....My purpose in creating this blog is not so much to offer something for my readers as much as an exercise to help me grow. Hopefully along the way, it may also help someone else. If not, may it at least entertain.

About Me

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Middle Tennessee, United States
I was raised in a very close, Christian based middle-class family in a Southern city suburb. I have been married 34 years. I have 2 grown sons, a beautiful granddaughter, and 1 older sister. Our home right now is also home to 3 dogs, 3 cats, and 2 pet chickens! I love music, outdoors, pets, wildlife, and new adventures. I love all of nature and God's many creations and can't imagine a life without a love of God and family, wildlife and the outdoors.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Flowers from the Past

As mentioned in my prior post, my mother always had so many stories to tell of her life that I have decided to include some of her stories here as some of my blog entries. After much prompting from  my sister and me, we convinced her to put her thoughts and stories in writing. So at the young age of 81, she wrote her first story. Although somewhat long, here is another of her writings. Hope you enjoy this one.

By Veronica West

My maternal grandmother and my mother about whom I've referred often in my stories had a deep love and understanding of flowers. Even though I was born in a small rented clapboard house, the yard was always beautiful. In this part of my story I shall be talking of its gardens often. My mother was an artist. It was the style in the the early 1900's to decorate the ribbons used on bassinets or on little pillows or pillow cases, so my mother was always giving new babies these rosettes, ribbons painted with delicate forget-me-nots. So even before my birth, while still in her womb, I'm sure these ribbons must have been in her lap, and the tiny brush in her hand as she fashioned the flowers and as she worked on my tiny little baby book, a little 4" by 6" pink cloth with these little sprays of white and pink blossomss and "Our Baby" painted in   white, as she anticipated my birth. Later in life upon opening and thumbing through the book, one finds, name, place of birth, time of birth, parents, height, weight, first picture, etc. Next came baby's gifts - the usual things - lace cap, silver spoon, picture frame, and then these three gifts which always seemed a bit odd:  a bunch of violets, a bunch of jonquils, and a bunch of hyacinths. It must have been an early spring for these flowers to have been in bloom as I have a February birth date. Maybe these friends did not pay me a visit until I was older. See as I write this I am 81 years old. All these people and my parents are dead, so I'm imagining who brought them to me. I imagine Aunt Beck (Rebecca) our laundry lady who adored my family brought the hyacinths. Miss Robbie, to be my piano teacher beginning when I was 9, possibly brought the jonquils. Aunt Fereby gave me the violets. She was a sort of amazon African-American who roamed the streets of our little town. She knew everyone and everyone knew Aunt Fereby. She always appeared seemingly from no place offering her services for free in any way she could help. Often she was found caring for the sick (and a real nurse she was), visiting to see the new babies and newcomers to our little town. Everyone loved Aunt Fereby. She was always clean and I'm certain she invented the style called "layered clothing". It seemed she would have more different skirts on at the same time - some long and full, covered with shorter ones, then a few over them wrapped sarong-like. Then of course she had 3 or 4 different sizes and shapes of aprons, then to add to her ensemble: 2 or 3 long sleeved black, brown or gray blouses or men's shirts. She wore some type of tight skull cap - very tight fitting, or more often a large stretched stocking folded over and over. On her feet were huge flip floppy shoes - toes cut out by her. I always felt she must have had terrible corns. Aunt Fereby was highly respected by all, particularly the business men of the community. I've enumerated my first introduction to hyacinths, jonquils and violets, which remain some of m favorite flowers today. And let's not forget the darling little forget-me-nots on the crib bows and my baby book.

I think my next association with flowers would have to be about at age 3. My mother had gone to the big city to do Christmas shopping and I was in the company of my beloved grandmother. She was a marvelous storyteller, entertainer and she would read to me many stories, but also she had her many chores to get done. My father would be coming home form the Post Office for his lunch, so she had gone to the kitchen and I was in the adjoining small bedroom. Oh goody, goody - all alone! Now let me look around. What is the most beautiful object in this drab old room, with a huge old bed, dresser, table and chairs towering over me? Ah! what have I found on this little, neat "tabouretNarcissus. I love them still at age 81, and will refer to them again later in this story.

My next awareness of the beauty of flowers came at about age 6. It seems I was always dressed up in lovely, fancy dresses that were carefully hand-made by my mother. This particular time I was dressed in a gorgeous white batiste dress with a long waistline and a large blue satin sash ending in a huge bow over the left side. A large round Bertha edged in round-thread lace was around the top of the dress at the neck. Black patent leather shoes and 3/4 length white silk socks finished my outfit. My black straight hair cut short with bangs Buster Brown style was shining as an ebony crow. A silver locket was around my neck. I'm sure my parents thought me such a beauty they ran immediately for their box-type No 2A Brownie Kodak camera. Now to find the proper place for the photograph. Ah! Here in front of the large bay window stood a huge rose bush much, much taller than I. They placed me very close and I outstretched my small hand quite discreetly, fearful lest one of those huge thorns should prick my fingers. The blooms were the faintest pink. I remember only seeing that same tint in the center of a conch shell. In no hothouse have I ever seen more perfect blossoms. They reminded me of the ones on Miss Hattie's Sunday hat. Having prepared the soil for the bush with the proper amount of soil, sand and fertilizer, my parents would set the small shoots in place. They would keep the shoots under a fruit jar to protect them from the elements. My parents knew all the requirements. I never quite understoond why their flowers were always more abundant and perfect in every detail. I can't remember the names. Seems this particular one was Queen Anne, my favorite. Then there was American Pride, American Beauty and Promise.

