Mothers: A Quote, a Reflection, and a Repeat

 

About five Mother’s Days have passed since I wrote what I am about to repeat here. One month and eight days later, the last mother mentioned quietly finished a 14-year journey with a cruel trick of nature. But it was one that reinforced in those who watched it a belief in human strength, quiet but determined courage, and a dignity that only comes with the assurance of a divine hand. It became a daily lesson in the grace, faith, and inner peace needed to look squarely into a known and coming darkness, plan for it and then endure it in a way that would shine through the heaviest curtain that disease could drop around one.

The quote is from a hardened and seasoned cowman known for his direct and blunt views and ways. He was also a dedicated, driven researcher and probably the best historical writer of his time. These words finished a 12-page unpublished essay written for only family and close friends in memory of his departed wife. I suspect that all of us have in our heritage, both immediate and distant, a gentle hand that wove the fabric which clothed us in a “Coat of Many Colors” whose brightest threads were “immortal love, unshakeable faith and incorruptible character”.

“Thus while I tore out my heart in mad endeavor upon the stage of action, my dear grey-gowned Nita – who really played the leading part, sat far back in the wings of life, and with vast pride and infinite patience, wove all the cloth for me to wear”

Ode To Nita,  J. Evetts Haley

HAIR AND FLOWERS

Inside a hand-made shadow box more than a century and a half old is a simple, delicate, and profound expression of family, crafted by knowing matronal hands from nothing more than human hair and thin wire. The linen cloth lining the interior is tainted some by both years and dust. But the modern-day owner is slow to disturb the contents and risk his own clumsiness with what was so exactly woven with so much care.

In a day long past, especially in the South, it was common to save a lock of hair of family members and those closest. It was also fashionable in a time that seemed to treasure both the personal and the traditional for the women to create arrangements from that hair. This box was such a creation, an intricate floral design with large blooms and tiny petals forming a large “U” centered on yet another flower. The smallest of circles and the most tightly woven pedals are all made of hair collected from generations of one family and passed down to be shaped with precision and patience into a lasting symbol of a long line of mothers and their hope for the mothers who would follow them.

The shadow box was carried as a legacy by a young bride who left her war-torn home state and followed her husband to a land even more strife-ridden and dangerous. She was Georgia raised by an adventurous soul who traded in land, railroads, and cotton and outlived three wives. A family tradition says that she did not dress herself till almost a teen, servant slaves did the task.

The Civil War disrupted her world and in many ways so did a Confederate soldier laid up in a nearby field hospital. There was no heroic battlefield tale for the soldier, any good historian of wars knows that disease was as common as bullet wounds in those armies before modern medicine. And in his case, he had enlisted in a local militia for protection of his home area only to be mustered into the regular Confederate army a few months later.

At the end of the war, she packed the shadow box among the few items there was room for and made the trip to a land of prairies, post-oaks, soil that ran from coal black to rocky tough and back again, brushy creek bottoms alive with wild cattle known to kill black bears in single combat, almost constant Indian raids and white-man blood feuds which often claimed dozens of lives. It was known generally as the Forks, as in the northern forks of the Trinity River which drained south from the Red across the Cross Timbers and the edge of the southern plains and extended westward toward the “fingers of the Brazos”.

The year before 17 citizens of her new home county had been killed in Comanche and Kiowa raids. Two years before that a “citizens court” 20 miles to the north had hung 42 men in one month to maintain order. About 15 miles to the east John Wesley Hardin had been born in what served as both a house and his father’s church. Another 20 miles to the southeast was probably where a 15-year-old Hardin killed his first man on the way to what he later claimed was a 47-man count (but a close look at the historical record will turn up “only” about 25). She wasn’t in Georgia anymore.

Though the first winter her husband hunted wild cattle, roping them one by one, branding them, and drifting them into a long prairie bottom protected by two ridges where they were grazed in common with the catches from two other hunters. Each man would spend every third day watching and guarding the herd. White thieves were much more abundant than Indian raiders.

That next spring the captured cattle were joined to a Dot Gunter herd sent up a well-beaten trail just 10 miles to the west which traveled the edge of an ancient anticline that crossed the Red where it made a huge ox-bow near Preston’s Trading Post. The trail had many names; the Preston, the Shawnee, the Sedalia, and the Nations among others; but that season it would see upwards of 300,000 head put hooves into its dust and cross the Red into the Choctaw Nation pointed toward Yankee markets in Missouri and Baxter Springs, Kansas. The next year the main path would be a little farther to the west, crossing near Spanish Fort on the Red and head toward new railroad tracks in Abilene.

The young couple used the money to buy land, a strip of black prairie clay between two creeks a mile long. There was also a house built with lumber from the closest sawmill 150 miles to the east, two rooms with single board walls seven-feet high and a dirt floor.

