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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Further Adventures of Mirinda Piper

Mirinda Piper (later Andrews) was the eldest living child of the traveling Baptist preacher Beverly Bradley Piper and his first wife, Delia Deborah Norton. At the beginning of 1853 the family were living in Farmersville, Indiana, a tiny town in the southwest corner of the state, close to the junction of the Wabash and Ohio Rivers. Mirinda turned 13 in July of that year.

1853
We had now been living three years in one place, longer than I had ever lived in the same place before. Father was getting restless. The Baptists where he and Mother visited in the spring before in southern Ohio were urging him to come and preach for them. You will take notice that as they paid no fixed salary a preacher was not at all bound to any one church. If he wanted to move he just packed up and went. There was sometimes a little grumbling. Father always seemed to be in good demand among his members, and I have been told by some of them that he ranked as a first class preacher among them. Mother was always ready to go when Father was, and we children liked the novelty and change, though I disliked leaving some of my friends. Father sold the farm and we concluded to move to Hamilton, Ohio.

Steamship at Mt. Vernon, Indiana
Where we had been living, we were very near the Ohio River. Mount Vernon is situated on its banks, and we started from there on a steamboat. We went as far as Louisville and stopped at an old friend of Father’s who had often urged him to visit him with his family. We stayed there one day and one night. I don’t know how the rest of the family enjoyed themselves, but I wasn’t very happy there, although the family treated us very kindly. The man was a wealthy provision dealer named A. L. Shotwell[i]. Their house was far grander than anything I had ever seen. They had ten Negro house servants (slaves). The children had beautiful clothes, and altogether I felt very shabby and out of my element and was very glad when we started for the wharf to get on a steamboat bound for Cincinnati. The young lady of the family presented me with ten paper covered novels, but Mother burnt them before I had time to read but one or two.

This is the route up the Ohio River from Mt. Vernon
to Hamilton, Ohio, just north of Cincinnati. It would
have been over 300 miles to go this way.
Again we were on the river, and how grand the ladies’ cabin was—but I enjoyed everything on the boat, because the feeling was very different from being in a private house that I had no share in—in a certain way I had a share in the boat, it belonged to me quite as much as it did to the other passengers. We arrived in Cincinnati and did not stay there any length of time but went immediately to the cars. It was the first time any of us children had seen a railroad train. My brother Asa was very much surprised that the cars did not travel faster. “Why,” he said, “I thought they almost flew.”

We went to a station beyond Hamilton where Mother and we children were to stay with a Baptist family while Father went preaching for two weeks. We found a very pleasant old couple with two old maid daughters to receive us. They lived on a farm in a large stone house, and had an abundance of everything in the way of good things to eat. Lots of stock, two fine carriages, etc. While we were there sister Annie had scarlet fever, but Mother cured her with water as she always did any of us when we were sick.

When our visit was out there, another farmer’s family invited us to stay with them while Father made arrangements for us to go to housekeeping. At this place, Mr. Potter’s, we children had a grand time. There were two girls near my age, Ann and Belle, and we spent most of the time roaming over the farm or in the woods, or playing in the large barn. School commenced before we left and I went with the girls a few days. There were two young gentlemen in the family, one of them was very deaf. The house was a large red brick structure. They also owned two carriages so we could all go to church at once if we wished.

Finally we went to housekeeping in Hamilton, Butler County, Ohio. The town was built on two sides of a river like Rockford. One side was called Rossville, we lived in Rossville. A few years later that name was given up and it was all called Hamilton. A large covered bridge spanned the river and I had to cross it every day to school. There was a Young Ladies’ Academy on the other side which I attended. I liked the teacher, he was a white-haired old man, and very kind if we tried to learn, and very sarcastic if we did not. We lived in a very comfortable cottage with a hall and three rooms below and two rooms above.

Two blocks away lived a family named Longfellow. I visited there quite often, and liked Jane Longfellow very much, though she was several years older than I. She had a brother Jim that I did not see much of. I met him years afterward in Illinois, after we were both married. I took lessons in crayon drawing that summer to please Mother, but it did not amount to anything.

