I had not once visited my sister Mickey in Louisiana in the 10+ years she had lived there. She always came to Tennessee and Kentucky since most of the family was there. This year, for Thanksgiving, my daughter and I made the trip to see Mickey, her husband Greg, and her two sons Trey and Trent. I had not seen the boys play football since they were little and now Trey was about to graduate. And both were playing in a state semi-final game. It was perfect timing. I also realized that Chapel of the Cross in Madison, Mississippi was along the route to her house. Several of our ancestors are buried at Chapel of the Cross and it would be the perfect opportunity for me to see the cemetery and take some photos for my genealogy research. It turned out to be dark and rainy when we reached Jackson so we did not make the short trip over to Madison.
Mickey has the same genetic makeup that the women in my family all seem to possess. We make way too much food for a celebration. It comes from my mother’s side of the family. My grandmother always made a table full of food, so much that it covered the table leaving no place to sit, much more than any family could eat. It was her way of showing her love. My mom and aunt did the same and thus, passed it on. Mickey had more food than I have seen in a long time, all the traditional family favorites and more. We ate, watched football, ate, watched football, then we ate some more.
As we sat at the kitchen bar sampling the desserts, we discussed coconut cake. My grandmother made the most amazing coconut cake. It was a bright white cake with soft coconut milk flavor and fluffy icing topped with fresh coconut. She would always have one in the freezer to take out when we arrived. That was my mother’s favorite. Mom would sit at the table and slice off small slivers of frozen cake. Once that was eaten, she would smile and say “I need to even that side up” and cut off another sliver.
Mickey wondered if I knew where the recipe for the cake was. I didn’t. Our grandmother didn’t usually cook from a cookbook, mostly just from recipes passed between friends on scraps of paper or sometimes torn from the newspaper.
Mickey had some old books around her house so she decided to see if maybe it was stuck in one of the books. She brought some out of a closet. A small book, too small to be a cookbook, and without a side binding was sitting at the top. I opened it to see what it contained.
It was a bible. From 1853. Immediately I was interested. As I carefully turned the delicate pages, I ran across poems cut from a newspaper and pinned on a few of the pages. There were leaves or flowers pressed between the pages.
And then I saw it. Handwriting in the margins of a middle section. It said “Our dear Blake and Trinkins married 8th Feb. 1888.
I quickly recognized the names and the date. My geeky genealogical heart started beating faster. Blake Baker Wiggins and Trinkins Cabaniss Wiggins are my great, great grandparents. I gingerly turned the pages and found so much more. Blake’s grandmother, Mary Wharton Bryan Dewees, was the owner of the bible. She had written notes on important events in the margin over about 40 years time. Notes about her siblings, her children, her grandchildren and even a few about great grandchildren. There was the day General Lee surrendered, there were notes on crop plantings and frosts and the “worst windstorm I have ever experienced”. It was noted the day President Garfield and President McKinley were shot. There were births, deaths, marriages, illnesses and moves to another state.
This one says “ My birth day 1818 22nd June”. “1891 - 73 years old to day”. “1892 – still here”. “1898 – 80th”. Mary died in 1904 at the age of 86. And there are a few notes after that from her daughter Mary Lorraine Dewees Wiggins, my great, great, great grandmother.
I have searched the internet and corresponded with many distant cousins to try to track down information on this fascinating line of our family. This whole time, a book that is well over 150 years old and full of valuable family information was sitting in my sister’s closet. And written in the hand of one of my most interesting of our female relatives, truly a beloved matriarch.
I forgot all about the coconut cake recipe and ignored all going on around me as I turned each page carefully and read each line. Mickey told me to take the book home but I offered to scan each page and leave it with her. It was hers. But in the end, she sent it with me. She will never understand how much it means to me to have it.
All because of coconut cake.