Unless you’re color blind, you’re going to see red today.
Let’s just hope the red you see will be a heart-shaped box of chocolates or a lacy nightie or some beautiful red roses. Valentine’s Day is not the day to see red if you’re mad at your mate. Better kiss and make up. For it’s time once again for cupids, love birds, and hearts.
Nobody really knows how the most romantic day of the year got all mixed up with that most crucial body organ, but red hearts and St. Valentine go together like St. Patrick and the green shamrock. St. Valentine’s Day was originally the Roman feast of Lupercalia, but was Christianized in memory of the martyr, St. Valentine. In the Middle Ages, Valentine became associated with the union of lovers under conditions of duress; i.e., Romeo and Juliet.
The Roman Catholic Church dropped St. Valentine’s feast day in 1969, but by then it was a genuine holiday, showing up on calendars all over the world, so we continue to shower our loved ones with red gifts and even the most dyed-in-the-wool cynics become softhearted on February 14.
There’s that word again: heart. The encyclopedia tells us that it is a chambered organ that pumps blood through our bodies on the average of 72 times a minute, or a total of 35 million gallons over the span of a year. In that year, it will beat two and a half billion times. It is the most likely of all our body parts to kill us. More people die of some kind of heart disease than any of the other modern-day death threats.
Further research into the red hearts-Valentine’s Day relationship reveals that in addition to the before-mentioned softhearted, one can be considered warmhearted, which is pretty much the same thing. At the other end of the spectrum, there is a hard-hearted (or even worse) a heartless person. We can do things wholeheartedly, or with a light heart or a heavy heart. We can feel fainthearted, downhearted, or even have our hearts broken. A heart to heart talk is usually good for us, and to have the cockles of our hearts warmed feels wonderful. If we get too mushy and sentimental, someone is bound to call us a bleeding heart.
Richard the Lion Hearted was said to be a fearless warrior; Pope Valentine was a good man but held his high office only a few short months back in 827; and Dustin Hoffman’s Cherokee grandfather said “My heart soars like a hawk,” in the movie, Little Big Man. Lorenz Hart composed “My Funny Valentine;” Oscar Hammerstein II wrote, “The last time I saw Paris, her heart was young and gay;” William Wordsworth penned “My heart leaps up when I behold a rainbow in the sky;” and General Valentine Blacker said, “Put your trust in God, my boys, and keep your powder dry.”
Not exactly conclusive.
But maybe we don’t really need to delve into the question at all. We can just eat the bonbons out of the heart-shaped box, wear the naughty red underwear and the sparkling jewelry, and display the red roses where we can enjoy them most. Perhaps even a bit of poetry wouldn’t be amiss to celebrate such a special day. This is from “Love Songs of the New Kingdom,” written by an anonymous, obviously lovesick poet sometime around 1200 BC: “…and as I long for your love, my heart stands still inside me. Sweet pomegranate wine in my mouth is bitter as the gall of birds. But your embraces alone give life to my heart.”
After those elegant, romantic words
there’s just one thing left to say:
Happy Valentine’s Day
You may have heard me refer to my roommate, John, as “Last Husband,” and sometimes just “L.H.” The sobriquet has a double meaning: he was and is my last husband. Conversely, I was and (probably) am his last wife. We have been together and apart for the past 47 years. We kind of became accustomed to each other. Now, we live together, but we’re not living together, if you get my meaning. Just thought I’d clear that up.
John was born way up near the Canadian border in Watertown, New York. The first time I visited his Yankee homeland to meet his family, it was summertime. I was a new bride (for the third time). The homestead was a beautiful 100+ year-old house on about three acres on the Black River. His grandparents lived downstairs, and his parents lived upstairs. John’s mother was born there as was John, himself, some 26 years later. It was the only home either had ever known.
When John was 10 years old, his parents built a cottage on Lake Ontario, the most contrary body of water on the planet, as I was to find out in the distant future. I loved the old homestead on the river, but his parents took us to the cottage for the weekend. It was located on Pillar Point, a sliver of land jutting out into the lake. Lake Ontario beat on the point’s rocky shore, and the wind blew the water with such force, the spray constantly spat on the cottage windows, a good 100 feet from the water line.
