Thursday, August 30, 2007

Memories of Mom

by Joyce Carole Brannon
My mother, Olive (Henline) Brannon, died when I was nine years old. My older brother, Robert, was just ten years of age. Although I knew what death was, I later realized that I was really too young to comprehend the significance of her death and the change in my life that my mother’s early death would bring to me and my brother.

My mother was born in Orlando in 1914 to Amos and Charlotte (Blake) Henline. Throughout her youth, my mother’s family lived on Oil Creek, just west of Orlando. My mother attended the Posey Run School and later graduated from Burnsville High School in 1933. My mother was the oldest child in the family which included four younger brothers.
~ To the left above are mom & daughter, Olive and Joyce.
~ To the right is mom Olive (Henline) Brannon.
~ To the left are Dad & mom, Bruce and Olive, with Robert, Joyce and ?

~ To the left below is the author Joyce Carole Brannon at age 4.
After graduating from high school, my mother met her future husband, Bruce Brannon of Vadis in Lewis County. My parents met as the result of their love of music, they fell in love and married in 1935. My brother, Robert, was born in 1936 and I arrived exactly one year, one month, one week and one day later.
My father was an elementary school teacher in Lewis County. With each new school year and a teaching assignment at a different school, we moved nearly every year to another small town in Lewis County. My mother always cheerfully managed to make every place we lived feel like home. Memories of my mother stir within me to this very day, and have throughout my life.

When I was around four years of age at one of our many homes, a robin had built a nest in a tall hollow post in a rose thicket and was rearing little baby robins. A big blacksnake became aware of the baby robins and began to climb to the nest to take the hatchlings. My mother quickly went into the house and came back with a .22 rifle and shot the snake, saving the lives of the baby robins. I thought my mother was very brave.

Again, when I was about four years of age, when my father was teaching school on very hot days, my mother would fill a half-gallon Karo syrup bucket with ice and water and allow me to take it to Daddy’s school in the afternoon. He would allow me to remain at the school and I would walk home with him after school. This made me feel very special.

One new school year, we moved closer to Weston to a house on the side of a hill where we were able to have a cow. Her name was Peggy. My mother knew I loved cats and one day brought me a white kitty which I named Snow Flake, and my brother Robert was not forgotten and he got a white dog which he named Judy. I have loved animals all my life.

I will never forget the day that I embarrassed my mother. One day my mother arranged for several ladies to visit with her. While the ladies were visiting, I ran into the house in a panic and told my mother that our dog Judy was stuck to another dog. I did not know what was happening, but our little Judy sometime later gave birth to a litter of puppies. I can’t imagine how embarrassed my mother must have been.

I also remember clearly the night my mother met the mouse. My brother Robert started to school when he was five and generously brought home to me not only chicken pox but also whooping cough during his first year in school. When my brother and I had the whooping cough, we would start “whooping” after we went to bed. Our parents would get up and come to our room to give what relief they could. One night, as my brother and I were “whooping,” my mom came to our room to care for us. As my mom came into the room, the path of a scurrying mouse fell under mom’s foot. I don’t know who was most scared ---the mouse or my mom.

My mother always made me feel special. I started to school at Polk Creek when I was six. Each day my mom would braid my hair and put ribbons at the end of my pig tails to match whatever dress I was wearing. My mother made nearly all the clothes I wore with extra care so that I would always look feminine.
To the left are dresses Olive sewed for Joyce's dolls..

My mom taught me responsibility. During World War II, my dad decided that he could not support his family on a school teacher’s salary so he decided to go to Fairfield, Ohio to work as a painter at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Unable to go with him, my dad moved us to an apartment over the Kroger Store in Weston. Although we had a 1937 Chevrolet, my mother had never learned to drive. To earn a little extra income, my mom arranged for a part-time job, on night shift, at the hospital where she could walk to work. At this time, I had a little ceramic doll which had become broken. Mom let me go to the hospital with her one evening where someone mended my doll with tape. She also let me help carry a meal tray to a patient which made me feel like a “big” girl.

