Of Gun Making, Friends, and Time-Traveling Collisions

This is part of my So Far Appalachia Kickstart project. We’re just 62 hours away from finishing. It’s now or never! Even though we’ve reached our first goal, we’re still hoping to reach $12,000. If you are so inclined, please donate!

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In Pennsylvania, the earliest gunsmiths that can be documented are Robert Baker and Martin Meylin. Robert Baker formed a partnership with his son, Caleb and on August 15, 1719 erected a gun boring mill on Peques Creek. — “Long Rifle” wikipedia entry

In 1996, I met a very lovely woman while I was working at a coffee shop in Covington, Kentucky. We immediately hit it off, and quickly fell into an intense friendship. Every conversation was steeped in emotion, every action mattered cosmically. We moved slowly, engulfed by the enormity of emotions around us.

We dabbled ever-so-briefly with dating before realizing that we were better off as friends. As sometimes happens, we fell away from each other for some time, and yet we managed to keep tabs on each other even in the pre-Facebook era.

Leap forward to Jan. 1, 2013, and my wife and I hired my friend — now married and running her own organic catering service in Indiana — to cater our big day.

When I tell this story, I am oftentimes met with a furrowed brow and a little head shake. This is not exactly how you begin a marriage, the looks say.

Of course, my wife and I disagree with that sentiment, but there is little you can do to explain this away.

So how, you might ask, does this relate to So Far Appalachia? And why tell us this story about your wedding.

To answer, you must first indulge me for a minute.

Story 1:

For years I’ve heard about the Baker family’s role in inventing the Long Rifle, a British gun adapted for the terrain and travel specific to the Appalachian frontier. There have been countless references to that in the family lore, but it’s still difficult to wrap my head around the idea that my family played an instrumental role in parts of American history.

And yet:

As I researched the Long Rifle and the Bakers, I came across the Landis Valley Museum in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, which was home to Robert Baker II and his son Caleb, both of whom were gunmakers.

A few quick searches later, and I came across the Wikipedia site that confirmed that Robert Baker and his son Caleb were indeed the first known Long Rifle makers in Pennsylvania

Story 2

Once I stumbled upon the information about the Long Rifle and the Bakers, I immediately set about reading about Lancaster, which along with being a center of colonial gun making was also the epicenter for Mennonite and Amish communities in the U.S.

I emailed the Lancaster Historical Society, and one of its representatives emailed me back to let me know that indeed they society had a big collection of papers and history related to the Bakers and gun-making.

Before I’d even processed the idea that I’d stumbled upon a treasure trove of information about my family, my thoughts wandered to my friend…

Story 3:

My friend, who is a Mennonite, had family from Pennsylvania. I recalled that we’d discussed that ever so many years ago, but I emailed to verify. After all, time does funny things to the memory.

As I had recalled, her ancestors had settled in the Lancaster area, where they lived and prospered for many years just about the time my family arrived.

“Undoubtedly they used the long rifle your family helped create.” she wrote me.

Which brings us to…

…my friend, and our relationship.

When I emailed her to verify that it was her family in Lancaster, we had a few laughs. What are the odds, we thought, that our families would be intertwined for hundreds of years before we ever came to know each other.

For years, I had wondered how we had formed such a close bond so quickly, and yet failed so miserably at dating.

Today, I figured it out.

For 300 years, our families have circled each other, neighbors in time, place, and spirit. We have always been friends, and we were always meant to be friends.

And like so many other moments of intense life happenings between us, she was meant to share in the day I got married. There would be no other place she could be, or that I would want her.

“Maybe at York Street Cafe our ancestors were giggling,” she wrote me.

The point of this book has been to trace modern America back through her roots, using my family as a guide. Along the way, I’ve had the chance to meet my own family and understand – in some small way – how I fit in here as well.

Today was one of those amazing days when history smashed into the present, and created a perfect symmetry of story.