Monday, August 22, 2005

Constance Garrett Key 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comThis site has been rather inactive, so I thought I would put a picture up of Constance Garrett Key, my great-great grandmother, to stimulate some discussion. I don't know much about this ancestor, and would love to hear any stories, remembrances, etc. I am especially curious about her hatchet brooch, which looks like a Carrie Nation jewelry piece donned by woman of that time to support the temperance cause and the saloon chopping activities of Ms. Nation. I spoke to my grandmother (Rae Key Ferrell) today and she said that Constance Garrett was not a teetotalar and loved Italy because of the wines served there at ever meal. My grandmother also said that she and her husband had been stranded in Europe at the outbreak of WWI and had to abandon all of their luggage and possessions in Germany. While they waited in England for passage back to the states they ran out of cash, but a tailor loaned them some to tide them over until the proper letters of credit arrived. Apparently, tailors were a reliable source of credit to the aristocracy as they waited out their inheritance but needed to settle gambling debts before then. Hobart Key was so grateful that he became a customer for life to this tailor, always ordering his suits custom made from England from him.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Nancy Key Dulaney Goldring on her Grandmother, circa 1965 

My grandmother, Rae Lyttleton Key was born in Marshall, Texas. Her father, Judge H.T. Lyttleton and her mother, Nancy, had come to Texas from Kentucky a short time before. As a young woman Mama Rae, as she was affectionately called by her grandchildren, attended the Chicago Art Institute and had received some acclaim as an artist before her wedding to my grandfather, Edmund Key, Jr. After her marriage, her paintings in oil and watercolor reflected her absorption in her family and the landscape of Caddo Lake, a beautiful Cyprus swamp, where they spent many happy times at their place called West Wind. She worked in all mediums, including clay and pastels. The walls of their house on Crockett Street and on Grand where they lived after the death of my great-grandmother were covered with her murals. Her work possessed an ethereal quality reminiscent of the Impressionist school. Mama Rae enjoyed collecting as well as creating works of art and filled her home with many treasures which she brought back from New York and abroad. We spent most holidays there and every room seemed crowed with things to be admired and to excite the imagination.

Mama Rae was exceptionally beautiful as well as talented, with a striking combination of black hair and deep blue eyes. Although highly reserved, she had an abundance of charm. A commanding elegance was softened somewhat by a sense of humor. Her tiny figure was extremely graceful. Even in very old age, when arthritis forced her to use a cane (albeit a delicate, gold-headed one) she still maintained her stately carriage.

Her energies were given over to her art, her five children, and her husband. They were a devoted couple. After their children were grown, my grandparents traveled extensively abroad and had many friends in England, a country of which they were very fond.

Daddy Edmund and Mama Rae loved horses and particularly enjoyed riding to hunt. They maintained several hunters at their farm, Bushwood, and organized other enthusiasts of the sport in the county. A fox was kept in a pen in the back yard. In the United States the hounds do not actually chase a live animal but merely follow its scent which has been spread over a trail by dragging a few rags upon which the fox has slept. They also rode a great deal in Virginia and England.

In middle age, my grandmother took up aviation after my grandfather’s ill health prevented him from renewing his license. When she was ready to take her written exam, the man at the license bureau, seeing a fragile, southern lady before him, facetiously asked her whether she wanted the exam for a regular or commercial license. Mama Rae inquired which he thought was the better to have. Thinking he was pulling a huge joke, the man said he believed she should take the commercial test, which was of course was much more difficult, and for which he knew she could not possibly be prepared. Mama Rae took the commercial pilot’s exam and passed with a high mark, much to everyone’s astonishment.

