Virginia Pryde Fair

My grandmother Virginia was born October 14, 1899. I’m her namesake.

Her parents were Margaret and McDowell? or William Fair. They lived in Chattanooga Tennesee.

That must have been where the family lullaby came from:

“Go to sleep, my pickaninny babe,
Mammie’s got her arms around you.
Close your eyes, and don’t you dare to peep
Or the goblins* will get you if you do.
Don’t you cry for Mammie’s ever nigh,
Honey don’t you be afraid.
Dream, dream, close your eyes and dream,
Go to sleep my pickaninny babe.”
 *I think she used to softly pinch my toes at this line. I never had any image of goblins, but always pictured being attacked by geese nipping my toes.

Virginia had 4 sisters: Isabelle, Glen Owen, Victoria, and the youngest, Willie, was actually named William. They’d been waiting for a boy, and finally gave up and used the family name.

My favorite story of her sisters was about once when their mother went to town they decided to make taffy, got in a fight during the pulling stage and got it in one of their hair (I think Willies, not Grandmothers. They quickly cleaned the kitchen and washed her hair, but didn’t have time for the dress, so they stuck it behind the day bed- and forgot it until the next summer. It having been that long apparently didn’t make Mammie any less cross.

Apparently she was pretty much a flapper. She says she was the first woman in Chattanooga, Tennessee to get her hair bobbed. Technically, one of two. Apparently she worked in an office and convinced a co-worker to go to the barbers with her over lunch one day. Remember that barbers weren’t hair stylists, and probably disapproved of the trend, so they just hacked it off. The other girl is sent to have spent the rest of the day crying and lamenting her action, while Grandmother just kept shaking her head and enjoying the lightness of it, and feeling free.

We found an old diary once (wish we still had it!), in which she talks about her dates. She’d have lunch with Frank, walk home with Bill, have dinner with George, then go dancing with John! on the other hand, she always referred to Mr. Murray, who also took her out.

She married Charles Coursen Murray even though he was much older than she was. He was rich and stylish, Mother said “He twinkled when he walked.” They moved to Chicago, where they had Patsy 1928, and Charley 1933. Mother expects that Grandfather who was 65 when Charley was born, probably was smug about that.

Mother said the house next door was a Frank Lloyd Write house (in Oak Park, Illinois), and the only good thing about the design was that there was a wrought iron gate between the kitchen and living room that was useful for keeping the Great Danes in, when they weren’t wanted. I suppose I could figure out where she lived from that.

Mother says that they vacationed in Arizona, and when she was 12 she took Charlie there on the train by herself. I wonder if they were getting the kids away during Grandfather’s final illness (diabeties)- the timing would be about right.

After Grandfather died, somehow she met Ted Hodgkins, and they moved to Farmington, Maine. They lived on Court Street. At some point when Charlie was in College he got sick and Grandmother flew back from Havana where she was vacationing with Ted to take care of him. Ted thought she coddled the boy, and shortly thereafter they divorced- even though it was the 50s. She still remained friends with “Aunt” Helen Hodgkins, Ted’s sister for the rest of her life. We visited them both in town and at the lake.
She had a “camp” called “West View” in Henderson’s Cove. (with a bunk house, “Little West View” for Charley).

When Charley got married in 1960, she moved out so he and Amanda could have the house, and moved to an apartment downtown. I enjoyed visiting her, sometimes for lunch, sometimes overnight, and loved the stair lift! She started every day drinking one cup of cold, and one cup of hot water, and exercised with Jack Lalane. She had parakeets.
They also built her a camp between her original one and ours- over the property line, to me it’s still Grandmother’s Camp. Down by the water-line we built an “adult playpen” so the adults could relax in chairs while watching us swim.

Everyone smoked in those days, I remember one year I got her a “Smokey the Bear” magnetic cigarette holder for her car. She got lung cancer in 1963. She got radiation treatments in Portland, staying in a hotel, and I went with her as a companion, Monday through Fridays. Sadly, not good enough, so in the fall they tried surgery. They told us kids that it was just an operation, but she never recovered. Mother was devastated by the loss. I don’t think she forgave God for taking Grandmother from her for 40 years, and I’m pretty sure that the reason she didn’t let any of u have motorcycles was that in the room next to the one where she watched grandmother dying, there was a victim of a motorcycle accident who’d apparently slid across the pavement on his face removing most of it. She said his head was all bandaged except for the hole where screams came out all day.

Grandmother got two patio gliders, and had one on each porch. When they were tired, she and Mother would sit one on the chaise long and one on the “rocking chair” and play “Here come’s the Old Lady from Baltimore”. They’d sing, and we’d run from one to the other. It occurs to me as an adult that while they could sit, they couldn’t actually speak while playing. I didn’t realize how indulgent they were at the time.

First singer (around whom we all crowded)

“Here comes the old lady from Baltimore, Baltimore, Baltimore,

Here comes the old lady from Baltimore, Today, today, today. “

Second singer:

“Oh won’t you have some of my children, children, children.

Oh won’t you have some of my children, Today, today, today. ”

First (with great expression)

“They’re all too ragged and dirty, dirty, dirty,

They’re all too ragged and dirty, dirty, dirty, Today, today, today. ”

(we all giggled at how dirty we were)

Second singer:

“They’re just as good as yours are, yours are, yours are,

They’re just as good as yours are, today, today, today.”

First singer:

“Well then I’ll take little Kitty, Kitty, Kitty, (or whichever)

Well then I’ll take little Kitty, today, today, today.” (at which point Kitty would run over and jump into the lap/chair/etc. of the first singer. Bobby, Ginny, Kitty, etc. worked, but they had to sing Lee-uz” to make Liz into two syllables. I do remember that sometimes when we’d all changed positions, they’d sing it again sending us the other way. Could they possibly have enjoyed it as much as we did?

Mostly I remember Grandmother as the adult who took me seriously. She bought me adult art supplies. She bought me expensive fairy tale books. She bought me classical music records, and even my first pomegranate. She also was ingenious- I don’t think she ever spanked us, but she’d make us go “fetch a switch” so she could, and it was either “too light” or “too heavy, not enough flex”. By the time we had one that satisfied her, we were generally blubbering and in such terror that we promised impossible levels of future virtues.
She was amazingly gorgeous- since she died at 63, I now think she never got very old.

Grandmother & Rudy

Clockwise from Grandmother (under the star) Virginia Hodgekins, Barney Durrel, Robert Richards (Dad), Liz, Pat Richards (Mother), Rudy Olsen, Kitty, me, Bobby, and over my head you can see Santa peeping in the window! (Grandmother had this creepy light-up Santa face)

She did some ceramic painting in the early 50s- made a set of figurines of carol singers for Bob and Me, and egg and oatmeal bowls, a Tom and Jerry set with Bob and Pat written on it (did they EVER use that?), and the XMAS holly candle holders. What else may there have also been that broke? And, she knit the original horrendous Christmas Stockings (you can see one under Barney’s elbow) with our names on them. Giving each of us a silver porringer and cup was more expensive, but less embarrassing as a tradition to carry on. I still treasure the silver spoon that says “Virginia 1900” that she was given.