Family History

29 Jul 2011 09:17 pm

Life before fast food was slower.
It sure was a much more meandering pace for our family. For the readers who were not born during the fifties: there were no microwaves, but there were stoves and ovens and ice boxes (refrigerators). Although many women did go to work during and after World War ll, most women were still at home raising children during the early fifties.

  1. They were cooking. Cleaning. Reading cookbooks. Cracking eggs. Chasing their kids around the house outside with a switch when they didn’t behave themselves. (hmm umm)

The food may have even tasted better.
I remember taking my own good time at the supper table. I liked to linger and count the peas left on my plate. Make faces at my little sister. The food was pretty simple back then but it was fixed by my Mother who just happened to be one of the best cooks in the world.

Anyway, I thought so. My mother graduated from high school and married my Dad several weeks later. When I came along she was already an accomplished cook because, as she told me, she made straight ‘A’s in Home Economics.

Mother could cook anything without measuring cups or spoons but she always had her high school home economics text book on the kitchen counter which helped her to prepare wholesome, healthy meals. I always liked books even before I could read and I remember poring over the menu section. Mother never cooked duck that I can remember but I used to wonder what it tasted like. In the cookbook were menu suggestions for everyday of the week and for holidays.

I remember one menu for a January dinner:

Avocado Cocktail salad, Duck with Sauerkraut, carrot and celery souffle and Hot Mince Pie with Rum Sauce for dessert.

The only way we ate saurekraut at our house was with weiners. It wasn’t one of my favorite dishes. Being a Baptist family, household rum wasn’t consumed but I often wondered how Mince Meat Pie tasted with Rum sauce. That sounded yummy to me.

Anyway, there were, of course, grocery stores in the fifties. I remember going with my Mother a few times when I was really little but she usually managed to do that chore without us. We had chickens and ducks when we were young and I recall gathering eggs and bringing them in to the kitchen. We had a milkman who would deliver milk in glass bottles. I used to watch in a mixture of horror and awe as my mother cut up a chicken. To this day I cannot do it. I just don’t have the pioneer spirit I suppose.

We were of English/Scotch/Irish stock and when it came to the partaking of meals, we called them: breakfast, dinner and supper. No one had lunch. That was for people who lived in Missouri.

My Dad was a finicky eater so when my Mother strayed from the meat and potatoes route she received scant appreciation. She used her creative passions (and she had a lot of them) on her desserts. Mother made the best date candy, pumpkin, and apple pies, cobblers and cakes.

When the cupboard was bare Mother still managed to whip up magic with the use of a little white cornmeal, sugar, milk and hot water. I was fascinated by an old cookbook Mother inherited from her New England grandfather. I spent many hours thumbing through the cookbook to find exotic receipts such as Turtle Soup and Johnnycakes. Yes, my Mother made the Johnnycakes from the recipes she found in Grandfather Whitmarsh’s cookbook. So, it’s true, a little bit of Yankee cooking was handed down through the family.

We didn’t drink soft drinks or eat potato chips. Mother taught us that vegetables and fruit should reflect the color wheel during our daily meals. She enforced the drinking of milk unfortunately. I always hated milk. The first thing I did when I went away to college was  stop drinking it.

Food was cooked from scratch.
There were no mixes, no MSG, no shortcuts in our family’s larder. According to some food writers and experts the time after World War ll brought many modern conveniences to fifties housewives with processed foods such as Cheeze Whiz and frozen products. They tended to be too pricey and lacked nutritional value for my Mother’s uses. Sometimes I would find myself sitting on the front porch swing shucking corn or snapping green beans.

My favorite meal was a dish my Mother called, Arkansas Pie, which was yellow cornbread covered with butter beans, and topped with a slice of onion and a dollop of ketchup.

Along with the Arkansas Pie we had fresh cooked green beans, fried ham, and coleslaw. There were usually tomatoes from the garden. Daddy was a frustrated farmer who always had something growing: kale, asparagus, corn or tomatoes.

Sometimes on the weekends, Mother would make banana pudding which she always served with meringue topping.

  • No, none of us had weight problems. We weren’t couch potatoes, there was no such term back in the fifties. We were active, busy kids, spending most of our time outside.

Oh, but the fifties pressure cooker. It was a big, aluminum pot that scared me something awful when Mother had it going. It hissed and splattered and seemed to always be on the edge of exploding. But Mother operated it like a cool scientist who understood her science. She used the cooker often to cook chicken and other meats. When she finished preparing the chicken the dumplings she made after wards were worth the terror the pressure cooker caused. Mother wouldn’t allow us in the kitchen when the pressure cooker was at work.

It never did blow up on us, although it did explode many times in my imagination.

Another delicious dish Mother made in the pressure cooker was her beef and vegetable stew. Mother put pretty tough slices of beef in the cooker, along with tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, celery and other vegetables and within twenty minutes or so, have a great stew. The meat was tender and tasty and most of us were right on time when called to the table for supper.

Leftover roast beef was made into a special treat by the use of a hand-crank meat grinder that clamped onto the side of a counter. Feeding the ingredients into the little mechanical miracle was some kind of thrill for me and I was always up for helping my mother make the roast beef salad. She added chopped pickles, salt and pepper and mayonnaise. We served it up on Wonder Bread and it was delicious. My siblings liked to have a side of cottage cheese with the roast beef salad sandwich but it made me gag. The sandwich alone was good enough for me.

Fishing at Silver Bridge

My grandparents were fishermen so we went fishing a lot when we were young. The family’s favorite destination was a place up in the Boston Mountains called Silver Bridge. Most of the fish fries occurred at our grandparents’ house, but I got the feeling my Mother didn’t much care for cooking fish. Still, she made great Salmon croquettes. The salmon fillets came from a can but she managed to make it taste like something special by adding green onions, an egg, bread crumbs (or crackers) and frying it in some vegetable oil.

We were never allowed to eat much popcorn or peanut butter because our family doctor advised against it. He suspected that popcorn and peanut butter might cause appendicitis. Anyway, that’s what Mother told us. After I grew up I made up for that deprivation. I love popcorn.

When t.v. dinners came along they were too expensive for my parents’ budget and my Mother wasn’t convinced that they were nutritious. I remember wanting to try the Mexican t.v. dinners once for my birthday so Mother made an exception for that. There was a little Mexican Tamale place downtown and occasionally our Grandfather would pick up some tamales and bring them over to us. The t.v. dinners didn’t compare to the downtown tamales so I never asked for Mexican t.v. dinners for my birthday again.

In the fifties people didn’t go out to dinner that often. Sometimes when Mother took us downtown to see our grandparents at their dry-cleaning shop, The Rightway Cleaners, on Garrison Avenue we were treated to dinner at Woolworth’s counter. My sister and I loved their mashed potatoes and brown gravy and rolls, which is what we always ordered.