We visited my grandparents’ large ante-bellum house on Grand St. often and were usually there at Christmas. These were always occasions filled with good times. There were lots of cousins – eighteen first cousins – and an interminable host of other relatives who constantly dropped by, filling the house with laughter and activity. The dining room was large and always seemed to accommodate however many there were at the mealtime. One wall was dominated by a huge marble fireplace and the other by a picture window with cut glass planes which cast rainbow colors on the floor at breakfast every morning. It looked out on my grandmother’s rose garden and a dense planting which we children called “the jungle” because of the elephant ears which grew there and the vines which tangled about all the trees. Buried in its mysterious core, stood a bird bath with a figure of Peter Pan holding a crow on his shoulder which Mama Rae had modeled out of clay.

There was an old carriage house left from my great grandparents’ day where we used to play hide and seek. It was a dark, spooky place which took much courage to enter, but which only served to endear us to us children. When we were very young, we constructed tiny castles surrounded by little moats and trees of twigs for the elves and fairies which we knew lived in the wood behind the house. Mama Rae would carefully inspect each construction and give her approval of its suitability for these ethereal creatures. The next morning, we invariably found a shiny penny near the spot, obviously left by a well-satisfied sprite.

We children looked especially forward to Christmas spent at our grandparents. A tremendous fir tree which reached to the eighteen-foot ceiling was placed in the parlor and was strung with lights and decorations. A floor to ceiling mirror, part of a group of gilt furniture brought back by my great-great grandfather on a trip to New Orleans, reflected the room, transformed into sheer splendor in our childish eyes. At dawn on Christmas morning we would fly down the stairs to discover what Santa Claus had left the night before. Eggnog, served in a Wassail bowl, owned by the first Key to arrive from England, was served on the sideboard along with fruitcake and fresh roasted nuts. Mattie Lee, an ancient Negro who had been borne a slave in the family and who worked for my great grandmother for 47 years, would arrive mid-morning to claim “Christmas gift” from all the grown-ups and take her bourbon without benefit of eggnog. Dinner was served around 3 in the afternoon. Eventually we outgrew the dining room and two banquet rooms were set up on the veranda. The children ate at one while the grownups sat facing us at the other. Turkey with cornbread dressing, sweet potato pie and fried oysters were served with a myriad of other delicious things. For dessert, Mama Rae always had English trifle made with macaroons and ladyfingers.

The library was my favorite room of the house. Here the grownups gathered before supper to enjoy a highball and a platter of hors d'ouvres. The rest of the day was rather quiet. The walls were lined with bookcases that had sliding glass doors on them. Some of the books dated far book into the 19th century and had belonged to relatives long gone. There was a curio cabinet built into one wall filled with objects from all over the world, collected by my great grandparents who lived their entire married lives in the house, as well as by Mama Rae and Daddy Edmund. I remember the pleasant ticking of a clock which never kept time on the mantle piece. Sadly, the house was destroyed by fire in 1962. With it disappeared much that was left by past generations from a quiet, more serene age.

After my grandfather’s death, Mama Rae continued to travel a great deal. She took me on several trips to Mexico and New England, where we studied art when I was a young girl. She also took her entire family – some 30 or more strong – on ski trips to Colorado and to Mackinac Island in Michigan and Vermont for two summers. These trips were the particular delight of the grandchildren. We traveled by train, which was becoming a novelty even then, and always had an entire Pullman car to ourselves. The railroad plied our elders with champagne and ceaseless trays of hors d'ouvres while we children were stuffed with sweets for the duration of the ride. We were a close, boisterous family who enjoyed each other’s company. There were cousins of every age so that no one lacked for playmates. There was always an uncle or aunt available if a parent wasn’t a hand. At the calm center of this clan presided my delicate, indomitable grandmother.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

A Southern Girl In '61 

A Southern Girl In '61 by Mrs. D. Giraud Wright (nee Louise Wigfall)

I found this book on line. My mother had a copy, which I now have. Inside is a card with this note, addressed to Miss Nancy Key:

Dear Nancy--
Verily you are o'er young to fully enjoy the story of "old times" but in the years to come--may each be crowned with happiness--you may find interest in reading of the "old south," as known by a former Marshall girl.
To our only grand-child born in our house I send special love.
Always best wishes,

This would have been from Constance Garrett Key to my mother, written in the 1920's, I guess.


