Not So Modern Lillie

By: Betty "Hazlewood" Kera

(This story is dedicated to Jori Elizabeth, my granddaughter)





Photo on the left:
Lillie Bell Wells
at age 16

On the right:
Lillie Hazelwood &
"Doc" Hazelwood



Lillie Bell (Wells) Hazelwood never held a degree but she proved to be above modern appliances, psychiatry, medical doctors, pediatricians, the labor law, and women's lib. They said it couldn't be done, but she did it!

Lillie came into the world without a father. Her own father died six months before her birth. He was just worn out from fighting the Spanish American and Civil Wars, father to twelve children and a life of hard work. Old Jim Wells just couldn't hang in there to meet his last born, Lillie. Unfortunate for the old vet, for he was leaving behind a seed that would never stop growing for many generations.

Lillie bounced into life never missing a father image. How could she, with a mother taking any person unfortunate enough not to have a place to call home. The children she raised numbered to about twenty. This was Grandma Betty, as she was known to her friends. She stood about four foot six inches and weighed at least ninety pounds soaking wet. Her mind was sharp. She was as strong willed as any labor leader to follow her days.

Lillie grew into a beautiful young lady with jet black hair and eyes as dark. She had an eighteen inch waistline that would make the Weight Watchers Clubs close their doors. She also had her share of men friends. With her back-combed hair, long skirts, and high top boots, she dressed in style. The same style in years to come that her granddaughters wore.

Some of Lillie's boyfriends didn't meet the fancy of Grandma Betty and she didn't need any counseling to handle the situation. She just quietly called brother Bedford aside and slipped him a little change to go out and cut the reins, give the horse a whack on the rear and off he would run into the night. With miles to walk this was discouraging enough for the gentlemen callers who had come to call on Lillie.

The years had gone by, and Lillie was reaching the age of eighteen. Grandma Betty started to find it more difficult to choose the gentlemen friends. Especially after Lillie met a handsome, ruddy faced young man. He was charming to her friends but not quite meeting the fancy of her mother.

Lillie realized that in James Allen "Doc" Hazelwood she had chosen her man. It was good-by to old friend Charlie and hello new world. Lillie was on her way to a new life. No one, but no one, would tell her different.

She married James Allen on December 8, 1912 and spent her honeymoon in her father-in-law's home. This proved to be a remembrance that Lillie related to her daughters for years to come. The lesson being, "Don't live with in-laws." She never quite got over the dislike she had felt for her father-in-law in those days.

Lillie was a Protestant. Being raised by a hard-shelled, foot-washing Baptist, she didn't have access to the "pill" so the family started off, real soon!

Her first year of marriage introduced her to the automatic washer. She just automatically pumped her gallons upon gallons of water. Heating some fifteen of them in an iron pot over live coals and pouring the remainder into galvanized tubs. One for washing, two for rinsing. The dirt just floated away after a ten minute scrub on the zink scrub board. The laundry soap she made herself. The clothes would then be neatly hung on the wire clothes line and new freshness was on it's way. this being furnished, of course, by the sunshine the good Lord had provided. You never washed on a cloudy day. The sweet clean smell of that laundry will never be invented and poured into a bottle. The following day would find Lillie sprinkling the same clothes as started a fire in the big wood stove to heat the irons. She usually used at least four irons. This way you never wasted a minute sitting around waiting for one to heat. As soon as one iron cooled the next one was heated and ready to go. The Sunday clothes had all been starched with a starch she made by pouring cold water into a large pan with about two large handfuls of flour. She would mix this together then add boiling water as she slowly stirred. After this they were permanently pressed. So what if it took two days to finish a laundry instead of forty minutes, Lillie was learning to serve her family.

Being in the family way never bothered Lillie. She might have seen a doctor once during nine months. But the most general medication was a bottle of Lady Pinkston Tonic from Fisher's Drug. The cost was about twenty-nine cents a bottle. She always knew it was the cure for whatever ailed you. When nine months were up, there wasn't a call to the doctor, rush to the hospital, or parading the halls. Lillie would have James Allen to hitch up his horse and ride to tell Old Doc Reynolds that the baby was on the way. The neighbor women would prepare the room and lay out the little garments that Lillie had sewn for her first born. The baby came into the world with a whack on the rear and then announcement would travel the next morning from person to person by word of mouth. Lillie had given birth to her first baby girl. Looking back, it's a wonder that hers and all the other babies of that time ever lived, with that tight navel band pinned so tightly they could hardly breath. Lillie knew it was the thing to do in order to have nice smooth navels when they healed. Grandma Betty had pinned bands around all of hers and it didn't kill a one of them.

