Pearl Abigail Eggleston Berryman was not about to have her first baby on a farm somewhere out on the Oklahoma prairie. So she went home to her parents, and on August 7th of 1908, in a tidy Victorian home on a tree-lined street of Oberlin, Ohio, Priscilla Harriet Berryman was born, the daughter of Robert Fulton Berryman and Pearl (Peg) Abigail Eggleston Berryman.
So named Priscilla because her mother thought it beautiful, and Harriet because Robert’s sister was Harriet, Priscilla here began what her grandfather called, “her bright life.”
Her parents and grandparents doted on the baby, who was by all accounts a beautiful and gifted child. Peg only wanted ever to have girls, and here was her first, a darling dumpling of a baby, expressive and alert, with curly hair atop a broad, round forehead, and wide-set eyes that Peg could gaze into forever, bonding as closely as any mother ever had.
Peg put Priscilla in a christening gown of fine cotton and handmade lace with petticoats beneath make it plump and full, like the adorable babe who wore them. She brushed Priscilla’s soft curls on her forehead, tied her brimmed bonnet against the sun, delicately lowered her into the carriage, and strode to the photographer’s studio for portraits.
In the studio Peg could not pull her eyes from her cherished babe for long enough to look at the camera. She gazed in awe and adoration at what was hers, what she and Robert had created.
Of all her life’s joys, this was by far the greatest. Who can know what a new mother feels? Only her adoring gaze, her utter awe could express it. She forgot any woes she ever had, and if she thought of it at all, she recalled Oklahoma’s wide plains and soft grasses, and was eager to bring Priscilla home to Robert.
When it was time to return, Pearl packed up the baby’s blankets, gowns, and cloths; she boarded the train, found her seat, and never once let her baby go until she reached Robert.
Even in that wilderness of dust, Peg dressed Priscilla in white cotton and lace, and bought her a silver drinking cup engraved with her name.
Peg may not have had a carriage to stroll Priscilla in, or a boulevard to parade her up and down on; she may not have had much more than a new home on a lonesome prairie, far from anyone or anyplace she ever knew – far from anyone at all, really – but no matter, with her precious baby she was in heaven.
Priscilla was her salvation from the deadening sun, her refuge from hard farm work she had never known before.
As her father said, Peg could do without the necessities of life as long as she had the luxuries. Priscilla was both necessity and luxury.
But even with her heavenly baby, Oklahoma was draining, and so she and Priscilla went to her parents’ home in Claridon, Ohio for extended visits. Robert stayed behind in Oklahoma to try and make his struggling ranch work. Drought was going on three years now.
The sheep were dying, and there was nothing he could do, but he was never one to turn from a challenge. He toiled till his fingers were raw, till there were few sheep left, till there was nothing else to be done, and nothing left to lose.
Ultimately, the ranch failed. Robert closed the door, turned east, and went to Pulaski, Virginia, where he undertook “a farming project.” That is all I know of it.
Peg came from Oberlin with Priscilla to reunite with her husband. By that time, Priscilla was seven years old and Peg was pregnant again.
But it wasn’t long before the farming project was complete, or went bust, but either way, the little family packed up and returned to Shawnee, Ohio, where Robert’s parents lived.
Priscilla missed her Grandfather Eggleston, with whom she and Peg had been staying before Virginia, and so wrote him a letter on stationary of her Uncle Waldo Berryman’s company, typing it herself, though no doubt with her mother’s patient help.
“Grandmother is geting as fat and harty as can be,” she wrote. And then, “I made up a poem. And I will write it to you.”
The poem goes, “Just a little seed/Very small indeed/Put it in the grown/Make a little mond/See what I have fond/Peeking out of the grown/Soon it will be seen/Just a little been/Very small and gren/Just can be seen.
Today Priscilla’s silver cup sits on my mantle, tarnished, dented from the 100-year journey that brought it through 17 states and countless homes, being packed and unpacked, carefully at first and then less so as time’s distance grew.
“Priscilla,” it says in delicate, perfect script, enveloped by loops and flourishes that surround the cup, much like Priscilla’s tiny fingers once did.
How did the cup come this far, when Priscilla didn’t?