The Old Mare Knew the Way Home

Image of Alabama and Market street stands circa 1912. Families who had "truck gardens" came here to sell their wares
Image of Alabama and Market street stands circa 1912. Families who had “truck gardens” came here to sell their wares

This is the perfect photo–the one I’ve waited on for many years–to help me tell one of the most heart wrenching stories in our family lore~

When one branch of my family arrived in Indianapolis, they took up the trade of “truck farming.” Truck farming meant generally anything you could grow or produce on a bit of land, and then take into the city to sell. Depending on one’s farming skills, acreage, connections–and time of year, one could buy or sell about anything from a stall along the street.

At times, beautifully crocheted lace work, wool yarns, eggs, honey, fish, baked items, seasonal produce, smoked hams, tobacco, even rags or “whittled” children’s toys were available for the asking.

The work was unceasing for these families. I would imagine that getting to Market Street and being able to stand back and take a breath seeing your stall ready for trading must have felt like a day off. The rest of the week was spent tending gardens and animals, preparing for market, the chores of family and daily living of course.

Until very recently, I never had a real photo of what the Truck Farm Market might look like. Then, by a fluke, I ran into the kindness of Darron Chadwick of the Chadwick Studios who lent me this image. When he posted the photo above to a “remember when” type of local webpage, I knew immediately what I was looking at pure gold for my storytelling.


Grandma Marie and the Old Mare

     When I was enormously pregnant with our second child, there were some some scary moments. I remember my own grandmother, Gramcracker, looking at me as if she were watching someone else in those days. She visited more often than usual–as if she wanted to keep an extra close eye on me during that pregnancy. My husband and I had never told anyone about the near miscarriage. We didn’t want anyone else worrying.

One day in late July on the driveway as she was in her car preparing to leave, she rolled down the window to say goodbye. But instead of “goodbye” she said the oddest thing to me.

“You know, we’ve been worried about you.

You look so much like my Great Grandmother Marie. ” 

I dutifully lied, assuring her that I was fine, the baby was fine…insisting that everyone and everything was in fact “fine.”

Now, would you like to hear something a little eerie about what she said to me?

When Gramcracker said “we’ve been worried” she wasn’t speaking of her and my uncle who was her chauffeur and live-in caretaker.

Nor was she referring to conversations she’d had lately with other family members…well…not living ones.

Gramcracker was very “in-touch” as they say.

I guess I wasn’t creeped-out, because she had half raised me and I was quite accustomed to hearing such talk–I completely believed in it. Gramcracker could always see things deep beneath a surface that most folks never knew existed.

I went back into the air conditioned house, curled up on the sofa and thought to myself–

“Well crap, now she knows this pregnancy is a  fragile one, I really didn’t want to worry her.”

I never gave another thought to the second thing she’d said to me–about her Great Grandmother, Marie.

Of course I was not surprised that I looked like Grandma Marie! I looked like all the women on that side of the family.

What I didn’t account for was that special way Gramcracker saw things, most all things, in a way different from most people.

 Once Babykins was delivered, and both she and I were pronounced healthy, Gramcracker came to visit. She wanted to express her reasoning for gratitude and general feeling of relief that I’d “made it.” She very gentley unfolded the story of Grandma Marie with me as I listened, holding my perfect baby in my arms.

To this day, I wonder if what she told me about Grandma Marie accounts for my life-long tendency to panic if I feel too cold…

On Christmas Eve in 1904, Grandma Marie and Grandpa Paul were in the city with their oldest boys working at the Saturday Truck market. It was a busy day. Many vendors had purchased crates of oranges fresh off the trains coming up from the Mexican farmlands. Oranges were a favorite treat in a wealthy child’s Christmas Stocking. Business was good for everyone the day before Christmas. Even the bitter cold hadn’t slowed the sales. 

Grandma and Grandpa Paul’s younger children were home at their small farm on the fringe edge of the county. Under the care of an older sister Lizzy, the children were very busy with chores and tending the house. Late December weather is generally cruel in the Midwest. Since this year was unusually so, the children busily kept the stove stoked and frequently checked the water troughs in the barn to be sure they hadn’t frozen solid.

