"Good Morning Earlington:
Mrs. Rachael’s 'Edith'"
Ever wonder about the many and varied articles people collect? I think it is fascinating that any item would appeal to a person so much that he or she might amass cabinets or rooms full of like items. Eula Choate collected salt and pepper shakers from every state. Sissy Mitchell had over 500 miniature ceramic shoes of every color, style and shape. Some people collect items associated with animals--Hilda Weldon Long amassed herds of elephants while Helen Barber Lantaff chose to surround herself with owls. Kenneth Stokes has coins and meticulously labeled notebooks of old Earlington photos. Dennis Carnal, a railroad enthusiast, has books and photos of old trains and train stations. My mother-in-law Ruby Gipson had boxes of crochet patterns and probably every card she ever received from family members. My sister Rita collects rare glass pitchers. My husband loves candle lanterns. The list goes on. Our mailman Spencer Brewer is a Civil War enthusiast and collector with vast knowledge of life during that era. Spencer even goes so far as to attend reenactments where he pitches a tent and wears a uniform (sometimes Union, other times Confederate) and generally roughs it with his "regiment" for a weekend.
Each of these people, though amateurs, were or are exceedingly knowledgeable on their subjects and could probably hold their own with many professionals. Several weeks ago I learned of another collector—Rachael (Mrs. Carl) Bryant. Mrs. Rachael at various times in her life has been a collector of dolls. Many of her first collection were lost during one of the early 1930’s "floods" of Stewart Creek when her family lived on W. Main. Twice one year the Creek left 18" of water and mud in her home before her family moved to what is now the Haley house on Moss Avenue. Rachael was heartbroken as she gathered what was left of her "friends" and tried to resuscitate them—bodies stained and filled with mud, faces and limbs of China chipped and broken , blonde and brunette wigs beyond repair or swept away. The one bright spot was that her favorite "Edith" was rescued after a great deal of love and care.
Miss Edith had been a special birthday gift from Rachael’s father when Rachael was a third grader in Oklahoma. The original Miss Edith was Rachael’s teacher that year. The younger Miss Edith, now in her 80’s and still a part of Rachael’s family after all these years, wears a blond wig as her own tresses were swept away in the swift muddy water. Her wardrobe has been replaced with loving detail from remnants of a pink silk bridesmaid dress worn by daughter Carolyn Bryant Everly (EHS’62) now of Johnson City, Tennessee, and wife of Rev. Jerry Everly, a Methodist minister who also counsels at the University of Tennessee. The sawdust which once filled out Miss Edith’s tiny arms and legs and allowed her knees and elbows to be in a constant state of bending has shifted due to age (something that happens to us all). Rachael explains that through the years, due in part to constant affection, her sawdust has also"leaked." Her head and arms of bisque are original, and her petite feet are shod in soft kid leather. Around her neck she wears a delicate gold necklace fashioned from one of Carolyn’s cameo necklaces, a long ago bridesmaid’s keepsake. So Edith—seen only as a doll to some--is representative of many memories to Mrs. Rachael—a special day of shopping with her father on her 8th birthday, the last of a precious collection, shared childhood secrets with a reticent companion, devastating floods, wedding mementos from a daughter’s life.
Not only is beauty in the eye of the beholder, but our memories are often triggered by physical objects we behold and cherish. This is one of the reasons why collections fascinate me. We often merely "perceive" sets of salt and pepper shakers, assorted shoes and patterns, or odd rocks and bottles of sand sitting on shelves. Other eyes often see beyond that into a past which holds countless precious memories. Look around. You too may encounter a memory long forgotten and placed on a shelf. You too may begin a journey another time past.
"Fond memory brings the light of other days around me; the smiles, the tears, of boyhood’s years, the words of love then spoken; The eyes that shone now dimmed and gone."
Thomas Moore’s Oft in the Stilly Night
Ann Gipson 12-7-2001