Feed Sacks and Embroidery Floss

This past Sunday, I sat behind my friend Kristin Heiden at church. She’s our Associate Minister for Adult Discipleship at Roswell United Methodist Church.  She was wearing her robe and stole to assist in serving Communion and I particularly noticed her stole.  It was a simple, white, coarse cloth, with simple embroidery on it.  She told me that she got it when she was in Jerusalem.

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Front: Pearl Hudson Wren (Grannie), Norvelle Wren; Back: Hudson Wren, Mildred Wren Whitten, 1968

But, it reminded me of some other coarse, embroidered cloth that I had seen.  My great-grandmother, Pearl Hudson Wren (Grannie to us), and my great-aunt, Mildred Wren Whitten, made tea towels forever.  They lived out in the country, in Nevada County, Arkansas and learned to be thrifty and not waste things.  They would take old feed sacks and bleach and iron them smooth and clean.  Then, they would embroider simple patterns on them.  Rather than doing this by hand, since you need lots of tea towels, they used the old treadle Singer sewing machine.  They would wind embroidery floss around the bobbin instead of the spool and do things upside down, since they wanted the stitching to end up on top of the towel so you could see it.  Just wanted to add a little splash of color and care to something very mundane and ordinary.

I have a bunch of these towels. I don’t use them any more, but I don’t see any reason not to.  Grannie and Mildred certainly didn’t view this as making a keepsake.  But, I like to keep them to remember them and remember being with them.  Grannie was already sick by the time I came along and not able to be up and around much.  But I never saw Mildred without a big smile.  She kept close track of her family and friends, recording births, deaths, anniversaries, birthdays, who was sick and who was traveling in her diary.  She ministered and looked after all of her folks.

So, Kristen’s stole reminded me of Mildred and Grannie and their tea towels. And Mildred reminded me of another towel: the one that Jesus used to wash and wipe the Apostle’s feet at the last supper.  That big circle made me realize how appropriate it was for someone who had committed her life to the helping ministries by being ordained a deacon to have a simple, coarse stole, like Jesus’ towel, to signify her role and mission.  Thanks, Kristin for the memory and reminder!

The Clock

When my great-grandparents, Sam Scott Wren and Pearl Hudson were married in 1899, Sam’s parents gave them a clock as a wedding present.  It was a Welch kitchen clock, about 24 inches tall and 15 inches across, designed to sit on a shelf.  And it did.  For years and years, it sat in Sam and Pearl’s house, dutifully chiming the hours and the half.  I don’t actually remember it being in their house by the time I came along, but I was not really aware of the details, or at least I was focused on other details.

Dr. Alonzo Dossey Wren (Dr. Wren) and Georgia Frances Vickers came to southwest Arkansas the long way around.  He was born in Putnam County, Georgia in 1841, she in Thomas County, Georgia in 1849.  By the early 1850s, both of their families had migrated to the Minden area in Bienville Parish, Louisiana.  That’s where they were married in 1866, after he returned from the Civil War.  He studied medicine at the University of Louisiana Medical Department, now Tulane University, in New Orleans.  Then the family made its way to southwest Arkansas, Nevada County where they raised their family.

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Dr. Alonzo Dossey Wren and Georgia Frances Vickers Wren
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Millie Cindy Hudson and John Wesley Hudson

Pearl’s family came to Nevada County from the Atlanta area.  Her father was John Wesley Hudson, born in the Atlanta area in 1841, right at the founding of Atlanta, but that’s another story for another day.  Her mother was Millie Lucinda “Cindy” Almand.  Cindy was from the Conyers area in Rockdale County, Georgia where her family had been some of the founding families in the Salem Camp Meeting.  Generations of Almands still meet there every September for a reunion – 2nd Sunday in September at 1:00PM. Bring a dish and you’re more than welcome!  Both of these families had moved into Paulding County, Georgia after the Civil War, but I can’t find any evidence that they knew one another, or that they didn’t.  In any case, there was a large migration from Paulding County, Georgia to Nevada County, Arkansas around 1870.

