Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Magpie #64 Americana Series Interview by Sadie LaMans
Smoldering Fires, Clarence Holbrook Carter, 1904-2000
Columbus Museum of Art
"Abigail McNamara and Son Joshua on Wolverine Mountain" Part 1 Americana Series by Sadie LaMans
The picture and the caption said it all, "but there will always be more to this story" Sadie LaMans recalled in a deeply pensive mood.
Sadie LaMans, the Free Press reporter from the big city Detroit had decided that the spring would be a good time to interview Abigail McNamara. The sparse yet stoic population of Wolverine Mountain in Hoosier Country would be prime reading material. The series on the lifestyle of the less than rich and famous Mountain folk would feature Abigail McNamara. The series would feature one family a week for Sadie's weekly "Americana Series" of interviews.
The roads would at least be passable in early May. The year was 1931. Abigail McNamara had about all she could stand of winter. Determined no matter whether or not the snow was on the ground or if the winds and snow pellets were stinging her face into a frozen contortion she would get outside today and hang laundry "no matter what". It had been too many months of the cruelest of winters, and spring was clearly sunny as if to say, like one of her children; :Mommy come out and play today"! All around her and inside her heart the sun was shining all around her, her babies, the mountain and distant valley. Abigail smiled at the mountain and said a silent prayer.
"I can take it, yeah, almost anything" she argued with the reporter, half-jokingly but serious with furled brow and half-smile standing outside and leaning on the heavy, hand-hewn oak doorway.
Not only had the latch been broken, the entire door had blown off clear off the hinge and landed onto the clearing by the barn. Sadie examined the massive hinge which was still dangling and creaking in the early spring winds. "That was from the last storm" Abigail acknowledged sheepishly.
Her muscled yet tiny body framed within the doorjamb, her physical space demanded one's full attention/ Certainly she had a commanding presence thought Sadie in her pensive yet professional manner.
Sadie had noted this strength of character before with others of the county who were being interviewed. Sadie noted that Abby had this an inner strength that only comes from years washing an endless line of diapers by hand, then wringing them, each individually in ice cold water. Mountain life was a difficult life; a drudgery. Sadie thought how she would so loathe to be part of the lifestyle of the mountain folk. Yet Sadie could fully appreciate the tenacity of Abby and her kin. How Abby would be outside sticking her bare frostbitten hands under her armpits to warm them up for the next diaper. And that was only part of her day of hard back-breaking labour. Thee would be dinners to prepare, rugs to beat, bears to skin, possums to stew. These were all incredibly endearing moments captured by Sadie in the majestically wondrously beautifully rugged mountain range.
Without her husband she had come up short with no income, no means to support herself and her babies. There would be no way to survive another winter unless Abby learned how to pull up her bootstraps and face life's grim facts. Hers was to become a tough and unpleasant reality for most. It would be up to Abby to relearn life's game. In order to eck out a living Abby had to become like a man; like a female lumberjack, or a tough it out princess who could not afford to wait for others to do her chores; "Or somewhere inbetween.." thought Abby while rocking softly her bevy of beautiful babies.
There was the same understanding from all the folks in her community that she could tough it out, eventually. And that's what folks were like in this neck of the woods; honest. There was never a dry eye in church when they saw Abby and her dear children, all five of them, most still in diapers. How did she manage? Some of the regulars would try to help with canned goods, but the times were tough, being the thirties, and not much money to go around. When a spare hand could be used, Abby would often appear stand-offish and say "No, that's ok, I can manage, thank-you!". Abby was extremely independent considering before her husbands untimely demise, much of a cabin-dweller, and kept to herself.
"There are some Amish up the road a spell who did help out in a pinch, but I can't keep asking them all the time" Abby thought to herself while retelling her life story to Sadie LaMans. "In a jam, yes, but not if they were no major emergency." Abby, like her family who lived ten states away was "too proud" to allow for charity of any kind. "Fiddlesticks" cursed Abigail, "I'm not takin' no charity!".
Certainly there were "some mighty handsome beaus" that did come calling and did want to marry Abby "if only". Often she would scare them off the trail, coming across too strong and forward. Far too often they though her aggressive and this went for most of the callers. Abby not having or wanting a new man in her life. She still thought of Jimmy and never wanted to remarry.
