A friend pointed out this obituary, which appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch last Tuesday. We have written previously that what matters in life is what you can pack into that little dash that appears between your birth date and your death date. Well, what a jam-packed dash this lady had, and what wit and humor! We should be privileged that she shared with us this little backward glimpse of her life as she bundled off to the Undiscovered Country. I can almost picture her on a train platform, one foot up on the step as she waves farewell, travelling cloak whipped by wind, off to new adventures.
It’s our loss. As I read her story, I was struck by the basic survival skills so common just 100 years ago, and so rare now: harvesting, canning, pickling, making her own clothes, wasting nothing. Her life was simple, but rich… the polar opposite of so much that we see today, with everyone in a rush to live out their increasingly vapid and wasteful lives, with too little time or interest or energy to so much as cook a hearty and nourishing meal for the family to enjoy together, in each others’ company. When they do manage to get together for a meal, they really aren’t together at all, but each in their own electronic bubble (Lila took the below photo while dining out recently). Times have changed, and certainly not all of it has been for the better.
One sentence stands out to me: “The memories I’m taking with me now are so precious and have more value than all the gold and silver in my jewelry box.” There you have it. At the end of your journey, what really matters? One more selfie in front of the bathroom mirror? The fact that you kept up with the Kardashians? No… what matters are the memories you filled your dash with. Your memories, with the people you loved, and who loved you in return.
I hope you will enjoy Mrs. McElhaney’s own story as much as I did. And if there is an afterlife, I hope she’s driving her horse-drawn buggy all over heaven and feeding the angels her homemade pickles and jellies.
Dorothy Stewart McElhaney, 15 November 1910 – 8 August 2015
McELHANEY. It pains me to admit it, but apparently, I have passed away. Everyone told me it would happen one day but that’s simply not something I wanted to hear, much less experience. But you don’t always get what you want in life. On the subject of my life, my mother, Lucy Mae Stewart, was 104 years ahead of her time by negotiating for a new farmhouse in exchange for having a second child, Dorothy Stewart, me. Hence, I was born on November 15, 1910 and she got her new farmhouse in Brookline, Missouri. Consequently, my older brother Hubert Stewart very much enjoyed our new farm home; the first to have hand-pumped, gravity-fed running water, albeit cold. A few years later, we quarreled about my being permitted to ride home from church in lieu of his girlfriend in the new-fangled rubber tired buggy- the latest in comfort at the time before cars appeared in our community. As a child, I walked to a one-room schoolhouse, Capurnium, where I completed my formal education. But it was at home where I learned the lessons from my mother and father that gave me the greatest joys in life. Mom was an openhearted soul who gave to others freely. She served as a midwife back when babies were born at home. And it was many a ‘railway hobo’ that would stop at our door asking for food. I’m told they wrote our family name on the cattle guards of the train tracks for those seeking a respite from the lonely road.
So many things in my life seemed of little significance at the time; they happened, but then took on a greater importance as I got older. The memories I’m taking with me now are so precious and have more value than all the gold and silver in my jewelry box. Memories where do I begin? Well, I remember attending pie suppers; Mother wearing an apron; I remember attending square dances; I remember Daddy on horseback with the hands ‘driving’ cattle to market with my favorite dog, Pook; raising chickens and selling the eggs for spending money; I remember going to town and picking out my favorite feed sacks with the prettiest calico prints so they could be sewn in to dresses, so little was wasted back then; I remember going with mother to send the local boys off by train to fight in WWI and learning that Hubert would be in the next round if the war didn’t end soon; I remember savoring wild persimmons; making gooseberry jelly and playing cards with Daddy. I remember the smell of freshly harvested fields. It could have been no other way. I married the man of my dreams (tall, with wavy hair and handsome) on September 7, 1937 on a jaunt to Tucumcari, New Mexico, and from that day on I was proud to be Mrs. Glenn McElhaney, Grand Diva of All Things Domestic. Sewing, needlework, weaving baskets, making potpourri, attending quilting bees, painting with oil on canvas, painting and firing china plates and teacups, canning jellies, jam, tomatoes and pickles- these were some of the outlets for my creativity that let my spirit sing. Soon we were blessed with our only child, Glenna Sue. Seeing her grow into who she was supposed to be brought a wonderful sense of meaning to our lives.
