Saturday, July 7, 2012

And the DNA says, "Spanish Roots"

In 1979 we attended the annual Cavel Reunion at Brownwood, Texas, near where my great-grandparents Wm John and Susan Ann (Shave) Cavel settled in the late 1800s. I struck up an immediate friendship with Myrtle Sorrells Russell, one of my Dad's cousins. Myrtle was an absolute storehouse of Cavel knowledge. She and I just "clicked", like we'd known each other forever.

We'd been out to the old Cavel house, and to the Rocky Creek Baptist Church they attended and its cemetery, where they are buried. The country around Brownwood was described as my Dad by saying, "God put it there to hold the world together."

Myrtle caught a ride home with us. She and I sat in the back seat of my brother's Buick and talked up a storm all day. The Cavel's life in Texas was so hard. I wondered out loud why they'd left their families and the green hills of England for such a desolate place.

Myrtle told me that her Grandpa William was a preacher, and he and Grandma Susan had gotten involved in a religion that was forbidden by the king. They were forced to worship in secret, so they would meet late at night, in each others' homes. They would sneak down alleys and back lanes in the dark to get to the meeting place. They had to knock on the door and whisper a password, which was "Cavel".

One member of the congregation was a silversmith. His wife noticed him slipping from bed, dressing and going out after he thought she was asleep. She suspected he had a girlfriend, and she reported her suspicions to her priest. The priest had him followed and saw him go into the Cavel's house. The priest reported it to the king and the whole group was arrested and thrown into prison.

Somehow William John and Susan managed to escape with baby Fred (my Grandfather) but they had to leave so fast that they had to leave the older child, Rose, behind.
When we got to Myrtle's home she showed us some "forbidden" pamphlets the Cavels had brought with them from England, but as I looked them over they seemed pretty innocent to me. They were small folded paper evangelistic tracts from the British Bible Society, "What Must I Do to be Saved?", "For God So Loved the World", and a couple of others.

I took Myrtle's story at face value at the time, but with only a little research I discovered that there was complete religious freedom in Britain by the 1800s. I located Parish records proved that Wm John and Susan had attended their local Anglican parish church, been married there, had their children baptized there, and had two little ones buried in an Anglican churchyard. Then I obtained a copy of my granddad Fred Cavel's birth certificate, which listed his father's occupation as "shepard", not preacher.

I eventually decided Myrtle's story, which was told her by her mother, was a sort of family legend with little basis in fact. It was a great deal different than the story I'd heard all my life, that they bought tickets for America after losing two children to a scarlet fever epidemic months before my grandad was born. They'd been forced to burn everything they owned, leaving them with nothing.

At the same time Texas Agents were traveling through British villages, spinning tales of the fabulous wealth to be had on the American frontier. When they said the streets were "paved with gold" they may have meant it figuratively, but the naive English country kids took it literally and bought four tickets for Galveston, Texas.

Their five-year-old daughter Rose, had survived the scarlet fever but was still too ill to travel when the date came to sail, so with heavy hearts they left her in the care of Susan's parents, promising to come back for her after they'd made their fortune in America. In a year at most.

Of course the tale ended badly. Great-Grandad William sustained a serious injury shortly after landing in Texas, one that crippled him for life. The frontier was desolate and the threat of attack by raiding parties of Comanches ever present. Rose grew up in England and they never saw each other again.

I went back to school at the age of 38. Like all students I had papers to write and research to do. One day in the University of Calgary (Canada) library stacks I ran across a biography of Edith Cavell. It is every Cavel family's tradition that they are somehow related to Edith Cavell, the famous WWI nurse heroine who was executed by the Germans in 1915 for rescuing wounded allied soldiers in Belgium, secretly nursing them back to health and sneaking them across enemy lines to safety.

