By Leona Newton White
[ ] notes added for clarity
I have never heard anyone ever call my grandmother by the name of Mary and never heard her addressed as “Mrs. Hunter,” for she was known to all of her relatives and friends, and daughter-in-law included, as “Aunt Pop” and she was greatly beloved by everyone. She was a tall woman of large build, but slender in form and straight shoulders and very erect in her bearing. Her skin was smooth and she never had wrinkles. Her hair was not white, but a silver with a sheen to it and she had the kindest blue eyes I ever saw. She had lost all of her teeth by the time I could remember her and I used to marvel as she could eat so well. She loved coffee and I can just see her dunking a crusty biscuit in her coffee and eating it with relish. Her hands and feet were large in proportion to her body. She was as superstitious as they come and believed with all her heart in ghosts and could tell us children some of the most blood curdling ghost stories you ever heard which we enjoyed so very much. Pa got wise to it and asked her not to tell them to us as it scared us.
But she could sit and tell us of how it was when she was a child and of things that happened then. She was very progressive in her ways and always wanted to better herself. She bought the first sewing machine in her settlement and my mother told me that people came from far and near to see it sew. She also bought the first coal oil lamp and they were scared to death to use it. Mother said she would put it in our corner of the house and they would all sit as far away from it as they could for fear that it would explode. Each morning when it had to be refilled with oil, they took it away from the house about one hundred yards and poured the oil in very carefully so it wouldn’t explode.
She was a hard worker and “looked well to the ways of her household;” no one was idle. They raised cotton and before it could be carded and spun, the seeds had to be picked out of it. After the dishes were washed at night was when that was done, and mother said that she set them a task. When they got their shoe full of cottonseeds, they could go to bed. While they were picking cottonseed, she would be spinning cloth for their garments. Mother said sometimes she would tell the children, “Now, you will get me a lot of dry wood to burn in the fireplace tonight so I can see to weave I will tell you ghost stories.” Mother said they would be so afraid to go to bed that night.
My grandfather died when he was 66 years old and my grandmother ran the farm until she became too old and as was the custom then, she gave the farm to the oldest son with the understanding that he was to keep and care for her as long as she lived. He [George Washington Hunter, Thomas Riley Hunter was their oldest son, but he died in 1866 of cholera] married a widow with two sons. She [Laura Jane Nase Dial Hunter] was a hard worker and sometimes had a very sharp tongue, and although she was not unkind to grandmother, she didn’t make her feel too welcome in her own home. So my grandmother stayed with the other children more than she ever stayed at home. She was always welcome in the other children’s homes by all. My father loved her dearly and if she stayed away too long, he would grumble about her staying so long at the other children’s home. She was beloved by everyone and some neighbor would go to the one of her children’s homes and she would be there and they would take her home with them. In a few days, one of their neighbors would get her to go to their house and this would go on, going from one friend to another house until sometimes she would be lost to all of us and be maybe 30 or 40 miles from home. One time I remember she had been gone for sometime and no one knew where she was and my father said now it is time Aunt Pop is coming to our house. I will give her one more day and if she doesn’t come, I am going to get her. Well, she didn’t show up, so the next morning, he saddled two horses and put a sidesaddle on one and started out. He knew where she started from and he traced her all day and late that afternoon, they came on her, very cowed that she had caused him so much trouble, and he very happy that he had found her. She loved people and enjoyed visiting around and she had earned her rest in her older days for she had worked hard all her life.
Jacob Hunter was older than she and very settled and sedate. Grandmother was very bashful. Jacob had got land and built a cabin before he married grandmother. It had one room with a dirt floor, a fireplace for both heat and cooking. The dishes were two pewter plates, two pewter spoons, two knives, two forks, a pot and crane and a skillet and lid.
