Friday, September 14, 2012


Mammaw WROTE to people.  She’d take out her big ole black Parker, fat as a cigar, grab one of her half-sized tablets off the dining room buffet, and sit right down to discourse as personal as over teacups.   There was always a “Dear . . .” as greeting, even in those to her constant correspondents, the Burpee and Park and Gurney seed companies, whose letter-headed replies were as warm and newsy as the small pages of her two-o’clock cursive.    She had her own little rustic 84 Charing Cross Road going on for years, with plants instead of books.


She might have been an Austen lady at her escritoire answering the Morning Post, as she sat at that old kitchen table (in early days before the “new house,” in close proximity to the spot where she’d just had her daily bath in the #2 galvanized tub brought in from the nail on the porch---water drawn from the one big spigot over the kitchen sink and heated in the same BIG tea-kittle which had just scalded the noon-day dinner dishes).

And despite the fact that we were on the same phone exchange and talked to each other daily, we WROTE.  Our letters criss-crossed for years, as my jottings of the night before, pen and paper laid aside just as I switched off the lamp, were mailed in the morning to be in her hands before suppertime. And her own to me, with descriptions of her garden from peas to petunias in colorful detail, with who stopped by and admired, who came to ask for some cuttings, whose daughter was getting married next month and had come by to speak for several dozen pink for bouquets and boutoneers.
She tended her roses like she tended the big rows of beans and tomatoes and all those wonderful, colorful peppers and hills of squash.   Her hoe was as much a part of her life as her glasses and The Commercial Appeal, I think---the hoe handle satined as her rolling pin, and the blade thinned from years of lap-whetting to less than the width of her butcher knife.   Her small push-plow received similar sharpening before and after every planting-time, and I can see her cleaving that thing through the soft earth like a boat through a lake, turning back furrows in that dirt so enriched by all those years of carefully-seasoned chicken manure (she called it maloster, and I’ve never heard the word before or since).  The rock-picking and Fall-cleaning and straw-strewing of her patch of ground were rituals as carefully tended as beloved pets.
A great part of her conversation was of her gardens, and thus her letters were filled with descriptions of everything from blossoms to bugs (the time she hung a big ole tomato worm up on the fence with a loop of Coats & Clarks as a lesson to other invaders is family legend).
What Mammaw called her p.m. letter was waiting for me in the morning, and my letter-of-the-night-before reached her in the three-o’clock mailsack.  Our two small towns were close, and hers being the smaller, they received their post through ours.   I’ve no doubt Miss Doris would have brought me a cake in the backseat of her dusty old Ford, had Mammaw handed it to her, and she frequently arrived with a sack of tomatoes or some just-shelled butterbeans, with her own bag of garden goodies for her trouble.
In Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory, he wrote of his Aunt Sook, whose Christmas fruitcakes seemed the culmination of her work year---she’d save up for the citron, hoard the flour and sugar, pick up her own pecans, and she sent the fragrant packages to people of note---for years, one reached the White House every Christmas, with a lovely note from Mrs. Roosevelt in return.
Mammaw’s own reaching-out to her far-away correspondents was limited to letters, and the occasional nice lagniappe of some special seeds or shoots or bulbs from one company or the other, and she spoke of them as of family.   “I got a nice letter from Park,” she’d mention.   “They said they’d be putting out the new pink floribunda this Spring.”  Burpee said my Mawve Dahlias were the biggest anybody’s ever sent in,” (she’d laid a dollar on the table for the picture to illustrate the size).
Mammaw always said she “lived by the clock and the calendar,” and I think Mail-Time punctuated her days as pleasantly as a gift.  There are a few of her letters in a drawer here behind me, the last of those long-ago days of putting down thoughts in our own hand.
And possibly, if I lifted an envelope or two and upended them gently over the tablecloth, a dusty thought of long-ago seeds might come drifting out.


Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Rachel:
We are certain that we should have loved your mother to bits. How we should have anticipated her daily missives with great excitement, an enthusiasm that we still have but rarely get to vent as we receive so little in the post these days except bills.

We can imagine this daily ritual so well. Indeed, it takes us back to the days of post being delivered twice a day in the UK and at weekends, a service long since dead. And, how we wish that pen and paper were used more often. It is simply not the same to receive an email or, even more dismally a text!

We can imagine from your beautifully crafted post the sense of satisfaction and the joy that your mother had from her garden and the admiration from others which it received. Her 'buttoneers' must have been the talk of the town.

You really should collect together your essays of 'Southern Life in Bygone Days' as they are fully deserving of publication. Perfectly wonderful!

racheld said...

What a lovely compliment!! And from two such articulate, evocative writers---Oh My Goodness. Thank you.

I, too, beweep the dwindling of the inky page, the folded pages of flowing script, though my own "hand" has grown scraggly from unuse, in this day of keyboard and screen.

Mammaw was my Mother's Mother---a lovely, hard-working country-woman, with callused fingers and kind eyes. She was the person most important in my raising, with her easy conversation and great store of olden tales, and almost-imperceptible lessons-by-example of how ladies conducted themselves.