An 1898 "book of English Surnames" which found its way into my hands as part of a stage prop listed all the spelling and pronouncing variants of Cavel/ Cavell/Cavil/Cavill in Britain and stated that the family of Edith Cavel was the only one in Britain which pronounced the name to rhyme with "gavel", as we do, so I sat down to look at this biography and made a few notes. Edith's sister, Lillian Cavel Wainwright, told the interviewer that the family did not originate in Cornwall, as had been reported in an earlier biography. She claimed that their Cavell family was originally Spanish and the name was Cavella or something very close to it.

I was taking Spanish at the time. Once I was home, knowing that many a Spaniard draws their surname from their village of origin, I got out our big red "Atlas of the World" and opened it to the map of Spain. I went to the index. There was no Cavella, but there was a village called Cazalla, which in Castillian is pronounced very much the same. I found the coordinates on the map, laid my finger on them and called Tony to come see.

I can hardly describe what happened to me next. It was as if the wind had been knocked out of me. I was no longer sitting on the floor in front of our fireplace, I was standing in a crowd looking at a scene of incredible horror. There before me were a series of pyres, but my eyes were drawn to one. A haggard man was tied to the stake. He lifted his head and stared into my eyes, and in that moment I knew him entirely. It was if the unwavering gaze of his dark eyes transferred his life's story to me.

Do we have racial memory burned into our DNA? I don't know how to explain it. Tony shook me, asking, "Are you okay?"

I sat there for a few minutes to collect my wits and then called the University Library and asked for them to tell me what they had on file for an Augustin de Cazalla, who was burned by the Spanish Inquisition on the 20th of May 1559.

The librarian came back in a few moments and told me that he was listed in the Lutheran Book of Martyrs. He was a Catholic priest, the Personal Chaplain and Confessor of King Charles V, and in disputing with heretics in Germany he had become converted to Lutheranism and as a result had been burned as a heretic by the Spanish Inquisition.

The next day I went back to the library. The first book I found described, in almost exactly the same words as Myrtle's, how Augustin and his brothers (three priests in one family!) all converted to the forbidden religion of Lutheranism, and established a secret Lutheran congregation in Valladolid Spain in the early 1550's. They met in each other's homes late at night, using "Cazalla" as a password at the door. The congregation had grown to over 60 when the wife of a member named Garcia, who was a silversmith, told her priest she thought that he was going out at night to meet a woman. The priest had Garcia followed and within days the Inquisition moved in and arrested almost the entire congregation, including 16 members of the de Cazalla family.

Several of them, including Augustin, were burned at the stake as heretics on May 20, 1559 outside the city walls of Valladolid. One of the sisters, a recent widow and mother of 13 children, was imprisoned for life. Her children, ranging in age from six months to 17 years, were turned into the streets. Citizens were told that anyone who gave them so much as a crust of bread or a cup of water would be treated as a heretic. Of 10 adult children in the family six were burned at the stake or imprisoned for life. One who lived in a different province was pardoned by the Pope a year later, but three slipped through the net, to turn up in England a year later.

Prior to 1564 it was difficult for refugees from the Continent to settle anywhere but in London, so most refugees who entered England before 1564 went to London. St. Mary's Axe Church was given in 1562 to the Spanish Protestant refugees for divine worship. (Wheatley's London Past and Present, vol. II, p. 493) Photo is of the restored windows at what remains of St. Mary's Axe Church London.

The Spanish group was headed up by Casiodoro de Reina, a former monk who had also converted. He had been a close friend of Augustin de Cazalla's in Spain and had urged him to flee in 1555. Augustin refused, saying the Inquisition wouldn't dare arrest him due to his family's close associations with the crown. (The de Cazalla's father, Pedro, was Royal Treasurer under Charles V, and their mother, Leonora de Vivero, was of noble blood. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel of Spain were married in the de Vivero home and spent part of their honeymoon in the de Vivero Castle at Fuensaldana.)

But the Inquisition followed them to London. In 1567 de Reina had to flee to Germany. The Spanish refugee church in London disintegrated. Many members felt it wise to 'blend' into the population as best they could. Some joined other refugee communities in London. Some left London for other parts of the country. Unfortunately all we have are contemporary accounts of that time, the Spanish refugee church's records were destroyed when St. Mary's Axe received a direct hit from a German bomb in 1942.

