<--My great-great grandmother Eliza. She was a full-blooded Chippewa from Ohio who looks as uncomfortable in front of the camera as I do. I wonder if she ever wore that fancy dress again. Knowing her through my grandmother, I kind of doubt it.
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My family saga continues. I'm still fascinated with how a Chippewa/Scots Irish kid from the plains of Kansas ever fell in love with a (formerly) rich girl from Liverpool. How amazing that their paths ever crossed.
Grandma El lived in a mansion. She grew up with servants. Grandpa Larry rode across Kansas in a prairie schooner. But somehow . . .
I guess that's why love stories fascinate me. Somehow, somewhere, two people find each other against all odds, all reason, and a new family is born.
Do you ever wonder who'll be telling your story years from now?
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This is a verbatim transcript of a conversation with my grandfather Loren R. McNutt, who was one hundred years old at the time.
Taped on February 4, 1997.
My grandmother Eliza, to borrow a phrase made famous by the Readers Digest, was to me a most unforgettable person. Born as near as she knew in the year 1826 in the small Indian village of Wapakoneta, Ohio. Oddly enough, it is also the same town where Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon (you remember that, right?) was born and raised. Exact dates will have no place in this as I do not know the exact ones, but I believe that she settled in the Territory of Kansas in the eastern part where she spent the rest of her life. Just where she lived when she raised her family I never knew. As was usual in my young life, nobody ever, at least not relatives, ever explained much to me.
The only place I ever knew her was in her log cabin, smoking her clay pipe in front of the stove. There was no fireplace, just an old flat-topped iron stove. It was a two-room cabin, one room downstairs and one room upstairs, naturally outside plumbing. It was built in the woods and overlooked a deep but narrow valley where my Uncle Billy, who never married and lived with her, had his truck garden which produced practically everything they needed to survive except, of course, the staples such as salt, sugar, coffee, tobacco, etc.
My grandmother was the only relative after my mother died who I really felt comfortable with. I never lived with her, just visited whenever I could and I loved to have her talk to me. Before she got too feeble ("rheumatics," she called it) she used to take me out in the fields to gather greens. She knew so many different wild plants, the leaves of which made the most delicious greens when properly cooked.
She told me many stories about the hard life in the early days of the Kansas Territory. She knew John Brown, the Abolitionist, who wound up at Harper's Ferry, like I told you about. She raised six children. She had 21 grandchildren and I have no idea how many great grandchildren. Many of the cousins I never knew as my brother, my two sisters, and I were among the youngest of the grandchildren. I know she had a hard life but I never heard her complain. I know that very few of the relatives ever visited her because she was Indian. [Ed. note: Chippewa]
She surely was not glamorous but she had something in her makeup that made me feel peaceful and comfortable. Although she never really expressed it in words, I could feel that she had a great love for me and was deeply concerned about my welfare.
I am sure that she had grandchildren that she had never seen, probably a number of them.
Likely the children of Aunt Belle Griffith, who with her husband had homesteaded in Oklahoma, never came back to see her. They were ashamed to be Indian. In fact, I had only met two of her seven children. Her two eldest sons, Ed and Dave, who in the summertime traveled with the Miller Brothers' 101 Ranch Wild West Circus and Performing Cowboys. I also knew that some of the relatives were a bit ashamed of her. Some of them were college graduates and did not care for her backwoods way of life.
As far as I know, she was illiterate in the three R's but not in her mental faculties. She was sharp to the end.
None of these things made any difference to me because she was the best friend I ever had and I will always remember her.
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PS: I'm Barbara Bretton and you can find me on Facebook and Twitter and here and here.
I'm in a giveaway kind of mood so if you leave a comment I'll enter you in this month's drawing. More books! More salt water taffy! The winner will be announced at the top of next month's post.
See you then!
ON SALE 11/2/2010