These boys had no idea that such a life had existed when they had felt padlocked on their father’s horse farm in the Tennessee hills. Harvey became a newspaper correspondent who traveled the world. He was granted exclusive interviews with some of the worlds most powerful politicians, and most popular entertainers and sports figures .His professionalism was above reproach. He was known to be just and fair and always exceptionally polite. The sincerity of his smile that could be seen both on his lips and in his eyes convinced people of his good nature and his sincerity.
Charles, the oldest, who had been the first to run away from home became an enormous success. Charles had inherited his father’s nose for business and his mother’s fair-mindedness. He was honest, but tough…and he was able to make money… like rabbits make bunnies.
After he left home, his very first job was working on an enormous tobacco farm in Virginia. Quickly he became the “pet” of the farm owner and then his right-hand-man. Before long Charles was rubbing elbows with the President’s and CEO’s and other powerful people in the tobacco industry. By the time he was in his mid-thirties he had become a member of their crowd. He was considered the most eligible and wanted bachelor around. .. But he was a remained married to his work. Charles’ face and tobacco products were more widely known in the South then just about anybody else besides the US President.
“Let me tell you a funny story about my brother Charles” Grandma pulled out a seat for me across from her in the kitchen, and I happily obliged. “Several years after my father Jeremiah’s death, Charles decided that it was finally time for him to come back home. He had kept up with our momma Elizabeth through letters, and he had sent her money on the sly that Father never found out about, but he hadn’t set foot through the door of that house since the day that he had left so many years ago.”
“What happened when he finally got back? Had much changed? Was your momma and family glad to see him?” I loved to hear about family history.
“A lot had changed. Little trees had grown big, ponds had been dug out where big puddles had gathered before. There was a porch swing on the side porch near the kitchen door and pretty flowers had been planted all around the house giving the place a happy and inviting feel. Charles had not announced his homecoming… he wasn’t sure that he was going to go through with it until the very last minute. But in the end his desire to see our momma again beat out all of the bad feelings that he felt about Fox Trot… the name of our family home.
“Charles rode up to the house and knocked lightly on the front door. Our momma answered the door and she was beside herself with joy to see her big-wig city boy son who had done so well for himself. He was proud too…proud of what he had accomplished, but more proud of how well our Momma looked.”
“Why wouldn’t she have looked well?”
“Your Great Grandmother had a hard life, Katie. Can you imagine living with a man for over sixty years… and everyday of it he was cruel? Everyday of it you saw your children being talked ugly to and whipped for no good reason… and to see your very own children prevented from doing anything fun? My momma tried to make up for it with her kindness…. But she was always having to give and give and give and never once did she get anything back in return. She didn’t have any more power or voice in our house than any other child. She couldn’t say anything to Jeremiah or against him, or she just might well have gotten beaten with that leather strap too! I don’t know if he would have beaten her… I doubt it … but if she made him mad and he didn’t hit her, he likely would have taken it out on her in other ways. His anger at her was known to provoke him to beat one of us children and that have hurt my momma even more than getting a beating herself! He was as mean as a snake, and she knew it. But what could she do? Run away? Where would she go? There is no way that my momma would leave her children…She was the only light in our world, and she knew it! Women did sometimes run away from their husbands, but usually if they did, they got caught and drug back home… and if life was bad before, it only got that much worse after the return! A woman who left her home sure didn’t get to keep her babies either. Usually those children would get divided up and sent off to live with some relatives somewhere… so not only would those babies lose their momma, they would lose each other too. My momma would never have done that to us. She would have no more left us with Father than I would leave you to a grizzly bear. She was the only thing that kept our home life from being too miserable to tolerate.” Grandma paused in her story for a second. She looked both flushed and sick. It’s hard to imagine all the pain that they all must have kept bottled up inside them.
