In 1974, my mother Oma Bragg O’Bryan wrote a book of poems Where I Long to Go. This is the preface to that book. It introduces the reader to Mom, her heritage, and mine. I do wish I had better appreciated her life and work and asked more questions. My sister Sandy who died last year spent more time with Mom and Dad since both lived in Tallahassee. If you have unanswered questions in your family, please ask them now.
I began my first poetry (poem) the first year I taught (1934-35). That was in the fall. I was teaching in a little one-room school. I had fourteen pupils. This was a little school nestled under the hill by a creek. The school was called “Grapevine” and on Lick Creek Road. There was something mysterious about that fall and winter. This was such a beautiful autumn. The trees were beautiful, the sycamore with its white bark by the creek, maple, elm, hemlock. There the people were interested in creative people. This was the beginning of my writing poetry. I should say, perhaps, I was in the mood.
My parents and grandparents were of English, Scotch, and Irish descent. They tell me they came to America and, of course, after landing, moved farther inland to the West Virginia mountains, where they could do and live as they liked, leaving the English nearer the low-level coast. My mother and father were about to buy close to town but instead chose a farm in the high mountains of West Virginia. This farm and home have been sold to people who are developing a counselors’ training camp out of it. (A previous column was the voice of the home when the Braggs decided to move off the mountain.)
Soon after our home was built, there was a school, which also served for a church. My mother was a true believer and for years each Sunday we were dressed, bundled, and readied for a ride in the buggy for this special church service. The church was usually served by the Baptists. My father and mother each had and were strong in his/her own politics. My father served as a deputy.
I remember the early days in school. Those days with no books for first grade, but only words were printed on a painted blackboard for the tiny ones to read. I was never very well and, of course, the “community” diseases I had did not help me in the least.
Soon, my older sisters were living away for high school. This left me, the older one of those, at home.
When the three older ones graduated from high school, then I went through high school alone. I had received three diplomas and much time lost before I entered high school. This time was spent in 4-H and doing chores at home. I do not think my parents had intended that I should go away to school, but then the encouragement of an older sister brought about my further education. I attended Concord College for one year, then went on to West Virginia University. There I roomed with Mr. and Mrs. J.M. Lowe, the Morgantown High agriculture teacher and, later, the state vocational director.
This was a year of the Depression. There was constant talk of lack of funds back home. So, come the end of the first semester, I was home. Before I returned in October, I had received a telegram stating the death of a friend in a car accident, and the same day in the mail were two letters, one from the friend who was killed and one from another boyfriend. I’ve often wondered why those subjects could not have been reversed. Of course, that answer I’ll never know.
From this period, I was home again that spring term, then back to Concord College for summer. This led to my teaching year and more poetry.
After much writing, all this material, writing papers, as I suppose it is with any writer became a nuisance, and, I felt, in the way. So, these poems were rolled, placed in an old canning jar and buried. I can’t remember just when and if they were ever removed. I do not have them now. The poems “Spring” and “Thoughts”, though, were among those buried.
I taught two more terms, then met my husband, Travis O’Bryan, and married. I decided, except for rare periods, to leave poetry behind at least for the present. After my husband received his degree from the University, I returned to Concord, and I now have a B.S. in Home Economics.
I also attended the University of Florida and Appalachian State University. I have done work in Adult-Art Education with Lake City Community College. This period in Florida I have spent teaching painting, making collages and silkscreen and, of late, doing more of my first love, poetry writing.
The picture below was taken in the Bragg Cemetery on Chestnut Mountain. Sandy and I placed there in honor of her 80th birthday in 1993. Mom died in 2003, one week shy of 90.