As a child, I loved to hear my mother re-tell the stories her grandmother Maggie told her when she was a child. Romantic and exciting stories. I vividly remember two that my mother told me.
Maggie recounted how her husband, "Mr. Washington" as she always called him, swept her off her feet when she was "but a strip of a girl". She was living in Botetourt County, Virginia when she first met Washington Smith. He was a transient, working on the railroad, "a fine figure of a man." One day she gave him a drink of water, and the rest is history. She married him when she was just 14 years old.
Then there is the story Maggie told of her own childhood. The one about how she and her family had to run from the Indians in the middle of the night in the dead of winter with only the clothes on their back. Crossing half frozen streams and hiding under the curve of the creek banks until they were able to reach safety.
Romantic and exciting stories.
Twenty years later, I began to dabble in genealogy. Online. Dial-up. Slooooow. I didn't dabble consistently or seriously until the coming of cable internet. It was soooo much faster! Census records loaded in far less time than it took to brew a pot of coffee! Yay! The next thing I knew, I was writing away to obtain records, building my family tree with facts, and loving every minute of it. I also began to read and study the history of the times and places I researched.
Last year, while shaking Gramma Maggie's branch for the first time in several years, I read that the last Indian uprising in Virginia was in southwestern Virginia in 1794.
Then I did the math: if she had run from Indians, that would have made Maggie 191 years old when she died in 1985. What the?!
Thinking that perhaps I had remembered the story incorrectly, perhaps it was Maggie's grandmother or great grandmother (?!), I asked my Mother about it when I went to visit her. She recounted it exactly the way she had when I was a child.
When I expressed doubt about whether it actually happened, she got a bit indignant and snapped, "Well THAT'S what she told us when we were kids! I don't know why she would have LIED about something like that!"
To which I hastily replied, "Oh, wait, maybe my math is off. Oh. Hmm."
To which she replied, "Probably."
Perhaps I should have used a different approach to tell my 80-year-old mother that her Gramma sold her a whopper--hook, line and sinker.
Gramma Maggie had a hard life. Born and raised moving from coal town to coal town, living in rickety shanties through most of her life, she never knew the finer things. Although they were dirt-floor poor, she always managed to pinch off a dime out of the grocery money for a pot of rouge for her cheeks. That dime came out of the ten dollars a month that Grampa Smith gave her to buy groceries. For the six of them. She had four children living at home in the 1940's--the time frame in which she told my mother the stories.
Perhaps, looking around at her meager surroundings, smelling the eternal pot of beans cooking on the stove, she decided to have an adventure. What harm could a story do? Perhaps while relating the adventure, she saw something in a seven-year-old's eye. Respect? Reverence? Adoration?
At that point it didn't matter what the historical record reflected.
That which was reflected in my mother's eye was more important to Gramma Maggie.
People believe what they want to believe.
And so, we must never speak of this.