It was bitterly cold, no matter what the season. Before long I called it “Polar Point,” a nickname not altogether appreciated by Last Husband’s mother, Marge. As I was also to find out in the future she did not altogether appreciate me either. The feeling was mutual, which is another story.
I was introduced to a bazillion family friends, all of whom told me about the deep, deep snow, and the ferocity of the winters. I was shown pictures of children walking dangerously close to power lines as they skipped atop snow piles. I saw photos of cars freshly dug out of six-foot snowdrifts. “We have to put the antenna up when we park the car so we can find it the next morning.”
Like so many programmed robots they all said it. To that, Marge invariably added, “You have to be tough to live up here. We’re Survivors!” Interestingly enough she seldom left the indoors, and then only to get into the car to be driven to and/or from the homestead and the cottage.
To further illustrate the locals’ endurance skills, they included their little forest friends in the endless recitation of anecdotal evidence. They pointed out a narrow barkless circle about four feet up the trunks of most trees. “That’s where the rabbits chew the bark off as they stand on top of the snow.” Snow was the beginning, the middle, and the ending of every story.
One tale I loved was about the spectacular snows of Tug Hill, the topographical anomaly near Watertown that causes the horrendous snow depths. In the old days, the postman drove a two-mule wagon to deliver mail in Tug Hill on an erratic schedule because of the snowstorms.
On the morning in question, there were a few flakes in the air, but the mailman thought he could finish his run before the storm started blowing in earnest. He alighted from the wagon to take the mail to a house located at the end of a lane. The homeowners were glad to see him and invited him in for coffee.
By the time he left, the stuff was falling thick and fast. When he reached the spot where he left the wagon, it and the mules were gone. Search as he might, he couldn’t find them. He decided to wait out the storm in the house. When the storm subsided or as they say Upstate when it “stopped storming,” he looked again for the team to no avail.
Finally, he went back to his own home, figuring the mules pulled the wagon away and someone would contact him soon and tell him where he could find them. No such call ever came. The wagon and the team were found during the spring thaw, just where the mailman had left them. The mules were frozen solid in the same position they were in the last time he saw them. Is that a terrifying snow story or what?
In the fullness of time, it came to be that John and I and my two daughters moved from sunny Southern California to the frigid snowbelt cinched around Upstate New York. I can’t remember now why we did such a thing, but I seldom know why we do anything.
After I spent my first winter there, I had no trouble believing the mule story or any other tale of snow-caused atrocities.
We moved up there in November. Our first house was in Oswego. By this time, there was usually at least one measurable snowfall. It hadn’t happened yet. We took the girls to school on the next Monday morning. All was going well. John went to work at the Niagara Mohawk Power Station. He had secured a good job as a nuclear reactor operator, one of the same positions he served in the U.S. Navy on a nuclear fast attack submarine.
I had been working ever since First Husband took off to build his love nest in another tree (fodder for another story some day). That had been six years earlier, and I felt very housewifely as I returned from taking the girls to the bus stop. As I went about my homey duties, humming a merry tune, I noticed the wind had picked up. Inside of ten minutes, the most horrendous snowstorm I ever saw was blowing ferociously. The snow was horizontal as it rushed past the front window. I peered out to see if some of the snow happened to land on the ground, and I couldn’t see it. I mean I couldn’t see the ground. Astounded, I looked up, and to my complete surprise I couldn’t see the house across the street. Nor could I see our own mailbox at the end of the short driveway.
What in the name of all that is holy was going on? Was it the end of the world? Could we next expect The Rapture? Fer Gawd!
I turned the radio on, and the announcer was telling us not to be concerned. “It’s just lake effect,” he said to reassure us.
Just lake effect? I don’t remember exactly what he said next, but he intimated it was not a real live snowstorm, because it was “just lake effect.”
In no time at all, the snow stopped. The sun didn’t come out, but at least the snow quit its horizontal zipping past the front window. I peered through the glass to see the ground. Much to my surprise, some of the snow had managed to drop out of its frantic sideways rush. To what did my wondering eyes appear but probably three of four inches on the ground. I was shocked.
