Mom’s mother, Mattie, came from a family of strong, relatively loud women. Out of six or seven girls (vague here because all family information is locked in storage in Dacula, Georgia and I’m going on memory), a number of the girls were outspoken, brash and (as they aged) just plain outrageous.
Grandma Mattie’s sisters were beautiful and strong. Aunt Joie became one of the first women in Louisville Kentucky (I’m sure we could expand that area considerably) to run a car dealership. A pretty amazing feat for a woman in the 50’s. Joie was forceful, pushy and spoke her mind with absolute ease. She knew what she wanted and she usually got it. When driving with us in a crowed car, she insisted on sharing the front seat with no one but John, the driver. That left four of us crammed into the back seat for the hours of driving from central Illinois to Kentucky.
I remember visiting the aunts in their large brick home in Louisville. The family gathered around the kitchen table for breakfast. I recall wanting to show the best table manners in order to impress my great aunts.
One of the aunts had prepared homemade biscuits. A Thornton favorite. Dad said grace and I prepared to dig in and eat up. I took a biscuit from the passing platter and used my knife to cut it open. Just as my knife was about to reach the butter dish, Aunt Joie swooped in over my head and yanked the biscuit from my plate.
With ferocious intensity, she blurted: “In this house we don’t cut biscuits like no damn Yankee.” She tossed the biscuit to the side, grabbed another one from the platter, ripped it apart with her hands and slathered it with a hunk of butter. “Here’s how we do it,” she said as the closed the halves together and shoved the biscuit into my hand. “Now, eat!”
Stunned silence for a moment of two. Then I began to eat. Conversation resumed and nothing more was said about my northern way of eating.
It may have been the 50’s but, for the Gash sisters, the war between the states was definitely not over. Northerners were still the enemy.
Mom wasn’t known for those kind of outbursts. She certainly wasn’t selfish and would never think of claiming more than her fair share of anything. She was quiet, respectful and restrained.
Oh, Mary could and would get a tone in her voice when she was displeased, but she wasn’t a shouter. Not like me.
My poor daughter (who is also an extremely strong, independent and outspoken 12-year old) shrinks when my voice goes loud. On those occasions (which I pray are getting fewer and farther between) I think about mom’s aunts and I cringe. I got the gene. My sisters did not.
I fear I’m the only Thornton woman who gets as “het up” as Aunt Joie or Aunt Nannie.
I lose it with one child. Mom held it together with 10. An amazing feat. Of course, she played the piano a lot at night and cried. Maybe that’s how she dealt with the emotions, frustration and craziness of life.
My memories of mom are quiet ones, peaceful and tear- or laughter-filled. A few years ago, my sister Kate asked the family to provide her with their impressions of mom for a quilt she was making.
My brother Sam wrote a lovely tribute to Mary:
Mom possessed the quality of gracefulness and good taste without any need to be fashionable. She was unpretentious: never speaking or acting in such a manner as to create a false appearance of importance or worth. Mom was meek, of quiet demeanor, gentle, not forceful or demanding. She was reluctant to draw attention to herself. She was beautiful: blessed with natural beauty that needed no make over.
Yep, that’s Mary.