GUIZERIX: The ties that bind us to the past

Published 4:00 am Wednesday, August 17, 2022

With Vicksburg’s upcoming bicentennial celebration and the 160th anniversary of the Siege looming, I’ve taken some time over the last couple of weeks to examine my own heritage.

Namely, I’ve been reading about my family’s roots in the Montgomery County, Ark. hamlets of Sims and Mt. Ida. Just humble mountain people who worked hard, fought hard and (eventually) prayed harder, life wasn’t always easy for the Gibbs family, if it ever was. 

I recall my grandfather, who spent the majority of his school years in a one-room schoolhouse, telling us the story of how he got a single baseball and an orange for Christmas growing up. On a trip back to the old homeplace 12 years ago, he pointed out the ruins of the log cabin where he was born, and the tree his childhood home sat under.

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“I remember at night in the summertime, looking up and seeing the stars through the slats in the roof,” he told me.

They eventually moved to Mobile, Ala., to work in the shipyards and build a better life. Years later, my grandparents saw all three of their sons graduate from the University of South Alabama with engineering degrees in three separate disciplines.

Origins aside, as I’ve learned new facts and stories from distant cousins over the last few weeks, what also has struck me is the funny ways history repeats itself.

For example, at the end of his life, my father was rendered immobile due to brain tumors affecting his motor skills.

My great-great-grandfather, George Washington “Dutch” Gibbs (they called him Dutch “because he talked funny,” I was always told), was paralyzed as well after suffering a stroke. 

“He was a jolly man in spite of it. He used to sit on the front porch in a rocking chair every day with a jar of milk, and rock until he’d churned it into butter,” my great-aunt said.

Mobility similarities aside, they also looked so much alike — the same nose, the same high cheekbones and strong eyes. 

I even went a step further, to my four-times great-grandfather, Cornelius Harvey Gibbs, who was born in 1816 in Nashville and traveled to Arkansas as a young man. Same eyes, same high cheekbones.

Personal amusement aside, uncovering these connections and old stories has been a comfort in a way. Although I never knew many of my ancestors, knowing their stories and seeing their faces brings me closer to home, in a way — closer to who I am.  

So, as we look to our milestone years as a city, and we examine the past and how far we’ve come since then, it’s my hope that the people of Vicksburg can revisit our stories, and uncover new ones. Although the times are far-removed, we might have more in common with our forefathers (and mothers) than we realize.