Only in our hearts
Thursday of this past week would have been her 116th birthday.
My grandmother, Opal E. Robertson, oldest of the four children of Jasper and Eula (Baird) Robertson, was born 21 August 1898, in Eagle Lake, Colorado County, Texas.1
And we lost her 19 years ago, on the 15th of March 1995.2
A long life, for sure… yet one that seems all too short for those of us who loved her.
She was, her obituary said, “preceded in death by her husband, Clay Rex Cottrell; and three children, Ruth Marie, Donald Harris and Monte Boyd Cottrell.” It went on:
Mrs. Cottrell, fondly known as “Mama Clay,” was the matriarch of the Cottrell Family. She is survived by four sons, … five daughters, … thirty-seven grandchildren, twenty-two stepgrandchildren; forty-four great-grandchildren; and eleven step-great-grandchildren.3
We — her children, her grandchildren, and so many other descendants — pause to remember her this week. And — as we so often do — we will let her speak for herself.
Here are her own words, written around 1974, and more recently and lovingly transcribed by her granddaughter (my cousin) Paula — whose own birthday is today…
As I pass my 76th birthday, I find myself wanting our grandchildren to know something of the era in which their Grandfather, Clay, and I grew up. In retrospect we often remember the pleasant, but it was not always lovely & pleasant.
Thank goodness they won’t be dosed with calamine and castor oil. They won’t have to wear long underwear from Oct. to May – or wear long black stockings and high button shoes, read by oil lamps – (maybe!?), walk two miles to school, pick up corn-cobs for kindling, or wear a flannel cloth soaked with coal oil and lard on their chest until it blisters.
I am sorry, however, that they will never know the excitement of hog killing time, and the magic words “The thresher is coming,” taste delectable cold clabber with sugar sprinkled on top, feel the cleanliness of home-made lye soap, and they probably will never have the pleasure of opening a school lunch bucket and finding a slice of country ham fried in an iron skillet, buried between two soft buttermilk biscuits. Or two pickled eggs pickled in beet juice, or eat a big piece of hot homemade bread, spread with freshly churned butter. Too, they’ll never know the sweetness of homemade blackberry jam spooned from a crock jar. Or the excitement of finding a new hens nest in the lay in the barn loft. They will miss the snugness and secure feeling of sleeping in a cold upstairs room with a nightcap on their head and a hot wrapped brick at their feet.
But I can hear them say, “Poor Grandma and Grandpa, if only they could have traveled — at least to the Moon!”
Not yet, Mama Clay. Not quite yet.
- Social Security Administration, Baltimore, Md., Request for E/R Action, Opal E. Cottrell, 22 Feb 1966. The document notes that her original SS-5 form, her application for a Social Security number, was “sent to P/C with claim 4-6-66.” ↩
- Virginia Department of Health, death certif. no. 95-011808, Opal Robertson Cottrell, 15 Mar 1995; Division of Vital Records, Richmond. ↩
- “Cottrell,” obituary, Charlottesville (Va.) Daily Progress, 17 March 1995. ↩