  • My Mother and Grandmother could always be counted on to go down the block to The Wide Awake Cafe to get a cup of coffee. I hated milk but loved the cream that was served with the coffee and my Grandmother always shared her cream with me. I also loved the red headed waitress who always served us. That was my Aunt Jeanine.

The Fun Guy in the Kitchen

  • My Dad never ventured into the kitchen unless our Mother was really sick and the only foods he knew how to make were fried potatoes and pancakes. He’d open up a can of pork and beans and serve it along with the fried potatoes and his children thought he was some kind of cool chef from outer space. He made his pancakes in the shape of animals.

Lucy and the Liver

  • When my Mother fixed liver for supper my sister, Lucy hightailed it over the little foot bridge to our neighbor, Ellen’s house and hid in her room. She couldn’t stand the smell of liver. My Mother would send us out looking for her. We knew where she was but would take our time looking for her because we knew there would be the usual scene at the table. Lucy was really clumsy and spilled her milk at almost every meal. She didn’t do it on purpose either.

Unlike my sister, I liked my Mother’s Liver and Onions. In fact, it had something to do with my romance with my future husband. One of the first times Bob came over to our house my Mother was making Liver and Onions for dinner. I was sort of embarrassed about the humble food she was preparing but Bob’s eyes lit up and he invited himself to eat. Mother had fixed mashed potatoes and gravy, homemade biscuits, the liver and onions, peas, etc. Bob was smitten.

He sat down in the onlooker’s chair. The rest, as they say, is history.

The Onlooker’s Chair

  • The Onlooker’s chair was just an extra chair at the dinner table that a neighbor or friend who dropped by unexpectedly was invited to sit down in to have a meal with us. It became the “onlooker’s chair” one day when our friend,Tommy came over.  When we invited him to eat supper with us, he said,”no, I already ate, I’ll just look.”
28 Nov 2009 02:47 pm


My maternal great grandparents and their children. William Chase Whitmarsh and his wife, Jemima Haseltine Stiles had four children together and each had one child from their first marriage. My grandmother, Hazel Alabama is on the left by her father.


My maternal great great grandparents and their children and grandchildren. William Leonard Webster, a confederate veteran of the Civil War and his wife, Nancy Ann Pearson settled in Paris, Arkansas and built houses for each one of their children when they married. Nancy Ann was known for nursing ill children back to health. She favored feeding them sweet potatoes. The Websters adopted a native American boy. My grandfather, Guy Smith Webster is standing on the right with his arms folded. His father, Albert Webster is standing behind him.


My great grandfather, William Chase Whitmarsh’s first wife, Lucy Taylor Whitmarsh. Lucy and William had one son. Lucy was the niece of President Zachary Taylor and inherited the silver tea service that was in the Taylor White House. The son, Toors Whitmarsh and his wife were childless and gave the silver tea service to my great Aunt Ivy.


My maternal great great grandmother, Elizabeth Ann Wright Whitmarsh, the mother of William Chase Whitmarsh. Elizabeth was from New England, born in Milford,New Hampshire in 1823. Amazing that we have a photo of her.

Why have I posted all these photos of my ancestors?

Because I can.


My mother has always let me go through my grandmother’s trunk. It’s full of photos, letters, memorabilia, and family history. This time, however, she let me take the contents home with me. I’ve been scanning photos, reading letters and learning about my ancestors, how they lived, what they thought of then current events and what they valued. My heritage is very much all American. I have ancestors from New England who were here in 1630 on both my father and mother’s side and I also have ancestors who were colonists in Virginia. We are Dutch, Irish, English, French Huguenots and Scottish.


But we also have a native American heritage.

This is a photo of my great great grandmother, Mary (Polly) Miranda Mabry Stiles. She was born in Alabama September 6th, 1836 and died in Fort Smith, Arkansas at the age of 93, July 25, 1930. According to the obituary in the newspaper she was one of the oldest residents in Fort Smith at the time. Polly married Joseph Lafayette Stiles in Alabama. Her father, Parham Poole Mabry was from a family of Virginia colonists. He was born in Fairfield County, South Carolina September 25,1795.

Polly’s mother, Nancy Caroline Payne was the daughter of Mathew Payne and Amelia (Millie) Cooper. Mathew Payne was born in Pennsylvania, fought in the Revolution, was wounded in the shoulder and lost an eye from a British saber thrust in the Battle of Brandywine. He was at Yorktown when the British surrendered. He married Amelia Cooper in Tenn. and then settled in Ala. in Madison Co., when it was just beginning to be settled by the frontier people in the late 1700’s or early 1800’s.

He fought in the Creek war of 1814, and interestingly, he was in the spy company led by a man named Coffee. (Again, I think of the Indian link. Who spied on the Indians? Other Indians.) In this battle he was shot in the hip and left for dead. He recovered, however, and lived to be around 90.

By 1811 Matthew Payne and family were residents of Madison County, Missisippi Territory (now Alabama), where court records indicate he was active in land speculation, traffic in furs, hides, and frontier commodities, often in partnership with his son, John B. Payne.

According to an affidavit on file in the National Archives, executed by him November 7, 1850, at Lawrence County, Alabama, he volunteered in the War with the Creek Nation of Indians in 1813 in the regiment commanded by Colonel John Coffee. He was in Captain Russell’s Company, one of General Andrew Jackson’s spy companies, and was mustered into service at Fort Williams on the Coosa River a short time before the Battle of Horseshoe Bend.

He stated that he had “followed the Army from home with his son John B. Payne (now dead) and upon catching up with it, at Fort Williams, he found Gen. Jackson there in command, who was his neighbor and friend at home and that gallant and distinguished soldier, knowing affiant’s qualities as an experienced woodsman, frontierman, and Indian fighter, pressed him to enlist in Captain Russell’s Company of Volunteers, who acted as Spies, and affiant did so, and continued in actual service in the War with the Creek Nation of Indians until the Battle of the Horse Shoe (Horseshoe Bend) on the Tallapoosa River, on the 27th March 1813 (March 27, 1814) in which battle affiant was left among the wounded at Fort Williams where he remained unable to be moved for about forty days, afterwards he was carried to Fort Strother, and thence home, an invalid for life……

Affiant was left at Fort Williams by General Jackson’s order with his son, John B. Payne to attend on him, where it was expected he would have died in consequence of his wound….”

I went on the search for information about the War of 1812. What I found was this:
Mathew PAYNE
Initial Rank: 2 LIEUTENANT
Final Rank: 2 LIEUTENANT

17 Jul 2009 11:23 am


I found this photo in a box of family photos that had belonged to a late cousin. I don’t know who it is but it’s a family member on my Dad’s side. Everyone loved horses. My Dad always had horses and with his friends would ride his horse from Fort Smith to Rogers, Arkansas and back. He did this when he was sixteen years old. Mom’s and Dad’s didn’t feel they needed to keep a tight noose on their kids back then.

