By Marji Smock Stewart, Finding the Rivers. The conclusion of her mother’s parents Lum and Sarah (Brogan) McDonald’s story.
My grandfather Lum owned a small farm near Curdsville KY and all he did for a living was farm until his death in 1920. Farming then was the old mule and plow method, not mechanized in any form. In their small house there was never any electricity, running water or indoor plumbing. Heat probably was a grate fireplace. None of the conveniences we have today, but a loving home for raising 13 wonderful babies.
Sarah always raised a garden and had lovely flowers too. She raised hops – a magnet for neighbor women who came to Sally for starters for their homemade “light” bread. Her daughters did the cleaning and laundry, which they did outside with a big black iron pot of boiling water over an open fire.
Mamaw cooked and gardened and preserved, or “put by”, for winter. And oh, could Mamaw cook! All the clothing was handmade for the girls. As far as I know, Mamaw never had any money. She had no retirement income or any assets as we would measure them today. But she left her family with an irreplaceable legacy.
By the time my mother, Elizabeth, appeared in 1899, some of the older children were married and had babies of their own. Or they were off rebelling in the army.
After Lum died
My grandfather died at the age of 78 on Jun 20, 1920 after fathering 14 fine children. Only one child, Earnest Heavrin, did not survive until adulthood.
With the help of two sons, Homer and Joe, Mamaw disposed of the farm. After that she lived one year at a time with her children. But she never complained. She was always busy helping whatever family she lived with.
I only remember one year Mamaw spent with us. About 1932 at the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri. The only treasure I have left is a flower garden quilt made for my 6th or 7th birthday. As a young homemaker, I never fully appreciated the quilt’s value and used it heavily so now it is almost in shreds. Tears roll down my cheeks as I write, thinking of her aching back and arthritic fingers leaning over the big quilting frame to leave a tangible bit of love for me.
Mamaw loved being in the lake area that year. There were fish to catch year around and abundant game in season. My dad was a skillful fisherman and hunter. Mamaw cleaned fish patiently, handily dressed ducks, geese, quail and maybe deer, and helped my mother learn to cook each properly. These were Depression years but our little enclave at the lake had an abundance of fresh food to enjoy. Back in Kentucky and Oklahoma where most of her other family lived, people were hungry. In the cities soup lines sprung up for the unemployed. So, for Mamaw, this was a glory year.
Elizabeth grows up
But to go back a bit, to my mother’s girlhood. Elizabeth went to Oklahoma for her freshman year of high school. There she lived with her sister-in-law Pearl and son, little Joe McDonald. Pearl was the young widow of Claude McDonald. I believe Claude was one of Elizabeth’s older brothers who rebelled at her birth. Along with his brother Ben, Claude was a railroad detective. Claude was shot and killed by a vagrant one night while on duty. He was 30 years old; his son was only 12 months old.
Pearl asked Elizabeth to stay in Oklahoma and go another year to high school. Then Elizabeth could qualify for an elementary teacher’s license in Oklahoma. Tempting to a country girl. But Mother missed her parents, Sarah and Lum. Lum had suffered a stroke and Elizabeth felt she was needed closer to home.
She moved to Louisville during the latter half of World War I when she was not yet 19. She enrolled in secretarial school and roomed at the YWCA. Mother had very little money, but living at the Y was unbelievably cheap and safe.
In about 1919 Mother learned to drive. With her brother Homer, she bought a car. Not many women were that brave in those days, and that might show a side to Elizabeth most never knew?
After she finished secretarial school and was still living at the YWCA, Mother had a good job with Kaufman Straus Co. in Louisville. She later quit to return to Curdsville.
So Elizabeth became secretary/bookkeper to brothers Joe and Homer. They owned a coal mine near Henderson KY. Mother lived on one side of Green River with her parents and the coal mine was on the other side. I don’t recall the specifics, but Mother told me she would row a boat across to get to and from work or else pilot a small motor boat or ferry.
It was during this time that she and Monroe Smock started going out together. They married in 1921. Soon after this, Elizabeth’s brothers Joe and Homer named their new towboat after their mother, the Sarah Mac. [see Monroe Smock, Kentucky]
Capt. Claude McDonald, River Pilot
Capt. Claude McDonald wrote a poem about the “then” and “now” of working on the rivers. Claude was my first cousin, son of Joe McDonald. Claude’s lifelong career was piloting on the Green and Ohio Rivers. Even in retirement, Claude daily drove by the river for a silent salute. He died in July 1999, the last of the pilots in our family. The hearse carrying Claude’s body detoured down by the Ohio River for a last goodbye and tribute.