Hard Times With Mettie Knight Swain

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Five of Maw Maw’s seven children.  My father, Bill Swain is the little boy with wet pants holding the cap.  One more child was born after this picture was made.  It is likely someone just happened by with a camera and snapped this shot.

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The boys on the top left and bottom left are my father’s brother’s.  My father is in the bottom center.  Note the unpainted house.

The smallest boy is my dad pictured with his two older brothers and two unknown neighbor boys who they played with.  Note how dirty all the children are.  All the wash would have had to be done by hand in a wash pot on a rub board.  Chances are these kids might not have had but one chance of clothes, if that.  Daddy said sometimes they had to stay in while their clothes dried.  Daddy said they would have gone hungry many times if not for the kindness of these children’s mother.

Mettie Knight Swain, my paternal grandmother was an Amazon of a woman when I knew her, an imposing woman near six feet tall.  Her gorgeous, silver hair stood around her head in a soft halo, made more striking by her pale blue eyes.  She was a woman who turned heads.  Her physical stature alone inspired respect.  She was vaguely friendly toward her grandchildren, not surprising since she had more than forty.  I personally admired her penchant for stepping in if it looked as if one of the grandchildren might be about to get a swat.  That alone would have been enough to have made her a hero to me.

Mettie and her husband, Eddie Swain had seven children during the deepest of The Great Depression.  Her youngest daughter, Ola Bea told me this story.  Eddie was share-cropping.  When it came time to settle up, the land-owner came to Eddie and Mettie, telling them they didn’t have any money coming for their share of the crop.  Eddie accepted his answer, feeling defeated.  Mettie had kept the books, had calculated the value of the crop and what was owed them, and knew her children were facing starvation.  She was a woman to be reckoned with when infuriated.  She told him, “Eddie might take that, but you ain’t a’starvin’ my young’uns!

I’ll beat you to death with these plow lines first!”  She cornered him, beating him with the plow lines until he paid her what she said he owed her.  They packed up and moved on to a new farm.

Having been beaten by her Aunt Lottie as a child, Maw Maw could never bear to see a child whipped.  Her husband Eddie was whipping one of her boys one day when she got between them.  She told him if he ever laid a hand on one of her kids again, she’d take the plow lines to him.  Having seen her in action, he had no trouble believing her.

34 thoughts on “Hard Times With Mettie Knight Swain

    • I’m going to be writing more about her. When I was a kid, I liked her but wasn’t deeply involved with her. She was tired, sick, and probably just had energy to enjoy her daughters’ company. They were a merry, rowdy, ribald bunch and the room got quiet when kids came in. As soon as they shooed us out, the fun started again. I wish I could drop in on those times. The men had their own parties. I don’t even have a picture of her, except the one I see when I look in the mirror.

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      • Your the first to ask. I was the first to suggest doing our blog together, so g2 dubbed me G-uno. Uno meaning one in Spanish. We have decided to share the fact that we have this blog with our friends or our families as a way of keeping our posts as truthful as positive without infringing upon those who are very much a part of them. Iddioglossiablog is suppose to be a blog where people can come and get things off their proverbial plate without the restraints of social protcols. 😉 Thanks for asking. G-uno

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