Archive for May, 2011

My Great-Grandmother Martha "Mattie"

I know I’m supposed to be thinking of those who served in the military this Memorial Day.  I have been, but these thoughts have led me to others, engaged in a different kind of war, on the home-front.  Women with the pioneer spirit fascinate me.  I want to know what drives them…what they are made of…where they get their spunk…and hope that I can learn something from them that helps me foster some of the same grit.

My father’s grandma was one of these.  She appears small in stature, but she was mighty in spirit.  See that gleam in her eye?  Mattie was possibly of the Chickasaw or Choctaw tribe.  I have spent much time trying to connect the dots to this heritage, but so far, to no avail.  I assure you, though,  her determination surpasses her height.

(Update:  for anyone in my family who might know the precise details of this story, mine turned out to be rather fictionalized.  See?  I am a writer.)  *See addendum at the end*

My father tells the story of Mattie’s days in the Oklahoma territory as a young bride and mother.  Accommodations were sometimes rudimentary.  Hers was no exception.  The place where she began rearing her family was crude, but it provided a roof over their heads.

One night, the window over the kitchen sink was left open.  It was probably a sweltering summer night where any slight breeze would have been appreciated.  Mattie was awakened by a sense of foreboding.  Adjusting her eyes to the dark, she raised herself to a sitting position on the feather bed in the one-room cabin.  A glint from the moon sparkled off the eyes of a creature climbing into the cabin through the window.  It was a mountain lion, perhaps on the hunt for one of her babies!

Mattie possessed a split second to make a move.  She had to do something.  The rifle leaned against the door-jam, all the way across the room.  There was no time for thought.  She sprang from the bed in her white, cotton gown and flung her arms around the creature’s neck and shoulders, attempting to wrestle it to the ground.  The piercing scream of the lion cut through the quiet as a tumble of limbs and fur crashed against the sparse furniture.  In a stealthy leap the massive animal suddenly sprang toward the window and made its escape.

Mattie sat on the floor gulping in great breaths.  Tears streamed down her face.  Her husband ran to her.  Four claw marks trickled a tinge of blood down one forearm.  There were no puncture wounds, nothing serious.  It was a miracle.

It is difficult to place these two pictures together in my mind.  Envisioning Mattie entangled with the mass of a mountain lion seems too unreal.  It is, however, the truth.

I have seen one of these incredible creatures once in the open.  I was driving at dusk  when I saw the massive, golden muscles of a mountain lion twitching as it crept low to the ground in a bar ditch off a country road in Oklahoma.  Its size and beauty stunned me.  I longed to see more, but it was not possible.  I would love to meet this gaze in a safe setting, but that is not likely, either.  A healthy respect for their power is probably all I can drum up.

I wonder, if faced with the same challenge of chasing a mountain lion from my home and protecting my children, would I rise to meet it?  I hope that I would, for the sake of the family slumbering nearby.  I don’t know.  Women of that generation were made of a strong gristle.  I hope that in my own way, I possess that verve.  Sometimes life does require it.

*Update* Otherwise known as, “Get your facts straight, Chickie.”  ;^)  A mountain lion did enter the kitchen window of my great-grandmother’s home when she had small children.  It probably took place in Arkansas, my dad was fairly certain, although not 100%.  Mattie heard the lion, which she called a “panther”  (dad said she said, “pain-ther”) screaming several times outside, before it came in.    She did not wrestle the mountain lion.  My mistake.  This tidbit it just as good, though. She threw a hot flat iron off the wood stove and hit it, burning it enough to frighten it back out the window!  (I would think that since it was bold enough to scream before it came in, it was definitely on the hunt and hungry!)  The panther did, however, make a note-to-self (just as I have done) and said, “Don’t mess with Mattie!”)  (OK, more fiction, BUT–it did not come back!)  ;^)    Dad also said that Mattie probably never weighed over 100 pounds and was only around 5 feet tall.  Still a GOOD story, and TRUE…now that you know the “rest of the story.”  ;^)

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The creative bug flew in at a late hour.

Instead of buying a card, I made a book cover for a short story that I wrote for my mother.  ;^)

I cut out card-stock and sewed the paper pieces together, attaching a bit of trim and a button.  I used a photocopy of a vintage pattern that I have to add a border.  The top border was made with a piece of scrapbook paper that has butterfly cut-outs.  I punched holes in the paper and tied it all together with crochet thread.

The story, of course, includes tea.  ;^)

I also semi-created a small gift.  This is the gift-box.  I like to re-use and recycle.  It is a little tin box that formerly  held mints.  I spray-painted several of these boxes to keep in my craft room for occasions like this.  I wrapped it in a vintage piece of lace that has tiny hearts sewn into it and wrapped that around a dried rosebud.

Inside is a bracelet that I filled with copies of vintage photos that have to do with my mother:  Her mother, her maternal grandmother, herself…

…my father’s maternal grandmother, me…

…my father’s mother…and I laid it on a cushy bed of vintage fabric yo-yo’s.

I had a good time and was pleased with the results.  Everything I used, I had on hand and did not have to buy a thing.  My mother always says, “Don’t buy me anything else!  I don’t need anything!”  So, this satisfies her and it satisfies my need to still feel like I’m giving her a heart-felt gift.

Here is the short story that I wrote:

(It is based on truth, but slightly fictionalized….)

Melva and the Tea-Party Legacy

By Cynthia L. H.

