Meet Edna, fully known to God as Edna Dean Holt Shetley.
Most folks just call her Miss Edna or Miss Shetley. Her late husband John called her ‘Ed-Nee’ in the Appalachian tradition of pronouncing a short A as a long E.
Me? I call her ‘Mamaw’ but for the sake of this article will refer to her as Edna.
Edna was born in 1926 to Harrison & Althea Cogdill Holt.
In 1932, Edna was six years old. Her and her three siblings lived with their parents in a two room shack in the Spring Creek Community of Madison County. Harrison worked in the logging camps while Althea took care of the home and children.
However, Harrison Holt was a dangerously jealous man.
One night in 1932, Harrison came home. Althea and the children were in the sleeping quarters with their infant son Harley nestled beside Althea.
Without reason, Harrison put a shotgun under Althea’s chin and pulled the trigger.
Althea was buried in a very small cemetery on Lemon’s Gap beside her father. Her grave was marked with a slab of rock, identical to all the graves in the humble resting place.
Afterwards, Harrison Holt was convicted of murdering Althea and he would go on to serve approximately nine years in prison. In the meantime, Edna and her sibling’s lives became one of upheaval and turmoil.
Separated from her siblings, Edna would grow up moving from foster home to foster home, providing labor in return for room & board.
Finally, she moved in with her uncle, Till Cogdill and his wife Caroline. Through them Edna met Caroline’s younger brother, John Shetley who was nine years her senior.
At age 15, Edna married John in May of 1941. Edna kept the home and John worked in FDR’s Conservation Corps or as he preferred to call it “The CC Camps”.
In 1943, John & Edna welcomed the first of six children, as son named Eugene.
He would be followed by Joyce (my mother), Faye, Bobby, Dale & Wanda.
However, it also produced a lady who had an absolute no-nonsense approach to life and child rearing: No time for foolishness and no time for crying.
As Eugene tells it, his mother was never fleet of foot. This led him to develop the bad childhood habit of running from Edna when he would get in trouble. He would get way ahead of her, turn around, close his eyes with his tongue stuck out and his thumbs in his ears while wiggling his fingers at her. Then he would bolt away again.
He would soon discover that bad behavior makes the chickens come home to roost.
As Eugene told me years ago: “There came a day when I had done something and Mommy scolded me. Sure enough, I took off running and got ahead of her. I closed my eyes and lolled my tongue out at her”.
“*BOOM*! My feet left the ground. After being airborne for a split second, I hit the ground flat of my back”.
Edna had outsmarted him in her stern, no-nonsense approach. She had tomahawked a stick of stove wood, hitting Eugene squarely in the mouth.
Said Eugene with a wry smile “That was the last time I pulled that stunt”.
That being said, there was also the time that Eugene came home from school, severely bruised from a paddling his teacher had given him.
The next day, Edna walked the two miles to Hot Springs Elementary School. She not so politely invited the teacher outside, which was in turn politely & nervously declined.
She was as tough as a ten penny nail and without remorse in her steadfastness.
Edna raised all of her children in this fashion and held her grandchildren to the same standard of accountability; but she still had that fierce soft spot for family.
She kept her and John’s home immaculately clean which mixed well with the sweet aroma of John’s blended pipe tobacco.
When you visited, you’d better be ready to eat. If I had a dollar for every apple butter or jelly biscuit she’s made in her life I would require a bank account in the Cayman Islands.
When Edna’s father Harrison died in 1977, she was determined not to attend the funeral. She had not laid eyes on him since that horrible 1932 night. Eugene persuaded her to go, as he said “He’s still your father”. Dedication to family won out, in spite of circumstances.
John died in July of 1998, two months after their fifty-seventh wedding anniversary. At the funeral, Edna’s shoulders heaved a little but she still refused to let her family see her cry.
In today’s world, Edna suffers from Dementia, like so many of our elderly. If there is a silver lining to it, it is this: If you visit Edna and tell her you love her, her childlike and fragile condition allow her to do something she couldn’t do for the better part of ninety years; She will softly cry and whisper “I Love You Too”.
In closing, I am sure some of you are wondering ‘Why didn’t he use his photography?’
The answer is that I could not bring myself to exploit her condition for the sake of photography. If Mamaw taught all of us anything it’s that family comes first, no matter what.
As sad as it sounds, I did not have one decent photograph of her to use. Not one. These photos come courtesy of my Uncle Eugene’s daughters, my first cousins Deana and Jackie Shetley.
It also leads me to challenge all of you to help preserve Appalachian & Family History by not only taking photographs and notating history but also sharing it.
Your history is every bit as important as mine.
Y’all have a great week.