National Grandparents Day: Sept. 11, 2016
I have no grandparents to visit on “Grandparents Day,” but I’ll always remember them… and if they were alive today…. boy would I have questions!
I know more about my mother’s parents than my fathers… why – because my mother has told me stories all her life. In as much as she says she hates to write, well good thing she doesn’t hate telling stories. She shakes her head and doesn’t understand my love to write, saying if I waited for her to write her stories down, well then I’d have a mighty long wait!
Let’s begin with my grandmother, my mother’s mother, Ola Askew McKinley. Grandmama was always a quiet woman and probably the same in growing up; a woman of very few words. She was born on August 8, 1907 in Hancock Co., Georgia. I don’t know the name of the town she was born in other than Militia District 107? I never questioned that before until I sat down to write this post – too late now! I always wondered about her name of Ola and wondered if that really was her name or part of the name Viola, but it will continue to be a mystery no one will solve.
Another thing I never noticed until this post was that she married on her birthday of August 8th in 1923; she was only sixteen years old when she married. Did she wait to marry on her birthday because she needed to be sixteen to marry, or just a coincidence? Her father, Samuel Askew, died four years earlier when she was just 12 years old; sad to think that she lost her father at such an early age, and probably one of the reasons she married so young. Her mother, Maggie Hillsman, was left with eight children to now raise alone, so each one that could marry and move out probably made her life a little easier; especially since Maggie was wheel-chair bound from the stories I’ve heard, but no one has ever known how or why she was or even when it came about.
I know very little about my grandmother as a child other then knowing a few stories she told. My mother said her mother very rarely talked about her life as a child and mama said she just never thought to ask. One of the rare stories told was about a pair of shoes. Shoes were treasured as you were very lucky if you had more than one pair growing up in the early part of the twentieth century. The story goes….her brother was told to go to town and buy his sister a new pair of shoes, and whether it was by accident or intentional, he bought them a size too small. It was said she cried every time she wore them, but unless she wanted to go barefoot, she squeezed her foot in them; there was no money to buy a second pair.
There must have been a horse on their farm when she grew up as she my mother about a horse they had, that the only way you caught him, was when you sat down and pretended to cry – it seemed to be the only way he’d come to them. So I know grandmamma rode and I even have a photo of her on one of the horses at my grandparents farm.
During World War I, she and her siblings gathered steel to sell to help support their mother. Mama told me her mother talked about how they gathered pieces for the steel pile in the yard and someone often came around to purchase. When not in school, she helped around the house, but usually it was the girls who stayed in school while the boys worked on the farm. I’m assuming she no longer attended school after marriage – she had no need for it then.
The only item my mother remembers finding of her mother’s when she grew up was a shimmery, sparkly flapper-style dress with a pull-down slouch hat that she kept in the hallway closet. My mother often put it on and played dress-up; now she wishes that she had asked why her mother kept that specific 1920’s style dress, but now it’s only speculation that it might have been her wedding dress and had special meaning to her. What I wouldn’t give for a photo of grandmama in her special dress… but I do have the story.
My grandmother was a very quiet woman, but lost to me as a grandchild as her mind slowly drifted away after the death of her son in World War II. That seemed to end her life – she withdrew into her own world where it was safe to not remember his death.
She’s the grandmother I saw but never really knew, except through the stories of my mother. I never tasted her well-known blackberry and peach pies, blackberry jam, those peach preserves or that special jam cake I heard so much about. She mailed her son Leroy a jam cake every month while he was in the service. When her last cake to him was returned, she knew he had died… that was the beginning of her shutting down to the outside world.
My mother remembers her mother as a great baker and always having goodies waiting on the back of the wood-burning stove every day after school. Whether it was tea cakes or just a sweet potato, something was always waiting. Grandmamma worked from sun-up to sun-down – she was the first to rise every morning – lighting the stove for warmth in the kitchen and making breakfast. Biscuits were made twice a day, morning and lunch; supper would be the leftovers from lunch. Mama learned grandmamma’s biscuit technique of pinch and roll and I Thank You for passing that know-how down to me!
I may not have inherited my love of writing from my grandmother, or even my mother, but I did inherit my ability of crafting from her. She quilted, crocheted, sewed and even canned all the farm vegetables. Every evening she pieced quilts by only the light of granddaddy’s lantern. What she couldn’t do though, was follow a pattern, but she didn’t need to – all she needed to do was just look at a piece in order to make it; and she didn’t sew just plain block quilts, they were intricate patterns such as the wedding ring and flower garden pattern. I also have a crochet pinwheel bedspread she made; I wouldn’t know where to start in making that without a pattern. She may have been a woman of few words, but through mama’s stories, she has come alive and made me feel like I truly did walk alongside of her.