At least some of the Cazallas moved and joined the Walloon Church in Bocking, Essex. Those who went to Essex must be Edith Cavell's line if her sister's claim of Spanish ancestry is accurate.

The 'Bocking' Refugee congregational records contain Cavell records which appear to be "foreign" from 1668 onwards. The parish priest made an entry saying he'd done the best he could to turn this family's unpronounceable foreign surname into a similar English one. He said 'Cavell' was the closest he could come!)

Some Cavells went to Somerset, which is where we pick up our lineage with the birth of Caleb Cavel 130 years later in 1689 in Kingston, St. Mary, North Somerset. So it's an easy task ahead of us. We only have to track Caleb Cavel's ancestry back to a Spanish Protestant immigrant - 100 years or so of almost non-existent records.

The story of the de Cazalla family is little known today but very well documented in Spanish literature of the time. They were prominent and wealthy, and of Sephardic Jewish origins. The arrest of the family was as much a political as a religious act. It was all about consolidation of power by the Head of the Inquisition, who had been trying to entrap various family members for years.

Plaza de la Cazalla in Valladolid Spain
On the day Augustin and his brother Francisco were burned the bones of their mother were exhumed and she was burned in effigy. Their house was ransacked of its treasures, then it was torn down and the ground was strewn with salt. A pillar was set up to warn others not to become Heretics lest this fate befall them too. The ground where the house stood remains empty to this day. The street is named Dr. Cazalla Street, and the place where their house stood is "Plaza de la Cazalla".

And to think that this story has been handed down, generation after generation of Cavels, for over 400 years. Like many stories of this type, it was attributed to a more recent ancestor, but the story itself was true, and intact. And in the 21st century autosomal DNA can confirm that of our European ancestry 31% of it is from Spain and Portugal.

Thanks, Myrtle. You saved a family treasure.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Henry and Molly's "Exciting" Life

My grandmother Mary Ellen (Molly) Hayman was said to have been beautiful, but she was a very strict mother because she was always guilty about the "shame" of being a divorced woman. Her first husband disappeared on a cattle drive leaving her at 17 having already borne four children, with no way to support them. Since the court wouldn't declare him dead for seven years she was advised to divorce him for desertion, which she did. Granddad was her second husband.

Including those four (none of whom survived to adulthood) Molly had *17* children in all, FOUR sets of twins! My Granddad Henry Calvin Clark was her husband. Granddad's parents (Levin Larkin Clark and Martha Jeanette Kast) didn't want Henry to marry Molly, and when Henry married her his father never spoke to him again. So Granddad Clark apparently set a lot of stock in his Indian relatives at Anadarko.

Henry Clark had Indian blood on both sides. Though I have never been able to find out her name, Henry's first wife was apparently Lenape (Delaware) from the reservation near Anadarko. They had three children, twin girls and a boy. When Henry's first wife died her parents took the kids. When he married Molly they wouldn't let him have the children back, which is perfectly consistent with matriarchal cultures. The children always belong to their mother's family, never to their father's.

I don't have a clue who this Native man is, but he looks very much like my Grandad. I suspect from the visible breastplate he is from a Plains Nation, I'll need to do some reasearch, but I wanted to add it to show how easily an "Indian" became "European". In Henry Clark's case it was explained by saying his mother was French and that the language they spoke when together was French.

Molly was terrified of Granddad's relatives, who would ride up the road into the farmyard ki-yi-ying wearing their feather war bonnets, all painted up, and with their horses painted. Molly wouldn't let them come in the house, so they'd camp in the yard, visit and smoke the pipe together.

I have heard this "visiting" story about my grandparents Henry Calvin Clark and Mary Ellen (Molly) Hayman Clark many times, not only from my mother but from a cousin's elderly uncle (Ed Clark Lane) whose mother was Henry's sister Sarah. Sarah Clark Lane and her husband lived just down the road from Henry and Molly, and the Indian relatives called on all of them.