Sunday, October 03, 2004

Race Relations 

I am interested in all family lore, but lately even more so about stories of African-Americans like Willie Washington who worked for our family. They provide priceless insight into life in those times. Please share any stories that you remember.

Grandmother told me of about one of Mama Rae’s cooks who wouldn’t come to work one day and refused to say why. She was a good cook and so Mama Rae finally got it out of one of the other servants that an enemy of the cook had planted some sort of cursed fetish in the ground beneath the kitchen’s doorway. The cook believed that if she crossed over the door’s threshold she would die, which is why she wasn’t coming to work. Even if she herself believed it was ignorant superstition, Mama Rae knew how deadly serious the situation was to the cook and had some men dig up the ground beneath the door and say a prayer over it. The cook felt this was adequate to lift the curse and returned to work.

Daddy Edmund’s mother drove with her chauffeur Willie (not Willie Washington, another Willie) to Fisher and Hobart’s wedding on Fisher’s family plantation in Mississippi. After she had gone to bed she heard a soft knock at her door. She opened it and there was Willie, who was trembling in abject terror, in fear for his life. He had been sent out to sleep in the servant’s quarters with the other African Americans, who were all field workers and were a rougher, meaner breed than he had ever encountered in Marshall. Willie was a slight, refined man and he was certain they were going to kill him. She let him sleep outside her door on a palette.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004


In an attempt to make this blog more appealing, I have added a link to Foxylibrarian to the sidebar. Some of you already know it is the one of the most stimulating and intellectual blogs on the net. Even if you are not interested in this blog, that one should be on your list.

The Call 

I have just sent out invitations to 12 family members that were not on the original list (which was pretty short).

If anyone knows of additional people to invite, let me know and I will send them an invitation.

This could be fun.

The Portals 

So far there have mainly been posts about people's long lost memories.

I sort of envision this blog as a place for current ideas as well. Things we might discuss or stories we might tell if we were all back in the long-burnt-up Library sipping a Martini and eating a cocktail weenies and having some good Yuks.

With that in mind I hope participation will pick up. In the last few years I have seen several e-mail flurries develop amongst family members. I was thinking that kind of discussion could come to the Library.

Many of us have in all these years discovered portals we can share without relying only on the ancient ones.

By the way, if anyone wants to post and hasn't been invited or doesn't know how. Let me know and I will try to fix that.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Teeny tiny memories 

As one of the previously unqualified, I received my new invitation to The Library and am now signed up. I've been sitting here trying to call up some Mama Rae memories to contribute -- so far only little snippets come to mind:

The Yellow Room -- my favorite bedroom, but I never got to sleep in it

Wonderful thin, starched bath towels

Sneaking in to taste the contents of the perfume bottles on Mama Rae's dresser -- they smelled so good and tasted so bad

Camellias in bowls

Discovering the hard way that some of those white ice cream containers in the freezer were full of bacon grease

Fate magazine

Silver Christmas trees

Vienna sausages that tasted good -- also the shock and disgust of tasting my first Vienna sausage from a can at a friend's house

Uncle Paul's Edsel

Hello, again 

Since I see a post from the indefatigable blogger Cinnamon, I am inspired to try again. I have sent new invitations to some of those who did not qualify for membership several months ago for some reason. In addition, I am taking new vows to work on my own blog.

I guess I will see you all at the Camp Fern reunion!

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Camp Fern Reunion Sept 18-19th 

I went to the last reunion 5 years ago and had the time of my life. I know that a lot of you are alums, and all of you are looking for an excuse to visit M-town! Please come! Here is the information page on the Camp Fern website. Does anyone have Connie and Meredith Sample's e-mail addresses? Loved seeing all of you in Connecticut.

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