Melva sat in the middle of the dirt, smoothing out lines for the playhouse with her small hand.  The shade from the massive oak tree delivered some relief from the Oklahoma sun, but the temperature still sweltered.  The six-year-old Melva and her sisters did not notice.  They chattered and made plans for play that were just as important as any “real” plans possibly could be.

The family farm recovered slowly from the hard-hitting dustbowl and Great Depression, but the giggling girls did not feel the effects.  Their Mama and Daddy loved them.  Three square meals a day nourished them with fresh milk and churned butter from the cow.  Eggs from their chickens, with produce from the garden and the quail that Daddy hunted rounded out the fare.

“I’ll pour the tea,” Melva said.

“What are you going to use for dishes?”  Mary Fern, the oldest of the three and most pragmatic, asked.

“Rocks for the saucers and acorns for the cups!”  Melva said.

Her red ringlets bounced and mischievous freckles glittered in the sunlight.  They scurried and gathered up kitchen-tool treasures from under the tree and beamed at their finds.

“Wynola, go ask Mama for a little bit of cream,” Melva said.  She figured that sending in the youngest was a good idea.  Mama was immersed in household chores.  Hopefully, she would be distracted and let them play house with something real to drink.

In a few minutes, Wynola skipped out of the house with Mama.  Melva dropped her sparkling blue eyes; very focused on the lines she drew in the dirt to establish rooms for the playhouse.

“Look!”  Mary Fern said.  “She’s got milk and bread!”

Mama carried a platter laden with cups, saucers, bread, butter and milk.  Wynola glowed, hopping along with a homemade roll cupped in her hands.

Mama smiled and spread an old quilt on the ground.  The girls scampered onto it, eager as ants for this unscheduled feast.

“Oh!  It’s hot in that house!”  Mama said.  “I need a little bit of fresh air and a moment to rest.  May I join your tea-party?”

“Yes!  Yes, Mama!  Of course!”  The sisters chimed in.

“Mary Fern, you pour the milk,” Mama said.

“Can we pretend it’s tea?”  Melva asked.

“Why, yes, that’s a great idea,” Mama said.

“I want to pour!”  Wynola said.

“You can place the bread on each saucer.  See, here, like this,” Mama demonstrated.

“Melva, you can butter each piece of bread,” Mama said.

“Oh!  Butter!  Mama!  That will be so good,”  Melva said.

The chatter swelled, while a tea-party fit for any little princess continued.  The breeze seemed to cooperate and cooled the air down a few degrees.  The giggles and conversation lightened up any weight there might have been and Mama relaxed completely.

When Daddy and the girls’ brothers came in from the fields a little early, they happened upon the idyllic scene.  They pretended as if it was too feminine for them to understand, but secretly, wished they could participate.

Mama stood to go inside and begin supper.  Maybe some cold potatoes, radishes, tomatoes, and cucumbers would be a good start, so she would not have to heat up the kitchen again with the cook-stove.

“I’ll call you girls in to wash up and help me set the table in a few minutes,” Mama said.

Oblivious to the potential end of their fantasy, the princesses sipped and giggled.

Thus, began a long, family tradition of tea-parties.  The clock hands ticked through time and brought a myriad of changes.  Gains and losses filtered through the generations, but Melva maintained her sense of revelry.   She passed on a love of make-believe and playing pretend, to her daughter, and her daughter, and her daughter.  The chain stretched on.  Moments to sip a cup of tea and tarry in the gift of each day presented themselves.  A legacy, simply begun, would march through the halls of the ages.  Laughter echoed and brief, fragrant wafts of a long-ago moment rode in on the breeze.  Red dirt, fresh butter, and warm, baked bread mingled for a fleeting second on a cherished remembrance, fluttering down like a leaf from the oaks of time.

(The photos are of my mother and her siblings.)


Miss Cynthia

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In honor of Mother’s Day, I would like to spotlight resilient women.  I think that tenacity in motherhood is an often overlooked feature.  However, if we did not have the ability to bounce back after being thrown for a loop (or two or three or four at the same time…) I’m not sure how we would persevere.  Thank goodness for that quality of stick-to-it-ive-ness (and I’m not talking about cleaning marshmallows off of your hands and your toddler’s face and all the furniture…)    ;^-    In light of that, I present the following story:

When I managed “The Secret Garden Tearoom” we had a great following of patrons.  They loved to sit and chat with us and often lingered.  My favorite time of day was 2 o’clock when lunch ended and the tearoom closed.  The staff could eat, visit with our friends and rest for a few minutes before scrubbing the tearoom for the next day.

Our chat often centered on tough, resilient women; maybe because several of us were experiencing massive life changes.  We needed to know that we could not only survive, but thrive.

The owner of the shop had a long-time friend.  This elderly woman was a never-ending source of uproarious laughter.

Recently, her family apparently had a reason to become concerned about her driving.  They must have thought she was too old and posed a danger to herself, and perhaps, others.  Against her protests, they captured her car keys and took them away.

Within a day, they came back to check on their spunky octogenarian mother.

Parked in the driveway was the shiny, new car that she had gone and bought that very day, paying cash on the spot.

I’m determined to pattern my life after feisty women like her.  Sometimes, pure grit and determination is all we have to hold on to!  Do you know any spunky, ornery souls like her?  Are you one, yourself?  Do tell.  ;^)

(A BIG THANK YOU to Dan Felstead, my blog friend of Wood and Pixels.  For a larger view of this ’57 Oldsmobile and more of Dan’s photography, go check it out!  His work is amazing and you will be inspired.)  ;^)

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