The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Grandma's Wedding

By Grace Cash © 1987

Issue: June, 1987

Editor's Note... The following is one of a series of articles written by Grace Cash. She lives in Flowery Branch, Georgia. Watch for more of her stories in future issues.

Grandma was seventeen when she got married. I like to look back and imagine how she looked then: a tall, blue–eyed, fair–skinned girl, deeply in love with a young man six years older than herself. I have never seen an actual photograph of her before she became the mother of thirteen sons and daughters, and who would eventually number her grandchildren near the one–hundred mark. That lovely young girl developed into a remarkably outstanding woman, who became a clear–cut example of America's settling, and re–settling, of families in the nineteenth century.

I believe the reason Grandma always wore black was caused by an over intensifying grief, which began on her wedding day, in 1869. She was something of a martyr, living among us, and for us, and not seeming to realize the self–sacrifice she made when she married her fiancée, instead of migrating with her family to Arkansas. The foundation for her distinctive personality had been laid that April day when her family traveled in a wagon caravan, carrying all their earthly goods, to the Atlanta train terminal.

Grandma didn't join the caravan, since she, and her betrothed, went the same day to the county seat, and got married. Then she boarded a south–bound train to the Atlanta terminal, intending to pick up her trunks, and bid the family farewell. Her parents, and the children she had grown up with, stood with her at the loading platform, and they had the last moments they would ever share together. Their future communication – and abiding love – would be exchanged by the mail trains linking Georgia and Arkansas. Finally the train bound for points west – and Arkansas – was on its way. She stood there, a slender seventeen–year–old girl, in her ankle–length dress and high–topped shoes, and waved till the train clacked out of sight. Now she and her tall young husband loaded her trunks on the wagons that returned to the farm, where she was to spend the rest of her life.

When she opened the trunks, they billowed with feather beds, pillows and bedding. The trunk containing her trousseau was on its way to Arkansas. Losing the finely stitched clothing and bed linen her mother had made for her was a crushing disappointment, but in later years, the catastrophe became a blessing in disguise. The sorrow of parting gave way to laughter as she and her husband, and later, their descendants told the story, the drama unfolding something new with each telling.

I knew the story by heart long before my uncle started bringing her, in his Chevrolet, to our house on the hill. She looked different from my mother and her sisters, who wore grey stripes and printed cotton dresses, thinking of themselves as "keeping up with the styles." I thought she looked like a queen I had seen in an elementary school book. Our first year on the hill farm was in 1925, the year of the long drought over the South that Americans still talk about. We looked forward to Grandma's visits. She would come, wearing a black silk bonnet, edged with black lace. The bonnet, artfully stitched on her foot–pedal sewing machine, was tied at the neck with long silk streamers. When she went to the Baptist church, not far from her farm, she wore black garments and the black silk bonnet, or a black hat, with a small brim, a chiffon veil reaching halfway across her finely chiseled face. She greeted us with a kiss, but when she left; her embrace had a touch of lingering sadness, as though every parting might be final.

On the farm she wore black percale dresses, and black–checked aprons. She had a special dignity that she carried with her, even to her barnyard, filled with ducks, geese, turkeys, long mournful–eyed hunting hounds and chickens uncountable. She raised sheep for clothing and blankets. Job assignments were divided equally between the family members. Some sheared the sheep; others washed and dried the wool. The womenfolk carded the wool and wove the yarn into blankets, gray–striped at each end, and from the variously–patterned woven cloth, Grandma and her daughters cut, and sewed, warm winter garments.

Grandma's husband died in 1907, following emergency surgery. Before his death, they had stood together at the graves of a two–year–old daughter, scalded to death in a housecleaning accident, and a twenty–one–year old son, who died after a brief undiagnosed illness. In later years she stood alone, dressed in black at other graves. Two grandbabies were buried with their mothers, dead in childbirth, and a grandson choked to death on a peanut lodged in his windpipe. Gradually other tombstones were raised in the church graveyard. The markers are now weather–blackened, the engraving barely legible.

But there was also an abundance of joy at Grandma's high–lofted, unpainted farmhouse. The eleven surviving children had their own wedding days, and left the homestead. In 1919 there came a time of unprecedented celebration when the youngest, a strong dark–haired daughter, got married. Unlike the others, hers was a home wedding. They stood in the parlor, on the red rug, near the organ, and exchanged wedding vows.

In preparation for the wedding, the much–used cooking "vessels" were hauled out, and soon rows of pies, custards, cakes, puddings and a variety of bread filled the cupboards, and lined the side tables. Weeks before the feast, crocks had been filled with preserves, pickles and sauerkraut. In the backyard a fresh slaughtered beef yearling boiled in the black washpot, and from another pot, there arose the aroma of vegetable stew, enriched with generous portions of pork ribs. The cow's furnished rich yellow butter and churns of milk, and pots of black coffee bubbled on the range. The Negroes, who worked on the farm, fired the washpots in the yard, and they sweated over the hot cooking range. They watched the spreading white–toothed smiles all "the fixing up for the young Miss to get married off."

At this time, sheep were no longer needed to produce wool for hand weaving. Grandma and her daughters "traded" at neighboring towns. They bought from town merchants ready–made coat suits, dresses, blouses, camisoles and other undergarments Grandma still bought bolts of percale, calico and hickory shirting for "everyday" dresses and shirts, and for bed ticks, sheets and pillowcases. Her sewing machine whirred busily until she fell, when she was seventy–six, and crippled her leg.

Grandma had been a vital part of the colorful history that marked the years from 1852–1931. Her husband had fought, as a confederate soldier, in the Civil War. She worried through World War I (1914–1918), but none of her sons were called into service, and she didn't live to see dozens of her grandsons march off to World War II. In 1920 she was in attendance at the birth of a granddaughter, when the first airplane ever to fly over the county, roared over the trees and the rooftops of my parents' small rural farmhouse. Grandma died in 1931, at the peak of the Great Depression. She was buried in a black dress, but her face looked serene, the final shaping finished. She had many times told of seeing, in a dream, her loved ones, sitting in their places in heaven. None doubted that a special place had been reserved for her.