A Rift in the Family

A Rift in the Family


By Elton Camp


(This is a continuation of the series on rural life in the South during the early 20th Century.  The people and events are real.)


Within two weeks after having a serious falling-out with her stepmother, Bertha withdrew herself from what she regarded as an intolerable situation. She had no intention of being submissive to Belle.  Two unrelated adult women living in the same house seldom get along well. 


“Thar ain’t no way I’m goin’ t’ let Belle mean-mouth me,” she said to Mamie.  “Even wif all I’ve done, Paw didn’t defend me t’ her. 


“What else ez thar thet y’u can do?” Mamie asked. 


It was a reasonable question.  At that time, single women in an agriculture-based economy had few career options.  To obtain and operate a farm without a husband had virtually no chance of success.  Yet, farming was all Bertha knew. It might have been possible to move to a city and find employment, but to leave the area of her birth was totally out-of-character. She’d never in her life been more than ten miles from home. 


“I spect Embry’ll still b’ willing t’ have me,” she replied.


Bertha had dismissed her suitor at her mother’s death, but they parted on cordial terms.  He respected the sense of duty that she felt toward her younger brothers. He had no serious prospects of marriage. After she sent him word, he quickly came calling. 


Bertha followed her father into the yard as he prepared to make his daily rounds.  What she had to say was for him only. 


“Paw, I’ll not b’ hare when y’u git back t’day,” Bertha advised.  “Me ’n’ Embry’s gitting hitched.  “Jest wanted y’u t’ know so’s y’u not larn hit from Belle.”  


Milas was casually acquainted with Embry and hadn’t gotten along with him from the start.  They disagreed on everything from farming practices to religion.  A small, feisty man, Embry declined to cowtow to Milas in the manner that he’d come to expect. 


            “White’s a wuthless varmit,” her father responded.  “Don’t b’ comin’ t’ me fer help when he can’t make provision.” 


“Thar ain’t no way I’d never do thet, paw,” she replied quietly.  “Me ’n’ Embry’ll make our own way.”


Although she and her husband resided only a few miles away, it was over a decade before Bertha again set foot in her father’s home.  Milas had suffered a minor stroke. 


“Y’all come in,” Belle invited when Bertha and Embry unexpectedly appeared at her door.  “Yore paw’s ’n th’ bedroom.  I allow he’ll be mighty glad to see you.”  Traditional Southern hospitality permitted no other sort of reception whatever differences they had. 


Milas, too, received his daughter and her husband in a courteous manner, but was more restrained than Belle.  Beyond “Howdy, Embry,” he said nothing directly to him during the rest of the visit.  No emotional reconciliation took place between father and daughter then or ever.  Relations between the two couples remained strained throughout the remaining decades of their lives. 


The spring after Bertha left, Mamie followed suit.  Although she didn’t like Belle, she’d developed a civil relationship with her after Bertha was no longer around to goad her against her stepmother.  But when tall, handsome Ude Gibson came courting, she too was wed. 


Years later, she confided to her daughter, Vada, “I married mainly t’ git away from Belle.”


Little more than nine months after entering the household, Belle presented Milas with the first of what would become, along with multiple miscarriages, four additional children. Bertha and Mamie only distantly came to know their half-siblings. 


Within about two years, Albert married and began to cultivate a forty-acre farm financed with money lent by his father at six percent interest.


            Miranda’s youngest children weren’t of age to leave home.  A family of “his” “hers” and “theirs” functioned as smoothly as could be expected.  Little time existed for friction to develop.  Their lives were filled with daily activities, school and especially work.


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