For months were becoming much more easier and easier. Soon she found no need or use for men at all. She was reclaiming her life as her own; on her own. This made Abby feel stronger about her mission in life; to prove she could do it, raise five babies independently. She was fiercely independent. Sadie noticed and noted this aspect regarding the brave mountaineer-types of this distinct Wolverine district.
Knowing basic survival skills meant Abby had a toughness, and a fierce fighter instinct rather than a softness of feminine wiles which most men were looking for in a woman. Someone to enfold them with softness. Abby did not represent enough demure and non-dominance. No, not at all! Abby knew this about men, and did not appreciate this value as much as the men did not appreciate Abby's intent to be a domineering wife and mother. Abby thought she had to be this way, but there were too many rough edges to soften by now she thought.
Abby, on the first date was often too hauty and loud in nature,sounding like Ma Kettle. She did come on too strong, smoking her deceased husband's pipe, and riding the range with the boys. A major faux pas when learning the art of "how to hook a man and keep him in ten easy lessons" Who really needs a man as husband material?". Abby laughed to herself as she played up the tough-woman part way over the top. She could spot a fellow on the prowl at the first signs of sweet talk. "Oh not another undesired male!".
With Abby's ample free spirit looming like an Amish quilt on a four-post bed, most gents ran rather than walked away from Abby's farm. Never to return or even look back and wave for fear of becoming enmeshed like a fish or entrapped like a bear and always with a less then favourable outcome projected from their logic-ridden minds.
Which was not to say that those who valued uptight codes of over-zealous ethics would avow members of the inner circle Congregational cooperation. As part of her wits, wisdom and undaunting brawn Abby would often if not always outmatch any suitor that would come calling.
Although she had the face of angel, she was rough around the edges from life's grit was much too gravelly at the best of times.Even the cruel blow life had to offer she had become common-place and Abby accepted this enigmatic mantle.
To know Abby would be to know that no one could take away her excessive exuberance for life. This did empower her and made her family strong as the strongest oak tree that grew within the Wolverine County basin.
As Abigail's said a hushed good-bye to the reporter, Sadie thought "what a powerful presence" and how she could feel her energy from the endless looping driveway down the elevations into the village. As Abby's raw hands keenly placed on her hips, baby in tow, waving furiously as visitors were so few and far between.
due to having to learn how to chop the winter's wood. Her husband Bob had not returned, lost in the storm. The neighbours found his body found two years ago a frozen form. Attached to the frozen fence, trying to find his way home through the blinding snowstorm.
Abby, was, as the french would say "formidable" her adorable year old babe straddling her widen postnatal hips.
"Listen; I'll have you know I've toughed it out through the coldest winters 70 below when the Snow was high as this here roof" she bellowed in a perfected mid-west twang
Jimmy didn't come back through the storm and I was without wood and couldn't make a fire due to the 80 mile per hour winds."
"Give me the best of the lot, I can top any one of them." "You wanna read a poem I just made?" Abby asked Sadie. "It's the best un I've done so far!" "Nights get kinda lonely here in the mountains!" Abby cleared her throat and with a deep voice boomed;
"Stronger than the Mountain behind me
Hardier than any pioneer log cabin ya see
Tougher than the Granite mantle under my feet
Meaner than a coyote without a rabbit to eat"
" In '30 one of my baby came out sideways!"
"Come an' get it...The grits are on the table.."
Abby screamed to the flock.
"Love the early mornings hangin' laundry, mostly diapers...watching the crows"
"each night i am renewed"
my strength is in the Lord" Abby looked up to the sky
"and he knows the length of my days
and the number of hairs on my head. Amen"
"Amen." repeated Sadie LaMans; "Amen!".
Thank-you Tess Kincaid of Magpie Tales for the extraordinary artwork prompt from
Smoldering Fires, Clarence Holbrook Carter, 1904-2000
Columbus Museum of Art
for further reading on this and many other topics for readers and writers alike;
HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY MOMS 2011! HEARTS AND FLOWERS TO YOU!!!