A mother of many skills
by Walker County Genealogical Society
Sep 09, 2012 | 1446 views | 0 0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Editor’s note: Walking Back in Time is a  column from the Walker County Genealogical Society. It appears each Sunday in the Lifestyles section of the Daily Mountain Eagle.

As we mature and grow older, we begin to reminisce with our siblings about our early home life and our parents. On Aug. 8, 2007, Ken Key and his sister, Amelia Key Elliott, were in a conversation regarding their mother, Clisty Irene Woods Key (b. 1906 — d. 1995) who was married to Arles S. Key (b. 1907 — d. 1974).

Irene was the great granddaughter of Cherokee Indian Pernetta Elen Hisaw, who was married to Bennett Alford Pendley in North Carolina. Kenneth Key asked his sister Amelia to write down some memories of their childhood.

Amelia wrote, “Our mother, Irene Woods Key, had her four children delivered at home by Dr. Giles Jones, who lived in Aldridge, Walker County, Alabama. When our brother, James, was born, she paid the doctor by giving him a quilt. He requested this quilt for his daughter who lived in Florida. Dr. Jones said that he wanted the quilt for his daughter to keep in her car when she was traveling to and from Alabama, in case of cold weather and if she was stranded on the trip. This showed his love for his daughter and her safety. He was a kind man and a friend to many.

“When Mother was a sixth grader in school, she was very good in arithmetic. She often told of how the teacher would call her to the board to work the problems to show the class. Sometimes the problems would be so long it would take up the whole blackboard. When our Grandmother pulled Mother out of school after that year, she was so disappointed. She loved school and wanted to continue, but she was needed at home.

“She was a daddy’s girl. She would hold the lantern when she went with her father hunting at night. Mother worked with him in the fields tending the crops and raising sugar cane. Mother also was a very good seamstress. She made her patterns. We found some early patterns she had used when we cleared out the large drawer in the buffet. She told me about making a white dress for a local black lady of the community every May for decoration day. She also sewed for other ladies needing her skills.

“During our life, when there were strikes at the mines and our father was laid off from work, mother sewed for many ladies. She did their ironing and sold them vegetables, eggs, and milk. She was a lady of many skills, and she knew how to help provide for her family. With much love and care, she tended to all of our needs. We never lacked for necessities.

“I remember when we walked to the old white school in Goodsprings, we were always clothed properly for the weather. We had a heater in the room as we entered the house. On a rainy, cold day, she would have blankets heated to wrap us in after we got out of our wet clothes. Oh, how welcome that warmth was to our bodies. At nights in the winter, she would heat the flat irons on the heater, wrap them, and place them at our feet as we went to bed. We never came home from school without food already prepared for our meal. These were basic expressions of her love for her children.

“While Mother was a young adult, possibly in her early 20s, she was a helper to Dr. Giles Jones when a child was born. He would send word by a family member to bring Irene Woods to help the mother and the family. So, Irene would go and stay with the family until they were able to care for themselves. One of these families I remember her mentioning was the Cottrells in Goodsprings.

“Sherman Cottrell has one of the last quilts that Mother made with the ladies group from the First Baptist Church in Goodsprings. Those quilts were auctioned off, and he had the highest bid on the quilt that Mother made. He still has the quilt and is proud of being its owner.

“Mother stayed with Amelia in Huntsville from the spring of 1993 until her death. She had home health care during the last 6 months of her life. One of the nurses was writing a book, with the aid of a local psychologist, on behavioral problems of women. In the book, she needed a name for the female patient. She wanted a name not known or often used.

“After learning that mother’s name was Clisty Irene, she asked her permission to name the patient in her book, Clisty. Mother gave her permission. The book was to be published and put in libraries, but we would not have access to it because it would be a text book.

“In January 1995, the life of a daughter, wife, mother and a lady of many skills ended. Clisty Irene Woods Key died in Huntsville.”