Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Granny's Letters

A tribute to my maternal grandmother, Nanne Lewis Horne, born 1 March 1889 in Ashe Co., North Carolina to Rev. Harvey Lewis and Mary Caroline "Callie" Miller.  On 13 June 1909 she married Samuel Stephen "Steve" Horne at Ashland, Ashe Co., North Carolina.  They lived most of their married life in Sprucie Hollow, Johnson Co., Tennessee.  She passed over on 30 October 1965.  

It was the summer of 1959 and very hot and humid in northeast Tennessee.  My clothes clung to me from morning to night and chigger bites between my toes reminded me that I should not have gone barefooted.  I was 16 years old, visiting my maternal grandparents who would soon be celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.  We arrived early from Nebraska to help with preparations.  In addition to my parents and another set of grandparents, there were relatives from others states ... cousins, aunts and uncles.  

For someone with a budding interest in genealogy, the vast array of relatives, all eager to visit and share stories and information, was an added bonus.  My mind filled with questions and my hand quickly wrote responses as I visited with my grandparents and others.  Not only was I learning generations of names and events, but stories to go with the names. 

One morning the men went to the tobacco fields and the women prepared for a trip to town.  My 17 year old cousin and I had eagerly awaited this day.  Somehow we convinced our mothers that we should remain behind at Granny and Grandpa's house.  Our story must have been convincing and the timing was right.  As soon as the cars pulled away and rounded the curve, we put our plan into action.  

In the corner of a bedroom there was an old trunk piled high with neatly folded quilts.  One by one, we lifted the quilts and placed them carefully on the bed.  Lifting the trunk lid we saw small bundles of letters neatly tied with delicate blue ribbons.  Our fingers anticipated the joy of reading something old, perhaps secretive and revealing, as we united the bows on one bundle of letters. 

They were written in 1908 and 1908 to Grandpa by his sweetheart who eventually would become our Granny.  Line by line she wrote about her love for him and how she wished they could marry.  Her father, a Baptist minister in North Carolina, had concerns about the marriage.  He opposed it because Grandpa had been living in the "wilds" of Oregon herding sheep.  

Another letter spelled out Granny's plan.  They would elope.  Grandpa was living in Tennessee and would come to get her in North Carolina so they could run away and marry.  Yet another letter sadly told how somebody had heard of her elopement plan and told her father.  

Watching the clock we realized that the reading of Granny's letters would resume at another time.  The men would be in from the fields and the women would soon arrive from their trip to town.  Carefully we put the letters back into a bundle and tied them with the blue ribbons.  The quilts were placed on top of the trunk.  Then we realized what we had read ... OUR Granny had wanted to elope. 

We wanted to read more letters.  Excitement over what we had read led us later that day to confess to our mothers about our foray.  They were also interested in the letters, but thought we should have asked Granny's permission to open the trunk.  One of the mothers told her what we had done.  She was unhappy and eventually removed the bundled letters from the trunk and burned them. 

Fortunately I did not witness the burning of the letters in the wood stove.  I did not see the pain in her eyes as she realized that her privacy had been invaded by her granddaughters.  We never spoke of that event again.  The letters were burned and gone forever.  

The anniversary celebration took place as planned.  People gathered to eat and laugh and wish Granny and Grandpa many more years of married life.  They smiled and held hands and occasionally Granny would wipe tears from her eyes.  Afterwards we all went back home to our own families and lives.  

Recently a cousin, going through her late mother's possessions, found a letter that Granny had written about the anniversary celebration.  In the letter Granny told about their gifts and people who attended.  She described their cake as being two layered with two white bells and gold clappers in them with a "50" on top.  In her words, "Me and Pa cut the cake.  It cost $30.00 some dollars and I fed him a bit and he fed me a bit.   ... Pa and me got a bite of a wedding cake.  Had to wait 'til our children furnished it for us."  

Times change through the years.  At their anniversary I would have thought it amusing that they had no wedding cake at their wedding.  Today I find it sad that they had to wait fifty years to celebrate the life they had planned to have together even if it meant eloping.  

Through the years Granny wrote letters to me.  The two letters that I kept are very special.  She and Grandpa agreed on about everything except which state they preferred and politics.  Granny was born in North Carolina, but preferred Tennessee.  Grandpa was born in Tennessee, but preferred North Carolina.  Granny was a Republican and Grandpa was a Democrat.  They hashed these issues over and over.  In the spring of 1964 Granny wrote to me about voting and how special it was for a woman to be able to vote.  She also stressed that I should vote for Barry Goldwater who was running on the Republican ticket for President. 

The last letter I received from her was mailed the middle of June 1964.  She told me that Grandpa was sick and that she wanted me to visit them in July.  That was the last time I would see Grandpa alive.  He died the following month.  In her letter she told me that she was also not well and that she felt a "soarness" in her chest and could hardly breathe.  That was also the last time I saw her alive as she died of a heart attack on 30 October 1965.  

This letter is treasured, as she had treasured her love letters to Grandpa.  The memories are still vivid as I recall those bundles of letters tied up with tiny blue ribbons.  This was part of a grandmother I never knew and will never know as the letters are all gone now except for the two I have saved.  I would gladly trade my two letters just to hold her hand and kiss her face and tell her that I love her.  For the time being I have to be content with only Granny's letters. 


Gini said...

What a beautiful story, I would have sat and read the letters too! Thank you for sharing something so close to your heart.

Greta Koehl said...

Thank you for sharing your memories of your Granny with us!

Jenny Johnson said...

Great story!! I remember your grandparents so well. I have my own story. They used to sit in the same spot together at church. After I left home and went back for a visit. There was your grandmother but your grandfather was not there in his usual place. I wondered what had happened and why he was not at church until my sister told me he had passed away.
I was really sad. Even today after 45 years I still look to that same pew with memories of your grandparents.
You can find me at elevenfootrv.blogspot.com/
Jenny J (kimilauri@msn.com)