2018 is now a distant memory and with its passing comes a time of reflection as I do with each new year.  Remembering all the good things, the not-so-happy events, the making of new friends, the loss of others and every so often the opportunity to reunite old Monroe families with both friends and family.

          Those residents of Monroe, both in town and those out of town who called Monroe home for ever how many years, had the wonderful opportunity of seeing a once in a lifetime event; the celebration of our city and county’s 200th birthday.  Prior to the actual day, the town was awash in birthday events and celebrations and the city never looked better.  Ancient history was dug out from archives and posted in the form of letters, photos, articles and remembrances from many of Monroe’s “Old Guard”, which only added further enjoyment for the event.

          Whether or not it was “divine intervention” or whatever you wish to label it, this year found me getting the best gifts of all; helping three families with old Monroe connections learn more about their families thanks to those big notebooks of Monroe history I have been compiling for years.

          First came the grandchildren of the late Mr. and Mrs. Joe C. Greer, who wanted to know more about their grandparents; who they were, what they did in Monroe and where they were buried. The eldest son contacted me in the early summer wanting to know if I could be of help.  That contact led to many phone calls and visits culminating in a gathering with the other two siblings at my house on October 5th for an enjoyable time sharing stories of their memories of their grandparents, looking through old photos and the excitement of leafing through my notebooks gleaning articles and columns referencing their grandparents, their father and uncle.  The following day the four of us drove to Monroe for the consecration of the two new makers in the family plot to honor their father and uncle.  After a lunch at the Cotton Café, a drive around Monroe seeing sights familiar to the three as children brought smiles and a few tears. Upon the return to Atlanta, a promise was made to make a return visit in a year or so.

          Later in October I mentioned to one of my co-workers where I volunteer of my exciting weekend involving members of a family from my hometown when she asked, “Did you say Monroe, Georgia?”  I said that was correct and she replied, “My grandparents used to live there and owned a restaurant called The Manhattan Café.” 

          I looked at her with astonishment in my eyes. “Do you mean Charlie & Rena Tregone,” I asked.  “My father and grandfather were great friends of Mr. Charlie and my father was a pallbearer at his funeral.”  Seems the lady I only knew as “Rena” was in fact a granddaughter of this esteemed and dearly loved Monroe family and had many memories of visiting the old home place, now the home of Mrs. Betty Hearn. 

          After quite a lengthy conversation, we each looked upon the other with a new regard and appreciation having deep Monroe connections.  While only a child when her grandfather died, she had scattered memories of his funeral.  I made copies for her of the obits of her grandfather, her grandmother along with a copy of the article from the Walton Tribune in 1955 announcing the close of The Manhattan Café.        

          I mentioned to Rena of the approaching 200th birthday of Monroe and we are planning a day to drive down and let her revisit places she knew and remembered from her childhood along with visiting her grandparent’s graves in Rest Haven.     

          Rena visited my home during the holidays and got to glimpse some of my Monroe notebooks and saw articles which triggered memories for her.  We now consider ourselves “family” with the newfound knowledge of our Monroe connections.

          Perhaps the most poignant of the reuniting of folks with Monroe ties came in December. Strange, isn’t it, the dates of events we all have that are indelibly etched in our minds which we recall yearly.  Late in the afternoon on December 20, 1962, Monroe suffered a great loss in the sudden death of Mrs. Kate Harris Stewart, wife of prominent Monroe physician & surgeon, Dr. Philip R. Stewart.  Kate was one of the most active, creative and talented neighbors of the Walton Circle group.  Active in all areas of Monroe civic and social circles, Kate’s unique talents endeared her to friends and family in Monroe, Atlanta and Alabama. 

          The reason her death remains so vivid was my parents were called to help out that afternoon Kate was stricken at her home and taken to the Walton County Hospital where it seemed every doctor in town was in the emergency room trying desperately to save her without success. The morning following her death cars lined the street with friends calling to pay their respects to Phil, Louie & Julian.

          The Stewart’s daughter, Louie, led a fulfilling life as an elementary school teacher for nearly 40 years. In 1977 she married Randall Thomas and settled in Eatonton, Ga. In 1979 they had a son, Stewart, named after Louie’s father.  By the time of Stewart’s birth, Louie’s father had died, so growing up Stewart never had the opportunity of knowing either of his maternal grandparents, only things told him by his mother and other relatives. Louie died from cancer on June 22, 2008 at the age of 67.

          Approaching the 56th anniversary of Kate’s death, I wrote a tribute to her, something I should have done years ago.  I sent it to one of Kate’s cousins who immediately sent it to Stewart, Kate’s grandson.  He sent a nice note saying how much he appreciated having this as it filled in a lot of blanks about his grandmother.  He mentioned he often wished he had the opportunity of knowing both his grandparents before their deaths. Remembering the tribute to Dr. Stewart I wrote some years ago, I sent him that article so he would have as complete accounting of two of Monroe’s best loved citizens as I could compile and in closing told him even though he never knew them, he had the privilege of being a part of an highly respected and loved Monroe family for which he could always be proud and the legacy he could carry forth.

          Sometimes it is not the gifts you get but the gifts you give which make life so meaningful.  Having the wonderful opportunity this past year of bringing families with Monroe connections together and helping them appreciate their past through other Monroe folks is a part of what makes the town and its citizens so very special for me.