Mother’s health gave way and she went to a water cure establishment near Cincinnati. She was there only two weeks when the building took fire and burnt down. Then she came home not much benefited. None of us were satisfied; we did not like the place and did not care for the people who were strangers to us. I think Father was a homesick as the rest, but he did not say so. We settled in March, and by September were wild to go back to Indiana or Illinois, we did not care which. So we packed up and started.

We went to Cincinnati on the cars and took a steam boat for Mount Vernon. The boat stayed three days at the wharf after we went on, loading for New Orleans, it was tiresome, but we were all so glad to get started for our old stamping ground that we did not complain. At last we arrived in Mount Vernon, and went to Mr. Barter’s where we were cordially received. We had left a large black dog there when we left in the spring, and he was so delighted to see us, he nearly went wild.

Father owned a small piece of land adjoining Grandpa’s with a house on it, we decided to go there for a year. We hired a hack to take us to Cynthiana (Indiana) where an Association was to be held and spent the week there. Oh how happy I was, there were many of our friends there, young and old. It seemed so good to be among people we knew and not strangers, as we were in Ohio. After the Association was over, two of the Baptist brethren took us in to Grandpa’s, and we went to housekeeping in our new home.

From jhir.library.jhu.edu
What a lonesome looking place it was, and the house was the tiniest little two roomed affair ever lived in. But in my life I never spent as happy hours as there. There was no other house in sight. There was no cleared land on the place except a little garden spot. A little cowshed and corn crib were all the out buildings there were, no cellar, no modern improvements. The well stood in the front yard and looked like the well in the picture of the “Old Oaken Bucket.” There was a grass grown road in front of the house which nobody travelled. If it led anywhere I never heard of it. Whenever anyone came to our house they went back the same way they came, which was the road that passed by Grandpa’s, leading to Russellville, three miles away on the Wabash River. In front and on two sides of the house was a dense wood of oak, hickory, and a few persimmon trees, wild grape vines abounded. Our only view was from one end of the house which looked over part of Grandpa’s farm.

His house was out of sight quarter mile away. Quarter of a mile farther on lived Uncle William Norton, and still farther on across the creek lived two old great aunts of mine, in houses quite near each other. One was a widow (Sarah Norton Tobey) and her children were all married, the other (Lydia Norton Grimes) was living with her third husband, she had no children of her own, but had an adopted daughter and a step daughter, whom I was quite intimate with. Uncle William had married when quite young a lady he almost adored, but she only lived a year, she and her baby boy dying at the same time, and leaving her husband nearly paralyzed with grief. He lived a widower ten years, then married a young widow with one little girl.

Soon after we got settled Father cut a bad gash in his foot which kept him in the house for several weeks. During the winter we children went to school to a young married man, named Highsmith. He taught the three R’s, reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic, and spelling. He asked me to study grammar, as I had studied it for three years he thought I could teach him, so I did. On Friday afternoons we would spell each other down. I enjoyed the term very much.

1854.
This summer Father took a long trip east. He visited Washington, spent some time in Virginia and New York states. In all he was gone three months. Mother and we four children stayed alone. Mother was courageous, and we never thought of being afraid. We spent much of the time in the deep woods which nearly surrounded the house. The little children went to school about a mile from home. We kept no stock except one cow, and some chickens, and we had such a tiny house our work was light. There was a terrible drought that summer all through southern Illinois, scarcely any rain fell for three months. If we had tried to raise anything we would have failed. Father said it was a good thing he took his trip that summer.

After he returned he visited some churches in Odes County, Illinois, and they urged him very strongly to come and preach for them. We had been living in Crawford County a year, and he was anxious to move, so we went to my Uncle Nathaniel Parker’s in Charleston, Coles County, where we made a short visit, and then went to housekeeping in town. Here was another complete change from the deep woods to a flourishing town. We rented a cottage, found some very pleasant neighbors, and were very well contented, at least we children were. The church Father was pastor of was just across the street from our house, so it was handy to say the least.

