Annie Ada Collier Harris Loved Her Husband Dearly

Annie Ada Collier Harris loved her husband dearly. He was a farmer, and she went to the fields each day just to be near him. She took him his lunch, sat with him, watched him eat, and the two of them talked.Woman on porch

I never saw them do this. I never met my Great Aunt Annie or her husband, Grover Lee Harris. But my mother, who is 93 now, and who is Annie’s niece, tells me these things. “She was deeply in love with her husband,” Mom tells me.

Before he got old Grover went blind. He could no longer work, or go to the fields. Annie read to him. And he sat with her while she tatted her lace. Her fingers moved quickly, and every few stitches she ran the needle that someone had made for her through her hair, and that oil helped the needle glide through the threads.

Her hands were never idle, and her home and the homes of her family members were never without lace. Lace doilies for the tables, lace antimacassars for the backs and arms of chairs, lace trim on the sheets and pillowcases, on sleeves and collars. Her sisters laughed about it, but loved her lacy gifts.

Annie and Grover were married for 39 years before he died. Annie buried him near their #2 Furnace home, at the Koontz Cemetery at Naked Creek.Woodcut gate

Their children, Wilma (Wilmy) and Agnes were grown and married by that time. Wilmy married Clarence Blose and Agnes married Joseph Merica. Joseph was the grandson of George Strother Merica, who was the grandson of Johannes Merkey. Johannes was also my third great grandfather from the line of Mericas that reaches down through my grandfather, Thomas Austin Merica, who was married to Aunt Annie’s sister, Florence.

That’s just the way it works in the Blue Ridge.

After Grover died, Aunt Annie was alone for the first time in her life. Sure, she had her daughters, but she had been deeply in love with Grover, as my mother keeps telling me, and missed him terribly.

There’s an English proverb, Need makes the old woman trot. The 1917 Dictionary of Proverbs explains,

“it intimates the great Power of Necessity, which does not only make the young and lusty go a trotting to relieve their necessities, but also makes old People, who have one Foot in the Grave, to bestir their Stumps. Necessity makes the Weak strong, the Decrepid active and nimble, the Cripple walk: It gives Vigour and Life to the most languishing and feeble Starveling, makes the Lame find his Legs, excites the most Obstinate to lead or drive at the Will and Pleasure of his Master.”

Need makes the old woman trot.GIFAunt Annie had a need, and that was to be with people after Grover was gone. And so she took to visiting. She visited her sister Florence, my grandmother, for days or weeks at a time. They were both widows and enjoyed each others’ company. That’s what widows did. Used to the hustle and bustle and needs of busy households during their earlier years, the walls of their now-empty houses crept in on them if they did not get out for happy, long visits. Always to family.

Aunt Annie and my grandmother used their time together to make quilts. Their favorites were crazy quilts, those Jackson Pollocky riots of colored bits of stitched-together cloth. They chattered and gossiped and quilted their days away, never hurrying, never impatient to be somewhere else or doing something else. Woodcut haning laundry

Annie visited her daughters, and I imagine that she visited her other sister and her brother. She visited nieces and nephews, too, like my Uncle Jesse Merica’s family in Waynesboro. My cousins remember her visits.

She took the Trailways bus from Elkton to Waynesboro and Jesse’s wife, my Aunt Emily, picked her up at the station. Aunt Annie stepped down from the bus carrying her two paper shopping bags with handles made of twine, her thick stockings rolled to just above her knees, and wearing heavy black shoes with two-inch heels and three eyelets for the laces. Everything she brought was in those two paper bags. She didn’t need much, just the company.

When she arrived the first thing she did was to count out enough money for her bus ride home and put that back in her coin purse. The rest she had for spending, mostly on supplies for lace-making that she stocked up on before going home, although she always took out a nickel or a quarter for the children.

No matter who she was visiting, Annie kept to her routine. At night she put on her nightgown and let down her long, white hair. Then she brushed it. Many strokes, till it shined like silk, or like starlight. She took off her glasses and set them on the night table, tied a black scarf around her head so she wouldn’t get earaches, then she reverently got down on her knees to murmur her quiet prayers to God.

I don’t know what she prayed for. Maybe for the soul of her beloved husband. Maybe for the safety and happiness of her daughters. She probably prayed also for her sisters and their families. That was her world.

The next morning she pulled her hair up again into a tight bun worn at the back of her head. She put on her stockings, rolled them to her knees, tied her black shoelaces, grabbed her tatting bag, and was then ready for anything.

