New Calves, Gardens, Funerals, and Permanents

Diary – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

Not every diary is a record of the monumental things that happen in our lives. Some just keep track of the every day things. But, even the simplest can be amazing windows into people in our family – whether we actually know them nor not.

Of course, not many people just hand over their diaries for others to read. Usually, we only see them after they are gone. So, we have to imagine a lot of the details and things that went on around the notes that are written in the diaries.

A couple of weeks ago, I shared a short diary of my great-grandmother’s trip to California from Texas and back. That one only kept track of a few weeks of her life, but it was a great picture nonetheless.

My great-aunts Norvelle Wren and Mildred Wren Whitten both kept diaries for years and years. Sometimes, they used a desk calendar and sometimes they just made notes on the wall calendars about the events of the day. I have a few of these and my mother has many, many more. I suspect that they go back pretty far since neither Mildred nor Norvelle were ones to throw that sort of thing out.

Mildred always had a lot more to say in her’s than Norvelle did. But, they both talked about the things that mattered in their day to day lives: crops and cows, family and friends, gardens and flowers, trips to church and the beauty parlor.

Norvelle’s Diary – July 1964

Of course, the key events of the day were recorded, like my first birthday. Norvelle also recorded the comings and goings of her family and friends. On my birthday, my aunt, Jennie, headed home to South Carolina from her parents’ house.

Norvelle’s Diary – May 1964

There were lots of notes about their gardens. Both Mildred and Norvelle, who lived immediately across the street from each other, on their respective home places with pastures and fields, had a garden. And from those gardens, some of the very best vegetables ever produced came.

Norvelle’s Diary – April 1964

Their diaries kept track of all of the calves born each year. I think that they shared in which ones belonged to whom so that they could split the income. The cows had names and they knew (mostly) which calves came from which cows.

Norvelle’s Diary – Entry by Grannie (Pearl Hudson Wren) – March 1964

Once in a while, you come across a really amusing entry. Looks like Grannie (Pearl Hudson Wren) would from time to time add things to the record of the day. Like this time in March 1964 when Grannie noted that she and Norvelle drove down to Texarkana to purchase “cosmetics, foundation garments, and shoes.”

Both Mildred and Norvelle noted when friends and family (and they, themselves) were sick, in the hospital or nursing home, or home from the hospital. They marked births, marriages, funerals, and burials.

It’s fun to see how they refer to each other as Sister and both refer to my grandfather as Brother. In 1976, he went to the hospital for surgery and you can find a day by day account of his health in Mildred’s diary.

You can see through the difficult times in their lives, when they took care of each other. Mildred notes that they placed the stone on Henry, her husband’s, grave, the stone that had all but her death date already filled in. She also tells that Norvelle finally felt well enough for Mildred to sleep at her own house rather than with Norvelle. Mildred was skeptical, but Norvelle was (as you would expect if you knew her) insistent.

Norvelle’s Diary – May 1983

In spite of everything, through good times and bad, both Norvelle and Mildred are just so matter-of-fact about everything. Take a look at Norvelle’s account of May 1982. Went to church. Made tea. Got a permanent. Cloudy, rainy, colder, rainy. Taken to the hospital and had to say for four days. Came home to bees inside the house around the chimney. Could not make it to church, but Horace came to see me.

Norvelle’s Diary – November 1982

And through thick and thin, while feeling well or sick, in hot weather or cold, very little could keep them from their hair appointments. Permanents apparently were a real thing for these ladies. November 1982 clearly started out with a bang. Permanents all around – Norvelle, Mildred, and their cousin Julia all got permanents the same week. I mean, it’s one thing to keep track of your own hair, but to keep track of you cousin’s hair is real devotion.

I love the fact that we have these diaries, even if they don’t provide new “genealogical” facts. They help us to remember these people that were so special to us. They help us to see how they went through their lives, day by day, especially when we only got to see them occasionally. So, scour the house. Look in all the drawers. If there’s a little pad of paper, read through it. Don’t just assume an appointment book isn’t filled with life and love. You never know what you’re going to find or to find out.

