Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Uncle Earl Left His Mark

One of the things I love most about blogging is connecting with others who are interested in the people and places I write about. Ten years ago I posted about my Williams great-grandparents' home in Johnson City, Tennessee. The present owners of the house found the post and we exchanged information and photos. It gave me great joy to think the house was in the hands of a family that loved it.

411 W. Maple, c. 1911

Last week I got a new email from them, sharing a recent find. With their permission I am posting it here. While working on a shared wall between the kitchen and dining room they found a penciled signature reading "Earl W". The rest of the name was painted over, but there is no doubt my great-uncle Earl Williams (1892-1915) left his name there. According to their research, the house had extensive work done in 1907, about the time my family moved there. Earl would have been 15, old enough to share in the work with his father, older brother, and uncle. 

Uncle Earl's pencil signature on a door casing, found in 2021. 

I teared up when I saw this, and am most grateful to the lovely caretakers of this old house for recording and sharing it. The house looks better than ever today.

The house on Maple Street today. 


Saturday, September 4, 2021

So Glad They Got Married

Wedding portrait of Carolyn and Andy Popp. She is in full bridal regalia. He is wearing a suit. They are standing in the living room of her parents' home in Morristown, Tennessee.
Carolyn Sawyer and Andrew Popp, 4 September 1954

Today would have been my parent's 67th wedding anniversary. I've never done a blog post about their wedding. Not even a photograph. It's time. 

They were married at her parents home by her parents' Baptist minister in a civil ceremony attended by her family and friends. More on that. Following the wedding they spent a very quiet honeymoon at Myrtle Beach recovering. There was never a photo of their wedding anywhere in their home. The one wedding album was tucked away in a bookshelf. The day was acknowledged as we got older, but never celebrated in any big way. It was a private time and memory for them, though as we grew older they spoke of it in response to our questions. They remained married until my mother's death in 1999. It was, most days, a good marriage, with sacrifices on both sides. But they had enormous love, devotion and respect for one another. Theirs was the model I have used for my own 42 years of marriage. 

Mother and Daddy met in Washington, DC after college. Both worked at the Navy Department, though that's not how they met. Both finished school and very deliberately chose to NOT return to the towns and families they'd grown up with. Both loved those families fiercely. 

Dad's best friend was dating Mother's roommate and suggested they meet. His motives weren't pure. Mother never left the apartment and he was hoping for time alone with his girlfriend (later wife). So Dad phoned her, they chatted and he asked her out for a beer. She declined, but graciously enough that he called back. And back. And back. Same story. Finally he asked Ted who asked Margaret who asked Mother why she wouldn't go out with him if she was willing to spend hours on the phone. She answered, "I don't drink beer." Dad called and invited her for coffee. She accepted. The rest is history. 

They were from wildly different backgrounds, but met a need in each other beyond their obvious attraction and love. Daddy, child of Eastern European Catholic immigrants, wanted an "American" wife as he assimilated into mainstream culture. Mother, rejecting the bigotry and narrow parochialism of her very southern, pre-civil rights childhood, wanted someone "other". Neither family was thrilled, but my father's family very quickly recognized and accepted the relationship. 

Not so my mother's. At least not her mother. Mother had moved back to Tennessee for graduate school. She was teaching and weighing two different proposals. She loved both men. Deeply. We spoke of those days of decision many times as I got older. She was very, very clear about her decision and her reasoning. And that it was the most difficult decision of her life. 

Once made, she turned to planning the wedding. Whatever subtle opposition her mother had expressed to her daughter marrying a Catholic first generation American was made clear. No member or friend of my father's family was invited, other than Ted, the best man. My grandmother never mailed those invitations. She cancelled florists and musicians. She launched a full out campaign to derail the wedding. My mother was heartsick, ill, but determined. Daddy finally showed up, uninvited and unwelcome, and announced that if they could not be married at home as Mother wished, then they would be married in his Byzantine Catholic Church in Binghamton, NY. His mother was fully capable and willing to put on the wedding and his priest had already consented. At that point my grandfather, utterly uninvolved by choice, finally spoke up and ordered my grandmother to cease her sabotage efforts and put together the wedding their daughter wanted. More or less. It did not include Daddy's immigrant family. The two families met for the first time at my sister's wedding, decades later. 

The effects of this were long-lasting. My father spent very little time visiting my mother's parents. The excuse was always he was working, but the truth told later to us as adults, was that it was easier for Mother to be there with us and without him. She still adored her family, they adored her, and by extension, us. He did make it clear that Grandmother was to stop cross-examining us about church and faith or he would stop our visits. Never Mother's. He knew how deeply hurt she was, but also knew how much she needed her family. And so we grew up. 

