February 17, 2021

Saipan Island, August 15, 1944
To Aunt Della, Uncle R.S. and Juanita


In his wartime letters to Aunt Della, Bob sent occasional photos.  After Juanita’s 2005 death, I retrieved some of those letters and photos, including these four snapshots which I had never seen.  He’d written these inscriptions on the back.  

The Saipan Island photo, taken the month after the Allied victory there, shows Bob holding a captured Japanese flag. He brought it home as a war souvenir and gave it to Arley. We had it for years and I’m not sure what happened to it.  Harriett may have passed it on to Bob’s daughter Emily. Bob wrote heartbreaking letters about the horrors of the fighting on Saipan, especially about encountering the large civilian population there.  Many of the Japanese families jumped into the sea from cliffs rather than surrender. Over 10,000 Allied soldiers were wounded during the battle and medics like Bob remained on the island for weeks stabilizing the wounded to be transported to army hospitals.

This was made when I was working at the General Hospital.
Think I’ve reduced? Love, Bob

Honolulu was a totally different environment and Bob found brief respites from the war there. The Japanese American population welcomed the U.S. soldiers and showed them hospitality.  He sometimes was there working at the General Hospital and also had time for relaxation in this tropical paradise.  He loved the beaches, the wild orchids, banana trees—so different from his Tennessee home!  Here he made friends including a young woman named Kay who later introduced him to Ellen Onuma.  Ellen lived with her widowed mother and her young son (whose father was another American soldier).  When Bob returned home, he said he loved Ellen and that he was going to send for her as soon as he saved the money for her trip to America. She sent photos, letters and gifts to us—but at the end of a year, her mother returned the money Bob sent for her ticket to America. Her mother wrote Bob that she could not bear for her daughter to leave Hawaii and was breaking off all communication with him.  Devastated, he considered moving to Honolulu to marry her but was finally persuaded by family (primarily Harriett who totally opposed his marrying a “foreigner”) that it would be a mistake.  Two mothers thousands of miles apart were both working toward the same goal—stopping their adult children from marrying each other.  Maybe that was the real mistake.

How do you like my Hawaiian flower lei? I felt too lazy to stand up for a shot.
It’s really beautiful over here.  Aloha, Bob
This was the first banana tree I ever saw.  Was made soon after we arrived in the 
Hawaiian Islands. Like my tin hat? Aloha, Bob

February 16, 2021

Aunt Callie and Four Nieces
Harriett’s Daylily Garden, mid-1960s


And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. Matthew 6:28

This photo is perfect in so many ways!  After I left for college, Harriett decided she would build a smaller house for herself just down the hill—next door to the log house she’d lived in many years earlier.  She had retained this lot when she deeded the log house and a lot behind it to Glenn; he and Katie built a house there in the late 1950s.  Once she moved into her new place, Harriett went to work creating a flower garden on the little hill back of the house.  It was a perfect setting for daylilies—and she began planting and nurturing as many different varieties as she could find.  Early mornings found her on that hill weeding and planting and waiting for the peak blooming season. Then she sprang into action—inviting people to come for a meal and tour of her garden.

Callie Ensminger Guthrie was Evalee Ensminger’s sister—ten years her junior.  Born in 1875, Callie birthed nine children and lived to be 98 (she died in 1973). She was in her late 80’s when this “spend the day” party took place.  Harriett is second from the left in a red linen dress.  On her right is her adorable Niota cousin Willie Mae Hutsell (polka dot dress and red stole).  Next is Aunt Callie, in a floral print dress and sweater and wearing sunglasses to protect her weak eyes.  Standing tall in a white suit on the back row is Sarah Lee (Aunt Julia’s daughter).  The other cousin was also from Niota—I didn’t see her often—and I’m not sure of her name.  Perhaps Mary.  

