Thursday, July 24, 2014

Queen Rebecca Dickerson - Part 2 of her story

(Family lineage: Queen Rebecca Dickerson1; Edna Bethel Franklin2;  Judith Ann Hayward 3)
1891 – 1998
Nellie Ferguson Baker, Oliver Baker and Queen Dickerson - 1910 in West Fork, AR

As noted in an earlier post, the life of this woman could not be crammed into one post (actually she won't fit into two posts either). Her natural talents were many, including painting, poetry, a  prestigious memory and story-telling ability.

Some of those memories were captured in her autobiography dated September 23, 1985 and entitled “Life as lived on Greenbrier Creek – My West Virginia Childhood Home”.  Queen was "only" 94 years old when this document was written. A year later, she recruited one of her granddaughters to help her move from Indianapolis to Venice, Florida so she would be closer to her “kids” (in their 60's and 70's at the time).  She never regretted that move.  For the rest of her life she was surrounded by family, enjoyed the weather, and loved to watch the oranges grow on her daughter's fruit trees.

It is impossible to include everything she wrote here. Hopefully I'll be able to adequately capture the highlights of the stories she wanted to share before she became what she called “too old to remember” (that never happened!).  The following poem set the stage for  autobiography:
Summer is past, October is here; the loveliest month of all the year.
Bumblebees, daubers and other pests – - like weeds and grasshoppers have gone to rest.
Likewise, Spring, Summer, and gorgeous Fall - must come to each of us – one and all;

Spring season, to me, is like childhood - with tears and laughter, bad and good.
Summer, like youth, unresponsive and gay - with Fall, we've traveled three-fourths of the way.
Have our lives been - as Winter draws nigh – useless like weeds which live and die?

May we live as seasons come and go – lives useful and clean, like pure white snow.
We cannot travel this way "a-gain" -  let us leave a “mark but not a stain”.
Queen R. Franklin

Queen's painting of the "boys only"swimming hole in a hollow tree
"The idea for my painting of a fire in a hollow tree came from memories of my childhood when the boys would go 'possum hunting and build fires in trees – as hunters of earlier times had done. The technique of girding- or burning - trees was taught by the Indians and involved cutting a shallow ring around the tree with an ax. After the sap was cut off, the tree would die. Remembering those trees, I have linked imagination with lore and a paint brush, which works wonders!
Queen's painting of a family farm
When I was a small child, most of our neighbors would let their livestock run free. Fencing was only erected around the fields which were tilled. The cows and sheep wore bells and knew where to go for milking or feeding. We children had the task of rounding up our particular family's cows by listening for different bell tones.
 Threshing machines were hauled from one farm to another on flat-bed wagons drawn by horses or mules, as were sorghum mills.  After processing the cane, the machines were moved over mountains, with the men walking on the ground above while holding rope rings to prevent the equipment from fliping over. The roads zigzagged up the steep mountain-sides, always climbing upward until the summit of the mountain was reached or crossed.  Then the men changed sides as they started downhill.  If a farm couldn't be reached by this method, the grain was hauled by sled to a pen which was made of poles or logs. Underneath the floor was placed canvas to catch the grain as it fell through the cracks.

Queen's painting of sorghum mill with Emarine and children
I have one horrible memory of sorghum making.  I was only six years old when I heard
my ten year old brother, Boyd, who was feeding cane into the grinder, cry out in pain. Men ran to him and backed the horse up to reverse the mill and free Boyd's hand. The men carried Boyd to the house and his twin, Floyd, jumped onto a horse and rode across two mountains to get the doctor.  His hand was saved but Boyd's thumb remained stiff at the joint for the rest of his life.
After my sister and brother bought some sheep and brought them home, my mother sheared them of their wool.  Later that year, we all sat around the fire in the evening with papers on our laps to catch the falling dirt and burrs as we picked the wool apart little by little - until it was free of loose dirt. Then Mother carefully washed the wool in warm sudsy water to make it white and fluffy, followed by gently combing the fibers until they were straightened. The wool was then shaped into rolls which were piled into a huge basket.  The rolls were spun into yarn threads about the size of a course sewing thread and wound onto “shuttles” ready to be woven into blankets.

I was 13 when I sat on the rear of the loom and handed Mother threads one by one, until there were enough to make blanket material one-yard wide. I still have one of the blankets. I treasure it more than I did when I was so tired from handling those threads. Some of the wool was spun into heavier threads which Mother knitted into stockings and mittens. Knitting was always done at night or while resting from heavier work.”

Her autobiography continues into her later years when she met her future husband and a whole new  life began. She lived it fully and well, with twists and turns which will be featured in future posts. Sadly there is no record of the person who typed up Queen's story, but my thanks to whomever you are - it was quite a project, but well worth the effort and very much appreciated!

Hopefully after reading this story, you are looking forward to reading the next installment of the life of this very interesting woman – my grandmother.  Stay tuned.