Just as I breathed a sigh of relief, the race was on again. This time from the other direction. Whereas the snow had come from the left (I have no idea about norths and souths, etc. I have all I can do to recognize left and right) only a few minutes earlier it now ran pell mell in front of my window from the right. I was beginning to feel like Alice. You know Alice. She found herself in Wonderland before slipping through the looking glass.
To cut to the (snow) chase, the same phenomenon kept happening for the next two hours. Every time it stopped before changing directions, I ran to the window to check the depth of the snow. There was no doubt. It was growing by several inches after each outburst.
Now, I had real worries. The children were scheduled to be let off the school bus at the corner, a good 50 yards from the house. The last time I saw them, they were wearing sweaters and light jackets. The guy on the radio kept announcing, too gleefully I thought, a precipitous drop in the ambient temperature. I could only hope the snow was in the stop phase of its insane rush first from the right and then from the left at the time the school bus stopped.
I gathered up coats, scarves, hats and gloves and slogged through 18 inches of snow to the corner. Thank goodness, the storm, or lake effect or whatever it was called, had stopped. Just as I reached the bus stop, both the big yellow bus and the big white snow arrived at the corner. I was terrified. The children would be scared to death. I had to put a calm, ain’t-we-got-fun face on it.
Much to my surprise, they alighted from the bus laughing and talking nonstop about the wonderful snow. I gave them their winter duds and instructed them to put them on immediately. They couldn’t stop laughing. After I helped them get coated and hated, I realized we were in what I came to know as a “white-out.” I had not the slightest idea how to find the house. All I could see was white as the icy snow stung my face when I turned in a circle trying to find the house.
Fortunately, Mandy (the oldest at 12) was born with an unerring sense of direction.
“It’s this way, Mom,” she said. “Follow me.” We followed as the three of us pushed through the deepening snow, to our nice, warm house. The girls were still overjoyed to see all that snow. It was the most they had ever seen. That was to change. Both the depth of the show and their overjoyed reaction to it. But that came later.
When John came home from work, he explained the lake effect phenomenon to us. It was due to the proximity of Lake Ontario and the crazy wind coming on land in waves, first this direction, then another direction. He said a lot more about it, but as John’s explanations are wont to be, it was long and involved, and unless one was a true weather lover, it was profoundly boring.
We stayed in the Oswego house for a year before we built and moved to our cabin in the woods. It was a totally different experience, but the lake effect snowstorms were pretty much the same. We stayed there long enough for me to gain a proficient and accurate assessment of snowstorms. I could tell in a matter of seconds whether it was a “real” storm or merely lake effect.
The radio announcer always outdid himself explaining to us which snowstorm was pelting us. Sometimes he would say he had to run outside before he could tell us, and he would do so during the next commercial break. He always came back, breathing heavily and triumphant as he announced whether it was real or lake effect.
It ceased to matter to me after the first few storms. The end result was always the same. A foot of snow that piled on top of the foot of snow from the last storm that piled on top of the foot of snow from. . . . . you get the idea.
Suffice it to say by the time we moved out of the snowbelt, we wished never to see another snowdrop as long as we lived.
Sundays seemed a lot more special when I was a child. Now, more than not, it’s just another day.
A very long time ago, everyone was home on Sunday. The stores were all closed. Weeks before Christmas, the newspaper ads read, “50 (or so) shopping days before Christmas.”
In the south, dinner was served as soon it could be placed on the table after church. Almost everyone had a dining room, and it may have been unused for six days of the week, but in our house the table was set with the best dishes and the whole family was expected to be present when Pappy said the blessing.
My immediate family consisted of Mother, Daddy, and me. We lived in a large house in Nashville with Dooley, my maternal grandmother and Pappy, her second husband. Also in residence were my Aunt Mildred (for whom I am named) and her daughter, Dorothy Jeane. The two of them lived in the country with Aunt Mildred’s husband’s family. After he died of TB, Aunt Mildred and Jeane moved into Dooley’s house with us.
Part-time occupants included my step-aunt Abie, my paternal grandmother, and my step-great grandmother, Granny Karl, who was Pappy’s stony-faced mother. With all the comings and goings it was necessary to count heads before the Sunday dinner table was set.