Every day to Lillie was a challenge. She began with a song in her heart. As she heated the big wood cookstove, emptying the ashes and piling in the wood. She would sing as she cooked the first meal of the day to the amusement of any guest that might be in her home. She hardly ever knew the complete words to any one verse of song, but the song was in her heart just the same. When she was happy she would sing and especially when she was sad, but with a sadder tempo. Her man's breakfast was never a sweet roll and coffee, Heaven forbid! There was always a supply of fresh butter she had churned and molded and the jellies she had canned. Their food was grown, gathered, and prepared by themselves.

Life's nourishment for Lillie's fast growing family was not met by pushing a shopping cart in a super market. In all her life, she never spent twenty-five dollars in one week for food. She would often remark, "Her hands were as pink as a baby's." Much to the disagreement of cosmetic firms, she did this by digging the earth and planting seeds that would bring days and days of labor. She canned the foods for her family's meals for the long winter days ahead.

The sitter for the babies, was her own hand sewn patchwork quilt, folded in four squares and placed near her work area. The teething ring was Lillie's solid gold bracelet, a reminder from her young childhood.

The first baby, near to two years old, would find James Allen hitching up the horse for another ride into the night. The next baby was a boy. As he grew, "he would try the patience of a Saint," Lillie would say. She didn't rush to a pediatrician or read Dr. Spock to learn how to deal with the babies. She started to pray a little more often in those days. Her prayers were never unspoken and never long worded. It was usually just, "Lord, Lord." The Lord seemed to know all the rest that was unsaid. If there was a record to prove it, that's probably the most repeated prayer of Lillie and all mothers, to this day.

James Allen was a good provider for his family. He cut their hair, built the homes and toiled the land. He planted the broom corn to make a year supply of brooms. The other corn was to be ground into corn meal, and sugar cane to make the syrup. He never entered the kitchen to cook, that would have severed his pride.

Friends and children in those days were many. You didn't need an invitation to go calling, you just loaded up the old buckboard and after riding ten or so miles, there you were. Lillie never fretted over company coming. Her table always had plenty of food for all. Leftovers were saved for cousin Jody who had a habit of dropping in late.

All the children, boys and girls, would spend hours swinging on the bag swing. This was built by throwing a log chain over a huge limb of an oak tree and attaching a burlap bag filled with the right amount of hay, cotton or sand. The hay didn't work out as well as cotton, it could be a bit scratchy to bare legs. In order to get the best thrill from swinging, one had to climb up on a high fence post and grab the bag as it came to you, then jump astride it. It took a lot of nerve and a little practice. Once, the children had a rich young lady stop and ask to swing. This was like entertaining a celebrity. They knew she must be rich because she wore beautiful store-bought clothes and drove a new car. She had a pretty name, Maudine. They didn't know too many people who could afford a car and she even wore a watch. I guess she must have been remembering her childhood. Maybe she wasn't lucky enough to have had a bag swing and a lot of friends.

English teachers would faint of despair if all people had Lillie's vocabulary. She had sayings that maybe only she knew the meaning of. Some of them will go in life as long as we all shall live. I personally will remember "Lot's Wife."

Her family kept growing. Every two years, a girl and a boy, and then maybe a boy and then a girl. In some unknown way she equalled it out to four of each. She had her good little girls. Strong as a bull, the weakly, and some, just probably very average. The weakly one wasn't carted off to a pediatrician to learn the cure. Lillie just poured down the orange juic, set her in the sun and the Lord did the healing. That one was me.

Lillie and James Allen never had need for a lawyer in their lives together. They never had an operation or any lingering illness. when two of the children, one boy and one girl, had appendectomies, James Allen stood in the operating room. I suppose that he was there, just in case the doctor might need his help.

The teaching of the children was stern, moral and down to earth. The clothing was handmade, other than overalls and shoes. The shoes were resoled on the shoe last when the soles became a little thin. The floors of the home were wood and swept daily, often times, scrubbed with soap. Despite un-heated bedrooms, not a child could say they ever slept cold. The hand sewn quilts were stacked high. She even had extra bedcovers to loan to neighbors who were less fortunate in having these things.

Honesty and hard work are not bad virtues to live by. With eight children, some are bound to try a little lying, stealing and cheating now and then. Lillie knew how to deal with that as she found them out. One tried to put aside a few chicken eggs each day just to build him up a little extra nest for cash. Lillie soon discovered the plot. Her tril was merely to hang the pail of eggs on the end of her quilting frames. There his eyes would come to rest upon arrival from school. One look at the pail and one look at Lillie and he knew that his sentence had just been announced. They soon learned it wasn't too wise to try to outsmart her.

