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Sad word of passing of Eugenia Leftwich Martin, Sulphur Well, KY

We received the sad word of the passing of Eugenia Lefwich Martin late this afternoon. She died at the Metcalfe County Nursing Home in Edmonton. Her family will be releasing details of services later but for now, we will share a beautiful tribute written by her oldest grandson, Jeffrey Martin, several years ago. He wrote it and conspired with his aunt, her sister, Geniece Marcum, who was writing Senior Quest magazine at that time, to be run as a surprise for his grandmothers. His tribute reads, in part, "...Usually in the evenings at Granny's house we'd play in the yard. I always delighted in this time of day (its still my favorite part of the day) because Granny herself would make a guest appearance in our games of tag or hide and seek. She would even run! I didn't think grandparents ever ran, but Granny did. She would chase us when she was 'it,' giggling all the while--she has the cutest habit of curling her tongue in front of her front upper teeth when she laughs. After we became winded we would sit on the edge of her porch and she would gather tall weeds out of the lawn and fashion them into 'grasshopper nests.' To this day I still can't make one of those things and I don't know how she did it...". It is printed in its entirety below. - LW

For My Grandmothers
By Jeffrey S. Martin

I emerged into this world from my mothers womb on the afternoon of June 19, 1972, at which point I was promptly introduced to two of the most wonderful and influential women in my life to date: my grandmothers, Virginia Jewell and Eugenia Martin. Each knew me before I ever knew myself. Perhaps they still know me better than I do, because they both have an uncanny ability to see deeper into me than even I am capable sometimes.

Virginia is my mother's mother. We as a family have dubbed her Mammie. That's her name to me; Virginia is a term by which strangers may refer to her. Likewise, Eugenia (Jean for short) is my father's mother, known forevermore to me as Granny. For some reason I refused to call her anything else besides Jean for years until my younger brother and sister came along and changed the rules. Thus she was dubbed Granny and it endures to this day.

I have so many fond memories of each lady that an attempt to relate them all would surely turn into an epic novel; however, I have chosen a few specific instances to share here.

Granny has always been one to spoil us; I could always count on her to take us to Sulphur Well for a hearty meal at the restaurant. Afterwards, she could often be persuaded to descend the park steps across the road to the riverbank for a drink of sulphur water from the artesian well that lends the tiny place its name. I really don't know if she honestly enjoys the taste of the water. Most people I've met since living on my own and deemed worthy of being brought to my hometown for a visit have shreiked in revulsion as the taste flooded their mouths. In any event, Granny always let us have a sip or two and would even taste it herself. Perhaps she was humoring us, but to one who may not enjoy the taste of sulphur water it is quite an accomplishment to suppress the urge to purge themselves of it immediately.

Summertime was always a highlight when I was growing up. No school! We had long, lazy days to while away our time. We would often proclaim ourselves bored, but in retrospect I think that was hardly the case. There was always something to do to occupy our young minds. Even a miserably hot day spent at Granny's in front of a fan with no air conditioning was a delicious treat. There was always good food, candy, and toys, plus the more than occasional trip to "the Well", as she calls it. One summer afternoon we had gone to the Sulphur Well store to pick up some items and were sitting on a bench on the stores front porch when I asked if I could have some more money for something else. All Granny had left in her wallet was a two-dollar bill that she had wanted to save, but she gave it to me, anyway. I'm sure she would rather have held onto it, but she handed it over and afforded me my childish pleasure. As a matter of fact, I think Granny sometimes just made believe she needed some sugar or some other staple so that we could make the trip to the store, blackening our bare feet on the oiled wooden floor as we ran to and fro trying to decide what sort of ice cream or soft drink we absolutely couldn't live without that particular day.

Usually in the evenings at Granny's house we'd play in the yard. I always delighted in this time of day (its still my favorite part of the day) because Granny herself would make a guest appearance in our games of tag or hide and seek. She would even run! I didn't think grandparents ever ran, but Granny did. She would chase us when she was "it," giggling all the while--she has the cutest habit of curling her tongue in front of her front upper teeth when she laughs. After we became winded we would sit on the edge of her porch and she would gather tall weeds out of the lawn and fashion them into "grasshopper nests". To this day I still cant make one of those things and I don't know how she did it. In her deftly working hands she would bend and twist the stems, fashioning the plants into a sort of green cage and I could just imagine a grasshopper family moving in and living their life inside. What better place to choose to stay than Granny's grasshopper nest? None that I could think of, unless you weren't a grasshopper and had the distinct privilege of sleeping in her house, piled under heavy layers of quilts and blankets and sheltered, safe and secure, in such a wonderful place.