29 Mar 2009 02:09 am


These are the Jeffries women. These were the original steel magnolias. They were women of fortitude. They were from Tennessee by way of North Carolina and Virginia. Obedient Wright Jeffries is the lady sitting in the middle on the front row holding the Holy Bible in her hands. She was born in Overton County, Tennessee in 1817, the daughter of Joshua Foster Wright and Sarah Lamar. She married the Rev. James Jasper Jeffries. She is my 3rd great grandmother.

Her daughter, my 2nd great grandmother, is the second woman to the left on the top row and her name is Rachel Elizabeth Jeffries Ford. The other women were sisters to Rachel and daughters of Obedient, who was called “Middie.”

Forgive these women their severe, homely looks. There was little time for primping back in those days. These women were strong, resilient females who brought up their children in the ways of the Lord. When they moved from Tennessee to Arkansas they had no moving vans. They traveled in covered wagons if they were lucky. They had to dodge Indians and outlaws and wild animals and unpredictable weather on the way across.

There were no modern conveniences of any sort along the way back in those days…. no refrigerators or Holiday Inns. No cell phones, no telegraphs, no way of communicating to someone faraway instantaneously. There were few roads but there were worn pathways and passes through the mountains. If the babies were sick there were no Nannies to take over, the women had only each other to help if they were in a group of families. They typically moved in family groups, providing safety and comfort in numbers.

There were no welcome wagons waiting for them at their destinations. Early settlers may have gone ahead to provide simple settlements but usually these families moving to Northwest Arkansas found a hardscrabble existence awaiting them. Apple farming was king in the latter years but when most of my ancestors were settling in to the little towns and villages around Bentonville, Arkansas most families kept large gardens to provide for their families’ needs. They kept livestock for the same reason. Sam Walton’s ancestors had moved west to Oklahoma. He wouldn’t wake up the prettiest corner of Arkansas for a century.


This is Oscar and Avis Wilhelmina Drew Mackey, my second great grandparents, who moved from a small town near Buffalo, New York to Kansas, then to Oklahoma and finally to Bentonville, Arkansas in the years after the Civil War. Oscar James Mackey served in the Union Army during the Civil War and before that in New York he worked as a farmer, a tanner, and a cigar maker. In Oklahoma Avis and Oscar were owners of the Mackey Brothers Ranch in Woodward County, OK. In Bentonville, Oscar and Avis were the owners of the Mackey Cider Company. Eventually their land fell into Sam Walton’s hands and became his private home.

These women carried on when their husbands served with the Confederate Armies in the Civil War and they knew hard times unlike any we know today. I mean hard times, Britney. Not bad hair days. Not one of those days when you wake up and you just want to call in sick and stay in bed. None of that. No sir. These were H A R D times with an emphasis on the R.

These women had to keep home and hearth going when the men were gone to war and they had to load a gun and stand down the outlaws who tried to rob them of the remaining money or food that was left after the many months and years the war had left them with nothing. So many in the hills of Northwest Arkansas had been affected by the Civil War, there were battles and skirmishes all around, the Battle of Elkhorn Tavern or as the Yankees called it The Battle of Pea Ridge was nearly in the back yard of many of my ancestors.

Bentonville suffered terribly from the ravages of the Civil War. Southern sympathizers killed a soldier left behind by retreating Union forces in 1862. When federal troops heard of the death, they returned the next day and burned 36 buildings.”

Think of the terror this brought to the families. Bentonville is still a small town. To burn 36 buildings even today would be a disastrous event.


My great grandmother, Kathryn Ozy Ford Mackey, the granddaughter of Obedient told me a story when I was a little girl about her mother having to hide her injured confederate soldier father in a cave to keep him safe from the bushwackers. If there wasn’t the fear of Yankees there was the fear of Bushwackers or other outlaws making mischief or worse.

Sometime during her life, Obedient Wright Jefferies moved with her family to Arkansas and lived a long life, giving birth to sixteen children. She died January 22, 1894 in Cash Hollow, Arkansas.

Obedient and her daughters were the bearers of the family history and it was uniquely American. The legacy handed down to us from Obedient Wright Jeffries was not only written in the obituary in the newspaper, it was written on the hearts of her children and her grandchildren and especially on the heart of her precious granddaughter, Kate Ford Mackey. I was lucky to know my dear great grandmother for nineteen years and I benefitted from all the stories she told me of her life long ago.

Grandma Morrison (as we called her) told me about what it was like to be a young woman growing up in the late 1890s. She and her fellow sisters and their mothers were no shrinking violets ordered around by men as sociologists and historians would have us think. They had just as much autonomy in the family unit as the men if not more. When my great grandfather, Frank O’Dell Mackey, Kate’s husband took a notion to move the family from Bentonville to British Columbia with his brother, Gilbert, she put a stop to that, saying, “I’m not taking my children up there.” They never did.

Obedient’s obituary was published in the paper, The Benton County Democrat. This was back when papers were vital to their communities and none of the publishers would ever think of taking a walk or a mule or a train to Washington D.C. with hat in hand to ask for a bailout.

On the evening of the 22nd day on Jan., 1894, a sainted mother in Israel, Mrs. Obedient Jeffries passed from sorrows and pain of this world to her reward in Heaven.

She had been confined to her bed ten weeks, but bore her afflictions with the fortitude and grace of a christian, patiently waiting the will of her Heavenly father, ever relying upon his blessed promises.

She was born in Overton Co., Tennessee, the daughter of Joshua Foster Wright and Sarah Lamar. She married James Jasper Jeffries of Overton Co., Tennessee. With a family of nine children they emigrated to this country after which seven more children were borne to them, making sixteen in all. Twelve of the 16 children, 44 grandchildren, 16 great-grandchildren, a brother with a host of other relatives and friends are left to mourn her demise.

All of her children except two are christians and one of the two promised to meet her in Heaven. May the other one be one in that happy union beyond the river.

Can a mother’s love be supplied? Can a mother’s place be filled? No; a thousand times no. And true to nature, her eight girls and four sons feel that both their morning and evening star has passed out with her precious life.

Heaven imprinted in a christian mother’s face something that draws the minds of her children to the sweet beyond, something that claimed indeed the divine love.
Deeply has the divine wooing been imprinted on the hearts of these children and friends, by her peaceful, quiet, Christian faith which always sustained and comforted her under the shadows as well as the sunshine of her life.

Though she is gone from them they know where to find her, and we would beg them “to weep not, to miss her from earth’s weary shore; earth has an angel less, Heaven one more.”

She had been a member of the Methodist church for a long, long time and enjoyed her relationship with the church militant, but today she is enjoying the association of the church triumphant.

Her home was always with her youngest daughter, Mrs. J.B. Ford, who with her husband and little daughter, Bessie, are left alone, sad and heart broken.

All during her sickness her sons and daughters, sons-in-law and daughters-in-law gave her all the care and attention that loving hands could give, thus fully demonstrating that she was a mother indeed.

May their lives be like hers, their change as peaceful.