So there they stand on a happy day together—knee deep in a field of daylilies.  I especially love how the almost unknown cousin is looking down, cradling a beautiful lily in her hand—literally “considering the lilies.” I’m sure there was a wonderful lunch inside, probably with Harriett’s pink linen tablecloth and a bouquet of some choice daylilies (picked that morning—the full blooms only last a single day) and a menu of Aunt Callie’s favorite foods. I imagine the dessert was Harriett’s famous Lemon Meringue Pie. And there would be lots of chatter and family tales—with Willie Mae and Sarah Lee doing most of the talking.  Aunt Callie probably took a nap during the afternoon as the nieces continued visiting.

Aunt Callie had seven sons and two daughters—including three sets of twins—born between the time she was 18 and 38—and she breast fed all of them!  Unlike Aunt Julia, she didn’t get to live her life out in her own home but spent many years with her son Harold’s family.  She seemed very different from her sister Julia—much less demanding—never the center of attention. She often felt “in the way” and missed doing her own cooking. Her nieces enjoyed giving her some special love and attention. 

 At least three of her sons were in the Navy during World War II and they all lived in California; another two sons lived in Texas. I think she was able to visit all of them at some time or other and they made annual visits back to Tennessee.  Jim and his wife Vera lived near Houston, and when Tom and I lived there, they invited us for a visit to their cattle ranch.  Jim grilled some amazing Texas-sized steaks for us that day! 

Another special thing in this photograph is the cedar tree in the background!  We lived in the log house when I was little, and my favorite thing was to go sit under that cedar tree on the hill—reading books and daydreaming. I can still smell the cedar! 

Consider the lilies…sit under the cedar tree.

February 15, 2021

Santa Anita Drive interior, Starkville, MS (1969)
Manuel Drive interior, Nashville, TN (2021)


When I spotted this random 1969 photo of the living-dining area in our Starkville home, I was struck by its similarities to my current Nashville home. This Manuel Drive house was built in 1956, probably within a year or so of the Starkville house.  It was the first home Tom and I bought and where we lived when Heather was born.  Our Starkville physician, Dr. Leonard Brandon, his wife Rachel and their four children lived there before us.  They built the house and even as their family grew, still loved it.  A ranch style house, it had two bedrooms plus a pine-paneled den (which they used for the boys’ bedroom), a kitchen, one bathroom and the familiar living-dining area L-shaped room.  The see-through room dividers made it feel more like two distinct areas—living room and dining room.  The Nashville house has the same basic layout.

After I moved to Nashville for my job downtown, I bought the Manuel Drive house in late 2002.  It too had only one previous owner.  Elizabeth Long and her late husband had built the house in 1956.  She’d remodeled several rooms and loved the house and her flower beds.

It’s somehow comforting to know who built the house you live in—especially when they were the only previous owners and enjoyed living there.  We had the same experience when we bought our first home in Columbia in 1970.  The couple who had built our Macgregor Drive Cape Cod two-story house with its living room bay window and a front sidewalk that curved around a huge oak tree in the yard sold it to us for the same price it cost them to build it! They liked the idea of another young family with children living there again.

When I visited Patrick’s family in Mississippi at Thanksgiving, 2017, we drove to Starkville for a day—the first time I had been there since we moved away in 1969.  We drove by the little house on Santa Anita Drive and saw the owner sitting outside.  She was very gracious to show us around and took this photo of us in front of the house!  She was an English instructor at Mississippi State and said one of Dr. Brandon’s granddaughters had been her Teaching Assistant one semester.  The student brought her grandmother (Rachel Brandon) by to see her old home—which she still remembered fondly. 

The front exteriors of the Starkville and Nashville houses are also similar!  These compact and sturdy houses are lovely places to live.

With Patrick, Ezra, Sam, Eli and Julia in 2017
Santa Anita Drive, Starkville, MS
Manuel Drive, Nashville, 2002

February 14, 2021

Butterfly by Spears Westbrook


“Spears did the sweetest thing for me. Sally Connelly loves butterflies and the new birth they represent. I asked him to paint one for me to give her and he produced the most gorgeous, small watercolor in bold yellow and blacks—the butterfly was on a marigold. She came by today and picked it up…was thrilled with having it… I’m so glad Spears did that for me.”  My friend Marian Westbrook wrote these words in her journal less than one month before she died on Valentine’s Day, 1995.  She had just celebrated her 48th birthday when she lost her four-year battle with breast cancer.  She packed so much joy and love into each day and passed that on to everyone in her life.

