The old silver maple tree that stood near her house is long gone.
But Catherine Jane Tucker has vivid memories of sitting in its shade as a child in Marietta, chatting with an African-American veteran of the Civil War.
“I sat with him many a day,” she says. “He’d run me to the grocery store many times to get him a 10-cent cherry pie. We’d talk for a while, and then he’d send me back for another one.
“Back in those days, you didn’t say no to an adult.”
Born in Lancaster in 1931, Tucker moved when she was 6 to attend school in Marietta.
“I would have had to cross King Street,” she recalls. “My father was afraid of the traffic. And the trolleys, so that dates me.”
Her family bought a house on Fairview Avenue, a house she still lives in today.
Tucker, 83, has a lot of memories about growing up black in Lancaster County.
She’ll share those recollections Monday afternoon at Lancaster Public Library, kicking off a series of events celebrating Black History Month.
That Civil War veteran — Mr. Sebastian to her, Billy to other adults — was a fascinating man, Tucker says, “although he wouldn’t talk about the war.”
“I was maybe 10 at the time,” she says. “My mom would always be peeping out the window, every couple of minutes, to check on me.”
Maybe that’s why Tucker grew up with an interest in Civil War history — and in honoring those who served.
At least 129 Civil War veterans are buried in Marietta, many of them “veterans of color,” Tucker says, and 20 of them in the graveyard at her church, Bethel AME.
“My church is the longest continuing church in Marietta,” she says proudly. “It’s 195 years old.”
When she found out that seven Civil War veterans — one of them a Confederate soldier who moved to Marietta after the war — didn’t have gravestones, she spearheaded an effort to provide them in 2008.
She also developed a lifelong fondness for lending her ear to those older and presumably wiser than her.
“I like to sit with older people,” she says. “That’s how you learn. I can’t learn anything from people younger than me.”
Tucker retired as a federal employee after 34 years, working in various clerical posts at the Marietta Army Depot, Middletown Air Force Depot, New Cumberland Army Depot and Brooklyn, New York, Army Terminal, as well as for the Social Security Administration in Lancaster.
“I didn’t have a college education, but I didn’t do too bad for myself,” she says.
Through it all, she commuted from her home in Marietta.
She also found time to raise three strapping sons. Now, she has two chubby-cheeked great-grandchildren.
“I realize how old I am when I go out to dinner with my sons and we all can eat off the senior citizens menu,” she says with a hearty laugh.
Tucker didn’t want to talk much about race issues, fearing she might give too much away before her talk on Monday.
“I feel there’s still room for improvement, but we have become more acceptable in town. I’ll put it that way,” she says. “But here in Marietta, I don’t think we have much of a problem. I really don’t.”
She didn’t even recognize many of the issues as a child, she says, only becoming aware of some racial matters as she got older.
“It could be a little rough,” she says. “There were some very hurtful times.”
Recent news stories about violence against and among young black men worry her.
“Yes, it’s troubling,” Tucker says. “I hope things get better, because my two great-grandchildren are boys, and I fear for boys of color. I worry about them.”
A knack for history
History, she says, has always come naturally to her — a passion she says sprang from her mother.
She pulls out a well-thumbed copy of Lyn Baker Alarie’s “The Scoop on Marietta: A Small River Town” and turns to bookmarked sections of interest.
“I love this book,” she says, noting that she contributed a few pages to the hefty tome. “It brings back so many memories.”
She chats about Dr. Samuel Houston, a Marietta physician and lumberman who built false bottoms into a fleet of barges to transport escaped slaves on the Susquehanna, and former Confederate soldier Joseph Maze, who moved north because of the fair treatment he received as a prisoner of Union soldiers, worked locally as a coachman and gave a tour of the borough to Ulysses S. Grant.
She pages through folders filled with old photos and clippings. She says she has “boxes and boxes” more.
Tucker used her knowledge to pen a small history book several years ago, titled “The Marietta That Was.”
She also pulls out stacks of photographs from her own history — mostly pictures of her family.
“I like to know the past, because then you know where you came from,” she says. “I tend to assume everyone feels the same. I guess we’ll see how many show up for my talk.”