The bed was a jammed up [against] the wall, a forked pole set in the ground and poles laid from it to the wall and woven with deer thong or rope for springs and a sack to fit the bed filled with corn shucks. A large goods box was used for a table and a small one was fastened to the wall to put her dishes on. The one on the wall had a red calico curtain of which she was very proud. Shortly after she and Jacob were married, she was carrying an armload of shucks to refill her mattress and had to pass by where he was working. It embarrassed her for him to see her with her apron full of shucks and while watching him, she didn’t step high enough to step over the gap in the fence and fell, spilling her shucks, and kicked her feet up in front of him which as a very unlady-like thing to do. When she was embarrassed, she would shut her eyes, and would say “shot” instead of “shut.” In telling us children about the incident, she would always conclude by saying “I was so ashamed, I went in the house and just shot my eyes….I just shot my eyes.”
Her life was made up of hard work. All the food was grown on the farm. Apples and peaches were dried for winter; beans were dried and hulled, as were peas, Kraut was made in barrels also pickles. Hogs were butchered and the meat cured and the lard rendered, corn was shelled by hand and taken to the gristmill. Cabbage, turnips, potatoes, beets, and apples were put on the ground and covered with grass and dirt so they wouldn’t freeze. For desserts, they made preserves out of fruit and there was also sorghum molasses and wild honey. The woods were full of game.
Grandmother wove all of the cloth for all of their clothes, raised sheep for wool to weave into blankets and clothes, knitted the socks and stockings for the family, raised and picked geese for the feather beds, made soap out of leached wood ashes, milked, and churned butter, made a garden, and always a few flowers.
She was a very religious woman and lived her religion each day. She and my grandfather were both Primitive Baptists and the church was held in their home for a time. Then grandfather gave three acres of land to build a church on; and to return it to the heirs of the original owner when it was no longer used as a church. Well that was the last the heirs ever heard of it. Somebody else got the land, also the coal under it, and a church was built on the land. A large, white church with an arched ceiling of varnished wood and three tiers of seats, the middle row had a strip of wood running across the back of one seat to the next. The purpose of this was for the men and boys to sit on the side of it and the women, girls and children to sit on the other side. A woman never invaded the men’s side and no man sat on the woman’s side unless she had some small children that he needed to attend to, but even that was frowned on.
The pioneer life my grandmother lived had many ways that would seem strange to us now. There were no matches and fire was kept from year to year. In the summer, it was kept banked in the fireplace under ashes from one meal to the next and woe to the woman that let the fire go out. I can remember my mother telling of one of the neighbor boys that lived two or three miles from them riding up one morning on a horse with a two-gallon, black-iron, cooking pot. His mother had let the fire go out and he had to borrow some fire coals. Grandmother put a shovel full of live coals in the pot and covered it generously with ashes and mother said he left riding full-steam, holding the pot out so it would not touch him and the horse.
Grandmother always dressed the same for Sunday. She wore a black dress and a white apron, and a black sateen bonnet. In winter, she also wore a black shawl. For everyday she wore calico, either blue, gray, or black, always with little flowers or design on it. All of her dresses were made alike…a plain waist, buttoned down the front with a full face width skirt down to two inches on the floor.
She always had pretty buttons on her dresses, always the buttons were black or brown, but pretty patterns on them. Then she always wore a pretty pearl-colored comb in her hair, which she wore parted in the middle and coiled in a bun in the back. Grandmother had beautiful, fine, silver hair and she would let me comb her hair and I loved it.
She always wore something around the neck of her dress fastened with a brooch, either a pretty hanky or a pretty, little collar, of which she had several, all of them either white or made of light-colored material with lace on them. I never remember her without a collar of some kind.
We children had rather see grandmother come than any one else and we each tried to be our very best when she was there. Maybe that is why Pa wanted her to be there for we were all at our best when she was there. She always slept in the front bedroom that was not used except for company. It always had the best pillows, big soft, good feathers in it with the softest blankets. I despised to sleep under the hand-woven ones, homemade set of our own sheep, scratchy and dyed an ugly brown. The bed where Aunt Pop slept also had the beautiful pine-tree quilt on it. We children all wanted to sleep with her, so to keep peace; we took turns until each had had their night. The poor old grandmother was left in peace. She dreaded my night for I have always been a restless sleeper and besides, I kicked like a mule. Poor grandmother, she didn’t get much sleep on my night. She said she would have to hold my legs sometimes, because I kicked so hard. But we had a little night cap that mother had made for Ora [Ora was Ora Eulene Newton b. 9-24-1877, Leona’s older sister] when she was little to keep her curls from getting so tangled at night and as grandmother always wore a night cap, the one that slept with grandmother wore Ora’s little night cap. Any other time, the nightcap was put away and not worn. I was not about to forego the chance to wear the nightcap, so whether I kicked or not, I got my night with grandmother.
