coming out of my shell

coming out of my shell

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Grandma's letter

--This treasure is a letter from my Tennessee grandmother (1905-2000) to my daughter, written in February 1981, for the occasion of my daughter's 9th birthday. My grandmother was a Pentecostal Christian, so there is a good bit of "Jesus" talk in this.  It is simply the way she talked.

Dear (M),

As I never see you to talk to you long enough, I just wanted you to know how we lived when I was a little girl.  I thought it would be nice to send you this for your birthday in February 1981.

I had the sweetest childhood a little girl could have. We were very poor. We didn’t have toys like children have today. We would always get up at 5 o’clock in the morning, because you see, we lived on a farm. I was about five years old when I can really remember. My mother would wake all of us up and we would eat our breakfast. Then there were cows to milk and horses to feed. There were seven of us children. My one little brother (Johnny) died when I was just about three months old or less (note from Colette – he died September 2, 1905, my Grandma was born at the end of May 1905). I can’t remember seeing him, but my mother said he called them to the bed and asked to see me before he died. He was about two years old when he went to be with Jesus. Well now, to get back to our farm and all the work we had to do. I just had the best daddy in the world, I thought, and he was so kind to us.  I never remember him saying an unkind word to us, yet he had a way about him that to look at him you just didn’t want to do anything, only what he told us to do. We would thin the corn out to two stalks in a hill after it was big enough and that I could do.  As I grew older I got a harder job like hoeing corn. In those days we had hand plows and mules or horses to pull the plow. I can remember my grandfather plowing with oxen with a wooden yoke on their necks. Then we had sheep. The little lambs were so sweet. When I think of them now, I think of Jesus with the lambs in his arms and around him. But I think he created all animals and the lamb was a symbol of his love – how he died that we might have eternal life.

We would cut the wool off of the sheep (I helped do that).  One day I was, as we called it, shearing them. I cut his hide till it bled. It went “ba,ba”. I felt so bad about that. Then my mother would send the wool away and get our blankets for the bed that way. Oh yes, she would keep some and she had an old spinning wheel. She’d make the thread to knit our stockings for winter. They were real warm. She taught me to knit. I was making a pair and I told her this was like going around the world and to the North Pole. Ha!

Now I’ll tell you how we played.  We had rocks that green pretty moss grew on and we would play like we were making beds.  And we did, too –real pretty.  We never worked on Sunday and we had friends come to visit us.  I think back about it now, it was really fun.  We had one little china doll – about 5 inches long.  It was handed down from the oldest to the youngest. We never broke it. I wish I had it now to show it to you. We would play ball and sit around a fireplace in the wintertime popping popcorn.  I remember one time my brother Wint and I got to go to town with my father and we got to go to a movie. We didn’t have radios or TV’s then, but my childhood is all sweet memories.  We were just one big happy family. We had a cave close to our house and at the entrance there were shelves my Dad made.  We would keep our milk and butter there –so cold.  We had one cave us kids used to have to crawl in. After we got in it was the most beautiful place, but scary.  We could see skeletons, maybe of animals, I don’t know.  It was so dangerous as I think of it now. Then we had a place we called the “rolly hole.”  You could throw a rock and you could hear it roll down, down, down.  Somehow the rocks would come to top rolled so smooth. It isn’t there anymore, they tell me.  

We walked 2 miles to go to school. There were no sidewalks, and there were rocks, etc.  We walked barefoot in the summer and when fall came we got new shoes. Like boys wear. We were so proud of them. I’ll tell you about our chickens later.

One day my mother and two oldest sisters went to pick blackberries and blueberries.   They would take a couple of big pails and go up into the mountains and would be gone all day sometimes, as they grew wild in the mountains.  They were delicious, better than what we get now from the grocery store.

Once, I asked my mom what we would eat for dinner. I was only about eleven years old and my brother and two little sisters were there for me to feed. There was no lunch meat like we have now. She said, “Well, you can have chicken if you will kill one and dress it.”  Well, that sounded so good to me.  I told my little brother if he would hold its head and my sister (then about seven) would hold its feet, I’d chop its head off.  We laid it on a block of wood and that poor chicken, I thought, I just can’t do this. But then I thought about dinner so I took an ax and cut its head off. Then we built a fire out of wood and heated a big kettle of water and dipped it in hot water, took all the feathers off, cut it up and washed it good. We fried it on an old-fashioned wood-burning kitchen stove. We did have a good dinner!

We used to have a ball to play with that mother made us out of rags; she rolled over the rags many times with heavy thread. We would play throwing it over the house to each other. We also used to tell riddles we would hear. Maybe your mom can explain that to you. My sister Bertha and I used to saw big trees down. I helped cut corn when in the fall the corn was ready to shuck. We’d cut it and put it in bunches and tie the top. Big bunches of the stalks it grew on and corn, too. Then we’d feed the horses and cows in wintertime. One day my father came to the field where we were working and said, “Ma is sick, you will have to go to Grandma’s house.” So we all went to Grandma Sharp’s house and in the middle of the afternoon Grandma came home. She said, “You have a little baby sister.” Grandma Sharp was the midwife who delivered the baby. You should have seen us run for home! The baby’s name was Neva, my baby sister. She will be 65 years old the 23rd of May. So you see that has been many years ago.

We had a spring near our house and carried our water by pails full to drink and to wash clothes. It was fun. The water was as clear as crystals. It was pure water that God made; no chemicals of any kind were in it. I went to a little one-room schoolhouse. My Dad took me the 1st day and I cried to go home with him. I was six years old. The teacher had a watch on a chain around her neck and she took me to one side and showed me the birds on the watch to get me to stop crying.