Woodcut field cowAnnie Ada Collier Harris loved her husband so much that she visited his family after he died, my mother tells me, even though they lived over the mountain in Greene County.

One day she was visiting my grandmother, Florence Collier Merica, and as she readied to leave she said, “I’m going to visit Grover’s family, so I’ll have a lot to tell you when I come next time.”

But before she went on her visit she needed to rest up. She went home, took off her bonnet,  lay down on her bed for a nap, and never got up.

My cousins tell me Aunt Annie was “a sweet old woman.” Their stories, and my mother’s, make that clear.

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My Grandparents, by Pearl Eggleston Berryman

My Grandparents

By Pearl Eggleston Berryman

Note: Pearl Eggleston Berryman was born in 1979 in Knoxville, Tennessee, where her father was a physician. He later went back to Oberlin College’s school of theology and emerged a Methodist minister. The family lived in many towns and states, as it is the Methodist way for their clergy to change congregations every few years, but every summer while growing up Pearl returned to Chagrin Falls, Ohio, to visit her two sets of grandparents. Pearl wrote this biographical essay in 1966, her 87th year.

Pearl_Abigail_Eggleston_c.1887-MOD When I was a little girl I lived in new England. Nearly every summer my mother and I would visit my grandparents in a little town outside of Cleveland.

As the little train rattled its way to the Station I could see Grandmother Brown in her doorway wildly waving something white at us. Then at the Station was Grandfather Eggleston with old Nell – the old white horse – and the carriage “with the fringe on top.”

With Grandfather’s hearty greeting a feeling of peace and security came over me such as I’ve never had since.

The mansion on the hill overlooked the little village and the river. Grandfather Eggleston’s home was admirably constructed for a child’s pleasure – inside and out! The broad stone sidewalks were perfect for rolling hoops or playing marbles with my cousin from the town in the valley; and as the years passed there was croquet and tennis.

There were so many interesting things to see! The barn, carriage house, tool shop, woodshed; the hitching post – a little negro boy! And on the back porch was the “old oaken bucket” itself. One turned the crank and received the best water in all the world. Would that I had a drink!Pearl_Abigail_Eggleston_c._1895.r

At the foot of the long grape arbor was the privy: stiffly starched white curtains, upholstered seats, and a stool for short legs; pictures from “Godeys” on the walls; and a pile of S.S. papers in the corner, if I wished to rest awhile and amuse myself.

Saturday night was the time of the Great Ritual – the weekly all over bath in the big kitchen by the big coal range, in the tin wash tubs.

There was always a jar of cookies in the pantry, as I remember now – after eighty years.

Grandmother took care – immaculate care – of this house of twelve big rooms. No heat except three huge fireplaces and the kitchen range. She was a Lady. No bad words must pass our lips. A leg was a limb.

Grandfather was a fine figure of a man – I best remember him in a flowered “weskit” with a big gold watch chain across his chest, singing “A Frog he would awooing go” to me.

Grandfather Brown’s little white cottage in the little village held many delights. Grandmother was a pretty old lady with pink cheeks: wooed by Grandfather for his first wife and won for his third. After every meal Grandfather – with a bow – would say, “Many thanks for this good meal, Mrs. Brown.”

But the best at Grandfather Brown’s was a little room at the top of narrow, winding stairs. Grandfather’s den I guess we would call it now. Two sides of the room had glass cases filled with insects (dead, of course), birds and specimens of stones. (At Grandfather’s death they were given to some college and considered quite valuable.) Then there was a machine into which you inserted strips of paper with holes in them and put them in the machine and made music! A mystery to me then – and now! Then there was a little music box. If I could hold it and hear its sweet tones I’d be a little girl again.Pearl_Abigail_Eggleston_and_friend_c.1885.r

Grandfather proudly considered himself an Agnostic, but wouldn’t allow a pack of cards in the house – “the Devil’s game” – and firmly maintained the earth to be flat.

Across the street was the village Graveyard, presided over by a huge angel over a grave occupied by a young lady said to have died of “unrequited love.” It was a lovely place to play with neighboring children, jumping over the gravestones, studying the inscriptions, or playing hide and seek.

Beyond the graveyard was the cheese factory run by my Uncle Parly Fliminus Brown. I enjoyed watching the farmers bring in their great loads of big cans of milk, and listening to their entertaining and instructive conversation re politics, religions, etc.