After dinner, still dressed in our Sunday best, the extended family scattered. We either received company, or we went visiting. My very favorite place to visit was way out in the country in a settlement of sorts called Smith Springs. Never mind that the fields that were my playgrounds are now filled with suburban homes when Nashville grew so much and so fast it burst at the seams. I will always remember it as my second home in the country. It is evergreen in my memory.
Three of Mother’s cousins, all siblings, lived with their families on a large parcel of land. Mother’s cousin Hazel lived in the original homestead far off the road up a hill. Hazel’s sister, Louise, lived on one side of the property and her brother, Robert, on the other side. Their houses were located close to the road.
These four first cousins had their first babies within 10 months of each other. Hazel had Jimmy who was a week older that I. We were born in August of 1936. Mother and Hazel often joked that they ran into each other at the hospital. Hazel was leaving carrying the newborn Jimmy as Mother was hurrying in to have me. Three months older than the two of us was Marjorie, Cousin Louise and Otis Charlton’s daughter. Cousin Robert and his wife, Lola, had Ina Lou in March of 1937. She was double-named for her grandmother and for my grandmother.
(I am making an effort to not confuse you here, but I can understand if it’s clear as mud as we used to say back in the dark ages). Mother, Hazel, Louise, and Robert were all first cousins, their fathers being the Russell brothers. We firstborns, Marjorie, Jimmy, Ina Lou, and I (Mildred Ann) are second cousins.
So, it came to pass I had three country cousins, all very near my own age, Our mothers delighted in their children and in each other. We had our pictures taken constantly, I was mostly a disagreeable child, and there are no photos of me smiling just as there are none of Jimmy being still. Marjorie is shown very reserved and dignified. Ina Lou, being younger than the other three often made her distrust of her older cousins known by being heard. Believe it or not, these babyhood propensities, so often photographed, turned out to be indications of our grown-up personalities.
Four years later there was a regular population explosion when all four adult cousins plus one more who lived in town, had babies. In this second batch came our cousin Tim. He was actually Timothy Russell, III. The first Tim was the patriarch of all the country siblings, and my grandfather’s brother. The second Tim, or T.J. lived in the city with his wife, Tilly. She was from a very rich family, and was older than her husband by quite a few years. After the third Tim was born, she dedicated herself fully to him, and T.J. went along his merry way. He didn’t get to really know his son until years later.
Tilly loaded up and often brought Baby Tim to the country. In addition to the boy, she brought several changes of his clothes, extra blankets, his food, a jug of city water and a bottle of milk from a commercial dairy. In later years I often wondered what kind of germ or disease she thought may attack Tim. The rest of us were hale and hearty, and were turned loose to go and do whatever we pleased. Maybe the other grown-ups were offended by Tilly’s obvious distrust of the country environment, but I don’t think they took offense. I do think they got a laugh or two out of it. To this good day, Jimmy still teases Tim about the special treatment he received.
Certainly, off limits to Little Tim was a communal water pail just outside the kitchen door with a metal dipper handle hooked over the rim. We had the option of drinking from the dipper or filling glasses that were available nearby. I loved to drink from the dipper. It had a rolled top and tasted metallic, which somehow enhanced the coldness and crispness of the water.
The pail was outside in the “Dog Trot.” For those unfortunate souls who have no connection with southern country life, I will explain.
The Dog Trot was a common architectural fixture in the south. Nashville gets remarkably hot and humid in the summertime. To take advantage of the slightest breeze, the farm houses were constructed in two sections connected with a long hallway that was open to the outdoors at both ends. Each section of the house had a door from two rooms that opened onto the Dog Trot. I often wished our city house had been constructed the same way. We could dash to the back yard from the front porch before the grown-ups even knew we were gone.
In a few years both ends were closed, probably because the same geographical oddity that makes Nashville so hot in the summer makes it so cold in the winter. The founders weren’t kidding when they named the place “The Nashville Basin.”
