Documenting my family's past for future generations. My family tree includes the Smith/Mansell families of Alabama and Oklahoma, the Castle/Day families of Kentucky and Oklahoma, the Wheat/Ming families of Texas and Oklahoma, and the Bell/Roberts families of Mississippi, Tennessee, and Oklahoma.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Big Mom

Today is the birthday of my great-grandmother, Sarah "Florida" Day Castle, born in 1878 in White Oak, Magoffin County, Kentucky.  "Big Mom" was my paternal grandmother's mother and the center of my family's life when I was a child.  She lived in a 1-1/2 story house in Red Fork, a community that was annexed to Tulsa in 1927.  After her death in 1962, my grandparents, my dad, my brother and I moved into her house at 3319 W. 38th St.  

That house was as much a part of my life as Big Mom was, and it still shows up often in my dreams. Big Mom and her dad built the house themselves, modeling it on another house in Red Fork.  She was working on the roof when family members came by to tell her that her first grandchild, Aunt Georgia's Marilou, had been born.

She had come to Oklahoma from Kentucky in 1907 with her husband, George Turner Castle, and her six oldest children.  They settled first on a farm between Davenport and Chandler, where her youngest two, Jessie and Tommie, were born in 1909 and 1914. Their first home in Red Fork was a farmhouse rented from Dr. Fred S. Clinton on the site of the future Clinton Middle School.

Sarah Florida Day, known as Florida (or more commonly, Flordy) was the second oldest of seven daughters of James Thomas and Nancy Emily (Reed) Day.  The other sisters were Ida, Zedda, Emma, Margaret, Minta, and Retta Lee.  Their only brother, Cassa, died at the age of 4.  Florida married George Castle in January 1896 after the death of his first wife, Frances Nickell, in childbirth. She was 17 and he was 32.

George T. Castle had been a leader of the community in Kentucky--a postmaster and county court clerk--but became increasingly handicapped with arthritis. Florida worked hard to support the family, working as postmistress of the Red Fork post office and making salads at the Mayo Hotel kitchen.  She also started the first Methodist Sunday school in Red Fork and was president of the Park Elementary School PTA.

Her newly built house on 38th St. backed up to Red Fork Hill and the family kept livestock and chickens in the lot behind the house. Her older sons, who were in their teens and 20s, pretty much came and went as they pleased, which was a trial to Florida.  Sometimes she would wait until they were asleep and then switch them before they were awake enough to defend themselves.  One night as some of the boys stumbled in, they found their mother in the kitchen plucking and cooking a number of chickens.  She had discovered robbers stealing them and had run them off with a shotgun. Upon discovering that the chickens' necks had already been wrung, she proceeded to pluck and cook them in the middle of the night.

The Big Mom I remember was a big-boned woman with lots of wispy white hair twisted into a knot on the top of her head and held with tortoiseshell combs.  By the time I knew her she was blind with cataracts, practically deaf, and still an indomitable presence in the lives of her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.  I remember her sitting with quiet dignity on the front porch of the house on 38th St., head held high, looking into a distance she could not see. Blind and deaf, she lived all by herself in the house on 38th St.

Although she became a Methodist again at the end of her life, when I was a very young girl Big Mom was a member of the I AM Church. The I AM Church was very "New Age" for the time, using crystals for healing, and perhaps she felt the need to be healed from the disabilities of old age.  I remember going with the family in the car to take Big Mom to I AM meetings downtown and waiting for her in the car until the meeting was over. 

She developed what was probably cancer in her 80s, refused to go to the hospital, and announced her intention to die at home. Somebody from the family was always keeping vigil at her bedside, and I remember being there a lot, taking our turn. She is buried at Rose Hill Cemetery in Tulsa, next to her husband and surrounded by many of her children and grandchildren, as she was in life.

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