A precious one from us is gone
A voice we loved is stilled
A place is vacant in her home
Which never can be filled.”

[Benton County Democrat 2/1/1894]

Obedient Wright was born in 1817, just 41 years after our nation declared its independence from Great Britain. She and other pioneer women like her settled our country with their husbands and families. These women were full-on helpmates; running the farms, keeping the stores, as well as instructing and caring for the children.

These women experienced natural childbirth at home, usually without the benefit of a family doctor. Obedient managed to do that sixteen times and successfully so.

People didn’t find that strange back then as they do today. When I imagine how much work that must have been for her it fills me with awe. She managed to make ends meet along with her husband and family. She didn’t turn to the government for help. That would have been seen as shameful back then as it should be seen today.

Women of fortitude lived during the century between our founding and our flourishing. They quietly provided the strong frameworks for those of us who still want to raise our families in the ways of the Lord and in freedom.

And yes, I left my lights on in memory of them.

15 Feb 2009 05:49 pm


Yesterday’s celebration of Valentines Day was sweet and savory for the females in our family. It was a sweet day to throw a shower for my daughter-in-law who is expecting our first granddaughter in early March. They say that it’s proper to give showers for first time mothers only but this second time mother is expecting her first daughter this time. Little girls can’t wear their big brothers’ hand-me-downs. (even in these supposedly gloomy times)

My sister, Lucy, daughter, Kate and I love to talk about all-things-party: color, theme, feeling, design, menu, and budget, so as we mulled over our plans for the shower I looked into some of my albums to find my collection of antique Valentines. These Valentines tend to be less pink and more red, violet and vibrant in their presentations. None of my children or grandchildren or my childrens’ spouses are pastels in any sense of the word, all are rich and vivid, colors as individuals. Lucy, Kate and I all agreed there would be little pink in this Valentine Baby Shower.



The Valentine Baby Shower would have as it’s basic theme, antique Valentines.

The most romantic of all poems makes little use of the word, pink. I would never suggest that the color be banned, perhaps just lessened. We used just a little of the pink in some of the napkins and fluffy paper to soften the edges. I had fun going shopping at The Now and Then Shoppe where I found the beautiful red and white vase and at Target where I found the heart trees. I would say that I’ve done my share in helping to boost the economy in our local area.


My sister, my oldest daughter and I took on the happy task of putting the party together. Lucy helped Kate arrange the flowers and the two together went out early in the morning to find the best and tastiest selections for the table. The cake was an Italian Creme purchased from Sacred Grounds, a fun little coffee shop-Italian deli located in downtown Fort Smith. The punch was made of cranberry juice and ginger ale. We had creme puffs, fresh strawberries with chocolate dipping sauce, almond flavored heart shaped cookies and for the savory: two kinds of crostinis: artichoke and chicken fajita, mozzarella puffs with Marinara sauce, and little parmesan cheese straws.


The light’s fantastic, as Sissy Willis would say.

We sat together later, after the guests had departed and watched the baby having hiccups in Joni’s tummy. We examined the pretty little baby girl outfits that were given as gifts and we watched as the light of the day grew gradually more dim, and we savored the memories the day had given.

The days before a new female Donoho emerges into the world are full of anticipation, for her world will be a very different place than the one her grandmother entered fifty some years ago and even the one her own mother was born into twenty some years ago. This baby girl’s world will be starkly different but our hopes for her are not unlike those our own ancestors cherished for us. I hope our little granddaughter will have dark black hair and a milk white complexion like her mother and will be an honest and trustworthy individual like her father.

I hope she will grow up in a country that still values freedom and love of family and God. I hope she will come to know her Creator at an early age and she will make Him her best friend and guide.

Most of all, I hope she will be born healthy and that the birth will be a safe event for both mother and baby. That we are already celebrating before her birth should in someway tell her how we are anticipating her arrival and how welcome she will be in our lives and in our family.

04 Feb 2009 10:01 pm


Love can teach you so much, especially when it’s as well reciprocated as it has always been with my Dad. I have always written about my hero worship of him, how I followed him around and watched him draw and paint and sing and play fast pitch soft ball and be a role model for my brothers, my sister and me.

Daddy turned eighty one years old the other day, on Ground Hogs Day actually, and he saw his shadow, a very long shadow indeed, and we, his children, walk in his shadow.


I remember when I was learning multiplication in school. One day when we were out for a ride in Daddy’s black 48 Chevy, Daddy taught me my nines times tables just by explaining the patterns the digits made if you started from either end and added or took away from the ones or tens places and switched the digits.

For example……

1 × 9 = 09 -Daddy said, do the switcheroo. take one away from the ones place and put it in the tens place. Then we’ll have the answer to 2×9.

2 × 9 = 18 -He said, try it on this one too. Take one from the 8 and you will have 7. Add that one to the 1 in the tens place and you will have 2. Hence, 27. It works all the way down to 90.

3 × 9 = 27

4 × 9 = 36

5 × 9 = 45

6 × 9 = 54

7 × 9 = 63

8 × 9 = 72

9 × 9 = 81

10 × 9 = 90

He explained all of this to me while he was driving the car around town.

It’s not that my parents were the pushy kind of parents who insisted on their kids making straight A’s and stomped down to the principal’s office at the first hint of a B+. Not at all. Sometimes our lives were so busy and interesting that our doing our homework was the last thing on our parent’s minds but our conversations with our parents were always interesting, engaging and naturally educational. When Daddy taught me that interesting trick with the nines table it opened my eyes to patterns in numbers and made math much more interesting to me, which was something, unfortunately, none of my elementary teachers did.


Daddy has always been an excellent artist. I find that I am just a pale immitation when I compare myself to him.

Watching Daddy’s kindness to people who were down and out was not an unusual occurrence to my brothers, my sister and I when we were growing up. Both of our parents were of one mind when it came to taking care of our neighbors, our friends and family who were in need. Daddy has a deep faith in God which should come as no surprise. I remember some calm words of faith that he offered me when I was leaving home for the first time to go to college. He didn’t have to tell me to be careful either. All he said was, “All my ships are leaving the harbor.”

When you watch your own father pray it makes it easier to believe.

Here’s to many more Ground Hogs Day Shadow Making Birthdays for my Dad. The love will just keep on multiplying.

17 Dec 2008 02:01 am


My brother, Bobby and I, visiting Santa when we were three and four years old.

I was never a practical little girl.

One Christmas Season when I was ten years old I was jittery with excitement because I was going to get to go Christmas shopping for the first time in my life, with money I had earned. I had saved the money and was going to spend it on my mother.

My mother was going to be the recipient of my hard earned money. I cannot remember how I earned it but I suspect it must have had something to do with my paternal grandmother. She was everyone’s fairy godmother in our family and, for that matter, everyone who lived within ten miles of her were beneficiaries of her kindness.

My grandmother was a one woman Salvation Army. She most likely put me to work separating buttons or safety pins from straight pins or something like that at her dry cleaners. I was always eager to work and earn some money.

