by Rocky Macy
(What follows is a tribute to my maternal grandmother that was published in my newspaper genealogy column, Rootbound in the Hills, nineteen years ago in May of 1989. It is dedicated to my children, with love.)
One of the rewarding aspects of writing this column is having the opportunity to occasionally digress through my own family history. It is a pleasure and a privilege to be able to highlight the lives of my forebears who did so much, often in quiet ways, for their friends and neighbors and family.
Last October Rootbound carried a special remembrance of my maternal grandfather, Dan SREAVES, on what would have been his one hundredth birthday. Now, a scant six months later, comes another family milestone - for it was a century ago this week that "Siss", Dan's wife and the center of his life, came into this world.
Nancy Jane "Siss" ROARK was born to Samuel James and Nancy Anthaline (SCARBROUGH) ROARK in McDonald County, MO, on 18 May 1889, the middle child in a family of nine. Though probably sharing the same dreams that many children have of travel and adventure, she and most of her brothers and sisters were destined to spend their entire lives in the Missouri Ozarks.
Siss met Dan sometime in the early part of the twentieth century. The couple married in McDonald County on 12 Mar 1913, and settled down to the quiet rigors of farm life on a place just south of the Newton County line. Their married life was happy, lasting nearly forty years and producing seven fine children.
Although life on the farm was agreeable with Siss, early on she showed a preference for indoor work. Embroidery was one of her specialities, as was cooking. Siss prepared a big country breakfast and dinner (lunch) each day. In fact, the first two meals of the day were generally so large that there were sufficient leftovers to take care of supper.
When Siss did work outside, she could often be found in her garden, an attractive mixture of flowers and vegetables. She was proud of her dahlias and equally pleased with the fact that much of the family's food supply was homegrown. And Siss had definite ideas on how and where to plant. The seeds needed to go in the ground on specific days, regardless of the weather or her husband's friendly advice to the contrary.
Siss SREAVES was a very religious woman and a good neighbor. She served as a midwife, helping to ensure that that her friends' children entered the world as safely as possible. The SREAVES table was always available to others, especially after church on Sunday when the children took it for granted that their parents would bring home guests for the noon meal.
It was on a Sunday after church in the late 1930s when Siss organized one of the biggest parties that the folks on Swars Prairie had ever witnessed. She and her daughters had picked blackberries that spring to earn money for a very special gift for Dan's birthday. They took their secret "pin money" and used it to have an enlargement made of a small photograph of Dan's mother.
When Dan's birthday rolled around that October, Siss and the kids were ready! Using some false pretense, she kept Dan at church after Sunday morning services were over, allowing everyone in the community time to gather at the SREAVES home. And gather they did! There are still some people around who relate with amazement stories of the many neighbors that were assembled to celebrate Dan's birthday. The feasting and good times lasted well into the evening.
Siss started suffering mild strokes in the 1930s soon after her last child was born. But being the tenacious farm woman that she was Siss held on to life for another twenty years. Though often ill, she was able to see each of her children through to maturity, and she had the opportunity to know many of her grandchildren.
I was just shy of being five-years-old when Siss SREAVES passed away in 1953. Although my memories of the time preceding her death are few and faded, I can still see my grandmother, quiet and caring, sitting down at a family gathering to share a piece of pie with her little grandson. We ate with our hands (perhaps the table service had already been packed away), and shared a moment - a moment that has stayed with me as a subtle and enduring reminder of a gentle woman who spent a lifetime caring for others.
It is a legacy that I treasure.