I debated for a while who I would profile this week for the #52Ancestor challenge. There were so many different ways to interpret to the theme of “first”. Should I talk about the first ancestor I ever researched? Should I talk about someone’s first job? So many decisions! For some reason, I kept coming back to my great-grandmother (my maternal grandmother’s mother). I knew she was the “first” of 13 children to survive, but was that enough to write about her? I think it is.
Vera Elizabeth Martin was born on November 17th, 1912 in Harlan County, Kentucky. Her parents were Frank Martin and Stella Alice Baker. As I stated earlier, she was the oldest of 13 children (Frank and Stella’s first child was stillborn). The age difference between her and her youngest brother, 24 years! Vera always made it clear that out of all the children, she was “Poppy’s [her father] favorite.”
Growing up on a farm and surrounded by younger siblings, Vera did not have much time to herself. However, this did not stop her from pursing an education. School was very important to Vera. After finishing her morning chores, she would take the train into the town of Harlan in order to attend school.
“I was so embarrassed, ” Vera would say, “showing up to school and smelling like cow tit.”
According to her report cards, she was a very good student. Unlike most girls her age, she completed the 10th grade. The opportunities were few and far between in Harlan County. Most families couldn’t afford for their children to go to school, either due to monetary reasons or for the fact that they couldn’t do without the children helping around the farm.
Vera did not go back to school in the fall of 1927. She had met her first husband, Roy Robinson and they were married on November 16th, 1927 in Harlan County. Vera was only 14 years old at the time (she wouldn’t be 15 years old until the day after her wedding) and because of this she needed a note from her parents to get married. Her parents signed the note, although whoever filled out the marriage bond stated that Vera was 16 years old. Oops!
A little over a year later, Vera gave birth to her first child, Roy Franklin Robinson (25 Nov 1928). Unfortunately, her son, Roy, was still born due to asphyxiation. The umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck. Another year passed, and Vera gave birth to a daughter, Margaret Charlotte Robinson (14 Nov 1929).
Vera, Roy, and Margaret would enjoy life as a family a three until October 1931 when tragedy would strike again. On October 14th, 1931, Vera’s husband, Roy, passed away. His appendix ruptured and there was nothing that the doctors could do. Knowing that should couldn’t turn to her parents for help, since they were still in the middle of raising all of her siblings, Vera took a job at a boarding house in the area. This allowed her to provide for herself and her young daughter. With her first paycheck she bought Margaret a new dress and new Mary Jane shoes.
Vera would find love again, this time with William Howard Taft Price (my great-grandfather). Taft, as he was known, was friends with many of Vera’s brothers. Supposedly, her brothers were very impressed with Taft and would talk about him all the time.
“All I would ever hear my brothers say is ‘Taft Price says that’s great!” Vera would say. “Who is this old man?!”
Turns out, that old man was only two years older than Vera. When they say opposites attract, it seems they are talking about Vera and Taft. Vera was strong, stubborn, and a bit stoic. Taft was hardworking, fun-loving, and sensitive. One of the best stories that showcase just how opposite they were happened when Vera and Taft were in a back bedroom. All of a sudden everyone in the house heard a slap. Convinced that Taft has just slapped Vera, her brothers came running into the bedroom. When her brothers arrived, they found that it was Vera who had done the slapping, and Taft who was escaping through the bedroom window.
They were married on November 6th, 1932 in Harlan County. Taft embraced Vera’s daughter, Margaret, as if she were his own. They would also have three children together; William Paul (b. 1933), Carl Edward (b. 1935), and Dorothy Jean (b. 1937). One of the things that Vera and Taft could always agree on was the fact that they never wanted their children to feel that they were poor. They did whatever they could to stretch a dollar as far as it would go.
Other than her family, Vera had a great love for the Lord. Her faith was something that never faltered, even during the most difficult times of her life. Vera struggled with health issues her whole life, but this never kept her from taking care of her family and serving the Lord.
Vera’s mother was a dedicated Sunday School teacher, and passed that dedication down to her. Not long after Vera dedicated her life to the Lord, she began teaching Sunday School class at the mission near her home. Whenever she moved to a new community in the county, she would join the local church and continue teaching classes. Around 1933, Vera began working with Women’s Missionary Union (WMU). While she did take some time off due to her health, Vera was integral in organizing WMU chapters in several churches in the Upper Cumberland Association. Beginning in 1957, Vera became a member of the Sunshine Baptist Church where she served as the WMU Director and Assistant Church Clerk for 26 years. For 16 of those years, she also taught the Adult Ladies Sunday School class. In 1968, she became the director of the Upper Cumberland Association of the WMU.
Vera took her Sunday School teaching duties very seriously. My mother likes to tell the story of all the really neat Sunday School stuff she had, like felt boards and craft supplies. Vera used most of this for her classes with the children at the Christian camp, Camp Howard. Never were any of the grandchildren allowed to play with her Sunday School supplies. To this day, my mom still complains about that!
As Vera got older, some of her stoic ways started to fade. One of her favorite shows was Dallas, and she would have weekly phones calls with her son-in-law (my grandfather) to discuss what happened. She loved to sit and watch what was going on in the neighborhood. Nothing would get by her! She also developed a dry sense of humor that would surprise most people. My personal favorite story of her, is when I was about 8 years old. She had a Dustbuster hanging in the hallway. After eating her dinner in the living room, she asked me to go get the Dustbuster and vacuum her off!
Vera Martin, by no means lived an easy life, but she never seemed to complain. She was the type who would take the good with the bad and keep pushing though. While most did see her as a strong and focused woman from an early age, her siblings could always bring out her young and carefree side that she would keep hidden from most. Vera passed away on October 29, 1997. She was a woman that never left the comfort of her home county, but had a big impact on the world around her.