I continue today with the story -- only the roughest of edges, for how can I ever hope to fully tell the story of a woman who saw over 100 years? -- of what I know of the life of my grandmother, Beulah Ethel (Garrard) Browning.
I was thinking about this all day at work and began to remember things that I'd forgotten, small vignettes my grandma shared over the course of our closest years. She loved that I asked about her life and she loved sharing those memories; her eyes would light up and her normally soft voice would grow stronger. I think it was because she had lived so long. She told me once, in response to a question I had about how long she'd lived, that she sometimes disliked it because she'd had to watch everyone she knew and loved as a girl, a young woman, a friend, a mother and a wife -- die. She had strong faith in God, though, and would tell me she believed that God had His purpose for giving her years and she was not one to question His wisdom. As I said in my last entry, I am so very glad those years were hers and mine.
But back to her story and some of the things I remembered.
I own her cedar chest. The chest was given to her in 1932 by her then-beau and later husband, my grandfather Virgil Joseph Browning. In it she kept mementos of her life and I scurried back to open it and look through some of those while telling her story. I believe the things in that chest all meant enough to her to keep them and I will try to tell the stories of as many of those items as I can. Here are some of them.
This picture is of a tea set that Mrs. Mary Hoke presented to my grandmother as a Christmas present in 1909. This tea set is so delicate and tiny! Each little cup is the size of my thumb. I remember grandma saying she adored that set and played with it often, being very mindful to wrap each item carefully when she was finished playing with it. Until today, when I went to take this picture, I had never seen it unwrapped myself. The entire set has always been stored in a wooden matchbox holder and wrapped in tissue. Accompanying the set is a small handwritten note detailing when she received it and by whom. When I unwrapped if for this picture I found, however, that one little saucer is missing. That's too bad! Otherwise it's a beautiful little set and I can see my grandma playing with it and valuing it for its delicacy.
So grandma's school years came and went. When she was 16, in 1917, her older brother Raymond Orlond Garrard went off to France to serve in World War I. The picture here was taken that year and shows her in a gorgeous white dress. I think she looks young and fresh and splendid, don't you? She wrote Raymond letters and wrote other servicemen as well. I used those letters to trace one of the serviceman she wrote and I managed to get those letters back to his descendants! I've told grandma's story about those times before here on my blog and if you're interested (including seeing a picture of her wearing her brother's uniform!) you can go here and also here.
Another interesting item is a tiny Methodist Episcopal Hymnal. Copyrighted 1850 Cincinnati and published by Swormstedt & Power, Corner of Main and Eighth-Sts, R.P. Thompson, Printer," the front page of this book (in my grandmother's handwriting) says "Presented to Beulah Garrard by Auntie Allison, aged about 89 years this Sept 29, 1920, been in her possession for at least 65 years." This book also has, in another person's handwriting, the name "Mary Jane Willson." I found a Mary Allison, aged 90 in the 1920 census, living in Crawford County. I'm pretty sure she's the "Auntie Allison" that my grandmother received the hymnal from. More research necessary!
By the time she was 22 in 1923 she and her best girlfriend Gwendolyn Norton (who later married a Hackett) decided they needed to go to Olney in Richland County, Illinois, and work at a shoe factory. They boarded with the parents of a Mr. Eska Russell while working there because, grandma said, it wasn't proper for two young women to be on their own! In the picture here she is holding her hat and looks for all the world like a girl home to visit from making her own way. She worked there for a year or so, boarding with two separate families -- the Russells, parents of Eska Russell, and the Routsons -- before coming home sometime in the fall of 1925. I know this because another item in the chest was a unique cup that my grandmother called a moustache cup. She gave it to her father Robert as a christmas present in 1925. She couldn't find one to buy so she obtained it from Mrs. Routson, according to the notes I took.
Between 1924-1926 my grandmother was seeing a boy named Cecil Buchanan. I have quite a few letters from him to her and whenever she mentioned his name she said it in a way that told me that he was a special boy to her at the time. (Update: Cecil ended up to be Cecile, one of her best GIRL friends! Go read the funny story about how I learned that little fact.) But somewhere in there they broke up and my grandmother met another boy, one named Virgil.
Next time....her life after meeting my grandfather.
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