I tend to write a lot about family. I was raised at Granny’s knee to believe that family is very important. She always said “You cain’t know where you’re a goin’ until you know where you come from.” And I come from some tough old pioneer stock.
Granny Ola McEntire Roberts — born on September 8, 1893 — was the eldest of 10 children and was the granddaughter of the infamous Granny Elizabeth, with whom she spent a great deal of her life. When Granny Ola was 2 years old, her baby brother Oliver died. She never really knew the cause. It could have been crib death, or various other things. All she remembered was the pain and confusion of not having the baby in the house anymore. He was her first sibling, and she talked of him all of her life.
Granny is on the far left back row. As you can see, they left a space in memory of Oliver. Granny Elizabeth is seated on the left, and Granny’s mother, Lucy, is seated on the right. The baby Roy had not been born yet.
As the other children came along, her natural mother instinct kicked in, and as she grew, she helped raise all the younger children. The younger sisters always spoke of her as a second mother figure. She helped her mother with chores around the house and farm, and was often with Granny Elizabeth, who became the local midwife and undertaker for the area. Elizabeth was also a self-taught herbalist, and Granny learned to make many syrups, poultices, salves, and healing teas. One had to travel many miles to reach a doctor in our area, so they came to Granny Elizabeth for minor ailments, and later on to Granny Ola. Unfortunately, I didn’t pay much attention when she tried to teach me these old remedies. I was a child of the ’60s and ’70s and times were too modern for me to really care about these things. I have regretted that as I grow older.
Granny did teach me many things, though. I spent many hours in her room listening to family history, as well as all the old gossip of the neighborhood. Granny knew everyone and everything about them. Triumphs, scandals, family trees — she was a gold mine of information. But she swore me to secrecy. “History is one thing,” she would say, “but gossip is a sin. So don’t you be tellin’ what I say. Don’t go embarrassin’ your neighbors, or causing them hurt.” I guess she figured telling me wasn’t gossiping. Anyway, I never told what I learned. She also taught me to read and write at an early age, a fact which infuriated my first grade teacher. In the mid 1960s, children were not suppose to know anything when they started school.
Granny went to school at Bruno, and after she graduated she herself taught school for a while. It was a one-room schoolhouse and classes went up to theeighth grade. The top level was used for a Mason Hall, of which my Grandfather Felix was a member. She was a stern disciplinarian, both as a teacher and parent. Today, she would be called abusive. But that was the way of her society at the time, and most people were that way. Her own father was very strict, giving severe punishment for minor infractions. But Granny did have a very affectionate side, and as she grew older, she softened.
In 1913 when Granny was 20, a young local blacksmith named Felix Erie Roberts asked her if he could “walk out with her.” She told him only if he walked to church with her. So Felix came every Sunday and walked Granny to church and back. It progressed into walks into town (Bruno used to be quite the community), and long walks in the woods picking herbs. After two years, Felix asked Granny to marry him and she said she “reckoned” she would.
The church did not have a regular minister. On Sundays they had worship service and a learned man taught a Sunday school lesson, but it was only twice a month that the “traveling preacher” came through, and they would have a church service with preaching on whatever day he passed through. Granny and Felix went to the main road with Felix’s brother Jack and Granny’s sister Bertha on one of the days the preacher was due to come through. When he arrived, he didn’t even get off of his horse. He simply conducted the service by the side of the road. Felix couldn’t afford to buy Granny a ring, but being of Welsh decent he used the Celtic method and gave Granny a lovely handkerchief, which Jack wrapped around their wrists as part of the ceremony. Granny always kept the handkerchief put away, and gave it to me when I married. I still have it. A few months later, a traveling photographer came through, and Felix took Granny back to the spot on the road where they were married and had their picture made.
For five years, they lived first with Felix’s family, then in Bruno itself while Felix continued to be a blacksmith. But Granny, being a farm girl, wanted a homestead of her own, and sometime in 1920 Felix traded his house and his half ownership in the blacksmith shop for the homestead where we live now. Grandpa built a forge by the road, and my dad was born here later that year.
At first it was very small. Granny took care of the house, the chickens, milked the two cows, fed the pigs, and tended the garden, while Grandpa ran his forge. But this was the age of cars, and as more and more of them entered the area, the need for a blacksmith became less, and Grandpa turned his sights on his 40 acres. He began clearing fields and bought more cows and pigs. He planted his own wheat and corn, and they became very self-sufficient. Granny sold eggs and butter to the Bruno store for credit, as well as to some neighbors, and they sold their extra hogs and calves for cash. When the depression came, the family hardly noticed it because they were already used to living off the farm. Granny was already making clothing, curtains, tablecloths etc. from flower sacks, and “re-purposing” everything she could reuse. She already canned, made butter, made her own cleaning supplies and soap, and used every edible bit from all slaughtered animals. If you don’t know what you’re missing, you never notice it when its gone.
In 1932, Granny’s daughter, my Aunt Alta Mae, died of pneumonia. Granny never got over it. In the latter part of her life, she would refer to my own daughter as Alta. I think they must have favored.
In 1942, Granny saw both of her sons sent off to war, and saw them both come home safely. My Uncle Carl was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, which kept him in California the whole time, but my father was in the D-Day landing. Then in 1957, after 44 years of marriage, my grandfather Felix died from a heart attack and Granny was left alone. Two years later, my father married my mother and Granny moved in with them.
My daddy is on the right, and Uncle Carl on the left.
Granny lived with us the rest of her life. She taught me many things, from quilting to soap making to rendering lard. She spent many hours with my own daughter teaching her to sew. She taught me about life, and death, and the business of living. She was, however, horrified by “indoor plumbing,” and the only fight I ever saw her have with my Daddy was when he refused to build her an outhouse when they bought their new home. She stubbornly used a chamber pot, and washed from a pitcher and wash pan until the day she died. She did however condescend to fill the pitcher from the tap in the kitchen.
One day in October of 1992, when she was 99 years old, she looked at my father and said “Arvil, I’m tired and I just wanna to go home.” Daddy looked at her and said “Mom, you are home,” and she shook her head and said “No, son, I ain’t.” One week later, she passed quietly away in her room. Greg and I were sitting with her at the time, and I was holding her hand. It was the most peaceful experience I’ve ever had. Because of Granny, I am no longer afraid to die. Beside her was her only book — her well worn bible. It was taped up with duct tape and the pages repeatedly glued in, and was a memorial to the life she lived. She would never let us buy her a new bible. She said it was her “old friend” and she knew exactly where everything was in it. She would have been 124 this month.