© Copyright 2014 by Norma Tekell
It was the summer between my second and third grades of school. I sat on the steps and watched as daddy finished attaching his homemade camper to the back of his old blue pickup. Momma and my brothers hurriedly began packing our belongings in the back of the truck. I called out to daddy “Why do we have to move to Kansas?” He responded, “It is our gypsy blood calling us” As I sat there I began to think of all the thing I would miss about this place; all my kitties, our pet pig Onkie, the daily seafood platter, the sunsets over the Inland Water Way, the daily trips to the outhouse, the sounds from Paris Island, the smell of marsh grass, pine trees, and the wide open spaces.
Once in Topeka, I was introduced to my paternal grandmother, Lillian May Mott. She was an older woman, with gray thinning hair, wore a green print house dress, ugly brown shoes and possessed a strange odor that I was not familiar with. In a stern English school marm-type voice she said, “You will call me grandmother.” As I began explore the house, grandmother followed along behind me, constantly barking orders: “Don’t touch that”. Every time I sat in a chair I was told, “Ladies don’t sit like that, sit up straight”. When we sat down to eat, orders were, “Don’t use your left hand, only the devil uses a left hand”. I quickly learned how to stay out of grandmother’s presence.
One eventful day, momma and daddy went to Kansas City and took my brothers with them. I was left with grandmother. Shortly after they left, she invited me to take seat at her long table. She sat down next to me, not close enough to touch elbows, but close. She pulled three pictures out of her Bible and stated. “I will begin to introduce you to the family”. As she began talking, I had many questions, but I knew not to ask.
The first picture was of three people. She explained,
“The gentleman on the right was my father. His name was John May. He came from Scotland, settled with his parents in Canada. At age thirteen, his family was killed in a house fire. From there he went to live with family in Ohio. It was there that he joined the Union Army and under command, he marched with General Sherman to the sea. Once back from the Army, he married my mother and moved to Kansas with a land grant under the Homestead Act. He built a sod home near Eskridge (Kansas).” When we moved from Eskridge to Topeka, he was the first postman to run a rural route out of Topeka.”
Pointing to the woman on the left, she simply said,
“This is my mother. Her name was Claudine Stone May. She was a good cook.”
Nothing more was told of Claudine. She pointed to the person in the middle. She stated,
“This is me.” No more explanation.
She picked up the second photograph and began to talk. Pointing to the child on the left, she stated,
“This is your uncle Warren. I am next and next to me my sister-in-law, Pearl Parker. The man on the right is my husband, Nathan Tabor Mott, we called him T. He was also a mailman. “ No more explanations given.
She picked up the third picture.
“This is my favorite of me. The woman on the right is also a sister-in-law. Her name is Edith Slatter. I am on the left, and my cat Felix is sitting in the middle.”
No more explanation was offered. She carefully tucked the pictures back in the Bible, stood and asked me to follow her. We went up the back stairs to her bedroom. One the bed was her doll that previously I was told, “Never touch this doll.” She picked up the doll, held it out to me and asked, ”Would you like to hold her?” Hesitantly I took the doll and looked at it. It was beautiful with golden ringlets and a plaid dress and hat. Grandmother explained,
“This is one of the first dolls ever made by Horseman.”
She took the doll back, placed her back on the bed and told me to follow. Back down stairs, she took me to her sewing room and showed me her Bible collection. There were many different translations, but my eye was drawn to a Jewish Bible. I knew not to touch. I looked around the room and spotted her treadle sewing machine, and a large collection of National Geographic neatly stacked on the floor. Grandmother did not smile much, but standing in the middle of that room she smiled at me for the first time. Next she took me to the dining room and stopped in front of a curio cabinet, pulled a key from her plaid apron pocket, and opened the door. Reaching in, she removed a miniature cup and saucer. She began to tell the story,
“This was my first present from my father. We lived in Eskridge then. I had no friends so my cats and I had daily tea parties.”
As she quickly placed the cup and saucer back in the cabinet, I noticed a set of six cups and saucers, a tea pot, and two spoons. She locked the cabinet and stated,
“That is enough for today.”
Years later when grandmother died and the will was read, I was given the three pictures, the doll, the Bible collection, and the tea set.
here at my computer, tears running down my face, I realize it wasn’t
that grandmother didn’t like me, she just wasn’t properly
socialized. Looking at the cat in the picture, I feel a connection
to her. My black cat Major looks just like her black cat Felix.