Now let's move on about two years later. I was so consumed with my love for the many, many plants and flowers, I begged to have my own little plot of soil. When the time came for preparing the garden, I was allowed to go to the corner market and to choose a packet of seeds. My grandmother read carefully the directions on the packet. She cautioned me to drop the specified amount of seeds the exact difference of space between them. Then came the task of covering over with the soil, making ready for watering. So at intervals I continued to water. It seems I never grew tired and I never forgot it was with God's intervention supplying the sun that at the proper time I would begin to see the little shoots emerge from their bed. I was ecstatic! I watched eagerly as each day passed and first the buds and then the blooms of the Balsam flowers shone their proud faces. My mother always called them Balsam. Today everyone refers to this flower as Impatience. The first time I , as an adult glimpsed it growing in a garden, I remarked about the pretty Balsam, and all my friends yelled “No, that's Impatience.” To me it will always remain as my first flower grown in my garden – Balsam. I'll never understand the why, but throughout my life I never sowed another seed, nor planted a garden. But I was always surrounded by gardens created by my mother that would have surpassed any English garden. I became familiar with a large number of flowers. I think I'll comment on some of them now.

One of my favorites, in addition to the ones already mentioned, are Nasturtium. I must interject my first experience with them. As I was an only child I often had to accompany my mother as she visited friends in our little village. Her favorite friend was Mrs. Annie Mae, a beautiful lady, always dressed impeccably who lived in a much finer home than ours. I was a devil when around her and it was because I was so jealous of the time my mother spent in visits with her. I wanted to share their conversations and to be the center of activities. Mrs. Annie had shiny hardwood floors, covered with Oriental rugs and a Victrola enclosed in a shiny polished console. On top of this console was an ecru crocheted doily my mother had giver her. In the center of that doily sat a hand painted blue vase. My mother taught art and china painting and Mrs. Annie studied with her. I always got to watch my parents load and fire the kiln at night. In that beautiful vase were the golden nasturtiums so gracefully arranged. On the wall she had painted a picture of the still-life. I would sit and gaze at this corner of the room as she and mother would carry on their boring, gossipy conversation. Mrs. Annie loved me and I knew it even though she often said I was incorrigible. She never did have any children. She told me, when I became an adult, of times I pushed her off our porch. She knew it was because I was a child and wanted her to talk to me. I bit her on one visit. I never knew until I had children of my own and was visiting Nance (Mrs. Annie Brinkley's nickname) and she told me when I married she was not quite as wealthy as they had once been and that she knew how I loved that vase. It was really a round fat squatty china one. She and her husband were hurrying to come to town (my family had left our small town and moved to the Capital of the state), and she had very carefully wrapped the vase in white tissue paper preparing to place it in a box, and she was crushing the paper around it when it slipped from her hands and crashed on the bare floor. She finished the story by telling me she sat down and cried and later chose me a small piece of cut glass to bring me. I could imagine that vase filled with the lovely nasturtiums in my home. My mother had a few in her garden in the city but I never remembered any as I did the round, blue vase in Mrs. Annie's "parlor".

Now I've become 15 years old, and due to my precocious childhood skipping grades, I'm to graduate with honors (26 in the small county high school class). I was to be Valedictorian. My mother had made my dress, which resembled a Prom dress of later years. It had white satin short skirt with beautiful lace over it, with a long bodice below the hips with a white rose on the side. I watched her meticulously make the rose, taking strips of material and shaping it around and around until the finished product - a perfect rose. Each of the 14 girls was to have one long-stemmed red rose. Not me. I was very much in love, even though just 15, with Robert Murray. R.M. as we called him had an older sister who lived and worked in the nearby city. So she made sure Robert sent me a dozen pink roses with Baby's Breath and a large pink bow. Never had I been so thrilled?

The whole evening which started out so heavenly turned into a nightmare. There were many gifts to open, a dinner with friends before leaving the house, and my mother giving me a dose of paregoric to steady my nerves. My father said she had given me too much of that and that I would fall asleep. The piano bench and the No2A Brownie Kodak were brought into the yard and I was seated for photographs with my lovely flowers in my lap. What bliss!! What impatience!! I would not get to see R.M. until we got to the school. We had no car so we walked the mile in old shoes to keep my white shoes clean. And I almost forgot - I had on my first long full-fashioned hose. I had worn 3/4 length socks and pleaded for the hose. Let's imagine now the scene at our high school. It was always a highly accredited one - never any trouble for a graduate to gain entrance into any prestigious university. Oh! there comes R.M. to meet us. My parents and grandmother went on into the auditorium to get ringside seats. R.M. motions me into the library. Naturally I was so eager to kiss him (puppy love or was it? I never really knew.). and to thank him for the lovely flowers. But I could see he was downcast, hurt. He told his agony. At the last minute the "mean, old" algebra teacher had failed him and he'd been told he would not get his diploma. There had been times when students had received blank pieces of paper to save the dishonor of friends knowing the story. So he was telling me he was going home and not staying. I knew his mother and sister were already seated and were not even aware. I begged -I pleaded selfishly for him to just sit on the stage and I even considered getting the entire class to boycott and not even go near the graduation. The teachers appeared at the door to line us up and the music started. I kept looking back and just to please me he marched in, head erect, and sat on the stage and heard me deliver my address.

