10 March 2009

Crookshank: Wesley Ellis

In 1968, 12-yr-old Wesley Ellis Crookshank was one of hundreds of Crookshank cousins within six counties of the town of Resolute, Indiana. In the late 1940's and early 50's, with the return of brave Hoosier men after World War II, there was a population boom to say the least. As a result, it became more than a little monotonous to hear roll called around the various schools and their classrooms with hundreds of Crookshanks in attendance: "Darnell Crookshank?! Jeremy Crookshank!? Justin Crookshank?! Sally Crookshank!? Silvia Crookshank?!" (See what I mean? Completely obnoxious, right? I'm ready to pull my hair out just writing that sentence.) Kids were constantly rolling their eyes each morning, and the Crookshank name began to wear out its welcome, which was quite unfortunate because there wasn't a more hospitable bunch in all of Perry County and its environs to be sure.

A meeting was held at the homestead, and soon all Crookshank kids were no longer enrolled with their last name; they merely used their first and middle names. And, so it was that Wesley Ellis Crookshank simply became: Wesley Ellis. Or, Wes to his grandpa and friends.

It is said that a Crookshank can recognize a cousin (even one they’ve never met or haven’t seen since childhood) as far removed as 3rd cousins. The distinctive ears (not unsightly, just especially familiar to one used to seeing the elongated lobes staring back in the mirror); the bountiful head of hair; penetrating stare looking for clues seemingly at every glance for some mystery that could erupt without notice; and the smile ... the especially kind smile. There it was. The one trait all Crookshank cousins possessed and that their parents cherished.

An unwritten and unspoken ritual began with Crookshank men doffing their cap (or taking them off completely for women) and acknowledging a passerby as far back as the 1800’s. The Crookshank smile was one that had a dimple on one cheek and a smile line on the other. Always, or almost always, seemingly pulling one on the other with each smile. (One should always not say always, dear reader. Well, you get my meaning.) The ritual would begin when a Crookshank might recognize a relative, he or she would slightly turn their head, smile, and nod a little hello. When the return smile revealed a familiar dimple and a smile line, good manners required one to stop and make the proper introductions. So, on dozens of school campuses in Indiana, Crookshanks using their first and middle names could spot each other fairly easily.

Wesley Ellis had it, and he recognized the smile on more than a dozen kids on the school yard also. And they all recognized him as a Crookshank in good standing with his family and community. He was good stock as they would say. Even for a boy who was born in Kentucky, and whose dad still lived in Prospect driving around in his old green pickup truck.

The conversation eleven years earlier between Wally and his parents Trip and Fiona Crookshank took all of ten minutes. All three knew that Wally had returned to ask his folks to help rear Wesley Ellis while he continued to make a living and a name for himself in Kentucky. The baby needed stability, a women's influence, and family. In Resolute, Indiana, on the original Crookshank homestead, he'd get all three, especially the family.

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