When we original four left babyhood for bigger adventures, the entire acreage was our kingdom. We explored it all. The old barn was particularly intriguing for me. It seemed to have dozens of rooms filled with the most astonishing assortment of farm and mechanical implements. It took a few years until I was brave enough to venture into the barn. It was quiet and cool, and a little scary. On one notable occasion I tiptoed into a room in which a cow was escaping the afternoon heat. I screamed, upsetting the poor cow as she nearly trampled me on her way out of the barn.
I loved climbing over the stile that provided access to the other side of fence down by the road. The stile negated the necessity of opening and closing the big gate at the driveway. I considered it a fantastic innovation, although I’m fairly certain it was in use by the first settlers and before. I even wandered through the tall weeds in back of the barn, much to the gastronomical delight of the resident chiggers. It was a short cut to the Charltons’ log cabin on the road.
I loved to listen to the crickets, the birds singing their hearts out, and the wind in the willow trees. I often stood still just to hear the quiet that was somehow not disturbed by the country sounds.
My cousins and I played all kinds of wonderful games: hide and seek, Red Rover, Mother may I, and kick the can. It was so much fun to have people to play with whom I knew so well. There was no need for shyness or intimidation. I could wander off by myself or play with a field full of cousins and be completely at home even in this wonderland.
Jimmy was the adventurous type, much to his parents’ consternation on many occasions. One particular adventure was had also to his own detriment. One day it occurred to him that the steep pitch of the metal barn roof would make an ideal slide. Up he climbed as far as he could on the roof. He then sat down and slid all the way to the ground. He was right. It was a fantastic slide. Unfortunately, there was an errant nail protruding from the metal surface. As he slid down Jimmy managed to find it in the worse possible way. He was bleeding profusely when he made it into the house. There was a rushed trip to the doctor’s office, and after many stitches he was sent home, having learned a hard lesson the hardest way possible.
My favorite attraction was “Old Dolly.” Old Dolly was a huge Belgian mare, a beautiful plow horse. She was, indeed, used expressly for that purpose. She was blind, but she knew every inch of the property. I was amazed that she never bumped into anything. As my daughter, Mandy, loves to relate, “Mom knows a lot about horses, and she loves them. She’s also terrified of them.”
Regrettably, she is correct. I had a horse once, and he scared me to death, but that’s another story.
I was a little scared of Dolly at first. I tried to sneak up on her when I was alone. I just wanted to get a better look. Somehow, she always heard me coming. It didn’t matter how quietly I walked, her head turned toward me and blind though she was, she looked right at me. I always ran back into the dooryard.
I don’t know how old she was, but Old Dolly is huge in my earliest memory of the place. She was never anything but “Old” Dolly. Her back could accommodate four or five of us comfortably, and whoever sat nearest her head would gently push her neck in the direction we wanted to go. She walked when we told her to go and she stopped when we told her to “whoa.” I loved her with all my heart. Citation will always live in my memory as my favorite race horse, but Old Dolly lives in my heart forever.
There was a pond nearby in the barnstead, where we were not allowed to play. Often, it had a green scum that squelched any desire we may have had to enter the water. I marveled at the animals drinking from the pond. I noticed they managed to avoid the scum.
It was an actual working farm, although all three men on the place had jobs as well. Someone arose before dawn in the winter to milk the cow, and again after work every evening. There were chickens for eggs and meat. A large portion of the fields was allotted to a garden. Every kind of vegetable and fruit was grown there.
In a pen far away from the house the families raised hogs. On a particular cold November day, the men gathered at the pen. My father was often among them. It was hog-killing day. Afterwards, the animals were cleaned and cut up into portions that were smoked in a small shed built especially for that purpose. There was lots of country ham, which is strictly a Southern delicacy. It is so salty, Yankees don’t always cotton to its taste. They often prefer the milder spiral-cuts so popular today.
Many times when we visited on Sunday afternoon, Hazel would forestall our departure by saying “Ya’ll spend the night.” Of course, Daddy had to go to work the next day, but Mother would often tell Aunt Hazel we would stay and Daddy could pick us up in a day or two. I was ecstatic.
