|'Aunt Ben' was
named for her Civil War uncles
William Benjamin Ann Henry McCarthy was born in the last year of the Civil War in 1864. Legend has it that she was named for her uncles serving in the War. To leave one out would have made the others mad her parents thought, so, Ben she was all of her life- "(Great) Aunt Ben" to me. It is said that she was born War on the day the Union soldierss captured and burned her hometown of Morton, Mississippi. As time moved on, she and her family migrated to Louisiana where Ben married her first cousin Charlie Gordon. They had three daughters, Sis, Susie, and Pet. Aunt Ben was widowed when Charlie died-was left to live best she could in a small log cabin south of Alberta.
Returning in my mind to visits to that log cabin where my great aunt and her three daughters lived is like going backwards in a time capsule. The memory is vivid, strong and somewhat unbelievable in today's world. It was made up of one all-purpose room and a small kitchen tacked on the back outfitted with a wood burning stove. Steps on the front led to a small porch with a shelf for the water bucket. Trips down to visit our relatives during the late 1930s were treats we looked forward to. Our aunt and cousins welcomed us with open arms then sent us home again enlightened with new knowledge, new stories.
"Now Henry, don't you dare get them started on politics," our Mother would say, on the way down. Aunt Ben, an avid supporter of the Long administration didn't need any encouragement to turn the conversation to politics. Small wonder that Huey Long was her hero in her time of poverty and deprivation. Under his governance, Louisiana had seen improvements in public works, public education and public health. While governor, he built 111 bridges, started construction on the first bridge over the lower Mississippi and increased paved roads in Louisiana from 331 to 2301 miles. Aunt Ben credited Long with removing taxes on old farmland and the limited welfare assistance she and her daughters received. She celebrated his election to the U S Senate in 1932 and grieved his assassination in 1935. In her mind, other governors never measured up to his standards.
The Gordon home was built of logs and had cracks in the walls and the floor opening up their world to a magnificent view of the surrounding woods and the dirt underneath. Inside walls were decorated with newspaper photographs of the Longs, and their stories. Company sat in chairs alongside their kin most times before a fire in a mud fireplace vented through a stick and dirt chimney. Aunt Ben in her long dress, apron, and hair pulled behind her head in a bun sat with her sweet gum twig snuff brush in her mouth relishing any conversation coming her way. When it came her time for rebuttal or commentary, she would pause for a moment to empty a dark stream of tobacco spit into the open fireplace.
Mother had an issue with the snuff, not with her aunt and cousins' use of it, but with her children's use of the common water dipper sitting on the front porch. We were not to drink from that water dipper, no matter what. We always did and found the water from the 'dug' well at the front of the porch quite refreshing.
The group gathering around the fireplace in the small front room was practiced whoever the callers might have been. Small children could run and play outside but most choose to sit and listen to the old time stories. When a local bachelor began visiting with no indication as to which of the Gordon girls he might be interested in, the three ladies and Aunt Ben welcomed him into their discussion group. When it became obvious after many visits that it wasn't just politics he was interested in, Sis, Susie, Pet, and Aunt Ben began to conjecture as to which of the young ladies he would choose. Sis, they thought, she was the oldest- the obvious choice. Finally, the gentleman got up the courage to ask Aunt Ben for Pet, her youngest, and the match was made. Pet and her suitor married and made their home a short distance up the road. Sis and Susie lived out their lives as old maids with Sis teaching at a community school close by.
William Benjamin Ann Henry McCarthy Gordon died in 1950 at the age of eighty-six and rests beside her late husband in Ebenezer Cemetery near Castor.