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The Luckiest Little Girl in the World

There was a time, believe it or not, when my family was not poor, and when Christmas, for this little girl, was a big event.  For many years I have been blessed with good health, family, and friends at Christmas time.  But when I was a child, I was truly blessed.

You see I had a big brother, a blessing in itself.  And that big brother worked in a local hardware store in our town.  The store had a large balcony around what would have been a second floor.  And at Christmas time that balcony had all the toys any child could wish for.  I was allowed to go up there with my brother and choose things I would like to have.  He then had an idea as to what to tell my parents to buy for me.  I think I thought he was telling Santa Claus.  Big brothers don’t lie to little sisters at Christmas time.

On Christmas I did that was the Christmas of 1950, when we lived on George Street in Anderson.  That was the Christmas morning my mother always liked to recount.  I do remember it myself, however.  I remember waking up in my bed, which was set in an alcove at the top of the stairs between the two bedrooms.  It was early, still dark outside, but it was Christmas morning, and I wanted to see what had been left for me under the tree downstairs. So I quietly got up and went down to look.  Not to touch, but just to look.  I was amazed at the things set out for me under the tree.  Then I turned around and went back upstairs, back to bed, and back to sleep.  Several hours later my mother woke me with a shake, telling me to get up and come and see what Santa had left.  I told her that was okay, that I had already been downstairs and looked.  I don’t think she was that upset, but I knew she had wanted to see my face when I saw it all for the first time.

After that, we moved to the country, my big brother went to Korea, and we endured a Christmas without him.  When he came home, he got married and started his own family, and we four became we eight.  (Two of those children will grace my mother’s altar table tomorrow, along with their mother, but that big brother has passed on, as have both my parents.  I was fortunate to have them as long as I did.)

Things changed drastically for my father’s work in 1956, and while we were never homeless, in the few years after that, it was very rough going.  One year during that time, I remember going to the local trading stamps store and getting one thing for Christmas, because we had so little money.  It was during that time that the incident I posted here last year, about my father and the Christmas tree, happened.

Times were tough.  But we managed, because we had the greatest gift of all, love. Yes, we moved around a lot, but I always knew that my parents loved me, and would never leave me, and that they would always be there for me.  That’s what parents are for.  At least in my world, at that time.

I’ve spent many happy Christmas days since.  Some of the best have been with Harold, on Christmas Eve, at the church services.  There are presents under the tree for me, and I have presents for Harold and the “kids”.  Tomorrow we will gather, God willing, at Mother Mary’s altar table and be a family once again, with those who aren’t with us any longer watching over us.  So you see, now I am the luckiest grown up in the world,  for the greatest gifts, love and family, (in all of its definitions) is the greatest gift we are given.

Pax vobiscum.


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The Civil War and Me

I have lived with the Civil War all my life, it seems.  It began with my mother’s stories about her grandfather (See an earlier post about Civil War Veterans, Part Four) Mose Estes.  He always said that he served in the Civil War, but there is no record of his service (not surprising given the state of records keeping on the Confederate side especially).  His claims go unfounded.  She and her Estes cousins in Madison County, Kentucky, remembered him telling them stories about his service in the war, seemingly somewhere in Tennessee and Georgia.  Mose had several cousins who served on the Union side in the War, so I suspect he may have joined, if he did join, the Confederate side just to be different.

Then came Gone With the Wind.  It was released in a newly done format for the 100th anniversary of the Civil War and I remember going to see it several times during that period.  My mother gave me the book to read, saying that I should see what happened in it that they were forced to leave out of the movie, as it was much better than the movie.  She was correct.

Through the years, I’ve learned a lot about the War and it’s reason for being.  I have come to realize that John Brown would be considered a terrorist today, and his war a holy one.  He wanted to overthrow the government and had plans drawn up for the kind of religious theocracy he would institute, while abolishing slavery.  I have learned that no matter what reason you can give for the war, it all comes back to slavery, but I also understand that the Abolitionists had a religious motive, and you all know how I feel about religious motives.  And I’ve learned that the War itself is a very complex issue, with divided loyalties, and acts of bravery and cowardice on both sides that merit scrutiny.

