On this date, 18 June 1966, fifty years ago, I became a big brother. My little brother, Marcus Wren Dickson, was born. Since that time, he’s grown from a baby with a mohawk to a loving husband and father, a respected educator and researcher, a Base Ballist, and someone I am proud to have as my little brother.
There are far too many stories to tell about Marcus and the things we have done together. So, I’ll just leave it with the fact that I am proud of you and hope your second half-century is as good as the first. Happy Birthday! But, no matter how old we both get, I will always call you my little brother.
I wish my iris were as nice as Nannie’s. My grandmother, Mary Higgs Wren (everyone but her sisters called her Mary Jim) grew and hybridized iris. For a couple of weeks every year, all around her yard, there were hundreds and hundreds of them. You see them in almost every picture of the house.
Nannie had all sorts of varieties. Mom recently gave me her log book of what she had, where she got it, and when. Also in the log were the results of her mixing and creating her own hybrid iris.
When Kathleen and I bought our house, I got a bunch of the iris. I bought a bunch of other fancy varieties, too. For a few years, they really looked good. The spring was a burst of color. But, the rest of the year, there were only a bunch of fronds that got overgrown and scraggly looking. Then brown spot and borers and bunnies came. Then travel came. I never had the green thumb or patience that Nannie had, so my iris never looked, and still don’t look as good.
Iris are basically weeds. They grow and make tons of babies. Every four or five years, you have to dig them all up, split them, and plant no more than 1/4 of what you dug up. Last summer was a digging time. I actually took out a couple of beds and dug and split a couple of others. I sent boxes and boxes of rhizomes to my family. And my yard is still overgrown with iris.
But, every year about this time, I watch them carefully. There are a couple of little patches of iris still in the yard that are special to me. Nannie always called this little white one the White Flag of Spring. It’s small, never more than about 14 inches high. But, without fail, it blooms right a the end of March, or at the latest the first week of April. And right on schedule, it bloomed this past week. It always makes me think of Nannie’s house and all her iris. And then I smile.
I would be remiss if I did not share these pictures of Easter at my grandparents’ house in Wilson, Arkansas. Little kids can have a great time in an egg hunt. I think there are some pictures of Marcus from this egg hunt, as well. I just can’t find them right now.
I think Nannie’s iris had the same problem mine do – rabbits infesting them. At least Yellow Bunny didn’t eat them all down to the ground like the ones who live at my house do.
Of course, if you have a good egg hunt, everyone needs to get in on the action, kids and grandparents alike. I think all of those folks on the Wilson Arkansas Facebook page ought to take a look here at Mr. Wren with his Easter basket and Mrs. Wren hiding eggs from a basket made out of a bleach bottle. They would appreciate the joy for living that they had. I think that eventually, you get too old for the egg hunt but don’t want to give it up, since that’s the path to all the Easter chocolate!
Seems like a big part of Easter, when I was a kid, was to get a new Easter outfit and to have our picture made – usually my brother Marcus and me together. I think lots of families have this tradition – make a bunch of photos when the family is together and looking its best.
I am not certain that this actually is an Easter photo. But, I think it must be. This is my dad, Robert H. Dickson III, and his brother Daryl Ralph Dickson. Dad is the older one on the right; Ralph is on the left. This was taken at their house on Speer St. in Fort Smith, Arkansas, it looks like.
But, I think things went downhill from there. The late Sixties and all through the Seventies were not kind to anyone, least of all us.
Marcus and Scott Dickson, Easter 1970
Scott and Marcus Dickson, Easter
Marcus and Scott Dickson, Easter 1976
Scott and Marcus Dickson, Easter, Charleston, South Carolina
I don’t remember these photos being taken, any of them. But I remember the times and the places and the people, and that’s what’s really important. I recognize the settings and remember the places. The second is at Prescott, Arkansas at Norvelle’s house. The third is in Fort Smith, Arkansas at Grandmother & Granddad’s house. The first and fourth are at our house in Jackson, Tennessee on Old Humboldt Rd. The last was when we went to Charleston for Easter and stayed and Jennie and Keith’s house out on James Island, before they moved to Johns Island. I remember Keith having his train setup in the room where we stayed and having great pinball machines. I remember playing Firepower a lot.
My church, Roswell United Methodist Church, has an Easter tradition of photos, too. We make a large cross covered in chicken wire. The whole congregation brings flowers from their yard and families have their picture taken with the flower-cross. I hope those are special memories for the children in those photos! Or at least ones that they can look back at in forty years with their families and have a laugh.
This is the only photo I have ever seen that includes Sam and Pearl Wren and their whole family. Sam Scott Wren and Pearl Hudson married in February 1900. Almost exactly nine months later, their first daughter, Mildred Wren, was born. She’s on the far right in this picture. Then came Norvelle in 1902 (on the far left). Little Marion (in the middle) was born in 1904. (I never heard Norvelle and Mildred say anything but “little Marion” when they talked about her.) But, where’s Hudson, the youngest? When I look at this picture, it looks to me like Pearl is pregnant, and that would be Hudson! And that would be the only photo of all four of the children that I have ever seen.
I remember going to Prescott and staying at Norvelle’s house. That was the house that Pop (Sam) built years before and where she and Grannie (Pearl) lived. Norvelle never married and stayed at home with her parents, working at the Prescott Federal Savings and Loan. Mildred and her husband Henry Whitten lived just across the road.
The house didn’t have any kind of central heat. Instead there were gas fires in every room that did a nice job of keeping the whole house warm. In the summer time, the windows were open and there were ceiling fans. In later years, there were window air conditioners in a few rooms. But, in the cold weather, there were the gas fires. And they could keep things very toasty.
