Tuesday, August 2, 2011

She Liked Doing Things for Her Family


Sarah Alpha Watton (1862-1950)
Wife of Abner Edward Thornburg
She was my great-grandmother.

Alpha Thornburg
Lowell, Iowa -- about 1930


Although I shared my great grandmother Alpha Thornburg with her many descendants, my times with her always seemed so special. She would give me her undivided attention. Her obituary clipping reminds me that she had 4 living children, 40 grandchildren, 49 great-grandchildren and 4 great-great-grandchildren.

As a small child, I spent many happy times visiting Great Grandmother Thornburg. She lived across the road from her son, my grandfather Charlie Thornburg.


Abner purchased this home in Lowell, Iowa, in 1920.
Abner died the next year, but Alpha remained there the rest of her life.


Probably what I remember best was her collection of buttons. She taught me how to sew on a button and gave me the opportunity to choose my favorites and sew them on to a bright piece of blue construction paper. Then she gave me a card on to which she had sewed buttons belonging to several of my female ancestors. Because she did this and labeled them, I was able thirty years later to arrange them in a shadowbox which has a place of honor in our family room. That project started my quest to learn and share my family’s history.

In my adulthood when I asked my mother to tell me more about her grandmother, she responded, “Grandma was a very special person to all her children and grandchildren. She loved her family and must have been a very loving mother to her children when they were very small.”

Sarah Alpha Thornburg (1862-1950)
was known by her middle name.

Alpha was a daughter of John Watton and Jennie Tryer. During her childhood, the Watton family moved from Lowell in Henry County to the Pilot Grove area in Lee County for a couple of years. During that time they became acquainted with the Thornburg family. On January 26, 1882, she married Abner Edward Thornburg. They had 8 children, 7 of whom lived well into adulthood.

Alpha lived her entire life in southeast Iowa and rarely left her community. She always had a garden; she canned peas and beans and made pear honey and apple butter from trees on her lot. She liked flowers, especially pansies, and she was very proud of her fern bed just outside her kitchen door. She loved to embroider, crochet, and make quilts, doing beautiful work. She also made braided rugs. During the summer months she would work as she sat on her porch; as people walked by, they would be greeted by her, and if they had time, they would often stop to talk. She knew all the latest news. She belonged to the Lowell Get-together Club and would always take part in the two-hour plays the Club performed at Lowell Hall to earn money for charity. Alpha loved entertaining her club members when her turn came. Everyone enjoyed the home-made buns with canned beef, ground and pickles added for filling, a Jello salad of home-canned fruit, then at least two kinds of cookies.

Grandma Thornburg was an excellent cook. She always kept cookies in a stone jar in the pantry and she always kept a white cake on hand, often enjoying a slice at breakfast. Every winter she would get a quarter of beef and can most of it, but she always smoked and dried some of it, a process of several days hanging over the cook stove. When it was ready to use, she would make dried beef gravy that all the grandchildren loved on mashed potatoes or her home-made buns.

Alpha loved to read and often sat up reading to finish a book until after midnight, of course by kerosine lamp for light. She did get electricity the last few years of her life—not more than 10 years.

Alpha loved birds and always had a tray on the shelf by her window to feed them. One son gave her cracked corn, and in the fall, she saved weed seeds and then of course bread crumbs to feed them. Before living in Lowell, she lived at Croton, and her letters always told of birds at her feeder. She talked about one particular cardinal, and when someone asked how she knew him, she responded that birds were just like people, and that not all people looked alike and neither did all redbirds look or act alike. During he last few years of her life, someone gave her a pair of parakeets. She would talk to them, and they would chirp in answer; she enjoyed them very much.

--genieBev (genealogy Beverly)
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