So when I found out that we were going Christmas shopping, I decided to spend my Christmas money on my mother. I asked her what she wanted for Christmas. She told me that she wanted something practical for the kitchen. That suggestion went in one ear and out the other. I can’t even remember what that practical something was and I doubt I even remembered back then. I knew I had no plans to give my mother anything that even remotely resembled a small household appliance.


Santa always came last.

We went downtown one evening for the annual Christmas parade and had plans to shop afterwards. Back then there were no malls, no big shopping centers, no K-Marts, no Wal-Marts, no Marts at all. Just the Kress Store, McCrorys, Woolworths and the elegant Boston Store where we would have our picture taken with Santa Claus.

The city merchants firmly believed in decorating their windows for Christmas. I was in awe of the lights and sounds as we walked down the main street of town. There were crowds of people but they were not unruly. Moms and Dads had their children firmly in hand. Families and kids walked down the sidewalks peering in the windows resplendent with merchandise of all kinds. Beautiful dolls, dollhouses, and elegant clothing were displayed in windows. I paused to look and almost found myself lost until I got a tug on my shoulder. My little brother always had to play the big brother with me.


Christmas in 1957. My brother was five, I was six, and my doll loving, little sister was three years old.

On to another store. We went from window shopping to serious store shopping. This became much more serious. So much more serious for a very unpractical young lady with five dollars burning a hole in her handbag.

My mother kept steering us by the practical kitchen things and I kept wandering away from them. Potato peelers were boring. Collanders were boring. All of my hard earned money was not going to be spent for something so work-a-day.

I wanted to get my Mother something pretty.

My mother’s Aunt Ivy was very rich. When we went to visit her home she always had beautiful dishes set on her tables. On the rare occasions Aunt Ivy came to visit us my Mother was always in a full state of panic, urging us to clean our rooms and have everything in our tiny home perfect. I wanted to find one pretty platter that Mother could set on the table with pride. Surely McCrory’s would have something like that. I saw an eight inch milk white round platter with gold trim. It had a price tag that was within my price range. I looked at it and turned and walked away.

I suppose I wanted to do some comparison shopping. I found myself in the doll aisle. McCrory’s didn’t carry Madame Alexander dolls, only The Boston Store carried that kind of elegant doll. I wanted a Jo doll more than anything. Jo was the practical sister in Louisia May Alcott’s Little Women series and since I had already read the book I was captivated by the main character, Jo.

I’d had a glimpse of Jo earlier in the week when we’d taken the bus downtown to visit my maternal grandparents at their business, The Rightway Cleaners. As always, Mamaw Webster took us to The Wide Awake Cafe for coffee and cream and then we went to the Boston Store.

My grandmother picked out some beautiful blue velvet fabric to make some pretty dresses for my sister and me. While there, we passed through the toy department and I saw the section full of the inimitable blue boxes. I hoped there were still some Jo dolls left. I didn’t care for Amy or Beth or Meg. They were fine of course being Alcott characters but Jo was the character that captured my imagination because she thought for herself and was a tomboy.


The Fletcher Kids going to Church in 1957, my snaggletooth smile brought to you by my brother’s left hook

I was a tomboy too. I was the second fastest female runner in school. At that age I could outrun my brother. I’d put on boxing gloves and boxed my brother when I was seven years old. So what if he’d knocked out my front tooth and I’d swallowed it, missing the visit of the tooth fairy? I got him back a few years later when he didn’t want to go to football practice. I put on his football uniform, put my hair up under the helmet and went to his practice. I’d managed to fool the coach until I got tackled and the hair fell out of my helmet.

I also identified with Jo in Alcott’s depiction of the March sisters’ haughty, Aunt March. I’d thought of my Aunt Ivy when I first read about Jo’s wealthy aunt. Of course, all my silly notions were part and parcel of my vivid imagination. Except for Santa, I’d told no one that I wanted Jo for Christmas. Not even my sister, Lucy. I pretty much lived inside my head back in those days.


Still, my mother always seemed to know everything. If I didn’t tell her about something that was worrying me she seemed to read my mind anyway because she was a quiet person who always had her eyes on her children and was always listening to us.


The Fletcher Family in 1956, thanks to Kodacolor

In the Boston Store I passed by the boxes of dolls and breathed a sigh of relief when I saw a Jo doll inside one of them. My brother tugged me on the arm and we walked back to the Rightway Cleaners where I found the little wooden box toy my Grandfather always had for me to play with. I thought about the doll a lot since that day and the pretty satin dress and blue and white striped pinafore she was wearing. She would be a perfect Christmas present. Why hadn’t I told my family about her anyway?

I wandered around the aisles of McCrory’s, looking at the china figurines. None of them would do. My mother really wouldn’t like them because they would serve no useful purpose whatsoever. I sensed that somehow. I knew that my Aunt Ivy would turn her nose up at them and sniff something about dime store pottery and how would that help my mother? Besides, my mother’s mashed potatoes were delicious the way they were. She really didn’t need a new potato masher or peeler, but that pretty milk white glass platter with the gold trim needed another look.

Looking back I was a natural at rationalization.

We can bake some delicious peppermint cookies, I thought, with white icing and sprinkles and then we’ll place them on the platter next Christmas and when Aunt Ivy and Uncle Roy come over they will see how delicious and pretty they look.

I walked back to the aisle and picked up the white platter and examined it again. It was made in Japan. There were platters just like it that were in boxes under the shelves so I picked up one of them and headed to the cash register. I made my purchase and looked for my brother. He was buying a gift for our Dad. I can’t remember what it was but it probably had something to do with sports.

We met up with our parents and little sister and went home. As I wrapped the present for my mother I imagined how happy she would be when she opened her gift. I tried to make the wrapping as pretty as I could. I painted a watercolor picture for a card.

Christmas couldn’t come soon enough. My brother and sister and I counted the days. We went outside at night to breathe the cold December air and look at the Christmas scene our Dad had created.

We looked up into the sky for the star of Bethlehem.

When Daddy came home with a new issue of Christmas Ideals we gathered around to see it. Later Mother would pull out an older issue which had the illustrated version of The Little Match Girl. That story had quickly become a tradition in our family. The line drawings illustrating the poor little girl in that particular issue still stay in my memory and spurred me on in my desire to be an artist.

When there was a newly wrapped gift under the tree we were worse than our dog, Cookie at sniffing around it. When our mother wasn’t looking we picked up the gift to examine it. One of the bolder siblings would shake the gift. A certain little sister would actually take the tape off the end of the box and with her skillful fingers would open up the paper to discover the treasure inside the box.

I preferred the element of surprise.


On Christmas morning I woke up early, but not as early as my little brother. I crept into the living room and there he was, asleep under the tree. He did it every year. He woke up sometime during the night excited about Christmas and went into the living room to wait on everyone to wake up, then when we didn’t wake up, he would fall asleep under the tree.

