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Annie in Austin
Welcome! As "Annie in Austin" I blog about gardening in Austin, TX with occasional looks back at our former gardens in Illinois. My husband Philo & I also make videos - some use garden images as background for my original songs, some capture Austin events & sometimes we share videos of birds in our garden. Come talk about gardens, movies, music, genealogy and Austin at the Transplantable Rose and listen to my original songs on YouTube. For an overview read Three Gardens, Twenty Years. Unless noted, these words and photos are my copyrighted work.
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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Happy Birthday, Kitty

When gardening with seeds was the subject, I wrote about my sturdy gardening grandma, who was born on a farm. This is my other grandmother, Grandma Kitty, a 4’10” bundle of spunk and style. She was born in April, and she's still remembered every April by her descendents. In this photo, Kitty is 21 years old, wearing a pleated dress that she designed and sewed.

Kitty died when I was quite young, so it's likely that my few actual memories of her have replicated themselves into memories of remembering her. But I’ve seen photos and watched old movies and heard a lot of stories about Kitty.
A city-loving apartment dweller with no chance to be a gardener, Kitty was pretty and kind, frequently taking in relatives who needed somewhere to stay for a while. The tale is that everyone loved Kitty – she’s seen in many group photos, never separated from the people near her, but always with someone’s arm enclosing her. Every Friday she baked and cleaned the house like a tornado, getting ready for whoever would drop in over the weekend. You might get her famous kidney stew, or the children's favorite Burnt Sugar Cake, or her own favorite coconut macaroons.

Having a houseful of company was Kitty's delight. With a large extended family just a stroll or a streetcar away, casual visiting was easy and children grew up in a expansive social network, where the cousins were as close as sisters, and the friends were as close as family. There was always someone in the group who could play the piano in Kitty’s parlor, so everyone could sing as they passed the refreshments – which probably included a bucket of suds fetched from the nearby tavern.

I heard that Kitty would spread a sheet of newspaper on the carpet, have one of the children lie down with arms extended to the side, and make marks on the paper. She'd send the child off to school and make a well-fitting coat by the time school was out. [Carol of May Dreams Garden posts the diaries of her grandmother Ruth, who was also a lightning-fast seamstress.]

I’d dearly love to be able to talk to my grandmother, finally find out the answers to genealogical mysteries, ask her if she remembers the Chicago World’s Fair, and quiz her about the photo taken at a pre-World War One party where all the young wives dressed as men and smoked cigars. But tomorrow, it would also be great if Kitty could clean my house like a tornado, whip up some macaroons and magically sew me some new clothes, because company’s coming and I could use her help.


  1. Your Grandma Kitty sounds like a special lady, the kind of woman who made it better for everyone around her. Thank you for sharing her with all of us. I'm sure as you clean and cook tomorrow, she'll be smiling down upon you.

  2. Your grandmother sounds like a wonderful woman. I'm always struck by how much work women of that era did every day. I have some of my great-grandmother's diaries, and as soon as I saw Carol's grandmother's blog (so to speak), I wanted to borrow the idea.

    Hope your housework goes quickly so you can have a relaxed visit with your guests!

  3. Lol! Wasn't she amazing! The coat! Imagine that! However, you're amazing, too...it's just a different time and place.

    It's terrific that you know what you do...I, sadly, know very little of my grandparents, especially when they were young.

    My cousin recently sent me a box of pictures from her mom's many boxes (I think all of us cousins, kids, etc. got one). There was an album that I think must have been my aunt's or my mom's as a child...lots of children's pictures (mostly falling out)...who knows who there were...next time I see my aunt, I'll take it to her to see if she remembers. Much as I like old pictures, I'd like to know who they are!

    Anyway, this was so enjoyable! I do see that you're entertaining on the weekend...just like Kitty...lol!

  4. It amazes me that your extended family still remember Kitty each April. How many of us will be remembered in such detail by our grandchildren or great-grandchildren once we've been gone for many decades? Few, I think. Kitty must have been a special person to be so remembered.

  5. Oh, what a wonderful memory of a wonderful woman!

  6. Kitty sounds like the friend and neighbor we would all want to have. It always seems that we have questions for loved ones after they are gone. It's neat you have this blog. Loved ones that haven't even been thought of yet can get to know a little about you by reading your thoughts on life and gardening. You are an excellent writer.

  7. What a wonderful tribute to your grandmother. (My grandmother's name was Kitty too.) And your Kitty is exquisitely beautiful!

    My gosh, the women of her generation really could do it all, couldn't they? And they never whined or complained.

    You know, she is still alive in you. You are her immortality. When you do the things she used to do, she is doing them as well. And she would be very proud of that.


  8. What a sweet story! (ps I don't think that I've ever cleaned anything like a tornado...EVER)

  9. Guffaw! Great punch line, Annie! And, she would be with you and loved every minute at your house.

    This was a great tribute to someone you didn't know personally. You heard the stories and talk about her which gave you good insight about the character of a lovely woman, although small, but a real powerhouse.


  10. What a wonderful gift Kitty gave to your family, then and now... and now you've passed it on to us. Hope the cleaning went quickly at least and that you have a nice weekend.

  11. I think it's wonderful that you know so much about your Grandma Kitty, what a charming and talented woman! If only we could flesh out all those ancestors we know so little about like you've done for Kitty. I love the picture of her, imagine making that detailed and pleated dress, much less the "instant coats."

    Good luck with company coming!

  12. Lovely tribute. Your Grandma Kitty sounds like a wonderful woman. I'm always amazed at how women did so much in those days. My housecleaning skills are terrible!!

  13. This is a wonderfully written birthday tribute to Kitty. I knew my grandmother well and yet I know very little about her. It would be neat to be able to ask her about the picture and the World's Fair but since that time has passed, instead ask lots of questions of the senior members of the family and write down their stories.

  14. I loved reading about Kitty and how she lived. She was one of those special people who drew others to her and put in the time to make others' lives better.

    It is great that you keep her memory alive ... wouldn't it be wonderful to taste some burnt sugar cake?

  15. I need a Kitty living in my house.

    She sounds like a wonderful lady and a lot of fun to be around. Kitty took quite a lovely photo also. I can't believe she made the dress she's wearing.

    My mom could do all those things. I can barely hem a pair of pants.

  16. What a very special person your grandmother Kitty must have been, for your family to remember her every April.

    It's good to see that you are a practical person Annie. ;-) Who wouldn't want to have a tornado Kitty around for sewing up some lovely clothes, cleaning the house and preparing some delicious food?

    I hope you will enjoy the company that's coming!

  17. Grandmother's are the best aren't they? Your grandmother sounds wonderful. Thanks for sharing.

  18. Thank you all so much for responding so sweetly to this family history post.

    Several of Kitty's daughters and nieces are alive - one aunt is in her late nineties. They're our family treasures, who still pass along the stories and hopefully, have passed along some of their genes! Although there are few original photos, the younger generations have sent jpg files and emails all over the country.

    We're a rather sentimental bunch!


  19. I'm late commenting, but what a nice tribute to an obviously amazing woman! I was lucky enough to chat with my great grandma on her 100th birthday in 1969. I was only 7, but I will absolutely never forget her. Later on, I realized she'd gone from horse and buggy travel to observing the first walk on the moon-what a huge change in the world to grow up with! It would be neat to see what stories some of your older relatives have to tell...capturing on video even better!


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