The Inimitable Grandma Van Treese
Kathleene Runnels is responsible for this content, which is not edited by the Wilson County News or wilsoncountynews.com.
Everyone should take time to think, really think, about their grandparents, especially those who were born before the 1900’s and lived through WWI, The Depression, The Dust Bowl, WWII, The Korean War, Vietnam, the invention of automobiles and airplanes and telephones and radios and televisions and washing machines and clothes dryers...! My goodness, what those men and women experienced boggles the mind! They are giants in our history. They were tough. Strong. Resilient. Industrious. Innovative.
My daddy's mother, Mildred Matthews, was born in 1882 in Lavaca County to Phynetta Beauregard Livergood and James Floyd Matthews, (m 1876). Grandma’s maternal grandparents were John Himes Livergood and Sarah Ann Perkins, (m 1847). Livergood, whose grandfather was an early settler of Penn’s colony and commanded a post of rifleman in the American Revolution, became a major player in Texas history. Migrating to the Zumwalt settlement from Missouri in 1850, he eventually served in the Mier Expedition, the Civil War, the Texas State Troops, and as one and the first Texas Rangers. He made his home in Mossy Grove and was elected as the first Chief Justice of Lavaca County in 1850. In fact, it was based on his affidavit that determined that Hallettsville was the legally constituted seat of justice for the county.
Grandma’s coming from resolute stock would serve her well. She was the oldest of ten children, and although I have photos of her as a lovely young woman, I can’t remember Grandma looking any different than old, matronly, buxom, gray-haired, and wrinkled. She wore loose-fitting dresses, mostly that she made, and cotton slips with pockets where she kept her coin purse safety-pinned. She was known to hike up her outer dress in public, at a store, anywhere, to dig into her slip pocket to retrieve her money. She also re-made her brassieres and widened the straps to accommodate her bounty. She was not concerned about the lift; rather, those girls rested comfortably at her waist! And, I hate to admit this, she did not wear under-panties!
Grandma dipped snuff, back when it was not scorned for women to do so, and later she chewed tobacco, but that I’m pretty sure was not acceptable. On one trip we made together to the valley to visit her daughter, she told me that she had not brought her Folgers spit can, as she thought I would object. She was right!
My brother and I lived with Grandma a lot during our childhoods. Fond memories include her teaching us to play Canasta when we were very young and learning to play croquet in her yard at Somerset, under those sprawling oaks. She played 42 with my family; not me, I never was much into dominoes. She always had a rose garden, not a grassy, groomed yard, but always flowers. And in later years, she had a dewberry patch in her own back yard, from which she collected delectable dewberries for cobbler. Grandma often made Old-Fashioned Rice Pudding, a recipe I use today.
I often spent weeks at a time with Grandma, either in the summer just to visit, or for those occasions I had an extended illness, (like wring worm or measles). Before going to bed, she always had me massage her face with Noxema, (after removing blackheads, yuk!). During the days, we would play cards or work in the garden, and I read avidly as there was ample quiet time. No TV. Not even a radio.
It seems that I’ve described an uncouth woman, but those photos of her as a young mother belie that image. She was elegant, slender, buxom (yes), and with a mountain of dark hair, piled into a fashionable crown. Grandma was in her mid twenties when she married, and I’m told that she and her husband, Jasper Van Treese, were considered to be the most handsome couple in Karnes County. They began farming in that area, and their four children went to school there.
The family experienced many hardships, as so many did in the 20’s and 30’s. I don’t understand how farmers actually made a living back then; and perhaps this family did not do so well, because about the time the oldest child, my Aunt Vida, graduated from high school, Grandma left Granddaddy and moved into San Antonio to eek out a living alone, not divorced, but as a single mom. (I’m quite sure that phrase was not the house-hold word then that it is today. And I’m absolutely certain that she didn’t get child support!) Instead, she took over the operation of a boarding house on Guenther Street. The two younger boys finished school at Brackenridge.
I wonder about the difficulties Grandma must have experienced that I don’t know anything about. What I do know makes me ever-so-grateful for my easy life in comparison. For starters, Grandma’s first pregnancy was twin girls, and one of them died a few hours after a difficult birth. Two years later, my daddy was born, and I understand that it was a long, painful breach delivery. Two boys came several years later. Then there were the accidents that happened to my daddy, Hubert, rendering him blind. Eventually, he was sent to the blind school in Austin, surely a difficult decision for his parents.
Not long after the family moved to San Antonio, my daddy returned to live with them, and shortly after that he was in that terrible car accident that landed him in the hospital for months and months, possibly never to walk again. He did recover, but how terrible this must have been for Grandma to cope with.
Meanwhile, Aunt Vida, the oldest child and only daughter, went to work for the telephone company, regretfully forgoing a journalism scholarship to Texas so she could help the family financially, and during her visits to her big brother in the Robert B. Green Hospital, she met her true love and married. They had a long, happy life, but sadly never had children.
It was upon the end of WWII when Grandma received that dreaded telegram the government too often has to send, as her youngest son, Morris, was killed in the war in 1945. The war had actually ended when his plane went down. More grief, the worst kind. He left behind a widow and young daughter, LaNell.
The next oldest son, my Uncle Lloyd, married a very young woman, too young to be responsible. They had a daughter, and soon after, she abandoned her baby and husband. For the next nine years, Grandma raised her granddaughter, as Uncle Lloyd joined the army following the end of the war and participated in the post-war effort in Japan. Grandma was a mother and a blessing to Gayle, that young child.
Many years later, Uncle Lloyd, in his early 50’s, was killed in a private plane crash in Pleasanton, TX. Grandma was now in her mid 80’s, and this last grief was almost too much. She explained that one thing that helped her to cope was that one day soon after, she felt someone put his hand on her shoulder and say, “It’s going to be all right.” She turned and looked, but she saw no one, and she realized that it had been the Lord speaking to her.
Grandma lived to be just a few weeks shy of 98. Her last living son, my daddy, Hubert, outlived his mother by just two years. Her daughter, Vida, however, lived to reach 98. Were it not for accidents and injuries, I’m sure all Grandma’s children would have had long lives.
I once said to her that she was fortunate to have been so healthy. (The first time she went to a hospital was with pneumonia at age 92!) Her reply was, “I would trade all my health for my children to have had my good fortune.” Well, I feel it is my good fortune to have had her as my grandmother.