Sunday, July 18, 2010

We Gather Together

I'm going to break from the norm this week because this coming week end is our bi-annual Setzer-Prestwood family reunion. The reunion is always fun and we have a great time. At the same time it is always a little bittersweet because as I look around I see the holes in the crowd left by those who have passed away. This year seems especially poignant, we've lost so many in the past two years. Even knowing that we will walk with them again, we wish they were here.

They are here though. Looking at each other we will catch glimpses of Aunt Tanya's smile on Paige's sweet face while she plays. Or maybe my daddy when Dan's expression changes from quiet observation of the events of the day to knee weakening laughter as the situation unfolds. I look at Patty and see her mom, and Pam is the same. The last time I hugged George, I was reminded of Dennis the list goes on...
They're with us in other ways, too. That rush of peace you get when you quiet yourself and think about them will let you know that, even though they have gone, they are with us, they are happy and they see that we are carrying on. As it should be.

Some of us won't be here today because of economic, physical or geographic limitations. Ernie is at sea and others have business or other constraints keeping them away. It doesn't matter, their hearts will be with us. We're a family. What holds us together is more than shared DNA or legality. Margo will be Aunt Cookie, like Denny was Uncle Denny forever...they are part of us, held to us with bonds of love.

One of the my favorite quotes about family came not from some great philosopher but from an old movie:
"There are all sorts of different families, Katie. Some families have one mommy, some families have one daddy, or two families. And some children live with their uncle or aunt. Some live with their grandparents, and some children live with foster parents. And some live in separate homes, in separate neighborhoods, in different areas of the country - and they may not see each other for days, or weeks, months... even years at a time. But if there's love, dear... those are the ties that bind, and you'll have a family in your heart, forever." Mrs. Doubtfire

Daddy Let Us Drive

I have memories of driving while sitting on my dad's lap. I couldn't tell you the model or year of the car. But I remember standing (yes, STANDING!) on the seat next to him and then slipping into his lap and grabbing onto the steering wheel and driving through the streets of York. His feet might have been controlling the brakes and gas but I had the WHEEL, buddy...I was in control.

When I was 13 or 14 he brought home a little Yamaha motorcycle that my brothers and I shared. Well, the allegation was that we shared. The fact was that when I rode that little Yamaha 90(yea, I hear you snickering!), it was MINE and I was as bad to the bone as any Brando wannabe. We rode on an abandoned World War II airstrip on the Naval Station in Guam. There were broad expanses of black top with no other traffic, the only hazard was the weeds and grass growing up through the cracks. Tearing around that airstrip, full speed with the warm sun in my face and the wind in my hair, I could almost forget that dad and my brothers were waiting for me to finish "my turn". I was rebelling against whatever they had to offer.

One of the blessings of my childhood was that not only did my dad have the ability to determine which "risky" endeavors he could allow us to engage in safely, he had an air about him that dared anyone to try to stop him. So it was natural when grandchildren came along that he would build a fire in the back yard so they could experience roasting hot dogs over an open fire in the middle of Huntsville. It was also natural that each of them in turn would be able to drive one of his vehicles.

Anna drove the pick up from the high school to mom's house when she was barely tall enough to reach the pedals. It was their "secret". Ask her how that made her feel.
Best of all of course was the motorcycle he bought for the boys...and girls. Because he slipped off with my girls a time or two and gave them a turn. Jess did turns around the ball field, grinning like a Cheshire cat. He called me down to the field so I could watch her. As she made her laps, I smiled to myself remembering how it felt to ride.

If anyone asked how I could let him stand my two year old in front of a fire with a hot dog on a stick, alone. Or my nine year old ride a mini motorcycle around a ball field my first response would be, "Look at that man. Why don't YOU try to stop him?" My second response would be, "Look at the man..don't you see he'd throw himself onto the fire before he would let her get hurt?" He knew how important that feeling of accomplishment is to a child and provided ways to give it to all of us.

So now, when I let my child drive the family car down the back roads home, even though she's a few years too young for a permit, I see the smile curling her lips and know what she is feeling. And I thank Daddy for letting me drive.