So there was my brother under the tree.

And there was Jo.

Santa had listened. I knew he would. Even though kids at school had argued with me, telling me, I was stupid, I was a little kid, and I needed to grow up, I wouldn’t listen to them, I argued with them that there is a Santa Claus. I had more than one reason to believe you see. I was the oldest in our family. I had had my doubts and skepticisms but for the sake of my little brothers and my sister I chose to believe.

And that Christmas morning I had proof. There was my Jo, my Madame Alexander Doll. Yes, there were also some other sweet gifts too. A jewelry box, and a bride doll. (I’ve always loved bride dolls) And as always, the night before at our traditional Christmas Eve get together at my paternal grandparents’ house I had received a pair of knitted socks from my great grandmother, Kathryn Ford Mackey Morrison. Other things too but those knitted socks I could always depend upon.

I woke up my brother and we both went to wake up our sister, Lucy but we had to wait on our parents to awaken because we had a year old baby brother who was sleeping.

I couldn’t wait for my mother to open up her present from me. Meanwhile we could enjoy all the presents Santa had left for us because they were not wrapped. We three kids whispered oohs and ahhs until we got too loud and our bleary eyed parents came walking into the room with our little brother Guy.


Now there were four of us

That Christmas morning was bliss. Mother made hot chocolate and biscuits. We opened our wrapped presents and laughed as Guy opened his presents. Daddy asked Lucy and me to sing some Christmas carols. We had discovered our ability to harmonize and we were regular wrens, singing all the time around the house.

Then the moment came. It was time for our parents to open their presents. I don’t remember what my father received from my brother. The only thing remembered from that Christmas is what I gave and what I received. I wish I could say that my mother beamed with joy when she saw the beautiful white platter with gold trim but I would be fibbing.

It wouldn’t be true. My Mother smiled at me, and gave me a hug and said thanks but later in the kitchen she reminded me that she had asked for something practical.

My heart sank.

I had failed my first big test of giving and the irony was that this was the Christmas that I had received my most favorite gift. I was heart sick that I had let my mother down. I hadn’t listened to her when she told me what she wanted for Christmas. She had explained to me that she wanted something practical because there was not enough money for her to spend anything on kitchen things so she wanted them as gifts. I had ignored that. My parents were always generous with us but not so with themselves. I remember wondering why my mother wore the same coat for five years in a row.

Now I knew.

So my Mother didn’t pretend to be overjoyed by the milk white round platter with gold trim. My mother was always honest with me. That is how our parents raised us.

Unpractical little girls can learn.

The next Christmas I listened when my mother mentioned in passing what she wanted for Christmas. I wrote her wishes down in my diary. I saved my money and I bought what she wanted and yes, it was a practical kitchen appliance. She was very happy with her gift. My mother was always a skillful and ambitious cook and the things she wanted for her kitchen made it easier for her to cook. And bake. And what a mighty baker was she! My mother’s pies are still in demand.

One day Aunt Ivy came over and as usual we scurried around to clean up the house before she arrived. I walked into the living room and there on the coffee table was the eight inch milk white round platter with gold trim. We weren’t given enough notice to make homemade cookies so we had to make do with Lemon sandwich cookies.

In recent years I’ve discovered that I am my Mother in more ways than one. I’ve caught myself being too frank and honest when I have received a gift from my children that wasn’t quite up to my hopes or standards. (although, I will admit, I never give them much guidance) That it is more blessed to give than to receive is so true. I admit I love to give to those I love. I have found joy in giving gifts to friends and family.

To this very day the eight inch milk white round platter with gold trim has a place of honor on the center shelf of my Mother’s china cabinet. I noticed it a couple of years ago and it brought back the remembrance of my first Christmas shopping trip. I remain hopelessly impractical but I am thankful my Mother gave me the guidance, direction, advice and practicality I needed when I was growing up.

Christmas is about God coming down to earth from Heaven in the person of a tiny baby. Through Jesus Christ the world gained pure Love, forgiveness, and reconciliation to God through Him. In our little Fletcher Family we experienced all that joy every Christmas, no matter how much or how little we had and we continue to do so but that Christmas when I was ten, I began to awaken to the world, and to get a small glimpse of the worries and the sacrifices that Mothers and Fathers make for their children because of their great love for them.

That was the last year I asked Santa for a doll but it wasn’t the last year I asked Santa for a present. My doll, Jo wisely supervised my daughter’s dolls as they grew up and she sits in the pink room in our house, anxiously awaiting the arrival of our granddaughter this coming March.

Merry Christmas!

Welcome visitors from The Carnival of Christmas!

16 Nov 2008 08:33 pm


Back in the days when my brothers, my sister and I prayed for each other every night. Actually, we still do.

One summer when I was thirteen, my brothers, my sister and I fell ill with high fevers and other systemic aches and pains which would end up lasting for three months. It started early in the summer and we each dropped like dominoes. All four of us became sicker as each day passed. I still remember the severe headaches in the back of my head. I had a fever of 104 degrees that would not break for two weeks. My parents moved out of their bedroom giving it over to us.

One weekend my brother, Bobby’s fever rose above 105 degrees and he had to be hospitalized. We were tested for everything from typhus to tularemia to typhoid but nothing would test out. The doctor was certain that it was not a virus because the neighborhood kids came to visit early on in the illness and never caught it.

I remember getting better and being permitted to go outside for a while and trying to deny to myself the fact that the fever was coming back. The disappointment and the fear it caused was devastating.

Everytime each one of us got a little better and was able to get up out of bed for a while the fever would come roaring back.

It really hurt when my youngest brother, Guy, who was only four years old came down with a fever of 104 degrees. My mother tried everything to get the fever down, including putting him in a bath of lukewarm water. This frightened him so much and he was irritable in the first place. I had a high fever too and could only sit on the floor beside him and stroke his hair and hold the cold cloth on his forehead. This was the days before Tylenol. He kept that high fever for days before it would break. Thank goodness we did have Bayer Aspirin.

We always had Bible study and prayers at night before bed, at this time it became much more meaningful even though it was quieter. We were all quiet because the fevers affected each of us differently. Most of us were sick to our stomachs too. That was another difficulty for our Mother, to keep us hydrated.

Looking back, I don’t know how Mother did it, how she kept her sanity, how she kept her health. There was always a lot of love in our home from both of our parents, there were always hands stretched out with cold cloths stroking our burning foreheads.

One evening my little sister, Lucy became delirious. She claimed to be seeing “little people” in the back woods from her bed and she described the little people my Aunt Hetty tells us that the Cherokee Indian legends say will come right before someone’s death. Lucy’s eyes were wide open and staring into the distance as she described the sight of the Little People and it frightened us.

Lucy was small and had become so frail the doctor was called. He ran some tests and prescribed Chloromycetin, a very powerful antibiotic that was later taken off the market because it was determined to cause blood disease. Ironically, seven years later, Lucy developed thrombophlebitis in her leg. But the medicine helped her and her fever broke and she came out of the delirium.

