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.