Around noon-time at the Market, Grandma Marie began feeling ill and looking pale. A small woman, but a hard worker, she was nearing the due date of their 8th child. While carrying this baby she seemed to get tired quicker than she had with previous pregnancies. Grandpa Paul told her to take the wagon and their reliable old mare home early. That way she could get out of the bitter cold and help Lizzy watch over the little ones. Grandpa and the sons would walk home or hitch a ride with some neighbors.

With everything arranged for the boys, her husband, and any unsold goods to get home safely, Marie finally agreed to leave early. She set off alone on the short five mile trip towards home. As she rode along the rutted and frozen stretch of the bumpy Old National Road (Route 40), she began feeling the familiar pains of labor. The intensity and quick on-set let her know there wasn’t much time. Knowing that the baby’s birth was imminent, she dropped the reigns and climbed into the back of the open wagon. She had little choice, but no worries about making it home. The horse was indeed an old and reliable mare who always found her way to the barn.

Marie didn’t make it back to the farm. She gave birth in the moving wagon to a tiny girl and instinctively tucked her under her clothes next to her warm skin; sheltering her baby from the cold.

When Lizzy and the young ones heard the mare’s familiar clip-clop coming up the frozen barn drive they were delighted the family had come home early. The children set the kettle on the wood stove and began heating up water for coffee and gathering bread and jam to tide the others over until dinner could be prepared.

After a few minutes of excitement, the children were puzzled that no one had come inside. When they peered out the back window, all they saw was the old mare standing patiently before the closed door of the barn. Her head bobbed up and down as she waited to be let in and unhitched from the empty looking wagon. There was no one else, only the driverless horse and wagon. After a few moments of trying to understand what was happening, Lizzy bundled up against the cold and approached the barn lot to investigate.

What the poor teen found was her mother, covered in blood, dead, in the back of the buckboard. On closer inspection she found the nearly frozen baby girl clinging to life on her mother’s chest. Lizzy called to the other children to run across the big field to get the neighbors. By the time the children returned with help, the baby had died too.

I sat there dumbstruck as I listened to my own Grandmother tell this story. I knew how Marie had died without hearing a medical explanation. Marie had suffered a placenta previa–the same condition that had threatened my own recent pregnancy. My Great, Great Grandmother had bled to death in that wagon–long before her body froze. She never had a chance.

Gramcracker didn’t have to tell me. I knew what had happened. The answer danced in the air, just as it had danced around me as Gramcracker watched over me through the long fretful weeks of that pregnancy.

And that was when I understood what she truly meant as she told me at the car window that I “looked” so much like her Great Grandma Marie.

Grandma Marie ~A woman who had died seven years before dear Gramcracker was born.

 The ground stayed rock hard the rest of that long winter. The temperatures and northerly winds kept everything frozen solid past Easter. The baby and Marie were covered in blankets and laid in a small shed near the barn until the earth finally give way to shovels in April. Then they were buried together, one wrapped tight against the other forever– the baby never named. Grandpa Paul never forgave himself for letting Marie out of his sight that day. He died about a year and a half later. Reportedly, he drank himself to death.    

 Now I’m the one who is so grateful, finally I got to write this story down…

*again, my heartfelt thanks to Darron Chadwick for allowing me to share this photo and thus finally feel I could share this story exactly as it needed to be told <3, what a true kindness from a stranger!

Author: Mom

I am a writer who just happens to love family trees. As the self proclaimed Family Historian and Writer in Residence at my house, I blog to others about family history writing. When I first began this journey, everyone was bored silly with my "family tree stuff." Once I started writing the stories down, everyone willingly joined in. Now the whole family pretty much participates! Imagine that ! Follow along, and you can gain a little family appreciation for all your hard nosed genealogical research while learning a little something about the craft of writing too.