With so many children and so much to do, we children had to do for ourselves as soon as we got old enough. We had to dress ourselves, wash our hands and face, and comb our hair. I never thought my hair was pretty, so I didn’t take much pride in it when I was a child. It was long and very thick and our little horn comb just wouldn’t go all the way through it. Mother usually inspected us about once a week to see if there were any tangles we hadn’t got out. I didn’t know grandmother was coming that week so dad just gave my hair a lick and a promise all week, but somehow Ma discovered I had a bad tangle at the back of my hair underneath and so had tried to get it unsnarled but could not, so she had given it a good greasing with lard and set me to churning and said if by the time the butter came if she could not get it untangled, she would have to cut it out.
Well, of all the disgraceful things that can happen to a girl was to have to have a tangle cut out of her hair for then the short hairs would stand up there proclaiming to all that you had not been combing your hair and no denying it. The hair stood up for itself. Well, I started churning and wishing with all my heart that the tangle would untangle and lo and behold who should drive in from town, where he had gone and picked up Grandma on his way home. I will never forget the awful feeling I had as I stood there with the knot in my hair and another one in my stomach to think Grandma would find out about it. The best I can remember she assured me it happened to a lot of girls that had thick hair and she gently straightened it out. It never happened again. Grandma loved her grandchildren and was so kind and patient with them.
There was only one doubt in my mind about my grandma. I suspected her of telling a lie. Of all the jobs I did when I was a child, and I did many and some of them I hated, but nothing like I hated to wash dishes. We had such a large family and I had to stand on a box to reach the dishpan and just stacks of plates, cups, saucers, knives, forks, and spoons before you even come to the big, old iron pots and skillet. With soot all over the bottoms of the pot, and when Grandma was there, she would always wash the dishes and she told me she loved to wash dishes! It was hard to believe that any one in their right mind would love to wash dishes. But being my grandma, I had to believe this.
All of our winter wool stockings had to be knitted and when Lula and I were eight or ten, we were taught to knit and had to knit our own stockings. I hated knitting. We used four needles, three in the stocking and one to knit on. My knitting was terrible, the longer I knit, the tighter it got till I could scarcely get the yarn off the needle. Grandma was a real good knitter. She didn’t even have to look at it as she knit and unless she was turning a heel or narrowing a toe, she could knit in the dark as well as the light. There was nothing said but I soon learned if I would lay my knitting where Grandma could see it, she would unravel my mistakes and knit it for me. I don’t think I ever finished a single pair of stockings.
She had large veins in her hands and we children would sit on each side of her and each take a hand and run the blood up and down in the veins. I know now that she was bored, but she never made us quit, no more than when I would get my second reader and read it to her from cover to cover.
Oh, the patience of grandmothers and I am so everlasting thankful to God that I had such a good, wonderful, Christian, patient grandmother, Aunt Pop.
– Written by Leona Newton White, 1973
Mary Moore Duncan Hunter, known as “Aunt Pop” in her later years, was born May 1, 1814 in Robertson County Tennessee to John Pekin Duncan, Jr. and Lydia (Spiller) Duncan. She was of Scottish heritage. She married Jacob Hunter (II) (b. 1-18-1809, d. 12-21-1874) on 12-19-1833. She and her husband Jacob Hunter (II) had 8 children. Mary Moore Duncan Hunter died on August 21, 1896 and is buried in the Jacob Hunter Cemetery, the burial ground located on her home place.
Leona Estella Newton White was born on Jan 5, 1886. She was the daughter of Lucina Evaline Hunter (b. 3-30-1853 d. 11-12-1933) and George Augustus Newton (b. 9-23-1846 d. 11-8-1921). She married Edgar Madison White (b. 4-18-1881 d. 9-19-1943). Leona was killed, along with her daughter Helen Marjorie White, by a tornado that devastated Marion, IL on May 29, 1982.
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