But here’s the main thing I’ve learned.  Wars aren’t about dates and generals, and battle strategy.  Wars are about people, both the soldiers and those caught in the path of its devastation.  For this war, those latter people were mostly Southern, and  they were some of the early victims of what we have come to call total war.  As we said in the sixties, war is harmful to children and other living things. And that’s the theme of my Civil War class.  I don’t teach it from the point of view of the generals, and my students don’t have to memorize battles and dates.  I am interested in those only as they affect the people we read about and discuss.

War is fought by men with families, and those families suffered greatly during the Civil War on either side.  There was no safety net on either side.  If you were wounded, and lost a limb, or suffered some other horrific injury, you were pretty much bound by that all your life.  There were some prosthetics, but wooden legs were common after the war, and amputated limbs made it sometimes impossible for a man to work.  If your family member was killed in battle, there was a widows pension, but there was no medical care beyond the immediate, and no kind of pension until the 1870’s, which took a lawyer, and reams of verification to obtain.  In the south, the pensions were supplied by the state, and were a long time in coming, due to the South’s slow recovery from the War.

Do I think every soldier who fought in the Civil War had a right to fight.  Yes, I do.  That’s my personal opinion, and I believe it to be true.  I  also know that it is incorrect of us to put our own 20th-21st century values onto people who lived over 100 years ago, and who did not know what we know about race, genetics, and simply living life, if you will.

I am deeply saddened by what happened in Charleston, S.C. in June of this year.  I am quite certain that removing the Confederate Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia (that’s its correct name) from the grounds of the state capitol was the correct thing to do.  I don’t think that removing all vestiges of  Civil War commemoration from every courthouse square or place of importance in the South is the thing to do.  If someone wanted to put up something such as that nowadays, of course they shouldn’t be allowed to do it.  But we need to step back, take a deep breath, and allow our selves to keep the baby and throw out the bath water.  What can be learned from these commemorations?  What can they teach students today?  How can we explain the Civil War by using these statues, etc. to teach the lessons of the past and why we must not allow such events as slavery to happen again in this country?

As William Faulkner said, the past isn’t dead, it isn’t even past.  And we put ourselves in great peril if we simply knee-jerk to every challenge, and don’t learn from the past that isn’t even past.

Women in Mourning with backs turned.

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A couple of Saturdays ago I took part in a funeral procession for a funeral Harold did. Driving slowly through town to the cemetery I started thinking about processions, and how many of them there are in life, and how we take part in them.

Of course, as an Episcopalian, I see a procession every Sunday I go to church. The acolytes and the priest “process” up the aisle to the altar at the beginning of the service, and “recess” back down the aisle at the end of the service. And when we ordain a deacon or a priest, it’s a bigger procession. And a bishop gets “the whole nine yards”. I am always so proud of Harold when he takes part in any of them.

Then, of course, we have wedding processions. (No smart cracks from my family here.) Are they the most fun? Well, probably the answer is yes, except when you look over and see your mother, with her wig on crooked, dabbing at her eyes, because you are marrying that mean old Harold guy. And I distinctly remember that after the ceremony was over and Harold had kissed his bride, I took his arm, Lavinia took up my train, and I said to Harold, “Let’s get out of here!” No one heard me above the organ music, but if we still had Jack’s movies of the wedding we would see me saying it.

The saddest processions of course, are when the casket is brought in to the church, and the priest is praying over it as it comes to rest before the altar. I have stood in the back of many of Harold’s churches and helped unfold the funeral pall over the casket, and waited at the back to remove it from the casket after the service. Harold has done all the funerals for my family, but they’ve all been in funeral homes, so I’ve never done this for any of my family. I hope my efforts have been pleasing to the other families however.

But I want to end on a happier note. The most exciting processions I’ve been in were the times when we would drive to wherever in Indiana to meet Aunt Taday and Uncle Estil who would be on their way to a show. It would be a preset place to meet the police and we and the cars of the families of the Sr. and Jr. Briarhoppers would join in. The policemen would lead, with their lights and sirens on, and bring up the rear the same way. I get chills just thinking about it. We would run the stop lights, and get to park right up by the back of the stage door and go in with the “show folk”. The Jr. and Sr. Briarhoppers were big business, and they had to come from Cincinnati, so they needed the escort, as they came the longest distance. It was so exciting for a girl of twelve or thirteen to see that happening around her. No wonder I thought I wanted to be famous someday. 😉

So these are my processions. Wonderful memories all. Thanks for reading.


