Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Mary and Jane

Mary Elizabeth Smith Stewart ca.1945
Mary Elizabeth Smith Stewart was an excellent mother even though she never knew her own mother.  She gave birth to seven sons, losing one in childbirth, and one daughter who died at the age of sixteen.  She raised her sons to be responsible, respectable gentlemen with the help of her husband Homer.

The three oldest sons married local ladies from families very similar to their own.  They settled in the area and raised their own families.  Mary knew these daughters-in-law and supported them in raising their families.  She loved having her grandchildren around.

The three youngest sons went off to World War II and did not marry until they returned.  After recovering from a war injury, Brownley, the fifth son, worked at the veterans' hospital in Chillicothe, Ohio.  It was in Chillicothe that he met and married Emma Jane Dalton.  He brought her back to West Virginia where he established himself as a carpenter. Jane had never lived so far away from her family.  (Four hundred miles was a long distance to travel by car in the 1940s.)  But Mary took her new daughter-in-law under her wing. She taught her of life in rural West Virginia:  how they created comfortable homes for their families and how they gardened and farmed to provide for their families. 
Emma Jane Dalton and
Brownley Thornton Stewart
on their wedding day 10/27/1946

Most people thought Jane would not stay in West Virginia; even her own family took bets on how long it would be before she returned to Ohio to live.  Even though she came from a city in Ohio, she was familiar with farm life.  But it was Mary who helped Jane adjust to life in West Virginia.  She became an excellent cook (especially fried chicken, green beans, and potato salad) and baker (especially pies and mincemeat cookies); she learned how to preserve vegetables (canned green beans and tomatoes) and fruit (canned peaches, dried apples and berry jellies); she learned how to butcher and cure meat (make sausage, brine bacon and ham); she learned to make venison steak, fried squirrel and gravy, and fried fish and cornbread.  She loved making a new home for her husband and looked forward to starting a family in the house Brownley built for them.

It was Mary's guidance and support that made it possible for Jane to flourish in West Virginia and occasionally visit her family in Ohio.  Mary tried to make Jane comfortable in her new environment.  It could have been that since Jane was a just a few years younger than the daughter Mary lost nine years earlier that she filled a void for Mary. They became close and spent many days together; Jane would hitch a ride with the mailman to spend the day with Mary and wait for Brownley to pick her up at the end of the day.  Mary was a great comfort to Jane as she struggled to have children; Mary never got to see Jane and Brownley's children.
Jane did not have sisters; so she became fast friends with her sisters-in-law.  The other ladies of the church and extended community became her friends as well.  Jane lived in West Virginia from 1947 until she passed in 1986.  She always spoke lovingly of the mother-in-law she called Mom Mary even though she had only known her for a short three-and-a-half years.  

The Angel Food Cake Story
One day Mary was teaching Jane how to make an angel food cake.  This was a huge investment in patience and eggs (it toke a dozen).  After mixing the cake, transferring it to a baking pan, and putting in the oven, Jane was supposed to just let it bake and not peek in the oven.  But her curiosity got the best of her...she decided to look.  Just as she opened the oven door her father-in-law came in and dropped a load of wood in the woodbox.  The cake fell !!! Jane screamed and her father-in-law took the blame for causing the cake to fall.

Note:  Emma Jane Dalton and Brownley Thornton Stewart were my parents.  They taught me the "love of family and community".  And even though I did not get to know of my Grandma Mary, they taught me about her through their loving stories about her.  And the best compliment I ever received came from the son of a family my Grandma Mary worked for: "you remind me so much of your grandmother."

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