I'm not sure when the visits started but by 1910 or so, when they'd been forced to move several times after the visiting Indian relatives scared the neighbours half to death (many Indians were still on the warpath) Molly said, "Instead of them coming to see us, we'll go see them." The following incident took place when my mother was nine years old, and was burned into her memory. She told it again and again as I grew up.

Granddad would pile Molly and the kids into a covered wagon and drive several days to visit his kinfolks at the reservation at Anadarko, but in 1913 there was a localized Creek Indian uprising. The Creek were murdering white settlers in an effort to regain control of their lands. On the way Granddad and Molly met a war party on the road. Granddad saw the war party far ahead, and knew they would all be killed if they saw Molly and the children. He told Molly and the kids lie flat in the wagon bed, and he threw quilts and burlap sacks over them. He told them not to move or make a sound no matter what, or how long it took.

As the war party approached he stopped the mules, got down and walked to meet the men in the war party, addressing them in their own language. He spoke several different Indian languages, and luckily Musgokee Creek was one of them. He asked their business and said they must be hungry and asked if he could cook them a meal and offer them tobacco. This sounded good to them. They built a fire and he hauled out coffee and cornmeal, beans and bacon and made a meal while they smoked and talked in the shade of nearby trees.

After three or four hours they took their leave and let Granddad go on his way without searching the wagon. By then Molly and the kids were drenched with sweat from lying under the quilts, their muscles were screaming from holding still, all the younger ones had wet themselves and worse. And there was no food left for the rest of the journey, nor any money to buy more.

It is probably no surprise that after that trip Molly wouldn't go and wouldn't let Grandad take the kids. After that he had to go visit the Indian kinfolks alone.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Charlie's Fight to Save His Sons

Eighty-three years ago today my tiny mother gave birth to twin sons. It was not an easy birth. It was cold for June. There had been a wild series of storms. The bridge spanning the nearby river had been washed away, and the other road was impassable to anything other than a horse. There was no easy way, in the back of a horse-drawn wagon, to get a labouring woman to the hospital through pouring rain and wild wind.

For 36 long hours she laboured without result. She was only seven months pregnant, so the baby was not yet at term, and prospects were grim. While my Dad's brother Arthur rode a horse the long way round to town to fetch the doctor Dad and Mom's sister Fannie did what little they could do to ease the contractions which threatened to tear her apart.

Finally the doctor arrived and after an exam said the baby was transverse, and had to be turned. A horrific process even in a modern hospital he warned Dad to prepare for the worst. But the little one was turned, and shortly after was born breech. A tiny boy, barely the length of my father's hand.

"There's another one!" Mother gasped, "There's still another!"

"No, it's just the placenta," he assured her, in time to see another little head emerge.

Identical twin sons, tiny little things, but active and squalling.

"Might as well just wrap them up and leave them be," the doctor said, "easier not to fight. They'll be dead before nightfall."

Dad drew himself up to his full 6' 2" height and said, "Not my sons, not while I have breath in my body and can fight for them."

Within minutes he and Aunt Fanny had assembled a bed made of a wooden apple box. They laid a double layer of ironed muslin over a layer of cotton quilt batting. By manipulating the layers of cotton the wet/soiled batting beneath could be changed without handling or disturbing the babies, who were laid naked inside. The sides were lined with damp towels, and draped over the top, in an unending succession day and night, hot steaming towels were laid to warm the interior of the box. As one towel cooled it was replaced with another.

The towels were immersed in a pot of boiling water, then pulled out and wrung as dry as possible, before being unrolled and laid over the impromptu incubator. A thermometer borrowed from a neighbour let them monitor the temperature and keep it at a constant 98.6 F.

Mother expressed milk into a sterile teaspoon and on the second day the twins began receiving two drops of milk every half hour fed to them with a sterilized eyedropper. As they figured out how to swallow this amount was increased until they were strong enough at two weeks to be swaddled and brought out to nurse.

By the time the weather warmed enough to no longer need the incubator Dad and the neighbour who had been helping him had burned all the skin off their hands and arms to their elbows wringing the boiling water from those towels.

