Three Old Ladies from Holbert Cove

Published 10:41 am Tuesday, January 31, 2012

My guess is that many of you have walls in your home covered with pictures  of ancestors  as well as pictures of your children, grandchildren and closest friends.
If you are like us, you also have drawers filled with personal items that once belonged to those special people in our lives. And if you are really lucky, or unlucky depending upon how you look at it, you have things that belonged to your great, great grandparents or even further back. It is nice to sit and look at these things – the civil war buckle, the lace handkerchief, the gold locket, the daguerreotypes – and to wonder what the owners were like, how they looked, what life was like for them. Then, after daydreaming and wondering for a while, you put the treasures back in the drawer and go about your business, putting off the decision as to what to do with these treasures. Let’s pass that decision off to our children; surely they’ll be able to decide better than us.
Not long ago I decided that we really can’t relate to an ancestor that we never knew. I knew and loved my grandmother, so her mother’s things mean something to me. Beyond that, I simply can’t go. Knowing her was part of my growing up, and she is part of the reason why I am who I am. That will not be the same for my sons. They never knew her, so her things will have little meaning for them. Often what is left behind has value only to those who can remember the person who is now gone.
This ‘Corner’ is about three old ladies from Holbert Cove, all now gone. They were very different, except they were about the same age and all were old by the time I met them. They were neighbors. And they all loved the land around them, and were good stewards of their land.
One was an eccentric artist named Doris Matthews from New York City who spent every summer in Holbert Cove from 1950 until she died in 2003. Doris lived in an old log cabin, by her accounts the last one built by hand in Polk County. She loved all wildlife, including pack-rats, and only reluctantly cut the vines on the front porch to get in the front door. Doris had no children, so she gave her most precious possession to her “critters,” the land. She preserved her 16 acres in perpetuity with a conservation easement held by The Pacolet Area Conservancy. She gave the land to an organization she believed in, The Nature Conservancy, who sold it with the protective covenants to preserve habitat for Doris’ “critters.”
Up the road lived Ruby Newman, the furthest thing from an eccentric NYC artist. Ruby was born in Holbert Cove and she died in Holbert Cove. She loved her husband, her land and her church. Deek and Ruby had no children. I met her in early 2000 when she was in the process of selling some of her forestland to the state to be added to the Green River Gamelands. Ruby died in 2008  and left her 66 acres remaining to  her church. She left the farm that had given her and her husband a good life to those who meant the most to her, the church, with faith that they would take good care of the gift.
Next door to Ruby was Susan Dart McCutcheon, who died in 2007. Susan Dart was a writer, an early whole foods advocate, an intellectual from Lake Forest, Ill. who loved history and abhorred religion. She and her husband bought the old cabin where Ruby was born; lived in it without plumbing or electricity many summers before building a year-round retirement home. The McCutcheon’s property  borders Little Cove Creek as it feeds into the Green River Gamelands, and are positively beautiful. It is now owned by the McCutcheon children, who are following in their parents’ footsteps as good stewards of the land.
What made these three old ladies friends was the land they loved. They were careful to pass on their most precious possession to those whom they trusted to take care of that gift. I think of them every time I drive through Holbert Cove. Our children may never know who these ladies were, but their lives will be made richer because of the gifts these ladies left behind.