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Debby Summey: Guess who?

  • Friday, July 12, 2013

I became interested in the family of a man I know, so he loaned me a book documenting his family’s history. The book is a collection of stories told by family members, each story personal and dear. It was hard to choose which stories to recount in this column. Some had me weeping, others left me laughing out loud. (Anything you see in quotation marks is taken directly from the book.)

This man’s grandparents, Henry Richardson Howard, Sr. and Alice May Baker, began dating in May of 1910 and were married six months later at her parents’ home in St. Augustine, Florida. Henry and May went on to have ten children - five boys and five girls.  Tragically, one of their sons died in infancy and another at the age of eight. In addition to the ten live births, two other children were stillborn.

Henry worked hard to provide for his family. “He delivered ice with horse and buggy ... later via truck. We had a wood yard where we cut wood, sold it, and hauled logs out of the swamp ... Sometime later, he sold ice and produce from the truck, going from house to house in many outlying communities. The children often sold vegetables out of the garden, many times pulling a wagon all over town awaiting the award of five cents ... After a long day on the produce truck, the left overs were canned at night for the times when we did not have such nice vegetables and fruits.”

Henry also purchased 55 acres of land and raised hogs. He butchered calves, hogs and goats to sell. The family kept rabbits, chickens, cows and a horse on the property.

In spite of hard times, especially during the Depression, the home was full of love, music, and laughter. Christmas was a happy time. Daughter Evelyn wrote, “Alice and I got new dolls one year, and the next year mother made new clothes for the same doll, but it didn’t matter to us.

“We didn’t realize they were the same dolls. Then one year we got little rocking chairs. When the seats tore up, daddy put a cowhide bottom in them.”

After Christmas dinner, the family gathered around the piano. May played the piano, Henry, Jr. played the ‘Jew’s harp’, and son Lawrence played the harmonica. “We all sang Christmas carols loud and clear.”

In 1937, when Alice was 19-years-old, she and her husband Thomas were living with Henry and May, awaiting their first child. It was a hot, steamy day in August when Alice went into labor. The house had no fans and no electricity. The doctor was fetched and when he finally arrived, May attended him, wiping the sweat from his brow.

Thomas stood at Alice’s head giving ether from a can. A baby boy arrived, but was breech and not breathing. While the doctor revived the baby, Evelyn boiled the doctor’s instruments in the kitchen on the cook stove. Before the doctor could stitch Alice up, to everyone’s surprise, she delivered another child – a baby girl. Miraculously, everyone survived the ordeal and the twins were named Jack and Jewel.

Education was a top priority. Henry made sure that the children had transportation to school and, at one time, hired a private teacher for them.
May made sure that they well enough to attend. Evelyn writes, “Usually at the beginning of a school term, all of us children would get the flu and would miss several days of school. Daddy always got 666 medicine for us to take.

“Mother always had ‘old family remedies’ to help us. With sore throat – kerosene and sugar. Just a few drops on a teaspoon of sugar. Camphorated oil on a ‘body’ (piece of material) worn on our chest for colds. Tea leaves on our eyes and stay in a dark room for measles. A drop or two of canned milk in the eye for pink-eye. She was so good to us.”

There are so many funny stories in this book. There was one about Alice who ended up riding an escaped pig backwards in an attempt to corral it. And Henry, Jr. in a wagon being pulled by a runaway goat, the same goat that ate half of May’s clothes off of the clothes line.

Many of you know the man who loaned me the book. His father, Lawrence, was one of Henry and May’s sons. He was better known as “Larry”, and was a district forester for International Paper in Georgetown. The man’s mother, Claudia, was the first female probate judge in Georgetown County. An entire book could be written about Larry and Claudia, a much-loved couple who were devoted to their church, their children, and their community.
You native Georgetonians have surely guessed by now the name of the man who loaned me the book about his family ... a family anyone would be proud to call his own.

To Tommy Howard, editor of the Georgetown Times ... thanks for the memories.

I may be reached at (843) 446-4777 or email at djsummey@gmail.com.

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