Tales from My Grandmothers

Grady Arnold


Today we depend on doctors to diagnose, prescribe, and, hopefully, cure.  But there was a time when medicine was more a matter of faith and prayer and individual initiative.

What Sort of Hellishness is This?

In my essay, "The Watchers," I introduced my Grandmother Emma Jane Carnes of Jamestown, Pennsylvania. Her father was John Spangle.  Her mother was from the McCreary family. Her mother died one Christmas morning after suffering a stroke the day before.  Emma was already married at the time to Ben Carnes and lived with him in the ancient James house just across the highway and up the mountain.  Emma favored me as a grandchild. She spent her last years with my mother in a house I bought south of Houston. She spent her time crocheting, quilting, and corresponding with old friends in Jamestown.

One evening while we were all three sitting in the living room after dinner she told a story about her mother.  She was born in 1901.  At that time it was not unusual for children to die very young.  Emma had four brothers who did not survive their first year of life. I'm not sure how many sisters she had.  I met several over the years.

Her story started at a time when she was very young but old enough to help with the animals and with housework.  One of her chores was to walk down the little lane to the McCreary house and stand on a kitchen chair and wash the dishes every night after supper.

One winter day she heard her parents speaking to a neighbor lady of her sick boy. The neighbor lady lived in the house her grandfather Spangle had built.  He had built two houses facing each other in the lane.

The neighbor lady was crying and pleading with Mrs. Spangle to come along and tend to her little son.  Finally, Mrs. Spangle got into her coat telling Emma she was now big enough to help with these things.  Emma walked along with the women, listening to the story of the boy’s long illness and how the Portage village doctor had been there to see him many times. Now, however, the doctor would not return saying there was no longer any use in him coming up the mountain in the snow again.

He had told the parents there was "No Hope - just let the boy die in peace."  Before the doctor had disappeared down the mountain, she was off to see Mrs. Spangle.  Mrs. Spangle had a reputation of nursing sick children back to health--even in the cold Pennsylvania winters when the ancient wood homes offered little warmth.

Emma told us her mother traveled to the little boy every day, nursing and feeding him.  She said ancient prayers over him out of the family Scottish Bible.  Years later Emma recited these old verses to me and gave me handwritten copies of them tied together with special knots of thread.  Slowly the boy gained more strength.  The families were filled with joy at his recovery.  Then one day, the boy went back to school.

Word of all this got back to the old village doctor. So he trudged up the mountain one day to see this boy for himself. Mrs. Spangle was there with Emma when the doctor came by after school.  The boy came in and put his books on the table. The doctor examined the boy for a few moments.  The old village doctor frustrated by the boy’s recovery, which he had not seen as possible, blurted out, “What sort of Hellishness is this?” and trudged down the mountain again.

Aunt Elsie and Dorane Stokley

My Texas grandmother was named Elsie Elizabeth Futch by her mother and her father Samuel Futch, a Confederate veteran from Alabama.  She was born near Jefferson, Texas. Mr. Futch was off working on a broken down cotton gin when word came to him that his wife had died and the two little girls were staying with neighbors.  That was the third wife Sam had buried.

After that, Sam Futch took the girls, Elsie and Belle, in a wagon to his jobs fixing grist mills, cotton gins, and other machines.   His two sons would ride ahead on horseback to find a boarding house for their two little half-sisters.

Decades later, Elsie had raised her four boys and her husband Abby had died long ago.  She was now raising two grandsons and working as the head cook at the Diana School.  All the older folks now called her Aunt Elsie.

Dorane Stokley was in the second grade with Elsie’s grandson, Ishmael Arnold, Jr.  She had heard the boys talk about Dorane not being able to go to school.  Elsie heard folks talk about how the boy had a bone in his leg which, according to the doctors, had started to rot. Then one day his older brother reported the doctor had given up and would not be back.

The Diana school bus took Aunt Elsie each morning past the Stokley house across the top of Ignorant Ridge and returned with its cargo of kids and Elsie to the school.  Elsie would get off the bus and take Dorane his breakfast from her table in the morning and his supper from the school in the afternoon.  Everyone in the little community knew about her daily journeys on the ridge. On the weekends, Ishmael Sr. would drive her over to feed the boy. She continued to nourish and encourage him, lingering a little while to sing the old hymns and pray with him.

Then one day, after about a year of visits, Dorane met her at the door of the little shack.  He said he felt a lot better and his leg had stopped hurting in the night.

Dorane got set back a year and finished school in the class of my cousin Charles James “Jimmy” Arnold.  Dorane had become a giant of a young man when I first saw him while in second grade at Diana, tall, vigorous, and strong.

No one could ever explain what had happened to Dorane-- least of all the doctors up at Gilmer.  But after that, everyone in the county held Aunt Elsie in very high respect for her achievement with the boy.  A sixty year old cook at the school with six years of education had beat the odds with the

little second grade boy, a boy the doctors had given up as lost.

Cloria Fields and My Father

Snow often came to the little farm where my father was born in Upshur County, Texas. That was the case when Dad was about two.  A neighbor lady, Cloria, who lived behind our land, raised about 25 kids over the many decades of her life. I never learned anything about her husband.

Cloria would often come to grandmother across the fields, and they would help each other, especially around the holidays. My father was still in diapers and barely able to walk.  They were busy in the kitchen and had not noticed him wandering out onto the front porch. The house was built up on rock piers.  It was a good distance to the snow covered ground.

When they went looking for him, they found he had walked off the edge of the porch and was turning blue in the snow.  He had stopped breathing.  Granny almost had a stroke. But Cloria quickly went into action.  Cloria brought out a large pan of warm water from the stove. She had Granny bring along a second pan of luke warm water. While Granny watched, Cloria started dipping Dad from one pan of water to the other.  In a few moments he started breathing again and opened his eyes.

Abby and the three older boys were all out in the fields and never knew about this little adventure. Many years later, Granny got up in the night to take a pill. I got up also, and she told me the little story.  I then understood why my father always displayed a great affection for Miss Cloria.


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