Monday, July 12, 2010


There is so much to say...and so little of it can be put into words. Some you have already been told. That she was the shy daughter of a Baptist preacher who married the fast young man that her parents disapproved of her marrying. That she loved her God with a passion that few people can comprehend. She married twice but loved only once, choosing companionship in her later years with a man who was, in my opinion, never good enough for her. Now I know that there are cousins who were too young to know or remember our Papaw. And some of them call Frank Martin by that precious name. I'd like to go on the record here and now and say that if you are one of those cousins and read this, don't be offended. You are entitled to your opinion of Frank Martin, and I am entitled to mine. Like Ouiser Boudreaux, I can be pleasant. I even smiled at the man a time or two. That changes nothing. Least of all the simple fact the on his best day he was only about a quarter of the man my Papaw was on his worse day.

My grandmother was the paragon of patience. When I was a little girl she drank grapefruit juice. Wanting to be like her, I asked for a glass of grapefruit juice of my own, only to promptly go to the sink and pour half of it down the drain then fill the half glass of juice with water and drink the watered down juice. Which raises the question...why didn't she or someone else stop me? When I asked her years later, she told me she just didn't want to take away my sense of being pleased with myself
when I watered down my juice by myself.

Her favorite bird was a cardinal. She sat pie pans of birdseed in the snow and show me how to watch quietly when the beautiful male cardinals braved the threat of Papaw's old tom cat Tom to feed. She also liked violets. When she was in Florida, I tried to find a way to mail violets to her from our backyard. When she lived with us I would bring them to here whenever I could.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Faith and Realty Street

The true tragedy is that some of the stories have already been lost. The people who lived them have slipped away and I'm left with my memory which is tainted by my perspective and inability to understand the way things were in the South in the 1930's and '40's.

My great grandfather Robert Lee Prestwood was a Baptist preacher. References to him in family genealogy sources list him as Robert "Preacher Bob" Lee Prestwood. I've been told that during thunderstorms he made his wife and children sit in the parlor in case the Lord decided to speak to them directly during the storm. My Mamaw said that her father made them sit quietly so they would not miss any of the Lord's message.

That may sound as if I am being disingenuous but I am not. My great grandfather was a man who knew God and respected him and if he felt close enough to his maker to expect direct communication, I have nothing but respect for him.

He wasn't the only person the family knew who had abilities brought to them through their was an old woman, named Maw Shell who could stop bleeding.

Once when the sidewalk on Realty Street was new, there was a rope tied to the fire alarm box and my uncle Duane tripped on it and made his nose bleed. Mamaw couldn't get it to stop bleeding and told my father to run to get Maw Shell.

When he got to the old woman's house, she told him to go home and the bleeding would be stopped. And it was. According to my dad, there was a verse in the Bible that could stop bleeding but the information could only be passed to a man, not a woman.
I don't know why that would be except maybe because old people didn't use to believe in women speaking in church or ministering at all.

Not that it stopped them. My mamaw felt the urge to spread the word so fiercely that even when she had no money she found a way to minister. One time, in the middle of the Depression, when there was no money and she had a house full of children to feed, she purchased ten penny postcards. When she heard of someone who needed to hear the word, she would send one of her postcards with a bit of scripture on the back. Never did anyone in the family receive a birthday, Christmas or other card that did not have some appropriate scripture.

In her later years, she studied and eventually became an ordained minister. She officiated weddings performed other duties of the ministry. But she was living proof that a minister doesn't need a building to carry out the work of God.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Papaw pt.3

It's hard to explain the boyish glee that must have lurked in his heart, even when I was a little girl. He was endlessly entertained by the world.

One day, while coming home, he spotted a dirigible moving slowly across the sky and he hurried to get my grandmother and anyone else who was at the house to come and see the monolithic marvel make its way across the horizon. We followed after it in the car for a long time, watching it make its way across the skies and out of sight.

He took endless pleasure in the joy my cousin Pedro took in his metal peddle car. He knew that no car Pedro would own as an adult would ever receive the tender care that first boy-powered car received.

He asked my grandmother to take plenty of pictures of us playing with the huge balloons he bought us noting that never again would we own balloons that were bigger than we were.