Both those boys, my older brothers, went on to live long and productive lives, and bring up families of their own. They had a rough start, but they came from strong and stubborn stock.

I miss them today, I miss them all.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Poppa Perry and the Snapper

Sometimes a dream can spark a string of memories. When I woke this morning I was dreaming that I was driving along a country road beside a river. In the passenger seat was an elderly man, in his eighty's perhaps. I knew him well. As we crossed the bridge he pointed to a point where the bank widened and said, "I had a twin brother. He drowned there when we were nine. I'll never forget that."

But as is common in dreams, when I woke up I couldn't put a name to the man. All day it's bugged me. All day the rolodex of memory has gone deeper and deeper into the past, searching for the face and name of this companion. Late in the afternoon I finally remembered and I know why. A week or so ago I was trying to document my Aunt Iva's second husband, and I had absolutely no luck. I don't know when he was born, when he died, or anything about him, other than what I remember. I have no photos and though I loved him and he was like a grandfather to me, I couldn't even remember what he looked like, until my memory bank finally came through about 7:30 this morning.

My Mother's older sister Iva Lee remarried after her first marriage failed. Her first husband was described as a scoundrel by my Mother, which was a category about 7/8ths of the world's male population fell into, according to Mother's high standards.

"Remember," she'd say with an expression hovering between disgust and alarm, "they're all out for one thing." Since she never explained what the one thing they were out for was I was left guessing. She often complained that she couldn't keep a cake or pie in the house for more than a few hours I thought "the one thing" must be pastry.

My Aunt Iva was Mother's sister, five years older than Mother, though she seemed older to me. Mother was tiny and ferociously neat. Iva was taller, rounder and softer. She had blond hair and gentle blue eyes and she was a cuddler. She'd pull me into her big rocker and rock me like I was a baby, even when I was four or five years old. I never got cuddled at home, so this was like pouring water on a gasping plant. When I heard the words, "Going to Aunt Iva's," I was in the car like a shot.

Iva's husband was named J.A. Perry, but I called him Poppa. Poppa Perry was a good 20 years older than Aunt Iva, and was one of the few men Mother approved of. He was a small man, as I now remember him, with a shock of white hair that stuck out at angles on his head. He wore plaid shirts and suspenders. He liked little kids and let me tag around after him like a puppy. He made me a tire swing, or at least he let me believe he made it just for me. There were grandchildren I knew little of who probably used the swing more than I did, but it was mine while I was there.

Aunt Iva and Poppa had a small farm with cows, chickens, and some big fish ponds people paid money to fish from. That was how Poppa made his money, by raising fish for people to catch. We went fishing one afternoon. My Daddy went too because Poppa wanted to catch a big snapping turtle that was eating people's fish off their lines, and it kept getting away from him.

Poppa baited a long stout line with some small perch and dropped them where he knew the turtle lay. He soon had the snapper on the line. It had a fish in its mouth and didn't want to let go. That turtle hung on so stubbornly to that fish that Poppa was able to pull it out of the water far enough so my Daddy could grab the end of it with a big gaff hook on a pole and pull it up on dry land. That snapping turtle was as big as the steering wheel of my Daddy's Pontiac car.

Poppa then walked up the bank backwards, pulling the turtle step by step away from the water. When he'd have trouble Daddy would help with the gaff. When the turtle finally let go of the fish Poppa stuck an old broom handle in front of its face. The snapper bit on the broom handle and Poppa and Daddy carried it home between them with it biting on the broom handle. It could have let go at any time and made a run for it, but it was too determined to keep biting. Poppa said a snapper wouldn't let go of something it bit until it thundered. Once we got it home he said he was going to cut its head off with an axe and make turtle soup but Aunt Iva said he wasn't going to cook a turtle in her nice kitchen.

I felt sorry for the turtle, even though it was the ugliest and meanest thing you could imagine, biting on the broom handle and sort of growling or hissing at anyone who came near. I begged Poppa not to cut off its head but to take it to a pond where there were no people paying for fishing. He said he would, as soon as I went to bed.