Later in life his sister told me that was the saddest day of her life and had she known, they would have taken him and gone home. I always loved him. I always loved the beautiful roses, knowing I was the only girl who had received any. He had a car, so we drove to my little home together and I was so proud of him and the entire class - his poor little face so red, as diplomas and names called out, but I kept smiling at him. He was a sweet boy, blond curly hair, small features, nice background. It's true he did not study as he should. He drank a little, never around me. There were other boys in class far dumber than he, but he was from the country and no father to fight for him.

By now my life becomes completely changed. Our family left the little hamlet and moved near the University I was to enter in the fall. To finish the R.M. story, he came also and got a job. We continued dating for two years - movies, lunches, swimming, concerts, football games - still in love. Marriage was planned in two more years. I had taken ballroom dancing lessons. This fatal night arrived. There was to be a big dance in Kentucky. One of the boys who had helped in the studio when I had my lessons was going with his date. The dance teacher begged my father to let R.M. and me go, too. My father was quite skeptical but gave his consent very reluctantly. This was to be an indescribable time for me, for that very night I felt I had become an adult even though I was only 17.  I danced with many, many boys because I had become a good dancer.

Sumner, the boy who drove, danced a lot with me. He was a large, handsome one in a white, linen suit.  Poor, poor R.M. It seems I began to feel very differently about everything. When we arrived back in the city, Sumner's date and R.M. were taken home first because Sumner and I lived near one another. Something snapped in me, however I continued to date R.M. It must have been about 6 months later, Sumner finally called and asked for a date. I walked on air the entire week. I studied so hard and practiced piano so diligently, I did not date until weekends. 

The Saturday finally arrived. I went to class on campus - was out at noon. My father picked me up. We had a car by then. We arrived home. Our nice brick home had a side porch with double glass doors entering the dining room. As you entered those doors one could see directly across the length of the living room. As I skipped up the porch, opening the doors, what a sight to behold and what a thrill! On a large octagonal table with a tapestry runner sat the largest pot of bluish, purplish hydrangeas I had ever seen. It was near Easter. I exclaimed "Mother, what is this?" I found the card and tore it open - "Love, Sumner". My pretty dozen roses at graduation faded into oblivion. I spent the rest of the afternoon getting primped for my date. I was always clean, neat, had nice clothes, but this was to be a metamorphosis. I'm emerging from my cocoon - no young girl feeling anymore. We went to a movie with his brother and sister-in-law. I felt a little ill at ease. I didn't seem to be as experienced as they. I felt very country, but they were very nice to me. We,parted with the "I'll call you". This turned out to be the start of a romance led to marriage, and R.M. went back home to the country. I saw him several years later, he married and went to World War II and our paths never crossed. My flowers were always on that table almost every Saturday from then until our marriage 2 years later. He loved my mother and it was mutual.

I will tell you about their project. I called it "Mother's Rock Garden" with 150 different wildflowers. I found a list after she died of when and where we found the flowers. Sumner's parents owned some land in an adjoining county. He took a crew of Negro helpers and dug up huge rocks, loaded them into a truck and brought them to our home. Day in and day out they all worked diligently placing each rock in its proper position. It ended up being two fish ponds with a waterfall, with water lilies from the gardens in Centennial Park. Mother shared things with the gardener there.

My father, maternal grandmother and I were just spectators in this project. It was Mother's and Sumner's, except when we would have family picnics searching for wildflowers, not to ruin and destroy,  because you see ecology is nothing new to me. At age 6, I was taught and had explained to me the balance of nature. My mother, who had quite a green thumb, knew exactly how to dig them, how to leave the soil and roots around them, and then how to transplant them from their favorite wooded spots to soil and conditions they were accustomed to in the rock garden and around her pools. At her death I found a tiny notepad and a tiny, tiny pencil where she had listed 102 wildflowers growing in her garden. I knew practically all of them by name. Did I need to learn this in a course in Botany? Wasn't this much more vivid?

I screamed so loudly on one of these expeditions that my father, who was a little cowardly and not too fond of these jaunts said, "Oh, no - I knew it. The 'Baby' (as I was always called) has probably come across a snake!" My tiny, bold grandmother, who had lived through the Civil War triumphantly and run a farm, and who, in her own words "wasn't afraid of the 'very old scratch'', ran to my rescue to find nothing more than I had found the first Jack-in-the-Pulpit for the day. Oh, the pride as spring beauties, mayapples, wild columbine, Dutchman's Breeches, bluebellsanemone, jack-in-the-pulpit, dog tooth violets to name a few filled out that garden. This was truly a work of art and showplace for countless visitors who came streaming in on Sunday afternoons just after our dinner.