Now they all sleep peacefully in the little graveyard.

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She Swore to Never Have Another Child.

Pearl (Peg) Abigail Eggleston Berryman had her beloved daughter, Priscilla. No matter how unsettled the rest of her life had become, no matter how many times she had to pull up stakes and move, no matter how many times her husband changed his chosen career, she had Priscilla. guardian angel

Through the desolate years in Oklahoma, the contented but too-brief time in Virginia, the happy days spent at her parents’ home in Oberlin on their months-long visits, and now, living with Robert’s parents in Lima until they could make other arrangements, Priscilla nourished Peg as much as Peg nourished the seven-year old.

When a friend of Peg’s asked if Priscilla could spend the night, Peg said, “I can do without Robert now and then, but I could never stand a minute without Priscilla.

Her life had been so perfect until Oklahoma, and then so shockingly bad in that bone dry wasteland of dead Angel watching over childgrass and starving sheep. But that was just her living circumstances. She had her adored Robert, and then Priscilla. That was all she really needed, anyway.

Robert toiled day and night to make the ranch work, and there were no neighbors for miles. It was lonely there, but Peg had Priscilla, and she poured all her love and hope and dreams into the bright child.

Then the sheep ranch failed. The farm experiment in Virginia didn’t last. They returned to Ohio to regroup, rethink their next move, what they wanted to do with their lives.

Maybe it was time for Robert to use his innate gifts, his intelligence and mental dexterity. No more of these adventures. First the Philippines, then Oklahoma, then Virginia; it was time to move back to the society they knew. But how, and what? They had to think of something soon, because Peg was pregnant, nearly ready for her second baby to come, and they needed a home for the new baby and Priscilla.Watts - Death Crowning Innocence

Then Priscilla got sick, horribly sick. She vomited, cried out in pain, sweat with fever, and sometimes stared blankly at her parents and would not let them touch her, or slept and could not be awakened.

Her parents sent for the doctor, but there was nothing he could do. Priscilla had spinal meningitis, and it was too late, and she died, right there, at her grandparents Berryman home, on December 22, 1915.

The baby came two months later. But the virus was still present, and baby Roberta didn’t live more than a few weeks.

Like many workers around the country in 1916, gravediggers were on strike. It was the birth of America’s labor union movement, and Robert had to dig the graves for both his daughters himself.Guardian angel2.GIF

Peg was inconsolable. Her heart was broken, she felt only numbness, then pain. She gave away Priscilla’s fine dresses, her little doll and her books.

Grandfather Eggleston neatly folded the letter Priscilla had recently sent him, the one with the poem about the little seed, and he placed it alongside his own poetry.

Peg packed away the christening gown, and the silver baby’s drinking cup engraved with Priscilla, and she swore never to have another child, ever.

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Priscilla’s Silver Cup

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. Priscilla Eggleston 1.r

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.

Pearl_Abigail_and_baby_Priscilla_Eggleston.r

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.

Priscilla Eggleston c1908

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_Eggleston_r

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.

Priscilla Eggleston c.1912The 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.Priscilla Eggleston poem

“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 Eggleston silver cup

“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?

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She Would Follow Him Anywhere, Even Oklahoma

It turns out that Pearl Abigail Eggleston married a dreamer, much like her father, who had changed from physician to Methodist clergyman, to Unitarian clergyman, and finally to writer.Victorian couple

Pearl’s husband, Robert Berryman, would have a career as varied, and as interesting. You can read about some of his adventures here.

Soon before their marriage Robert left for a one-year assignment in the wilds of post-Spanish American War Philippine Islands.

Straight out of college, instead of all the things this athlete and academic prodigy could have done, he took a position to teach in this dangerous place, where rebels still marauded from their hideouts in the jungles.

Robert traveled from town to town by boat, around the islands instead of through them, because it was too dangerous to enter the jungles. He was instructed to always carry a gun when he left the house, and he did.

By the time he ended his one-year assignment, he had been made Superintendent of Schools for the entire chain of Philippines Islands. All this on a not-yet 25-year old man.

Pearl imagined that was his adventure, that he needed a wild experience before settling down.

Victorian woman on lakeShe waited for him. She taught school and lived with her parents in Oberlin, Ohio, where her father, Francis Otto Eggleston, was a pastor and her mother, Clara Brown Eggleston, was a successful businesswoman who owned and ran a boarding house for students.

