Mattie before her death

Mattie looking out the windowI spent Friday afternoon going through old photos with my grandma, and a few more pictures of Mattie emerged. I’m having problems getting my ancient desktop to upload pictures, so I can’t post all of them, but I’m especially haunted by this one. My grandma (Naomi) says that her brother took it when Mattie was doing dishes and looking out the window, although the photo’s been retouched enough that none of Mattie’s surroundings are apparent. It must have been taken toward the end of her life–Mattie died at age 55. I find the contrast between the well-dressed, exuberant young woman in the first photo and the worn, haunted face in this one heartbreaking. As I said before, I’m not sure what to make of Mattie, especially in light of two new details that came out on Friday: First, I’d originally had the impression that Mattie blamed herself for Ruth’s death because she got up to get coffee and came back to find Ruth dead. On Friday, however, Grandma also mentioned that Mattie had refused diphtheria vaccinations for her children even though county officials had come to her door to administer them and even though Mattie herself was a nurse. That would add a new level of depth to her self-blame, but then, she still refused vaccinations for her other children even after Ruth’s death, so maybe it was the coffee after all. Grandma also expressed anger toward her mother for not going back to her husband; as Grandma put it, “My mother let her children starve rather than swallow her pride, and I don’t think that’s right.” Grandma had no strong desire to be with her father per se, but she did think she and her siblings would have been better clothed and nourished if their parents had reunited. The situation was as complex as it was painful. Grandma concluded, “Neither one was an especially good parent.”

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