Well I must close this chapter of my life. My life changed drastically after this as, Sumner was killed in a motorcycle accident. I don't seem to remember any affect of flowers on me from his funeral pall of white lilies and red roses - his favorite flowers. Life was shattered. I sat in our small music room late at night sitting by his coffin. Some 50 years later as I write this it seems the fragrance from that pall still is wafted upwards in my nostrils.

I have no memory of any more flowers for awhile. Oh!I do remember. I visited a dear friend of my father's in Cleveland, Ohio. She had visited my aunt in Nashville and I fell in love with her. She was then about 60 and the cutest little thing I had ever seen. She had lived a hard life, had lost her first husband when she was young. She had lost her only daughter when the daughter was 16. She had adored this beautiful girl. She went every week to the cemetery and took flowers and also put fresh flowers by her picture in the apartment. I
called her 'Aunt Nan'. She seemed to fall in love with me and it was mutual. I always felt that somehow I replaced her beloved daughter. She had worked in Halle's - I believe was the store - some big, fashionable ladies' apparel store in Cleveland. Here she learned all about lovely clothes and dressed beautifully. In the course of time she met a very rich Jew, vice President of Republic Steel. So she, whom I call 'Aunt Nan' and 'Uncle Julius' invited me to visit them in their very swanky apartment in Cleveland. I stayed one month and this
is the most wonderful time of my life. I was really wined and dined. She taught me all the finer graces. They took me everywhere. We spent one weekend at Niagara Falls. All their friends were high society and rich; however, gambling had overtaken them and they were about to lose these friends. I dated every night and if not I went with them to some of the places I shall now describe. One was the Harvard Club, where you only wore dress clothes - black tie for the men and evening dresses for the ladies. Membership cost $1000 back
then. That was very exclusive, but sad to say, they frequented some not so elite. One in particular they called "Himmelsteins" for the fat, jovial German owner. Here we would go to play Bingo for $1000 card pay-offs. Now don't be fooled - very few went home with the winnings. You see, Bingo was only the cover up. Later, Bingo would be ended. The majority of the players went home. Then the night really began, as a good many of the richer customers paid dues and belonged to a private club. Then you left the huge room, where we had
been, and went through a back door. You presented your membership card. This beautiful, buxom blonde German girl sat at a beautiful desk. Under her right foot was a button or something. I never quite figured it all out but she would inconspicuously press with her right foot and the entrance door to another room would open up and you would enter where all the Las Vegas type gambling was taking place. Aunt Nan played them all but she preferred roulette. What a sight this little lady made - gorgeous clothes, dripping in diamond jewelry, cigarette always hanging from her lips. If not a cigarette, constantly chewing gum to the rhythm of the dice rolling and stopping while they landed on the red or black numbers. See it was in their blood.

A regular ritual took place every night before we left home. It would start at the dinner table. "No we aren't going tonight." They knew full well the routine. She would dress. He would nap on the living room sofa. Then she would awaken him and here we'd be off. I got a little bored at these evenings until that is one evening. I was standing at the dice tablet just watching and to my utter surprise I kept hearing this jargon from the croupier. Place your bets now, hurry up, make up your minds. The beautiful young lady in the black net dress place your bets. Step right up - don't be frightened. Everybody wins over and over and over." Well it suddenly dawned on me - the little young, inexperienced girl. My mother always made me lovely clothes, after I had designed them and told her just what I wanted. This was a short pleated skirt a black satin slip underneath and the top of the blouse of the slip was a flesh colored crepe which looked very risque for me because it looked as if bare on the shoulders of the dress even though it was buttoned up high with jet black buttons and had a round, Buster Brown, white pique collar.

The croupier's name was Bill. I'm sure I must have blushed allover. I never did bet, but on his break he made it a point to ferret me out and oh! my heart was about to leap out. Fortunately, he knew I was with Aunt Nan and he adored her. He told me night after night about that darling little old couple there. My oh my, I got a liberal education in a short time. I could write a book about the outcome of that meeting. He gave me money and I learned a little about playing. I was what they call a She'll(I think it was) for the house, in other words, a come on player for the house. He would give me my stack of chips and let me have a winning streak and that would draw the crowd.

Of course this dumb little girl was awestruck by all the glamour, and then, with Aunt Nan and Uncle Julius a little leery about it, I began to date Bill. I was scared stiff but oh the places we did go and what an education I got. You see all of this was connected with the underworld one night we were walking downtown window gazing and this big huge black stretch limo stops abruptly and calls Bill over to the curb. They all knew me oh my mind was whirling just like in the movies I could imagine Al Capone and all the cohorts in the car and I was Bill's mole (silly me). He never told me what it was about. He said they only needed him to work early shift next night. He took me to the race tracks just at dawn to show me the trainer taking the horses around for early practice. What an experience, dew and mist over the track, then the sun slowly emerging.