Doug Setzer may never had followed his children and grandchildren around like some large fuzzy papa bear delivering hugs and kisses freely but he loved each of them.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Red Coat

This is a story my grandmother had written somewhere that has lingered in my mind for years. The women in our family tend to have more than ample figures. Some unkind individuals might use a harsher term but for our purposes I will use the term Rubenesque. Many fashion mavens admonish women with ample figures to avoid bright colors that might draw attention to their size.
This was the case with my Mamaw. The word she used was "Fleshy" which is a good word but implies something that one might not be to pleased to be associated. Fleshy women have fat --Rubenesque women have curves and are immortalized in paintings by the great Dutch Masters.
There was a coat my Mamaw wanted. A beautiful full length red coat. A coat that in her mind was made for a woman of much smaller build. She wouldn't buy it for herself because in her mind she was "fleshy" and such a coat would draw attention to the fact.
And do you know what he did? He bought it for her and told her, "Wear it and don't worry about what others think. I know you like it and I like to see you in bright colors. You are beautiful to me."
That's a picture of her in the coat, standing beside him.
He was a man who was a rogue and perhaps not the best husband for the shy and quiet daughter of a Southern Baptist Preacher. I'm sure there were times when he irritated her, made her angry and even broke her heart. Those times were more than made up for by the times when he made her feel like a much loved queen.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Papaw pt 2

These are some of the things that I remember about my Papaw, Stanley Douglas Setzer Senior.
He smelled like Skoal tobacco and aftershave. I don't remember the brand of aftershave but I remember the smell. Before he shaved, his whiskers scratched. He was a huge believer in the medicinal properties of Campho- phenique and would apply it liberally to all wounds, when he didn’t use methiolate as an antiseptic.

He kept a big deep overstuffed armchair that he sat in to watch "Truth or Consequences" and "The NBC Nightly News" with Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. You had to keep quiet during the news, especially when they talked about the war in Viet Nam. Particularly during the year my father and the uncles were all out of country at the same time. It was during that time that I heard him utter one small truth that has stayed with me since. At some point, the newscaster announced the total of casualties, and Papaw stated that the number of Americans killed in action was probably higher and the numbers of Vietnamese killed was probably lower. My Mamaw was quick to hush him because of the children in the room. But that idea stayed with me.

On Friday nights he would take my Mamaw to the grocery store and sometimes I would go along. I don't remember if we went to the A&P or a Piggly Wiggly or some other long gone chain. I do remember standing beside him while he ground whole coffee beans and holding the bag to catch the warm freshly ground coffee. That smell brings him back to me to this very day. My mother remembers him bringing home fresh crab cakes for everyone some Fridays.

He liked black licorice and would send us to the corner for a few cents worth of black licorice for himself and a little red for us to share among ourselves.

At one point he drove a Jaguar sedan with a minature jaguar hood ornament. And he always had a great big male cat with the ingenius name of Tom. The house in Emigsville had several cats and Papaw would explain how to hold and pet the cat to make it purr loudly.


My Papaw was the youngest son of a family that included five boys and one girl. I've been told by my Mamaw that he had a twinkle in his eye and was considered "fast" and "rough" by her strict Baptist father and mother. When I met him he was considerably older and some tamer but still had a twinkle in his eye.

He worked at the American Acme, which was a furniture factory right behind the house where my grandparents, my mother and father and aunts and uncles all lived. When we were old enough, my cousin Pedro and I would walk up to the factory when it was time for the lunch whistle to blow and walk down to the house with Papaw. The factory smelled of the wood the men and women were cutting and forming into furniture. We would make our way among the machines to Papaw and he would direct us to wait outside for just a few minutes.

Just outside the door we went in was a huge sunken vat of something liquid. Looking back I know it must have been shellac or varnish of some kind. I don't remember which it was now what I do remember was the intoxicating echo you could make if you lay on your belly and stuck your head over the edge and called down into that black pit. Of course spitting into that abyss was also strictly forbidden but the temptation to spit into it was very real. Small bits of gravel slipped over the edge and made the most delightful plop when they hit the bottom. And, I will admit it here but nowhere else, I can't speak for any of my cousins but I spit into that inky void at least once. Of course, there was a lid that was normally firmly in place and we were warned repeatedly to stay away from the edge of the vat...but that plop, so distant but so distinct was like a siren's call.

Of course, peering over the edge had to be done quickly because if we had been caught we would have been in trouble and most likely whipped by our mothers. Even worse, we wouldn't be allowed to walk Papaw down for lunch.

He would come home and eat his noon meal and take a few minutes rest in his big over stuffed blue chair, sometimes dozing a little as he watched "Truth or Consequences".
When his lunch hour was nearly over, he'd stretch and put another dip of Skoal into his cheek and go back to the factory.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Mamaw and the Ku Klux Klan

Everyone knows what the Ku Klux Klan is and what it's place was in the years after the Civil War. From its early days as a social club for Confederate veterans in Pulaski Tennessee, it has grown into the extremist terrorist group.
The Klan died out for a time in the latter part of the last century only to be "rediscovered" when the movie "Birth of a Nation" came out. That was when the true ugly side of the organization came to light. Still, there were some members in some small southern towns who saw their role as an extension of law enforcement.

