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

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Take Time


family, family history, Ganus, genealogy, time, cancer

Time is a funny thing. Some days it seems like we don't have enough of it while other days feel like they will never end. Time can seemingly speed up or stand still. We share our time with those we love and other days we crave a little time to ourselves. One thing is for sure, our time is precious to us. 

In the picture above I have two of my favorite time pieces. The watch was my Grandpa Ganus's watch. If you follow this blog, you know I never really knew him because he lived in another state and died when I was little. Having something of his means the world to me. The small clock with the embroidered message was a Christmas gift from my sister-in-law after the death of her husband. She told us that she realized how precious time is and the value of always making time for the things that matter most. 

It is with that thought that I set this blog aside for a little while in order to give my time to a pressing family matter. I will miss you, but in time, hopefully I will be back. 

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2016, All rights reserved

Monday, January 4, 2016

To Save Lucille

Lucille Medlin Rainwater
Shared by Sue Conklin
As they helped prepare her for the trip to the sanatorium outside San Angelo, did Lucille's mother and husband fully realize just how sick Lucille really was? Did Lucille exhibit the typical tuberculosis symptoms?

Although often in the beginning stages the illness was difficult to detect, with time it progressed from what had initially been minor fatigue and an occasional cough to fits of coughing, low grade fevers, chills, loss of appetite, weight loss and coughing up mucus streaked with blood. It spread mercilessly through families and communities and was greatly feared.

Lucille Rainwater George, daughter of Alexander Forrest Rainwater and Ella Jones was born 31 July 1905 in Hamilton County, Texas. She was the eighth of their nine children and their fifth daughter.

Lucille's father, Forrest, passed away in 1912 when she was just six years old, leaving her mother, Ella, with eight children at home. Not only did Ella outlive her husband by forty-two years, but she outlived six of their children.

On the 30th of September, 1922 beautiful seventeen year old Lucille Medlin Rainwater married Thomas Jefferson George in Fort Worth, Texas. Their marriage was announced in the Society column of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on October 8th, 1922. T.J. and Lucille made their home in Fort Worth and it was there, at the age of eighteen, she gave birth to their daughter, Gloria Lucille. But joy was short lived because in the months that followed, Lucille contracted the dreaded tuberculosis.

tuberculosis, consumption, Lucille Medline Rainwater, Alexander Forrest Rainwater, Ella Jones Rainwater, San Angelo, Texas, ancestry, ancestors, family history, genealogy
From Library of Congress Prints
 and Photographs

At the time there was little known or understood about the cause of TB and they were still years away from knowing how to effectively treat it, but the one thing the medical community agreed on was that tuberculosis was very contagious, as evidenced by its rapid spread.Young mothers who contracted the disease were encouraged to let others take and care for their children to protect their children from also becoming ill.

So, as recommended, mother and daughter were separated.
Lucille moved in with her mother, Ella Rainwater in Witchita Falls, Texas and little Gloria went to live with her paternal grandparents William and Mahalia George, who were living a little over 100 miles away in Rhome, Texas.(1) The fact that Lucille was not only separated from her daughter, but needed help with her care suggests that the disease was progressing and likely no longer in its early stages. Sick and unable to be with her precious daughter, I can imagine how Lucille's heart must have ached for her baby and her husband. But rather than improving, Lucille continued to grow worse and eventually needed more help than her mother could give her.

It was a typical warm humid June day in San Angelo when Lucille Rainwater George arrived at the sanatorium that had been built to house and care for tuberculosis patients. With fresh air and sunshine being the prescribed treatment at the time, Texas was a perfect place for such sanatoriums and several were built in the state. For those fortunate enough to outlive the wait for an available bed and who could afford it, the sanatoriums provided rest, fresh dry air and simple meals. There the doctors evaluated the patient's condition and determined the level of rest needed. For some it meant complete bed rest, spending their days and nights lying flat on their backs while others were allowed a little more activity, including some time outdoors. The isolation from family and friends added yet one more difficult trial to those suffering from the awful disease.

I can't help but wonder what the doctor told Lucille when he saw her on June 10th, 1926? Did he give her hope that she might recover? Did he realize just how far the disease had already progressed? Did Lucille think she would soon return to her husband and daughter or did she sense that her time was short?

A mere nine days later and miles from home, Lucille took her last breath. She died the 19th of June 1926 at 6:30 p.m., just a month shy of her 21st birthday. Her mother Ella Rainwater served as the informant for her death certificate. Her daughter, Gloria, had celebrated her 2nd birthday just a few months prior and would never know the love of her natural mother. Lucille was among the many who fought and lost their battle to tuberculosis that year. In Texas alone, 1,367 died in 1926 from tuberculosis. (1)

Although Lucille was buried in the Aurora Cemetery in Rhome, Texas, which was some distance from where her mother, siblings and husband were living, she was buried in the cemetery along with other Georges and near where her daughter continued to live with her grandparents for a time.

I have been surprised to learn how many in my family tree died of tuberculosis and equally shocked to learn that according to the CDC, it continues to be the biggest infectious killer in the world, with over 9,000 people infected in 2014 in the US, and an estimated 9.6 million worldwide. In all, 1.5 million TB related deaths occurred worldwide in 2014. While the numbers are diminishing, they remain staggering.(2)

While much of the information for Lucille's story was obtained through standard research, this story could not have been written without the help of Sue Conklin who generously shared information about her family members, Lucille, T.J. and Gloria. Thank you Sue!

(1)  http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/vsushistorical/mortstatsh_1926.pdf  page 84

(2)  http://www.cdc.gov/tb/statistics/default.htm

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2016, All rights reserved