Mother and I, and later my little sister slept in a bed just off the Dog Trot. I’ll never forget the aroma of home-smoked bacon and ham being cooked on the huge wood stove. By the time the biscuits came out of the oven, we were seated at the table. Everything was homemade. There were mounds of creamy butter (hand-churned) and the best preserves on earth. Nothing has ever tasted as good as Aunt Hazel’s breakfasts.
At harvest time, many days were given over to canning and putting other vegetables away for the winter. Near the back of the house, there were double doors built into a little hill. The doors enclosed the root cellar, where all the food was put by. When winter came it was brimming with jars of home-canned vegetables, fruits, and jams. It was also a great shelter when tornados threatened, as they often do in the south.
As the years went by, I lost contact with my country cousins. They never lost each other. In October of 2013, I was in Nashville when my sister died. My cousin Jeane told Jimmy I was in Nashville. He gave her a number and told her I better not leave town till I talked to him. I called him, and he came to see me at the hotel where I was staying. We knew each other immediately. We talked about the past and the times in between then and now. He told me the annual family reunion was in a couple weeks. I wanted to go more than anything.
I found a flight that wouldn’t break the bank, and I decided to go to the reunion. There was Jimmy and his wife, Becky, waiting to pick me up at the airport. I saw each one of my cousins, most of their children, their grandchildren, and in Jimmy’s case, his great-great-grandchildren. I was so glad to see everyone. It was also overpowering. We tried to catch up, but it left too much to tell in one short day. I spent the night with Jimmy and Becky in their gorgeous home in Murfreesboro, and I hated to tell them goodbye.
I don’t ever want to lose touch again. Like me, many have scattered to the four winds, but they manage to still keep up with one another. I will do the same, now and for the rest of my life.
Jimmy is, of all things, a golfer. It’s hard for me to imagine Jimmy swinging a golf club, but I guess he’s pretty good at it. I asked him what kind of score he shot, and he said he could shoot his age, which, at the time, was 77.
Last June, I was in Nashville again for my 60th class reunion. I loved seeing my old friends again, and I was particularly happy to be able to spend another night with Jimmy and Becky. The next day, Jimmy had a golf tournament. He left early, giving me time to visit with Becky all day before my 6 pm flight. What a wonderful new cousin she is to me. We talked and talked about everything under the sun. I had a great time. It’s so rare for me to hit it off with someone new right away, but that’s exactly what happened with Becky.
Sometimes I despair over what the future will bring. I don’t like to look at it too closely, because it is iffy at best. I guess everybody my age likes to look at the past, and that’s certainly true of me, but thank God for my Cousin Jimmy for helping me to bring back my past, because it’s now a part of my future as well. And that can only be a good thing – a very good thing!
Here are a few photos from long, long ago taken at the Russell Family Homestead. To my knowledge it was never called that. I called it simply “The Country”.
I’m fascinated by Fascinators. One of the reasons I’m falling behind on my web site entries is I’ve become crochet-crazy. I’m hooking Christmas presents like mad. I fully intend to write like mad after New Year’s.
Designer Kai Joldeski contacted me after she discovered my article on fascinators. We have much in common – she, a designer of fascinators and me, an admirer.
Kai lives in Melbourne, Australia and is a self-taught artist who sells her wares on ETSY. She says she doesn’t feel complete if she hasn’t created something every day.
In addition to making fascinators, Kai is back at university studying Internet Communications. She agreed to do a little Q&A for just for you, readers.
How did you get started making fascinators and when?
I have been making accessories (handbags, earrings, belts, scarves, bracelets, shoe clips and brooches) since I was a very young girl for myself and my friends. Fascinators were the next natural adventure. I started only this year with fascinators and set up at Etsy in April.
Do you make hats as well?
Occasionally I will make a hat, but I prefer fascinators as they can be worn to more occasions…
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With Mother’s Day in my future, I think about past Mother’s Days. Back in The Day by this time (Friday) the corsages were ordered, the presents bought, gaily wrapped at the department store in sentimental paper, and neatly stashed somewhere out of sight.
My family’s Mother’s Day routine was always the same. We picked up our flowers on Saturday. If our mother was alive, we wore red roses. If she had passed on, we wore white. My grandmothers were the only family members who no longer had mothers.