Oh! I'm sorry this is about flowers isn't it? Back up now to Mrs. Himmelsteins lady friend. Aunt Nan told me all the story. He had brought her as a very young Fraulein over from Germany. He took care of her. As she matured, she became his mistress. Aunt Nan said his wife was a gorgeous looking lady but he never allowed her to come to the gambling establishment. Now for the part flowers played in this story. They had no direct part of my life but the impression they made on me. Each night she looked like a fashion plate. I'm sure she was made up and hair coiffured every night by a professional, on her desk a beautiful floral arrangement. Not just your usual "bunch of flowers". Each night something different and the color of the flowers would be accentuated by her gown which would pick up the same colors. I shall always remember my first experience with the flowers, Bird of Paradise, a small translucent tall vase and about 3 standing proud and erect. The flower, she explained to me (remember I thought I knew flowers through my mother's knowledge of them) were Bird of Paradise. I began then to love them. Her gown picked up the bold blue, white and gold. Her shoulders and arms were quite bare, looking like alabaster. It was quite easy to see Mr. Himmelsteins fascination with her. Another night another flower grown. Mostly she told me quite profusely grow in Hawaii - Anthurium. I never really learned to care for this one. Colors too bold that queer shade of a sad red, so stiff, so bold, so odd and then I well remember even though 50 years ago her dress, to me quite ugly but very colors of the flower. The colors a kind of russet and saffron just didn't appeal to me. Rather cold. Her dress just didn't seem to blend with her alabaster skin and golden hair usually swept high on top of her head, a kind of french roll, rather severe, I often thought how beautiful it would be if down and could flow loosely over her neck and shoulders but never. Maybe she thought she was a bit too large and old for that style. I have been lucky enough to have only had one Bird of Paradise to call my very own. How stately and gorgeous they were.

I have no memory of any flowers for another twelve years. You see this is when Bill, the love of my life, the father of my two adorable daughters came along. After a whirlwind romance of three months, I was a bride again. We had met on the 4th of July at a USO. I was a teacher of many years in Nashville, working in a defense factory in Detroit for two summers. He was stationed at a nearby Air Base. I was married in a small chapel in West End Methodist Church with some 65 guests. My beautiful bridal bouquet consisted of the first purple-throated orchid I had ever owned, surrounded by stephanotis, and three tube roses. They had been my deceased father's favorite flower. Oh their fragrance! The exultation was almost equal to the time I had seen Sumner's hydrangeas, when a bell boy came to our bridal suite with another fresh corsage - another orchid.

Now time passes on - glorious, happy days after the honeymoon. I put my flowers in a large book and pressed them and still have them in a desk drawer. Two years later, the natural course of events, and I'm in the hospital with the first proof of my undying love for Bill - a darling bundle of joy - 6 pound girl had arrived - Margaret. Almost as lovely was a white milk glass candy jar which arrived at my hospital room filled with
miniature sweetheart roses. It was so pretty and unusual. The lid to the candy jar was turned up and it looked like a large fan spread out. I loved that candy jar, but unfortunately, over the years, it was broken. Now shortly afterward in my new baby hospital stay, a large bouquet of one dozen red, red roses arrived to welcome the new baby. They came from our dear family friend, Frank, who had made his home with my family for many years. He was almost like a member of our family and we loved him dearly. He had come down from Canada in the 1930's and I had met him at that time. He became a naturalized American citizen at the outbreak of World War II, and served the US in action in various countries overseas. He is buried in a cemetery plot by my parents, as I had an odd lot and he did not want to return to Canada. He was just like a brother to me. In fact, I taught my daughters to refer to him as Uncle.

Life goes on - a second daughter came to bless our union - Paula. I don't remember anything about flowers in the hospital, but I vividly remember the first Sunday we got out for Church after her arrival. Two corsages of cymbidium orchids arrived - one for me and one for big sister Margaret and a tiny nosegay of sweetheart roses for baby Paula. Daddy said my pregnancy so confining and he wanted me to spruce up and really look
dashing for church. I thought we did. I had a new beige suit, a new pink straw hat and the babies were attired in handmade outfits. It was a glorious Sunday of Church, friends greeting, picture taking, an outing to the park and home for dinner.

To close this chapter of love and devotion for twenty years of bliss with a perfect husband, at 41 he was chosen to go live with his Heavenly Father, leaving a broken-hearted family behind. I can see a huge pink roses and white lilies pall standing in front of the vestibule of West End Methodist Church. I have often wished I had not gone to the expense of this gorgeous pall as the minister insisted I use the burial cover for the coffin
which Miss Effie Morgan had recently bought and presented to the Church. So I carried out his wishes. Then the US flag and Mason's apron later draped the coffin at the cemetery.

Flowers! Happiness! Sadness! I should like to close my thoughts on flowers by remembering as years passed by - daughters grown and married - a new generation and one chilly Spring morning being greeted at my back door by a darling little 5 year old grandson named for his maternal grandfather. So Bill greeted me with outstretched hand with a neatly wrapped bouquet of fresh jonquils which his mother had grown, cut and arranged for him to bring to me. What a joy! What a gleam in his eye as he outstretched his little hand for me to accept. "Grandmama for you." Of course a big hug and many, many kisses and thanks and praise followed.

So you see I've come full cycle in my life from receiving jonquils at my birth until jonquils at age 83. I shall close. Please (I hope everyone loves and memorializes flowers, i.e. real ones, as I do - no silk ones, no plastic ones, no artificial ones. When I go for that final sweet repose, I hope there'll be a bower of flowers near me and over me. I'll smell their aroma and slip away into Heaven's open gates to join all the past loved ones of my life! 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

In Her Words

My mother always had so many stories to tell of her life that I have decided to include some of her stories here as some of my blog entries (hopefully pictures added later). After much prompting from me and my sister, we convinced her to put her thoughts and stories in writing. So at the young age of 81, she wrote her first story. Although they are somewhat long, I believe they give a glimpse of our past. Hope you enjoy them.

