My Grandmother,
Sarah Ann Harwell Ricketson
By Rhesa Gunn McNair
 
From: A Journey Through the Past to the Present of My Harwell Family
by Mary Harwell McBryde
 

Always a fascinating bit of history for her grandchildren was the story that Sarah Ann Harwell Ricketson, daughter of Seaborn and Mary Jane Harwell, was born December 29, 1850 in Mississippi, weighing one and one half pounds and slept in a shoe box for a cradle. Her twin sister, smaller than she, died at birth. Photo of Sarah Ann.
 
This and other stories were told at times around the big red granite fireplace at Grandmother's house and on other occasions around her opened trunk of souvenirs and important business papers. Those were memorable occasions for her grandchildren. When any child chanced to see Grandma approach her almost "sacred" trunk, with key in hand, that child quickly ran to call any and all brothers, sisters or cousins to "Come Quick! Grandma' s opening her trunk."
 
Each time we wanted to hear again about how she was once small enough to sleep in a shoebox, and to see the tiny dress and cap that she wore when she was one year old. (It would have fit a small doll.) And we would see the shawl she wore when a girl, also a silk dress of earlier years; the "pullikins" that Grandpa used on any or all who sought his talent for dentistry; some lovely dress material, "the last piece of goods Aaron brought me from Austin", and a number of other items, including her parent's pictures.
 
The trunk was more special because of its having been one of the few household things rescued from "THE FIRE". "THE FIRE" was a term almost as indicative of time as "The Flood". My memory has it as having indirectly caused Grandpa's death, 1916, from pneumonia, followed sometime after smoke and fire inhalation; but I wouldn't make this a statement of fact. But back to the trunk, it seems the family had difficulty in waking Buck the night before the fire began. When finally he realized the house was burning, he sprang out of bed, ran, grabbed the trunk and sped out of the house into the field (quite a distance for so heavy a load), sat himself atop the trunk and there he sat as in a trance until some of the excitement had subsided.
 
I am getting ahead of Grandmas early history. In 1853 she came to Texas in a covered wagon, naturally, at the age of 2 years with her parents. They came via Tyler, with a stop over there where Uncle Green, her brother, was born. The family settled on the Colorado River in Burnet County in what later became known as the Wolf Crossing Community. (See story in Bourland's "Flowers for the Living.)
 
Being the oldest daughter in the Family, Sarah Ann helped take care of the younger children, and one story in particular always ran shivers up the spines of her grandchildren. Alone with the smaller children in the home one night, she heard Indians moving about outside. She quickly put out the lamps and cautioned the children to be absolutely still and quiet. She herself was "breathlessly quiet" until John, the youngest at that time began to cry for water, which was kept on the porch or in the kitchen across the "dog trot". She dared not leave the room and made great efforts to keep the Indians from hearing the baby cry. They came so close as to walk across the porch before leaving.
 
Other Indian tales made spellbound listeners, who in turn, I am sure, passed the tales along with a lot of our own imagination. In fact, so much of our own makes me reluctant to tell that the Indians once came so close to capturing one of the brothers that, as the boy was grabbed, he escaped only by fleeing with arms stretched back, leaving his coat in the Indian's hand.
 
For her there was also fun as well as fear. She must have been playful even at chores. Once in the cow pen she couldn't resist braiding two cowls tails together "to see what would happen". She saw. And called loudly above the "bawling noise" of the cattle, "Somebody bring the butcher knife!" Help didn't arrive in time to save the tails.
 
When she was 22 years old she married Aaron Ricketson from Georgia. I can recall only one story of Aaron's single life, a story I did not hear until comparatively recent years. The account stated that when he was 16 or 17 years old he served a short time in the Civil War and was wounded in the hand; a severe infection resulted and doctors ordered amputation "to save his life". Aaron objected; objection was overruled and the day for surgery was set. The night before the amputation was to be done, Aaron went AWOL. After a time his hand healed but he was afraid to return. So he "hid from the law" unnecessarily, he learned much later, for he wasn't even "wanted". The war had ended shortly after he had left the army. (No doubt the doctors and authorities believed he never survived the infection.) Photo of Aaron Ricketson.
 