Father had a cousin who lived in town; he was a prominent lawyer and had been a member of Congress from that District for two or three terms. His wife was Senator Colquitt’s daughter [Elizabeth H. Colquitt, 1836-1895], and sister to Alfred Colquitt who several years later was Governor of Georgia. Cousin’s name was O. B. [Orlando Bell] Ficklin. He had three little boys [Augustus, Walter, and Alfred], and he and Father asked me to teach the two families of children that winter, and I did. Our school was held in a small room in Mr. Ficklin’s house. His boys and my two brothers and little sister comprised the school. They learned fast and gave me little trouble. In the spring Father and Cousin presented me with a silk dress for my services, which I was very proud of. Mrs. Ficklin was a great reader, and always bought the new novels as soon as they came out; she insisted on loaning her books to me, and I lived in a seventh heaven amongst the books. I suppose I read more than I ought, but life was worth living then. Although I was young, I attended several parties during the winter. Mrs. Ficklin gave one and invited me. She was always very kind to me.

My Uncle Parker lived nearly a mile from town in a large red brick house. I liked to go out there, as there were several children, and we had grand times. The children were not my cousins, as Aunt Mirinda, my Mother’s sister, was Mr. Parkers second wife, and stepmother to the children [Lucy Mirinda Norton Dillworth had married Nathaniel Parker on May 20, 1852]. They had a large orchard of very fine apples and Uncle Parker gave Father all we could use. The two eldest boys were grown up and rather wild, and I did not like them very well, but there was always good times there. Jane Parker was about my age, we liked each other, but she had the advantage of me, as her father was wealthy and mine was poor. She had many more and richer dresses than I, and was the happy possessor of a diamond ring which I admired exceedingly.

There was a family named Jones who lived six miles from town, members of Father’s church, where I loved to go dearly. Mrs. Jones would have me come out and stay a week as often as Mother would spare me. While we lived at that place there was a man hung by a mob near our house. We lived on a hill and at the bottom of the hill he was hung on an oak tree. He had killed his father-in-law and was tried and found guilty, and sentenced to be hung, but got a few weeks reprieve from the Governor, which so exasperated the people that they took him out of jail and hung him. We were all very much horrified about it, and could hardly sleep a wink that night. There was much excitement in town and scarcely anything else talked about for several days.

During the summer and fall we had visitors from Crawford County; Mother’s two aunts came, and Grandfather spent some time with us and Aunt Mirinda. Also, Father’s brother’s widow, Mrs. Ann Piper from South Bend, Indiana, spent a few days with us. I never saw her but that one time, her husband had been dead some years, his name was Edward Piper.

1855.
Two-horse carriage
I don’t remember anything of importance that happened the first few months of this year. We had a great deal of company and went a great deal. When Father attended his two-day meetings in the country we often went with him, all six of us in the two-horse carriage, and we would spend Saturday night with some good Baptist family and come home Sunday evening.

The summer and fall of this year was very sickly indeed. In August cholera broke out in town, and in a panic Father loaded us all into the carriage, sent a driver with us and started us to Grandfather’s 80 miles away. We stayed there several weeks, and when the cholera scare was over, he sent for us. When we returned home there was sickness in nearly every family in town—chills and fever, or some kind of fever. Our family all fell sick and I came near dying. Father thought I was dying one night, and I have often thought how easy it would have been for me to go then, and I hope when my time comes I will be as reconciled to death as I was that night. But we all recovered when frost came. Uncle Parker’s family was sick and he died. His daughter and son-in-law came back from Texas, and Aunt Mirinda, not caring to live with her stepchildren, came and spent the winter with us. She was sick most of the winter.

Towards spring we had a visitor from Virginia, a gentleman who wanted to buy Father’s little farm near Grandpa’s. He had never seen the land, so Father took him in the carriage, and Aunt Mirinda and I went along to visit Grandpa. Fancy starting for an 80-mile drive in the dead of winter! But we were well wrapped and enjoyed the trip very, very much. We were two days on the road, stayed two days at Grandpa’s, and were two days coming home, and were back home inside of a week. The last day before we reached home was very cold, and it was not so funny. Uncle Louis Norton had moved to the town of Robinson and Uncle William’s family was keeping house for Grandpa. I went to two or three parties that winter and had a good time as I usually had.