This might be a good time to mend fences. I apologize for making Glenna play piano on television for Future Homemakers of America, and for sending her to a fancy private prep school when she wanted to stay at the public schoolhouse. Apparently, each of these things was humiliating to her but she was able to rise above her shame and become a very successful adult.
She grew up in Brookline, Missouri in the Ray House, my great-grandfather’s home. He wrote a first person account of the bloodiest battle of the Civil War west of the Mississippi that took place across from his homestead in his cornfield. The house still stands as part of the Wilson Creek National Battlefield Park. General Nathaniel Lyon’s body was taken there to wait while the battle subsided and was then taken by train to Springfield.
I loved our home in Missouri. The road running just out front was the Old Wire Road- it had the first telegraph lines along it. And before that, it was the Trail of Tears, the route for American Indians forced to flee their native lands for newly created Reservations in the West. Just when I thought I was too old to fall in love again, I became a grandmother, and my two grand-angels stole not only my heart, but also spent most of my money. It was with a heavy heart we moved from our beloved Missouri Ozarks to a new life with our grandchildren in Colonial Heights, Virginia.
Stuart Ashley Kramer and Whitney Paige Kramer have enriched my life more than words can say. I loved making exquisite dresses with petticoats for Whitney and jackets and vests for Stuart; cooking the family’s meals and baking sweets for after school treats like chocolate chip ice cream sandwiches; letting them lick the bowl and the mixing beaters and giving out extra icing…Yes, these are a few of my favorite things. They’re treasures that are irreplaceable and will go with me wherever my journey takes me.
I’ve always maintained that my greatest treasures call me Nana. That’s not exactly true. You see, the youngest of my grand-angels, Ella Ashley Kramer and Finley Christian Kramer call me “Grand Nana” (Thank you Jennifer Mele Kramer and Stuart for having such spunky children). Speaking of titles, I’ve held a few in my day. After a lifetime entering baking and sewing competitions in Ozark County Fairs, I won my last blue ribbons for my famous sugar cookies at the age of 99, taking Best in Show for Chesterfield County and First Place in the State Fair. And I’ve been a devoted daughter, an energetic teenager, a loving wife, a comforting mother, a true and loyal friend, and a spoiling Nana and Grand Nana. And if you don’t believe it, just ask me. Oh wait, I’m afraid it’s too late for questions. Sorry.
So, I was born; I blinked; and it was over. No buildings named after me; no monuments erected in my honor.
But, I DID have the chance to know and love each and every friend as well as all my family members. How much more blessed can a person be?
So in the end, remember, do your best, follow your arrow and make something amazing out of your life. Oh, and never stop smiling.
If you want to, you can look for me in the evening sunset or with the earliest spring daffodils or amongst the flitting and fluttering butterflies. You know I’ll be there in one form or another. Of course that will probably comfort some while antagonizing others, but you know me…it’s what I do.
I’ll leave you with this, please don’t cry because I’m gone; instead be happy that I was here (or maybe you can cry a little bit. After all, I have passed away).
Today I am happy and I am dancing.
I leave behind my cherished family, my daughter, Glenna McElhaney Kramer; my grandson, Stuart Ashley Kramer and his wife, Jenny Mele Kramer; two beautiful great-grandchildren, Ella Ashley Kramer and Finley Christian Kramer; a lovely granddaughter, Whitney Paige Kramer and her husband, Mark Wesley Crossley; nephew, James E. Stewart; and niece, Edwina Stewart Vaughan and her husband, retired Lt. Col. Arthur Russell Vaughan.
You’re invited to walk behind me as I take my final carriage ride. I was born at a time when everybody rode in a horse and buggy and I will travel to my final resting place in a horse drawn carriage. Join me at 4 p.m. Thursday, August 13, 2015, at J.T. Morriss Funeral Home, 3050 W. Hundred Rd., Chester, Va., for a visitation followed by interment in Sunset Memorial Park. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to World Pediatric Project, 7201 Glen Forest Dr. #304, Richmond, Va. 23226, (804) 282-8830. Condolences may be registered at www.jtmorriss.com.
Love you forever. Dorothy