Monday, April 21, 2014

Sidney Stout Pleasant, A widow for 59 years

My great grandmother, Sidney Stout Pleasant was 89 years old and had been a widow for 59 years when she died in 1949.

Sidney was the youngest of 10 children born to James D. Stout, Sr. and Susannah Proffit, farmers, of Johnson County, Tennessee.

School was not compulsory when Sidney was a child and many schools were subscription schools, charging a tuition for each student. With 10 children, it may have been impossible for the Stouts to send their children to school.  Also, the Civil War had devastating effects on this area from 1861 to 1865 and many of the schools were destroyed. She was most likely uneducated since she used an "X" when signing her name (mark) to documents.

Sidney said she wasn't sure of her exact age. Many children in the 1800's were born at home without birth certificates and the only recording of the date was in the family bible, but couldn't someone tell a young girl how old she was?

She may have even been referred to as an "Old Maid." She was 22 years old when she married my great grandfather in 1882, which for the time, was not a young bride. He was a widower for only four months and had nine children with his first wife. How convenient for him to find love in just four months!

My great grand parents were married just short of eight years and had four children together before my great grandfather died leaving Sidney a young 30 year old widow. Sidney was also four months pregnant with my grandmother at the time.

Her property was labeled "poor mountain land." She probably wasn't able to farm it, and the only means of support she had was sewing she did for neighbors.

In those days, a young widow would have been expected by society to re-marry so her husband could support her and her children, and although I have no way of knowing for certain, I suspect it was societies' expectations of her that started her troubles. In 1899, nine years after her husband passed away, she was accused of spending time with a man and indicted for "Open and Notorious Adultery."

I haven't found any evidence that the man was married or that he was even accused of being married. No one could prove that he spent a night at her home,  and no one proved that they were living as husband and wife. Deposition records state her house was not accessible by buggy, so it seems it would have been difficult for anyone to see them together at her home. I often wonder if she was "railroaded" or "set-up" by someone.

Was the man she spent time with of bad character, misleading and corrupting her, or was it just a simple matter of making poor choices? Was she a lonely widow who chose the wrong person to spend her time with?

George Washington said "Associate with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation, for it is better to be alone than in bad company."

I wonder if my great grand children will read about me 50 years from now and say, "What was she thinking?  (They probably will.)

Carl Sandburg wrote "Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you."

Maybe Sidney was just born 100 years before her time. This did happen 21 years before the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote.  Whatever injustice may have happened to her, it was with her for the next 50 years until her death. She never married again. Perhaps she never trusted anyone with her heart again. Who could blame her?

Sidney Stout Pleasant had a mysterious life. She lived out her destiny, and I look forward to meeting her someday when my life is over.

My grandmother, Sidney's youngest daughter, the one she delivered after her husband died,  loved to sing "I'll Fly Away" and play the harmonica. I'm sure she sang this to Sidney at the end of her life, just like she sang it to me at the beginning of mine.
                                                                                                           Joe & Sidney Pleasant
Some glad morning when this life is o'er
I'll fly away
To that home on God's celestial shore
I'll fly away.

I'll fly away, Oh Glory
I'll fly away
When I die, Hallelujah by and by
I'll fly away

When the shadows of this life have gone
I'll fly away
Like a bird from prison bars has flown
I'll fly away

I'll fly away, Oh Glory
I'll fly away
When I die, Hallelujah by and by
I'll fly away

Just a few more weary days and then
I'll fly away
to a land where joy shall never end
I'll fly away

I'll fly away, Oh Glory
I'll fly away
When I die, Hallelujah by and by
I'll fly away

Saturday, April 12, 2014


I was talking to a widow friend of mine one day and she said "I'm a little embarrassed to tell anyone about this, but I still turn my bedroom light on when it gets dark out. You see, my husband was bed bound near the end and spent a lot of time in the bedroom and I would turn the light on for him every evening when the sun went down. It's a habit I can't seem to break even a year after his death. As soon as it starts getting dark I feel the need to go turn that light on." Then she asked me, "Do you think something is wrong with me?"

I shared with her my similar experience.

My husband had pancreatic cancer and was in pain and he couldn't sleep in the bed at night so he would sleep in the living room on the recliner. Eventually Hospice was able to get him a hospital bed and he slept in in the living room with the TV on and the light on all night. 

After he passed away, I too, turned the light on as soon as it started getting dark outside, and I couldn't bring myself to turn it off until the morning light. Even though I wasn't in the room, I could see the glow of the light from my bedroom, and it was somehow comforting to me. 

When family came from out of state for his memorial, my daughter in law was reaching to turn the light out one night as everyone was getting ready for bed, and I nearly jumped out of my skin! I said "No, no, we can't turn that light out, Paul always kept that light on!" She said "Okay." But, I'm sure she was thinking I had surely lost it!

Then the evening of his memorial, as it was just starting to get dark, I walked over to the lamp and turned the switch on.

The bulb made a loud POP, POP, POP sound and seemed to explode into fireworks inside itself. It turned every color of the rainbow all at once. I wasn't sure what had just happened. I was a little taken back by it. 

I looked around the room to see if I was the only one in the room, and saw my son sitting there. I said "Did you see that?" I wanted someone else to acknowledge what happened because I had never seen a light bulb do that before. When you're in the middle of grief you don't know if what you are seeing is real or not, your mind can play tricks on you sometimes, so I was so glad he said yes, he had seen it. I felt like it was a sign that everything was okay.

My son replaced the bulb in the lamp and I continued to keep that light on every night. In fact I put it on a timer so it would come on by itself if I wasn't home.

So, when my friend asked me if I thought something was wrong with HER for turning the light on every night in the bedroom, I said, "No, I don't think anything is wrong with you at all!"

Shortly after we had that conversation, I started receiving notices from the electric company that I was using more electricity than my neighbors. I started looking around my house for ways to economize, like doing the laundry and running the dishwasher between 9 pm and 9 am, or on the weekends and changing out my regular light bulbs to incandescent, and as I was looking at more ways to save energy, I kept hearing my VERY FRUGAL husband whispering in my ear "Donna, turn out the light. It's time."

I made the decision, walked over and turned out the light, and as I slowly walked away, I kept looking back at the lamp. I wanted to turn around and turn it back on, but I didn't. 

I got into bed that night, and looking out into the hallway, I missed the glow from the living room, but I remembered the flash of the bulb, the fireworks, and all the colors of the rainbow, and I knew everything would be okay.

Psalms 4:8

I will lie down and sleep in peace,
for you alone, O Lord,
make me dwell in safety.