Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Happy Birthday To Us

"¡Feliz cumpleaños!" Maybe that's what singer José Feliciano would say to me if he were here (possibly backed by a horn section). And I could say it back to him (with a Southern accent of course) because it's his birthday today, too. Others sharing my birthday include golfer Arnold Palmer, reporter Charles Kuralt and Canadian first lady Margaret Trudeau, according to this website.

A couple of other folks in my department at work had a birthday yesterday, so we shared the billing on the cake (red velvet with cream cheese icing, for those of you who have to know).

Also celebrating a "birthday" today is my alma mater, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (the original UT, if you're asking the right people). It was officially founded September 10, 1794, as Blount College. Though I've never been mistaken for being over 200 years old (yet), I already knew the university and I have much in common; UT is an institution, some say I belong in one. But in addition to that, I've recently discovered that one of the original board members for the college was my great-great-great-great-grandfather, Alexander Kelly.

According to various accounts, including the very well-written book Sequatchie: A Story of the Southern Cumberlands by Raulston and Livingood, and the research of Elizabeth Rogers Kelly in Jasper, TN, Alexander Kelly came from Ireland as an infant, grew up in Virginia (possibly in what is now West Virginia), fought in the American Revolution, and eventually moved to East Tennnessee. In the region of Knoxville, in addition to continuing in his role as military leader, he became known as a prominent businessman and legislator (those things went together back then too); in fact, he was on the roll of the very first legislature for the new state of Tennessee, representing Blount County.

Kelly eventually claimed 3,000 acres in Marion County, TN, (near Chattanooga) and established a presence there that is still evident through his descendants who live in the area, many headstones and a few place names, as I've found in my recent obsession with my family history. Yes, I've reached the age when walking around graveyards has become a fun way to spend a weekend; kind of like a treasure hunt (only no actual monetary treasure is expected in my case). I connect with Alexander Kelly by way of my maternal grandmother, Harriet Raulston Kelly Vaught. It was her pictures and documents that got me started on this whole adventure. Other people and families I've found in my research have been equally interesting; in time I'll get it all online.

Back to the present: I'll be claiming my free birthday meal at Caney Fork Fish Camp tonight, just because I can. Can't wait to see the little sleeping bags those fish use! And do they make s'mores? And out of what? And how do they heat them? A couple of friends will be joining me to celebrate my 44th. Hopefully I'll have better jokes by tonight. But don't count on it.

POSTSCRIPT: FYI, Caney Fork Fish Camp has reduced the free birthday deal to a dessert. Oh well, thanks to generous friends I still didn't have to pay for dinner. So it was all good. Plus, I got a birthday "serenade" from the bluegrass trio roaming the restaurant as a bonus!

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