Sandy Seaton Sallee
Mary Jacobs at right, c. 1920
At the 2011 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, Sandy Seaton Sallee shared a poem about her exceptional grandmother, Mary Jacobs. We asked her to share the poem and more about her grandmother in this special Mother's Day feature.
Price of the Pearl
Teenaged Mary shivered, pulled the threadbare blanket tight
The scratching of the branches woke her up again tonight
Huddled in her attic room, she cried a little prayer
Almighty God would see her soul and find a way to care.
A country girl, a workhorse, at ninety-seven pounds
To go to school, this brown eyed girl was boarded out in town
Her landlord owned the Peale newsstand, livin’ rich and high
And Mary’s parents left her there to go to school and try
To help the mistress mend her clothes and make her breakfast fare
Her son and nephew boarded and they needed Mary’s care
She ironed all their silken shirts and kept their breakfast warm
The men would party wild at night and sleep late as the norm.
Their pure white bedspreads sparkled, edged with shining lace
Except for little Mary, with no sheets nor pillowcase
The dresser mirror broke in half, she saw her shadow pass
Hunched with fear and loneliness, a skinny sad young lass .
The house was very modern, had a tub and toilet, too
But Mary used a bucket and made a spit bath do
She was a prisoner in the attic where rows of costumes hung
Milady danced in the Granada, and her glittered finery swung.
Mary clutched her rosary and prayed deep in her heart
God would get her through this trial; He would take her part
1928, the times were tough ‘most everywhere
Mary dreamed of galloping her little buckskin mare.
Mary watched the woman’s grandma who needed special care
When she shouted “little brown jug” in her crazed despair
Mary soothed the Grandma and tried to feed her meals
She wondered how she would survive her school year at the Peale’s.
The Grandma had a parrot who roamed the house at will
So Mary cleaned the parrot’s mess from floor and windowsill
The bird screeched “Woodrow Wilson” as he flew his rounds
Mary wished that she could fly and close out all the sounds.
The massive home had a gleaming rail of fancy plates
Mary dusted finery and cleaned the fireplace grates
She lugged the big coal buckets full of ashes out the door
Then started fresh new fires and kindled coal to roar.
Mary cleaned the vegetables, cooked the evening meal
The family dined by candlelight, but Mary knew the deal
Alone there in the kitchen, she had no supper choices
She ate in quiet loneliness and listened for their voices.
The woman had a lovely car, her son and nephew, too
Mary walked two miles to school when her chores were through
She’d stare back at the soulless house that held her future fast
Then wrapped her homemade coat against the icy winter’s blast.
The Good Lord put her through the fire, the price, though of the pearl
She learned her grammar and her sums, this knowledge-hungry girl
The day her mother’s horse and buggy pulled into the yard
Mary sobbed to point of breaking, said, “Mother, it’s too hard”
“To be treated as a servant without respect or pride.”
Something in the tiny teen had shriveled up and died
The woman showed five dollar bills as wage to Mary’s mother
But Mary ended school that day and never went another.
Mary never got an education, ‘cept maybe how to care
She galloped ‘round the farmstead on her speedy buckskin mare
This lady that’s my grandma had no high school graduation
But, she’s a brilliant woman with a master’s education!
© 2011, Sandy Seaton Sallee
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without written permission.
In February, 2011, Sandy told us:
My Grandma Mary, Jacobs is a very active 98 year old. This horseback photo was on her 98th birthday in August, 2010:
This photo with the fish was at our pond on her 97th birthday in 2009. My husband, Scott, casted for her, and she perched in a lawn chair and reeled them all in herself. She loves to fish and eat them, too:
Here is the photo of Grandma enjoying a Cessna ride at 97:
I took her to the British Columbia gathering when I was featured in March two years ago—she and Georgie Sicking had a great visit:
Grandma on the right, with my great Aunt Violet and my great Aunt Helene—who ranched well into her 90's—with one of their mares, circa 1920:
Mary Jacobs and granddaughter Sandy Seaton Sallee
Read more about Sandy Seaton Sallee and more of her poetry here.
Find a collection of poems and features for Mother's Day here.
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