Sam Scott Wren was born in Nevada County in 1879 and Pearl Hudson was born there in 1884.  They were married in 1899 and her parents wanted to give them a significant gift for their wedding.  So, the clock.  A.D. and Georgia Wren gave the newlyweds a beautiful Welch kitchen clock.

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Sam Scott Wren and Pearl Hudson Wren, daughters Norvelle, Marion, and Mildred, 1906

 

It must have broken at some point.  I don’t remember it in Grannie’s (Pearl Hudson Wren) house.  I do remember that my uncle Keith Johnson refinished it and gave it to Papaw (Hudson Wren, my grandfather) one year.   And I can always remember it in Nannie and Papaw’s house, sitting near the fireplace in the living room.  I remember thinking how loud it was when it ticked and chimed.  But then, it faded into the background and you would have to listen hard to see if it was running.  I remember hearing it chime once in the night and then not knowing if it was 1:00 or 1:30 or what time until the next chime, thirty minutes later.

After my grandparents died, Mom asked me what I would like to have from their house and I said the clock.  I think she was sort of reluctant at first to let me have it, it being so special.  But, she did.  And I have loved it.  It sits in my office and gets wound every Sunday.  Kathleen doesn’t want to wind it but doesn’t want me to forget, so she gets the key out of the clock and sets it on my chair so I never forget to wind it.

Broken FootI have had it worked on a couple of times – cleaning, bushings replaced, a new spring – but it’s the same clock that has kept on ticking since it found its new home with Sam and Pearl in 1899. The last time I had it cleaned, I slipped coming down the stairs and broke my foot, but the clock didn’t get dropped and kept on running. Interestingly, I went ahead and took it to the clock repair place.  I got a call to pick it up the day my foot came out of the cast.

So, if you are on a conference call with me and hear it in the background, and if I am working at home, you probably will hear it, now you know its story.

P.S. Notice the little clay pot to the right of the clock in the front.  My friend Bridget Kelman made these unfired, soft clay pots for our class when she and I led a Disciple III Bible study some years back. It is to remind us of 2 Corinthians 4:7, “But we have this treasure in clay pots so that the awesome power belongs to God and doesn’t come from us.

That doesn’t look like a quilt to me…

My grandfather, Hudson Wren, had two sisters, Mildred and Norvelle. Norvelle never married and Mildred and her husband, Henry Whitten, never had any children.  The two of them lived across the street from each other from the time that Mildred and Henry were married in 1920.  No doubt there will be much written about these folks as time goes on.  They were pretty special, all of them.

After Mildred died, her furniture and things were put into storage.  She had a beautiful, small cedar chest that I thought would look nice in my apartment.  Mom said that if it was okay with Norvelle, I could have it, but that she wanted the quilts that were in it.

So, the next time I was in Prescott (Nevada County, Arkansas), Norvelle and I set about cleaning out the cedar chest.  There were some beautiful quilts in it that I think I eventually ended up with, anyway.  But, we set them aside that day for Mom.

At the bottom of the chest, we found an envelope with a little note that said “Merry Christmas, 1921” from Henry’s mother (Mildred’s mother-in-law), Christine Holston Whitten.  In the envelope, we found this 1881 $5 gold piece!

Norvelle looked at me and said “That doesn’t look like a quilt to me.  Put it in your pocket.”  So, I did.  And I still have it!

Find a Penny, Pick It Up

My grandfather, Henry Hudson Wren (everyone always called him Hudson, or Mr. Wren), found this penny on his family farm when he was young.  As devoted to his children and grandchildren as he was, Mom tells me that this was a thing he kept for himself and never offered to give to any of them.  After he died, Mom gave it to me.

I am sure that I will spend a lot of time on my grandfather here, but here are the basics.  Hudson was born in 1906 and grew up in Prescott, Nevada County, Arkansas.  He played football for the Prescott Curly Wolves in high school and lettered for three years at the University of Arkansas in the 1920s.  He studied agriculture and went on to be a very successful farmer and leader in northeast Arkansas.