We met in the late 1970s when she visited a Sunday School class I attended at Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Columbia. We connected instantly.  She had a son Austin who was a year younger than Patrick and was just getting a divorce from his father.  She was beautiful with a wonderful laugh and we shared our experiences of being single working mothers. A year or so later, she began dating Spears.  He was a few years younger, had never married, and was eager to coach little Austin in basketball.  Spears taught at the criminal justice academy and was a freelance photographer. They married in mid-1980, when Austin was 8.  She became executive director at the SC Board of Medical Examiners, and we often met for lunches downtown.  By the late 1980s she’d found a wonderful church home—St. Martin’s in the Fields Episcopal Church.  Just after her 44th birthday, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  It was a terrible shock but she and Spears took it on together and she prayed for healing –always ending with, “Thy will be done.”   After surgery and chemotherapy and remission, she had a recurrence and by July, 1994, had to take a medical retirement from her job. 

She knew Christmas, 1994, would be her last one. She decided she’d love to host festive drop-ins for all her friends.  She was very weak and thin but determined.  Spears said they could cater the party to save her energies—but she insisted on preparing several traditional favorites—her fruit cake, the candied grapefruit peel her mother had made.  The guest list was so big they had to have FOUR drop-ins on consecutive nights to accommodate the crowds!  Marian got several holiday outfits to wear—and she sat on a tall stool by the door to greet everyone.  There was a beautifully decorated live tree, poinsettias and other flowers, a wonderful table with punch and holiday foods, Christmas music—so much love and joy.  Heather, Patrick and I went to our assigned drop-in together.

She died on Valentine’s Day. She had planned every detail of her funeral at St. Martin’s and Jim Abbott comforted the huge crowd of her friends there for the service that cold, rainy February afternoon.  She wasn’t finished loving us though.  When I got home that evening, an exquisite bouquet was at my front door from the city’s finest florist.  It was from Marian.  She’d arranged for these final gifts to some of her close friends.

Spears later asked me to help him create a book with excerpts from her journal.  We included many of the sketches and paintings he had done for her during her illness.  My graphic designer friend David Schmidt helped us produce 1,000 copies of a beautiful booklet celebrating Marian’s life in her own words. Her priest Jim Abbott wrote an introduction to each section—Giving Thanks…No Matter What, Quiet Times, Gifts, Prayer and God’s Will, Remembering the Past…Embracing the Present, Celebrating Christmas, and Austin. The Title What a Wonderful Life I Have! was her phrase in midst of her painful final days.

Spears later married another wonderful woman, Vickie, who has honored Marian’s memory over the years.  They both have loved Austin through many hard times.  He is now a school counselor and raising his teenage daughter as a single parent. Marian’s wonderful life continues!

Marian Long Westbrook and Cindy

February 13, 2021

Tom Gillespie and his horse Bonnie
Exhibit at McMinn County Living Heritage Museum


Arley had several horses over the years and loved riding them around the hills of his neighborhood—especially on Sunday mornings (to avoid going to church with us). He felt closer to God on horseback than on a hard church bench, he said.  Tom Gillespie owned a small farm just over the hill and around a few bends from us, and he too loved going horseback riding.  Many times Arley would see him coming toward our house and he would saddle up his favorite horse Jesse and join Tom on his morning ride. I’m not sure what they talked about—probably horses, crops, and war news. I think they enjoyed each other’s company.

Once I ran out to greet them as they were returning from a ride, and in my usual chatterbox way, I asked Mr. Gillespie a question.  Later Arley called me aside to correct me.  “You shouldn’t call him Mr. Gillespie—his name is Tom.”  It just wasn’t done. That was because he was an African American—and in those days in the South, there were other names we used for them.