When Sarah Ann and Aaron married, they lived one mile from her parents, built the first "plank" house in that area with lumber hauled from Austin, and never moved. Grandpa, though being given to urges to travel and make periodic trips back to Georgia, must have been a good provider. His family lived well by standards of that day. He served as banker and "doctor figure" in the community. He kept money in hollow trees, in a can under a loose plank in the "gallery"; once even rode after dark to Fairland for an old "discarded" coat that womenfolks had used to pack fruit jars after a day of canning at his home. Why did he need that old coat that had hung for weeks on the same nail behind the stove? Because he had tucked $400 in one of the pockets for safe keeping. I have only one memory of actually seeing Grandpa, that is of him sitting on the front porch with a fly swatter, killing flies for a pet baby chicken. He died when I was five years old.
 
Grandma was small in stature, but great in character and personality. Her red hair, fast step and quick wit, together with her straight forward, plain spoken honesty, absolute integrity, kindness and love for family and neighbors gave us all a feeling of security just to be in her presence. Her hardy pioneer type belied her petite, neat, every inch a lady image --- shiny red hair pared in the middle, pulled back in a bun and held with a comb. She could manage, hold and pluck down from a full sized, mad, snappy goose more easily than I can pick a dead quail. (And she had the feather beds to prove it.) Evidently she was also a good business woman, as fair as she was firm.
 
If she had an enemy I never knew of it. If she had a favored (not favorite) child, it would have been the youngest, over whom she felt the need to be more protective. The most favored grandchild was, as he called himself, "just a little red-headed, freckled faced kid that didn't know any better" than to step on the sweet potato cuttings as the family put them in the ground. This one, whose mother died when he was 9 months old, she helped rear. (He became a fine man, of whom she would be proud.) She had a son and a daughter, who had each lost a mate, to return to the homestead with their children for a time to live. There was also the oldest and the youngest sons who never left home to stay.
 
The stock-farm and gravel pit continued to support not only the homestead but a "gravel check" went at varying intervals to each of her nine children. The gravel pit also served as a train stop for homecoming or leaving. One had only to "flag the train" to board it for a trip to Llano or Austin...or maybe just to Kingsland, the nearest post office. This, however, was in walking distance in that day, only 4 miles. Before the "wagon bridge" was built people walked the terribly high railroad bridge across the Colorado, always being mindful of the train schedule since the river was quite wide at its junction with the Llano River.
 
My mother, Cenia Ricketson Gunn, who had many of her mother's attributes--calmness and courage in the face of danger being not the least of these--had a way of "crossing any bridge" when she came to it. (But not before.) She and a girl friend donned their bonnets one summer day to walk to Kingsland. At about the middle of the bridge they heard and saw an unscheduled train approaching. Cenia took command when the friend froze in fright. With some difficulty she steered the panic stricken girl down to a pier below the tracks. Then she hastily scrambled down to a safe spot, losing her bonnet in the scramble. After the train and noise passed, the two girls climbed back upon the tracks and retrieved Cenia's bonnet, to find only a part of it. The train wheels had neatly cut off the tail. The rest Cenia wore jauntily into town as mute evidence of her narrow escape. I was grown before I knew that she wasn't really wearing the bonnet when the tail was cut off .
 
Grandma was a member of the Protestant Methodist Church, but preachers of all denominations found a cordial welcome in her home. In fact, preachers, teachers, peddlers, far-off kin, close kin, self-claimed kin... any and all were given lodging. But it was family that brought the twinkle to her eyes when they came and a tear, that she'd wipe away with her apron, when they left.
 
Many were the tears that had to be wiped away when she left us in 1928 in her own home, at 77 years of age, and was buried beside Grandpa on "the old home place".

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