[i] Col. Alfred Lawrence Shotwell was born in Kentucky in 1809. He married Gabriella Breckenridge and had the following children: Stephen (1830), William (1835), unnamed daughter (1838) who married Robert Cannon, Alfred Annie (1843). Annie is the woman whose husband disappeared; there is an article about it that appeared in the Rogersville Herald (transcribed below). The next younger child was Frances T (1849) who died at age 19: “On the day preceding her death, she had been out to invite some lady friends to a social party to be given next day at her father’s house, and having walked much in the city that evening, on going to bed she inhaled chloroform to quiet her nerves, and was found dead in bed the next morning.” A.L. Shotwell’s youngest was John T (1853), who seems to have had a normal life (unusual in this family).
“GABE TATE’S ROMANCE: Married, Divorced, Given Up for Dead, and Again Married to the Same Woman. (From the St. Louis Globe-Democrat.)
“The death of Gabe Tate at Henderson, Ky., brings to mind the romantic career of his life. Tate was born and raised in this country. His father was one of the prosperous planters of ante bellum days. The large tract of land he owned was in Walnut Bottom, in the most productive part of this section. He had a large number of slaves and, better still, a large bank account. Gabe had grown in an atmosphere of luxury until luxuries were common. He had been accustomed to having his own way and to have every want supplied. When his father died the estate was divided between him and his sister, Mrs. Dr. J. A. Harding, who had gone to the home of her husband in Jefferson county, now a part of Louisville, Ky. There he met Miss Annie Shotwell, the daughter of Col. A.L. Shotwell, a man who was rich in a dozen different ways. His steam interest was only second to his landed estate, and his commission merchants business but barely outstripping his mining rights. The vast coal fields of Union county, now owned by Brown & Jones, the Pittsburgh coal kings, were his individually. At that time, in 1862, there were only two coal mines operated on the Ohio River below Pittsburgh, Pa., the one at Cannelton, Ind., and the Shotwell mines in Union county. So exhaustless is the supply of coal and so superior the quality that a railroad has just been completed to the mines from this city. Fabulous fortunes have been made from the fleets of coal sent South from these mines. It is seen by this what Oriental grandeur was in the reach of Gabe Tate and Miss Shotwell, with their fortunes, when united in marriage at the residence of Col. Shotwell, in Louisville. After marriage Mr. and Mrs. Tate went to the Shotwell mines, and all went well. Two or more children blessed their union. [One day] Mr. Tate left his home, and to this day the public do not know the cause. Surmises were plentiful, but no knowledge of the cause was ever had. It was known that his estate was gone, but that was of small importance for his wife was rich.
               “Some time after Mr. Tate left home Mrs. Tate procured a divorce, and shortly afterwards married Sam Churchill, a prosperous planter, who had lived near the mines, and with whom she was acquainted during her married life at the mines. In the meantime Andrew Tate, an old bachelor uncle, had died and left his vast estate to Gabe and his sister. Hugh Tate, another bachelor uncle, soon died, and added his fortune to that of his brother Andrew for the benefit of his nephew and niece. Not long after that Miss Nancy Tate died, and left her increased fortune from her own right and undivided interests in the estates of her two brothers, Andrew and Hugh, to Gabe Tate and his sister. These changes covered a period of nearly ten years. Notwithstanding the fact that considerable advertising had been done, nothing could be heard of Gabe Tate, and he was suspected to be dead. At last he was heard from at Cairo, Ill., and found. Arriving home, he found himself a rich man again. He wrote to his wife to send the children to him at Evansville, Ind., as he wanted to see them. She met him there with the children. Shortly afterwards a divorce was procured from Sam Churchill, the second husband, and speedily following that divorce was the marriage of Gabe Tate to the same woman who had procured a divorce from him years before.”