Norvelle never liked to have the gas fires on at night, though. As kids, we would go to be on the back sleeping porch – that’s what it was, not really a bedroom but a porch where you could get the breeze and sleep comfortably. When Norvelle went to bed, she would turn all the gas fires off.
Then at some point in the night, Norvelle would wake up. With the fires off and no insulation, the house would be cold. So, Norvelle would worry that you might be cold and come around and put about twenty-seven quilts on top of you so that you were so weighted down that you could not move. Then at five o’clock, she would get up to start her day.
And turn the gas fires back on.
It wasn’t too long after that that I would wake up in a hot house and I couldn’t move! The house would be extra warm, but I still had the twenty-seven quilts weighing at least fifty pounds piled on top of me!
So, what’s the point? Norvelle never liked the fires on at night because she was worried about fire. And with good reason.
This is not only the only picture I have of the whole family, but I think it’s one of just one or two that I have of little Marion. And there’s a good reason for that.
One day after her little brother Hudson was born, Marion, only two years old herself, was leaning over the crib playing with the baby, as Norvelle and Mildred told it. The crib must have been near enough the gas fire to stay warm. Turns out it was tragically too close. Marion’s little dress caught fire and she was burned to death. She’s buried in the Harmony Church Cemetery in Sutton, Nevada County, Arkansas. Her marker shows her short life.
I guess from that time forward, there was a healthy fear of fire in that house. And that’s why we would wake up under a mass of quilts, lovingly placed, in a 80 degree house on lots of mornings.
I’m on a flight from Atlanta to Seattle and then on to Anchorage for a few days of customer visits. I got to wondering if I could see the Northern Lights while I am there. Maybe. If I get up in the middle of the night and it’s clear, the forecast is good for this week.
That reminded me of the time that Aunt Bettie told me about seeing Halley’s Comet. Bettie Higgs Finney was born in 1903 in DeQueen, Sevier County, Arkansas. She was my grandmother, Mary Higgs Wren’s, older sister. Aunt Bettie was one of the most cheerful people I have ever met. No matter what her circumstance, and they were not always happy times, she would quote from Psalm 103:2. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits. After losing her husband, after losing her son, after having a stroke, still Bless the Lord, O my soul.
The picture at the top of this post is Bettie. I never would have known when I found this picture who it was, if not for the fact that Aunt Bettie told me about having her picture made as a little girl in a pretty new dress, holding it out to the side.
One time, she and we were all at my grandmother’s house in Wilson, Arkansas (the one at on the banner of this blog). It was in 1986, when Halley’s Comet was passing near the earth. After supper, we were sitting around the table in the dining room, like we always did and the topic of the comet came up. Aunt Bettie told me about the when she saw Halley’s Comet for the first time when it came by in 1910 with her father.
Bettie and Mary, along with their parents Will and Nan Higgs, their sister Lida, and brothers Morton and Jere Will, lived in DeQueen, Arkansas. Like I said, Bettie was born there, as was Mary. The other kids were born around Arkansas as their father Will moved from newspaper to newspaper. He worked at and ran a number of newspapers around Arkansas and then Oklahoma. More about the newspaper business and the rest of the family another day.
Halley came closest and was most visible in April 1910. Just a few weeks after standing outside in the starlit night, watching the comet with Bettie, Will took a job with a newspaper in Idabel, Oklahoma. He started work there in May 1910 but the rest of the family didn’t move there until September 1913. During that time, they commuted back and forth the 40 miles between the two to visit. Either Nannie or Aunt Bettie told me that he felt like Idabel was just a little to rough around the edges for three young girls in 1910, Oklahoma only having become a state a few years previous.
I wonder if Will knew he was about to be separated from his family when he stood out in the night air with Bettie.
Anyway, years later, Mary Chapin Carpenter wrote a song called When Halley Came to Jackson (you can find it here on YouTube). Every time I hear that song, it takes me back to the dining room, sitting around the table with Aunt Bettie and Nannie in Wilson that night. In the song, a father holds his little daughter and watches the comet in 1910. He makes a wish that night that she will see Halley again. And “in 1986 that wish came round.” Just like Bettie and Will on that DeQueen night.
I wrote a letter to MCC to tell her the story of Aunt Bettie. Only time I’ve ever written to a performer. And you know what? I got a really nice, handwritten letter in reply. A special story about a special lady.
Kathleen’s grandmother, Alma Ross Boyle was quite the character. I never knew her really well since she died not too long after we married, but I always enjoyed being around her. Alma was born Alma Beatrice Ross in 1905 in Brockton, Mass. She had two older sisters, Edna and Rotha. I get the impression that the three of them were all full of spunk. I’ll go into their genealogy another day. But I wanted to share these two pictures today.
One thing I remember about Alma is that she loved to bowl. She would drive to the bowling alley and play candlepins every week. After she could no longer drive, she tried to walk to the bowling alley for a few weeks before the folks in her apartment building made her use the shuttle. Alma died in 2001 at 96 years old, after fainting at the bowling alley. Of course.
But, what I really laugh at is the picture of Alma, Edna, Rotha, and all of their friends in their bloomers and underclothes and “unmentionables” out behind the school. What in the world are they up to! This would have been maybe 1920. The era of the flapper and all, I guess. I have never figured it out. And who took the picture? Did their parents find out about it? What did they think? I am sure that we will never know. Alma, Rotha, and Edna are all gone and I am pretty sure that they never told their kids about that afternoon behind the school house. Shame.