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Five Generations of Betties

Namesake – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

Seems like just last week that I was talking about old J.H. Cason and here we go again. I keep track of these stories and really do try to keep from repeating, but there are just so many times that the Casons and their kin are just exactly the right people with the best stories.

The Reverend Jeremiah H. Cason could be a tough old bird. My grandmother said that when her grandfather came to visit, the whole house was turned upside down. Everything was his way, with no discussion or dissension. He had gone to Africa as a missionary in the 1850s and to war in the 1860s and had preached his way across the south ever since then and knew how to be tough. Discipline and rules were important to who he was, to his view of the world, and to his faith. But, he also knew how to be tender and clearly had a soft side that came out from time to time.

Interestingly, he was named for his father, Jeremiah Cason, born in 1800. (We visited his grave last week.) And he has generations of men named for him, all called Jere in one form or fashion, some of whom you have already met. But that’s not the namesake I want to tell you about today.

Little Bettie Higgs was born on the 24th of November, 1903 to Lida Cason Higgs and J.W. “Will” Higgs. She was their fourth child and second daughter.

On the day that her grandfather heard of her birth, J.H. Cason, that crusty old guy, sat down and wrote a tender letter to her to welcome her to the world and to the family, to tell her about those who went before her, and to share some wishes for her future. It’s an amazingly touching letter for someone who could be so gruff and crusty.


My dear little darling, I have this morning heard of your safe arrival on Nov 26th, 1903. Upon our National Thanksgiving Day. Your coming among us makes the Thankgiving Day more sacred and fixes it upon the tablet of our hearts and fixes it upon the register of our memories. We are glad to welcome you to a share in our cares and burdens and to a place in our hearts and to the joys of our holy religion.

Then, he goes on to explain to Bettie how important her name is. He tells her about her grandmother

You may be curious to know why the name of Bettie was given to you. Your grand mother Cason was named before her marriage Elizabeth (Bettie) Cooper. The name Elizabeth (Bettie) has long been a family name in the Cooper and Cason families.

Grandpa Cason goes on, then to spend two pages mapping out her parents, grandparents, and ancestors for five or six generations! For the most part, these would have been people that Jere Cason would have known or would have well known about. What a gift! On top of that, since this was a letter to an infant, Bettie’s mother, Lida Cason Higgs, annotated the letter over the years. And she added a touching postscript:

My precious child, God was good to you in giving you these two noble people as grand parents. May you be worthy of them. Mother.

Bettie isn’t a rare or uncommon name. Certainly not in those days. But, it’s interesting that in every generation going back, Bettie Higgs had a grandmother or aunt with whom she shared a name, going back at least 150 years in both directions.

Grandpa Cason finishes his letter encouraging Bettie in her faith. He assures her that, since he is already getting old, that they may not have a chance to know each other well. But they will certainly meet again in heaven if she embraces her faith. He clearly misses and grieves for his wife, Bettie Cooper Cason, who died just two years before. The old preacher makes sure that Bettie knows not only that he loves her, but that Jesus does as well.

No precious darling, if you never see or remember your grand papa you must know that he loves you and has prayed to the Lord for you. It was easy for the Lord to take care of me seventy one years, infancy, childhood, youth, and manhood down to old age. He can take care of you, as easy as he has your grand papa. Only love Him and trust Him and you will meet all the good people where Jesus lives.

What a wonderful was to greet a baby, even though it may be years and years before they grow to appreciate it. J.H. Cason probably greeted all of his grandchildren with a letter. I have seen several and can only assume that he made a point of doing this for all of them.

But, only in this one, did he lay out the history of the infant’s name. You can feel how much he misses his Bettie and how much he hopes and prays for the future for this Bettie. I am sure that she did not disappoint him. She was something special.