Saturday, January 26, 2013

"We children stood completely in awe of her."


In September 1895 Martha Francis Davis accompanied her brother, his children, and Sallie’s body back to Austin. It is not clear if Jim Hogg had asked her, or if she had volunteered to help care for his motherless brood. But she took over, and what had been a merry and rambunctious household soon changed. Ima wrote that her aunt “was evidently not prepared by experience or nature to have charge of such undisciplined children as she found us to be. While Father was away from home during the day, she was using all her strength of will and ingenuity to train the two younger boys and myself. She believed in giving us chores and filing every idle moment when out of school, with some duties. She was a woman of great intellectual attainments, high ideals and determination. She had been a beauty in her day, a belle and a leader. Her efforts served mainly to make the children unhappy.”

For example, when a little boy said to 13-year-old Ima, “That’s a pretty dress you have on, and you look pretty in it.” Aunt Fannie said: “Ima, you are not pretty. You will never be pretty, and you must never let anyone tell you so.”

It was Aunt Fannie who told Ima that she must never marry. In her eighties, when someone asked “Miss Ima” why she had never married, she said, “When I was a girl, tuberculosis was thought to be hereditary. My mother died of tuberculosis, and I thought I should never have children.”
Then, with wry humor, she made light of it:  “But, you know, it’s just as well. I always liked a handsome man, and none of my beaux was any good! But I do regret the children.”
        
In her memoir, Ima wrote more about her formidable aunt: Aunt Fannie “was a constant reader and flattered herself that she could entertain the boys successfully with Plutarch’s Lives and juvenile versions of the lives of heroes. So she read aloud whenever she was able to seize any opportunity. She had been brought up with brothers, I am sure, as lively as these little boys, but evidently did not understand their nature. . . . Father must have sensed the depressing effect she had on the children.”
         The Hogg children never breathed a word of complaint to their father. But Jim Hogg made a decision: he would put the younger children in boarding school. Six weeks after Sallie’s death, Ima, Mike, and Tom, escorted by Aunt Fannie, left Austin on the train for San Marcos and the Coronal Institute. A private Hill Country school founded in 1868, the Coronal had about 300 students in grades 1-12. But for children who had so recently lost their mother, it must have been a traumatic experience to be suddenly uprooted from home and placed in the unfamiliar surroundings of a boarding school.
Aunt Fanny was still “a welcome visitor” in the Hogg household as well as the households of her other relatives. But “She always commanded the situation, however, in whatever home she was, but the families seemed to understand. . . . We children . . . stood completely in awe of her.”


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