(Continued from Part I) An inspiring unedited true story from the author of History of Eufaula, published in 1930
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True Life Story of
Eufaula’s Outstanding Writer
Eugenia Persons Smartt
Author of “History of Eufaula” Published 1930
Written March 8, 1939
Federal Writers Project (WPA)
She has had every odd against her, the most devastating of all, tuberculosis, but there has never been a braver soul. She is one of Eufaula’s best known and most capable writers.
(Continued from Part I) The joy of being with mother and father and baby was great, but life was not easy for me as father was not so young. By the time all expenses were paid I had just enough to buy a home for us all. We tried to carry on and I wondered what work I could do, for a home is a small part of the expenses of life. My mother had begun to have touches of rheumatism when my baby was born for she could not use her arm. The doctors here did not know what to do do for it. Being the arthritis type it was gradually creeping over her body and crippling her more and more. We moved into “Our Home” in 1912, and soon after this Mother suffered pain every night. How often in the middle of the night have I heard her crying and how my heart ached that I could do nothing. She was one of very strong character and would take no pain killer.
Teeth pulled to help pain
When she became so crippled that she could not walk she was advised to have her teeth pulled. After this the pains left, but she was from then for more than twenty-five years an invalid and had to be waited on like a baby. We decided it best for father to give up work that he had, and nurse mother, have a good garden and chickens, while I could do the work. I did not want to leave my baby and go out to work because she was small and father could not take full charge of her, then besides it was necessary that I help with mother while he was gardening or tending the chickens.
I had always loved art and music when a girl but could not take art because of expense of materials and had no piano for music. Hence the study of expression which helped me later in life in dramatic work. After much meditation I thought, “I can, and will teach art as I love it best. No one knows I did not study, never had a lesson in my life, but if I produce good results, why worry?”
So with more determination I asked mothers for their daughters in my art class and not a one asked where I had studied. I fitted up a room in the house and started work with fifteen pupils at two dollars a month. I also painted little water colors and sold them. Some of my pupils claim that they are still proud of their first work under my guidance. Art in a small town does not last, so when Fall came, about half were talking of stopping so as to make the school grades. In fact, some of my pupils knew no more of art than a “hog does holiday.”
I next wondered what I could do to make a real living and still work at home where I could help. My solution was “the Kindergarten.” Just the thing to do, teach others and at the same time teach my baby. I was told that all Kindergartens established in Eufaula had failed within nine months even though teachers who were graduates of Kindergarten schools had taught.
My mother had taught me from childhood that she believed people could do anything they wanted to do if they only tried hard enough. I believed it and now would make my demonstration. The wet blanket was thrown at me like this — “How can you teach Kindergarten when you have never studied it?” So with the same determination that opened the art class the year before opened the Kindergarten the Fall of 1910, with twenty-five pupils at $3.50 per month, Little Eugenia thought ever school day was her birthday and would say, “Here tomes dirls and boys to my party.”
An in most small towns nearly thirty years ago, parents thought Kindergarten a luxury instead of a necessity, and after one year my pupils dropped off, for the novelty had worn off. I understood now why others had failed, not because, as teachers, they aren’t capable, but because they had failed to make the parents understand. My task then was to show the great necessity of this fundamental training. This I did, for I remembered what my mother had said and I determined not to fail. After clinging to my school of three pupils at one time, I soon built it up to an average of twenty pupils at $3.00 a month, who came regular and the school lasted for sixteen years until I was forced to give it up because of ill health, and if I could teach to-day, it would be re-established. The children loved me and I loved them.
Every year I dramatized most beautiful plays and operetts (sic) which were staged at Carnegie Auditorium or the old Opera House. The Auditorium could only seat three hundred but most often standing room was taken. These plays showed great skill. It required two months to perfect one, practicing daily, as they were taught by repitition (sic) and imitation. They carried speaking parts as well as grown ups could have done for they were never bothered with stage fright.
I often dramatized plays such as “Snow White,” “Cinderella,” “Sleeping Beauty,”and ” Hansel and Gretel’ in other towns in Summer. I did not pretend to be a beautiful dancer myself, but again demonstrated that with determination and a reasonable amount of sense one can do most anything. I taught beautiful solo dances as well as class dances to my pupils. My daughter was asked to dance on the campus at A. P. I., Auburn, one Summer at a special entertainment. I quote from the local paper: “Eugenia Smartt, of Eufaula and (name omitted) of Birmingham, each gave beautiful solo dances which showed that both were quite proficient in the art and both were loudly applauded, little Miss—- having been taught by dancing teachers in Birmingham and Little Miss Smartt by her mother only.”