I'm pretty sure now that the turtle was dispatched as soon as I'd said my prayers and gone to sleep. I guess the same lesson applies to people as to turtles, sometimes it's best to keep your mouth shut to start with, but it's definitely a good idea to know when to let go of an argument.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A steady job at $1.25 a day

One trait I value in myself is a certain resourcefulness. Part of this comes from a lifetime habit of frugality and training in "making-do". I was raised by parents who survived the Great Depression quite successfully and never again spent a dime without thinking about it for several hours.

In 1930 a Kilgore Texas farmer accidentally tapped into the world's largest oil reservoir in his cow pasture. His discovery marked the beginning of the East Texas Oil Boom. The tiny town of Kilgore, population 200, grew to 10,000 almost overnight. In 1931 Dad was able to get work as a roughneck in Kilgore's newly discovered oil field.

For men like my Dad, who was 26 years old, the oil field provided a steady job at $1.25 a day when jobs of any kind were scarce, children were begging door to door and former bank presidents were selling fruit on the streets of NYC.

On that $1.25 a day Dad supported 12 people, as best he could. There was himself, my mother, my sister Ruby and my brothers, identical twins who were toddlers at the time. Then there was my Mom's father, who was 70 years old and had a heart condition, Mother's younger brother Lonnie, and one of Dad's brothers, his wife and two children. And, last but not least, a family friend who was old and had no place to go. The kids called him "Uncle Joe".

There was no housing in Kilgore. A tent city sprang up along the river banks. Dad bought $2.00 worth of lumber. He and the men in the family built a 12 x 12 wooden floor, and plank walls four feet high. They framed in a pitched roof with 2 x 4s and tacked wagon canvas over the entire structure. He made mother a stove from a discarded oil barrel. They had tin washtubs for washing clothes and bathing. Mother ironed with a "sad" iron, heated on the stove, using a plank set between the backs of two chairs as an ironing board. Twelve people lived in that 12 x 12 canvas-roofed shack.

They had very little, but there were millions of Americans who would have been glad to have had what they had. They ate, even if it was beans, taters, bisquits made with water and what wild foods mother and the kids could gather in the woods. Fishing in the Sabine River was more than a way to pass an idle afternoon. You could catch some big fish in that muddy, languorous stream, as long as you were careful not to step on a gator sunning himself on the bank. Possums and squirrels found their way into the family stew pot, along with the occasional raccoon, wild turkey and even a big turtle or two. When you are really hungry most anything starts to look a lot like dinner. 

My sister Ruby recalled that she and the boys had been out making "mud pies" one day when a local church group came around with apples for "deserving" children. Seeing the childrens' muddy hands and faces the church ladies deemed them "undeserving" and they got no apple. It was a memory which haunted Ruby all of her life. She probably would have forgotten a slap but that small act of smug, self-righteousness judgement wounded her so deeply she could still feel its sting 70 years later.

Lonnie and the fifty pounds of ice

My parents had three small children when the Great Depression hit. Their household also included my elderly grandfather and my uncle Lonnie, who was only nine years old when my grandmother died. Lonnie came to live with mother and dad when they were newlyweds. The household shrank and expanded like a bellows as different relatives would come to stay for a month or year, or more. For a while the household included my Aunt Eva, her husband Paul and their two babies, Eddie and Pauline. This story from that time was told and retold as I was growing up in the 40s and 50s.

Paul had a job driving an ice wagon back in the days before electric refrigeration, when food was kept cold in an ice box, an insulated wooden cupboard - which held a large block of ice in one of the compartments. This ice was delivered door-to-door by the ice-man. The horse-drawn wagon was packed with 50 pound blocks of ice separated by layers of sawdust. The horse knew which houses bought ice and which ones didn't, Paul didn't even have to hold the reins.

When the horse stopped Paul would jump off the wagon seat, run to the back of the wagon, open the door, get a firm grip on a block of ice with a set of huge tongs, heft the block out, haul it around to the back porch and into the kitchen where he'd put it in the ice-box. Sometimes he'd have to chisel away the irregular edges with the ice pick he carried in his belt so the block would fit in the box. 50 pound blocks. Over and over. All day long. It was back-breaking work.

