Thursday, October 27, 2005

Kathy Davis thoughts on Daddy Mat

My memories of Daddy Mat and Granny are getting more vague (along with wisdom comes memory lapses), so it is good that George started this project to preserve some of our family history.

First of all, I think I have to take credit for the name Daddy Mat. My mom said that when I was little, I heard my grandmother call him Mat and my mother called him Daddy, thus Daddy Mat. Fortunately, I had sense enough to put the two in the right order and it just stuck.

Growing up, going to Chapel Hill was always special. We looked forward to our summers at Daddy Mat's and Granny's even though there was no television. There didn't need to be because they always provided hours of entertainment for all of us. I learned most of the games I know from them. Bridge, hearts, pinochle, cribbage, chess, checkers and our Sunday poker games. Daddy Mat believed that card games were a great way to teach children to think and do math. He taught us young and he taught us that we didn't win unless we actually earned it. He never just let us win.... So when I finally did win a game from him, it really meant something. Daddy Mat used to take me to play duplicate bridge with his friends from the age of about 12 - even though I was not very good, I never felt inferior to the others because he never made me feel as though I was less skilled than anyone else.

Daddy Mat was also our only source of income in those days. He would take us out to find soda bottles (especially after football games) so that we could return them for the 2 cents a bottle we could make. He would drive us out all over town to collect those bottles for hours. We didn't have to cut him in on a share of our profits either. In those days, it was a pretty lucrative living because North Carolina was dry and the police force was very vigilant so the drink of choice was in those returnable deposit bottles.

Daddy Mat also taught us to drive. Before my feet could even touch the pedals, he used to let us "steer" and then when we were older he taught to drive on our own. They were building a highway around Chapel Hill and he would take us out on the paved stretches of highway before they were opened and let us drive around. It was because of him and his Ford Fairlane that I learned to drive a shift (four on the column). He had infinite patience. One of the scariest parts of the driving was going down the hill to his house. I broke out in a cold sweat every time we got to that point especially if we had to go down hill from his house.

I will also remember him because he never treated the girls differently from the boys. I was allowed to help out in the workshop when he was woodworking and I remember him telling us that we should go into accounting or pharmacy because those were two fields where there was not much discrimination for women. He was probably the first enlightened man of his day.

I loved going down to his room downstairs with all the pictures of the famous generals he had known and all the books. I remember one summer working for a long time to memorize Poe's The Raven just to earn the quarter he was going to give us for being able to recite it from memory. We were also assigned at least one story from the Harvard Classics to read.

I also learned a lot from my grandmother. She taught me to cook - éclairs and ice box cake, and to knit and crochet. She also helped me with my French. It is true what they say of the French, "Unless you are born to the language, you will never get the accent right." I would spend hours just trying to pronounce one word.

She also played bridge with us when she wasn't working around the house, and I can remember her Parkinson's getting worse because her hand that she held the cards with shook when she wasn't paying attention. I also remember the terraced garden of flowers in the back. She would let me help with the gardening. I also remember the chicken coup that was in the yard before it had to go because of the dogs. Fresh eggs from the hen house and milk delivered in bottles with heavy cream on the top. Originally, the
downstairs where Daddy Mat had his room was given to the dogs. I think they had around ten dogs at one time. Even at my young age, I can remember the place smelled like dogs. One of the dogs, a black cocker spaniel, was granny's favorite but he wasn't very friendly. I think it eventually bit someone one too many times and had to be put to sleep.

Daddy Mat was a great entertainer. He believed in offering his guests a "libation" to be sociable. It is not that he was a drinker, it was just what you did to be a good host. I can remember that he always offered by fraternal grandmother a libation when she would come to visit. She being a good Southern Methodist would always refuse. Southern Methodists do not drink or play cards; however, she did break the card-playing rule and agree to canasta. (She never said anything about our Sunday poker games, but come
to think of it, I don't think we played poker when she was there.) I remember that finally after years of refusing a drink, she did accept a small sherry; however, it never touched her lips but then neither of them ever said anything about having to drink it.

I can also remember Daddy Mat being written up in the local paper as an upstanding Catholic because he would drive some of the nuns around to various functions. At that time, he was actually still a Baptist.

Daddy Mat also told me a story about Granny. My recollections are somewhat fuzzy, but as the story went, Daddy Mat had asked Granny to write to Mamie Eisenhower and invite them to stay with them when they were in town. Daddy Mat was a little perturbed at her response which was a definite "No". She apparently didn't think much of Mamie.

-Kathy Davis


Blogger traditions home said...

Thanks for the description of the house and gardens. I am four years younger, so I am struck by the changes that took place at the house.

The chicken coop was no longer a chicken coop when I remember the house; it had become a play house for the grandchildren. The garden was still beautiful, but illness had begun to limit Granny's work in the garden. A fig tree stood in the back with its fruit ready to pick and eat. A grape trellis stood near the chicken coup. The dogs, I don't remember any dogs. I do remember the books Daddy Matt kept, which lined every wall in the basement where he stayed. I remember Granny's room upstairs, immaculately neat, with a wooden cross hanging on the wall. I remember the smell of fried chicken and Spanish rice cooking in the kitchen. I remember the livingroom off the kitchen where no grandchild was suppose to go with its large Victrola radio, a symbol of an early era when families gathered round to listen to radio shows like "Fibber McGee and Molly".Like Kathy, I remember sitting in the kitchen playing all manner of cards and listening to my grandfather tell stories.

And somewhere, in the back of my mind, I can still hear Granny saying, "Oh Matt," as he would tell yet another story, and I still see Daddy Matt with a big smile on his face.

August 15, 2009  

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