Mother, Father and I planned a home orchard, thinking it would bring a little revenue in Summer when no money from teaching was available. Mother selected the trees and we planted pecans and peaches. The peaches paid well a few years while pecans were small. I declare it is no fish story when I say I sold every peach on one tree one year at ten cents each. They were as large as a grapefruit. Father did the spraying and I chased the flathead borers. I would take two half bushel baskets of luscious red peaches in Mother’s room every morning when I gathered them and it was such joy to her to point her little crippled finger and say, “That one is pretty, put it in.” Thus I filled the smaller baskets to sell. The peaches are long since gone but the pecan trees stand a silent memorial to Father who so willingly gave of the labor of his hands that we might have comforts. We thought then that pecans would always bring a nice income from our home orchard of thirty trees that now yield fifteen hundred pounds but to our surprise the price dropped from fifty cents a pound ten years ago to eight and ten cents now.
Careful managing, with the teaching, and extra work I did, and Father’s chickens and vegetables there was enough to care for the family of four, but I never could “get over the top” and save, still I never have mortgaged the little I had, “our home.” There was not much in teaching but to participate in the moulding (sic) of character of little ones was a compensation that to me bore no price tag.
I had never been very ill and did not think any amount of work would hurt me. We did not keep servants for we just carried on together and I did the sewing for the family Children’s clothes were not easily obtained ready made nor would the price have been within my means then, and quite a few were needed because laundry was sent out. Today with children’s clothes rinsed out at home they do not need a dozen of each garment as I had to keep. I failed to say I went to Sunday School and taught a class every Sunday. I was a member of the D. A. R. writers, Literary and Music clubs, and attended other socials. It was all too much for any person so I broke after having permantly (sic) established and taught for sixteen years, “Smartt Prep-School and Kindergarten.”
I did not fail, nor did my pupils fail, for they made high records, some graduating from high school at fifteen and many at sixteen, but the teacher lost her health and the school was closed after a most successful career.
Yes, the school that I was told would not last, did last, and the teacher had never had training other than magazines and books, together with a heart that loved little ones.
I was taken to the hospital where I was treated for typhoid fever. Later I had a heavy operation. In the meantime my daughter graduated from high school, where she made all A’s the year after leaving Smartt School. I had always wanted my daughter to study music, for I knew she was wonderfully talented. She had taken music as I had managed to get her a piano and giver her lessons, but I wondered how I would send her off for further study. I had saved five hundred dollars but part of it was spent during my illness.
Sent daughter to Conservatory of Music
Anyway I sent her to Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. I knew I could get her there and just hoped and prayed that I could keep her there. She was with relatives so there was no board. It was hard to tell my sixteen year old daughter that I was in a hospital. My prayers were answered for when she passed through Nashville she met relatives of my husband that she had never seen, and her charming personality won them. When she reached Cincinnati, they sent her a check to cover expenses at the Conservatory. You may know I was happy, but soon better and went home to teach again. That Spring I staged a play which was a grand success, and then left to visit relatives and my daughter. I left my precious parents thinking I would return within a month.
We were all very happy together and everyone was grand to us, when one day I became ill and a doctor was summoned. No one but God in Heaven knows how I felt when he gently told me I would have to remain in the hospital a year or more. I had an invalid mother and an aged father to care for and a daughter just entering college and no income. Every one told me not to worry, but that is easier said than done. They put me in a hospital, paid my expenses, gave my daughter her musical education, and were so good to us both. I could not erase the picture of my parents trying to carry on alone. Father used to kneel at Mother’s crippled knees and pray for my recovery. They needed me. I must get well for I had a mission to fill, to care for my loved ones. On the first Mother’s Day that I was in the hospital I wrote a poem, “Dear Little Mother,” which I sent to Mother and it was later accepted by Crown Anthology of Verse. After being in the hospital two years I came home with “my baby.” Tears of joy streamed down Mother’s face and it hurt me to see that she and Father looked older.
After some months rest I started a new work because the school work would have been too confining. I knew I must work so that I could stop when I did not feel well. I suppose now I might be called a “Jack at all trades.” I did have all trades but will not say I was a “Jack,” for I sold as many heaters as any one hardware firm, put over all the advertising schemes that I planned, including several “Who’s Who Contests.” (I wrote every verse as they were poetical contests.), made artificial flowers and raffia baskets. Oh, well, I did just every thing that came my way. Although I was told that people would not buy paper flowers, I certainly sold quite a few and five church weddings were decorated with my flowers, but I promised not to tell anyone for they did not show it.
