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The persistence of memory

It’s been more than 60 years since anyone has tasted it… but her bread. They all remember her bread.

The taste. The smell. The way it melted in your mouth.

Funny, the things that stick in memories.

Eula.2013aShe was born 144 years ago this past week, this great grandmother, my mother’s mother’s mother. A woman I don’t remember. And whose bread so many can’t forget.

Eula Baird Livingston Robertson was born 24 October 1869 in Cherokee County, Alabama. She appears on the 1870 census of Cherokee County in a strangely-enumerated household. Oh, she’s there, shown as eight months old, with her mother Martha, age 17, and Martha’s mother Margaret (Battles) Shew. But the line for head of household simply reads “Baird.” No first name. Age 22, a farm hand, born in Alabama.1 Thanks to a series of courthouse fires, there aren’t any marriage records in Cherokee County at that time.2

We believe we’ve proved who Eula’s father was, using DNA evidence: one Jasper Baird, son of William and Christian (Campbell) Baird.3

We’re not entirely sure how it was that Eula’s mother came to marry another man. There may have been a divorce, or a desertion, perhaps she was never married a first time at all. But there’s no doubt that she married Abigah C. Livingston, in 1876, in Cherokee County.4

And it’s in that blended family that Eula next appears, in the 1880 Cherokee County census, as 10-year-old “Lular Beard,” shown as the granddaughter of Margaret Shew, who was in turn recorded as “mother of wife” to Martha, wife of A.C. Livingston.5

The family moved to Texas between 1887, when son Noel Livingston was born in Alabama,6 and 1889, when daughter Susie Livingston was born in Texas.7 And it was there that Eula met and married Jasper Carlton Robertson, on 19 February 1896.8

Eula and Jasper had four children in short order: the oldest, my grandmother Opal, in 1898,9, Fred in 1900,10 Harvey in 1902,11 and Ray in 1905.12 The first two were born in Texas, and the second two in the wild territory to the north then called Indian Territory, soon to be the State of Oklahoma.

Jasper was a successful bidder in the opening of the Big Pasture in 1906,13 and the family began to farm the land in 1907.

I can’t help but think these were the happy years for Eula. Her mother and stepfather and all of her brothers and sisters settled in the same area of Tillman County, Oklahoma. Her children were growing like weeds. She had land of her own and a young strong husband.

And then it all came crashing down. In 1909, she lost her mother Martha to tuberculosis.14 And three years later, she lost Jasper to gallbladder disease.15

Eula had no choice but to sell the land and move into town. To help support herself she took in boarders, among them her many nieces and nephews who came into town from country farms to attend school. And she continued to take them in and care for them as they went on to college — she was in essence the original dorm mom.

And she baked them bread. My grandmother’s cousin Thelma is now in her 90s, living in Indiana. She was one of those college boarders. When I visited with her last year, she began and ended our time together by asking: “Did I tell you about Eula’s bread?”

It was thick and the crust was just the right consistency. It was filling and smelled like heaven. With butter and cinnamon and a little sugar, it might as well have been manna from heaven. It was breakfast, lunch, a meal in and of itself.

Eula’s bread.

There are surely worse things to be remembered for.


SOURCES

  1. 1870 U.S. census, Cherokee County, Alabama, population schedule, Leesburg Post Office, p. 268(A), dwelling/family 15, Baird household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 25 Aug 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication M593, roll 7; imaged from FHL microfilm 545506.
  2. The earliest available marriage records in Cherokee County begin in 1882. See “Local Government Records Microfilm Database,” Cherokee County, Alabama Department of Archives and History (http://www.archives.alabama.gov : accessed 25 Aug 2012).
  3. See Judy G. Russell, “The matchmaker’s match,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 7 Oct 2012 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 25 Oct 2013).
  4. She may never have married Jasper at all, but the only record of her marriage to Abigah — a newspaper article from the time — records her name at the time of the second marriage as Martha Louise “Beard”, not Martha Louise Shew.
  5. 1880 U.S. census, Cherokee County, Alabama, Township 11, Range 8, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 27, p. 387(A) (stamped), dwelling/family 5, A.C. Livingston household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 13 Oct 2011); citing National Archive microfilm publication T9, roll 6; imaged from FHL microfilm 1254006.
  6. Texas State Department of Health, death certificate no. 31994 (1937), Noel Burton Livingston (13 Jun 1937); Bureau of Vital Statistics, Austin.
  7. Obituary, “Susie Kidwell,” Frederick (Oklahoma) Press, 13 Apr 1978.
  8. Bexar County, Texas, marriage license no. 14298 and return, J C Robertson and Eula Beard, 1896; County Clerk’s Office, San Antonio.
  9. Obituary, “Fred Robertson,” Frederick (Oklahoma) Press, 6 Mar 1952.
  10. Washington State Dept. of Health, death certif. no. 25911, Harvey L. Robertson (1969).
  11. Arkansas Dept. of Health and Human Services, death certif. no. 81-001911, Ray C. Robertson (1981).
  12. Jasper C. Robertson (Tillman County, Oklahoma), cash sale entry, certificate no. 246, Lawton, Oklahoma, Land Office; Land Entry Papers, 1800-1908; Records of the Bureau of Land Management; Record Group 49, National Archives, Washington, D.C.
  13. Frederick Cemetery, Frederick, Tillman County, OK, marker for Martha Livingston; photographed 2003 by JG Russell (privately held).
  14. Oklahoma State Dept. of Health, death certif. no. 3065, Jasper C. Robertson, Tillman County, 15 Mar 1912.
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