On August 1, 1946, Tom Gillespie made the news—reaching far beyond Athens—and not in a good way.  It was a local election day in McMinn County and many of the young veterans recently home from war were determined to throw out the corrupt machine politicians that had dominated much of Tennessee for decades.  They’d been fighting for democracy thousands of miles away and they didn’t see much of it back home.  With other community leaders, they campaigned with a G.I. Non-Partisan Ticket for county offices.  They had great popular appeal and the Crump machine politicians brought in over 200 armed deputies for election day—many of them from Georgia—and placed them at the polling stations.  

Voter repression, falsifying election results, poll tax requirements, dead people voting—this had been the norm for years in McMinn County elections.  This time the G.I.s promised: “Your vote will be counted as cast.”

That afternoon Tom Gillespie went to the Athens Water Works polling station to cast his ballot for the G.I. ticket. Deputy C.M. “Windy” Wise told him he couldn’t vote.  Faced with the deputy’s pistol, Gillespie dropped his ballot and began to run up the street.  Wise shot him in the back.  Pandemonium broke out—the poll was quickly closed, and Gillespie was taken to the hospital seriously  injured. As soon as he heard this news, Arley left work and came home.  He was visibly upset as he told us that Tom had been shot. 

 What became known as “The Battle of Athens” continued until about 3 am on August 2.  When the incumbents took ballot boxes into the jail to “count” them, the G.I.s broke into the National Guard Armory for weapons, and from an embankment across the street, riddled the jail with bullets until they retrieved the ballot boxes. Through the night downtown was riddled with fires, dynamite and bullets—cars were overturned and burned. There were some injuries, but no deaths.  In the end, the G.I. candidates won the election and the machine politicians left town. 

Deputy Wise was the only person to face charges related to the election battle.  He was tried and sentenced to 1 to 3 years in prison, and paroled after one year.  In an interview 30 years later, Tom Gillespie said he did not think his shooting was racially motivated. Instead he thought it was just because he planned to vote for the G.I. ticket.  Mr. Gillespie was always gracious.  A few years ago, I was pleased to learn that one of his grandsons has come back to live in Athens and is a respected community activist.  It’s no surprise.

Arley’s favorite horse Jesse
Some McMinn County War Veterans
McMinn County Living Heritage Museum

February 12, 2021

Our Life Reach Team, 1985


Providence Hospital on Forest Drive in Columbia, SC was started in 1938 by the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine from Ohio. On March 2, 1971, Patrick was born there!  By the time I went to work there as Director of Medical Records at in 1974, the OB-GYN unit had closed—replaced by a state-of-the-art Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory. The hospital’s first cardiac bypass surgery was performed in 1974. A new era began that year—both for me and for Providence Hospital!

In Medical Records, I came to know the cardiologists—and soon, the cardiovascular surgeons—who were launching the ambitious program intended to make little Providence THE heart hospital for South Carolina.  A few like Jeff Brooker, Tommy Hearon, Claude Smith and Larry Schoolmeester were brilliant—and often demanding and impatient.  Others were capable and charming—like Stan Juk (who had been a football star at USC) and John Sutton (who had done a residency at Vanderbilt). The medical records for those early heart patients (all of whom were extremely high risk) were HUGE files, with long and repeated hospital stays.  Everyone was still learning. 

By 1980, I was weary of Medical Records and longed to do something more challenging.  A Chicago consultant hired by the hospital suggested I go to a workshop in Atlanta.  Dick Bolles (author of What Color Is Your Parachute?) changed the direction of my life that weekend.  I came home with a clear vision of my dream job—and discovered that the Providence Public Relations Director had been ousted  while I was out of town.  My dream job was available—and after a few months of campaigning for it, I became the official spokesperson for Providence.  It was an amazing experience!