When Robert returned, they married, and I’m sure Pearl now thought her world was perfect. A new life with a husband she was deeply in love with, the love of her parents and friends nearby, and a future laid out before her that looked as smooth and contentment-filled as what she had come to expect of life.

Now she had every reason to believe Robert would take a position as a professor or other professional. He was so smart, so interested in politics and the world, so driven in everything he did, and now, so well-educated, and with a first professional success under his belt.

She let him have his adventure, and now it was time to settle down, to settle into adulthood.

He was offered a professorship in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which I assume means at the University of Michigan; the family history does not get more specific. But that was not to Robert’s taste. It was too tame.

Peg knew they might not live near her parents after marriage. That was alright, she wasn’t afraid of leaving her parents’ home, or even their town. Her father’s woVictorian couple2rk as a Methodist minister meant they moved often, and had lived in places as varied as Troy, New York and Knoxville, Tennessee, and she had boarded away from home at several schools.

Peg knew how to quickly make a new place her own. She was ready to follow Robert, if only he would choose his career now that he was back.

They were starting a new life together and could go anywhere, be anyone! Peg may have dreamed of New York, or Chicago, or maybe a quiet little college town somewhere in the Midwest.

But Robert had different plans. Once back from the Philippines he discovered he had inherited a sheep ranch in Oklahoma, and so they moved to that dry wilderness, sight unseen, to be sheep ranchers.

I’ll never understand that decision. Perhaps it was because they were bright-eyed and full of promise that they went, and because they had never seen Oklahoma. After all, they were only young adults, infallible and indestructible in their own minds, but years away from wisdom, and perhaps with no knowledge of the kind of toughness that Oklahoma demanded of its inhabitants.

How did a young couple, bright, well educated, from prosperous and prominent if not wealthy Ohio families, end up on a drought-desiccated ranch in Oklahoma? The world was wide open to them. Robert and Pearl (Peg) Eggleston Berryman had led charmed lives since birth.Couple

He was a star athlete at Oberlin College, a record holder in the two-mile run, and was a prodigy as a scholar, finishing high school in one summer and college in three years. His accomplishments brought attention, and he was offered top positions right out of college.

Peg was an adored daughter whose parents and grandparents doted on her. She was the preacher’s daughter, attended two different colleges, and had just married her college sweetheart, the man her father wrote she had “fallen deeply in love with.” The world was their oyster, and Peg was ready to take her place in society beside her gifted husband.

When her gifted husband inherited an Oklahoma sheep ranch, Peg’s plans changed. Never dreaming she would be a ranch wife, she nevertheless packed up her belongings, her silk and lace dresses and silver hair clips, a few necessities, and the young family headed into that great unknown.

They traveled across Ohio, Indiana, Missouri, through St. Louis, and then, at the end of their 1,000-mile journey, in the blistering heat of a dry Oklahoma summer, Peg Berryman opened the-stairsthe door to her one-room house on an isolated sheep ranch amid a wilderness of desolation. And there they set out to make their lives, like fish out of water.

I wonder if she cried on that first day. I wonder if she begged Robert to take her home. Or maybe she put on her bonnet and apron, rolled up her lace sleeves, and got to work making that one room house a home.

I think she cried, and then she went to work. She had to. What else could she do? Her other home, the one with her parents, was in the past. It might as well be a million miles away. This was home now.

I imagine that Pearl came here willingly, though unenthusiastically. It would be easy to say this young wife’s starry love focused her eyes only on her husband, following him anywhere he might take her, but that was never her character. Pearl Eggleston was taught to think for herself. I imagine her father taught her by Socratic method, asking questions that would encourage her to think critically, to form firm and logical conclusions, and to consciously solve any problem she encountered rather than defer to another or put off to a later time.

This was a young woman who led the pampered life of an only daughter, who dressed in white lace and played croquet and tennis on the grounds of her grandfather’s mansion. Yet faSAG65029r from frivolous, she was serious-minded, and put her considerable intelligence to use on issues and questions of the day. Women’s suffrage, racial discrimination, hunger, and war occupied her thoughts and conversations. In that she and her erudite husband were well matched.

And now, here this eager and idealistic young woman was in Oklahoma, on an isolated sheep ranch with barely a house to live in, the nearest town so small and ephemeral that it would disappear entirely in a few years, decimated by drought.

Robert, my grandfather, could withstand any degree of hardship. He once broke his leg so badly that the bone protruded from the flesh. But he braced himself against the pain and set the leg himself.