One day he slipped and hurt his back and couldn't lift the blocks. But jobs were scarce and he couldn't risk taking a day off. School had just let out for summer so Paul begged Lonnie to help him with the route. Little Lonnie, who at 14 years old, was five foot nothin' tall and still weighed only 85 lbs.

They struggled the blocks into the houses together for most of the day, but by the last hour Paul could barely crawl off the wagon. Lonnie was left to deal with blocks of ice that weighed 3/4s as much as he did - alone.

As they approached one of the last houses Paul said, "Lon, make sure you get a big block. This woman has a scale on her back porch, and if the block isn't 50 lbs she'll make you bring it back and get another one."

Lonnie surveyed the remaining blocks carefully and picked what looked like a big one. He grappled at it with the tongs and using every ounce of strength drug it out of the wagon.

"Did you get a big 'un?" Paul asked, from the front of the wagon.

Lonnie wiped his brow and picked the block up off the tailgate. "Oh, it's a big 'un all right!" Then he began the slow, stiff-legged walk toward the back of the house, with the ice-block in the only position he could manage, swinging on the tongs between his knees like a cross-wise pendulum, threatening to overbalance him at every step.

"Ice-man!" he yelled as he struggled up the steps, just as Paul had taught him.

"You ain't my rag'lar," the woman said, eyeing him suspiciously.

"No, Ma'm, he's in the wagon a 'cause he hurt his back."

"Well, I hope he told you I won't be cheated! Here - you sling that block on these scales. And don't you be a laying your dirty thumb on that scale or I'll slap you sideways to Satan!"

The dial gyrated wildly and gradually settled - at 49 lbs. Lonnie's heart sank.

"Do I LOOK like a fool?" She narrowed her eyes. "I pay for 50 lbs of ice, and by gum I'm gonna GIT 50 lbs of ice. You ain't cheating me! Git me a bigger block!"

He had no choice. He hauled the block down, wrestled it back to the truck, opened the door and shoved it back in.

"Not big enough?" Paul asked in dismay.

"Only 49 pounds." Lonnie wheezed.

Paul crept off the wagon seat groaning and holding his back. Together they searched through the blocks until they found one Paul was certain was big enough. He sweated as he helped Lonnie pull it out and leaned panting on the tailgate as Lonnie traversed the long path around the house again.

The block went on the scale. He held his breath. The woman watched the dial the way a hungry cat watches a mouse who is just one step from being too far from its burrow. The dial settled - 49.5 lbs.

"I do believe you take me for a fool! I will go to the office tomorrow and report you to your superiors! I PAY for 50 lbs of ice and I am going to GIT 50 lbs of ice!"

"No Ma'm, no Ma'm!" Lonnie was at the edge of panic. "It ain't no trouble a'tall. I'll get another block," and he started back to the wagon, with the tonged iceberg trying to tear his scrawny little arms out of their sockets.

"Not big enough," he gasped as he swung it up on the tailgate. "God Damn," he was nigh in tears, "Not God Damn big enough."

Paul didn't even scold Lonnie for swearing. "Get inside," he said. "Let's make sure we get the biggest one in the wagon."

Several minutes later they had separated out a massive block, and Lonnie was once more on his difficult journey to the back porch of this very particular customer.

He saw a gleam of satisfaction in the woman's eyes as she saw the block, and sure enough, when the dial settled down it read an astonishing 54 pounds. "Well that's more like it!" she crowed.

Lonnie felt a wave of righteous indignation come over him. He reached for the ice pick tucked into his belt and attacked the ice block.

"Here! Here! What do you think you're doing?" she shrieked, dodging flying ice.

Lonnie paused briefly to look at the dial and started chiseling again. Finally his pick fell silent. The dial read exactly 50 lbs. He grinned for the first time that afternoon.

