Ma was born and raised in a little community in Lyon County, Kentucky and for most of her life only lived in two houses. She lived at home keeping house for her invalid mother and her father until she married and moved to Pa’s family home only a mile or two away. She was the next to the youngest of a big family whose mother was bedfast for many years. When all the other girls had married and left home, Ma was fourteen years old and left with the responsibility of running a big household of several brothers, her father and mother. She had a carefree childhood up till then and she often told me how hard it was to start cooking, cleaning, sewing, washing and ironing and caring for her mother at such a young age but it seems that she was devoted to her parents and did all that cheerfully.
Ma had only a third grade education due to some circumstances which couldn’t be avoided but educated herself as long as she lived. She was an avid reader of newspapers and magazines and read three newspapers up until her death at eighty-eight. Pa loved to read novels, especially Westerns but she liked nonfiction best. Pa subscribed to the Louisville Courier Journal and several magazines all their lives, no matter the financial situation. She kept up with current events and loved television when it finally was available to her. Her hands were always busy either with chores, canning, etc. or when she could rest, she sewed beautifully, quilted, embroidered etc. One of her special interests was the royal family of England and she was very knowledgeable about them. That’s still a mystery to me.
Ma had little opportunity to go to town, etc. but every summer, she took the youngest of her three children and got on a train at Eddyville to go spend two weeks with her favorite brother, a doctor in Louisville. That was her greatest pleasure of all the year and so she went, come hell or high water.
Ma was a beautiful old woman with lovely skin and no wrinkles ever and her pictures as a young woman were stunning. She never let her face or arms get tanned even when she was working outside. She wore a big straw hat and long sleeves and always stockings. She hated to see her granddaughters get sun tans but said little about it. Though she and Pa had a small creek bottom farm and he had only one share cropper family, she never worked in the fields and did little gardening except for her “kitchen garden” and even then, Pa did most of that. She loved to pick berries and plums but had to be so careful because of the snakes on their farm.
I never heard her raise her voice or use a slang word and never, never did she say a cuss word, not even a “darn”. Her only exclamation would be “Oh, mercy!”. She rarely corrected her few grandchildren and when she did, it would be gently and still it hurt because we all adored her. My grandfather was a gentle man, very kind to her and all of us and dearly loved his family. He had to work very hard but never complained. He was a hunter and fisherman and Sunday was his day to fish. He always said that he worshipped better on the banks of the Cumberland than anywhere else. That excuse worked for him. He had a quick temper but it was never directed at his loved ones, only at some injustice or maybe the Democrats and Roosevelt. He loved dogs and always had a little “fiest” that followed him at home. He was a very tall, straight man with beautiful white hair and very handsome. I loved to sit on his lap at night on the big front porch while he told me stories.
They lived in a time when rabid dogs and venomous snakes were a constant and real danger. When they were young and had small children, Ma would be alone while Pa was away in the fields and she had to be constantly aware that the total welfare of the children depended on her since there were no near neighbors and no phone. She could curdle my blood by telling me of a mad dog coming up the path to the house or a rattlesnake on the steps. They had a huge bell that stood by the back door and anytime she really had a problem she couldn’t handle, she rang the big bell and Pa could hear it for miles and would come running.
Ma was very talented in many ways. When my mother was in college at Bowling Green (a teacher’s college then), she would mail Ma fabric for a dress and a picture of how she wanted it made and Ma could sew it to fit exactly since she had a muslin bodice that fit Mama and knew the rest of her measurements. They joked about the “flapper” dresses that Ma made from those pictures. Ma could see a quilt pattern, go home and cut a pattern exactly and sew that quilt block to perfection. She pieced quilts until a year or so before she died.
This gentle woman was such a pleasure to all who knew her. She had a great sense of humor and smiled or laughed her little chuckle often. She was a very loving person, always ready to dry your tears or comfort someone. She and Pa never spoke an unkind word to each other and what a legacy for all of us. Ma had little of the material things that seem so important to most of us but she had a new Sunday dress, a new Sunday hat and new Sunday shoes each year from Sears Roebuck. What more could a person want?
(Please call me at 270-522-3632 or write Ronella Stagner, 137 Main St., Caidz, KY 42211.)