By Our Own Hands

Dad, Grandma T, Mom & Grandpa T with a couple of tadpoles

The school that I teach at used to have each of the new teachers tell something about themselves to the school early in that first year.  I wrote about it here. But I recently, in a computer archeology moment, found the story that I told that day, so I  thought I would share it here:

By Our Own Hands

I come from a line of extraordinary women.  This quilt represents some of the threads that have come together to make my family.  The top was made by my Great-great grandmother Edna Bowles and my Great Grandmother Emma Dougherty; it was quilted by my grandmother Ella Gartland Dougherty.

There are lots of stories that are woven together and sewn to each other, tracing back centuries, to make the fabric of my family, but I will tell you about four extraordinary women and the whole cloth they have made that I, in turn, pass on to my daughters.

Minnie Mariah Smith Potter was an extraordinary woman.  Hard as steel, she was a circuit riding Methodist minister’s wife who raised her seven children in the strict traditions of Methodism.  With my great grandfather Isaac Platte Potter on the road most of the time, Riah ran the farm in Garrettson, SD by herself, raising those children and starting a tradition of family gathering that still occurs, drawing up to 100 family members together every two years to celebrate family and community.  We are an unusual family – we camp!  Her daughter, Frances Willard Potter, is my grandmother.

Frances Willard Potter Tabor was an extraordinary woman.  She was named, in true Methodist fashion, after the founder of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.  She was a large woman, almost 6 feet tall, who loved fashionable hats, red nail polish, beautiful dresses, and the color purple.  She was the best lap you ever sat on.  She knew that fairies live under toadstools and that if you leave them animal crackers, while you nap, they will eat them.  She understood that childhood was for everyone, that life was too serious too often, and that a pink cake is the antidote for many troubles.  Frances enjoyed chocolate chips in her oatmeal.  Her gift to me was love, laughter, and my father and his brother, Tom.

Gram and Mom (and wunderkind)

Ella Gartland Dougherty was an extraordinary woman.  As a girl, she and her three sisters must have been quite a team.  Daughters of a wealthy grain speculator, they went to “sister school,” a Catholic boarding school in Minneapolis.  She was married late, in her mid twenties – almost an Old Maid by the standards of the day – to a man who worked for the railroad.  Because of his job they moved a lot, and she, hard as steel, survived the Depression and the Dust Bowl by wearing many hats.  She ran a snack shop, played the piano for the movies, and taught school.  Gram was a one-room school-teacher who became a 2nd grade teacher.  After her retirement she played endless games of cards and learned to shoot pool.   My mother is her daughter.

Mom and the sopranos

Joan Dougherty Tabor is an extraordinary woman.  She raised three children, on her own, in Brookings, SD.  She did a lot of things that women didn’t do.  She never remarried, bought a house, and continued her education.  Bravely she would load us into the car, almost every summer, for an extended road trip to see America.  We traveled to Texas, Wyoming, and we spent a lot of time in the Black Hills of SD – Why was this an act of bravery?  Because you must remember, this was when cars had 470 air conditioning – four windows down at 70 miles per hour.  Mom also is a teacher, a librarian, and a journalist.  After her retirement she learned to play the String Bass.  Mom continues the traditions of quilts, and makes a tied quilt for each of her grandchildren to celebrate their birth. [And she sang in a trio in college – they were quite good so I am told – Mom still has a great ear and voice.  She tells me that she kept time with her toe.]

These four women have handed to me a quilt of memories and qualities that I will pass on to my daughters.  Love, laughter, family, strength, courage, and a sense of continuity, of connection.  There is a certainty that the threads will keep spinning out, and that we will weave them all together.

Photos are mine and are the only part of this post that are not available for reuse. All rights reserved. Sorry – they are my memories and I just can’t let someone photoshop them.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Liz says:

    I know I read this when you originally did this, but it still touches me on a cellular level. Yes, it is my story too and you can see how we have evolved because of our shared history. Somehow I can’t imagine the many costumes sewn or the meals prepared & served without these women in your/our DNA.

    They gave us much, but perhaps the most important lesson is that a pink cake, particularly one with that fabulous cooked frosting, is the antidote for most troubles.

    1. Kate Tabor says:

      I agree that we can’t lose sight of the simple and delicious pleasures that are really so easy for us to both provide or share and as easy to overlook as frivolous. The pink cake and what it represents – the time to make that cooked frosting, the acknowledgment that a child’s wish is important, the love, the urge to laugh out loud, the need for things that are sweet (to taste but in their nature) – are the key. They are seen in your taking my girls to Florida when I had to work, the day at The Mouse and the collective adoration of Belle, the endless drives you make to South Dakota, the joy your children, my children, and all their friends find in your home, and in so many meals delivered and served, hands held, hearts mended.
      Kindness and love – and yes, that is our common DNA as well as the myriad talents that we share. We wouldn’t be who we are without those women. Imagine who our daughters (and son) will become (already are).

  2. jessica says:

    what a beautiful post. I love ones like this. Those women sound incredible. I love the description of the AC and boy do I remember those days and not fondly

    1. Kate Tabor says:

      Hello! With all the drama over at your blog, I’m impressed that you can read anything right now. These were (and are – Mom celebrates 81 years in a week) amazing women – and they give women (like us, if I may be so bold) great examples so that we can keep doing amazing things. They remind me that love + just getting it done can be a recipe for Incredible.

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