How many of you can say you have actually had conversations with someone who was alive during the War Between the States?
My great grandmother was born on Christmas Eve of 1861 in that part of Catahoula Parish that became LaSalle Parish when it was created from the western half of Catahoula Parish in 1910. She died just before Thanksgiving of 1964, just short of 103 years old. I was 20 at the time of her death.
She lived the winter half the year with my grandmother in Kenner and the summer half with another daughter in Shreveport. We had many conversations when she was staying with my grandmother, mostly about the war as that was of interest to me even when I was very young. Of course she was really too young during the war to remember much of it, but she told stories that were told to her by her mother and her father, who served in the Confederate Army, and some of her life after the war. Wish I had written all those conversations down.
One of her stories appears in An Eternity of Four Years*, but I changed it slightly. Here is the original.
During the war, with the men off fighting, the women had to run the plantations, farms and homes. Maw Maw spoke of growing up on a plantation, but it may have been no more than a moderate size farm for all I know. But they did own slaves, and one had become particularly malodorous because of his neglect of good hygiene practices. My great-great-grandmother took it upon herself to do something about that and presented the offender with a bar of lye soap. She then proceeded to tell him what to do with it.
“You go down to the creek and wash yourself. Start at the top of your head and scrub all the way down as far as possible. Then start at the bottom of your feet and scrub up as far as possible. And when you’re finished, give ‘possible’ a good scrubbing, too!”
My great-grandmother’s name was Martha Allen Davis, no relation to Morgan Davis, and evidently, no relation to Jeff Davis, either. She married Greg Negles Boddie, also of Catahoula Parish but originally from South Carolina. He died before I was born. They had nine kids.
I don’t remember her ever walking without the aid of a crutch, just one. She had fallen and broken her hip sometime before I was born. She would have been about 82 (or younger) when it happened. In those days, if you were unfortunate enough to break a hip, you gutted it out and healed—or died. She healed, but it left her lame. She used a slop jar at night, so she wouldn’t have to struggle to the bathroom, which was just outside her bedroom door.
She lived in her bedroom most of the day, coming out for meals or to join the family in the living room or back porch for conversations. Her bedroom was quite large. She had a rocker in one corner where she “held court.” The rest of us pulled up a chair or stool to talk to her. I asked questions, and she continued tatting while she answered, usually with an amused chuckle as she did so.
Her favorite candy was those sugar coated, gummy orange slices. She had no teeth but would suck the sugar coating off and gum the gummy part that remained. She always had a dish of those candies on the table beside her rocking chair. To this day, they are one of my favorite sweets, and every time I eat one, I think of Maw Maw.
She was born in the days of the horse and buggy, when steam engines were the latest technology, firearms were mostly single shot muzzleloaders, and lived through to 1964 and the age of automobiles, airplanes, and nuclear weapons. Amazing! Wish I had thought to question her about how that felt.
Hers was the first death that affected me emotionally. I wept at her funeral. Maw Maw is buried next to Paw Paw in Jena, Louisiana, the parish seat of LaSalle Parish.
*An Eternity of Four Years is Book 2 of the Catahoula Chronicles, a novel about two people who fell in love in antebellum Louisiana. The Last Day of Forever is Book one of the series and tells their story up to the beginning of the war. An Eternity of Four Years continues the story through the war. Both will be published soon.