Sunday, February 16, 2014

52 Ancestors: #7 Ruth Autry and Walter Caswell Brooks

Moving on to my father's side of the family I found a husband-wife February birthday duo.  And it's my own grandparents!

Walter Caswell Brooks

Walter Caswell Brooks was born on the 15th of February 1874 in Pope County, Arkansas. His parents, William Brooks and Rebecca Malinda Cooper, came from Stanly County, North Carolina to farm in Arkansas. They had 7 children, two boys.  Walter was their fifth child.  I don't know as much about my grandfather as I should.  I do know he was a farmer, farming the William Brooks estate in the Holla Bend bottoms near Russellville, Arkansas.  He met my grandmother through his sister, Alta Brooks, who was teaching in Nashville, Arkansas.    He married Ruth Autry on 2 December 1922 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The marriage was performed by Ruth's father, the Reverend Allen Hill Autry.  I have a copy of the service which I will transcribe at some point.

It is interesting to note that Walter was 48 years old when he married.  He must have thought he was going to be a bachelor for life.  I'm sure there were many adjustments to family life, as his first son, Walter Allen Brooks was born less than 2 years later in early 1924.  My father, Robert Autry Brooks, came along five years after that.  Walter was killed in an automobile accident on 30 May 1941 when the car went out of control on a bend coming down Crow Mountain.  My father was only 12 years old.  I can see the resemblance, especially in the eyes.

Ruth Autry

This picture, from around 1916, is how my grandmother must have looked when Walter met her. Wow, what a beauty! Ruth Autry was born 8 February 1892 in Booneville, Logan, Arkansas.  I wrote about her mother, Mary Esther Nifong, here  in week #3.  She attended Ouachita Baptist College in Arkadelphia, graduating in 1911 with a degree in art.  Ruth was an accomplished painter; you can see some of her work in my blogpost here.  I have several of her paintings in my home that were painted during her time at college. She was the first in her family to attend college and returned to Nashville where she taught school.  She even taught her younger brothers, Dan and Paul, before becoming principal of the primary school there.

After her marriage, she was a leader in the Russellville community, organizing a book club and active in the Baptist church.  Her two sons, Walter A and Robert A, were born there.  My father, Robert, tells stories of his mother sewing clothes (I have her Singer treadle machine with her papers still in the drawers), churning butter (I have the churn and the ladle) and cooking.  She was a fabulous cook.  Here is what my father said about the family meals:

She did not consider herself a major cook, but did an excellent job of it.  She also canned a lot because the depression was on, and fruit and other food was available locally.  There was only my brother, 5 years older, and me so we had to help.  I recall canning a bushel of peaches every summer. She also canned pickles and pears and some vegetables and various jams and jellies. These were all canned in glass quart fruit jars, or smaller, and were stored on shelves in the basement. In the winter, half a pig was brought up from the farm and she made sausage and other other things. I remember my brother, Walter Allen, and I having a huge pan of sausage, rolling up elongated portions and squeezing them down in cloth bags that she made from old feed sacks.  We rather liked that because our hands got greasy. Every project took about a week.  We raised and ate lots of chicken which were raised in the back lot.  We chopped the head off on a stump and when it stopped flopping around, dipped it in boiling water and pulled the feathers off.  A messy job! Mother would clean it, burn the little feathers off (I forgot their name!), dress it and fry it. Or if it was a hen, she baked it with dressing.
The other thing I remember is having to help her clean up dishes, especially as a teen ager when she taught school. I whined and complained about it. One day, she ran me out of the kitchen. Then, I felt very guilty! I hope I did better after that! She was very clean and it was harder to achieve that then. She was very religious. Sunday dinner was a major meal and delicious. It was fixed after church. We did nothing else on Sunday, except for the Sunday night services which included a young people's meeting.
These are probably my most discrete memories. After all, food was important during the depression and money was scarce. I have often thought that I have more money now and the food is much more expensive, but I don't eat as well as when I had Mother's home cooking and home made food.
After her husband died, Ruth went back to work as a teacher.  My father describes her as one of the smartest people he ever knew.  She could think quickly and was an analytic thinker.  He also says, "This made her very stubborn, since she was seldom wrong."  I think that's how my kids would describe me!
By the time I knew my grandmother, she was suffering from Parkinson's Disease.  She had a helper at the house, Miss Maggie, whom I loved.  But Nanya, as we called her, was a bit daunting.  She didn't like that I was left-handed and would try to get me to color with my right hand.  I did love her big house which you can see in my post here.  It had great hiding places and  a secret passageway to a play room that I remember. The magnolia trees in the neighborhood were amazing.  
As Nanya deteriorated, she needed more care and moved to a nursing home in Quanah Texas where Walter Allen lived with his family.  My last visit was with her there. She could still sing the French anthem, La Marseilles.  I remember answering the phone on Christmas morning 1975 when my uncle called to say she had passed.  My father cried harder than I have ever seen him.  She was buried in Russellville Arkansas during that break from my freshman year at college.  I am grateful that my father and my great-aunt Esther have written so much about her.  I feel I know a lot about her as I walk through my house and see her beautiful paintings.  These two pictures are from when she graduated high school and when she taught elementary school.  I love the subtle smile and the luxurious hair.

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