My sister and I had truly beautiful weddings. Joy-filled, and far more lavish than either of us wanted. Those wedding mattered as much to our parents as they did to us. They believed one of the most important things they could do as parents was to support and celebrate our choices. 

As for our family, we are today a very tightknit cohort of cousins, children of the three daughters Sawyer. Those sisters were a force - due in strong part to their mother. They were devoted to each other. Again, due to their parents. My father, particularly, expressed his admiration for all of them. He was careful to make clear that love and devotion could and should survive hurt and pain. It's a model to live by that I have difficulty following, but aspire to.  

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Furnished for Burial Purposes

Receipt, dated March 18, 1893

"March 18, 1893
Received from Wm Sawyers Guardian
Lanie Sawyers 65/100 Dollars
in full for goods furnished for burial purposes
$0.65        Maloney Bros"

This receipt was one of many my great-grandfather Gee Sawyer kept tucked away in a trunk at his farmhouse in Warrensburg, TN. It answers a question I had for many years about one of his nieces, Delaney Sawyer. 

Delaney Sawyer was born about 1878 to Gee's brother Jake Sawyer and his wife, Sarah Elizabeth Fox. She appears with them on the 1880 census, living across the Nolichucky River in Cocke County with one younger sister. There are no further public records for her. She is not recorded in any local cemetery. No marriage records have been found. There were notes in Gee's chest indicating his older brother William had taken guardianship of Jake's children after Sarah died in 1884.

William, who never married, served as the head of the family once his father died. In 1880 his widowed and paralyzed mother was living with him, as was a widowed sister and her children, and Gee, his youngest brother. 

This receipt from Maloney Brothers (one of two stores in Warrensburg) confirms William's guardianship of Delaney and tells me she died in March, 1893. Her mother and Sawyer grandparents were buried at Josephs Chapel in Cocke County so she may have been buried there. With whatever was needed for burial purposes. 


Sawyer Family Papers.  Privately held by Susan Popp Clark . 2000.

 1880 U.S. census, Cocke, Tennessee, pop. sch., Chuckey Knobs, p. 360B, ED 61, dwelling 204, family 213, Delaney Sawyers; NARA film T9, roll 1248.

1880 U.S. census, Greene, Tennessee, pop. sch., District 4, p. 65C, ED 046, dwelling 162, family 162, William Sawyers: NARA film T9, roll 1258.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Uncle Herbert Bit the Bullet

Herbert Sawyer 
 The story of my great-uncle Herbert Sawyer's death was too gruesome not to share. And far too gruesome not to remember. He died young. Before my mother was born. Before his younger siblings were fully grown and came to know him as adults. Thus what we and our parents heard about Herbert growing up was little more than the tale of his death. And that his nephew Bob, Jr. resembled him. Which is an understatement. 

But what a tale. His youngest sister told me Herbert was a bit of a hypochondriac, implying he would have lived if he'd only skipped the dentist. I asked her what they did for toothaches and she answered. "Pliers." I don't doubt her, but I can't blame Herbert for seeking an alternative. 

Newspaper clipping covering death of Herbert Sawyer, dated 28 march 1923
The (Knoxville) Journal and Tribune
March 28, 1923
From Sawyer family photo album
 My mother suspected he was given too much ether and, in an effort to reassure me, said he received grossly inadequate care by modern standards. But this was 1923 in a small town in East Tennessee. Modern dental care was still to come. The newspaper speculated he died of strangulation. Which leads back to inadequate care. Because if you are performing dental surgery on someone you ought to at least notice them choking.

Whatever happened, his family mourned their son and brother. And eventually came to treat his death as a great, if tragic, story. Which they shared with relish. Until my mother realized I was going to need extensive dental work. Under anesthesia. And shut down all mention of Uncle Herbert in my presence. 

I hate going to the dentist. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Aunt Emma Got Hold of the Camera

Sister by Emma Sawyer

 Two words I heard whenever I was with my great (very, truly great) aunt Mary Kathryn McKenzie (aka Sister) were frolics and fooling. She was my grandfather's youngest sister, the 9th of ten children. As such she spent many years both checking in on her older sisters and younger brother who lived on the family farm. She eventually moved back home to care for them. She and they laughed. All. The. Time. 

I am going through their photo albums now and laughing, as well. Aunt Emma Sawyer had a wicked tendency to shoot pictures of her sister regardless of what she was doing. And to keep them. All those "looks" she received from Sister were surely followed by laughter from both of them.