A Day to Remember

Edith Frances Keaton,
first and only daughter of
Margaret and Jimmy
Lucy Margaret Stewart had honey-colored hair and violet eyes. She'd been born a few years before the turn of the last century, on a hot Haywood County August night, the first and only daughter of a "grass widow" artist and her second husband, a mechanical genius four years her junior.  There would be two younger brothers added to the family, but Margaret would remain the apple of her father's eye for the remainder of her too-short life.  Her own mother died when Margaret was barely a teenager, an event that probably encouraged an independent and self-reliant streak.  Encouraged by her step-mother, who had enjoyed being a teacher in the Big City before her late-in-life marriage, Margaret not only set her sights on being a teacher, too; she also was determined to attend the brand new West Tennessee State Normal (Teachers) College [the forerunner of the University of Memphis] at Buntyn Station on the outskirts of Memphis.

John Shirley Keaton, who'd been called Shirl by his family in Dyer, also arrived at Normal in the birth-year of the college with the goal of being a teacher...like several cousins on his mother's side of the family.  He was a few years older than most of the other students, but he'd had to earn enough money to attend school.  Although working for his father driving cattle across Missouri to Kansas City filled his bank account and kept him fit, he knew there had to be an easier...and cleaner...way to earn your living. Friends on campus decided he looked just like a handsome actor of the day and changed his nickname to Jimmy...which he kept for the rest of his life.

Baby dress of pongee -
made by Margaret for Edith
 Margaret did graduate and got to teach, in rural Hardeman County.  She was also a talented seamstress, who was known to be able to look at a new fashion (dress, skirt, blouse) and be able to make an almost carbon copy...no pattern needed. 

Jimmy graduated and taught in Ridgeley; he also played semi-pro baseball for a time, traveling by train across the South.  The War to End All Wars drew the US into the conflict in 1918, and Jimmy joined the Army...not once, but twice!  His service was interrupted when he went home to help after his father died of a stroke while working in the garden [...and now we know why I am constantly being warned not to work in my own garden in "the heat of the day"].  After his discharge, and against stiff odds (Margaret's father objected and refused to attend the wedding ceremony...supposedly because he considered it too soon after Jimmy's father's death), they married in 1919. 

Close up of the embroidery on the baby dress

To this union, a baby girl arrived on April 14 of the following year.  Ninety-one years ago today.  They named her Edith Frances, in honor of both her grandmothers...Ada Judith and Frances Florentine...although her birth certificate would record it as Francis.  She, too, would be the first and only daughter...and the apple of her daddy's eye.  She would lose her mother at an even earlier age, when Margaret died of complications of her third pregnancy, an event that still brings tears to Edith's eyes when she speaks of it.

After Margaret's death, Edith and her baby brother Edward moved to the family farm, where they lived for several years in their grandfather's home...along with a cousin who'd also lost his mother.  She and Edward went to live in their father's house in Henning just as Edith was starting her teenage years...a difficult time and a difficult transition.  Still she made new friends...now counted as "life-long" friends...and they all graduated from Ripley High.

Edith tried out college life in several locations (Knoxville, Martin, and finally Memphis) and graduated with a permanent teacher's certificate...a rare document that would technically allow her to teach in Tennessee, if she so desired, even at her age.  She taught in a one-room schoolhouse in Lauderdale County before getting a "regular" classroom in Hardeman County.  But, she decided that teaching might not be her path after all.

Against her father's objections, Edith followed a cousin's lead to Nashville to work in what was then called The Welfare Department.  There, she and a friend rented an apartment that they affectionately called The Dump.  There, the two of them, along with the cousin and two other friends, indulged their love of travel by driving all the way across the country to California...the first of many miles that she has traveled in her lifetime.  And, most importantly for me, she met and fell in love with my father in Nashville.

Of course, I've made their love story sound very simple...and it was anything but.  Still, they married (eventually) and had three children:  me...the first and only daughter; a baby boy who died at birth; and my brother.  We have an older half-brother, but it would be decades before we could finally include him in our family.  Momma (for I get to call her that...at this point in the story) worked as a child welfare worker, specializing in adoptions...at a time when most women were not employed outside of their homes. She retired from the Welfare Department...known as the Department of Human Services by then...(for the final time) the year after our daughter was born, when she became known as Nana...and a couple of years before my father tried out retirement for the first time (it didn't take...:).  They had just celebrated their 38th wedding anniversary when Daddy died from complications of open-heart surgery.  Not wanting to live by herself, she cast her lot with us, and then the travels really began.

Happy Birthday, N/M/E!!!
 Nana/Momma/Edith has lived her life to the fullest and has many memories to cherish.  She has travelled to all fifty states as well as the District of Columbia.  She has been to our neighboring countries of Canada and Mexico, as well as the Bahamas and several islands in the Caribbean.  She has been to England, France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands.  Not bad for a girl from Hardeman County, she says.

Now in the 10th decade of her life, she is the last one of her generation on several branches of our family tree, but even younger generations are fond of Aunt Edith.  She has friends from all over, and she receives several cards and letters each week from addresses in TN, OH, GA, AZ, HI, KY, and MO...to name a few.

Just like the Jimmy Stewart movie, it's been a wonderful life!  And, today is a day to remember...and to celebrate both that wonderful life...and the wonderful woman who has lived it.


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