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Polly Elam Brock Comes to Life

Polly was born into the antebellum south during a time when those who were known as the aristocratic plantation owners and King Cotton ruled the region. She was taught the manners and etiquette that was expected of the daughter and granddaughter of prominent families in Alabama. Her granddaughter, Juanita, tells of listening to Polly tell them stories of her childhood in Alabama, the large cotton plantations, slaves and her beloved Mammy.

The year 1850 brought the Slave Schedule census and Polly’s father, Joel Elam, was listed as owner of four slaves. Their names were not given, but there was one 56 year-old black female whom I imagine was the one Polly was talking about. Joel also owned a 15 year-old black female, a 9 year-old black female, and one 15 year-old mulatto male who had fled and not returned was listed as a fugitive from the state.

Polly was the oldest child born to Joel Elam and Sarah Elanor Stamps. Her granddaughter remembers her being born in Tuscaloosa, but the census records show her in Talladega at age six in 1850, so she may have been born there. She remembers Polly as being an “attractive, petite woman in her early days with very fair complexion, blue eyes, blonde hair, small feet, weighed 110 pounds, 5’2” tall. She was immaculate in her dress, her house and everything about her. She was quite proper always in everything she did and said. She was well informed on the Bible and history. In fact, people would say, ‘Ask Aunt Polly.’ She was a former school teacher and loved to read.”

Polly told her grandchildren many stories about her childhood. Her granddaughter, Juanita, whom I visited along with my grandfather, her first cousin, shared many interesting things about Polly. In fact, Juanita was a member of the DAR and filed our Brock ancestry with them. I have written before of Polly and John Henry getting married and the moves they made in the early years of their marriage. I have included John and his brothers and father’s Civil War experiences in my post, My Brock Ancestors.

But her granddaughter, Juanita, brings my great-great-grandmother, Polly, to life. She tells us how she always kept a fresh vase of flowers on a side table in the parlor and how there was always a beautiful white linen table cloth and napkins on her table with silver and china to compliment it. She was a small woman, who spoke very correctly at all times, rather frankly, but was kind. She was always well groomed and spoke with a definite Alabama accent that Juanita said she dearly loved to hear. Polly’s daughter, Maggie Maude, never married and lived with her mother all of her life and the two were wonderful housekeepers. Everything had its place and was always in its place. They were also wonderful gardeners, caring for their yards with great love and care. “I can close my eyes now and see that well kept beautiful old land mark. The yard was beautiful the year around with all kinds of evergreen shrubs. Crepe myrtile, lillacs, honeysuckles, Japonicas, bridal wreath, wisteria and many others blooming through the spring and summer. There were always beautiful old fashioned flower beds throughout the yard blooming throughout the spring, summer and fall – phlox, zinnias, batchelor buttons, carnations, pinks, marigolds, petunias, four o'clocks, roses, daisies and many others I can not think of. The long porch was always shaded by the beautiful big trees. There were lots of chairs of all kinds on the porch sitting against the wall for people to sit in, visit and rest, when they came to the post office. There were always many hanging baskets of fern, wandering Jew, moss and others. There were also on the porch many beautiful pot plants such as geraniums, ferns, oleanders. There was always a topic of conversation about the lemon tree which stood in a large pot on one corner of the porch. It was ladened with lemons each year, which was very beautiful. It was always interesting to the people of the community as it was the only one in town.”

You noticed Juanita mentioned people visiting and resting when they came to the post office. That is because Polly was the post mistress at Brock and remained in that position until two years before her death. The post office was at first across the street from where they lived. Later, my great-great-grandfather built it on the end of their home, being built onto the west end of the house. Juanita said “It was a thrill to me when I was a child to sit and watch people come for their mail and watch my grandmother standing there greeting them and performing her duties. My sister, Margaret, and I would then go home and play grandmother. It was our ambition then to be postmistress.”

Polly and John Henry Brock were leaders in the Brock community. They worked together in helping it grow. Polly often told stories of Indians in the area and how frightened they were many times, but were never harmed. John built the gin and established a grist mill. He built many of the houses in the area, including the churches and other buildings. It was during this period that the name of Olive Branch, where they had settled, was changed to Brock in honor of my great-great-grandparents. They were charter members of the Baptist Church there. They were loyal church members, working as a deacon and teachers. They were responsible for the first school.

“She had so many expressions and an adage always that would leave a lesson in your mind. One has always stuck with me. ‘Always keep your hair brushed, clean and in place; your shoes looking well and polished. Then, no matter what kind of dress you have on, as long as it is clean, you will look well dressed.’ I often wonder what she would think of the styles of today.”

Previously: Polly Brock's Texas Timeline


Joan said…
You indeed took me back to another time and place with your Polly. Very well done.
Thanks, Joan, for reading about Polly. I appreciate your comments. I thought Juanita's description was very helpful in my success in bringing Polly to life. I just left a comment on your post about your grandmothers at Roots 'n Leaves.
Greta Koehl said…
Well, Judy, here is another connection we have - Talladega, Alabama! And, on top of that, I am planning a post on my grandmother and her beloved Mammy. Seriously, though, I would love to have met Polly.
NO WAY! Isn't that something? I think we are probably truly related. We have got to find that link. I'll be watching for your post, Greta.
Heather Rojo said…
Thanks for stopping by my blog to read about Tammy Younger. It was very interesting participating in this Carnival of Genealogy. I'm a new blogger and it was my first carnival. I enjoyed reading all the other posts, too, and finding new blogs, like yours, to visit and read. As a New England girl, I especially like your stories about the South, and your Aunt Polly story as the ubiquitous Southern Belle!
Oh, thank you, Heather! Your New England has always been a place that is only in my imaginings! I visited Vermont once, just briefly. The history of our US is so intertwined with the east coast that I love reading about it. Hope you visit my blog often, Heather.
Carol said…
Your descriptions of her flowers, potted plants, ferns, and gardens had me wishing I could visit! Great post!
Thanks, Carol! I wish I could have seen those flowers, too. I remember Aunt Maggie who lived with her, but after Polly died Maggie went to live in an Eastern Star Home. Thanks for stopping by.
Nancy said…
What a great read. I think it's very fun that the girls "played grandmother" and wanted to be postmistresses. What a wonderful lady for them to emulate.
Thanks, Nancy, for reading Polly's bio. Yes, she was much loved by her family and the entire community. I thought playing Postmistress was great fun for Juanita and Margaret, too. I asked Juanita the last time I saw her if she knew who I was and she said, "Of Course! You're Doc Gailey's girl!"

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