WHAT’S OLD IS NEW AGAIN
Recently, the South Georgia Conference Archives was given an unexpected gift filled with faith, hope, and love. During the month where hearts and cupids abound, it reminds me again what true love looks like and sounds like and how it is the most powerful force in the world. It reminds me again how our Lord and Savior and our very own Methodist movement is filled with this true love and shares it abundantly with all. True love, as with so many other things, is old but new again.
The gift is a series of letters written by Cassie Thompson Gardner to her youngest child, a son, who was studying at Young Harris College. Cassie was the third of seven children born to a farming family in Pinehurst. She married Emmitt Gardner on December 13, 1899, when she was 20 years old. Emmitt had studied for two years at Emory College and had just entered his ministry with the South Georgia Conference, being sent to Shiloh MECS near the mountains of Warm Springs.
Rev. Emmett Gardner was appointed to Shiloh, Cusseta, Hamilton, Reynolds, Elko, Rochelle, Perry, Leslie, East Highlands in Columbus, Ingleside in Macon, Lumber City, Reidsville, and Fort Gaines. Emmett and Cassie were known as “angels of mercy” due to their care of the unfortunate including cooking a whole dinner and taking it to the families. Emmett was also known for his building skills; he remodeled the church at Reynolds, doing much of the work himself, and built a brick church at Elko and a parsonage at Perry. While at Fort Gaines, Emmett created a Boy Scout troop, cutting down the trees and scraping the logs to build a Boy Scout hut.
But this story doesn’t belong to Emmitt. It belongs to Cassie. At a time before phone calls and texts, she wrote her son often to ask if he was eating enough and to tell him her news. As I have had the privilege of reading these intimate letters, I have grown quite fond of Cassie and all she faced.
June 20, 1927
My Precious Boy,
I made pineapple and nut and raisin sandwiches and have four here now. I told your papa tonight that I wished you had them. I served tea with them.
June 27, 1927
My Precious Boy,
I have a busy week. Wednesday they are to have an all-day missionary meeting here at the church. We will have to fix 150 plates or more. I am going to fry a chicken and boil a ham. They bought the ham, though.
November 7, 1927
My Precious Boy,
Looking around the yard etc.
(of a former parsonage) brought memories of the past back to me when you were all small and how I enjoyed you all. To think so quickly you all have grown up and are all away. I could hardly help but wish I had you all and you were small now. Am proud of you all though and am proud of all the privileges and opportunities you all have had and there is nothing more beautiful than a fine, Christian, young man growing and developing into noble manhood making read to fulfil his mission in life.
I had your old light suit dyed dark blue for your papa. It looks real nice. Don’t know how the trousers will look on him. Imagine I will have to let them out in the waist. They are way behind with his salary. Am afraid they are not going to pay out. Your papa is behind with his conference collections, too. Don’t think he will get them.
November 23, 1927
My Precious Boy,
Guess you have learned by now that we are to stay here another year. I am glad I don’t have to move this fall. I don’t think I could stand it. Think I would fall by the wayside. I suspect we will go next fall, though, as 2 years is about as long as a preacher stays here.
Samuel’s girls’ father has to move to Uvalda, a small town over near Reidsville. I know they are sick over their move. Wrightsville is a station and Uvalda is a circuit with five churches. I feel sorry for them. Don’t suppose they’ll have any lights, water, nor any conveniences.
I had a letter from Samuel
(another son) tonight telling me not to send his
(care package) until the last of the week as he had a chance to go see Mary without it costing him anything and he thought he would go so if he doesn’t get it tonight, I am afraid the boys will open it and eat all he has up. I don’t see any need of his going to see Mary so often. He had better stay at school and rest and take care of himself. Besides, when he goes off, it takes him 2 days or more to settle down at work. I do hope you won’t fall in love while you are up there. A boy has plenty time for that by the time he is 21 or over and no boy nor girl can do their best with their school work when they are so much in love. So I want you to leave it off and apply your time and thoughts in the developing of a man. Then you can find the girl.
December 7, 1927
My Precious Boy
I will close and write more next time. Am sending you check for $6.00 to buy books, etc. Study hard and be a good boy. Mama loves her dear sweet boys. Yes, mama knows Samuel is going to see Mary too often and I wrote him last week and told him a few things.
Cassie’s devotion and service to her husband, her children and her Methodist community is evident throughout her writings. At a time when families moved every year or two and there may or may not have been a salary, lights, or water, her words and actions show her profound belief in God’s love and redemption. Cassie is one of thousands of clergy spouses who have worked and continue to work for the advancement of God’s kingdom through the Methodist movement. This is true love, and for it we are profoundly grateful.
These letters are being made into an exhibit which will be on display in the Strickland Wing of the Moore Methodist Museum with the other stories of the South Georgia Conference Archives. The new exhibit will be dedicated to all of the clergy spouses who have faced hardships with grace and faith to fulfill the ministry of the Methodist movement, remembering most especially Emmie Johnson, a dear friend to the Ministry of Memory and a true angel of mercy. The Museum staff is grateful to Lane Gardner Camp,
Memphis Conference Director of Communications and clergy spouse, for sharing Cassie’s story with us.
Anne Packard serves as Conference Historian and director of the Arthur J. Moore Methodist Museum on St. Simons Island. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.