She'd have been 117 this year, and I think of her every day. And sometimes see her in the mirror, which I don't mind at all.

Thank you both for being such faithful visitors and and so kind in your comments.

racheld said...

From an e-mail from long-time reader and kind commenter Jon, of MISSISSIPPI GARDEN:

Hi Rachel,
Wow! Double wow!! I just loved reading this e-mail from you and it gave me pleasant memories of my own two "mammaws". Thanks so much for sharing it with me. Keep on keeping on with your day you are going to write a best-seller I feel sure.

Best regards,
Jon on 9-14-12

Jeanne, backyard neighbor said...

Good morning Rachel. YOU, are my darlin' friend as well. Thank you for the sweetest comment as always. Yes, I think I am way too busy but my life has always been this way. I'm a joiner and a lover of all things in general. My children complain that I am never home and I say, "Aren't you glad I have a life?" HA!

Your Mammaw is a person I would love. We grew up very far away from my grandparents and I have few memories of them. My memories are precious to me though.

Mail has gone away and it is very sad. Your memories of your lovely letters makes me smile.

Oh my, my sister just surprised me with a visit from Atlanta this very minute. I will be back my darlin' friend.
Love, Jeanne

Sandi@ Rose Chintz Cottage said...

Hello Rachel,
I loved reading about your Mammaw! It was sort of like reading a page from a book. How charming!
My hubby is a letter carrier now and he says the letter mail is getting less and less every year. I think it's so very sad!
You have a way with words and I thoroughly enjoyed your post. Thanks for your visit and making Pink Saturday more fun. Enjoy your weekend.


Kouign Aman said...

I cant even imagine same day delivery! I think we're doing well when mail to our friends across town gets there the next day. Letters are so much fun to receive. As always, you write it so we can live it.

Jeanne, backyard neighbor said...

Hello Rachel, I'm back. My sister surprised us and all five of us had a fabulous day. We have photos. Smile.

I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your Mammaw story today. My sister read your story and loved it too. She was amused that we are such dear friends when we have never met. I told she was wrong...we have met, just not in person.

I agree with Jane's comment about your writing ability. You should be published. Maybe you have been.

Have a wonderful rest of the weekend.
Love, Jeanne

Southern Lady said...

Oh, what a lovely story, Rachel ... so beautifully and lovingly written. I could picture your sweet Mammaw as she so carefully penned all those letters, and how wonderful that you still have some of them. What a truly priceless treasure, and I can imagine the emotions they evoke and the sweet, precious memories they rekindle for you.

Thank you for sharing your Mammaw with us. I know she loved you dearly and was very proud of you.

Jeanne, backyard neighbor said...

Hi Rachel, I meant to tell you that I did think I was judging the flower show but was greatly relieved to find out I was to assist the judge and that's what I did. I was rereading your sweet comments and realized I did not answer your comment about the judging.

We have some bad rain today and if I was going to have a 'TEA Party' it would be just as ruined as yours. Have you decided when to have
another attempt? I hope all has dried out by now. I feel so bad for you my dear friend.

Happy days to you and yours,
Love, Jeanne

Kim S. said...

Oh, my dear – you SLAY me! What writing, what images. Mail, flowers, Mammaws and 84 Charing Cross Road all in one post! Do you know that when we were in London, I was only 1/2 mile from it? I still can’t believe that I didn’t go!

I, too, miss real mail, while loving the immediacy and spontaneity of email. In my attic I have boxes full of old letters from family and friends (and possibly even a post card from Davy Jones!). In a holdover from those times, I still ‘save’ my emails in special on-line ‘folders’. But will I ever spend an afternoon savoring them – opening each and reading old news with half-wistful happiness? Probably not. But time moves on and very few still actually WRITE letters. I am just as bad – typing into the computer suits my arthritic hands so much better. One short note and my handwriting is virtually illegible. I just read “The Summer House” by Marcia Willett and Milo, an irascible old soldier is describing the beautiful, haunting and almost poetic letters sent back from the trenches by ordinary men during WWI & WWII and he wonders what today’s emails and texts look like. And I was reminded of a sentence I saw on Facebook today: “No one can play ur role, so b urself”. Sigh. Thank the Lord for you, Miss R!

Pear tree cottage! said...

Dear Rachel, Every word and every moment in this post is worthy of reading again & again & again! I so enjoyed this your post as I have always your is so lovely to be here reading again. We may be far apart across the sea but reading a post is like sitting at your kitchen table sipping tea and chatting awhile....thank you. Lee-Ann

Anonymous said...

I have always loved reading your thoughts and daily life and things remembered; this one about the writings of your Mammaw is almost my very favorite - what a lovely love between you two that you in your youth took time to write and post to her everyday. I never have anything to say to make an interesting letter to anyone, though I "used to love to get letters" (a thing of the past.) Please do not let your memories go uncollected, as Jane Hattatt said, so many more can be blessed in the future from your words.