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More Bits and Bobs from Mother Mary

A few more things have come to mind since I wrote the last column about things my mother said, and things about her life. So here we go:

She sometimes called children by the name “tuniker”. I never knew what it meant, and never ask, but I remember her using it.

She held a superstition that if a bird got caught in the house someone was going to die.

She believed in the supernatural, and felt and saw things, much as I sometimes do and said it came from her grandmother Emmett, who was her mother’s mother. I think Uncle Mose saw things too, but we could never tell if he really did or if it was his active bottle fed imagination.

She called a canker sore a “gum boil”. I was reminded of that when I had one a few days ago.

If we needed to get something done, and there wasn’t a direct way to do it, she would always say she would try to work a chicken foot, meaning I believe, a way around whatever was standing in the way.

She always made sure I had money for a phone call when I left the house on a date.
And I always had to have on clean underwear whenever we left the house, in case I was in a wreck,she always said. I always wondered about that, since if I was ever in a wreck the last thing I’d probably care about my underwear.

She cautioned me about kissing boys, and told me never to put my arms up around a boy’s neck when kissing him, because it allowed him too much access to my body. I really had to work on that one.

She firmly believe that Dwight Eisenhower was the worst president ever, because he did go to Korea as he promised, but he didn’t bring Jack back with him. Seriously though, she thought he should go there and end the war. She never voted in another presidential election that I recall.

In 1973 she was robbed while she sat in the car in the parking lot waiting for Dad to come out with a prescription. She had just cashed her Social Security check, and two young black men simply opened the car door and reached for her purse as she sat there holding it in her lap. On that particular night, Jody and I were over at Ball State, she in the music building studying, I believe, and I was rehearsing a play. I had such a weird feeling that I cut rehearsal short and went to look for Jody. We met in the hall, each on the way to find the other, and said, We’ve got to get home. Something is wrong. When we arrive there (Luick Ave. in Muncie) we were told about the robbery, and Mother was very glad to see us. We had all the locks changed on the doors, because the keys were in her purse. Several days later the police came to the house with her purse, with everything in it but the money. She got back all her pictures, the loss of which upset her more than losing the money did, I sometimes think. She wasn’t scared to go out again, but the next time we went to the grocery, she was pushing the cart and I was putting things in it. I said something to her like do we need this, and when she didn’t answer, I turned around to see her hunched over the cart with one arm up about her face. I thought she was having a stroke or heart attack. When I asked her what was wrong she used the other hand to point at something behind me in the aisle. I turned and looked and there was some poor old black man doing his grocery shopping way down at the end of the aisle. My mother had always taught me to respect everyone and to treat them as I wanted to be treated. (I had several black girlfriends in the city schools, and one even told me that she felt so comfortable at my house because my mother didn’t treat her any differently than anyone else.) I finally got her out of the store, and home, and as far as I know nothing like that ever happened again. It was all an eye-opening experience for me.

That should be enough for now. Enjoy.

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Bits and Bobs About My Dear Mother You Might Find Interesting.

For several years now, Harold has been saying to me, Why don’t you write down the things your mother said and did so the family will have it to keep. For those of you who don’t know, my mother was Mary Estes Moore, and she was born in Fayette County, Kentucky, on October 12, 1907. She had four siblings, Ethel (Ann/Nan-nan), Mose, George, and Helen/e.My mother was a great story teller and over the years of doing genealogical research I have found the most of her stories were 95% correct. She also said things that we don’t hear today, and so I thought I’d try to remember and recount some of things she would say, and do, as they might make you smile. For those of you who remember her, please feel free to add your own memories in the comment section. I’ll just start out randomly and get as far as I can.

I would sometimes ask her if she thought a certain boy liked me or not. And she would sometimes say, “Well, if he doesn’t he had better take in his sign.”

She called babies “trues” or “true ones” frequently. I have no idea where that came from.

Sometimes she would tell me not to worry about something because “That’s a lost ball in the high weeds.”

Her mother never called her anything but Sister most of the time. My mother didn’t even have a name until she was six and started first grade. another story for another time perhaps, and they all just called her Sister.

She called green bell peppers Mangoes, and I did too for years.

She called sanitary napkins “concerns”, and my father always bought them for her if she wasn’t along to buy them and needed them. That might have been a code word of theirs.

She would often describe men as having “bedroom eyes”, the kind of eyes that you wanted to have on the man who shared your bedroom.