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More posts about Mirinda Piper:

One-Room Schools, a Romance, an Earthquake

Mirinda and Slavery

The Further Adventures of Mirinda Piper (part 1)

Mirinda Piper's Adventures as a Young Lady of the 1850s

Memoirs of Mirinda Piper Andrews: Married Life 1858 - 1872

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Grammy and the Hand-Painted Quilts

Grammy Read (Lillie Belle Munroe Read, 1892–1992), like most of the women of her generation, did a lot of handiwork, crafting, sewing, knitting and crocheting, painting, and creating all kinds of things of beauty for her home.

There is no telling how many quilts she produced in her 99½ years of activity. (I suppose we should subtract the first five years, but I’m sure she probably started young! And of course she loved to knit and crochet, and she made many of those kinds of things over the years.) She loved quilt-making. It was something she was able to continue to do after she lost most of her eyesight in her 90s.

She gave me this baby quilt after my son was born and when it looked like he would actually live (he was very premature). She told my mother to tell me that the baby would be all right after all and that I was not to worry. I believed her and worried anyway, because that’s what I do in spite of everything. Anyway, it’s a treasured memento of my Grammy, with the Beatrix Potter figures on the front and the kittens on the back. Grammy knew that when I had studied in England one summer I had gone to the Lake District home of Beatrix Potter. Later on I studied Miss Potter’s life and works—the little books, the paintings, the incredible depth of scientific knowledge amassed by this home-trained girl and woman; her passion for the traditional farms, furniture, sheep, and stonework of the Lake District; and her far-seeing actions in bequeathing over 4,000 acres of pristine farms to the National Trust to keep them in perpetuity. I bought all the Beatrix Potter books with her original illustrations and read them to my son many times.

Grammy, Linda, and Barb
Grammy loved flowers of all kinds, and she began hand-painting flowers for quilt tops in the 1980s, I think. She may have started earlier, but I think it was not too much earlier. Somebody might know more exactly.

Her three youngest granddaughters were grown up and she began to worry just a little bit about when they would decide to get married. They seemed to be taking a long time about it. She told us, “The first one of you three that gets married gets a hand-painted flower quilt.” The contest was on, and Linda won pretty soon.

As a consolation prize, I got a single-sized hand-painted flower quilt. This one really shows off Grammy’s lovely handiwork. The flower colors are rich and varied; the surrounding border sets off the colors as if they are in a garden, and Grammy’s favorite yellow ties are like little sunspots dotting the garden ground. It is most fun to spot the duplicate flowers and then to examine them to see the differences she made in color and design.

At long last I decided to marry. (I wasn’t averse to the idea of marriage—but I had to find the right person!) Grammy got busy and made another hand-painted flower quilt for us. My mom said that she was having a harder time seeing to do the paintings, and one of my aunts usually sewed the pieces together for the tops. When Grammy tied the quilts, the ties no longer stayed in straight rows, but who was looking for that? Hers were beautiful quilts.

When my sister got married a few years later, Grammy made her last hand-painted flower quilt. My mother says that Grammy tried to do the sewing herself, and then because she had lost her central vision and had only peripheral vision left, the pieces weren’t quite together in all places. Grammy just tied them together when she tied the quilt. That would fix those stubborn seams and hold the danged thing together.

 But because Grammy was above all things Scotch in her frugality, she watered down the paint to make it go further, and we think that is why my sister’s and my big quilts have faded almost to white. My mother says her quilt has faded away too, and she had rarely used it before putting it away. I am glad to have the one with the bright colors that shows what Grammy meant to do all along.

Do any of you have one of Grammy’s quilts? What does yours look like?

Morning Glory



Petunia


Daffodil

Rose
Tulip


Nasturtium
Hydrangea

Pansy

Daffodils
Thingummy--Grammy would have known
the name of this--she knew all the names
of all flowers--but I don't!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Read Reunions

The Read family has a long history of reunions. My grandpa, Lloyd Read (1890–1989) told me the Reads and Porters had started holding family reunions before 1900. He said they were more like work parties or harvest parties at first. Here’s a picture taken at one of these in Aumsville, Oregon, around 1890.