According to my father, the local group of Klansman took it upon themselves to act as truant officers for the local school children. On hearing that a child or group of children had "hooked school", they would don their white robes and masks and visit the errant child.

I may have mentioned before that my father liked to tell a tale. He was good at it.
I mention that again because I have not verified this tale with my Mamaw or any of the uncles or aunts who may have provided insight.

A Klansman decked out in all his finery paid my father a visit when he was a boy. Dad had given himself a mental health day and stayed home from school. The Klansman came to perform a civic duty and round up the truant.

Now according to my father, my grandmother met the white knight at the door with her eyes blazing and a few sharp words to send him on his way. Not saying that he didn't get laid out for skipping school...just that she wasn't going to abdicate her parental duty to someone who had to hide behind a bed sheet.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

In the beginning

There were only the two of them. Times were hard. The country was in the middle of the Great Depression. Everyone struggled just to make ends meet. Money was a worry for everyone, paying bills and keeping groceries in the pantry was difficult even for two. But time passed and as often happens, Grace discovered that she was expecting a baby.

What should have been wonderful, exciting news became an added worry. She was upset and he found her sitting on the floor crying when he came in from work. When she told him that she was expecting a baby and wondered how they would feed another person, he put his arm around her and calmly answered.

"One night I will give him half of my potato. The next night, you will share half of yours."

And so, with a few of her fears calmed, my grandparents waited on the arrival of their first. He arrived on March 13,1936. It was a Friday. On that day William Hershel discovered the planet Uranus and my father Stanley Douglas Setzer, Junior was born. The second event, though perhaps not as immediately newsworthy, was an event of historic proportions.

Monday, February 22, 2010

A Wedding...the first of many

On April 12, 1935 the wedding between Grace Prestwood and Douglas Setzer was entered into the public record of Caldwell County, North Carolina. This is the story that my grandmother told me about their wedding day.

The dress she had chosen to wear had a taffeta skirt. The morning of the ceremony, she had a cousin who was helping her to dress. This cousin, who I sadly do not have a name for, offered to press the skirt of the dress.

About the time that one of her brothers came to inform her that my grandfather was coming down the road, the cousin came in crying. The iron was too hot and burned a large mark in the dress. So she had to be married in an every day dress. I'm sure that it didn't matter one iota to him what she was wearing. See the picture up there?
That was taken after six children and a few grandchildren passed through their portals. See how they look at each other? That is love, my friends.

Now, some people are going to jump up and down and get flustered because they're heard this and they've heard that....and HE did this and HE did that and she PUT UP with all manner of nonsense. And I am here to say this: they loved each other. More on that later.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

In the beginning...

My paternal grandmother, Grace Messick Prestwood was born October 1, 1913. Her father Robert Lee Prestwood was a Baptist preacher who was commonly known as "Preacher Bob". In the manner of many girls at the time, she was given her mother Rose's maiden name of "Messick" as a middle name. There were eight other children born into the family after my grandmother. Some I remember vaguely, having met them a time or two as a child. A few I knew as a young adult. I have very real memories of them.

My last memories of her are from the years when she was older, frail but still with the shy smile of a girl. She suffered a variety of ailments and they combined to keep her at times bedridden and home bound except for trips to the doctor. My memories of her extend through the years of my childhood, if you come back I will tell you more. For now, all you need to know that she was the daughter of a strict Baptist preacher.

Stanley Douglas Setzer, my paternal grandfather was born the 6th of November 1910. He was the youngest child of his family. My grandmother told me once that when he was younger he had "dark hair and a twinkle in his eye." I think he was the kind of boy who worries the parents of daughters, if you know what I mean. I've heard rumblings about bootlegging and other excitement that would send a chill down the spine of any parent.

It must have been interesting, the preacher's daughter and the headstrong handsome man.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

There is a Picture

I love this picture. It captures my father and his siblings perfectly. I can look at it and see in their childhood image a glimpse of the adult I know and love. They are the Setzers, an American family and this is my version of their story.

I start that way because, should anyone read this, and I hope they will. I want them to understand from the beginning that this is MY version of things. Based solely on my memories and impressions good, bad or indifferent. If anyone else wants to take the time to write their version of things they should do it.