The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

Visit us on FaceBookGenerations of Memories
from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Mama's Last Baby At Papa's Place

By Grace Cash © 1988

Issue: May, 1988

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.

In 1920, in the month of April, Mama had a strikingly beautiful blue-eyed, black-haired baby girl - her last baby at Papa's Place. She had five older children, born with blue eyes and black hair, which in most cases turned to various shades of brown. But Mama knew this child was special, just as other people recognized the same thing, when Mama started taking her out in what she called "company". From the first, there were offers to adopt Ruth, or what was called then "taking her to raise."

The people passing Papa's Place, on the narrow county road, admired the new baby when they stopped and talked a while with Papa and Mama. A daily passerby was a mailman in his buggy. He knew the names of Mama's children, and he did favors for her, such as selling bushels of peach seeds in town, and bringing her the money we all earned picking up the seed. He wasn't in the market for adopting Ruth, but he acted as though he had taken us all to raise.

The mailman brought give-away items from the city of Gainesville - sample pencils, pictures for the unsealed walls, and other small favors. He distributed free calendars every January at the mailboxes on the Rural Free Delivery route. Once Mama got a calendar not intended for her, and it was a thing of beauty, hanging on our kitchen wall, although she tried to give it back to the mailman, once she had discovered Frank's mistake. He was her eldest son, eight years old, and never idle a minute. He ran to meet the mailman one day, to get whatever catalogues might come, such as came annually from the Hastings Seed Company and from Sears & Roebuck. Sometimes there were letters from Mama's sisters, all married and scattered in various counties, and perhaps a rare letter in a fancy pink-and-white envelope from her first cousin - her Aunt Elizabeth's son - in Arkansas.

But on that day Frank saw a colorful picture calendar in the mailman's black leather bag, right there at the foot board. Since we already had one of the rolled-up calendars from his annual batch given out on his route, Frank knew this calendar could be gotten only by request. He ran into the house and asked Mama, "Do you want a pretty calendar?" and she answered, "Yes," going on about her kitchen chores. When she unrolled the calendar he brought back to her, she knew at once it hadn't been intended as a giveaway item - not this one, the twelve separate months showing above calendar dates, the picture of a beautiful young woman, each different from the other, but all dressed in the 1920's fashion: Cloche hats or broad-brimmed straw hats trimmed with cherries or artificial roses. Their dresses were of silk pastel colors and the girls themselves looked like a bowl of peaches and cream. The next day Mama carried the calendar to the road and waited for the mailman, his buggy coming in sight at the sassafras bend, a long way from our three room house.

When Mr. Taylor saw the calendar in her hand, he started laughing, like a jolly Santa Claus. After repeated apologies, and he still wouldn't take it back, Mama said, "I'm much obliged to you, but Frank thought you were giving the calendar to whoever wanted it." Where he intended to leave the calendar, Mama didn't know, but she never stopped talking about "how ashamed she was, like she sent Frank out to beg for a calendar."

Several families of colored folks lived on a nearby farm. One day a young brown-skinned woman walked up the road, her baby slung over her shoulder. Mama hurriedly put on her cotton-print bonnet, and threw a Birdseye diaper over Ruth's head, and went out to show off her new baby. "What be her name?" she asked, and Mama said proudly, "Ruth," and the young mother said, "That be a mighty pretty name. Pretty like her." Then Mama asked her baby's name, and told her she had given her a pretty name and she was a fine baby. Then she went on, the baby looking back over her shoulder, her big black eyes taking us all in.

Every time there was a new baby at our house, Grandma Deaton came for a two-week visit, and she had been there when Ruth was born. She did the same for her other five daughters and daughter-in-laws. I was two and a half years old when Lillian - the baby just before Ruth - was born. Grandma named her Lillian D. (the D. was for Deaton, which Lillian dropped later on). I would never have dropped "D" from my name if Grandma had thought as much of me as she did Lillian, which was partly based on Lillian being born a "Deaton baby." She threatened to take her home with her, which I halfway believed she would do.

While Grandma was at our house, she cut a pattern for a chemise from Mama's underwear pattern. Grandma spread the newspapers on the kitchen table, and she said, "I've got to make Lemma a shimmy." Lemma was her youngest daughter, now of courting age. She talked to us like we were grown women ourselves. If Grandma had been a hired hand, she would have earned her wages. She cooked, kept the house, looked after the children, washed and ironed, started fires in the kitchen stove for cooking, and made of herself a nurse till Mama got on her feet again, when the baby was nine days old.

Besides all that, Grandma taught us how to play "Who's Got The Thimble?" and "This Little Pig Went To Market" and "William Trembletoe," and other fireside games. Grandma told about going to the circus in Gainesville when her own first baby was a year old. We listened breathlessly when she said, "When Lizzie was a baby, me and Jim went to town to the circus." At that time Grandpa Deaton was twenty-six years old, and she was little more than nineteen. There on the circus grounds, Grandpa would hold Lizzie on the palm of his hand, and she stood perfectly poised, calmly balanced, and this inadvertently caught the eye of the circus manager.

"He offered Jim a thousand dollars for Lizzie," Grandma would say dreamily. "The circus man said he could train her to be the finest kind of acrobat, a walker of the high wires. He said he would give our baby the finest kind of education, and she wouldn't ever want for anything."

No matter how many times Grandma told the circus story, Mama would get a wistful look on her face. She knew Grandpa wouldn't have sold his child for a million dollars multiplied, but it seemed that she cringed, measuring for a moment the endless grief it would have brought as long as any of the blood kin lived. She knew because she had had several offers to trade off her sixth child, her fourth daughter Ruth. A specified amount of money was never once offered, but rather the insinuation that such a transfer would be taking one of Mama's "crowd" off of her hands. The head of a wealthy family wanted Mama to give Ruth to him and his wife "to raise as our own." And in a similar case, the doctor who "brought Ruth into the world" wanted her - if the parents consented - to raise her up with his own daughter.

There were no such offers for the rest of us. None of the offers could be called "negotiable," such as the outright offer of a thousand dollars from the circus manager for Grandma's baby. Papa and Mama would have seen us all starve before they would have allowed anybody else to "raise" us. Besides we were experienced enough by the time Ruth - the negotiable baby - was born to know we wouldn't fit anywhere except with Papa and Mama, whose ways had already become our ways.

It would only take a year or so of hot Georgia sun, and rough winter weather, for Ruth to fit in the same family mold. Indeed, she would be a water-carrier to the cotton fields when she was four years old, the wind blowing her silky brown hair into the blue eyes that had captivated those who would have taught her a different way of life.