Six Sisters {A short story and Haiku poem}

 

 

Tall; olive complexion; wrinkled when I knew her. Loving memories of a sweet old lady digging through my girly purse (or pocketbook as she called it) at the elder home back in the latter 1960’s, Texas.

My great grandmother Hattie thought my brother; five years older than me was her boyfriend when he’d go with my grandmother and me for visits. She was described as old and senile; what we now know as Alzheimer’s.

She dipped snuff on occasion, which I found a little peculiar and nauseating as a little girl, but her sweet nature made up for any discomfort I might have had from a southern woman’s habit she obviously picked up somewhere along her life journey. I remember my grandmother would make sure to take her a can of snuff on special occasions, but not every visit; I cherished my trips to the home with my grandmother to visit her. We took pictures with her whenever possible.

I remember her hands as if it were yesterday; long frail fingers; both the palms and top had equal wrinkles, and spots on top of varying brownish colors. Tender, soft, and cold most of the time. I rarely saw her without a see-through hairnet covering her head; probably out of habit from some employment from years past. I remember how her whole face lit up like Christmas lights whenever we would enter the room there at the home.

Years prior to the elder home she held jobs, but she also raised turkey’s and children; she slopped hogs and tended her garden. I know she slopped hogs because my grandmother Minnie told me she was teased as a child from neighborhood children when she would accompany Hattie in the donkey-drawn cart trotting down the dusty dirt roads when she used to take her products to be sold. Everyone had a turkey for the holidays. Hattie was probably a woman that had an instinct to survive from a very young age being an orphan.

Both my great grandparents lived modestly in those days doing whatever they could to make money and provide for their girls. But, it wasn’t until several years ago I realized the incredible and mysterious early life she must have led growing up in orphanages, and how her young years is such a mystery to me, and that the maternal family history ends with her. I didn’t realize to ask about her history.

As you might have guessed my grandmother Minnie told me stories, and one was of her birth. She said Hattie gave birth to her in a boxcar, and Hattie herself was born in a peach orchard. Being a young girl, I didn’t realize the impact these stories would have on me until much later in life. I didn’t realize at the time what precious gifts they were and how much I wish I would have asked questions and taken notes of their lives.

Sadly, so much later that people I could ask about the stories had already passed. I had an older cousin that did clear up the confusion of my grandmother being born in a boxcar. She told me my great-grandmother Hattie had been working in the dining car of a train and went into labor and had my grandmother Minnie.

My great-grandmother married a man whose life before meeting her was worlds apart from the years he spent with her. Through Extensive genealogy, an older cousin traced his life back to being born with the last name Chaisson. He was 19 years older than Hattie and had the last name of Smith when they met and married. He was a very colorful fellow with a passion to be at sea; an adventurous fisherman.

The following is an excerpt from an article about my great-grandfather which appeared in the Houston Post-Dispatch Magazine Section; Sunday, March 7, 1931. He died a tragic death from accidentally being struck by a car while walking home at night after visiting friends in 1939 in a suburb of Houston, Texas.

{It was shortly before Mr. Smith left the New England waters that he met Rudyard Kipling. He was staying at the Mason house, an inn at Gloucester famous among the fishing folk, when he was introduced to the novelist then seeking material for his “Captains Courageous.” In the bar at the Mason house, Mr. Smith whiled away an afternoon with Kipling describing to the novelist over mugs of beer and ale the life of the fishermen and his own experiences, some of which were adopted by the author for the characters in his book.}

According to the article my great grandfather sailed for Galveston aboard a schooner loaded with twenty-three tons of ice; then for a year, he shipped aboard boats out of Galveston, Texas. How much truth in his colorful accounts in the Post article is anyone’s guess, but we do know he was from Boston Massachusetts. He was a true fisherman, and he witnessed the horrific hurricane of 1900 that made landfall in Galveston Texas.

He’s quoted in the article as saying, “they had a big catch, and no blow of any kind, they moved into Galveston from one hundred miles south of the island city after the storm made landfall.” “They were astonished at the ruins that greeted them. He said “What I saw that day sickened me of the sea, and I’ve never been out again. So, help me, God, I never will, either.”

Frank Smith’s adventurous life faded behind him with the colorful hues of the sea skies and went on to meet my great-grandmother, Hattie. They settled into a Houston suburban life in Texas and had six daughters together; three of which died; two tragically at very young ages. I’m not sure how young the third died or under what circumstances. Possibly at birth, but that’s speculation on my part.

Emmie Flora Smith died at the age of four from severe burns in a kitchen fire. I can remember my grandmother Minnie telling me about it and her other sister Hattie Bell dying of typhoid fever at sixteen-years-old. I don’t remember my grandmother telling me about the third sister, Mathilde. The three other sisters; one of which was my grandmother Minnie lived long lives and had many children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

I can’t begin to express the gratitude for the extensive genealogy research my older cousin did several years ago to bring a little of the past to all of us. Sadly, even with all the resources at our disposal then and to this day, we can’t find much on my great-grandmother Hattie, born June 23, 1886.

She was always described as an orphan, however through the research several years ago it was discovered from an application found on Hattie for social security; Her mother and father were listed and the place of birth in Wynn Parish Louisiana.

Could her mother have gone into labor in a peach orchard? Possibly; Could she have been unmarried to Hattie’s father and given up for adoption? Possibly and lived in orphanages until she came of age to leave. My great-grandmother Hattie died in 1974.

The Haiku poem below is for Emmie, the little four-year-old sister my grandmother never had the chance to know. I can’t even imagine the grief of losing three daughters, and the heartbreak my great-grandparents had to endure.

For sweet Emmie

 

Sweet soft whispers pass

from sweet little lips at dawn;

fleeting breaths long gone.

 

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