Friday, October 20, 2017

Sepia Saturday: A Penchant for Poetry

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.

The dark colored dress on the young lady in this week’s Sepia Saturday prompt made me think of a photo of my maternal grandfather’s cousin, Alda Beatrice Clift.
Alda Beatrice Clift
Alda - year unknown
but she appears to be 8 to 12 years old
so about 1913-1917
The photo always gives me a start. I gasp at the sight of what appears to be an amputated arm. However, because I have seen photos of her in later years with two healthy arms, I know she was standing with her arm behind her back.  

Alda was the fifth and last child of Sallie Jollett Clift and George Clift. What a beautiful baby she was. 
Alda Beatrice Clift
Alda Clift
Look at that sweet bracelet!
1905 or 1906
Her brothers Leonard and Raymond were hard-working and respectable young men. 
Leonard and Raymond Clift
Leonard and Raymond Clift

They deserved a better childhood than the one they experienced. At the ages of 14, 13, and 8, respectively, the Clift children testified against their father in their parents’ divorce case.

The shocking details of Sallie and George’s marriage have been the subject of this blog several times. If you are new to the party, you can read accounts HERE and HERE.

The testimony of 8-year old Alda is heart-wrenching.
Testimony of Alda Clift in Sallie Clift vs George Clift
Testimony of Alda Clift
Divorce Case of Sallie Clift v George T. Clift
Chancery Cause 1913-07
Lawyer: Just tell me what happened when your father came to the house.
Alda:  When he come in, Mama said she was not expecting him home, and he said I come home when you are not expecting me.  Mama asked him if he wanted his supper and he said yesem, and he said what do you have for meals, and Mama said 25 cents, and he gave her 25 cents and she laid it up on the shelf.  Mama cooked his supper and he set down and he eat and he pulled out a pass out of his pocket and said Sallie I got a pass for Luray.  I am going to Luray and get me a divorce, and Mama went into the kitchen to wash the dishes and he got up and came out there, and Mama came back in the dining room and Papa pulled out his gun and held it up that away, and said I am going to kill you, and then me and Mama commenced to scream and I said Papa put your gun back in your pocket and then me and Mama went out doors, and he followed us out and when we got out to the gate he got his gun out again and then he said I dare you to come back in here, I will shoot your G__ D__ brains out; you or any other man.  Me and Mama went on down street and then we went hunting for Mr. Whiteside, and Eddie Bricker come to me and Mama first, and we found Mr. Whiteside and he went on up home.
Lawyer:  Where did you and your Mama stay that night?
Alda: Down to Aunt Vick’s (meaning Mrs. Decatur Breeden)
Lawyer:  Do you want to stay with your mother or would you rather go live with your father?
Alda:  I want to stay with my Mama.
Lawyer:  Why would you not want to live with your father?
Alda:  Because he is too mean to me.

No doubt Alda had to grow up fast, which might explain why she married at age 15 to Leon Dewey Monger. Two daughters and ten years later, they divorced. Three days after the divorce was final, Alda married Wilson Suite, a barber from Washington D.C. Fortunately, they lived happily ever after until Wilson’s death in 1960. Alda outlived him by 22 years.

If I ever met Alda, I do not remember. What I know of her is from public records - census, marriage, divorce, chancery lawsuits - and from photos. Like her Jollett relatives, she was ever-present at reunions. 
Cousins at Jollett Reunion 1919
Alda is 4th from left on back row standing between her
cousins Russell Coleman and Violetta Davis
1919 - Alda was 14

1934 Reunion Lewis Lloyd Jollett, Sallie Clift, Alda Clift, Wilson Suite
1934 Reunion
Lewis Lloyd Jollett (nephew of Sallie Clift), Sallie Clift,
Alda Clift Monger Suite and Wilson Suite
She was obviously loved by her cousins.
Violetta Davis Ryan and Alda Clift Suite and Alda's daughter
Violetta Davis Ryan with Alda Clift Suite
That's Alda's daughter in the middle,
but is it Janice or Gwen?

What amuses me, however, is the Clift penchant for poetry. Her father George penned 18 stanzas while incarcerated for that gun incident of 1914 that Alda described. Her mother Sallie published a poem in memory of her brother-in-law Walter Davis.
The newspaper clipping of this poem
is glued to the inside back cover
of Mary Frances Jollett Davis's photo album.
When Sallie died, Alda wrote a poem about her dear mother and best friend and had it published in the local newspaper. Her daughters likewise wrote poems expressing their love for their grandmother Sallie.

Alda wrote another poem on her mother's birthday.

The Clift poems are not polished. They are sappy and sentimental. The rhyme and rhythm are often uneven. Yet, they succeed in showing heart, devotion, gratitude, loyalty, admiration, regret - qualities lacking in those public records.

I like to think Alda carried on the tradition of writing poems in her mother’s memory; however, I have not found any others. I wonder if daughters Gwen and Janice wrote poems at Alda’s death in 1982.

To read more stories of girls in dark dresses, open the gate to Sepia Saturday.

© 2017, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.


  1. How traumatic for Alda having to testify in court regarding her parents' divorce. Makes one "glad" that it is a lot "easier" to get divorced these days and children are sometimes spared the experience of having to go to court. One wonders if perhaps alcohol was somehow involved in her dad's behavior? Sappy poems indeed, but seemed like they were written by a more "loving" man than one who threatened his wife and family.

    Your family stories are so fascinating to read.


  2. When you mentioned poems and jail,I remembered her father and that poem he wrote. Poor child that had to go through that.

  3. You start with a girl in a dark dress (an excellent match and link to the prompt, by the way) and then take us to some very dark places. A fascinating dip into family and social history at its best.

  4. Yes, the missing arm is very unnerving. Poor girl to have so much drama and trauma in her life. At least she settled happily later.

  5. Blimey ..what a terrible ordeal and what bravery in overcoming it

  6. Good that Alda and Sallie survived those bad times and were able to live happily afterwards. The family poetry is wonderful!

  7. What an ordeal for Alda, but she looks very happy in the 1934 Reunion photo. So wonderful that you have located those heartfelt poems written by extended family. Sappy and sentimental perhaps, but precious nevertheless.

  8. Family stories can indeed take many shapes. It's interesting how Alda's dress, bow, and shoes resemble the girl on my post which dates from 1912. The fad for memorial poems may have been promoted by newspapers.

  9. Everyone has a little poetry in them and these, though not polished, were pure and sweet and loving. The rhyme and rhythm were altogether secondary.

  10. I love that there was obviously so much thought (and love) in the poems!

  11. Poetry does allow people to become sentimental...which songs also do. They are often the things that remind us of special times in our lives. The gun episode with her father must have been very frightening for her, and then to testify in court about it! Many emotions were probably triggered (sorry about that) in her life.

  12. I continue to be amazed at the number of family photographs you have. I find it sad that the children had to testify in court against their father. I don't think that's generally done in court these days (but I may be wrong).

  13. That court record is really something. Those poor children. But the poems are great. They may be sappy but they are a great way to remember the family.