We dressed up to go to church, which was not at all unusual. Everyone dressed up to go to church in the lost days of my youth. We wore dressy outfits, hats, and white gloves. I had a drawer full of white cotton gloves, most of them wrist-length, and a few up to mid-forearm. On special occasions, such as Mother’s Day we wore a corsage pinned to the shoulders of our Sunday best.
After church, we went to our house, or in the early days to my material grandmother’s. We called her Dooley, for some unknown reason. She only had three grandchildren, all five years apart. My cousin Jeane was oldest, then me, then my sister. We lived in a matriarchal society. At the Sunday dinner tables, there were six or seven females, and never more than two men: my father and my grandfather.
Although the radio was one-sided, it didn’t matter much at the time. The women chitt-chatted among themselves. Pappy (our grandfather) didn’t pay attention anyway, but Daddy was often grossed out by the distaff subject matter.
We also had gifts for our grandmothers and Mother’s sister, my Aunt Mildred, for whom I am named. My sister and I adored her till the end of her days. She was our favorite relative. Jeane was her only daughter.
I didn’t pay it any mind at the time, but thinking about it in later years, I was proud of the three women on Mother’s side of the family. All three of them worked, and distinguished themselves in their occupations. Dooley worked at the Duck Head Company, sewing overalls; Aunt Mildred was a hair stylist and later a successful beauty salon owner; Mother was a secretary.
Mother was often praised by her boss as the best secretary he ever had. She was working at the Lily White Laundry when she met my father, who was driving a laundry truck. Shortly before I was born, she quit work, and her boss begged her to come back, but she wanted to be a full-time mother.
She went back to work when I was three years old, leaving me with Mama, my paternal grandmother, who lived with us. Mother had an interesting secretarial position. Actually, it was more interesting than she knew.
She worked at a large hardware company that dealt mostly in wholesale and institutional items. Unbeknownst to her, Mother’s boss was also the boss of the Nashville political machine. He was notorious. This was before Nashville had a metropolitan government.
There was a City Council and a mayor, all of whom did Mr. Fletcher’s (not his real name) bidding, no questions asked.
Years later after I was grown, she came home and told us that Sadie, who was a neighborhood friend, had an appointment to see Mr. Fletcher. Sadie had qualified to become a school crossing guard, and she wore her uniform to his office. I asked her why Sadie came to see Mr. Fletcher.
“I don’t know,” said Mother. “He sees every new city employee, but I didn’t know his interest extended to school crossing guards. He’s very civic-minded, you know. The mayor sees Mr. Fletcher quite often.”
Rumors about the city’s active, but carefully hidden untitled head of government were rampant. I became suspicious after Mother told me about Sadie’s interview. I decided to ask my sister, who had “connections.” I considered it the better part of wisdom to remain ignorant of the details, but curiosity got the best of me.
“I can’t believe you didn’t know,” said Pat (my sister). Paul Fletcher runs Nashville. The mayor is the titular head of government, but he doesn’t move without Fletcher’s permission.”
Wow! What a shocker! I couldn’t wait to tell Mother. The next day, I went to her house after I knew she would be home from work and told her the news.
“That’s the silliest thing I ever heard,” said Mother with a laugh. Don’t you think if that were true, I would know it? You and Pat should curb your suspicious natures. I don’t know where she heard such a thing.”
I did some more checking around, and found that it was indeed true. Paul Fletcher ran Nashville. We had a real political machine in a hardware store.
Soon after, Nashville and Davidson County were combined into a metropolitan entity. Fletcher retired, and Mother went to work with the Girl Scouts organization. I was glad she escaped with her impeccable reputation intact.
Mother passed away in 1991. She was 82 years old. Shortly before she died, I asked her again, “How could you not have known your boss was a political boss?”
“I told you the first time you said such a thing it wasn’t true, and you shouldn’t go around spreading such careless gossip. I don’t want to hear it another time. Do you hear me?”
“Yes ma’am,” I said, meekly.
I have obeyed her lo these 23 years. If there are angels in Heaven, I’m sure Mother is among them. I can only hope angels aren’t interested in earthlings’ careless gossip.