On Valentine’s Day, 1984, we had a wonderful ad campaign (working with Lee Bussell of an ad agency run by Don Fowler, prominent South Carolina Democrat) to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Providence’s heart program.  There were posters, Valentines, radio and television spots, and a beautiful full-page color ad in The State newspaper.

The most exciting adventure for me was flying around the state on the Life Reach helicopter in 1985 to market this new service to the doctors and hospitals in rural communities.  Now they could make a phone call and a medical team would come immediately to take critical cardiac patients directly to Providence for diagnosis and treatment. 

We developed a slide presentation and would carry a projector, screen and slide tray as well as brochures and other materials with us on the helicopter.  A cardiologist or cardiovascular surgeon, a respiratory therapist, the pilot and either myself or my assistant Diane went on each appointment.  We landed in cow pastures, hospital parking lots, or on dead end streets.  In Marion for a dinner presentation to a civic club one evening, an emergency call came before we began.  The surgeon, therapist and pilot had to leave immediately to pick up a patient for transport—and there wasn’t room for me!  I stayed to give the presentation—and they sent the helicopter back to pick me up at midnight! When the club members called home to say they were waiting there with me, their wives all showed up to check on this mystery woman from Providence. We laughed and talked until the helicopter came back and they all waved goodbye as we lifted off. On a lunch visit to Abbeville, I fell in love with that historic little town with its opera house and antique shops—so much so, that when I left Providence, they gave me a paid weekend for two at the Abbeville inn!  After several months, the hospital learned that insurance wouldn’t cover transporting non-medical personnel—and my helicopter adventure ended.

This Valentine’s Day photo is from our newsletter—a group of us (front row includes Linda Zember, Maxine Bass and me; back row with Carolyn Crockett and Larry Ellis) singing a video Valentine for a beloved colleague John Cathey who took an early medical retirement.  Those were good times indeed!

February 11, 2021

J.A. Eaves and Co-worker
Athens Table Company, 1940s


In the 1940s and 1950s, Athens saw a growing number of successful manufacturing plants—Athens Table Company, Athens Stove Works, Athens Plow Company, and later the Athens Bed Company and others.  Arley worked for the Athens Table Company for some years and as the business declined after the Depression he left briefly to work for the Cleveland Chair Company. In 1942 new ownership took over at the Athens Table Company.  The buyer was Fielding P. Sizer, Jr. from Monett, Missouri.  He hoped to turn the business around and needed someone on site who knew the operations thoroughly to run things for him. He persuaded Arley to come back as plant manager in 1942.

By 1946, the company was in a much stronger position.  Mr. Sizer wrote to the employees that “through your efforts and those of the management, the future looks considerably brighter.” He recalled the dark decade from 1932 to 1942 with “company debts…payroll difficulties, loss of good will from customers, and a run-down plant.” 

There were several additions to the plant over the years—a rambling wooden structure painted red with lumber yards and a small separate office building. This photo shows Arley (with his characteristic suspenders) sitting with an employee looking across the street at the factory.  The other photo shows him standing outside the office with another employee (note his hat on the ground beside him).

I loved “going to work” with him!  Sometimes he’d take me along as he made his way through the plant to check on the daily production. The noise of the machinery was deafening and there was a strong scent of varnish. Sawdust was everywhere. Employees would wave at me and sometimes he would stop to answer questions or make suggestions along the assembly line. 

But my greatest delight was spending time in the office—with the two secretaries, Jessie Melton and Oneida Perry. They patiently gave me “work” to do and I pounded away on a manual typewriter (often jamming the keys) and “wrote letters” on some discarded stationery.  I was also fascinated with the paper cutter with its deadly sharp blade—and they tried to keep me away from that altogether.

Athens Table Company letterhead

In the summer of 1946, CIO union organizers came to the plant.  Arley responded with a letter to all the employees (probably drafted by a company lawyer).  In it he explained that they had a right to join a union or not but that they should not be forced to do either.  “Our mill is small and it has never been difficult for employees to come to me with requests or complaints,” he wrote, as he assured them the company was getting back on its feet, paying comparable wages and giving a week’s pay at Christmas.  He pledged to continue modernizing the plant and improving working conditions. The union left.