Peg, my grandmother, was no so tough. She was not delicate, but preferred life’s delicacies. Still, here she was.

Oil had just been discovered there, and the illusion of prosperity and a limitless future filled the imaginations of thousands of immigrants who flocked to the nation’s newest state to seek their fortunes. Many more came when Congress opened the Indian Lands to settlement by any who would claim and work the land.Tissot - july

The reality was starker. More than two hundred thousand farmers struggled, while oil corporations sent their wealth out of state.

Deepening drought turned family farms into tenancies, and social unrest from increasing inequality of income grew worse.

This is the landscape my grandparents inherited. I don’t know if, when they arrived at the property they had moved to sight-unseen, they sat down and wept because it was dry and lonely. Or perhaps they laughed for joy because it was theirs and they were in love.

Whatever their outlook, this was their new life.

There were no woods, no trees like there were at the homes her family had had in Ohio, Tennessee, Vermont, New York, or Virginia. After her father’s visit to the young couple, he wrote that, “There was very little wood or trees. To make wood we burned old roots and stuff we picked up.”

Then one day the house burned down, and Peg and Robert moved into the barn loft. They slept on hay, cooked in tin cans over fire, stored what few belongings they salvaged in corners, like hobos.387px-James_Tissot_-_Chrysanthemums

Peg hung in. But she cried; I know she cried. Maybe only at night, while her husband slept.

Or maybe only when washing clothes at the water pump, or in letters home to her mother and father, or to her dear friend Elizabeth, who by this time was married to Robert’s younger brother, Waldo, and starting her own family, though more comfortably.

But however openly or secretly she cried, her father came to visit, and when he saw how they were living, he made up his mind to take Peg home with him for an extended visit. She had a baby due now, and he did not want his daughter giving birth on a remote farm far from family or doctor. But first he helped Robert to rebuild a house.

The next chapter of Pearl Eggleston’s life will be published soon. To make sure you don’t miss the rest of the story, sign up to this blog at the top right of this page.

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“Pearl can do without the necessities of life, as long as she has the luxuries.”

When Pearl Abigail Eggleston stepped out her front door and into the dusty, packed-dirt streets of 1900’s Chagrin Falls, Ohio, she wore white lace. Like a swan, she glided across Summit Avenue, delicately lifting the hem of her skirts just an inch and lengthening her stride to clear wheel ruts, revealing only the toes of her kid leather lace-up ankle boots, polished that morning. Her blouse, gloves, and skirts were all white as a swan’s wing, and her fine, blonde hair upswept beneath a pale green feathered hat. Embroidered vines and leaves circled her high-necked collar, and pearl buttons fastened her blouse and sleeves. No dust settled on her hem. No smudge fell upon her cuff. She glided as if over water, not dirt and gravel.

Or at least this is how I imagine her, navigating the world on her terms and doing her best to make it look effortless. That characteristic was to be tested many times in her life.

She was born in 1879 to a medical doctor and college-educated mother, an only child for 11 years until her younger brother, Paul, was born. This gave her mother, Clara Brown Eggleston, ample time to raise Pearl with all the advantages afforded a child of polite society.Pearl_Abigail_Eggleston_c.1887-MOD

Pearl did not come from a wealthy family. She was not born with a silver spoon in her mouth, though her mother no doubt found the money for one.

Even as a girl Pearl enjoyed nice clothes and good manners, a trait she shared with her mother. They were not social climbers, they were merely bred and trained in the fashion of 19th century ladies. “Pearl could do without the necessities of life as long as she has the luxuries,” her father once said.

Pearl’s father, Francis Otto Eggleston, was a commanding presence. He was an eloquent speaker who had studied the classics from a young age, and he could hold an audience. That, along with his position as a physician of Knoxville, Tennessee, placed the young Eggleston family in that town’s best society, where little Pearl would watch and learn behaviors and manners she held to her whole life, whether living in Manhattan, or in the dust bowl poverty of wild Oklahoma.

In his biography, her father wrote of baby Pearl: “She was a picture. She was the only living wax doll I ever saw, and everyone admired her.” I have a photo of her at about age five or so, a delicate white lace collar buttoned high on her neck over a wool coat, her hair pulled back tight and with a curl “just so” on either side of her forehead. She looks like a serious little girl, her cupid’s bow lips and her heavy-lidded teardrop eyes both downturned at the outer points.