By Veronica West


This essay will have no quotations and no research was done. Its story will not be found in any history book. It comes from fond memories of my childhood and my entire life. It will also be my first attempt at writing for some sixty years. Here's a brief reason why. My high school English teacher (whom I adored) required very little composition or grammar work. He was a great enthusiast of beautiful American and English literature and we were saturated with it. Consequently, as a freshman at Vanderbilt at age sixteen, I was in for a rude awakening. My English composition teacher seemed an ogre to me. As I climbed the old, gray, dingy stairs to that classroom, I felt I was going to the gas chamber. Every paper I submitted to him was returned with so many red ink corrections, such as split infinitives, dangling participles, and punctuation marks. It was impossible for me to correct. Any desire to put my thoughts on paper were so squelched, that I ceased to even try. When you're young, there are so many wonders to be explored, so many worlds to conquer, who wants to spend happy, excited moments putting on paper your cherished thoughts? So now, after all these years, I find myself attempting it, and I'm positive you will find many of those same errors in my ramblings. ~

Now I take the liberty to write about Confederate women, namely my maternal grandmother, Hartie Ellen Stewart Eatherly; my great aunt Pamela Stewart Carney, Hartie's sister; and Pandora Eatherly Nicholson, her sister-in-law. The story will be mostly about my grandmother, fondly known as "Miss Hartie", and called by me "Mammie", as were her wishes.

Since I do not have the facts in sequence in Mammie's life from the time her husband died until my life began, my story will be from my thoughts and life with her. Her strong qualities and personality traits which I knew, I'm sure, are the same traits which helped her through the war.

Hartie Ellen Stewart was born in 1843 in Cheatham County in a rural area known as Chapmansboro. She married Benjamin Hamilton Eatherly, my Confederate ancestor. He enlisted while quite young in Co. E, 18th Regiment, Tennessee Infantry. She died at age 87. Ben (as she had always called him) had died at age 55. They had two children, Andrew who died shortly after birth, and my mother, Pauline. My mother adored her father and his love was returned to her. Hartie and Ben lived on a sixty acre farm in a log house. The logs were 12 inch solid poplar, daubed with pitch. The house had a hand-hewn stone chimney. It seems Aunt Pam and Uncle Jenner came to live with her until the war was over. Many years later I was fortunate enough to see this original homeplace. My husband, daughters, and I drove to this place over a very rocky route, part of which was just a dried up river bed. Oh! what a quiet, beautiful, isolated spot situated on a hillside, surrounded by beautiful trees and a small family cemetery plot. We later went back in a larger truck and, with the aid of several workmen, brought the logs of the house to our home in Nashville. We also brought three huge mantels that were still standing. All this effort was in order to someday build our dream home. Unfortunately, once they were dismantled, they deteriorated before we saved enough money to build. We sold them for the paltry sum of $100.

I should like to interject a very sad story here: This dear grandmother and her Confederate husband were buried in this graveyard. We had cleaned it up, planted flowers, and painted the wrought iron fence that surrounded it. Shortly after this, my beloved husband died, and due to the fact that access to this property was so difficult, I never got to revisit that beloved spot again. Each time the property changed hands I had been kept informed. There was always a clause in the deed protecting that spot with stipulation that each owner keep the cemetery cut, cleaned, and given care. Along the way, someone failed to comply. A cousin of mine with an interest in all the property as it was near his ancestors' farm had flown his National Guard plane quite low one Sunday. Upon his return, he called me to tell the shocking news-- The cemetery, graves, fences, flowers, trees, everything had been bulldozed--leveled--nothing but flat soil. When I began to inquire, and found the last owner, he was planning to subdivide the property and sell to few of his close friends who had their own planes and wanted to build their own landing strip. I contacted three attorneys and was told that judges tend to throw out such cases due to the statute of limitations expiring. Since no one had been down to investigate, or even take flowers in all those years, there would be no recourse. Needless to say I have cried copious tears over this. I only tell this here, to save others this kind of heartbreak.

(A footnote: after my mother died, her grandaughter went to the very spot and found the cemetery to be fully preserved and quite tended by the owner who had indeed bought the land. The relative who had flown over earlier had evidently been mistaken as to the location of the cemetery. Unfortunately my mother was never aware of this.
Paula Ponath - her daughter)

After the war, Mammie had acquired more land from adjoining farms. She owned and took complete control of these farms for her entire life. However, shortly after Ben's death, Mammie, Aunt Pam, Uncle Jenner, and my ten year old mother left the farms and moved to the County seat, Ashland City.

