Jim and Lucy Seger Jennings
One of Lucy’s beloved songs:
“Seeing Nellie Home”, written in the 1850s by John Fletcher.
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Not an easy life for Lucy. A farm to manage, four children, a heart attack in middle age, and an alcoholic husband. When she was young she was injured in a car accident that left her with an unhealed wound: she started her mornings by wrapping her leg in an Ace bandage. The farm declined. A few years after Jim’s death she sold the farm and moved to a small house on Kent Hollow Road with her youngest daughter, Annie and great-niece, Donna Jennings, whom she raised from the age of three.
Unlike many of the men in her family, she didn’t drink, nor did her sisters. Quiet, kind, ladylike and, I think, weary. The only time I heard her use a mild swear word involved dog pee in the living room. I was pretty young, but old enough to note that she walked into the kitchen for something to clean with, and while out of the room muttered a challenge the dog’s possibilities in the afterlife and legitimacy and then serenely back into the room. It was the only time I heard her utter a harsh word. She died at age 80 in 1972.
Clarence Walter “Jim” Jennings
Scraps and Fragments…
“Jim:” The family was rather whimsical about given names. A postcard to his nine-year-old sister Evelyn from Jim’s New York City honeymoon trip survives:
Hello George. How are you getting on
Have been down NY yesterday and Sun, will be home sometime
Clarence’s thatch of blunt-cut black hair reminded someone of Jim Pan (James Harris), a Schaghticoke man who lived on the Reservation on the east side of the Housatonic when Clarence was a child.
Little information survives. The people who could have told me more, of course, are long gone.
Jessie said he read a lot.
Irene said he drank a little.
Sonny said that one of his pastimes on rainy days was to weave rag rugs on a loom upstairs in one of the barn lofts. He also described a grim morning ritual: Jim downing glasses of hard cider until he could hold one without vomiting it up immediately. After that he would proceed with chores.
Annie loved him unconditionally.
He died before any of his grandchildren were born.
The stories were usually funny and affectionate, if tinged with a bit of sadness at his condition in later years. According to Irene, after he fell out of a hayloft and suffered a head injury, he became anxious, fussing when any of his grown children left, even to go to Kent on errands. They tried to slip past him and get away to avoid upsetting him.
While the older children grew up in a stable home, Annie was still small when Jim’s alcoholism had gotten very bad. The Templeton brothers (Jimmie and George, Heman Seger’s stepsons) who worked for Jim were drinking buddies, and very bad company. She recalled being told to drive her father and his truck home from Kent once when he was too drunk to drive. She was perhaps nine years old and could scarcely reach the pedals. Weeping as she told the story, she remembered driving up the mountain terrified that she would be stopped and arrested for driving without a license.
I’ve spent most of my life under the gaze of a handsome buck mount that Jim shot some time around 1925. I am not a fan of dead animals, but Mister Deer graced the fireplace of our home at Macedonia Park when I was a child. After my father’s death it languished in a barn attic for a few years. When my aunts hinted that they were going to throw the mount away, I brought him home and he hangs in our library. He’s had a few bumps: at one point falling off his plaque and landing nose-first. The taxidermy job is very naturalistic (I tend to size up other examples wherever I see them). My father told me that Jim used a taxidermist on Long Island. Again, I had to reexamine my notion that the family was poor: one does’t get a deer head stuffed cheaply, and this was the work of a better-than-average craftsman.
There was another taxidermy specimen at the farm that didn’t survive. Vultures were uncommon in New England in the early 20th century. When Jim shot one it was deemed sufficiently exotic to also be stuffed. It sat proudly in the parlor.
The Italian Invasion… and adventurous tastes
[a story told by my father]. When the State of Connecticut was upgrading the state highway up the mountain, immigrant Italian laborers made up much of the workforce. An Italian woman was hired to cook for the road crew. Somehow Jim got a hankering for spaghetti. (Yes, I wonder, too.) Lucy refused to cook spaghetti. I have no idea whether this was symptomatic of tension between them, or a simple old Yankee distaste for “foreign” cuisine. But there it was.
Persuasion didn’t work. Eventually Jim hired the Italian cook to come up to the farm one evening and make a spaghetti dinner for everyone.
I can only imagine Lucy fuming over this intrusion, but perhaps it went over well. At least she didn’t have to cook supper that night.
What every little girl needs …
Route 341 between the farm and the center of Kent is steep and narrow, nowadays designated a 9% grade, with a hairpin turn halfway down the mountain and several blind corners on the lower stretch.
Annie told me that when she was around 11, she asked her father for a bicycle for her birthday.
“No! You’ll get killed on that road!” he replied. She understood and appreciated his concern, but continued to beg and wheedle for the bike. Finally her birthday came. He gave her a gift that kept her from breaking her neck on Route 341 and got a lot of use throughout her youth: “He gave me a shotgun.”