One hundred years ago, in 1914, the Reads gathered their large family in Aumsville to celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary of Clifton Kittridge Read and Elizabeth Nancy Porter Read. They had all their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren there, along with a number of the Porters. Here is a photograph of the Reads. I wish I had access to the original, because when this copy was made in the 1980s, it was using done a camera and traditional film and only when the film was developed the poor quality became apparent.

Here is who is in this picture:

Front row:  Winnona and Lola (daughters of John F. & Jessie Read); Ruth and Echo (daughters of Silas & Millie Read); Grandpa CK Read, Grandma EN Read holding Viola (daughter of Lloyd & Lillie Read); Alice, Clarice, and Earl (standing behind Clarice—children of Nettie Read & Everett Downing); Kenneth Porter (son of Jessie Read & Roy Porter).
Women’s row: Millie Rodgers Read holding son Mark; May Robertson Read; Sarah Isabelle Read; Jessie Read Porter; Jessie West Read; Lillie Munroe Read; Leatha Williams (daughter of Virgil & May Read); Mabel Foland; Eva Read Foland; Ethel Read MacCulloch holding daughter Flora; Nettie Read Downing.
Men’s row: George Sidney Read; Virgil Henry Read; Allan Foland; Lloyd and Ross (sons of Virgil & May Read); John Read holding daughter Grace; Guy (mostly hidden—son of Virgil & May); Roy Porter holding son Harold; Silas Read; Everett Downing (half cut off).

The Read-Porter annual picnic continued for a number of years, but during the Great Depression it discontinued as families spread out and children grew up and moved away. I got the bright idea with a cousin, Daraleen Wade (a granddaughter of Alice Read who is sitting next to Grandma Read in the photo above), that we should revive the Read-Porter picnic, so we did it for three more years in the 1970s. We had a good time, but there wasn’t sufficient interest to continue it. (Those of you who know, name us all!)


The interest in our family was in celebrating Grammy and Grandpa’s wedding anniversaries. They had a big, formal reunion in 1960 for their 50th anniversary. Here is their family at that time:

Front row: Clarence, Grandpa, Grammy, Carl.
Back row: Retta, Barbara, Viola, Alice, Charlotte, Marj, Herb.

Ten years later my parents took me, my sister, and my closest older brother out of school to go to Oregon that October weekend. I remember the great-aunts coming up to me and saying, “How you’ve grown!” until I wanted to shout, “Did you expect me to shrink?” I was not one of your more understanding, patient children. I went somewhere to sulk. 

But here is a picture of Grammy and Grandpa with their fancy cake.


The next summer in July there was another reunion. I think it was to celebrate Uncle Ross and Aunt LaVerne’s 50th wedding anniversary. Here’re the pictures from it. I always laugh at the one that was intended to reproduce the 1960 portrait, because there’s Uncle Carl yelling at his granddaughter to get out of the picture, and everybody else looks happy, and somehow the back row got mixed up compared to where they stood in 1960: here we have Barb, Alice, Charlotte, Retta, Vi, Marj, and Herb.

The one with the spouses in it make me laugh too, because there’s Auntie Retta making wisecracks to Barb on the end—love that! Left to right: Clarence and Myra; Fred and Marj; Claude and Alice; Charlotte; Dorothy and Carl; Thelma and Herb; Vi and John; George and Retta; Barb. I don’t know why Arnold Hattan is missing, but Walt McGinnis would not have appeared in any photograph for love or money! I’m going to make a style critique here and pronounce Auntie Retta’s dress the best one there—does she look great or what?—color, cut, and fit are all perfect on her. Ok, a close second-place three-way tie go to Auntie Myra and Grammy for their suits, and Barb for her gorgeous A-line—classy! Special mention to my mom for being the hands-down prettiest there (I am not biased).

