01 February 2013

"Blind Mary"

compiled by Teresa Martin Klaiber

February 2013

Shortly after our marriage, in 1968, my mother-in-law invited me on a visit to "Blind Mary's." No one had heard of "politically correct" and most popular country folk in our area had and still have nicknames.

Every outing or introduction to a new person was an oral genealogy extravaganza for my husband's mother, Elsie.  She did not fail me as we headed out, loaded with jars of pickles and fresh rhubarb for Mary.  

Mary was born 7 March 1917, the daughter of William Vincent and Minerva Patton Sexton.  She was a twin, a rarity in the Sexton family.  Her sister Martha Ellen had died at ten months old from pneumonia [7 January 1918].  Elsie chattered on as we drove up the hill on Route #854 that they had been born on Pigeon Roost.  

I was mentally trying to figure out why she kept calling her my husband's cousin.  It would take a little genealogy sleuthing to finally determine that Mary Sexton was my husband's 1st cousin once removed.

We pulled up in Rush, Kentucky to a small house with the most beautiful wisteria climbing on the porch I had ever viewed.  The sweet aroma  carried on the breeze as we knocked.

Mary greeted us with smiles and made me feel so welcome and warm.  She took little time before she opened up and told me she had been ill as a small girl causing her blindness.  She was sent to Louisville, Kentucky for two years at the School for the Blind where she learned Braille.  She carefully pulled out her prized possessions, books in braille, showing me how she read them.

Her house was neat, her yard well kept and she maintained it all by herself.  As we sat and talked she asked if I liked wood carving.  Having a year as an art major, I piped up that yes I admired carving very much.  Well she said "I wood carve."    I sat in total disbelief as she showed me how she made spinning tops for children from old wooden spools.  She laughed and handed me some to keep which I cherish to this day. 

Then she showed me a wooden chain with a caged ball inside, all hand carved. As she handed it to me she said "keep it, it ain't very good."  I have kept it and can tell you it is wonderful.  Many years later and back in Kentucky I joined a wood carving group and attempted to carve my own ball inside the cage.  It was lopsided and not very well made.  

As the years passed, whenever we were in Kentucky and had a little time I would again cross over the hill with my mother-in-law for a little visit with "Blind Mary".  I never once saw anything but a smile on her face.  In 1980 the weekly letter from home contained a copy of a newspaper article about Mary.  I smiled as I read it, Kentucky seeming far away from New Jersey where we were then living.  

George Wolfford had done her justice in his article in the Ashland Daily Independent [8 July 1980].  As I read about her visit to Cannonsburg Elementary more memories flooded back.  The students were delighted to see her books and her woodcarvings just as I had when I first met her.  I had attended Cannonsburg Elementary in the old school in 1962 with its outhouse, pot belly stoves and cold corners and in the new building the next year before heading to Boyd County High School.  Wolfford went on to say that it was teacher Minnie Gee that introduced Mary Sexton to all the students at Cannonsburg Elementary.

The article was like a homecoming for my husband and I as we brought out the little wooden tops and chain to show our own children who asked many questions about how "Blind Mary" could carve without seeing.  Mrs. Gee was my Geography teacher at Cannonsburg those many years ago.  Both these wonderful ladies have left lingering memories with many from our county.

Time has ticked on, we moved back to Kentucky and Mary Elizabeth Sexton continued to live in the  little house in Rush, a single woman, who independently maintained her home and the wonderful climbing wisteria that I fell in love with.  "Blind Mary" died in the home she loved 16 March 2002.  She had always greeted our postal lady at the door and when she did not answer gave the sad alert.  Mary is buried in Sexton Cemetery very near where she was born on Pigeon Roost.

Today her home is gone along with the wisteria but the memories are forever.