to my children on the day mom passed:
25 November 1994
Dear Lauren, David, and Rebekah,
Your grandmother died today. She was a wonderful woman. I only wish you could really have known her. She would have loved you so. She always loved babies, especially her grandbabies. Children, she didn’t have an easy life. Not ever.
When she was your age, Rebekah, about three, she got very sick with a disease called polio. It used to be a very dreadful thing. In the worst cases, it killed people outright. It crippled mom. It caused her one leg to be shorter than the other. The doctors actually sowed some lamb-skin onto her heel, but it didn’t help much. So, as a little girl she could never run and play like the other children. Instead, when they would want to do things she couldn’t do, she’d take a book and sneak away into the living room. She loved to read! Her Aunt Annie always told her: “With a good book you can go all around the world and never leave your chair.”
She loved all sorts of books, but especially poetry. Not high brow and sophisticated stuff, you know. Just your garden variety - Robert Louis Stevenson and Eugene Field and such.
She was her daddy’s little girl. She idolized him. He meant so much to her. I remember so well when he died and how sad she was. Now I know something of what she was going through, little ones. She told me many stories of what a wonderful father he was. He worked very hard, as both a farmer and (I think) a carpenter. But he took time every night to help his children with their homework around their dinner table. And Christmas was a day devoted entirely to the children. No work that day! Well, not exactly. He’d get up extra early to get the cows milked and all, but then the rest of the day was theirs. He’d get down on the floor and play right along with them.
She must have partaken alot of her father’s spirit, because when I was little she was my toy. Oh, we played every game imaginable. Even though she was crippled, she’d still get outside and try to play hopscotch and ball with me. She taught me a fun game called “One, two, three, O’Leary.” I want to teach it to you guys. I’d forgotten all about it til today.
She was very proud of her family background. Her last name was Mastin, but the heritage she treasured was the Field line. The Field family had come over from England in the 1600’s. Your grandmother grew up on the property that had been their's. In fact, you still have two great aunts that live on that property. She learned all about the Fields from her dear Aunt Annie, or Nannie, as she most often called her, and also from her Cousin A and A’s daughter Ruth. Cousin A actually remembered the family plantation house before it was burned down in the Civil War. A remembered sitting on the stairs and peaking downstairs as they had dances in the ballroom (with a marble floor, no less!).
I wish I could remember all her stories about the Fields and pass them on to you. She told of Grandpappy Joe, and how after the mansion had burned down, he had a special brick in the fireplace at a place called Speaks where he’d hidden his gold coins. He’d pull them out at night and count them. He even let A play with them. But they were kept hidden so that the Yankees wouldn’t get their hands on them.
Grandpappy Joe had many children, and one of his sons was named Daniel. We have his box sitting in our living room! Almost impossible to read it anymore, but on the bottom of the box is Daniels’ name and infantry number. Daniel was killed at the battle of Chancellorsville. The old black slave who was the blacksmith took the wagon and went to get Massa’ Daniel’s body and bring him home. In the family Testament we have you can still read about Grandpappy Joe’s and Uncle Daniel’s funeral.
Your grandma had a lot of sorrow in her life. She had many sisters: Francis, Ada, Kitty, and Emma. Also three brothers: William and Jimmy and Seldon. William and Jimmy were twins, and when they were born everyone expected William to live and Jimmy to die. You see, Jimmy was scrawny and sickly, but William looked healthier. So, they spent all their time on William, making sure he’d make it. But would you believe it? William died. Jimmy lived. And what a character he grew up to be. But your grandma lived to see him die too. He died right about the time that David was born. And then Seldon - how that broke all their hearts. He was only 16 years old. And was the sweetest kid, by all accounts. One day (it was thanksgiving time) he went out into the woods hunting, and tripped as he jumped over a stream. His foot got caught in a root, near as they can figure out, and his gun went off. He was shot through the head. Her dad was never the same, she said. Seldon’s dog used to wait for him to come home, and it just sat there, lost and lonely for days, not understanding what had happened. I think the dog’s name was Tippy.
Your grandma’s mother died in our house in Maryland in 1951, right before Uncle Maupin was born. When the ambulance pulled up and they took your great grandmother out, covered with a sheet, they thought it was your grandma who had died in childbirth! She missed her mom, but she was always closer to her dad. But this was an added sorrow to him. I remember him most as a very sorrowful man. He died when I was only six or so.
Your grandma and grandpa were really cute together. Every night when he got home from work, he’d yell downstairs: “I’m home sister!” To which she’d respond: “Yea, well what do you want me to do about it?” When I was still fairly little, my brothers and sister had moved out and gotten married, so I remember a lot of time spent with my mom and dad by myself. We loved to watch T.V. together. My daddy and I watched a lot of detective shows - Hawaii Five O and Cannon. Mom loved the game shows - Jeopardy and such. We also loved to play cards together. We went through one winter when I think we played Rook darn near every night.