The family farm was on the site of the Battle of Prairie DeAnn, also called the Battle of Moscow Church.  Since the family moved there in around a little before 1920, there were still plenty of artifacts of the skirmish to be found.  My brother has a cannon shell.  My mother has a cannon ball.  And I have a sword that was plowed up on the farm.

Papaw found this penny there when he was a teenager.  It’s not a valuable coin.  It’s beat-up from being in a battle and then in the ground for sixty years.  It’s worn smooth from years in a pocket.  You can’t even tell what year it was minted.  But, it was a special thing to Hudson and he kept it his whole life.  Now, I have it in the little box that he kept it in, wrapped in a little piece of one of his handkerchiefs that he used for it.  And that’s special.

Approved Alternate Uses

This is my great-grandmother Viola Tennison Bailey‘s butter paddle.  Rather than use a churn, she made butter in a big, wooden bowl.  I’m not sure where the bowl is.  I never had it.  Perhaps Dad does.  In any case, using this, Great-grandmother would turn and turn and turn and whip and whip and whip the cream until the butter came together and rose to the top.  Sounds like a lot of work to me!

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Viola Tennison Bailey

 

My grandmother, Susan Louise Bailey Dickson, told me that there were some  approved alternate uses for the butter paddle as well and that it got pretty regular use across the family.

Susan was the youngest of ten children born to Viola and Charles Council Bailey.  Viola and Charles were married in 1895 and lived most of their lives in Hackett, Sebastian County, Arkansas.  They had their first son, Carl Everett Bailey, in 1896.  I’ll talk more about them and  him in later blogs; there’s lots to tell there.  By the time Susan was born in 1919, Viola had been raising children for twenty-five years – eight boys and two girls.  Her oldest had already gone off to war, come back, and died.  Two more sons had died as children or infants.  Not too long after Susan was born, her older sister started having kids of her own.  Some of those kids where quite the characters and I am sure got into all kinds of trouble.  bailey-0200-f-v01.jpg

That’s where the butter paddle comes in.

Grandmother told me that her mom used it not only to make the family butter but also used it on some family butts!  She said that this was one of her preferred discipline tools. Now, seeing this angelic child, can you ever imagine her being in any sort of mischief or needing to be disciplined in any way at all?  Hard to imagine!

This is one of the classic pictures of my grandmother, Susan Louise Bailey Dickson, along with her cow, Blossom.  It’s not often that you see a dirtier child than this.  But out of that dirt grew one of the finest women I have ever met.  She and Granddad were married for sixty-six years and every bit as smitten with each other when they died as when they met.  But, that’s a story for another day.

What the heck is this?

Sometimes the things you inherit from your ancestors are not only photos and letters and documents.  Sometimes you get pieces of them!

Charles Council Bailey, my great-grandfather, was born in 1868 in Hackett, Sebastian County, Arkansas, on a farm his grandparents had purchased in 1840 (more about that another time).

Charlie Bailey worked the farm, worked as a carpenter framing houses, and in his spare time wrote and collected songs by the dozens.  I have stacks and stacks of songs that he wrote out on notebook paper.  I’m still working to figure out which ones he copied and which ones he wrote.

In September, 1895, he married Viola Tennison in Le Flore County, Indian Territories (now Oklahoma).  Charlie and Viola had ten children, starting with Carl Everett Bailey in 1896 and ending my with my grandmother, Susan Louise Bailey in 1919.

Along the way, Charlie must have had some dental issues and got a tooth fitted.  After he died, and after Viola died, his small trunk with many of his prized possessions ended up with my cousin, Michael Bailey, who gave it to me.  In addition to photos, songs, and the like, in it were several pairs of glasses and this – the tooth.  I can only assume that it belonged to him and not someone else.

Charles died in 1935 and was buried in the Vinita Cemetery in Hackett, on land that his family had donated may years before for that purpose.

So now, on my shelf with my grandparents watches and great-grandparents clock and photos and the like is a tooth.  But, without this story, who would know that it was an ancestor’s story and not just some weird collection on my shelf!