Pearl_Abigail_Eggleston_and_friend_c.1885.rThis is not a child who has ants in her pants. She is not barely contained, as are many children her age in their photos. She looks, instead, like she would be content to sit in this place until her mother tells her she can move, whether that is in one minute or ten.

Her father remembered the stylish outfits her mother put together with apparent pleasure. “Pearl must have been around six or seven years of age when we made our trip to and sojourn in Boston. I recall her fuzzy coat of dark green, and the red turban with an eagle’s quill stuck slantingly in one side. (A very picturesque headpiece.) She had her blond hair cut off before we left Troy, as did all her little friends of the same age.”

That haircut, and one of her similarly-shorn friends, were immortalized in a photo soon after.

In white eyelet and lace, Pearl gazes serenely into the distance over her friend, whose head rests lightly on Pearl’s shoulder. Grandmother, for Pearl Abigail Eggleston was to be my grandmother, has that same calm look as in the previous photograph, but behind that look lay what her daughter-in-law, my mother, called “a tender heart” that expressed both joys and sorrows to great degree.

Pearl’s father, by that time, had made the switch froPearl_Abigail_Eggleston_c._1895.rm healing people’s bodies to healing their souls. “I tire of butchery as an occupation,” he wrote. He too, had a tender heart. And so he returned to school for a Doctor of Divinity degree, emerging a Methodist minister.

From that point on the family moved frequently, as an itinerant clergy is one of the practices of Methodists, and has been since the church’s beginnings, when John Westley wandered the English countryside, preaching out of doors and from town to town.

Like other Methodist clergy, when the Egglestons moved, it was not just to the other side of town. They went from Ohio to Tennessee, to Vermont, to Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and back to Ohio. Pearl and her mother were dutiful, Clara taking her place in church society and Pearl in school as soon as they landed in a town.

As a girl, she and her mother spent summers visiting Pearl’s grandparents in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, traveling from their home in New England to that “pleasant mid-western village with its shaded streets and comfortable Mid-Victorian homes,” as she wrote 60 years later.

To Pearl, that was her true home. “A feeling of peace and security immediately enveloped me; a feeling I never remember having anywhere else. Clinton Eggleston house3, Chagrin Falls, OhioRemembered delights and fascinating new experiences were before me, safely in the little white house or secure in the mansion on the hill.” They “were a gay and cheerful family,” she wrote.

Her two sets of grandparents were different from each other, but equally loved.

Her Grandparents Eggleston belonged to a world of “beauty and elegance, though bought at the expense of hard work and thrift. The great house with its huge rooms, its bay windows and fire places, porches and pantries, the stable and carriage house, the wash house and long arbor, the stone walks, so good for rope skipping; the hitching post carved to represent a small negro, guarding the stone block where one could gracefully enter or leave the waiting surrey (complete with the “fringe on top”).”Franklin Brown cheese factory, Chagrin Falls, Ohio c.1870

Her Grandparents Brown had a cheese factory, and a home that held “the greatest joy of all,” the “mysterious room, ‘grandfather’s room,’ the ‘holy of holies,’ reached by a steep, dark, winding and entirely suitable stairway,” and holding a vast collection of rocks, insects, and music boxes that Pearl could play with for hours.

Later, in her teens, Pearl was enrolled in the Lake Erie College for Women in Painesville, Ohio. Her father wrote that, “She and Elizabeth Clark attended Painesville [Lake Erie] College. I drove them over from Chardon more than once — a pair of romantics who had their dreams.”Lake Erie College for Women - Pearl Eggleston school

After their time there Pearl and her friend Elizabeth became two of the earliest American women to attend a regular four-year college, Oberlin.

That is where they both met their husbands; first Pearl, who, her father wrote, “fell for Robert Berryman when she first went to Oberlin (1901). He was a track champion and as a scholar a prodigy. Later he made the only perfect score in the N.C.B. on Wall Street.” Then, “Elizabeth Clark married Waldo,” Robert’s younger brother, “soon after Pearl married Robert.”

“Pearl,” he continued, “would have liked nothing better than to settle down and be a professor’s wife.” But that was not to be. Robert was offered a “tenure track” teaching job at Ann Arbor, Michigan, but he had other plans.

The next chapter of Pearl Eggleston’s life will be published soon. To make sure you don’t miss the rest of the story, sign up to this blog at the top right of this page.