What else can I tell you about your grandma? Let me tell you the stories that went with some of her things. The two old bricks we have in our house were part of the family plantation house. They came over from England as the ballast in Governor Spotswood’s ship. The plantation house is off the old Kelly’s Ford road outside of Richardsville. Mom collected and treasured these bricks for the story they told of the past. The Yankees were camped out on the white rocks on the Kelly’s Ford road when they burned down the big house. It was being used as a confederate hospital.
The daguerreotypes we have in mom’s doll cabinet are pictures of the Fields. Uncle Daniel is the young man with his fiance. He was only 19 when he died. He would be your great, great, great, great Uncle! And the other is your great, great, great, great Uncle William. He never married, but pretty much became the family head after Grandpappy Joe’s death. When my Grandma Bess heard what my mom and dad had named me (William Chancellor), she said: “Might have known you’d name him after one of those damn Fields. Mom said she hadn’t even thought of Uncle William Field!
Let me see, what other treasures are there? The little blue plate with the crack in it. It was also a Field possession, and I believe it also came from England. The salt cellar likewise. The old teapot was my mother’s grandmother’s wedding gift. Bette Hume Mastin, she was. Mom had her middle name.
There’s a little purse in your mom’s doll cabinet. It’s made of something like straw. It’s from Hawaii. It was sent to your grandma by her great Aunt Harriet. Aunt Harriet was actually your great grandma’s aunt. Aunt Harriet met her husband at the great World Exposition in St. Louis, 1904. They got married and moved to Hawaii. Aunt Harriet wrote to mom about being able to lie in bed in the morning and reach her hand out the window and pluck a bananna for breakfast!
The two brass candlesticks are treasures from your grandmother’s mother’s side of the family. I believe that they came from Europe too, from Scotland. On that side, if you go back several generations, your ancestors were actually Stuarts, and born in the castle in Edinburgh. But that was a long, long time ago! I’m just not sure how old the candlesticks are. When I was a little boy they sat on the parlor organ in Aunt Fanny’s living room. But my mom really wanted them so that she would have something to pass on to us from her mother’s family.
Part of her mother’s family was rather poor, and lived in West Virginia. Your grandmother’s Uncle Seldon worked at the mining village’s store. Your grandma went to visit him and Aunt Louise when she was a young woman and never forgot it! The mountains were so steep and the village was perched right on its side. The miners had a hard life, but they sure did seem to live it up. I wish I knew where in West Virginia they lived, but if mom ever told me, I have long since forgotten.
Your grandmother was deathly afraid of snakes and of fire. When she was little girl, one of their neighbors was burning sagebrush out in the field in the autumn, and their little daughter somehow got caught in the fire, and burned. Mom never seemed to forget it. I don’t know why she was so afraid of snakes, but she certainly was. Once my cousin George and I killed a poor, little garter snake down in Buzzard’s roost and we took it back to the house and we chased mom all around with it! Very naughty because mom couldn’t run very fast. Another time I remember George and I found a little shrew out in the yard, dead. My cousin Gary emptied its insides out and stuffed it with cotton. We then told Aunt Fanny to close her eyes and we rubbed it all over her face. She thought it was the softest powderpuff she’d ever felt, but then did she hollar when she realized what it was!
Other treasures: my father’s grandfather (Thomas Pemberton) made the little walnut washstand in moma and papa’s room. That used to stand in Grandma Bess’s hall, and I asked her if I could have it when I was about your age, David. She said yes, and mom was so glad, because mom loved little tables and always admired that one. If you look at it carefully you will see that the legs are each a little different in size. It was all handmade! He also made the table with the two big planks and the big white bench we have on the front porch.
From mom’s family also is the little table in the library with the shelving for books underneath. That belonged to your great Aunt Gee. She was really named Julia Lee and was my mom’s aunt, her father’s sister. She was a lady if ever there were one! I still have the sweet letter she wrote to me when she heard that Daddy had cancer. The table had been hers, but she had given it to mom long ago. It was always in our house on Munson Street. When I was little it used to have a whole pile of golden books in it! Mom loved books. Our house on Munson Street had a redwood bookcase my dad made for my mom (she loved the wood, and it was only after they made it they realized how soft it was and not suitable really for a book case, but pretty!!!) and it was always filled with books. I’ve only managed to collect a few of them. I remember it had two sets of encyclopedias, one Funk and Wagnel and the other I can’t recall, a little red set, and on the other side of the room there’d be the World Book Encyclopedia. Mom and I used to read these as regular entertainment! Just turn the pages, look at the pictures and read the articles.
Your grandma spent a lot of time in the kitchen. She didn’t believe in forcing a child to eat what they didn’t want, so she’d take orders for what everyone wanted for dinner and then make it up. Sometimes we’d end up eating three different things. Breakfast was a big deal with her and not just in the morning. She’d whip up a batch of pattycakes (never called pancakes) faster than anyone I’ve ever seen and they were always delicious. Her corn-bread likewise. She liked to make sure her meat was done, which really means black! She made phenomenally good pie crust and every once in a while she’d make us light-rolls. Divine!!! [I broke off here and never finished these ramblings, but they were on my mind the day mom died.]