In writing this, I learned that I actually seem to know more about grandmamma as a child than I did my grandfather Edgar T. McKinley. After all these years, I still speculate on his actual birthday as I’ve found several variations. On his WWI draft registration card, there is the date of January 15, 1896, while the U. S. Department of Veteran Affairs has him born February 15, 1895, as well as the Georgia WWI Service Card. The Social Security Application lists his birth as January 4, 1895; his gravestone only lists the dates of 1895 – 1972. After much review while writing this post, I am betting that the 1895 is the correct year but by using the 1900 census, it would be 1896 – which listed him at 6 years of age; but census information is only as good as it is given. This is going to cause me to search through more information for a defining birth date. Darn Granddaddy, why couldn’t you have given the same birthday on all your information?
After much review of his birth dates along with his siblings, I think I can scrap the 1896 one as his brother, Richard Everett McKinley, was born on January 13, 1896 – they both weren’t born two days apart! Most large families seemed to have a child two years apart, and his was no exception, except for the four-year span of no children being born after 1888 until 1892. There could have been that a child died and no one listed it, but it’s not a story I’ve heard.
So what would I ask my grandparents, well….
Grandma Ola, first I’d like to ask if Ola was your real name or was it really Viola? How did you meet granddaddy and was that flapper dress, really your wedding dress? Were you married at home or a church – who was there – and what were you thinking marrying so young at 16 years old! But lastly, I’d like to know how old you were when you learned to crochet and sew and who taught you those skills? Did you make a quilt before you married? Are these answers I’ll ever receive an answer for – probably not – but I can wish!
Granddaddy McKinley, I’d like to know why you hated school so much – mama always told me you didn’t like school. Your mother died in 1902 when you were only eight years old – and it was your sister Lena who mostly raised you. I’m told she toted and pampered you when you were small and you always hollered, “I want a sweet” (sweet potato). It seemed eating was unusual for you, why was that? Granddaddy only liked one thing at a time on his plate – no mixing of his foods. Mama remembers him always eating one thing at a time, first the pork chop, (he loved pork) then vegetables – one at a time. He loved grandmamma’s biscuits, especially the leftover ones in the evening with his coffee – on the back stoop. Mama says he could make a pot of coffee so strong that it could walk off the table. Granddaddy even made a mean biscuit, when he had to; if grandmamma was sick, he made the biscuits!
I’m thinking he didn’t spend much time in school as he couldn’t read or write, although he could write his name, but grandmamma read all the letters and mail that came to the house; he enjoyed listening to her read and even sat in on the bedtime book readings she did for mama and Leroy. I’m sure most of his time was spent in the field as a young boy, not much time for school – they all worked on the family farms. Another question I’d like to ask is, “Who taught you to drive?” Whoever it was, didn’t do a very good job as I heard you liked to ride in the ditch more times than not; grandmama broke her collarbone on one of those ditch rides – no wonder she was afraid to learn to drive after that. How did you become interested in fox hunting; you know I always wanted to go with you – I loved those dogs almost as much as you – and I loved letting them loose every time I came. I thought the best thing in the world was to ride to town with you or sit on the back stoop calling to the bobwhites out in the tall pines. I learned a lot at your farm… you taught me to shoot the BB gun, although you yelled every time I hit the farm bell, but I loved the ping sound it made; you taught me to whistle as I walked around the yard feeding the chickens. I always thought being at the farm with you was the best thing in the world – I only wish now that I had told you!
To my grandmother Evelen (Little) Bryan, I wish I spent more time standing by you in the kitchen when you were making that sweet potato cobbler. If I had, I wouldn’t have had to spend so much time with trial and error in devising a recipe; but I finally managed to come up with a taste that reminded me of yours. No one wrote down recipes, they cooked by the feel with their hands and taste.
Granddaddy (Paul P. Bryan) Bryan was my favorite to hang with when I was at their house. It was always more fun to follow behind him, and walk like him. Granddaddy had a slight limp, with one leg shorter than the other and I’d fall right in behind him – having the same limp; drove my mother crazy as she thought I would never stop walking that way. And whatever granddaddy ate at the table, I wanted the same. If he put lemon in his tea, I did also – if he put corn in his biscuit, well I did too. Granddaddy was well known in the area for cooking BBQ and Brunswick Stew – if I could have one recipe sent to me from the beyond – it would be those recipes.
If only I had the thought and want years ago, I could have asked – “what was your childhood like” – “how did you meet” – “what fun things did you do – “where did you get that goat, and “why did I not get a ride?” Those questions didn’t come into my head until it was way too late for asking. But maybe one day I’ll find out why granddaddy Bryan’s middle name was Pinkney?
If someone is looking down and thinking of me on this special “grandparents” day – I hope you’ve enjoyed my remembrance down memory lane on your lives. The memories I do have are very special and I’m thankful for the many years I called you grandmamma and granddaddy.
© 2016, copyright Jeanne Bryan Insalaco; all rights reserved.