Granny's house was an urban experience compared to Mammies. Mammie lived in quite a different location, a huge farm alongside a river with no neighbors in sight. It was quite the wilderness adventure to spend days there, far from the hustle and bustle of Sulphur Well. Mammie's farm was just around the bend from "the Cut," a gap chiseled through solid rock (by slaves, we were told) in the river bluffs to allow drainage in times of flood. On rainy days with plans to visit Mammie we would often have to call ahead to see which route we should take. If the river was high we couldnt cross the low-water bridge, which was the shortest way to get there. Instead wed have to go all the way around to the opposite end of the road, quite a few miles out of our way, to come in >from the other side. Either direction was worth the trip.

Mammies house was a looming, white, pre-Civil War structure surrounded by enormous old trees. The driveway was always full of cars on Sunday afternoons following church. Everyone migrated to Mammies to have a long, drawn-out lunch and sometimes even stay through dinner and into the evening. Sun tea was a regular offering, as was homemade ice cream. The conversation was always plentiful and most of the time I could gear it into one of my favorite realms: ghost stories. Mammie always had plenty of strange events to recount from her lifetime, and even a few pertaining to the very farm of which we sat in the midst.

Mammies farm had a very intriguing history as it was related to me. There had been slaves at one time, and before that, due to the proximity of the river, Native Americans had once roamed the fields and woods. Arrowheads regularly appeared, many times in pristine condition. The whole place had a sort of magical quality to it; it seemed somehow untouched. There were always new places to explore that I hadnt found before. I got in trouble plenty of times for wandering off for too long and not letting the adults know my whereabouts. My mind would wander millions of miles away as I strolled along wondering what I would encounter around each turn.

The front lawn of the house was enormous and we used it to play softball. Home plate was at the end of the brick walkway to the house (so no balls would be hit toward the large windows). Countless games had to be paused for long periods of time to retrieve a lost ball. To this day there is a softball somewhere deep in the bowels of one of the grand trees next to that house. It was hollow and an errant ball flew directly into the one small opening in the trunk.

Mammie is quite a character and has amazed us all at one time or another. One Halloween when I was in elementary school, sitting in class, a strange costumed character stuck its head in the door to the room and clapped its hands together and then, just as mysteriously, withdrew. The face was familiar, but I knew it couldn't be Yes, it was! It was Mammie! She had garbed herself in some oddball getup and come to my school, parading up and down the hallway and startling all the classes up and down. I found it quite amusing and it made me very proud to brag to my classmates that that was my grandmother.

Probably my most famous story among my friends now is this: When I was a little boy there was a dance craze called the Bump. My aunt had a record of a popular disco song of the day and we were in her bedroom being silly as she taught me how to do the Bump. In case anyone doesn't remember, its a simple dance: two people stand side by side and bump their hips together to the beat of the music. Mammie came upstairs and happened upon us. Not to be outdone, she decided to do the Bump with me. We were well into the song and Mammie was bumping right along with me when she suddenly cried out, grabbed her hip, and fell to the floor. At first we thought she was kidding, but soon we knew that she was honestly in pain. She had thrown her hip out of place and had to be taken to the hospital. Much to her chagrin, the doctor asked her what she had been doing when it happened and she had to respond that she had been doing the Bump with her grandson. She recovered quite nicely, however, but I have never been able to persuade her to dance with me again.

Now, as we draw near the end of this first year of a new century, I thought it would only be fitting to write my own tribute to these two amazing women. There is no way I could ever repay the unconditional love, care, kindness, and quality of life that they have imparted to me. I hope that this article in some small way will do them justice and shed some light to those reading it on what a couple of treasures you have living among you in your community. No doubt I have disappointed each of them in different ways many times, but they have never shown me anything less than love and adoration. I give them much credit for managing to produce a stable family life in our turbulent and chaotic world. Its no mean feat, something I didn't quite realize and, indeed, took for granted, until well after I had been on my own for a few years. I owe it all to you, ladies. You'll always be two bright and shining stars in my eyes. Youve both given me enough inspiration to last a lifetime. Probably more. - Jeffrey Scott.

Additional Credit
  • Photo of "The Cur" by Johnietta Jessie

This story was posted on 2012-10-25 18:35:14
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Eugenia Martin walking from Pa Smith's store, Sulphur Well, KY

2012-10-25 - Sulphur Well, Metcalfe County, KY - Photo by Geniece Marcum.
Eugenia Leftwich Martin (d. Oct. 25, 2012) is pictured in the lower right corner of the photo walking down the hill to "the well" from the building always referred to as "Pa Smith's Store" which housed the Sulphur Well post office. - Linda Waggener

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