The 1980 reunion photo for Grammy and Grandpa’s 70th anniversary is a paste-up job, pre-Photoshop era. This time it was Auntie Retta who wasn’t going to have her photograph taken for love or money. As soon as I found that out, I felt that the gauntlet had been thrown down—I took the challenge to get a photograph of her anyhow. Under the guise of taking pictures of anybody and everybody else, I stalked her and got her. Ha!

She wouldn’t be in this picture of “Grammy’s Girls”—here are Alice, Vi, Grammy, Marj, and Charlotte. Isn’t this a wonderful photograph?

And here is the cake.


When you reach 70 years of marriage, your relatives will gather to celebrate rather more often than every ten years. 

So here is the 1985 reunion, when Grammy and Grandpa had been married 75 years. I wish I had been able to get a better photograph, but there were more professional photographers who got the center position. In any case, it made me laugh at the time because there was no getting them all to pay attention and look anything like unified! Left to right in back of Grammy and Grandpa are Barb, Retta, Charlotte, Clarence, Alice, Carl, Marj, Vi, and Herb.

Grandpa was tired of having pictures taken, so I almost didn’t get them with their cake. One of the uncles arranged to have a television station send a cameraman, and so they were on television news that evening. I never got to see it! I wonder where that videotape went?

[Later note: Barb got hold of it and sent a dvd copy to me, and I know many others got one too.]

Someone suggested that we gather and celebrate every six months from that time, but that suggestion went no where.

This picture is my very favorite of all the pictures I have seen of Grammy and Grandpa. And I took it! It was at Christmas 1981, and when I asked if I could do a picture of them, Grandpa suggested they use a pose like the one a newspaper cameraman had done the year before. But our photograph turned out much better—maybe not technically, but in warmth.


I can hardly wait to see my Read relatives at our upcoming reunion!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Grammy Read and the Houseplants


My son is rereading The Chronicles of Narnia and that inspired me to get ready for our upcoming family reunion by writing some Chronicles of Grammy.

Grammy is Lillie Belle Munroe Read, born in September 1892 and died in March 1992, at the age of 99 years and six months.

I’m sure my cousins could write a ton more about her than I know. First of all, I’m one of the youngest of the 36 grandchildren, and second, I grew up one state away from Grammy while lots of my cousins were much closer geographically. But Grammy had a way of pulling you close no matter what your circumstances were.

One thing about her that delights my son is my account of Grammy and Houseplants.

After I graduated from high school, my parents moved away to a piece of property about six miles from Grammy and Grandpa. They built a house on it (with Grandpa’s help) and settled in. I visited when I had breaks from college and enjoyed going over to Grammy and Grandpa’s a lot.

My mother had a bunch of houseplants, but she always complained that she could never get them to grow as well as Grammy did. She’d take her houseplants over to Grammy’s house and let Grammy have them for a few weeks. They’d come home looking incredible, and if they were supposed to blossom, they’d have blossoms all over.

Grammy’s Christmas cactus always bloomed exactly at Christmas. She also had an Easter cactus and a Thanksgiving cactus, and they always bloomed exactly on the right holiday—even those moving holidays. My mother said Grammy’s secret was to use cheerful threats.

“Bloom, or I’ll throw you out!” she’d say to her plants. And they obeyed.

My plants don’t obey me. Grammy gave me a Christmas cactus that bloomed the first Christmas I had it. Then it went dormant and didn’t bloom for six years. It bloomed once more and then died.

I have adopted my sister-in-law’s plan: take care of them until they look pretty bad and then buy new ones. I combine that with the cheerful threat: “Recover, or I’ll replace you!” and they ignore me and die anyway.

Here are a few of my houseplants in various stages of looking great and looking like they need to be threatened . . .


Now that I look at them, they don't look too bad right now. Do you think they might be paying attention to my Grammy’s methods?

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mother's Day—Experiences

On this Mother’s Day I think as I always do that this is a day for people to think about their own mothers, and leave everybody else’s mother alone. I used to hate to go to church today when I expected to hear sermons about how fantastic all us mothers are. I hate to hear people who don’t really know what kind of mother I am heaping praise upon me. In my mind, the only persons qualified to say anything I need to hear on the subject are my son and my stepdaughter, and my husband can offer his two cents, but he’s pretty biased which of course is all right.