Over the years he mentored several younger Athens businessmen like Joe Frye, who started the Athens Bed Company.  After he suffered a stroke in the early 1950s and could no longer work, Joe Frye was one friend who came to visit.  

Eventually the factory closed, along with so many of the manufacturing plants in Athens. Arley was long remembered for doing all he could to bring back tables you could be proud of—like the dropleaf dining table.  Always generous, he made sure everyone in the family had some Athens tables in their home! I still have two end tables, one coffee table and a dropleaf dining table from his time at the helm.

J.A. Eaves and Co-worker
Athens Table Company, 1940s

February 10, 2021

Harriett and friend at Miller’s back door


As a young widow with a son, Harriett needed to supplement the household income.  She landed a job as a clerk at Miller’s Department Store on the square in downtown Athens. She mostly worked in “piece goods,” which was an ideal department for her.  She loved handling the bolts of lovely fabrics, carefully measuring and cutting material for new dresses for her well-to-do customers, and preparing remnants for discounted purchases. She occasionally spent some of her hard-earned salary to buy remnants to make herself a new dress.  Women customers knew she sewed and often consulted her about choosing fabrics or dress patterns for themselves. She enjoyed meeting people and helping them leave as satisfied customers.

She had lifelong friendships with some of the women she worked with at Miller’s—especially the Keirn sisters, Myrtle and Beatrice.  They had moved to Athens with their mother from Pennsylvania.  Myrtle later married Otto Kennedy, who was a local politician and served as McMinn County Sheriff.  Like Harriett, when she was in her forties, she had a daughter—and she was in my high school class.  Beatrice never married and always insisted I call her “Aunt Bea” like her nieces did. She loved handicrafts and made delicate Christmas ornaments from eggshells. And she introduced us to the original “red velvet cake” recipe!

These photos were made at the back door of the store, opening out onto an alleyway behind.  Obviously they didn’t have street sweepers then!  The women were probably thankful the store management didn’t make them clean the alleyways, too.  Harriett always talked about having to clean the bathrooms as part of her duties.

Because his mother was gone to work all day, Glenn stayed home with Grandmother Cate.  He always talked about how much she spoiled him, baking homemade “tea cakes” whenever he asked.  Harriett was thankful to have her parents living with them but felt sad at missing so much of her little boy’s daily life.

Although she was always patient and polite to customers, her favorite story was about losing her patience with one snobbish customer.  This prominent lady was always very demanding, and the clerks would try to pass her off to someone else whenever possible.  One day Harriett couldn’t avoid “waiting on” her.  It seemed obvious the woman was just passing the time and not really interested in shopping, but she asked Harriett to pull out one bolt of fabric after another for her perusal.  Finally, every bolt on the shelf was out on the counter.  Exasperated, Harriett asked, “Which would you like?”  The woman replied, “Oh, I’m just looking for a friend.”  That was the last straw.  Harriett replied, ”Well I can assure you your friend isn’t on this shelf!”

One of the store managers during her years at Miller’s was Jack Burn, her cousin from Niota.  He was Harry T. Burn’s brother. Years later, Jack would call Harriett on the phone to reminisce about those days at the store.

One Christmas vacation when I was home from college, I worked at that same Miller’s Department Store on the square in Athens!  Nothing much had changed.  There were no cash registers.  The office was on the mezzanine, and the clerk would put the money (cash or check only) in a two-piece hollow wooden ball, pull a cord when sent the carrier along a cable up to the office.  The clerk there would put the correct change due back and a receipt in the ball and return it to the cash register.  It was such fun operating the “cash railway” and no chance of the clerk’s being blamed for a calculation error!

