Wife of John L.

Wife of John L.

(Apartment 1937)

Grandma’s apartment was pea sized or as some might say, she didn’t have room to “cuss a cat.”

Mrs. Artie Brooks, her landlady, lived in the rear of the close-to-the-sidewalk brick bungalow.  Grandma’s quarters were a part of what used to be “Mrs. Brook’s Variety Store,”  the little store where Edith and I had so much fun buying 5 and 10 cent Christmas presents for family members.

As I remember, there was a combination living room/kitchen, a pint sized bedroom and a bathroom. With certainty, there was no room for the glassed china cabinet, the leather couch or her other “pretties.”

She was in walking distance to the First Baptist Church, stores and the beauty shop.  I thought the location would be just dandy for a quick stop off on our way home from school.  Mama said not to bother Grandma, we’d best high-tail it home.

Grandma never set foot on our land.  She was getting up in years but Mama said that wasn’t the reason she didn’t visit.  “Grandma manages to go where she pleases, when she has a mind to it.”  Mama said.  The reason she stayed away from us was that she feared she might carry home a bed bug.   Continue Reading »


Mrs. Witch-Webb


My grandparents had known the Webb’s since heck was a pup. They had shared stories of good crops, draughts, floods, the Depression. They had a kinship enjoyed by farmers in Wayne and Reynolds counties.

Grandma, several years widowed, and the widowed Mrs. Webb became reacquainted when Grandma moved into the town apartment. During a conversation, Mrs. Webb must have asked Grandma if she knew of a reliable girl to “live in” and help her about the house.

Rosie was approached by Grandma and soon was staying with Mrs. Webb in her small house on a street at the foot of College Hill. Her house was near the school and would save Rosie the long walk to and from the holler and grandma was sure Rosie could use the money Mrs. Webb would pay her.

Rosie only stayed for a little while. She had found something better, or so she said. I jumped in to fill the vacancy.

Grandma’s friend, Mrs. Webb was part witch. I knew it. I was perceptive. I had been perceptive since third grade. Maybe I was born perceptive. She looked like a cross between a crow and the Wizard of Oz witch. Her black hair was slicked back so tightly over her forehead, her beady eyes bulged. Her voice was raspy. I didn’t like her one little whit but I did need money and the close walk to school meant I wouldn’t have to get up before daylight to beat the tardy bell.

Mrs. Webb said, “You come straight home from school, you hear?” “Don’t play around, you hear?” I hurried straight “home.” She immediately sat me down in a chair, gave me a pan of apples to peel. In a whiny voice, she said, “Don’t waste my good apples, peel real thin, and do be careful with my good paring knife, understand?” Then: “Dump the peelings. Rinse the pan real good. Don’t chip my pan.”

I was ever so careful not to scorch the apples. I didn’t waste her sugar. The apple sauce was made just right. She licked her lips as she ate the warm sauce. “Oh, mercy no! You can’t have any apple sauce! They are my apples, aren’t they?!”

She rooted me out of bed before daylight. She and Mr. Webb had always eaten an early breakfast. She should not break their good habits, should she? Now, if I hurried real fast and tidied up the kitchen, I’d have plenty of time to help her with her enema. As she sat on the chamber pot, I was to hold the water bottle up high. “Real high,” she said, so the water would run just right. Now I must hurry and empty the pot and rinse it very clean. We should not smell up the house, should we?

She couldn’t find her good paring knife. Why, Mr. Webb had bought her that knife. I’d have to find it somehow. No. She just couldn’t pay me wages until I found the knife. She couldn’t pay my sister either. Why, did I know that Rosalee stole her good glue pot?

Mama and I sat in Mrs. Webb’s front room. Mama said we’d be staying over night if Mrs. Webb didn’t pay up. The old witch said, “I’m a sick widow you know?! I don’t have much money. Besides, your man, still owes me for a bushel of potatoes he got when you lived on Webb Creek. Urie knows about the potatoes and I just might tell him you’re threatening me. I’m not well, you know?”

Mama sat, composed, her hands folded in her lap. Her dander was up but in a quiet voice she said, “Mrs. Webb, my kids are not responsible for Louie Hackworth’s debts. You are a poor excuse for a woman to expect so much from kids, then hold their dad’s debt over their heads. You will pay Jane. You will pay Rosalee.

The amount? I do not remember. She paid.

(Mrs. Webb, by the way, was not a poor widow. After Mr. Webb’s death she sold acres of rich river bottom land.)

Several years before my mother left us* she wrote a biographical, anecdotal book about memories of her early life in Piedmont, Missouri as well as  a tribute to her mother, Edith Hackworth .. hence the title “If Mama Sang”.  The title came from a quote from the book:  “If Mama sang because she was happy, or if she sang to revive her spirits, I don’t know, but her out-of-tune songs sometimes came from the garden where she was pulling weeds or from the kitchen as she bent over the washboard.”  My mother further stated:  “This woman, our Mama, had more guts, gumption and grit than can be told, and the strength she transferred to us would, in small portions, be handed down through the generations.”

*euphemism for “died”

I’ve created a companion website for the book to enhance our family communication but open to an ever-increasing, genealogy-seeking larger extended family.

This blog will eventually be a repository for family recipes, photographs, and tributes to those who have gone before us — an archive, an attic, a shoebox full of memories.

If Mama Sang

Practicing for real life.