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Friday, August 5, 2011

Fannie Kent Row

Fannie Kent, early 1900s

     My grandmother was, at most, four feet eleven inches and when her hair was let down it was the same length as herself. She loved English history and literature and she could recite poetry she had memorized decades earlier. She read and could discuss Winston Churchill's History of the English Speaking Peoples. When I was a boy she would make chicken and dumplings for me. We all knew her as Mama Row, the sobriquet given to her by Urla. For brevity's sake I will refer to her here as MR.

Birth record of Fannie Kent

Emily Charlotte Conley, 1877

Emily Charlotte Kent, 1920s

William F. Kent, 1920s

     Fannie Tolby Kent was born on the Kent farm near Shady Grove Church on November 10, 1883. Her mother, Emily Charlotte "Lottie" Conley (1855-1928) was from Manchester in Chesterfield County. Lottie's father was Henry Conley, a railroad engineer who was given a deferment from active military service in the Confederate army because of his occupation. MR's father was William Franklin "Billy" Kent (1852-1938) of Spotsylvania. Billy Kent's family came from Fluvanna County  and will be the subject of next week's post. Billy and Lottie Kent's other children were Susan (born 1879 and died soon thereafter. She is buried in the Kent cemetery), Ellis (1881-1959), Cora (1886-1968) and Charlotte Mae (1892-1981).

Monthly Roll of Honor

     Like the children of nearby Sunshine farm, MR attended classes held in local homes. Her name, as well as that of her brother Ellis, appear on this "Monthly Roll of Honor." Despite the fact that MR's formal education did not advance beyond the equivalent of elementary school she remained a lifelong avid reader and in her later years was a formidable Scrabble player.

Fannie Kent, center, early 1900s

     In about 1903 Fannie moved to Richmond where she lived with her mother's brother Charles Fendall Jackson Conley and his wife Cora. They had a daughter, Gertrude McPhail Conley, who was known as Phail. MR was maid of honor for Phail when she married Carl Sherman in 1913.

Fanny Kent at shore with Cora Conley (possibly), early 1900s
     For about thirteen years MR worked as a bookkeeper at the Cohen Company department store in Richmond. She once explained to me that in those days there were no cashiers as such in the store. Once a customer selected an item to purchase his money was placed in a basket that was pulled up by a wire to the office where the bookkeepers worked and his change would then be sent back down to him.
MR to Lottie Kent, 22 August 1913

MR to Lottie Kent, 22 August 1913

MR to Lottie Kent, 22 August 1913

     In the summer of 1913 MR wrote a letter to her mother on the stationery of the Cohen Company: "I am feeling alright, but am tired and nervous, and am working awfully hard this summer and only weigh 100 pounds, guess I'll improve in the fall...Don't work yourself to death. Let Lottie and Mary [Duval] wait on themselves, try to go to the camp meeting all you can...Let me hear from you often, tell Lottie to write. I'm always interested in hearing about her beaus...One dollar is for you and the other is Lottie's. Wish you would try to come down." MR earned about a dollar or so per day as a bookkeeper and sent money home each week to her mother and sister.

MR at the Pritchett's, c.1913

MR at the Pritchett's, c.1913 (reverse)

     By 1916 thirty three year old MR felt the need to come home to Spotsylvania to be near her parents. I am not sure when Horace Row began to court her, but they were married in Washington, DC on March 14, 1917. Her first two children--Mary and Margaret-- were born the next year. Then came George in 1920, Nancy in 1923 and Judy in 1928, by which time MR was forty five years old.

Horace and Fannie Row with Mary and Margaret at Parker's store

MR with Mary, George and Margaret, 1920

     Horace Row, by all accounts, was not an easy man to live with. His affection for hard drink did not make him unique among his neighbors but it undoubtedly caused grief for MR. Margaret vividly remembered the day when she was witness to an unhappy scene between her parents. She saw her mother take off her wedding ring that day, and she never put it back on. Margaret and her sister Mary both left home in 1934 to get married and escape the stress of life at home.

Will of William F. Kent

Will of William F. Kent

Will of William F. Kent

     In his will written in 1926, MR's father left his estate to his unmarried children, Ellis and Lottie. This arrangement was agreed to by Cora and MR. When William Kent died in 1938 the Kent farm passed to Ellis.

Will of Horace Row

Will of Horace Row

     Horace died of a heart attack while picking apples with George in an orchard in Sperryville on October 19, 1939. In his will he named MR as executrix of his estate. George was to be given $1000 and the remainder of the estate was to be divided among all five children. Fannie retained a life estate in Sunshine and lived there for most of her remaining days.


Cora Pritchett, MR, Lottie Payne, Ellis Kent

Fannie Row

MR and Nancy 1942

     By necessity MR lived a frugal life and would be horrified by any hint of waste or extravagance. Two humorous examples of this come to mind, told to me by my mother. In 1957 MR accompanied us during our cross country drive to California. After a long day of driving my father found a motel featuring what would have seemed to be the reasonable room rate of five dollars. MR was aghast and urged my father to keep looking for something less expensive. At last we found one that could be had for two dollars (the bugs, my mother told me, were enormous). In another incident that occurred years later at People's Drug Store in Fredericksburg, Mom took MR there for lunch. Mom left a quarter tip for the waitress. When she thought Mom was not looking, MR replaced that extravagant gratuity with a nickel she deemed more seemly.

California, 1957

     When we came back to Virginia in 1960 MR used to come spend the weekend with us on a regular basis. Also, she and Lottie would spend each Thanksgiving or Christmas with us; the other holiday was often spent with the Humphries. I remember she would sit quietly in the rocking chair in the kitchen and did not speak unless spoken to. If I asked her a question she was always happy to give me a generous and good natured reply.

Judy, MR, Margaret

MR at Sunshine

Scrabble Queen

MR and Mabel Wakeman (center) at Row reunion, 1966

     Once I got my driver's license in 1969 I had the high honor and privilege of taking the family Chevy to Sunshine to pick up MR for the visits I mentioned. She used to tell me that I was a safe and careful driver, unlike others in the family who drove "too fast."
     Near the end of her life, by now living at the nursing home, it was becoming increasingly evident to my mother that MR was failing. She asked her mother one day if she was at peace and felt ready for what could happen any day. My mother told me that MR put her hand to her lips, as she did when she wanted to say something slyly humorous: "Yes, Judy, I am. But I am in no hurry."
Shady Grove

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