Sunday, January 18, 2015


  Despite the low wages during the Depression, Mother bought me a beautiful maroon fabric coat edged around the collar in soft black and white fur. Dozens of buttons marched from neck to hem. What made me feel especially dressed up, I remember, was the matching fur-trimmed, wide brimmed
hat that tied under my chin.

One afternoon while Mother and I were downtown, she suggested that I have my picture made. I was seven years old and disliked having to pose, but Mother insisted the coat and hat deserved preserving on film.  At the local Woolworth’s Five and Dime Store she pushed me into the photo booth, ordered me to sit, and dropped a dime in the slot, all the while insisting that I turn my head this way and that while a “Click” sounded in the booth. I fidgeted, followed her instructions but refused to smile. When the session was complete, Mother grabbed the strip of six black and white pictures and my hand and rushed to the street corner to catch Bus No. 7 for home.

 Within a week a telephone call informed Mother that Grandmother was sick again. This had become a ritual. In 1938 we spent a lot of time in South Mississippi rushing to the country when Grandmother became ill. I saw with this visit an opportunity to show off my new coat and hat. We quickly packed a small bag and headed to the bus that would take us to the train station next door to the Old Capitol Building at the top of Capitol Street.

We traveled to the country by train or bus, an exciting adventure. The trip of only 100 miles was never boring. My cousin William and his parents lived on the Mitchell farm ten miles from town. Uncle Royce helped Gran’daddy with farming and running the general store across the street. Aunt Emma nursed my Grandmother when her weak heart put her to bed or into the hospital. 

My grandparents’ unpainted house always looked gray and forlorn because it had never been painted. An open porch along the front of the house looked gloomy in the wintertime, but was the coolest place on hot summer day. Inside wallpaper covered the exposed boards in the rooms with fireplaces. When we arrived I paraded in my coat and hat before my relatives who, unknown to me, had gathered expecting a death in the family.  Despite the warmth of the fires in each room, I refused to remove my new apparel.

 After receiving the compliments I desired, I was ready to play outdoors with William. I was excited to see my cousin, a year younger than I. He was my favorite playmate. We explored the yard and played endless games of Hide and Seek, flipped over the horizontal bar at the windmill like
gymnasts; made roads in the soft earth under the house. However, this time I realized playing under the house was too dirty and the buttons on my coat wouldn’t allow me to flip easily on the bar at the windmill, so I insisted we play Hide and Seek.  After the third round of the game William disappeared. As I thought of where to search first, I felt a rush of air. In a second my hat was snatched off my head as a blur of William  passed me. I let out a yell: “WILL I YAM." With fury smoking I continued with  “YOU‘RE. GOING. TO. BE. IN. A. LOT. OF. TROUBLE.” I searched behind  his usual hiding places, hoping to catch sight of my prized possession caught on a bush. After what seemed like a day I stopped to gulp huge breaths of air. Without a doubt I needed help from William‘s

 Outside Uncle Royce found his son hiding behind a large pillar on the front porch. He gave my cousin a facial expression that telegraphed William’s behavior as Trouble. William hesitated trying to decide how far along he could get with his joke in his dad’s presence. Uncle Royce commanded in a stern voice, ”Find. Her. HAT.” 

William turned 180 degrees, marched to the back of the house, around the chinaberry tree, through the back gate, and towards one of three wooden buildings. One was a garage for tractors, one the barn, and the smallest, the outhouse. William stopped, nervously hopping from one foot to the other, at the opened door of the outhouse. I was positive I’d find my hat here. I walked in without hesitation, glanced around the small space containing two holes for business. The hat was not hanging on nails stuck through from the outside. Not tossed on the floor.  Not caught between the pages of the Sears Roebuck catalog used for toilet paper. Was William joking? With his daddy’s urging, William pointed at the left hole. Hope turned to fear. My coat suddenly was too warm for me. My brand-new-never-before-worn-anywhere-but-here couldn’t be . . . down THERE. I begged my uncle to reach in and get the hat. Instead, he said, “If you can see it, I can get it.” However, one look into that gloom told me I'd never wear my hat again.

 No one could console me as I cried the rest of that day and for many days afterwards. Time erased the disappointment, but  for years at family reunions I reminded William of his owing me a similar hat.

A year after my mother’s death  in 1999 I opened her carefully preserved photo album to discover she had pasted one of the black and white strip pictures showing me pouting because I hated my picture taken. But there is the jaunty hat and coat with matching fur, however difficult to see because of the age of the photo. Despite not having preserved the coat, I was excited to possess the reminder of the pretty outfit and of a joke gone bad. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015


Two events happened before my sister was past two years old. I still remember the incidents, although they happened over 75 years ago.