Robert disobeyed our mother. After we moved to Weston, Mom enrolled my brother and me at Weston Central Grade School. My mother instructed Robert to wait for me and to bring me home with him after school on that first day. But Robert went home without me. My mom had told me if I ever got lost to look for a policeman for help. I couldn’t find a policeman. I tried to find my way home after school and went as far as I could remember but became lost. I stood on a street corner and cried until a lady came along who knew me and took me home.

I remember Christmas. Daddy came home from work in Ohio on Christmas. Robert and I decided to stay up to watch for Santa. As we were hiding, watching for Santa, we saw our parents putting out the gifts under the Christmas tree.

Shortly after Christmas, my mother told us that we were going to Ohio to be with Daddy. My mother sold the Chevy, got rid of all the furniture and bought us all tickets to Ohio on the Greyhound bus. My mother had never been out of West Virginia during her entire life, but was brave enough to set out for Ohio with two children. It was a cold winter day when we arrived in Ohio and there was snow all over the ground. We walked through streets with rows of houses until we found the right house. When my dad opened the door, I think my mother said “Surprise.”

My mother and father were both musically talented. My mother had a lovely voice. My father played the violin and also sang. When we lived in Ohio both my mother and father sang in the community choir. Each time I sort through my collection of sheet music I run across my parents’ copy of “Ave Maria,” their favorite choir song. How they loved to sing.

By the time I was seven years old, my mother had passed her love of sewing to me and had taught me to embroider, cross stitch, and crochet. My memories include my mother’s care in a crocheted yellow purse and hat she made for me and a hat and purse made from red felt. How close I felt to her.

~Here are the pretty hat and purse sets Olive made for Joyce.
~ Olive also quilted. Two examples of her quilt work are shown below.1

I remember the excitement of a planned trip to see the Barnum and Bailey circus when we were living in Ohio. My most vivid memory however was not so pleasant. To signal the bus driver that we wanted off at the next stop near the circus, my mother pulled the cord for the stop. I quickly hopped off the bus, but before my mother could get off, the bus driver shut the door in her face and took off. I was standing there all alone and frightened. Imagine my relief when I saw my mother running down the street to me from the next bus stop.

Illness often visits those we love. At the age of seven, I really didn’t understand illness. When we were still in Ohio, my mother became ill. As we waited for the bus to visit the doctor, my mother suddenly ran behind a mailbox and vomited. She was so embarrassed and apologized to me saying that she didn’t want people to think she was intoxicated. I didn’t know what she meant, but I knew my mother was very sick.

Sometime in 1946, I sensed that something serious was wrong with my mother. My brother Robert and I were assigned additional household chores. Strangely, my mother stayed at home while my father took Robert and me to church. I remember however that she would curl my hair into long curls with a curling iron before I went to church.

Much of 1946, for whatever reason, I do not remember. However, my family left Ohio, packing what few possessions we owned in a small trailer, and returned to West Virginia to live with my dad’s mother, Grandma Brannon, at Vadis in Lewis County.

This period of my mother’s life had no happy memories for me. My Grandmother Brannon lived in a four room home with another granddaughter, Betty. There was no electricity, running water, nor indoor bathroom. My father and mother, and my brother and I slept in one room of my grandmother’s house. My mother and I shared her bed and my father and my brother slept on a sleeper sofa. When my mother had to get up at night to use the potty, I helped her so my dad could sleep.

Even though I had just turned eight years of age, I sensed soon after arriving at my grandmother’s home that my mother, brother and I were not really welcome guests. My grandmother was the complete opposite of my mother in the expression of love for family. My grandmother insisted that my brother be punished for the slightest infraction of conduct and berated my mother about her reluctance to do so, going even so far to compare my mother to “Josephine”, who I later learned was my grandmother’s other daughter-in-law, and mother of my cousin Betty, and who had been committed to Weston State Hospital.