To emphasize Mammie's love of education, this story comes to mind. My mother had finished the local schools, which would have been the equivalent of eighth grade. Three of the most prominent families in the county were sending their daughters away to a finishing school, old Buford College for young ladies. I've heard it quoted many times, "If old man Ben Doubleday was sending his daughter there, she would certainly send her daughter, Pauline." So with Mammie's determination, my mother entered this popular finishing school. She boarded the one local train in Ashland City, took the ride to Van Blarkom in West Nashville, took a street car into the city of Nashville to the transfer station, and boarded the electric trolley for the last leg of her trip to the College. My mother, Pauline, majored in Art, and graduated in 1908. She later married my father, Dudley Jones Shivers, who had been a student at the old Nashville Bible College, later to be David Lipscomb College. My grandmother had been violently opposed to this marriage for two reasons---church affiliation and political party. However, as time went by, each respected the other highly, and this tie became even stronger after my birth. I was the apple of my Mammie's eye, and I remained so all her life.

I was born in 1911 in the home owned by my grandmother and shared with my parents. Mammie seemed always to be the matriarch. She ran the home and took the lead in all decision making. My mother taught art in the local high school, and all my early training came through the efforts of Mammie. She explained to me that she only went through the 10th grade, because she had to stop to help her ten brothers and sisters in the fields. She taught me to read, spell, and "figger", as she called arithmetic. Consequently, I started to school in the third grade. Mammie continuously quoted to me from Benjamin Franklin's "Poor Richard's Almanac". These phrases ring in my ears: "Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise."; and "A penny saved is a penny earned." She was such a frugal lady! I had to learn verbatim all the wonderful, fanciful experiences in Robert Louis Stevenson, the Mother Goose rhymes, countless Bible verses, and my Sunday School cards. We worked on books of the Bible, the disciples' names, and the Ten Commandments. I think Ecclesiastes and Proverbs must have been two of her favorite books because she was always quoting them; "Cast thy bread upon the waters, for thou shalt find it after many days."; "Wisdom is better than weapons of war."; "A good name is better than precious ointment."; "A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches."; "Be not afraid of sudden fear, neither of the desolation of the wicked when it cometh."; "Hear ye children, the instruction of a father; he healeth the broken in heart and bindeth up their wounds."; "Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth."; and countless others. I've been told that when I was three, I could recite"The Night Before Christmas" without any coaching. She taught me the names of birds, flowers, trees, and animals.

I followed every step she made, and she must have made many in her cooking, cleaning, sewing, crocheting, gardening, hoeing, planting, watering,--(all but the plowing), quilting, hog killing, soap making, caring for the geese and chickens. She stopped one day to tell me about the cows and goats that she had tended on the farms, and about the sorghum and cider mills, the corn and tobacco fields. It seems Mammie had some sharecroppers and a few slaves. It was apparent to me that my grandmother hated many of the men who mistreated their slaves. She told me stories of Mose, Dolphin, Suke and Mose's wife, Aunt Beck (Rebecca, I imagine?) Aunt Beck had loved and cherished a blue milk-glass sugar bowl owned by my grandmother, who, in turn, gave it to her. In my lifetime, one of Aunt Beck's grandchildren washed and ironed my parents' personal things. She gave the bowl back to me, and I have it and cherish it yet.

As Mammie worked and played with me, many stories would unfold. One story was about the day she made two of the men who helped her lead their last two cows into the woods to hide them. She had been told the Yankees were near. She was a very short, little lady, but she always stood so erect, so proud, so dignified, that I can visualize anyone being afraid of her. There were always rifles and pistols in our home. I suspect she had no fear of using them.

Even though she was lacking in formal education, she was eager to keep abreast of current events and new inventions. In her later years she often begged me to go to the airport to take a short trip around the city, since these trips were offered on Sunday afternoons. I was the coward, so we never made it. My father often said, "No one can ever hope to read the evening newspaper until Miss Hartie has digested every word." She seemed obsessed with English royalty. I do believe she had every article and book ever published on Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. She shared these pictures and stories with me.

In thinking and daydreaming of my grandmother one thing always puzzled me. She had worked so hard in her early life before I knew her, it seemed she must have been the stronger of the pair. Ben seemed to have been in the background. She seemed reluctant to speak of him. She must have had more pride, ambition, and education. In the only photograph I have of them as a family unit, Hartie is seated very erect in a chair on the lawn in front of their log home. She is dressed in a black satin dress with large leg-o-mutton sleeves. She and Aunt Pam were the leading seamstresses, or fashion designers in the county. I still own many of the old Delineator magazines and dress patterns, some of my mother's college dresses, camisoles, petticoats, skirts, dressing-sacques, pinafores, and baby clothes. In this picture, Mammie had a plumed hat lying loosely across her lap. My mother was seated on the grass at her feet in a beautiful lacy white dress, with her china-headed doll across her lap. In contrast, Ben was standing behind or rather to the side of Hartie's arm with clothes hanging loosely. He was a little slouched, quite thin, with the popular straw hat of the day. (Boy in back is probably adopted/foster son Harry Province. Picture taken around 1896)

I never dared mention my thoughts to Mammie, for fear that her deep love for Ben had devastated her at his early death; or, that maybe he had been a loner, weak in character, tired and exhausted from his days spent in prison during the war. (I have documentation of that.) I always felt that she and Aunt Pam had taken the lead in all things. Uncle Jenner never went to the war. He was probably too old and in poor health.