Myrtle Keirn (L) and Beatrice Keirn

February 9, 2021

The Bales Family at Home
Stephen (seated), son Howard, daughter Anna Lou, wife Julia and daughter Sarah Lee


Why did a small town family in the first half of the twentieth century decide to have a family portrait made?  This is the only family portrait we have of the Bales.  They are posing in front of their home on Jackson Street in Athens, perhaps about 1920. I wonder why they carried a small rug outside to go under Stephen’s chair—and why only the father is seated.  

Julia was a younger sister of my maternal grandmother Evalee. Most of the Ensminger women had an underbite—with their lower teeth extending outward farther than their upper front teeth. This gave them a look of great determination! She was a few years older than her husband Steve, who was a mail carrier.  Mother remembered him delivering mail in a horse and buggy.  He died at 55, and I think this portrait was made not long before.  He may have had a stroke—and something about his left arm and his being seated suggests that.

Their daughter Anna Lee (standing behind little brother Howard) married young and had a daughter and four sons.  She died at just 35, leaving her five little ones aged one to twelve. Both Sarah Lee and Howard married, but neither had children.  They were always dedicated to helping care for their niece and nephews.

I always associated the photo postcard of the mail buggy with Steve Bales, but it probably isn’t him.  There’s a woman inside the buggy, with the two little girls and the man standing beside the horse.  Home delivery of mail to farm families (known as Rural Free Delivery—address R.F.D. with a route number) became widespread around 1902. This postcard did not have a postage stamp on it and may have been hand delivered.  It is addressed in pencil to Master Georgie Lee Cate, Athens, Tennessee—that was Uncle Jack, Mother’s younger brother. Part of the short message is illegible, but it reads from Viola to Georgie Lee. Come to see…  Viola was Anna Lou’s eldest child and only daughter and Uncle Jack was her mother’s cousin. Maybe the family just bought these photo postcards to remember Steve Bales, local mail carrier.  I like to think he sometimes took his children and Aunt Julia for rides in his mail buggy along his delivery route through the country!

February 8, 2021

Robert Hurst Shot a Texas Rattlesnake


There are always deadly diseases—cures and vaccines eliminate them—and new ones emerge.  This past year we’ve been living through the emergence of COVID-19 and several vaccines are available as the struggle continues.  When I was a child, polio was prevalent and diseases like scarlet fever, diphtheria, whooping cough and measles posed other dangers. 

My family story includes deaths and serious illness from two diseases in particular—tuberculosis and typhoid fever.  The Spanish flu pandemic around 1918 was seldom mentioned.  Mother’s brother Clifford served briefly in the Army during World War I and was on a military base stateside where there was a major outbreak.  I’m not certain that he had the flu and don’t know of family members who died from it

Harriett and Robert Hurst were married in late 1918, and their son Glenn was born in October, 1919.  Robert had also been a serviceman during the war and I don’t think he went overseas.  Some time after Glenn was born, he began experiencing symptoms of tuberculosis.  

There were no known cures—and the preferred treatment was a “rest cure.” Patients often were sent to a sanitarium in the mountains for a regimen of isolation, fresh air, exercise and good nutrition.  As his illness worsened, Robert went to a military sanitarium in the Texas hill country, Kerrville. It must have been heartbreaking to leave his young wife and toddler son and go so far away. 

The patients often slept in tents, hiked and shot rattlesnakes. This photo shows Robert holding a pistol with which he shot this snake. On the back, he wrote: R.W. Hurst. Kills rattlesnake on mountain near Kerrville, Tex. on Sept. 16, 1921. Snake measured 4 1/2 ft.  This was the day before his 28th birthday—and eight months later, he died there in Texas.  

When the family was notified he was dying, Harriett decided she needed to stay home with their little son and his mother made the sad long train journey to Texas.  She was with him when he died on May 15, 1922, and brought his body home for burial in Tennessee.

The second photo is my favorite—and I feel like it was taken earlier.  He doesn’t look as gaunt as in the one with the rattlesnake.  On the back, Robert wrote: This is the best picture of myself. This was made up in a tree on the bank of the Guadalupe River in Center Point, Texas.