My own experience of mothering began when I married my husband and acquired a young teenager, rebellious, uncertain, vulnerable, beautiful, loveable, and injured at heart. I had known her since she was about six years old, visiting her aunt, one of my dear friends. Her parents were divorced and she was in need of entertainment. My friend invited me over to help her entertain her niece. I drew pictures and told her stories. Thereafter, when she was visiting my friend, she would call me up and say, “I’m here. Do you want to come over and play with me?” I did—her call hit me in the heart, and from that time to this, she has grown more and more firmly entrenched in my soul.

When I got engaged to her dad, she was happy and excited, saying I was going to be an awesome stepmother—I don’t really know what sort of ideal she expected, but I was not it after all. The reality was that I moved from the role of older friend to a quasi-authority figure, and she had nothing but trouble with all authority figures at that time of her life. We battled through the next five years until she left home, but somehow I was able to see beyond her actions into the future, always knowing that someday she would feel the truth of what I always told her, that I loved her even when I was mad at her, even when she mistreated me.

After she found her birth mother and other relatives, she began to put the puzzle pieces together; she came to me soon after that and asked how I had put up with her—she was really asking why I had not rejected her—and I told her about love. When it is unconditional, it lasts through everything, and I had always had faith that she would come out of that angry phase and see more clearly who I am and what I am doing in her life.

We are very different personalities—she likes to shop and hates to read while I like to read and hate to shop. But we have some great talks from time to time, and we always enjoy a day in the mountains together with our shared close relatives every year when she comes. She knows which of the latest movies I will like and gets them on DVD for me because she knows I don’t like going to movie theaters.  She likes playing with her daughter and me. There have been many games of hide-and-seek in the past two years of visits. She always finds things to do to help me—yard work or house work or filling the car with gas and washing it, or something to do with my latest project. She cuts everybody’s hair—she is a cosmetologist—and spent time teaching me how to do a good job cutting hair when she is not in town. She attends church with us when she visits because she knows we will appreciate her effort to please us. That’s it—she loves to please us, even when it is at cost to herself. I love her for her sacrifices, but I mainly love her for herself.

My second experience with motherhood came when my son was born. I did not think he would live long—in fact, I expected him to die every day for the first three very scary months when he was in the hospital. I was grateful for every extra moment that he hung onto life. Then we were able to take him home, and my life was absorbed in all the minutiae of caring for a baby with a tenuous hold on life, juggling my more-than-fulltime job, my doctoral dissertation, and my stepdaughter who had just gotten her driver’s license. I did not have time to do more than survive those days.

Yet my son was endlessly fascinating to me. I loved watching him by the hour, marveling at how he grew, how he developed, how he adapted to physical therapy, how he fought against doing things that hurt but that were good for him anyway and that I had to try for years to help him to accept. I love it all, even the painful parts. I have taken the approach with him that it is my job to help him turn weaknesses into strengths if possible, to figure out how to help him achieve everything he wants badly enough to work miracles to achieve.

My son is a loving soul, like his sister, but he is also a calm soul, unlike his sister. He can sit and dream away almost an entire day, and then another day he can work at algebra for ten hours straight. He may not enjoy algebra but has learned that it helps develop his brain in ways that will help the skills he wants to acquire. He is not interested in most of the material world, but the beauties of nature capture his imagination. He loves flowers, butterflies, clouds, and the inhabitants of tide pools. He is spiritually restful to spend time with. I have figured it is my job to teach him to use his innate love of everybody and everything to bless the world around him.

I may not have achieved all that I wanted to do as a mother, but my main job was simply to love these two amazing people and to get out of their way so that they can love freely and widely back again, without strings, without conditions. Just love.

So on this Mother’s Day I am not taking my own advice and thinking only of my mother (though I do think of her and honor her); I am instead thinking of myself and of my children. What’s a mother to do about that?