28 thoughts on “The Old Mare Knew the Way Home”

  1. Lovely piece! But comparing life then to now (and I’m thinking of our own small farm in Southern Illinois), we had it better then by a landslide. We had a way to make a living, as long as Grampa hadn’t mortgaged the farm. We had tools, and skills, and animals to serve us. We had plenty to eat, wholesome, whole food, almost always. I think there are so many urban families who do not have any of this now. We did not think of ourselves as poor. My grandmother, whose husband was the town drunk, a full blood Cherokee, won the zinnia contest every year, and sang at the local theater. We had God. The whole town had God. That’s totally rich.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I so wanted a free moment to leave a comment! This was one of the most compelling, haunting, incredible stories I have ever heard. Even though it’s sad, it’s still such a treasure. And you are an incredible story teller! I was there with her in the biting cold…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Sue! It’s been hard responding to the comments on this post. Being on vacation in the outer realm…a place without WiFi and sparse cell phone signals has been a wee bit of torture for me ;). I have loved this story from the minute I heard it, because it was a “feeler” for me. Hearing it was a jolt like being a long neglected toaster who suddenly got plugged in.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. What a very sad story. Life was very hard back then with farms and homes so far out away from civilization. My grandfather worked with horses (shoeing them) once when young until he was kicked in the back hard by a horse’s hoof and it broke his back. They could not get him to a doctor soon enough and it healed with him permanently bowed over in the back, very hunchbacked as they lived way out on the cold hard prairies of South Dakota. His back never straightened out and was forever that way. Consequently, he never did that work again and went to college and became a businessman later with a successful insurance business.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh you know I love a challenge, but I’ve got most posts written ahead and prescheduled right now. I’m burning up too many brain cells trying to get my novel in shape and traveling with my family to places without WiFi –torture. I love being here and reading the work of others. I hope a reader or two –or dozens –will take you up on this though!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I loved the story even with it’s sad ending. I also am so intrigued with folks who “see” more than others – like your Gramcracker, i.e., those that have special insight beyond the obvious. I sometimes wish I was a sensitive like that, and true, there have been some strange events in my life that can’t be explained, but I would likely freak out if more than that took place. 🙂 Maybe that’s “known” by those who might want to share.

    Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That “side” of my family was deeply spiritual and also exposed each summer to the “Carnival” culture
      So that explains a lot of the openness to things “unseen” 😉


  5. Great story and so very close to one of my own family stories. My grandmother also died in childbirth of the same condition, along with her newborn son, who would have been my uncle. My grandfather was a doctor but in those days it was not common practice to doctor your own family. My grandfather was crushed, and knowing he could have saved her with a c-section (very rarely done then) made it all the worse. He, too, drank to cover his pain. He remarried a year later (he had 4 young girls at home ages 1-4 who needed a mother) and this is the woman I knew as my grandmother. My grandfather loved my step-grandmother, but he grieved his entire life for Betty. Oh, and from then on, he was doctor to all of his family. He delivered me and all of my siblings.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, I always wondered about the step grandma! You poor grandfather was likely doing as was considered “good practice” then and now, but man that would have been rough to live with. No wonder he wanted to deliver you all himself after that. I can’t imagine being on the male end of that situation at all–doc or farmer, or ditch digger ♡

      Liked by 1 person

  6. A very well-written and well-presented piece of your ongoing precious Family History. I’m so glad you wrote that down, and shared it.

    The old US truck farm markets look so similar to the old Irish village Fair Day markets which only petered out in the last 40-50 years. Perhaps the Irish had more livestock at the markets … to add their distinctive sounds and smells to the trading spectacle.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love hearing about the Village Fair Day markets in Ireland. This must have been a throw over from “the old country.” Thanks for your kindness and adding some new info for many of us Gearoid!


  7. Oh wow, what a tale and so well told. You conjure up the hard unremitting existence of those people so well – the horror of that final journey and the linkage down the generations. Phew.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Oh, oh, these stories that tug at our heartstrings and connect us with those who went before us. Blessings on you and those you love…


    1. Isn’t that the truth Marjorie? I feel like folks were made so much tougher back then. Today we would barely go on after such awful events


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