Mary Spotswood Nisbet Matthews
Leonard’s Wife, Lucy’s Mother
There had been one missing member of the family and I'd like to introduce her to you through what my grandfather wrote about her: "On October 2, 1861, I married Miss Mary Spotswood Nisbet, without going beyond…..Here, in grandfather's book, is her picture at the time they were married.
Unfortunately I can't testify at first hand whether she deserved all his praise or not since she died at 80 when I was 4 years old. The cause of her death was apparently complications from an ulcer.
I know this because it goes with one of the only two anecdotes I remember about her. The colored cook (that was the proper adjective then) would consult with her each morning about the day's menu. In the summer months, my mother reported, the cook would go away mumbling, “Tomatuses and corn, tomatuses and corn. That's all she ever wants, tomatuses and corn." At the end of her life these special vegetables from grandfather's garden had become forbidden fruits.
The second anecdote is really about grandfather. He was apparently a man given to rather strong outbursts of temper. One day he walked into the house and shouted for Mary. He was answered immediately by a wife, a daughter, a maiden aunt (the typical live-in fixture in those days) and a maid. He is said to have stormed out of the house exclaiming, “Dammit, Mary’s no name at all. When I want my wife, want my wife." My niece, also a Mary, claims that she understands that he then took to calling for “Mary, wife," "Mary, daughter”, or “Mary, maid”, but I think she made this up.
Mary Matthews had 8 sons and daughters, and over 20 grandchildren, and her possessions are scattered among them, but I have a number of very precious objects. Perhaps this is because mother was the last daughter, who married late and who cared a great deal about the family. Let's look at grandmother through some of her possessions.
She was a tiny woman who must have had a waist even smaller than the usual Victorian wasp waist. Here is the bodice of a gown she was wearing when grandfather was courting her. This is a picture of her in that gown - and a picture of her grandfather, John Spotswood, taken from a miniature on a pin she wore. These incidentally are his shoe buckles. And here is my greatest prize, a silk quilt made by my great grandmother in the period of 1850-1870. Let me read you what mother wrote about it…..
Despite her diminutive stature she must have inherited some of the toughness of her Scottish ancestors. In 1865 Grandfather retired for the first time and they took a year to travel in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. They ran into insurrections in Spain and spent six days in a 50 foot sailboat on the Red Sea in order to ascend Mt. Sinai, on camel back. In Arabia they ran into a plague of locusts near Mocha, the coffee center. To get to Jerusalem, Jericho and the Dead Sea they rode donkeys. At Baalbek in Palestine they were on horseback. When one of the horses died, Grandfather writes, they listened during the night to hyenas tearing it apart. On up into the Classical lands, they went to Troy and to Ephesus. On the Greek mainland their party was protected by 100 soldiers against the brigands in the mountains.
The only mementoes from this trip that I have are two: a darning egg and a fan supposedly made of olive wood from the Mount of Olives. Here is another fan of Grandmother’s, a Chinese fan of ivory.
And now for the denouement which only a woman can appreciate. They returned to St. Louis in November 1866. The following January, Grandmother’s third daughter, who became Nina Werner, was born. And in celebration of her birth Grandfather gave Mary a set of diamond jewelry. I am wearing the ring. The next year they followed others who had moved out along the path of the Frisco and Missouri Pacific tracks and eventually built this house in Oakland where my nether was born. By 1870 my restless Grandfather had gone back into business, a brokerage firm this time, and after 1880 they moved back into town - to this house on the corner of Grand Avenue and Bell.
Finally they settled on Cabanne Avenue. I don't have a real picture of the house - but rather a number of atmospheric shots done by the Japanese photographer, Kajiwara, concentrating especially on Grandfather's Japanese Garden which includes the stone lanterns and the bronze cranes from the World's Fair which he gave to Shaw's Garden.
If you had been a guest in this house you might have been served fruit on one of these fruit plates and rinsed your hands in this finder bowl. Had you fancied claret you would have drunk from this goblet. You would have eaten your dessert with this dessert spoon and had your coffee or tea from the silver service I now own. This is the cream pitcher.
But you might also have been entertained out of doors at a Sunday evening picnic like this - or you might have been present for that very special occasion - the Golden Wedding - in October, 1911. Here are some pictures of the whole family gathered by the lily pond. And here are some of Grandfather's comments on the Golden Wedding:……