th Century. You see, I wanted to be ableto cherish this picture and remember her birthday the next day. Upon waking thefollowing morning, I looked with admiration at the picture of Mary Minerva andwished her “Happy Birthday” in a hushed tone, as if only for her to hear. Itwas at that moment that I suddenly recalled in my sleep the night before,having heard soft, approaching footsteps and the sound of fabric dragging thefloor….a long dress perhaps; and then being caressed by an arm, gently andprotectively wrapped around me as I lay in my bed. My wife, Pam, was out oftown at the time, attending the funeral of long-time neighbor, Mr. GeorgeCrone, in Ft. Ashby, WV (Mineral County) with our two youngest children and Iwas a bit down over the prospect of being separated from my bride of nearly 20years on my birthday. But, I now know that it was Mary who visited during thewee hours of 4 May 2002; her 180th Birthday and my 43rd,comforting me as I slept, in a gesture of love and gratitude with therealization that I will never forget the day of her birth, which made the samepossible for me.
I feel I know MaryMinerva. And in my heart, I believe that in the waning moments of my life onearth, it will be the soft wisp of a dress that I will again hear, even as myeyesight fails me….
But this time, itwill be the touch of her loving arms, that will carry me Home.
“InfiniteAncestral Miracles: My Birth and aPrayer for Thy Descendants”
“I now realize that my birth is the culmination ofendless miracles; each unique and infinitive in their own right, beginning withGod’s will and hence of ancestors born in dark ages--generations later,traveling hazardous seas to an array of lifetimes of chance meetings,marriages, conceptions, births, and even near-death experiences that could haveended my beginning in the moment of a single breath so long ago. The thought ofall of this is overwhelming to us in the human race, though merely logical andnatural to our creator. Our birthdays bring to light, the reality ofpre-destiny….a true manifestation of God; for not one human lives without hisgrace. The Miracle of Life then, is byits very nature, first and foremost, a derivative of thousands upon thousandsof other ancestral miracles and the blessings that breathed life into me. Thankyou lord for you, so that they could be, and I could live as me--whilecountless children of future generations might remember, in appreciation andunderstanding, their sacred roots. This I pray, that in their hearts Ishall always be and never perish.”
With Love andRespect,
Your 3rdGreat Grandson,
William “Doug” Park
(4 May 1959- )