She had some kind of seizures as a child, but out grew them before she reached her teens. I suspect it was some form of epilepsy.

As a child of about ten she fell into an old cistern, and was trapped underground in the water before she was shortly rescued. That’s why she always said she wanted to be cremated, because she couldn’t stand the thought of being trapped underground.

She never felt that her parents loved her, that they loved Ann or Helen/e better. I think it may have been because she was independent and they thought she could do whatever she wanted safely, so they just didn’t pay as much attention to her as they did to the others. She and Mose had to work in the fields, setting tobacco, and she always swore that her children would never have to work in the fields doing such hard labor. And setting tobacco was hard labor in those days, and isn’t much easier today.

She loved horses and it broke her heart when they had to sell all theirs to move to Cincinnati. She always wanted me to learn to ride, but we never had the money, and didn’t really live anyplace where we could keep them. She rode fast once she was out of the view of the house she always said. People of the neighborhood were always telling my Papaw Estes that she was going to kill herself riding like that, and he would discipline her, but it never stopped her from riding. She rode astride too, when many women still didn’t.

She graduated from high school in 1926, with Ann graduating the year before her. Ann went to Eastern Kentucky Normal School and got a teaching license and taught school for a while before they moved to Cincinnati. Mother got a job after they got there. Both of them were well educated women for their day, as most of their school mates from home didn’t pass the state test to be able to go on to high school.

The best advice she ever gave me was when Jeff was born and I wanted to go see him in the hospital. In those days you had to be 14 to go see a patient, and I was only twelve. She had me put on my best dress, stockings, and shoes with a small heel. I was already tall for my age. She did my hair up on my head, and off we went. When we got to old main lobby of St. John’s she said to me “Now walk straight ahead to the elevators, hold your head up, and act as if you know where you’re going.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought of that over the years. It takes guts to enter a classroom some days. She was right, no one challenged me, and I got to see Jeff before he came home. He was born on July 11, 1956, two days before my 12th birthday.

I am sure that more will come to mind, and I will use another column for them. Thanks for reading this.

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Military Men of Our Family: The Civil War Part Four

Obit for Mose Estes, my great grandfather

This is the obituary for my great grandfather on my mother’s side, Mose Estes, of Madison County, Kentucky. The story has always been that he served in the Confederate Army, either as a waggoner or a water boy, probably late in the war. The obit states that he did serve in the Confederate Army, and that he lived to be 103 years old. That would have made him born in 1836. However, that appears to be the same year his parents were married. Now stranger things have happened, I know, but census records seem to indicate that he was more than likely born about 1844. My mother remembers him telling stories about the war to her and her cousins, who corroborated this when I met them after we moved to Kentucky in 1974. However, I have never been able to find any record of his service in the Confederate records listed on Fold 3. As the obituary states, he refused to take a pension, so there is no record of that either. It was his story, told to me by my mother, that got me interested in the family history at the Civil War at a very young age. I suppose we will never know the true story.

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Military Men of Our Family: The Civil War, Part Three

On my mother’s side of the family I know of only one Civil War veteran, her great grandfather, Alfred Yeager. Alfred’s origins remain obscure, but I do know that he married the widow Sarah Bennett Griffith/Griffy, in Fayette County, Kentucky, in 1852, and they had several children together to add to her one by her her first husband, George Washington Griffy, a daughter named Georgia Ann. Their daughter Sallie Yeager was my great grandmother, and mother of my grandmother Lillie Belle Emmett Estes. Alfred’s Civil War papers show that he served in Company A of the 6th Kentucky Union Cavalry and was absent without leave for several months in 1863-64, believed to have been captured. He showed up again and served until the end of the war. Don’t know where he was, but I do know that his wife had a child in 1864 whose birth date coincided with the his time away, so perhaps he took some of that time to be with her. Alfred survived the war but died in 1869 of complications from lung problems he contracted from exposure to the out of doors, sleeping on the ground, etc. during the war. I have Sarah’s pension application from the late 1870’s and it is so detailed. It was granted to her in 1880 at the whopping amount of eight dollars a month. Of course, in those days, that probably seemed like a fortune to a family who had lost their chief provider. She is listed as his widow on the 1890 Veterans Census, and she received the money until she died in the 1890’s sometime. I would love to know more about him, but so far haven’t been able to find out much.

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