June 30, 2021

THEIR ONLY FAMILY PORTRAIT

I’m so grateful for this family portrait of the Eaves family—which most likely is the only one they ever had made.  Seated is my paternal grandfather, Jasper Newton Eaves.  His wife Sarah (Sallie) Brewer Eaves is at the right, and their two barefoot children –John Arley and Pearl–are standing in front.  

My best guess is that my father Arley was about 7 years old in the photo, and Pearl would have been 5.  If so, the photo was made in 1896. I have a small yellow pottery pitcher and a glass cake plate that supposedly came from this little family.  The only other tangible item is a faded letter dated April 26, 1896. 

The first section of the letter is written by Jasper to “brother and Sister” from Tellico Junction.  He’s telling them that he came there a month earlier to “take a man’s place for 30 days” working on the railroad.  In a little over a week, they turned the Section over to him and told him to move his family there.  “Sallie and the children has been here over two weeks,” he said. Later in the letter he apologizes for not sending them “a family picture” (probably the one we have) because he didn’t have an “envelope suitable.”

Later Sallie added a section to the letter.  “We live in a right pretty place but I don’t know how I will like yet for I have not got acquainted with many yet.” She admits to being lonesome in the strange new place, and signs the letter, “Yours till death, Sallie.”  In a postscript she adds, “The children said to ask you what Clara is doing- they have not forgot you all.  Bring little Clara up to see them.  Arleigh and Pearl.”

We always debated the preferred spelling of my father’s name.  He usually wrote it as “Arley” but signed his business letters “J. Arlie Eaves.”  I loved seeing that his mother called him Arleigh in this letter.

Tragically, Sallie died two days after Christmas in 1899, leaving 10-year-old Arleigh and 8-year-old Pearl motherless. She was only 34 years old.  She looks the picture of health in this photograph, and we really don’t know how she died.  Somehow I think it might have been tuberculosis. Her two little ones had a very rough time after her death, as their father had to be gone to work on the railroad and they lived with relatives who weren’t always kind to them.

When I was born, my parents agreed to name me for their mothers but gave me slight variations of each—Sally (not Sallie) Evelyn (not Evalee).  They talked about calling me Evelyn but Arley went all around town the next day saying “little Sally is here!” And that was that.

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