But Grandma remembered that the story she started to tell was funny, so she continued, “ Momma looked well, because she had made it… and because she was free. In the end, Jeremiah wasn’t nearly as horrible as he had been when I was young. I reckon his grandchildren and then great-grandchildren softened him up a bit… and I think your Granddaddy was a good example even if Jeremiah nor your Granddaddy would ever admit it. But don’t get me wrong, Jeremiah was still difficult, even until the end…always barking orders and Momma waiting on him hand and foot. Her taking care of his every whim just about did her in. But she was a tough old bird. She would never wish ill on anyone, or want anyone to go before their time. But I think there had to be a part of her that refused to die. She was waiting around for the day that she could be in her home and have a minutes peace… but back to the story!
“So Charles shows up and Momma is beside herself with happiness, and Charles is so glad that he had come home and found her looking so good. Momma invited him inside, but he wasn’t quite ready for that yet. He was happy and didn‘t want to be reminded of bad memories that might be lurking inside and around the house. ‘Let’s go for a ride in my new buggy’. Charles wanted to ride around and see how much the town had changed and talk to his momma for a while outside of the rooms where Jeremiah’s presence still seemed to linger.
‘Well, alright then’ and Momma grabbed her shawl. Charles helped her up into the nice new buggy and they both rode tall and proud, side by side catching up on news about family and each other. Momma was a humble person, but I know that it tickled her to no end to be riding to town in the smartest buggy that Greeneville had ever seen, beside a handsome and terrifically rich and famous businessman, a man who just happened to be her own little boy.
“What is the funny part, Grandma?” This was an interesting story, but…
“Well, on the outskirts of town Charles and our momma saw what looked to be a beggar woman walking down the side of the road. She was barefooted and dirty…she had on a worn out dress and her hair was all down loose and wild-looking. She was far away when they first spotted her, but as they drew near Momma became excited and insisted that Charles stop. ‘Stop. Stop.’ she shouted. Charles had no idea what to think… but he was a dutiful son and he know how seriously our momma took her Christian commitment to care for all the poor souls that she thought needed tending to. And it wasn’t just pitiful people that she couldn’t resist, it was any of God’s creatures that looked homeless or downcast. She would pick them up and take them in and love on them like crazy. It might have been because Jeremiah wouldn’t allow pets in the house. And Momma spent almost every hour of the day doing work to keep his house just to his liking. When Father was gone she filled that house so full of critters that the roof was about to pop off from the sounds and the smells and the fur flying every which way!”
“Really? How many pets did she have?”
That was how it was talking to Grandma… she would start a story and get away in a completely different direction. And the new direction was often so interesting that it was sometimes hard to remember what the main story was supposed to be about. Sometimes, if I wasn’t diligent, we never would get back to the main story at all.
“Laws, Child. I don’t have any idea. It was changing all the time. I loved my momma something fierce, but when she started having so many dogs and cats living in her house I had her come over to visit with me. I have to admit though, she did have a couple of pot-bellied pigs that were so cute I almost couldn’t stand it. When those pigs were around I would stay and visit sometimes. The most I ever heard of her having was 17 cats and 5 dogs at any one time… and they could go in or out as they pleased. She propped the doors and windows open and left them that way except on the coldest days or nights. When she shut up for the night, whoever was in stayed in, and whoever was out stayed out… if the complaining meows and barks or scratches became too unbearable for Momma’s soft heart, she would get up and let the late stragglers inside for a warm place by her side or the side of the animal that was by her side. I just can’t even imagine what her bedspread looked like… and there were fur balls floating around on her floors so big that they looked alive themselves! There were cats and dogs on the roof sometimes. That house was literally crawling with animals. If I hadn‘t have known her, I would have thought my own Momma was crazy as a loon.” Grandma started to giggle at the thought. “For a woman who couldn’t even leave a crumb on the counter or speck of dust anywhere to be seen when my Father was alive she had really fallen off the tidy wagon! But she was happy taking care of those animals, and they loved her. She deserved to be happy and loved after all that she had gone through.”