Wishing for a black plate

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4 Generations – 1967

It’s been way too long since I added to this blog.  I have lots of ideas but little time.  I will try to do better.

This evening, I was walking up 2nd Ave, between 51st and 52nd Street, when I happened on the Buttercup Bake Shop.  Since it was time for a bit of something sweet to finish off dinner, I stopped in.  They had a great selection of cakes and cupcakes.  I was waffling between German Chocolate and Lemon.  I asked and they said that the lemon had a layer of pineapple glaze under the icing, so I went with it.  Sounded good to me.

But, you know how it is with cake.  As good, and soft, and sweet, and lemony as the cake was, there was one thing missing – ice cream.  All cake is improved with ice cream!

When I was little and would go to Wilson, Arkansas to visit my mother’s black-rim-salad-dessert-plateparents, we would have cake for dessert.  When we did, Nannie would always ask if we wanted a “black plate”.  Seemed kind of strange to me.  What difference could the color of the plate make?

Turns out, years and years and years before, it seems that my grandfather’s mother, Pearl Hudson Wren, had two sets of dessert plates.  The everyday plates were great when you were having a piece of cake or a piece of pie.  But, if you needed a little something extra, like ice create with your cake, you needed different equipment.  Grannie had another set of dessert plates that were a little larger and could easily hold both the cake and the ice cream.  And guess what!  They were black!

So, if you wanted a black plate, you wanted cake and ice cream.  Mystery solved and tradition started.  So, even though my Nannie did not have a set of black plates, asking for a black plate still got a nice scoop of ice cream with your cake.  Even still works sometimes at Mom’s house today.

The cake was really good, though.  If you’re on 2nd Ave in Midtown, stop in to the Buttercup Bake Shop.

Sarah Bridges Wren Letter

“I was born in Green County Ga the 19th of April 1813.”

Sarah Bridges, my great-great-great-grandmother, was born 19 April 1813 in Greene County, Georgia.  Her parents were Herod Flourney Wren and Margaret “Peggy” Ware.  When she was fifteen, Sarah married George Washington Wren in Putnam County, Georgia, where she lived until the early 1850s when several branches of the family moved from Georgia to Bienville Parish, Louisiana.

Sarah and G.W. Wren had nine children, including my great-great-grandfather, Alonzo Dossey Wren.  Dr. A.D. Wren, born in 1841, married Georgia Frances Vickers shortly after the Civil War in Minden, Webster Parish, Louisiana.  Georgia and A.D. Wren had ten children of their own.  When Georgia and A.D. Wren became grandparents, they were faced with the age-old question of what to call the grandparents.  Sarah Bridges Wren was called “Great” while Georgia Vickers Wren was called “Little Grannie”.

Late in Sarah Bridges’ life, her daughter-in-law asked her to write down a little bit of her life so that the family would have it.  After all, Sarah Bridges Wren had seen a lot of history.  I have that letter in my possession.  It’s at the top of this post.  The following is a transcript of that letter.  As near as I can tell from what the letter talks about, it must have been written in the fall of 1903.  I’m including it just as it’s written.

To Mrs. Georgia Wren

Dear Daughter I send you this little history of my life which I have hastily writen, it is short and meager but I don’t supose that any one would be interested in much that I could tell, although I have seen a good deal of this world.

With love I remain your mother Sarah Wren

I was born in Green County Ga the 19th of April 1813.

Went over into Morgan Co where we lived until I was 6 years old, when I was caried to Putnam Co wher I grew to womanhood.

Was converted and joined the Methodist church in July 1828. was maried the 4th sept the same year to GW Wren of South Carolina. We settled in Ga where we remained until 1850 when we removed to Louisiana in Jan 51 where Mr Wren died in Augt 29th 1884 and were 5 of  our 8 children have died. I was Gloriously sanctified at the Rock Springs camp meeting in  Putnam Co, Ga in 1849 which bless the good Lord I still claim and hold on to t[his] [day] [He] has always been very merciful and good to me and has given me many special answers to prayer.

My blessed Lord has watched over me now for 90 years & 6 months and nere denied me one blessing that was best for me to have. He has given me good friends every where and never permited any serious harm to befall me. I feel that his abiding care has always been with me and in me to bless and comfort me and now in my old age and infirmities he has not forsaken me, but gives me the abiding witness of his Holy Spirit to comfort and sustain me. Glory to his name.

 

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!

I Wish My Iris Looked Like This

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Hudson Wren and Jennie Wren Johnson looking over the iris at Hudson & Mary Jim Wren’s home, Marie, Mississippi County, Arkansas

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.

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White Flag of Spring, 2016
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.

Easter in Wilson

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!

Easter Isn’t Always Kind

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.

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Ralph and Bob Dickson, Probably Easter

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.

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Susan and Robert Dickson with their first grandson, Scott Dickson

Another that has the look of an Easter picture to me is this one, the first Easter picture I can find of myself.  This one is with my grandparents, Robert H. Dickson, Jr. and Susan Louise Bailey Dickson.  I’m the handsome guy in my granddad’s arms.

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.

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.

Gas Fires and Quilts on a Cold Morning

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The Sam & Pearl Wren Family – 1906

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.

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Marion Wren, 1904-1906, Harmony Cemetery, Sutton, Nevada County, Arkansas

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.