Lillie was a very happy woman when her first grandchild was born. She hadn't been able to give her children fancy weddings. She gave them her blessings and handmade gifts. I don't think her judgement has proven to be as wise on her grandchildren as she might have expected. Because of the fact that as each one grew she always remarked, "That child will never live, it's just too intelligent." Fortunately to this day all thirteen have made it to adulthood. In the end she will be a cinch to win that argument too. Everyone has to die.

The grandchildren loved their not so modern Ma-Ma. They gave her many moments of joy, also hours of sadness. As the children moved away to other states Lillie counted this as some sort of punishment. She had raised her family and now she was growing old. Her greatest reward would have been to daily see the reaping of her harvest. So as she had done all her life, she did the best she could with what she had. In her case it was memories.

What happened with the children and grandchildren on the last yearly visit. She let their memories linger until their return the following year. It never crossed her mind that she might bore the neighbors or close relatives. She would show off the school pictures, the notes and tell all about their activities. Her friends knew abou her family as well almost as she. Many of them had never met.

Days, months and years drifted by. Lillie was starting to show her years of toil. She never grew lazy. She never grew fat. The jet black hair turned to silver, but she was still needed. She would worry about her husband's health. She would worry about her young friend Sammy. He was studying to be a minister. Everyone's troubles were worse than hers. She held a special worry about her second son's raspy voice. This wasn't natural for him. Lillie was the only person in the world who knew something was wrong insider her body. I suppose she was a little psychic too. It proved fatal to him in a few years to come.

James Allen told Lillie, "It's time to sell the home and move back to the old neighborhood of our childhood." The first plan was to enlarge the new home to fit all their family. They were living alone although they never accepted the fact that the children weren't still living with them. The months would be long between visits of the children. Lillie added more time to her good job of being news editor to all her friends and relatives. In each letter she related more news than one could possibly get from reading the daily news. How badly this would be missed was not foreseen.

Sunday mornings would find Lillie and James Allen at ten o'clock services at the Methodist Church. Then eleven o'clock service at the Baptist Church. They loved everyone and the name above the church door didn't matter to them. What did matter was what was inside the hearts of the people.

On summer visits back home, the children were likely to be taken to visit the old camp meeting grounds. Standing in the center of the grounds, near the brush arbor, with tiny cottages in a circle, Lillie would stand with a far away look and a smile on her face and express, "This was the next place to Heaven to me." Andrew Wyeth could never paint a picture that would be as beautiful as this place in Lillie's eyes.

On December eighth, nineteen hundred twelve, Lillie and James Allen were married. On that date fifty years later their friends and relatives came from near and far to celebrate their golden wedding anniversary. They both looked so pretty. Both dressed in navy blue. Both with silver hair. Their love for their friends was being returned. This indeed was a joyful occasion. People came from every state around. Some had driven hundreds of miles and some even thousands. they didn't have to go to a rented hall to pay their respects. They went to their home to wish them years of continued happiness.

Another year passed and then another. The home ws still being made larger. Their family was still growing. Lillie would tell the neighbors, "The kids will be home soon." But she was tired and it soon became very noticable. She kept at her daily work. She did her laundry, singing as she pinned it to the line. On this day she was singing her last song. She prepared her last meal. The Good Lord never let her know. He too had his way to show her his love.

Easter Sunday camd and all the children came home. They came from the north, south, east and west. Some met on the highways in transit. But it wasn't a happy occasion. The grandchildren brought their Easter gifts they had made in school. The Easter lillies were ordered. The people came to the ome that recently been made larger. They saw the children, grandchildren and the new addition to the old home. They saw Lille, wearing the beautiful blue dress that James Allen had chosen for her.

The Easter lillies were taken away. The gifts were placed next to Lillie's side beneath the satin ruffle. The friends drove in quietness to the little country church. First prayers by the Methodist minister, then the eulogy by the Baptist preacher. This was planned by Lillie only a month before. She wouldn't slight anyone, especially Sammie. He needed her support. He was young and just starting out as a minister. He also was starting Lillie home to "the real camp grounds."

She was laid to rest in the family plot. As her children turned to walk away. They were stopped by the sound of singing. Looking back they saw a branch hanging over her grave, lined with tiny sparrows. They were singing a beautiful farewell song to Lillie. The children knew without speaking. The sweet memories of "Mamma" had already started.


(Written in 1973 by Betty "Hazelwood" Kera. If facts vary they will be transmitted in the reader's memories.)


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