And yet, we were all spooked by that because just a few years before my mother’s best friend,
Lucy died of a blood clot in her leg that had traveled to her lung when she was only twenty nine years old. So the cure led to another fearful season.

That summer we all learned how to play cards. I learned how to play Solitaire and Hearts. I drew a lot and read a little. My headaches were so bad my eyes were too weak to read for very long so comic books were more my cup of tea. I sipped some tea also but not a lot because it too was dehydrating.

One of the things we were looking forward to at the end of the summer was our cousins, Jeanne and Junior’s wedding in early September. Our goal was to be well enough to be in the wedding. I remember still having the headache as Jeanne walked down the aisle but we were there for it. For months after school started I began to despair that I would never rid myself of the hated headaches. But sometime that winter they went away. I would get twinges sometimes but the fever was gone, and didn’t return again.

We had great healthcare back then and it was affordable. Sure, with the improvement in lab technology the unknown bacteria would have probably been discovered today but I still have my suspicions that we were suffering from Tularemia because we did have a rabbit that died that summer. Our doctor, Dr. Shearer, was the best doctor in town, our parents did not have to buy health insurance during those days in order to afford health care, or in order to pay for my brother’s hospitalization or for the drugs used to treat us.

My father’s form of health insurance? It was called WORK. He worked, then he collected a paycheck. Then he paid the doctor’s bill. He did the same with the hospital bill and the pharmacy bill.

We were sick for three months and perhaps that time might have been shortened with better drugs or a better diagnosis but I have my doubts. We suffered what we suffered. We are a closer family for the suffering. My brothers, my sister and I each had our crisis and we rallied around each other and our mother and father were always there for us. We became card sharks. We became comic book authorities and prayer warriors.

The company that developed Chloromycetin was sued but the drug was so valuable that it is today still being used under a doctor’s care but only for serious, life threatening illnesses.

Our Mother was a stay at home mom when we were so sick that summer, later she became a working Mom. I can’t imagine what I would have done had my three children become sick for so long for three months one summer. But in our family we were taught you do what you have to do and we still do that.

In these stressful times we will do what we have to do to keep our family close and healthy. It’s a shame that those in high places in our government don’t have any history of family hardship that made them strong and resolute but perhaps they never did become strong and resolute people.

Perhaps that is the problem.

21 Sep 2008 07:36 pm


My Maternal Grandfather, Guy Smith Webster when he was twenty four years old.

My mother gave me a treasure last night when I was at my parents’ home visiting with them. Actually, I have to give the photo back but she let me take it home to scan it. Scanning helps to spread the wealth.

My grandfather was always a snappy dresser. I don’t remember ever seeing him without a hat and his favored tweed jackets with leather elbow patches. Papaw was a smoker so when he was around there was an aroma of Old Spice and Lucky Strikes. Two aromas that are not politically correct today but still are pleasing to me.

Guy Smith Webster, my maternal grandfather would have been about twenty four when the above photo was taken. Looking closely I can see my great-grandmother (we called her “Nanny”) looking out the door at her son. Nanny was a Nolen, born in Florence, Alabama to James Green Nolen and Eliza Isbell. When she was a baby her family moved in a covered wagon to Yell County, Arkansas then settled on Short Mountain near Paris, Arkansas. Leona Tamsie Nolen married Albert Webster, son of William Leonard Webster and Nancy Ann Pearson.

The Webster family settled in Paris, Arkansas and when William and Nancy’s children grew up each was given land and a house built by their father, William Leonard Webster. My grandmother, Hazel Alabama Whitmarsh married Guy Smith Webster when they were twenty three or twenty four years old.

By that time Guy had moved to Fort Smith to make his living. He chose not to settle on the Webster land. One reason why he left Paris my grandmother told me, was that he was bothered that there was so much intermarriage of cousins in his family.

That wasn’t the life Guy Smith Webster would choose to live.


Guy started his own dry cleaning business on the main street of Fort Smith, Garrison Avenue. He called the cleaners, The Rightway Cleaners. Not long after, he met and married my grandmother and they went into business together.

He had been advised by the local pharmacist in Paris, Dr. Thompson that Fort Smith was the place to go to work. Interestingly, Dr. Thompson’s, two sons, Bob and James Thompson became doctors and after serving in World War ll settled in Fort Smith. Dr. Jim was my father-in-law, C.C.’s best friend. The two brothers were in practice together and Dr. Bob delivered our first child. Between the two brothers about ten thousand babies were delivered.

I wish I could say that much of the information that I know about my grandfather came from him, but that would not be true. He died at the age of sixty, when I was ten years old. I remember that melancholy day very well. On a Sunday morning in December when we ordinarily would be waking up to a big breakfast of pancakes we were instead whisked out of our beds and taken to our paternal grandparent’s house.

It was always fun to go to Mamaw and Papaw Fletcher’s house as Mamaw was the cheeriest person in the world. She made sure we were comfortable and I discovered that my most favorite movie was on the television, The Wizard of Oz. I remember watching the movie and finding some comfort in it because I knew something was wrong.

Meanwhile my Mother and Dad rushed over to my maternal grandparents’ home where they found an ambulance ready to transport my grandfather to the hospital. My mother rode in the ambulance along with my grandfather and he died on the way to the hospital.

A very sad day indeed.

I remember sitting in my grandparents’ house afterwards, my grandmother grieving, blaming herself because my grandfather had stumbled out of bed to help her after she had fallen down with a convulsion. My grandmother was an epileptic, an ailment she had suffered from her early twenties. My mother was an only child because the doctors advised my grandparents not to have any more children because her condition was not always controlled by medication.

That afternoon I understood the old time maxim, children should be seen and not heard. I sat and listened as all the adults spoke words of comfort to my grandmother and mother and was full of questions which went unanswered.

I remember going to bed unable to sleep that night and many nights following, thinking of my beloved grandfather and knowing I would never see him again. My pillow was wet with tears and I counted to one thousand, hoping that my mother would be asleep by the time I was at the end of the count. Our father was working the graveyard shift and I was frightened and upset.

I quietly made my way into my parent’s bedroom and slipped into bed by my mother. In the morning I discovered that my brother and sister had also done the same thing. My youngest brother was still in his baby bed or there would have been four children in my mother and dad’s double bed.

Most of the biographical information about my grandfather came from my grandmother. She talked about “Guy” a lot in the twenty four years she lived as a widow. She would look for our resemblance to him. I had his eyes Mamaw told me. But my youngest brother, who was only a year old when my grandfather died was his namesake. He became Little Guy to my grandmother.

