A VIEW from LICK SKILLET: Remembering Momma — Martha M. McGlothin

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By Gerald Largen

Some time back, it occurred to me that this year, 2013, would see the hundredth anniversary of the birth of my mother, Martha Mac McGlothin.
And since I had chosen to honour her and my father, John Roy Largen, in naming the McGlothin-Largen Park, I thought that people might like to know something about the life and times of these two honourees.
Thus I resolved to set out a brief history of both of them to coincide with what would have been their hundredth birthdays. Since my mother was a few months older than my father, it seemed appropriate to start with her on her birthday, and to continue on his in February of next year.
This disparity in their ages gave rise to a good deal of jesting and good humoured references to “cradle-robbing” and such like.
So, following this plan, I begin today with a brief treatment of my mother’s early years up to the point where she met my father. If I successfully pursue my plan I will pick up with my father’s early life next February, and then carry on with their life together for the half century and more before her death.
So, let’s begin with a bit of genealogical background concerning my mother’s antecedents;
Martha Mae McGlothin (Mrs. John Roy Largen), my mother, was a third generation Irish colleen, but unlike so many Celtic lasses, she was what is called “Black Irish,” those of the Irish whose blood was mixed with that of the Spanish soldiers and sailors whose ships were wrecked on the shores of the Emerald Isle after their defeat by the English in the ill-fated Spanish Armada’s attempt to invade England in 1588.
She was just over five feet tall in stature, with thick shiny black hair, and dark complexion. This complexion was the source of a somewhat self-deprecating anecdote which she, and others, told.
It seems that there was a light complected woman in Emory Gap, whose build and stature was very similar to my mother’s.A common acquaintance came to her one day and said that she had mistakenly addressed this black lady as “Martha” before realizing that is wasn’t my mother. She replied that it was a common mistake and then instructed her that the way to tell the two of them apart was that she, my mother, was the dark one!
Mother’s father was Tom McGlothin. Tom was born to John McGlothin (Junior, born circa 1844 in Virginia) and Katherine McCarroll, who, after the death of John McGlothin, married George Washington Isham.
John McGlothin (Jr.) was the son of John McGlothin (Sr.) who was born in Ireland in 1814 and who immigrated by way of Virginia, to Coalfield in Morgan County in the 1850s.
Her mother was Cordelia Caledonia Fish, known as Cordie, who was the daughter of Bob Fish, who came across the mountains from Brevard, North Carolina, and married Rachel Ball, from upper East Tennessee, and whose family was originally from Virginia, and possibly related to the Mary Ball who married Geo. Washington’s father.
Tom and Cordie had several children, but none survived for long except Grant Loren, who was a few years older than my mother. She was a twin, but her sister, Dorothy Fay died in their fifth year.
In a rare move for the times before World War I, Tom and Cordie were divorced and she moved north with the three children.
They lived briefly in Chicago and then Covington, Ky., where Cordie died from cancer.
For some reason which I don’t know, Mother and Grant wound up in an orphanage in Chicago for a short time, but arrangements were made for them to return to their people here in Roane County, and from this time forward for seven or eight years she went from one kinsman to another, with the greater portion of time spent with her grandmother Katherine McCarroll McGlothin Isham.
She was very fond of her step-grandfather, Wash Isham, who was an “herb doctor.” He would often take her with him as he scoured the slopes of Walden’s Ridge for the roots, leaves, and branches of the medicinal plants about which he knew so much.
She picked up some of his knowledge and would occasionally resort to these natural remedies, such as mullein for ear aches, and elderberry infusion for diuretic usage.
One might wonder why she did not stay with her father, but he had embarked upon another marriage and this wife was the classic wicked step-mother, who did not want to care for any daughter other than her own.
So it was pillar to post for those years. By the time she was 13, she resolved to make it on her own and she trudged over to Harriman, to the hosiery mill.
She was always grateful to Mr. Tarwater for pretending to believe her when she told him she was old enough to be employed at his mill.
Of course she was not the first nor only child to do this, and the Tarwaters had enough child workers that they established a school at the mill for these children to attend, and it was there that my mother completed her “formal” education with the third grade.
One might have thought that education had no attraction for her, but she was a fervent reader and thinker for the rest of her life, and could hold her own in any discussion, especially politics and current events.
Her mental acuity was obvious when she successfully took the exams to enter cosmetology school in Knoxville in the early 1940s, and when she later taught at Ada Morton’s school in Harriman.
Once she became self-supporting she continued to move about, sometimes with family members, especially her grandmother Isham, but also with other families, with whom she boarded, some related, some not.
At one point she changed jobs and went to work at the Bacon’s Mill in Loudon, and worked there for a time, but then returned to Harriman and the looping machine operation at Harriman Hosiery.
As she grew more mature, she seems to have been very popular, and I have seen photos of her in stylish dress in the mode of the up-to-date “flapper”.
During this time she was also developing many of the traits that marked her personality throughout the remainder of her life.
Her kindness, her sympathy, her trustworthiness, her wit, her strength of character, her liberality and her forgiving nature.
She could not bear to see any child or old person mistreated, nor could she tolerate the mistreatment of animals.
I have been told that if anyone were mistreating a horse or a dog, he might well expect a tongue lashing from her at the first opportunity.
It was also during this maturing period that she began to acquire the rudiments of cooking which she later came to master to a high degree.
And, at the end of this period of singleness in the early 1930s, she met Roy Largen, and the course of her life was permanently altered.