I just wanted to tell you how different it was when I was a girl your age. Of course that has been over 70 years since I was 5 years old. I wish I could take you and your Mom and Dad to where we used to live. Our house is torn down now, they tell me.

The saddest part I left till last. My father died when he was only 39 years old. He was sick quite a few years and it left my mother with 5 of us to raise. But that didn’t help her as far as missing him. We all worked together and we never went hungry. But that didn’t ease the aches in our hearts for a father. He died in Louisville, Kentucky in hospital in 1919. He never got to see his 1st grandchild. She was born May 18, 1919.   He died June 1st, 1919. But you know, someday we will all be together. Jesus went away to prepare a home for us. And then if we live a good life he will see that we all be together someday. I know you are a good girl. You have a good mother, so always listen to what she tells you to do. You also have a good father. I wanted a little girl so much, but God gave me two sons instead. Now I have two daughters (in-law) and oodles of grand daughters and a great grand daughter to love. And I love each of you. And my great grandsons, too. I hope you enjoy just a part of this letter – how we used to live.

Love you,

Great Grandma

Here are some early photos of my grandmother and some of her siblings:

Grandma and her brother, about 1914?

My grandmother is the one in back with the big bow in her hair. Taken about 1918?

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

My Sweet Grandma

My paternal grandmother was born in 1905 on a farm in Pickett County, Tennessee. She came from a family with roots in Colonial Virginia. They were part of the great migration of settlers who came through the Cumberland Gap into Tennessee and Kentucky in the late 1700's and early 1800's, when that part of the country was first opened to white settlers. When she died, I lost a direct link to a way of life that no longer exists. Grandma was one of the last of her kind: a sweet, simple woman born into a southern mountain culture with roots extending deep into our pioneer past. 

Her later years spent living in a northern industrial city did little to change her essential character, shaped growing up in the hills of Northeastern Tennessee. She had a big heart filled to the brim with love of God and family. She was the archetypal old-fashioned grandmother: kindly, innocent, loving, and accepting.

Grandpa noticed Grandma at a church dance both attended in nearby Wayne County, Kentucky, where my Grandpa lived. One day after that fateful encounter he decided to ride his horse across the state line to where Grandma’s family lived in Northeastern Tennessee. Grandma did not really know my grandfather at the time, and she certainly was not expecting him to visit. When he arrived she was not at home, so her brother rode off to find her. Grandma said she was mortified that he had come to her house, but pleased nonetheless. Not long after that visit, Grandpa talked her into eloping. They escaped on horseback and were married in the middle of the road by the preacher in December 1923. Grandma was a naive and sheltered 18 year old. Grandma’s wedding kiss was her first. She said she had no idea about sex. She got wide eyed and then laughed in her modest, grandma way when she told me that.

Her mother was angry and cried when she found out that Grandma had run off to get married. I would have cried, too.

Next time I will share a letter Grandma wrote to my daughter (her great-granddaughter) in 1981, telling her about what life was like when she (Grandma) was a young girl. 

Here is a photo of my grandparents taken in 1924 when my grandmother was pregnant with my father.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Still hanging on

I will eventually write about Charlottesville.  I will eventually allude to the hatred that is no longer festering in the hearts of so many American citizens, but has burst, sporelike, into the light of day. Hideous, disfiguring hatred is making zombies of the living. Hatred is born of fear and ignorance. And, of course, there is really no way to get around the fact that it is a sin.

Today, however, I am still trying to hang on to the goodness and beauty that is all around me. So I am going to continue with another post about the wildflowers found in the nearby nature preserve. 

Here is an interesting flowering vine. The identifying sign on the walkway referred to it as balsam pear. It is also known as bitter melon.  According to Wikipedia: "When ripe, the fruits burst apart, revealing numerous seeds covered with a brilliant scarlet, extremely sticky coating." It is not a native plant. However, it is still beautiful. Here it is in various states of being, and splitting open to spill its seed:

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Scarlet Hibiscus

We went for a walk at a nature preserve yesterday. This preserve has a raised, wood plank path to walk on, which I appreciate considering the place is filled with alligators, snakes, monster spiders and strange lizards. There are also Florida wildflowers blooming at various times of the year. Yesterday we came upon a Scarlet Hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus). It is also called scarlet rosemallow, marsh hibiscus, or swamp mallow. We've only seen it in the wild at this one preserve, only at this time of the summer, and in this one spot along the walk. There were a number of buds, but only one flower in bloom yesterday.


Thursday, August 3, 2017


I am NOT religious. However, I am curious about religions, and religiosity. I've been intrigued by the concept of "grace" since I stumbled upon it in a Catholic Encyclopedia entry one lunch hour when I had nothing better to do than to sit in the library, looking through reference books. I came upon "grace" and it kind of blew my mind. Here's one definition:

"In Western Christian theology, grace has been defined, not as a created substance of any kind, but as "the love and mercy given to us by God because God desires us to have it, not necessarily because of anything we have done to earn it"

I guess you can imagine why it appealed to me.  Getting something for doing nothing, not asking for it, not expecting it, and not deserving it in any way. Wow. Sign me up.

The agnostic who lives inside my brain is screaming "it is totally random, dumb luck, girlfriend!" 

But still, sometimes wonderful random things happen and they seem like a gift. Sometimes they change your life and things are never the same again. Of course random bad things happen, too.  But I am trying not to go there. Not today.

“Citrus Worker” by William Ludwig, Leu Gardens, Orlando, Florida