That fall while her husband was camped miles away on another cow hunt four men rode in on tired horses only a few jumps ahead of a Union League posse. Simp Dixon, Gyp and Joe Clements, and their boyish-looking cousin Wes Hardin demanded a change of horses. The young wife stood at the corral gate with a shotgun to refuse the sorrel gelding and two Steel Dust mares behind it. If it was the spunk she showed or the closeness of the posse, according to family stories they rode on.

In 1870, that same young wife was left a young widow with two sons under the age of four. The young woman raised on carpets stayed on the hard-packed dirt floor of that simple house tucked in a grove of growing pecan trees. From it, she ran what would have been her husband’s business and, after a decade and a half, had doubled their holdings as well as having two young sons who might not have reached 20 yet but did have the skills to be considered men in a place which judged such things solely on results.

At this point, she remarried. After another ten years, she was again a widow who had just inherited quite a bit more land. She released the inherited land to a resentful former brother-in-law saying she didn’t consider it hers anyway. She then divided the rest of her holdings (the ones she had built herself) among the two sons and started over herself.

I, of course, never knew the lady. I do have a single faded childhood memory of her oldest son. It is of a 90-year man rising slowly from his chair in his living room, seemingly bent and bowed until full on his feet. Then he straightens into a ram-rod pose as if sitting in a saddle with his shoulders pulled back as he reaches for a sweat-stained felt hat that he puts on before starting for the barn.

But I remember that man’s son well, her grandson. It is from him that I like to think I get a glimpse of the woman. He maintained a quietness about himself in most everything and hardly spoke of himself at all. There was the ability to project warmth while keeping privacy and to teach life lessons with questions instead of sermons. There was a decided intent not to overstate anything, especially about himself, and a precision of truth in what he promised. His word was considered stronger than any contract by the lowest shoe-string horse trader and the banking moguls of two major cities. To carry his name was both a gift and a responsibility.

That shadow box was saved and then passed to our time by the hand of another young wife. Her DNA was not present in the hair making up the flowers in the case but she had married into it. She found it, searched for its origin, and then made sure it was safe. Though she was not related by blood to the young wife who had left Georgia, I tend to believe they shared some qualities.

Her voice has been silent, unable to be heard, for some time but occasionally the eyes will brighten into a glim and an unexplained smile will show there is still a spirit and warmth easily recognized by those who have felt them before. Somewhere within a failed body is the same young woman who, very much like that other young bride from decades before, followed her heart into a life that was not always easy but left indelible values imprinted into a next generation she helped to create out of hope and strength.

She might have lived without plumping for the first decade-plus of her married life but during that time she had the iron touch to lead a champion bull into the show ring and the gentile patience to pass on a deep reverence for the written word and the books which carry it. Despite the lack of cash money, she showed the skill with a needle and thread to create a shirt from scratch complete with the image of a black stallion on the back for a second-grade son and the creativity to transform a couple of cardboard boxes and some purple cloth into a prize-winning Halloween costume at the elementary school fall festival.

During that first decade, the settings she followed into included minor league baseball parks, far-flung rodeo arenas, dusty and distance-spaced match ropings, rented pastures, and breaking pens. The place of residence ranged from roadside campfires to single-planked shotgun houses hidden on remote creek banks. The joy, strength, spirit, faith, and character which made those times mostly happy memories may now be veiled behind a curtain of cruel disease but they all are still alive. They were nurtured, grown, and passed on long ago.

They are also symbolized in an old shadow box by the tiny and precise creations containing the DNA of countless generations of mothers which was then blended with new bloodlines. It is not just sons who become heirs to bold fathers. Daughters whose own boldness can hold the hearts of good men are the bridges between the vital qualities of those past generations and the exploring adventures that will build a future, legions of mothers who are the very breath of a civilized social order regardless of the setting.

Published in General
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There are 6 comments.

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  1. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    You mean Reflection?

    • #1
  2. Ole Summers Member
    Ole Summers
    @OleSummers

    Thank you, my editor took the week off …….. about five years ago 

    • #2
  3. Nohaaj Coolidge
    Nohaaj
    @Nohaaj

    Ole,

    Thank you for sharing your stories.  You have a tremendous gift with  your writing.   And experiences that allow you to paint the complexity of human nature intertwined with our history and heritage. 

    Each post is a treasure.  Much like your Mom. Likely because of your Mom.

    You are Blessed. 

    • #3
  4. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    What an incredible, beautifully told story, Ole. Thank you so much for sharing it with us.

    • #4
  5. MoFarmer Coolidge
    MoFarmer
    @GaryBlake

    what Susan said.

    • #5
  6. Steven Galanis Coolidge
    Steven Galanis
    @Steven Galanis

    No tame living in that history but some tenderness for sure. 

    • #6
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