My main character’s name for the book I’m writing is Mary. As you may remember, she is Mary Adeline Walker; and she is also my great-great-great grandmother. Using what I learned from the workbook, “Authentic Ancestors” by Lynn Palermo, “The Armchair Genealogist”, it was time to develop my protagonist, my central character.
Since Mary is the one individual who ties all my family’s lineages together, she is central to my story. Here’s the rub, though. How do I describe her physical characteristics? I have no pictures of her, and there are no written descriptions, either. What’s a girl to do?
Turns out my mentor had a good suggestion. She suggested an “Authentic Ancestor Collage” board, a tool to bring all the physical details together to create a visual for further reference while writing. I have done storyboards before, so that is what I quickly thought of, until she suggested that Pinterest might be a good place to pin any evidence found. So I placed what evidence I had in a new public Pinterest board entitled, “Something About Mary”. You can find it here.
It turns out that I do have pictures of others in Mary’s family. For example, I have a picture of one of her brothers, three of her children including a daughter, a granddaughter, a great-granddaughter and a great-great-great granddaughter. I pinned all of them on the board. Then I also pinned a picture of a flowering bush that I will use in my first story about her.
I wrote the story using some of the facts that I do know, such as the birth dates of her children. Like most women in her time, she was pregnant a lot. Also, I know that she lived in Monticello; and that at the time of this child, her parents lived out in the country north of where Elizabeth Church sits today near the Old Salt Road. I believe the Yauns own that property now.
Another fact is that her husband was constable during this time and that the first Governor of Florida was from Jefferson County. I wove them into the story as well.
I also used a story about a black snake that actually happened to me personally. I was trying portray her as a strong woman, but also a loving mother.
Last, please don’t hesitate to let me know if you find something that you believe is inaccurate. The point here is to be as factual as possible, and for that I certainly could use your help.
Enjoy! The story is below.
Mary knew what this feeling meant. She had had it four times before, but this time it was too soon. She looked down at the baby suckling at her breast and their eyes locked. She always loved this time, when the little feller could stare and grin. He smiled his toothless grin and drooled milk out the corner of his mouth. She smiled at him, but thought that it was too soon for another to come.
Until now every baby except James had come an easy two years apart. Even little Jesse here came an easy two years after his brother Zach, and Zach came two years after Val, and Val after James. Six year old Sarah wanted to help, and she was already doing what she could. The real help, though, came from Mary’s step-daughters Ellen and Florry, who were twelve and eleven respectively.
Mary found it hard to believe that she was only one year older than Sarah when her family came to Monticello. Much had changed in those two decades since. Just in the last seven years she met William, married, became a mother to three motherless children and had five more babies . She looked back down at Jesse. Poor thing. He would be booted out of the cradle long before the others had.
It was a warm day. Winter had lingered too long, but outside her window a wild azalea was already blooming. The delicate pinkish blossoms stuck up like someone had picked a little bouquet of flowers and attached it to one single long stem sticking up from a bush of green. Each little star shaped flower looked as if it were poking out its delicate whiskered tongue.
What a blessing to have this here. Where she grew up out in the woods, these azaleas were everywhere, especially in the areas near the swamps. She missed living there with her parents, so two winters ago her dad dug one up and transplanted it by her back window. Every spring she waited for its blooms and subsequently missed home all the more when they quickly faded.
Her parents didn’t live far away, and she saw them and her brothers and sisters anytime they came to town. The home place was only a little more than a half days ride to the east by wagon or carriage and even less by horseback. Between town and her parents’ home was a wilderness of cypress swamps, towering pine forests, palmettos so thick that it was almost impassable and always the moss floating down from the massive oak limbs. In the pines she knew there would be wild dogwoods blooming, and she wished she could make the trip this warm day to see their blossoms peeking around the trunks like white lace. The silence was what she missed most. It would be deeply silent except for an occasional wind whispering through the pine boughs.
The road there was barely more than two ruts, and traveling by horseback was easier. Wagon wheels either bogged down into the shifting sand when dry or slid off the slick red clay when not. The rains here came suddenly and frequently often with little warning. Horses and mules were the transportation of choice, but women were seldom seen straddling either.
Outside her window here, though, there was always chattering and yelling, constant clanging of metal harnesses, and the dull thud of horse hooves on dirt. Monticello’s streets were dusty when it was dry and muddy when it wasn’t. Her house was an easy distance from the center of town, and nothing much happened that she didn’t see.
Jesse was much more interested in the noises outside, and she realized that he was done so she pulled down the soft fabrics of her chemise and bodice and handed him to Florry who had just walked into the room. Mary noticed that Florry always seemed to know when she was done.
Florry was born Florida Mae, though she didn’t much like the name. Mary didn’t think it was a bad name. Florida seemed pretty, enough. After all, it was Spanish for flowers; but Florry knew that she was named after the Territory, not flowers. Born in 1840, Florry’s father along with some of the other men in town, worked hard to achieve statehood, which finally happened five years later when Florry was only five.
Mary stepped out into the warm sunshine on the front porch just as Governor Moseley and another man walked by leading their horses and wearing buckskin leggings and homespun blouses. Moseley tipped his hat and continued talking to the stranger as they made their way toward the center of town. Mary arched her back with her hands at the small of her backside and stretched her shoulders as she wondered when William would be home for dinner or if his business would keep him away again tonight. There were no set hours for a Constable, so she never knew.
She stepped back inside just as Ellen started screaming from the kitchen. Running into the room, Mary saw a black snake halfway up the back steps with his head held up about a half foot off the floor just inside the door. He was a nice one, all black and shiny, almost blue. He quickly turned his head from Ellen to Mary with his half-lided gaze.
She knew he wasn’t poisonous, but she also knew that a bite from him would hurt bad. Ellen slowly began backing up, never taking her eyes off the snake, while Mary picked up the broom which was sitting by the door she had just entered. She slowly moved toward the snake stomping her feet, but it didn’t back down. Mary said, “Oh, you’re a fearless one. You just need to go back where you came from.” She began to push the broom toward him , but he lunged at the broom. That’s when she gave a big shove, and his body tumbled down between the steps.
When Mary looked back over her shoulder, she saw all the kids standing in the door and hall. John, who was twelve, said, “I’ll go kill ‘em.”, but Mary said, “no, he’s a good ‘un. Let him be.” She knew that the black snake would protect their door from other less desirables. He was territorial and wouldn’t let another snake take residence. Like most of everything else in the Territory of Florida, she knew you often had to take the lesser of two evils.