Sunday, April 03, 2016

DEAR FRIENDS

April 3, 2016


Dear Friends,

This is an essay written by my mother, MARY ADALYN YOUNG-DOUGLAS about her childhood in Prescott Arkansas during the late 1920s and early 1930s. I grew up in Little Rock Arkansas myself but that's another story. I just wanted to share this with you to, in a way, introduce you to my mother who is no longer on the earth but who is the reason why I wanted to write poetry in the first place as a little girl a very long time ago. Because SHE wrote poetry. The best of all reasons.

I hope you enjoy this little story. It is all true and it really happened.

ABOUT PRESCOTT ARKANSAS:  A SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY HOME

by Mary Adalyn Young=Douglas (my mother!)

My Grandfather W.R. White of Prescott was dying. Something happened that afternoon that cinched it in his mind. His visitor, Florence (“Sissy”) Hart, who had an interior decorator for a daughter and a home and garden right out of House Beautiful. Florence was “dirt crazy” he said. With her pan and spoon she often dug rich dirt out of our yard and carried it over into hers.


Ordinarily very stingy with her flowers (reluctant to cut them at all), this afternoon she had brought for her neighbor a huge bouquet of larkspur, pinks, roses and what have you.

“Well,” Pa said dryly to us as soon as Sissy had gone, “now I know I am dying; Florence has brought me some of her flowers.”


Our house was a large Victorian, one badly in need of a coat of paint. They must have been thinking of us when they described the Southern Middle Class as too poor to paint and too proud to white-wash.


My Grandpa White’s sister Amelia (my great aunt) had been First lady of Arkansas before I was born in Prescott in 1925. Her husband, Gov. Thomas C. McCrae had been buried on the prairie in De Ann Cemetery long before I was born.


“Tis a land full of joy and of sunshine”, our state song declared. But my childhood wasn’t very happy. Too many funerals, mama said.


My father Jack Johnson died of cancer when he was 30. All of us in mother’s (Lucy White’s) family were firmly convinced that God is a Presbyterian. But a Neighbor Who Knew told me “Mr Johnson said he wouldn’t go to church until them took his feet first” and that’s the way they finally took him.


My father and mother and I had lived in Dr. Hesterly’s rent house at the foot of Grandfather’s and Sissy’s hill. After my father’s death Mama and I moved in with Grandmother and Grandfather White.


Soon afterward a young couple came to see me and held hands ostentatiously at the dinner table. “What are you holding hands for?” Grandfather inquired pertly. “Are you trying to keep from fighting?”


Once when a passle of relatives were leaving her house after a Sunday afternoon visit just to prove our family wasn’t in the disgusting habit of slobbering all over each other, Aunt Amelia called after them: “Goodbye. You all consider yourselves kissed.”

Grandfather educated me. He taught me to tell time and play “I Spy” and dominoes. Grandmother encouraged me to dry dishes and to set the table. One afternoon I really minded Grandmother. I was in a holly tree in the McSwain’s front yard across the street. She (Grandmother) surprised me by yelling across the street at the top of her lungs, “Come down out of that tree! Mary Adalyn.” I came crashing down and broke my left arm.


“Well, I said bitterly after she came over to see about me. “You can’t say I didn’t mind you that time.” We had a tree house in a tree on a vacant lot not far from the tennis court. It was equipped with steps, some old sofa cushions, a bucket and rope to bring things up with and a large pan of divinity candy.


I ate the whole pan. I used to think that a D.D. (Doctor of Divinity) was someone who made really good candy. My cousin, Beady Bemis, had a tow-headed little boy named Norwood. He was told he could have whatever refreshments he wanted for his birthday party. Norwood wanted chocolate cake with chocolate icing, chocolate ice cream with chocolate sauce, cocoa with whipped cream, and plenty of fudge and that was exactly what he got. Yes, all the children were sick.


I remember two tragedies which happened in our family at Prescott. My cousin, Ethel McCrae, was keeping her daughter’s (my cousin Todelle’s) baby at her house for her and while she was keeping the baby cousin Ethel’s house caught fire and was burned to the ground. In spite of all my cousin could do, the baby lost its little life in that fire.  Cousin Ethel married James Harvey Bemis, A Captain of Industry from St. Louis who founded and owned the sawmill in our town.


Regarding the other tragic occurance: my aunt, Hess Johnson Gordon and her husband Clarence Gordon, kept and rode horses. He was riding horseback down Main Street one day when a car ran into the horse killing both horse and rider and leaving a blood stain in the street for years.


My mother, a young widow worked her way through the University of Arkansas, majoring in music so she could make a living teaching children to play the piano.


One Sunday morning when we were getting ready to go to church Pa and I were on the side porch where he was polishing all our shoes. Last of all he polished my little black leather shoes with a biscuit.


