Katherine Starling Hughes York was a remarkable woman. Born to priviledge (her father, an Irish immigrant who had fought in the British and Union Armies, came South after the Civil War and prospered), she witnessed personal tragedy and hardships beginning at an early age. Some of their neighbors shunned her family as "Yankees" during the difficult Reconstruction Era, even though all the children were born in Georgia after the War of Northern Agression. Her father was murdered when she was 18, and later her husband abandoned her and their six children when she and one of the children were deathly ill during the influenza epidemic of 1918. She then worked as a secretary to support herself and children in a time when working women were far from socially acceptable by her class or fairly compensated for their efforts. Illness left her blind, deaf and feeble in her old age. Yet all her children were not only fed and clothed as they grew up, they were able to stay together as a family, each of them was educated to the extent they desired, and all led productive lives. Three of her four sons earned college degrees, and the remaining son and both daughters finished high school, not at all typical for the South in the early days of this century. Through all of this, Katie was renowned for her sense of humor and love of her family and wide circle of friends.
When they were growing up, Katie's sisters were each sent on the "Grand Tour" to complete their education, but she wanted something else. She loved to ride, as all the Hughes children did, but none of them had their own horses; they just used whatever was available in the stable. So Katie made a bargain with her father, and asked to be given a horse of her own instead of the trip to Europe. Ever indulgent, her father agreed, and Katie got her horse -- a huge stallion that no one but she could even approach. A few years after she died, her daughter Katherine York Anderson met a gentleman who had lived in Marietta when Katie was young; he asked if her mother had been "one of the Hughes girls who rode those wild horses." Apparently they had made an impression on the community.
The other Hughes girls were equally unconventional. We still tell the story about the time Aunt Bessie and some of her sisters and friends were visiting in downtown Atlanta one day. They walked past the Piedmont Hotel, a showplace of the time, and came upon a block of ice waiting on the sidewalk for the hotel staff to take it inside. These young ladies (who had all been graciously educated and properly "finished" -- except Katie, of course) stood around staring and remarking about what a wonder it was to see so much ice in the middle of Summer. Then they proceeded into the hotel lobby, where one stroked the satin wallpaper, exclaiming straightfaced, "Don't Miz Piedmont have purty walls!") The more people stared, the more outrageous they became. (This kind of warped sense of humor is a strong family trait, unfortunately.)
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