When Mother went to the hospital to have Sis, I was excited to think I’d get a brother. When Daddy called on our black telephone, I distinctly recall his telling me I had a little sister. Not having talked much about siblings, I wanted my parents to trade Sis in. For many years I think I resented Sis not being a brother; although she was a good baby.

I became her substitute mother. We lived on Minerva Street in 1938 when G was born. The apartment  was a four-plex, Each downstairs apartment had a wide front porch. I recall entering the door and seeing a staircase that led to the apartment upstairs where Mrs. Crawford and her daughter Floy lived. We had the bottom floor. A long hallway went from front to back, with lots of room we used for a dining room. On the right side of the hallway were two large rooms we used as bedrooms and a large  kitchen.  G and I had the middle room next to the kitchen.

In the summer I stayed with G while Mother worked days and Daddy nights. Mrs. Crawford was always around and checked on us. One rainy day G at age 13 months, climbed upon the single bed, slipped open the screen latch and leaned out—a bit too far and fell quite a ways down into a valley of bricks.  She was on  her back crying as the rain dripped off the roof onto her face. I called Mother and then Mrs.  Crawford.  However, little G’s straight hair turned curly. A bald throughout the early years, Mother wound a pink ribbon around her head to make her appear girlish. Her curls showed us the fright she'd had.

Another time on Minerva  I served as the “mother of the house” while the parents were gone. At noon I prepared G a sandwich on the small shelf of a  enameled cabinet in the kitchen. Tall, it held funnels for flour and cornmeal, shelves for bought goods, and drawers below a ledge there for dishes. As I recall kitchens didn't have shelving as complete as today's kitchens. After spreading  peanut butter across the bread, I began to trim the crusts, as Mother did to make the sandwich pretty. The knife slipped and hit G in the right eye.  Her head had leaned against the shelf watching me, her right eye at the level of the  edge. While Sis held her eye, again I called Mother and Mrs. Crawford (a heavy-set woman who couldn’t manipulate the stairs very quickly}. Off to the doctor went Mother, who came home with Sis wearing an eye patch. The doctor said, “No harm done.” 

I learned my lesson about handling knives. Mother cut the ends off the bread before she left for work. I used a butter knife to spread mayonnaise. To this day I trim the bread for my sandwiches with the memory of that near-fatal day oh so long ago.


Thirty years ago if you had asked members of my family’s church their favorite place for dessert and coffee, overwhelmingly they would agree:  the Wadsworth home. Hot muffins just “happened” to pop out of the oven while coffee was perking about the time visitors opened their car doors and hit the front steps. Did you, Ann, they would say in feigned innocence, make these tiny cakes for us? However, when Mother invited a few members of her Sunday School class for a meeting, the ladies knew in place of muffins there’d be two or three chocolate pies cooling

Sis and I were amazed how quickly Mother could spin out her muffins as easily as turning around a corner. If she saw guests arriving she recognized by the car they were driving, she'd run into the kitchen, whip up the dough, grease the muffin pan, and have the pan in the oven when the guests arrived.  The aroma alone told the guests to "sit a spell."

I recall the parents making friends with antique dealers. Mainly because Daddy was the best "clock fixer" around. These dealers came as far away as Vicksburg and Hattiesburg.  Two who worked in Vicksburg would drop by after they'd been antique hunting. "Just to say hello," they'd remark. In reality, they hoped Mother would baked them muffins. She would.

 Like many of her time, Mother was reared in the country, the youngest of ten children. She lived in a wood frame house with three older brothers who worked in the fields with their farmer dad.  As soon as she was tall enough to use the stove, she was appointed second in command to prepare lunch, the largest meal of the day. This experience was the foundation for her excellent home cooking and baking upon marriage. Unfortunate for her two daughters. Mother was accustomed to multi-tasking from childhood she never thought she should require her daughters to learn to cook and sew.
 Sis and I grew up on Mother’s chocolate pies and banana pudding. We imagined each had been developed by dozens of aunts and grandmothers who came before her, a secret only the Mitchells of Walthall County, Mississippi, quietly taught their daughters the “show and tell” method. By the time Mother aged and was unable to bake, we discovered the pies were an old recipe repeated in early cookbooks. She boiled a custard made of milk and sugar.  Then she added Hershey’s Cocoa, or for a  change, coconut flakes, or lemon juice. When time came for home made ice cream, she included seasonal fruit to the custard and cooled it for Daddy to turn the crank of the old wood ice cream maker filled with ice and salt. My mouth waters at the thought of those desserts.
 Never, though, did I ever think I’d find anyone who could make pies like hers.  Only until I attended a neighborhood auction did I find a chocolate pie waiting for my bid. Surprised, I discovered the  cook lived next door.