This photograph at the Alabama Department of Archives and History is believed to be mislabeled by the archives as Mrs. Virginia P. Smartt of Eufaula ca. 1930s. Q1481 instead of Eugenia P. Smartt
Five years to write History of Eufaula
During this time I compiled and wrote an absoluteley (sic) authentic “History of Eufaula.” It is a three hundred page book, beautifully bound and well illustrated. I spent a part of five years doing this work because as usual I worked against odds. I had no car. Then too, I had to do much extra work to meet living expenses, although my daughter taught music and helped, two years before her marriage. So naturally the book rested quite often. Because I did not produce it sooner some said, “I don’t believe you will ever finish it,” or “I thought you had given it up.” I answered these queries with an article in the paper stating that I had never voluntarily given up a thing I had ever started, and I would never give up the book unless forced to because health would not permit its being finished. I had to labor under other difficulties also. I had no typewriter and the book was written five times by long hand. I could not add a single expense other than pencils and paper. I would walk to get sketches of those represented and often had to go back. To collect $1,000 in 1931 was no easy job, for people were panicky then, and $800 worth bona-fide orders were cancelled because of the depression. Anyway, I collected the thousand dollars and turned the book over to the publisher, and delivered it the following year. Another problem faced me when I was at the publisher’s office. I had never had a book published and there was much to learn. Well, I bet the publisher will not tell you that I was green in the business for I managed our contract in such a way that he thought I had had dealings with publishers before.
Probably I walked too much doing this work for I was later put to bed again, and I won the game again, but had to give up outside work. If I must give up outside work then surely I could do inside work, so I secured the agency for newspapers out of town, corresponded for one, and do advertising over the phone.
November 19, 1936, Mother and Father celebrated their fifty-seventh anniversary. They were the second couple in Eufaula’s history to live to-gether fifty-seven years. I had hope they would live to celebrate their sixtieth.
Loss of father
Father was never ill until about a year before he died and that was a very hard year on us all. Usually his suffering was most severe in the middle of the night, and even though I did not always get up, for he told me not to as I might catch cold, I could not sleep for more than a year knowing that he was suffering. Mother could not sleep after twelve because he was up and had to build a fire and sit up the rest of the night. Finally one night a few days after Christmas, he put Mother to bed and complained of being cold. Next day he was real sick, and worried over Mother for he kept saying, “Who will put Mother to bed?” He knew I could not lift her. In two days he died at the age of eighty-six. He had done his bit like the soldier that he was, and had carried on to the end. Unlike his father he did not enjoy riches and his name may not be in the hall of fame, but a record of his noble deeds are recorded in the Hall of Fame in Heaven.
Dear little crippled Mother was braver than I for she comforted me. I did not know how to carry on without him. Had we not worked to-gether, what he could not do, I did; and what I could not do, he did, for over twenty-five years? Now I not only had to see about all housework and business all the time, and I had great trouble keeping a good negro woman at nights. They don’t like to stay in white folks houses at nights, they say “case witches rides on.”
(If I were rich my money would be used to hire nurses for invalid old people. If there were hundreds of homes everywhere I would not have their hearts broken by placing them there.)
Six months after Father died I was told that Mother could not live very long. No one knows the agony I endured. All of my life I had told her everything. Even when I went to town I came home, sat in her room and outlined my iteniary, (sic) telling her who I saw or talked with. If I mentioned a stranger she asked me the color of eyes, hair, and if tall or low, stout or thin, When I finished the description she had a good mental picture of a person she had never seen. This was life and joy to her.
Now what must I do about the very thing that concerned her most? Finally I think she understood that she was in a serious condition. She suffered more and more.
All during her suffering I was crippled with some trouble in my back, lumbago I suppose. Could not do for her when I was most needed. The pain was so severe for several weeks that I could hardly turn in bed. Mother and I were alone with servants all during her suffering except when my daughter came for a week at a time. She could not leave three little girlies so long. Then my brother came the last month. It was impossible for him to come sooner.
She slipped from us when she was within two weeks of her seventy-ninth birthday. She was one around whose memory lingers a hale of immortal and undimmed glory. She was loved by all for her nobility of nature, her sincerity of friendship and the great good that she rendered others even though an invalid. Robed in orchid with white maribeau (sic) she was the most beautiful angel one could wish to see.
I feel that I haven’t the courage to carry on now for I am here all alone. I can only say that I hope this true story will encourage those who may have many obstacies to overcome as I did, before they can accomplish their heart’s desire. ” (findagrave.com/memorial/26893789/eugenia-smartt/photo)
(The Times and News Thu Jun 15 1905, Eufaula, Alabama)