Friday, December 14, 2012

Blanche Greene Peay - A Poor Kid in the City
This is my father's mother, a rare portrait taken when she was about 17.  She probably paid for it out of her earnings; she had been working since she was 11.  Most of her earnings went to help out at home.
My great-grandfather Greene worked for the railroad, but he died young at a time when there was no such thing as a pension.  His widow (the lady my father wrote about) was left  with a house, three small children, and her parents to care for.  Great-great-grandfather Greene had made what turned out to be a bad career choice - he was a cobbler.. About halfway through his working life, everybody started buying cheaper factory-made shoes.  He still occasionally got a commission to make a pair of shoes and presumably helped with the heavy household chores men normally do.
Blanche's mother Nettie and her grandmother Parthenia immediately started taking in boarders; plenty of railroad workers wanted a room near their work.  They also took in laundry and sewing - anything to make a few pennies.  The household was so busy that no one noticed when little Blanche, sent out to draw water from the well, let the well handle get away from her.  It hit her on the back of the head and knocked her out.  When she came to, she got up and drew the water.  No one had missed her.
Jessie Allison Gobel was lucky to grow up in the country, where school was part of the agricultural year.  She spent plenty of time chopping weeds, but also got a high school education.  Blanche went to elementary school in the old Falls School Building (now a restored historic monument), but she never got farther than the sixth grade.  Her mother sent her out to work.  At eleven, she was sticking labels on coffee cans for Cheek Neal Coffee Company.  She was so small her fellow workers could put her into a 50 pound coffee bin and close the lid.
There was no such thing in those days as vacation or sick days.  I still have a very courtly letter written to her by one of the company owners at about the time this picture was taken.  He wrote that he understood she had been sick lately, and that she could spend a week convalescing in Franklin (where my grandfather's relatives had a farm) without losing her job.  Everyone appreciated her hard work and good example, he said.  She cherished this letter.
Of course, she met my grandfather, Joseph Baugh Peay, at Cheek Neal; he eventually became their chief coffee roaster.  As was expected, she quit work upon her marriage, and my grandfather took on the responsibility for her mother and her surviving grandfather.
Would you want to live in a world like this?    

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