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The Lady in the Rocker

Posted: March 2, 2012 9:59 a.m.
Updated: March 5, 2012 5:00 a.m.

With the warm afternoon sun glistening on her silver hair, she sat in her rocker on her front porch reading her Bible. At other times, a flock of grandchildren gathered around her rocker for ghost stories which, when remembered later at bedtime, caused them to shiver and tightly gather the covers around their necks or cover their heads completely.

At breakfast time she could be heard humming or softly singing some verses from the old Scottish/English ballad about Barbara Allen and Sweet William while she prepared mouth-watering country ham, eggs, grits and fresh biscuits. After 80 years, those smells, sounds and images vividly return as I so fondly remember this sprightly, short, slight “Lady in the Rocker” and at the breakfast table for, you see, she was my maternal grandmother, Charlotte Wilkes Williams.

She lost her husband and my grandfather in 1929 when I was only a year old. We often visited her at the homestead at Patrick or she often visited us in the Cassatt community. Since my paternal grandparents all died before my birth, she was my sole grandparent.

From shortly after my grandfather’s death until just before my grandmother’s passing in 1949, the extended Williams family began to gather annually on her birthday for a picnic served on tables under the oaks between the house and tobacco barn. An uncle mixed lemonade in a wooden barrel containing a large block of ice. We grandchildren guzzled it until our stomachs ached. Then we enjoyed a repast of just about every dish you could think of.

With these memorable gatherings in mind, in 1983 the three surviving daughters, sister-in-law Ellen Williams and a few grandchildren organized and established the annual John A. and Charlotte Williams Family Reunion with grandchild Cecil Williams as president. Until the last few years, this reunion has been held at the old homestead. The three surviving children -- Carrie Cranford, Mollie Cranford and Vera Byrd, my aunts -- attended the reunion for several years.

Role of family reunions

Counting the birthday picnics and the family reunions, the Williams family have had about 40 “gatherings” in the past 80 years. Our congregating has born some very desirable fruit for me and others.

There were cousins galore of various ages at these gatherings and sometimes great uncles and aunts. Bonding occurred with many members of the family that has continued for over a half century. These friendships of depth have enabled family members to confide in, listen to and console each other when needed. Members often talk on the phone, write or email and visit one another. The family now provides a kind of social, moral and spiritual safety net for many of its members.

At our gatherings I learned about the Civil War service of two of my great grandfathers, John David Williams and Joseph Wilkes, who served the Confederate cause as privates. John David rests in the Patrick Cemetery and Joseph in a family plot just above the old homestead.

Dozens and dozens of family stories have been told and retold at our gatherings. I thought I had heard all of them, especially those pertaining to the Great Depression, until I heard one at our last reunion.

I learned how to make a Depression Christmas tree ornament by taking the tin foil from a discarded, empty cigarette pack, molding in around and to a prickly ball from a gum tree and then hanging it on the Christmas tree. I made a few and hung them on our 2011 tree.

Most of all, through visits with family members and at our reunions, I have seen love, honor, respect, concern for others and cooperation modeled by my parents, aunts and uncles, great aunts and uncles and by my grandmother as well as by my equals. In order to pass these values along, my family and my “Teal” siblings’ families have held a Teal Family Reunion for several years.

This past Christmas afternoon (2011) my family of two children, six grandchildren, five great-grandchildren and their parents all gathered by the Christmas tree for the much-anticipated distribution of Christmas presents. I placed a rocking chair in front of the mantel and proceeded to tell them the story about the Lady in the Rocker, my grandmother.

At the conclusion, I pointed to the rocking chair where sat Ella Catherine McLaughlin Teal, my spouse for 62-plus years, and said to my children and the grand- and great grandchildren, “You know, all of you have a Lady in the Rocker, too, and there she sits. She has loved and rocked every one of you while she was teaching you so many things. Today, she is Mrs. Santa Claus and you great-grandchildren are going to help her pass out the gifts.”

 Bridging the generations

It is incumbent upon grandparents such as “Ladies in the Rockers” of my family to help bridge the generations. We grandparents have many opportunities or should make opportunities to create a large reservoir of family memories, stories, experiences, knowledge and values which will be useful for our grand- and great- grandchildren throughout life.

It is incumbent upon the younger generation to learn from their elders and to “honor their father and mother” in order to pass on to the next generation what they have learned. A very large percentage of the knowledge about families, local areas, the state and nation resides in the minds of parents and grandparents. While they live, tap into what they know and profit from it. Years later when you want a certain piece of information, avoid having to say, “I wish I had asked Grandmamma or Mom and Dad about this.”

Some fear there is a great danger of the present generation getting lost in the mind-controlling, labyrinth-like tunnels of modernday computer technology never to see the daylight of reality again. Never allow Facebooking, Twittering or other social networking to monopolize your time to the point of replacing “face to face” meetings and exchanges or attendance at family reunions.

(The Kershaw County Historical Society provided this column, written by historian Harvey S. Teal, to the Chronicle-Independent, Camden, S.C.)

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