"Lady," he said, holding out a trembling hand for his nickel payment. "You're paying for 50 pounds of ice, and 50 pounds of ice is ALL you're gonna GET!"

The War of the Mashed Potatoes

There was a mashed potato war in our family. On Sunday after church the aunties and uncles and cousins would arrive at our house laden with chickens and roasts, salads and jello, cakes, pies, green bean casseroles and the ubiquitous cornbread, red beans, bisquits and red-eye gravy. (The uncle's pockets also usually held small silver flasks of whiskey which they hid from Grandma and their wives.)

The house and porches overflowed with arguing and laughter. Smoke curled up from the men's cigars and tantalizing smells of frying chicken or roast beef made our bellies growl as we waited for 2:00. Finally the aunties would begin to scurry in and out of the steaming kitchen to load the trestle tables Dad and his brothers had set up, inside or out, depending on the weather. Once we all were seated (kids had to sit at a smaller table) Grandma would stand at the head of the big folks table and say an extended thank you to Jesus. When the smaller kids started to cry from starvation she'd quit so we'd sometimes pinch a little one to make them bawl. She'd pause, everyone would give a hearty "AMEN!", fall to and start filling their plates.

The mashed potato war between my Mama and Daddy's Mama was over two things, consistency and the Bible. Mama's potatoes were not so much mashed as pureed. She went at a pot of cooked and steaming potatoes with all the fervent zeal of her religion. Mama had always been a bit of a thorn in Grandma's side, and seeing as how my late Grandaddy had been a Baptist pastor and the whole family was Baptist, Mama did the worst thing possible. She went and got herself converted to Seventh-Day Adventism, kept Saturday as the Sabbath and claimed Baptists worshiped the Pope, which really got Grandma's back up. This photo was taken at a family reunion in we think 1952, and is of my Grandmother Josie Smith Cavel and most of her childrens' spouses. From the expression on her face and my mother's face (light-coloured dress front row) it looks like a knife fight could have broken out between them at any time.

Butter, milk, salt and good hard exercise was what Mama used to whip five pounds of potatoes into a bowl of cloud-like consistency that rarely passed around the table before it was emptied at Sunday dinner. On the other hand Grandma's potatoes were (Mama said dismissively) lumpy. She liked to leave little chunks of potato in them, so they "don't feel like wallpaper paste in your mouth," she'd say a bit sourly, passing on Mama's potatoes.

The Bible part of the potato war was in how Grandma "seasoned" hers, with bits of fried bacon and bacon grease, and served with red-eye gravy. This meant of course that Mama would not eat them, as Seventh-Day Adventists believe it is sinful to eat the cloven hoofed pig or the succulent catfish, squirrel, possum, or rabbit that occasionally turned up for Sunday dinner, courtesy of my brothers, uncles and cousins who had long guns and spent Saturday afternoons in the woods. And of course Grandma would no more leave the bacon grease out of her mashed potatoes than she would make a pilgrimage to Rome. As far as she was concerned if God hadn't meant for her to put bacon in her mashed spuds he wouldn't have made the pig so tasty. 

Grandma's bowl of "lumpy" potatoes would be passed around and Mama would hand it on, lips pulled tighter than a banker's purse strings. While I was a little Adventist child on Saturday morning, on Sunday afternoon I had a Baptist stomach. I loved Grandma's lumpy potatoes, and the red-eye gravy dumped over them, but if I got any it was a quick mouthful off the spoon from Grandma in the kitchen, after a round-the-corner check to make sure Mama was arguing Sabbath Day religion with one of the aunties. At the table I ducked my head and passed on Grandma's potatoes or there'd be righteous hell to pay later.

One week Daddy would make an enemy of Grandma, by scooping up a huge portion of Mama's potatoes and practically licking the remnants from his plate. The next Sunday he'd made an enemy of Mama, as he dove into his mother's dishpan-sized bowl of "lumpy" potatoes, seeking here and there a ribbon of grainy bacon dripping among the white hillocks. For Daddy was a Baptist, and as he was fond of saying, "One good thing about being a Baptist is a man can eat whatever he likes."