Monday, June 15, 2009

The Scottish Lass

Gina hosted our June literary meeting on Saturday. Although attendance was low (several members were on vacation), we had a very productive meeting. And Gina's lunch (as always) was delicious.

We don't limit our meetings to stories. Mother records what is happening in the area; what's happening around the world; and what's going on in our own lives. We also talk about memories and family history.

Mother has a memory like no one else, and Saturday she focused on her grandmother (and our great-grandmother), Ellen Kane Elsey.

"Her father said she was the only one of his children who inherited her mother's Scots/Irish black hair and blue eyes," Mother said, "So he called her his 'Scottish Lass.'"

I remember Maw Maw Elsey as a thin, ancient woman (I was ten when she died). But from listening to the adults' conversations, I soon learned she was a very intelligent, witty woman. And very outspoken. Usually dressed in neat dark dresses with lace collars, her black hair was streaked with only a few strands of silver.

She was a schoolteacher. And she loved teaching. She taught for years before she married my great-grandfather, Liburtis Elsey, when she was thirty. And even after my grandmother, Mary, was born, she continued. The schools were too far away to commute by buggy each day, so Mary went along with her each week, and they boarded with families of her students.

"She was way ahead of the times," Mother said, "That was unheard-of back in those days."

Maw Maw quit teaching a few years later, and she and Paw Paw Elsey lived on the farm until they retired and moved into town. My memories of their home in Bardwell are a faded oriental rug and scratchy horsehair furniture; vanilla-scented smoke drifting from Paw Paw's pipe; a big warm-morning stove. And the smell of Lux soap in the kitchen (always a big bar in a soap dish above the skirted sink.)

"She was a wonderful cook and homemaker," mother said, "And she loved tending her flowers and gardening. She had no desire to go anywhere much; she liked staying at home. And she loved to read."

Mother hesitated, a faraway look in her eyes. "I can see her now, sitting in the front yard on those summer days after the housework was done, reading her books and magazines and reciting poems."

"Poems?" someone said.

"Maw Maw loved poetry," Mother said, "I can't count the times I heard her suddenly burst out reciting a poem, right in the middle of cooking, cleaning, washing clothes..."

"The same one?"

"No, all kinds. She quoted Longfellow and a lot of others."

Mother pulled a sheet of paper from her tote bag. "Uncle Tom and I were talking about her not long ago. She taught him this poem when he was little. I remember it, but not all of it, so he recited it to me last week and I wrote it down."

Why should the hard way be the only way up?
Why should the lonely way be the only way up?
Why should one suffer so much through their soul?
Then to reach at the end their ultimate goal,
To find the goal they had sought
Was not worth the battle
Through which they had fought.
(I can't find this poem anywhere, so I'm unable to give the poet credit.)
Maw Maw George (Mary) was with her the night she died. She had drifted in and out of consciousness for days, when all of a sudden she was lucid. And speaking. Maw Maw couldn't make out what she was saying until she leaned closer.

It was William C. Bryant's poem, Thanatopsis.

...By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch about him,
And lies down to pleasant dreams.


Suzanne said...

Loved reading this.

Lorrie said...

I so enjoyed reading this-- a gentle visit to the past.

met said...

A great tribute. Very well done. Mawmaw would be proud.

Brenda said...

Thanks so much, y'all!

All words and pictures © 2008 Brenda G. Wooley