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MARY ELLEN'S STORY
In her own manuscript, Mary Eleonore Orr says little about her self. Her daughter-in-law fills in some of the gaps. This is my grandmother writing about my great grandmother. She calls Mary Eleonore Orr by the name my mother knew: "Grandma."
April 20th, 1923. In the past eight years, Grandma has spent the spring and fall with us, going to Florida the first of December and returning the first of April, and generally spending the summer in New York.
Grandma used to say, "I was raised in a garden." Her earliest recollections were of being carried by her nurse through the flower gardens, and her happiest memories were of the days spent with her little brothers playing in the lovely garden on Franklin Street. The garden ran back to Wythe Street. The lovely roses, the banks of violets under the grape wines, the fig bushes and strawberry beds, and the summer house covered with honeysuckle: these were the pictures that never left her and always gave her joy.
The garden was her father's hobby, and he and Uncle Davey were like brothers. Uncle Davey was the gardener, and they would walk around with the pruning hook and plan together.
Little Mary Ellen's school days were not so happy, because it was cold and she liked the hot sunshine and flowers better. But she loved her teachers and made remarkable progress, being always ambitious.
It must have been a delightful existence: a large, happy family with a good, prosperous and loving father, a beautiful and charming mother, their home a delightful place.
Little Mary Ellen was the eldest, with six brothers and two sisters born after that. Her mother taught her beautiful sewing and knitting, as was customary in those times, and in the afternoon she was dressed and taken for a drive with her mother in the carriage. But when she was free to do what she liked, it must be confessed that she was a tomboy, a thing not encouraged in those days. She liked the boys' games and enjoyed walking around the top of the high fence that surrounded the garden.
The first event of her life was going off to school. She chose the school wisely and all of her life, being a "Barbington Girl" was a distinct pleasure to her, and the influence of the place and of Bishop Doane and of friendships she made there followed her.
Her holidays were spent with her Philadelphia relatives at Chester. There she enjoyed more grown up society and a wider acquaintanceship. It was a very energetic and ambitious Mary Ellen that came home from school. She had learned to paint. The family was living then in a high old brick house in Bollingbrook Street. The attic, with its commanding view of the Appomatox and the hill across the river, was turned into a studio. Here with her painting and books she was very happy.
Then came the war. Her ambition again flamed. She wanted Uncle Jim, who was at Lexington, to be an officer. But he had other ideas. He would rather go with his friends as a private than to command chargers, so her hopes were dashed. She never could understand.
The war did not prevent a great deal of gaiety. Soldiers from all over the south were at Petersburg from time to time. A South Carolina regiment was stationed here for a long time. And until the fighting got close to the town, the house on Bollingbrook Street was open for hospitality to the soldiers and many a happy time.
Uncle Jim was wounded five times, and his dreadful face wound kept him at home for many months. His sister nursed him and attended to his wound unaided. The surgeon taught her how to do it, and it took constant care and pains.
When the shelling of Petersburg began, the house on Bollingbrook Street was struck. The women were thrown in to confusion. Grandma told me that she could never forget the look on the face of her little sister Anna. It was like an old drawn woman, eyes staring.
Mary Ellen alone had presence of mind getting the children and servants to safety and having pictures and mirrors moved out of danger. Her mother said, "Mary Ellen, you are not always remarkable but you are great in emergency."
When the shelling got hot and fierce, the family had to leave town and go to the country, the house being left unguarded. Much of the furniture was destroyed by water getting in and shells exploding. The library was demolished, books being taken and never heard of again.
When you think of the demoralizing influence of those times, it is a wonder that people came out of them as well as they did. An orderly comfortable household was now in flight, the boys, those of them that were old enough to hold a gun, fighting regularly, boys of thirteen or fourteen working anyway they could for the army. Uncle Clayton was in the survey, Uncle Bob was helping a scout.
When the war was over, there was nothing left. I don't see how they lived. I thnk one or two small legacies tided the family over.
Two of the South Carolina officers that had been stationed in Petersburg during the war came back for Mary Ellen, one of them a wealthy man. She made up her mind to marry him for the good of the family, but he died and she was freed.
For several years, Mary Ellen begged to be allowed to teach, but her mother could not bear to let her go. At last, it seemed the only way. After that, she taught in Talbot County, Maryland. It was there that she first met her husband. He was married then, but they were great friends and had much in common.