Anna Hennen Jennings Carter, my father's grandmother

By Mary Bok | Jun 02, 2010

What follows is the story of Anna Hennen Jennings Carter, my father's grandmother, as told to me by my aunt, Anne Proctor, who grew up spending summers at Undercliff with her large family. She was blessed with a strong and vivid memory, a colorful sense of humor and a devotion to detail. Her stories often began with a renewed introduction to the woman she called Great-grandmother Carter, and then followed her rhythm into the story itself, something like this:

She was our queen she was. We loved her so, we did. Anything she'd have us do, we did it, and her word was law. You didn't ignore Grandmother Carter, oh no. You paid attention. You stepped up to the plate and readied yourself to perform whatever task she asked of you. There was never any choice in the matter, none at all. There was no way around her, no way at all. You simply couldn't sneak out and pretend she didn't happen. Believe me, we tried; on occasion we did. And our efforts were completely fruitless. Non-events. Stories that might have been in another time, on another day, in another landscape.

Undercliff was her dream home. It was, for her, a God-given oasis in a world gone mad, during a time that is all but forgotten now. She prayed for a place and a season when she could gather her whole family under one roof so that for a time her grown children -- there were 11 of them -- could join her in song and prayer and Bible study to the very depths of their being.

And so, we did just that. We all came to Camden during many a warm, fresh summer, and every night before dinner we would gather on the screened in front porch that looked out over the long, sloping lawn that was rimmed with flower borders never to be forgotten, ever. Even in the shallow light of early evening, the bright colors of the flowers she grew shimmered like magic. There was a soul in that place and it drifted up onto the porch, enveloping us all in obedient rapture. The fragrance cast a spell on even the youngest of our number, and left the older generation in a state of bliss. Tante Lulu would take her place at the organ Grandmama bought from the Episcopal Church in Camden. The congregation had raised funds to purchase a new instrument for their church services, and when Grandmama and Uncle Will offered to buy their old organ, the committee was thrilled to see that the money she offered for it would put them over the top of their fundraising goal.

But I know that our Grandmama was equally thrilled the afternoon the church sexton delivered the old organ to Undercliff in the wagon he'd hitched to his old, gray horse. All the uncles rolled up their sleeves to help unload the organ from the wagon and carry it across the lawn and up the porch steps with much grunting and groaning, so they could put it in its proper place at the center of our gathering place. Grandmama was so thrilled; as a matter of fact, we could see tears glistening in her eyes. She sniffed importantly and dabbed the tears away with a lacy handkerchief she kept tucked into the sleeve of her dress and then daintily blew her nose before she poked the hankie back under her cuff. Everyone clapped and cheered, and one of the uncles hurried off to get a strong drink for the sexton before he made his way back to his wagon and the horse who waited for him near the garden gate.



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