Sassafras Gets A Brooch
Updated: Jan 16
Of all of Carrie's children, Ressie was definitely the one who was sassy. That was why her favorite brother, Lucius, called her Sassafras. Early on a clear morning in the spring of 1918, Carrie helped Ressie get a hair bow perfectly positioned.
Carrie had encouraging thoughts for Ressie. "Remember to be your friendly self today. You know Lucius is the quiet type and he depends on you to get the attention of the shoppers in town. Without you flitting around and smiling and talking to anybody who will listen. Well, without you, only a precious few people would notice Lucius and his bottles of sassafras tea."
"I always have fun helping Lucius sell it," said Ressie. "Thanks, Mother, the bow is perfect. Is Lucius here yet?"
Carrie looked out the small window of the frame house that sat beside cotton fields. "Here he comes. Y'all have a great day."
"Yes mam," Ressie called out as she ran out to meet Lucius on the dirt road.
"Good morning, Sassafras," said Lucius. He was twelve years older than his sister.
"Why do you always call me that?" Ressie climbed onto the seat of Lucius' cart loaded with bottles.
"Cause you are sassy. I am counting on you to be sassy today."
Lucius had told no one the news. He would be leaving next week to be a soldier. He was needed in the fight. He had just turned 27. He needed a little money to take with him and he knew Ressie could help him earn it.
Only a few people were milling around when Lucius and Ressie pulled up to their favorite spot in the busiest area of Tuscaloosa, Alabama.. He tied the horse to a post and propped his sign on the back of the cart.
Ressie noticed a vendor with a tintype machine at the end of the block. "Ok if I take a short walk?" she asked.
Ressie made a beeline for the photographer. “How much for a brooch with a picture of me and one of my brother?”
“Fifteen cents,” he answered.
She thanked him and headed back to the cart, planning how she would convince Lucius to part with fifteen cents when the bottles of tea were gone.
It turned out to be a warm day. Perfect for selling tonic for a spring cleanse.
As Ressie and Lucius cleaned up the spot and secured bottles left behind by happy folks, Ressie gave her pitch.
Normally Lucius would have said no. Ressie knew the answer would probably be no. Money was scarce.
But Lucius knew Ressie would soon be sitting at home, not selling sassafras tea with him, He would have to tell her, his parents and any of his brothers and sisters who would be around. He was going to war. He would fight for their freedom.
Trying to sound reluctant, Lucius agreed to have their pictures taken and to part with a few more pennies to get a brooch for Ressie. Without her, his tea business would not have freed him from the task of picking cotton. And she would have something to remember him by.
Obviously, Ressie was perched on cloud nine, wearing her brooch, as the horse pulled them and the much lighter cart back home.
Lucius left the following week. After training, he was assigned to the 339th and shipped off to Hericourt Saone in France. His favorite part of their arrival was seeing all the shining faces of the jubilant children who turned out to welcome American soldiers.
Unfortunately, Spanish Influenza swept through the 339th before they saw combat. Lucius was one of those who perished and he was buried in Arlington.
Years later, Ressie gave the brooch to me. She was my Grandmother. I still have her brooch. The bow is still in her hair. The picture of her is in better condition than the picture of Lucius. I don’t know why.