Two nouns in our English language epitomize as the perfect example one very elegant and truly southern lady as these nouns, agelessness and timelessness, 101 years on this earth, Elizabeth Gwin!
At the beginning of this August, Frank and I were at the early service of The First United Methodist Church where Elizabeth has been a member for many years, and it was Communion that Sunday. We were sitting my cousin, Ruby Nash Lewis Davis on the seventh pew from the altar railing.
We went forward to receive Holy Communion that Sunday, and returned to our seats. Minutes later and towards the end of the Communion service, I saw Elizabeth Gwin come forward to take her communion. She was so beautiful as she gracefully walked down the long isle to the front railing of this very large beautiful church as the sunlight streamed through the tall stain glassed windows.
She walked with such elegance, charm, graciousness, and beauty. She is truly a Southern lady.
I suppose you could say that I have known Elizabeth Gwin all of my life. She and her wonderful husband English professor, Mr. Gwin who taught my own daddy, John Andrew McReynolds in college when it was A and M college.
He was as young as daddy, but had become a college professor back in the 1930. They were the parents of two children, a son, Howell Gwin who taught me history at MSU and one daughter, Mae who was one year older than I.
Elizabeth Smith Gwin was born in our sister city, Columbus, 101 years ago. I have always said, “there is something very special about a Columbus native!” Elizabeth fits my statement to a “T”!
Instead of calling her Mrs. Gwin, I have always had the honor to simply call her just, Elizabeth. I adore this name because it belongs to my moma, my only daughter, and to me. Anyone named, Elizaberh, has to be extra special indeed!
Who is the real Elizabeth Smith Gwin? She is a true, Southern lady! She was a real model in New York City as a young girl and young wife. She holds her head high, her shoulders back, her feet are always placed in the correct position as she walks and stands.
She wears the most stylish clothes that are “to die for!” She has the most perfect outfits, high heel shoes, and her jewelry is unique and lovely.
Her hair is the most stylish and is completely silver white. Every strand of hair is in perfect place on her head as it is turned under in a page boy style, and her hair makes her look so angelic and beautiful.
She is not only outwardly beautiful, but inside her heart and soul she is just a beautiful. I think of her as “Starkville’s Silver Lady!” Instead of being our golden girl, Elizabeth is our silver girl!
She was a “W” graduate, MSCW which is Mississippi State University for Women in Columbus. She is one of the most active “W” alumni today.
She has always been instrumental and very productive in so many things with our Girl Scouts in this entire Golden Triangle area. She worked for many years for the Girl Scouts, and got their Girl Scout camp started for disabled scouts.
She is a devoted and devout member of First United Methodist Church here in Starkville. She is a faithful member going to church every Sunday at the early 8:30 a.m. service and then on to Sunday School and later during the month attending the Women’s Circle meetings. God and going to church to honor God is a very important part of her very being and of her life even today in 2010.
When I was a young teenager which is now years ago...I was ask to participate in a beauty contest here in town. I thought, “who can help and advise me about how I should walk, stand, be elegant, and win this contest?” I called Elizabeth, and it was she who prepared me for this event. I shall never forget what she told me, “Carole, pretend you are a puppet, and you have strings attached to your shoulders. Walk, stand, and think elegance, and think that those strings are actually holding you up, and say over and over again as you walk and talk, “hey I’m an elegant Mississippi Southern Belle, a winner always!”
I never forgot this experience and the glimpse of the “real Elizabeth”... I will always cherish of getting to know and love Elizabeth in a very personal way.
I had wanted to sketch and paint Elizabeth for several weeks, and phoned her up. I think it was as Friday, and the year was 2008. It was Good Friday before Easter.
I found her outside in her front yard of University Estates picking up sticks, getting ready for Easter Sunday. She was spiffing up her yard because she was having an Easter Brunch and a group of ladies over to “dine” with her on Sunday. She wanted to entertain them on this very special day.
She is known around town as having the most elegant dinner parties with her table set with her finest china, linen table cloth, silver and the most perfect and delicious food that she personally prepares so carefully and so beautifully.
She is also known as quite a lady who entertains with great grace and hospitality.
Since she was busy picking up sticks that Good Friday I ask her if I might meet her as she went into early Easter Sunday this coming Sunday morning. She agreed that I would meet her about 10 after 8 a.m. and she would be coming from the parking lot across from the church and heading towards a side door down-stairs.
I arrived at my spot across from the church by Welch’s Funeral Home so that I could see the parking lot as well as the front door of the First United Methodist Church.
At exactly 8:05 a.m., I spotted Elizabeth making her way to that certain door that she enters every Sunday morning for early church. She had a busy Sunday ahead attending the service as well as entertaining for her elegant Easter brunch later.
As she walked, I thought of our Miss America song, “Here She Is, Miss America!” She was my perfect model for her portrait. A real New York model with her purple/blue long sweater dress, high heels, black purse slung over her shoulder, hair perfectly styled, and her lime green long serpent necklace.
It was a cold, windy, sunny Easter Sunday. We call this our “cold snappy” Easter time always happening right around Easter in Mississippi.
The shadows fell over her beautiful face, her unusual green, blue and brown eyes fit her very stunning and gorgeous face.
The very door that she was about to enter blended in perfectly with her purple/blueish sweater long dress, and the golden door piece that one uses to open and close this heavy brown/orange, pink door caught the reflection of her dress and the red part of the door. It all matched her pretty red lipstick she was wearing. The snake necklace was and it is sort of to me, “her signature piece” of jewelry that she often wears. To be honest I admire and even envy her snake necklace, and it fits her perfectly too!
Elizabeth is so beautiful both inside and outside. If we all just look beyond her physical beauty and elegance, we see most of all her sweet, caring, wonderful soul buried within her very heart. She has an ageless and timeless body, soul and heart.
If I could only be just like Elizabeth Gwin. She was 98 years old when I painted her, and she was not old at all, but to me very young.
I am writing this column on August 22. My own Daddy’s birthday was August 22, 1906. Daddy would have been 104 years old today. We travel to Russellville, Ala. within hours today to my only brother, Johnny McReynolds home and family ... taking along with us our youngest granddaughter, 5 year old, Mallory Ann Williams to help us celebrate my twin great-nieces second birthday on this earth.
Not only was August 22 my daddy’s birthday but my maternal grandmother, Daisy Pearson Lewis’ as well.
So this Sunday, today, August 22, represents time and age as well to my own family. For 101 years, Elizabeth has been on this place we call earth. She is remarkable!
I would like to share with you a letter that I will cherish and keep forever with a post mark of April 12, 2008, from Elizabeth.
I could not believe my ears when you told me that you wanted to paint my portrait! I could not believe eyes when I saw it in reality! I am so touched and humbled by your wanting to do this, and to see the results of 13 hours, unbelievable! Nobody ever so honored me.
The dear note I have read many times, and I will put it with my other keepsake letters. I do appreciate your having done this. You’ve always been the caring, thoughtful, and loving friend since I’ve known you, and you’ve grown into a lovely adult still unselfishly giving to others.
The visit from you was still another joy. Time is so precious, and to share it as you have in so many ways is a real gift.
Thank-You, Carole, You have stars in your crown. Loving and Appreciatingly yours,
My Love Always,
April the Twelfth, 2008”
And to you, “thank you” for allowing me to use you as my subject to place on my stretched 100 percent cotton canvas on this day, April 8, 2008. I love you so much...Elizabeth Gwin, 101 years...Ageless and Timeless!