Thursday, February 2, 2017

A Memoir of Mary Ann Wade Arkell: Part 2

Jennifer Dixon
January 26, 2017
Mary Anne Wade Arkell: Part 2

            We are visiting with Mary Ann Wade Arkell through the memoir of her granddaughter, Gertrude Hollingsworth.  Last week we learned about Mary Ann’s journey to Junction City, Kansas, in 1871.  Today we’ll explore who Mary Ann was through her physical description, and her strong feelings about proper dress and conduct, and her relationships with her granddaughter Gertrude and her own children.   
            “I Remember Grandma” by Gertrude Hollingsworth:
            “When I was a small child, an only child, alone on old farm – Grandma was my pal.  And for a while she seemed to me the nicest person in the world.  (For one thing, Mama spanked; Grandma didn’t)  Later I decided my mother was the nicest, and I remember quite well when I made that decision.  I had come to realize that I needed to mind and that Mama and Papa were often very busy, but Grandma had time.  (Still later I realized I liked them all, but each in a different way.)
I remember very well just how Grandma looked.  I don’t remember her laughing or even smiling much.  Yet she wasn’t sad, just serious.  She wore her pure white hair slicked back tight and pinned in a little knot at the back of her head.  (Curls were sinful, Grandma said)  She was quite obese but she wasn’t worrying about it at all.  (Certainly her overweight didn’t cause her to die young)  Some of us may have inherited her ‘hippiness.’  But hips then and now are a different thing.  Then she hid her hips as did everyone else then, under long full gathered skirts.  She not only hid her hips, but also, her knees and her ankles.  If I hadn’t seen black stockings flapping on the clothesline, I’d scarcely have known what kind of hose she wore.  She wore shoes and her dress was kept pulled down modestly below the shoe tops.
Her dresses were made in two pieces – a close fitting high necked blouse with many buttons holding it tight shut down the front, and tight at the waist…She carried peppermints in her apron pockets—big round white peppermints, and sometimes she gave me one, or lemon drops which I liked better.
            I remember her especially when she dressed up.  Her dress up clothes were worn mostly to church.  These Sunday clothes always were black, and there were a number of reasons for this.  First, black ‘didn’t get dirty.’  Second, she was a widow and widows wore black all the rest of their lives.  Too, she was an old woman and old women (meaning then anyone over fifty years of age) were supposed to wear black.  Most of all, bright colors, or even light colors, were sinful even for everyday – or so she said.  Even her wedding dress was brown.  Though it was a nice warm shade of brown.
But I’ve gone a bit afield.  When Grandma dressed up for church she always wore a bonnet.  (Old ladies, she said, always wore bonnets)....”
Mary Ann and her
daughter, Eliza
            Gertrude believed that Grandma Mary Ann did not enjoy being a mother and pioneer in 1870s-era Kansas. Gertrude knew that Mary Ann loved her children, who included Gertrude’s father and her aunt Eliza, but she understood the difficulties involved in raising a young family as a settler on the plains:
            “Grandma didn’t want her children.  I often thought, both then and now, ‘Can you blame her?’  For times, then (especially after they came to America) were indeed hard.  I wasn’t supposed to understand things which were said.  But I did, and I won’t put it all down here.  But if Grandpa was frequently cross with Grandma she was also cross with him.  It, however, was a silent crossness, for I never knew her to say anything cross to anyone.  In those days, men were responsible for their own children from A to Z.  They got the blame; but Mothers, I thought even as a child, got most of the credit.
            Grandma did not have ten days in bed or even much rest, after her babies were born.  She said she always got up on the third day and did her washing.  She lost several babies in those early years in Kansas.  It is recorded that she lost three little girls.  But I only remember her speaking of losing two.  One of these, born after my father, was still born.  She often told how she had not wanted this baby (or my father) yet, how wrong she had been.  For my father was a great joy to her, and everything a son ought to be.  Her other sons were thus also – but were never as close as my father, her youngest one who lived.  And she wondered and remarked, ‘what would a younger daughter have been like?’  At the time she hadn’t cared.

            Grandma was frequently misunderstood because she was outspoken and sometimes tactless.  She admonished children, little and grown, if she thought they erred.  But we, who knew her best, understood that she didn’t mean this just to be unkind.  (I don’t believe that she ever in her life, intentionally, did a mean or an unkind thing)…We who are her grandchildren, her great grandchildren, her great great, or ever so great grandchildren (without being completely Victorian) can be proud to follow her example.”