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Gypsies, Maligned and Misaligned

On a cool, late autumn day in 1930, or maybe 1931, Ruthy Merica and a small swarm of her grade school friends from the Fleeburg section of Shenandoah, Virginia, walked home from school as they always did, down the dirt road from their two-room schoolhouse, children dropping from the swarm here and there as they reached their front doors till it was just Ruthy, her brother Jesse, and her friend Helen. When they reached the Merica house, Ruthy invariably waved goodbye to Helen and ran around back to the kitchen door to find her mother.

But today was different. As the swarm made its way down the road one of the children spotted smoke coming from the woods. Gypsy encampmentThey all looked, and at the edge of the meadow they saw a gypsy camp, strange people with long dark hair and colorful clothes, mostly rags, lounging and milling about.

The children knew about Gypsies. They camped in the woods every autumn, then again in spring, migrating like birds south to escape the harsh northern winters and then back north in spring to some nesting grounds somewhere.

“Lock your children away, the Gypsies are near,” the children yelled, then ran ahead with shrill screams, arms outstretched and hearts thumping, racing in what they thought was a dangerous game to reach home before the Gypsies caught them.

By that night the news had spread. “The Gypsies are here,” people whispered to each other. Ruthy’s parents, Tom and Florence Merica, turned off all the lights, and kept them off so that Gypsy familygypsy marauders who sneaked by night would not see their house.

They kept the windows open all night too, so the family could listen for the chickens squawking, a sure sign something or someone was skulking about the property. They had been hit in years previous, a chicken from the coop, a ham from the smokehouse, vegetables from the garden, and they did not want to repeat those unnerving incidents.

It was different during the light of day. That’s when the gypsy women went door to door, selling expertly made baskets they wove from willows cut down by the streams. Ruthy’s mother bought one once. It was pretty, and she used it to carry vegetables from the garden.

The next day Ruthy’s older sister, Ola, drove her Model A Ford to Harrisonburg to shop. Ruthy went along, as Ola liked the company and Ruthy enjoyed seeing the shops in the larger town. That afternoon on the way back, after turning from Naked Creek Road onto Fleeburg Road, Ola pulled off to the side and stopped near the Gypsy camp. She turned to Ruthy and said, “I’m going to get my fortune read.”

Gypsy women Roma arrest New York 1934Ola was 13 years older than Ruthy and was married already to Raymond Grimsley, but she didn’t want her parents to think her reckless. “Don’t tell Ma or Pa,” she said, and jumped out.

She strode through the meadow, tall and confident, more so maybe even than Ruthy’s older brothers. Ruthy got out too, but went only to the middle of the road, where she stood to wait for Ola to return. She saw Ola enter the camp, then disappear behind a tent with a woman who must have been the fortune teller.

A few minutes later Ola returned across the meadow. She and Ruthy got in the car and drove the rest of the way home, where Ola dropped her off, picked up her baby, Ray, and drove back to her own home in Shenandoah. Ola never told Ruthy what the fortune teller said, and Ruthy never thought to ask her.

Seventy or so years later, I had my own Gypsy encounter. Six or seven years ago my husband and I visited Rome. I had been before, and knew exactly where in the city and its surroundings I wanted to take him.

OGypsy_family_from_Serbiaur hotel suite had a beautiful view of the Roman Coliseum on one side, and around the corner on the other was the spectacular Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. We decided to start our day there.

After touring this, the largest church in Rome, we were ready to eat, and so walked down the church’s massive stone steps and across the plaza to an osteria we had noticed before.

The plaza was crowded with tourists, even though we like to travel in off months to escape the crowds, say when it is rainy or cold, or both, as it was that day. Before we reached the osteria two mothers and their children approached us. The women both carried babies, and a half dozen children surrounded them. The mothers caught and held our eyes, pleading for money to feed their children, and then the children mobbed us, their hands out and cupped, pulling on our clothing and talking all at once in some language I did not recognize. We were sympathetic, but the scene was getting out of hand. We kept moving, but they bound themselves around us inescapably.

Their sudden appearance startled us, erasing any spiritual calm we absorbed while inside the church, and as these moments were just short of frightening, we frantically made our way to the osteria. Just before we reached it, they fell away and disappeared. All this happened over only a few seconds.

Once inside the quiet osteria we regained our calm over a relaxed lunch, planning where to go next. When we were ready to leave, Patrick, my husband, reached for his wallet. It was gone, as was his passport, his credit cards, and about $1,000 in cash, which we stupidly had not put in a safety deposit box that morning.

