Tuesday, March 29, 2016

In Your Easter Bonnet

Easter, Easter bonnet, Bakersfield, California, rhubarb, hats, grandma, family history, genealogy
Me in Bakersfield, California 
I know am a sap for old movies and old songs, but every Easter, Irving Berlin's song "Easter Parade" runs though my head.

In your easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it,
 You'll be the grandest lady in the Easter parade.
When I was little, I always wanted an Easter "bonnet" and many of my childhood Easter pictures show that it was often part of my outfit. Kids like hats anytime of the year, but at Easter, the stores seem to have a large variety of pretty ones to tempt the little ones.

As a little girl, my Grandma Hazel Mickelsen Ganus liked hats as well, but she, her sister and her cousin were creative enough to make their own.

In her personal history Grandma said she could hardly wait for the rhubarb to come up in the spring. When it did, she and her sister Lena and cousin Edith loved to pull off a stalk or two and sprinkle it with sugar. I love rhubarb, but I confess it takes more than a sprinkle of sugar for me. In fact, douse it in sugar, put it in a crust and top it with ice cream and it is one of my favorite pies.

Grandma went beyond eating the stalks of rhubarb, she found a creative use for the leaves. She said:
We always enjoyed making "make-believe" hats from the large rippled leaves. The shapely leaves were very adaptable for hats. We would trim the hats with sprigs of lilacs, pansies and little yellow sneezers from the garden. We fastened the flowers to the leaves with toothpicks. Sometimes we were very creative with our jaunty bonnets. Each would try to out do the others. We admired and often laughed at our creations. When we finished we placed the hats on top our heads at just the right angle. We found there was quite an art to balancing them. Of course we always had to have a fashion show, so we would parade to our Mothers and our neighbors to show them off. In the fall of the year, we would do the same thing, but this time we would use cabbage leaves. We found they also made very attractive hats when decorated with flowers of various kinds, and they would set upon our heads a little better than rhubarb leaves. 
I cringed a little as I read this because I was always cautioned as a child to leave the rhubarb leaves alone as they are quite toxic, but I guess grandma was old enough and smart enough to know not to put them in her mouth. I also wonder what yellow sneezers were. When I googled it, it brought up a variety of yellow flowers that cause sneezing, so I am not sure what Grandma meant exactly, although yellow dandelions are certainly "yellow sneezers" in my book. In any case, I can't believe they would put such a thing on their hats, although ladies will put up with most anything if it looks good enough.

I love that Grandma took the time to record this memory. The Grandma I knew was an older woman who was quiet and so I love that Grandma introduced me to Hazel Mickelsen, the little girl who dolled up in her "jaunty" rhubarb leaf hat and put on a parade for her mother and neighbors.

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2016, All rights reserved

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Grandmother Who Let Her Hair Down

long hair, Lillie Powell Gurganus, Walker County, Alabama , Fletcher Gurganus, Charles F. Gurganus, Charlie Snow Powell, Rebecca Jane Holley, Genealogy. Family History, Census,
Lillie Powell at the age of 16
As Lillie carefully unpinned and released her hair, the tresses tumbled down past her shoulders. Picking up the hair brush, her grand-daughters would carefully begin the much loved past time of brushing their grandmother's long locks. Gently they would pull the brush through Lillie's hair which fell down past her shoulders and on past her waist. The silken strands of hair represented a lifetime of growth, a lifetime of second glances from strangers, a lifetime of questions about how long she had been growing it and a lifetime of admiration from others, who like me, are very hair challenged.

Lillie Powell Gurganus never cut her hair throughout her entire life. Brushing her hair was among her grand-daughters' favorite things to do with their grandmother. Sitting in a chair, her long thick hair reached down to the floor in her later years. As a young girl she often wore it down, evidence of  how long it really was, but in her later years it was carefully braided and then pinned around her head.

Lillie was born on the 17th of June 1895 to Charlie Snow Powell and Rebecca Jane Holley in Walker County, Alabama. She was their oldest daughter and the third child in a large family. Growing up in Walker County, the Powell family lived in relatively close proximity to the large Gurganus family, so it's not too surprising that Lillie and Charles Fletcher Gurganus had the opportunity to meet. Fletcher and Lillie began the process of courting at a young age and it soon led to their marriage on a winter's day, the 13th of December 1914.

There in Walker County, replete with rolling hills, rivers and forests and living near extended family members, Fletcher farmed and Lillie took care of the household chores and their five children.

Her grandchildren remember Lillie as soft spoken and for her sense of industry. A firm believer that an idle mind was the devil's workshop, she constantly busied about, doing something productive with her time. If by chance you found her sitting, she was not idle, but generally busy at the lost art of mending, darning or meticulously piecing together a quilt top. As her children grew and married, they returned to Lillie and Fletcher's home for cherished family dinners where Lillie constantly bustled about, tending to the needs of each of her precious visitors.

In Walker county on the tenth of March, 1975, at the age of 80, Lillie Powell passed from this life. Among the things she left behind were treasured remembrances such as handmade Valentines, cards and birthday messages from her husband, evidence of their love for each other. But in the hearts of her grandchildren, she left cherished memories of time spent together at family gatherings as well as those uniquely special moments when she unpinned her long braids for them, and they had the privilege of brushing her beautiful long hair. They truly prize the memories of Grandma Lillie letting down her hair.

A special thanks to Betty Wedgeworth for sharing a few memories and the picture of her grandmother Lillie Powell Gurganus. 

For those curious about our connection, Charlie Fletcher Gurganus was my third cousin, twice removed. 

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2016, All rights reserved