“Christ was either the son of God or he was a liar and a sonavabitch,” he told me and I could tell that Grandpa White was sick and tired of polishing shoes. He continued his education of me. One day out of a clear blue sky he told me that I needed a dose of Peach tree tea. (He never gave it to me though). At mealtime he told me that we would have EATING WHAT IS SET BEFORE YOU. As he gave me this advice I envisioned it spelled out in huge capital letters.


When he retired from his job traveling for the State Revenue Department, he put in a garden in the pasture by our house. Every year we sold the hay off the pasture and what fresh fruits and vegetables we didn’t eat up Grandmother canned. She was old and absent minded and we were always so afraid she would let her pressure cooker blow up. But she always arrived in the kitchen to see to it just in time.


One day Mama was hungry and couldn’t find anything in the house to eat but half a jar of peanut butter in the breakfast room. She only ate one teaspoonful and as she gagged on that she made a wry face. “E-E-ough”, she exclaimed. “Old Chokum”. Mother was a great admirer of Roosevelt but I don’t think she was much in the mood for a Fireside Chat that day. She told me about a funny sign they had in Prescott before I was born. “Prescott,” it read, “the home of Bunk Haleds Filling Station”.


In the summer our rich relatives went for long vacation trips. One day when we were sweltering away in the home of Bunk Haleds Filling Station without any car of our own, we received a postcard from them in Colorado. “Having wonderful time,” one of them wrote. “Am sleeping under blankets.” One year at vacation time they sent us a box of salt water taffy from Atlantic City. I still remember the picture of all eight of them in stairsteps at the beach. The next year we received a box of Busy Bee Candy which they had bought us from the Busy Bee Candy Company in St. Louis.


Our rich relatives did us many kindnesses and loved us just as much as if we’d had a million dollars. One of my Grandfather’s brothers, my great uncle Sam, was quite a character. I played on Uncle Sam’s vacant lot across the alley from us almost every day. The moss that grew there was like a green velvet carpet and I made a garden on it under an elm tree.


Uncle Sam really loved his second wife’s cooking. “Fix me some more of those horse doovers (H’our Dourves) Maggie,” he would say enthusiastically. “They sure are good.” He owned a little fancy grocery but my grandfather Dick White wouldn’t trade with him. “Sam’s too high,” he would say on his way to the Piggly Wiggly every Saturday.


When I was born in Prescott it was too late in history for it to be called a one-horse town. It was a one-taxi town. Although we had no car then, years ago we owned a dairy and delivered milk in a surrey. One day when we were going to Little Rock on the train, we called Mr. Sweeney, the driver of Prescott’s one taxi. A few minutes later Mr. Sweeney came bounding up the steps and while shaking hands vigorously with my grandfather, remarked, “Well I know she (the taxi) is hitting on all cylinders this morning because she ain’t got but one.”


Grandmother White reminded me of the virtuous woman in the Book of Proverbs. She didn’t weave fine purple but she had a hem stitching machine downtown and made homemade potato salad for sale. A devout Presbyterian she had the maiden name of Cheatham and her folks were from Georgia. She read The Earnest Worker, The Christian Observer, Good Housekeeping and The Bible.

It was she who taught me the “shorter” or young person’s catechism and gave me a Bible with a zipper which bore my name in gold. Besides being religious, she had a good sense of humor, too. She kept a few chickens and one day a lady from out in the country came to our house and asked her for a setting of Kapon eggs. This struck my grandmother as funny since Kapons don’t lay eggs. She didn’t laugh but patiently tried to explain this fact to the lady.


“I didn’t think you would do me this way, Miss Addie,” the lady told grandmother as she left taking nothing with her but a bundle of hurt feelings.


One summer afternoon our aforementioned neighbor, Sissy Hart, came to see her but Grandmother was taking a nap in her big mahogany bed. Later Sissy came back and Grandmother explained in her joking way that Sissy didn’t understand. “I was in the arms of Morphine,” Grandmother said. “Morpheus, Miss Addie.” “Morpheus,” Sissy told her with a perfectly straight face.


When I had children (Angela and Sharon Douglas) I wrote a story for them entitled “The Golden Bread of Home.” In the story Prescott was referred to as a Southern town with the name of Cornbread Corners. Everybody especially the children, wanted to go back to Cornbread Corners.


A Great Southern Writer named Thomas Wolfe wrote about Asheville, North Carolina in a novel called “You Can’t Go Home Again”. But in my mind and spirit I am already in Prescott and I will always be there.


Who says you can’t go home again; I can. This very story is just A Sentimental Journey Home. One day when my father Jack was little, Gandy Johnson caught him swinging on the bannister. But she forgave him because she realized he was praying: “Oh Lord, please don’t let it rain today. Jerre’s (my aunt, Mrs. L.E. Haynie of Warren) going on a picnic.”


My prayer today is O Lord please let us keep what we can of the springtime  of life and always retain in memory the happy summer days.


-Mary Adalyn Young-Douglas (my mother) copyright 2016