I immediately jumped up and ran outside to find the two mothers, or a policeman. roma-people1Scanning the street, I spied one of Italy’s tiny police cars rounding the church, and flagged it down. What ensued was a mad-cap ride through the streets of Rome in the back of a police car, with countless other police cars joining the chase, each going a different way. It was comical in a Buster Keaton, Keystone Cops way.

Long story short, we found the culprits, and they were arrested. The Roman authorities asked us politely if we would go to court the next day to testify. It seems that there was a terrible crime wave against tourists in Rome, and they needed our help to convict these perpetrators. Most tourists, they said, will not agree to testify, because they don’t want to lose precious and limited tourist time in the courthouse. We, on the other hand, thought this sounded like a wonderfully unique adventure, practically worth the cost of our losses, and so agreed.

I’m skipping many of the interesting details, but the upshot of our adventure was that once in court the prosecutor said the thieves were Gypsies, members of a huge group of refugees from war-torn Bosnia who came here with nothing and so turned to thieving to feed their families.

MontenegroRoma-people (Large)Once we found out more about these maligned people we felt compassion for their lifetime of misfortune. We decided we did not want to press charges, but by that time it was too late. The state had taken control. We didn’t even have to testify for those two women to be convicted, and for their children to be put in homes, though family members would be able to extract the children. The sentence was one year. We felt horrible. My husband kept track of the sentence, and on the anniversary of their release we hoped and prayed for their better lives.

The Gypsies are mysterious, and their origins just add to the mystery. We know they were originally from India, and their language even today, for any left who speak it, is based on Sanskrit. But we don’t know why they left India in the 10th century, migrating through Persia and arriving in Europe roughly 800 years later, where they were given the name Gypsy, because Europeans of the Middle Ages thought they were from Egypt.

gypsies._1923They came to America originally in the 17th and 18th centuries, banned as they were from England, France, Portugal and Spain. More arrived from Serbia, Russia, and Austria-Hungary after the 1880s.

Today there are between 100,000 (National Geographic) and one million (Wikipedia, PBS) Gypsies living in the United States, mostly in Los Angeles and Chicago, and about 12 million worldwide.

Governments around the world have always tried to ban the Gypsy’s way of life. They said, “You cannot live in wagons pulled by horses and travel in caravans.” Later they said, “You cannot live in vans and travel from place to place. You must have a house, and send your children to school.”

It is no better for the Roma (the Gypsy name for themselves) today. Right now, the anti-Roma sentiment is only growing. Hundreds of thousands of Roma fled the war-torn Baltic states into Western Europe. Now France and Italy burn their camps and deport them. In Romania their homes are bulldozed, even though the Roma may have lived in them for decades. The EU put travel restrictions on Romania and Bulgaria, hoping the stem the tide of Roma emigrants.

A backlash against the hatred is growing. Pope Francis spoke out against Roma discrimination. He said, “I remember many times here in Rome when some Gypsies would get on the bus, the driver would say: ‘Watch your wallets!’ This is contempt. It might be true, but it is contempt.”

Will the Gypsy culture survive? It has already lost much, and now, not since Hitler has there been such dedication to eradicating that way of life, if not those people themselves.

A revered Gypsy poet called Papusza wrote,

The time of the wandering Gypsies

Has long passed.

But I see them,

They are bright,

Strong and clear like water.

You can hear it

Wandering when it wishes to speak.

But poor thing, it has no speech

Apart from silver splashing and sighing.

Only the horse, grazing in the grass,

Listens and understands that sighing.

The water does not look behind.

It flees, runs farther away,

Where eyes will not see her,

The water that wanders.

GypsyRuthy, my mother, knew instinctively that the gypsies didn’t steal children, but our reactions to superstitions are not triggered by our rational minds.The mysterious “other” has always engendered fear.

Yes, my family’s only two encounters with Gypsies involved theft, and a culture of theft is intolerable. But with so many fears bestowed upon the Gypsies, do they even have a chance to live better lives? The world denies them their nomadic life, denies them the tradition of oral rather then written knowledge, says their children must attend school.

They have clung to their ways through centuries of the worst persecution. But can they survive this latest attempt at forced integration? demo-roma-youthThe Gypsy’s ways have always been misaligned with the cultures around them.

Perhaps that’s why they first took to the road. And maybe that’s why they stay on the road even today, because wherever they stop, they are eventually asked to leave. No wonder they are nomadic.

 

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