'Finding Sara' tells family's story

Friday, July 30, 2010
Margaret Edds' book, "Finding Sara -- A Daughter's Journey," tells the story of her mother.

A family with long-standing ties to Marshall County is now commemorated in a unique book documenting the short but interesting life of one of their members.

"Finding Sara -- A Daughter's Journey," by Margaret Edds, tells the story of her mother, Sara Edds, who died in 1950, when Margaret was just three years old.

Fortunately, family members were devoted to the written word, and Margaret found a treasure-trove of letters to and from Sara. Letters, diaries, interviews with surviving family members, and childhood memories of summer holidays spent with her grandfather in Delina, and her aunt Eleanor in Belvidere, enabled Margaret to write her mother's story.

She worked on the book for four years, and it was published in 2009.

"Who in their 60s would get to know their mother for the first time?" marveled Margaret. One reader remarked to her, "You know your mother better than I do mine."

The Barnes-Downing reunion is held every year in Lewisburg on the second Saturday in July, and Margaret always attends.

"I like being back in a place where I have such warm memories," she said. "I see it through the lens of memory." Margaret says she doesn't notice the changes in Lewisburg and the countryside -- "it seems sort of timeless to me."

Her aunts Virginia and Katherine each lived in Lewisburg at different times, and when she's here for the reunion, Margaret "drives by the houses we know."

There were about 24 people at this year's reunion, held at the Rec Center. Just two men, the Downing brothers Frank and Richard, remain from her mother's generation, but younger family members keep the tradition going.

Margaret Edds has been a journalist all her life, so she is well equipped to tell her mother's story. Explanatory narrative links the letters together to recount her life and link it to the history of the day.

Margaret's mother, Sara, was born at Hilltop View Farm, Delina, in 1915, the fourth of five children of John O. Barnes and Jennie May Downing Barnes. She was educated at the Delina School through 10th grade, Morgan School in Petersburg, Martin College in Pulaski, and the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Sara graduated in 1940 with a bachelor's degree and a certificate to teach high school English, Latin, and math.

She only taught briefly, however, before leaving Tennessee to take a nine-month business secretarial course at Bowling Green College of Commerce in Kentucky.

Sara's first secretarial job was in Lynch, Ky., in those days a thriving coal-mining town, where she met Tom Edds. Barely a week later, he was inducted into the Army, and their courtship was conducted by letter.

Sara left her job in Lynch for higher pay at Oak Ridge in 1943, where scientists were racing to produce material to fuel the atom bomb. Sara and Tom were married in October 1943, but were separated almost immediately when Tom had to return to his Army post in Texas.

The two were living together in Texas when Margaret's older sister, Rachel, was born in 1945, but returned to Lynch when the war ended. Margaret was born there in 1947.

As Margaret read the letters, she realized she was coming close to the end of her mother's life. "On each reading of the letters," she writes, "my joy ebbed as the stack dwindled. With the diagnosis of Sara's acute rheumatic fever in June 1948, I felt gripped by an almost physical pain. Not only was Sara's story taking its final, dark turn, but the magic of recapturing her through letters had nearly run its course. Soon she would be leaving me again."

Sara and the two little girls were on a visit to her family in Delina when she died on Nov. 7, 1950.

Margaret and her sister survived the loss of their mother at such a young age -- they had a large and loving family, and a devoted father who never remarried. But Margaret now urges her readers to get to know their own mothers before it is to late.

"Get the letters out of the attic," she says. "Pay attention, try to learn, write things down for your children."