Papaw was the man who took care of everyone, including his own widowed mother, his alcoholic brother, Mutt and Mutt’s children. My great Aunt Hetty also told me what it was like to grow up in the shadow of her treasured older brother. They were eighteen years apart and Aunt Hetty tells me that when she was born, my grandfather paid the doctor’s bill for her. Guy’s father, Albert worked in the coal mines near Paris, Arkansas and an explosion had taken away his hearing so he had also moved to Fort Smith to work as a night watchman at a local business. Aunt Hetty told me things that my grandfather had said to her when she was a young woman that actually helped me when I confronted troubled times.

I tried to remember Papaw’s voice after he died and for many years I did remember and to this day I sometimes hear a voice that will make me think of him. He had a deep, golden toned voice that always filled me with comfort.

I remember one particular day, riding in Papaw Webster’s two toned blue, 1954 Pontiac as he drove us to see his mother. Nanny was in a rest home (which is what we called it back then) and he made sure to take her things that she needed. It’s a slight memory now, I remember being in the backseat of the car, listening to my Mother talk to him in the front seat of the car. I remember it was a cold and clear day and we were crossing Garrison Avenue to an older part of town to a neighborhood where the nursing home was located. It was a very large home in what is now called the historic district of Fort Smith. I always looked to the end of Garrison Avenue to see the Catholic Church which anchored it. Immaculate Conception Church has always been beautiful but never more so than during the Christmas holidays when it lights surround the outline of the church. But when I was a kid that didn’t occur. It wouldn’t have mattered to me. It was still a breathtaking view.

It wasn’t everyday that our grandfather took us out in his car and I loved going with him.

The house had a nice breezy feel to it but had that nursing home smell. My great grandmother and I had a conversation about what it was like when she was growing up. I was always curious about what it was like when my Nanny was a young girl. I also wanted to know what we were. Was her family Irish or English? She told me that the Isbells were English but the Nolens were Irish. She said she thought there might be some French heritage somewhere. Meanwhile my grandfather was talking to the administrators of the nursing home. Apparently, he had discovered that some of the nursing staff were stealing my great grandmother’s belongings. She was a great reader and had been missing her books. My grandfather found a better nursing home for her.

Papaw loved Valentines Day. He always bought specially made petit fours and little cakes for us. He loved to give us jewelry and necklaces too. I still have all of it too. Every year he purchased new cowboy boots for all of his four grandchildren on our birthdays. The store next door to the Rightway Cleaners was called Tip Top Boots and was owned by the Miller family. They were good friends of my grandfather and always welcomed us into their store. The store smelled of leather and polish. I loved to go in there and pick out new boots and look at the saddles.

One is tempted to ask, what kind of grandfather was Guy Smith Webster? He was the best of the best. He gave us a donkey! That seemed normal back then but today I know the giving of a donkey might be outrageous in some quarters. But not in mine. We named our donkey Tarzan.

Two weeks before my grandfather’s death he had a premonition. He gave my Dad some money and asked him to be sure to buy my brother, Bobby some boots for his birthday. Papaw died on December 10th, 1961 a day before my brother’s birthday.

Today, Sunday, September 21st is his birthday.

24 Jun 2008 10:44 pm


Babies, a photo found in my late great aunt’s albums.

We haven’t been able to identify the individual babies but they were members of my Dad’s grandmother’s family. Kathryn Ford Mackey had several sisters and brothers and they were very close-knit. Presumably, these children grew up in Bentonville in Northwest Arkansas during the turn of the century. If they lived to be adults, World War l, the Great Depression, Prohibition and World War ll would occur during their life spans.

These infants were born before abortion became legal. They were members of a family that believed in God and attended the Methodist Episcopal Church. From the appearance of the photo their mothers and fathers most likely doted on them.

This generation of babies were born before the media age. They very likely lived and died within the region where they were born. It’s possible that a few of these babies (when they grew up) were able to take a flight in an airplane. I know my great grandmother had that opportunity. Kathryn Ford Mackey saw the inventions of the automobile, the telephone, the radio and television, and the atomic bomb.

Since most children, male and female, until the age of three, were dressed alike during the early nineteen hundreds there is a possibility that one or more of the children in the photo were male. There is a possibility that one of the babies suffered from Downs Syndrome.

Unlike life today, these children were born at home. Back then there were no maternity wards. Females were skilled at that sort of thing. There was little understanding of mental and physical disabilities. But still, there were Annie Sullivans.

The parents of these children didn’t have a Toys R Us in their town to shop for toys. The mothers sewed their childrens’ clothing by hand, and made bed linens with the help of a spinning wheel and loom. I do know my great great grandfather, Thomas Weir Ford was a whittler and I suspect he may have been the grandfather of the babies in the photo. Most likely they were given handmade toys he made for them.

By 1889 Bentonville, Arkansas (hometown of the late Sam Walton of Walmart fame) was a well established small town. There was a candy store, a bank, a tobacco shop, a bakery, and grist and saw mills.

These children were sent to school but the school year only lasted three or four months my grandmother has told me. They had great literature to read, Dickens, Twain, Shakespeare and Swift. The city of Bentonville invested in a library early on.

Most of life revolved around the family, the church and the farm. Fruit farms were plentiful in Northwest, Arkansas. It was once called the “The apple orchard of America.” My great uncle Eddie recalled going to his grandparents’ apple cider farm and company and being given an apple by his grandfather.

Although Northwest Arkansas was and still is the strongest region in Arkansas for Republican politics it would be mere speculation to surmise that the offspring of the Ford family were indeed Republicans. Considering my great great grandfather, Thomas Weir Ford’s pride in going to Confederate Reunions it is doubtful that he would have voted the “Yankee way.” The family was known to be conservative in their views however.


A happy family in Northwest Arkansas

The Americans who lived during the turn of the century did not have the advantages that their modern day counterparts do. The great advances in medicine comes to mind. Many children today have never heard of polio or diptheria but it was an ever present worry during the turn of the century.

We book a flight and fly across the globe at a moments notice. We have so much wealth that we outsource tedious and menial jobs. Our great grandparents weren’t able to use a cellphone to call for help if their buggy lost a wheel or their model T Ford ran out of gas. Life may have been simpler one hundred years ago but much more physical labor was required from both males and females.

The sweet babies in the top photo lived in a different America; there were less opportunities perhaps, but there was also much more gumption.

Some Americans in this generation grew up and stayed on the family farm, some left it to go to WWl, others simply raised up a new faithful generation which defended our country in WW ll.

One mighty generation beget another. The Greatest Generation didn’t grow on a tree of course. Little children like the ones in the photo became the parents of the GIs who stormed the beaches at Normandy on D-Day.

Perhaps in my speculation I’ve gone too far in imagining what the individual babys in the photo may have grown up and accomplished in their lives. For me it’s hard to look at a baby’s face without getting maternal in my emotions. Maybe Grandpa Ford looked at them and prayed they would never have to face war or battles like Shiloh.

One thing we do know for sure is that these children were Americans on the brink of life and would pass through amazing and perilous times.

When I look at my own grandchildren’s faces I wonder what they will see in their own lifetimes. Will they will continue to grow up in freedom?

I pray they will.

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