Story by Sharon Jebavy
My grandmother Mary Alice
"Mollie" McDowell lived with us; she was the chief
cook and bottle washer
and built-in baby sitter. Well, in those days they
didn't call it "baby-sitting"
- it was an experience that both Maw and the
kids enjoyed thoroughly!
She got a lot of attention, and we were filled
with stories about olden
days when Maw grew up in Lawrence Co., Kentucky.
During that era it was
still pioneer life at it's best. There was no
running water, no heating
system (except the fireplace) and not any
conveniences of any kind,
except the path.
Maw used to tell us about
winters where the snow was up to the hips and only
old Brogans to wear for
shoes! It was either that or go barefoot the way she
told it. course in
those days, school was not mandatory for youngsters and
she only went two days
in her life, so I guess they could pretty much stay
inside, except for what
chores had to be done and trips down the path.
When friends would come
over we'd sit down cross-legged on the floor in a
semi-circle around Maw's
rocking chair and she'd fill us with stories that
became so real we could
see the goings-on in vivid detail. We heard
first-hand from her how
her grandmother hid her behind a door when some
Indians came to the house.
Her grandmother cooked a meal and fed the
Indians while all the time
Maw, a frightened 7 year old, stood silent behind
a door. Her grandmother
was afraid that if the Indians knew Maw was there,
they might abduct her.
Maw said things like that happened sometimes back
Maw would tell us stories
of working all day long in the blistering sun,
hoeing corn or picking
beans. She'd tell us terrific tales of the escapades
that only a large family
Maw told us how they would
take corn meal or sand (usually sand because they couldn't spare the corn
meal) and work it into bare unfinished plank cabin floors to clean the
floors. She said it made them white when they swept the floor clean.
Depending on the mood the
day, occasionally Maw would tell us ghost stories
and we'd be so scared when
she'd finish we were afraid to go to bed. I
always thought I was the
luckiest of the four kids in my family after one of
these nights because I
slept with Maw in a big iron bed, and I could cuddle
to her and not be so afraid.
Maw was full of old sayings...most
of which I've never heard anywhere else.
If you got something in
your eye, you were supposed to pull on your eyelid
with one hand, hold one
side of your nose closed with the other, and at the
same time repeat three
times: "something's in my eye I wish was in the
Maw was Scots/Irish. Her
ancestors came early to America. She certainly
lived up to the Scots reputation
of being thrifty. My husband says I
inherited it because I
save everything....if it is good - someone, someday,
somewhere will have a use
Maw was very Victorian in
her thinking and felt totally vulnerable and naked
if her knees showed.
She didn't think girls should frolic like the boys or
lay in the floor to watch
TV or play games. If she saw my sister or me
lying in the floor, she'd
very gently say to us: "A spider will get in your
ear." Well, that
was just about the worst thing that could happen! To this
day, my sister and I are
terrified of spiders.
Looking back to those days
makes me wish my kids had someone who could
mesmerize them for hours
instead of the TV or VCR. Not only were Maw's
stories enthralling, but
they were true. We got a gigantic chunk of our
family's history from her;
she gave us a sense of pride in who we were, and she
always encouraged us to
be honest and to work hard. When I have
grandchildren I am going
to be a story telling grandma. I'll pass on the
stories that Maw told me.
If I make it real enough maybe they'll remember
the stories and pass them
on to their grandchildren.
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