There are only a few things Mammie ever told me about Ben or the war. She rarely ever spoke of him, but I do recall that one time she said she had felt so sorry for Ben. In her last letter from him he had said that the soldiers were starving. They had to pick any "greens" that they might find along their route to boil for food. They were almost barefooted, and they had wrapped their feet in old paper and "toe sacks". He was taken prisoner and was in an exchange, and was on his way home near Murfreesboro when the war ended. She never showed any feelings of pity when I overheard these remarks. Instead, her head went higher and she bristled as she told it. To me she always epitomized royalty.

Our home was small. We were people of very modest means, even though my grandmother still owned the farms. She received very little income from them. She rented them out to sharecroppers. However, our home seemed to be a center of entertainment. It was always filled to overflowing with relatives and friends. There were card parties, banjo pickin', piano playing, and singing. There was never a dull moment. Men came from all over the county seeking "Miss Hartie's" expertise and advice about legal matters: "Should they sell their property or hold on to it?"; "Should they rotate their crops?"; "What political candidate should they support?"; "Which doctor or what medications would she suggest?"; "Could she give them a small loan?"; and I never saw her turn anyone away.

I still have and cherish the huge solid cherry four-poster bed, the cherry dresser, a drop-leaf dining table, a huge walnut corner cupboard, an old pine blanket chest, and walnut sugar chest. I also treasure countless bibelots, a blue milk-glass sugar bowl with a top, a glass "spoon holder" which always sat in the center of the table for odd silver flat pieces, Mammie's wide, gold wedding band, her spectacles, and many daguerrotypes of family members. From the kitchen, I have several old iron cooking utensils, skillets, cornstick pan, flat irons, her butter mold, bread board, and 2 large rolling pins, to name only a few. A most prized item was a long, narrow glove box with a lock and key, which always held my father's pearl handled colt revolver. I was always warned never touch that box. It fascinated me because of the beautiful floral print inserts and the pink satin tufted inside that I got to enjoy for my jewelry case. I have a coverlet that Mammie always explained to me how the wool was sheared from her sheep, carded and curried by hand. They had grown the grasses and had boiled them for different colors to dye the threads. Then they wove the finished product. Mine is green, beige, red, and white. The one's I have seen most often have been black and white. It's so heavy and warm.

As a young child, I can remember quite vividly going with my mother and Mammie to visit my maternal grandfather's sister, Aunt Pannie, as Pandora was called. She lived with Uncle Nat (Nathaniel) in the neighborhood near Mammie's homeplace. We would go to quilting parties. Aunt Pannie had a large family, so there would be about twenty-five or thirty people present. Oh! what a glorious time! All the children went out to a nearby storehouse, which was a playhouse. There were toys and more toys---china-headed dolls with sawdust bodies, cradles, wicker high chairs, iron stoves. There we would enjoy the morning until the huge dinner bell was rung, summoning us to the large dining room at the big house. The men would have assembled from the fields and orchards. Of course, you must remember, this would have been long after the war. However, these were the "survivors", and I hope to show the "comeback" they had made. They seemed to enjoy wealth and opulence in comparison to the total devastation and near-starvation they had experienced.

Aunt Pannie's home always seemed finer than ours. As we ate, I was busy watching the beautiful Bobbin lace curtains touching the pegged floors. The windows were to the floor and slightly open, and the curtains seemed to me to be doing intricate ballet steps as they fluttered with the soft breezes coming across the shady front lawn.

I remember the huge dining room table laden with ham, sausage, fried chicken, fresh vegetables from the garden, huge pitchers of milk and iced tea(no coffee), corn bread, hot biscuits, hoe cakes, fresh fruit pies--cherry, blackberry, apple and peach. Uncle Nat was famous for his peach orchards. After dinner, all work ceased and everyone took a short nap. The children were on pallets on the floor. The men were on the porch in straight split-bottomed chairs. Maybe the ladies would knit or crochet a little, and then nod. About 4:00 P.M., everyone would load up in their horse and buggy, or wagons, and go home with these pleasant memories lingering. I also have many of those quilts that were quilted that day. I have one that I had pieced together at age six. What straight seams and small stitches were required! Why are we so soft today? What has happened to our early discipline?

I'll always miss Mammie. She died within a few months of my graduation from Vanderbilt. What a day that would have been for her! She had promised me a diamond ring when that day came. I do hope in some way through Aunt Pannie, Aunt Pam, and my Mammie that I have shown in my circuitous route the traits that seemed so prevalent in all our Confederate Women Heroes--honesty, integrity, resourcefulness, pride, ambition, love, ingenuity, courtesy, honor, devotion, admiration, respect, reverence, determination, stability, will, and firmness.

When my older daughter entered college in 1964, the dean asked us if we had read Betty Friedan's latest book, The Feminine Mystique. Then this woman expounded for about an hour on Women's Lib. Inwardly, having been raised by Mammie, I was smiling. My grandmother had always been in control. My mother was a college graduate and a teacher in the early nineteen hundreds, and I was a teacher of thirty-five years. Did the dean really think Women's Lib had just been invented? I left with the well known phrase from Ecclesiastes on my brain. "That which hath been is that which shall be; and that which hath been done is that which shall be done; and there is nothing new under the sun" as in the old Latin expression "nil novi sub sole".