Although but eight years of age, my grandmother insisted that I wash and dry the dishes, make beds and prepare my Daddy’s breakfast. Although I couldn’t understand my grandmother’s harsh rules, I did as I was told and never questioned her authority.

My mother had surgery at the hospital in Weston. After she came home her stomach would swell and Daddy would have to take her back to the doctor to have the fluid drained. My mother wanted me to go in with her for this procedure but Daddy wouldn’t allow it. My mother’s illness was still a puzzle to me. The doctor recommended that in order for my mother to eliminate the fluid which continued to form in her, she should drink beer. On the home way from the doctor’s office, Daddy stopped at Mertz’s store to buy beer. I could sense my mother’s reluctance to be seen there, let alone to actually drink a beer.

By December my mother was staying in bed most of the time. On the last day of school before Christmas we were given a few pieces of chocolate which I loved. I loved my mother more, so I took the chocolate home to her. Although she was weak, she was able to eat the chocolate and I was so glad.

I remember that December we put up the Christmas tree in the bedroom so my mother could see it. She seemed so pleased. My mother had not eaten for some while, but on December 22 she woke and asked if she could have some pickled beans. My cousin Betty helped her eat her final, simple meal. She enjoyed them so much. The next day my mother peacefully went to sleep.
I don’t remember much about my life for some time after my mother passed away. I recall going to school each day and hoping that my mother would be there when I got home from school. I began having spells of crying for no apparent reason and migraine headaches and I had no mother to comfort me. Time passed and I came to realize that my mother was gone and would not return.

As I look back and reflect upon memories of my mother I recall a mother – daughter talk as I sat on my mother’s fragile lap during her final days. My mother told me that some day that I would have children of my own. I asked how I would know when that time had come. She sweetly replied, “Oh, you will know.” She then told me that when she was gone she wanted me to have the watch that Daddy had given her the previous Christmas. I told her that I would never get the watch because she was never going to die. It pains me now to think of how my mother, with her daughter on her lap, must have longed for more time on this earth so that she could have shared a larger part of her life and love with me.

Mom's watch is pictured to the right.

I loved my mother and have missed her so much during my life. My memories of her are most keen on each Christmas Day when tears flow. Although sixty one years have passed since my mother’s early death, I still cry for her and for what I missed and I guess I always will. But I have memories of her which are precious to me to this day, to remind me of her goodness and the love she had for me.

Double click on the page to the left to enlarge it.
Following is a poem Joyce wrote for her mom in 1956

.Memories of Mom
At the end of a long lonely day,
The sky looks dark instead of blue.
Then my heart doesn't feel very gay,
And I sit and think about you.

Although you died when I was nine,
My thoughts are still of you.
I remember all our happy times,
And all the sad ones, too.

You took me on your lap one day,
And as I looked you in the eye.
I didn't dream that you would say
That you were going to die.

I guess I was just too young
To realize just what you meant.
But now you've gone away from us,
And my saddened heart is bent.

I know we'll meet again sometime,
And until that happy day,
I'll keep these memories of you, Mom
That only death could take away.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Joyce Brannon 1954

To the left is the author, Joyce Carole Brannon.

1.The appliqued quilt is called "Little Drummer Boy and Sunbonnet Sue." Olive made it around 1935 for her first child, Robert Bruce Brannon. who was born March 20, 1936. She made it all by hand from cotton fabric and embroidered around the outline of most of each figure. The top was joined by pink and the back is blue.

Joyce's mom Olive, with Olive's brothers, were making music on the front porch of Charlie Knight's store in the 1930s. See the Jun '07 entry The Buzzardtown Tongue Twisters.

comment 1 Donna Gloff
Such an heroic woman. Shot a snake, sewed beautiful, detailed clothing for her little girl, moved herself with her children to the unknown to be with her partner and make her family whole. In the too few years she had, it seems like Olive taught her daughter how to live and love in this world. Thanks, Joyce.

I notice from the Tongue Twisters entry that Olive's mom died at the age of 40 from nephritis. Olive was 24 at the time and she herself died just eight years later.

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