Mary Elizabeth Wilson Stewart Robbins (1907-2003) came from a long line of Wilson family storytellers! Her great grandfather Howland and grandfather William were known for their jolly nature and yarn spinning abilities. William’s daughter Louva inherited this family trait and Mary Elizabeth spent hours and hours with her aunt recording with pen and pad the old family tales about early Quaker days in North Carolina, traveling by wagon train to Indiana, and pioneer life in nineteenth century Hamilton County. Louva also told her niece about her own childhood, particularly one glorious summer she spent in 1899 with her Bakers Corner grandparents.
Thankfully for us, Mary Elizabeth was interested in family history and she enjoyed writing! In 1975, as a tribute to her aunt Louva and to preserve these precious family stories, Mary Elizabeth wrote “My Heavenly Summer” (now section 2 of 4 in Growing Up with Bakers Corner). She must have caught the “writing bug” for she didn’t stop there. She began to record her own life in themed stories on such topics as: raising chickens on the farm; Halloween memories; doing the laundry; attending the two-room Bakers Corner School; swimming in Cicero Creek on the 4th of July; and so many others. Over the course of four decades, Mary Elizabeth Robbins compiled hundreds of stories about her life and family, comprising 9 typed storybooks (notebooks) which she generously photocopied and gave to family and friends.
After Mary Elizabeth’s death in 2003, her granddaughter Carol Longenecker and I (her great niece) began to think about the legacy of these writings. Sure, the family would save them and pass them to future generations. But, really they were too valuable to become mere family heirlooms. They deserved a wider audience and a more permanent place in Indiana history. In 2009, we enlisted the services of Hawthorne Publishing to evaluate her work. Nancy Baxter saw its potential immediately and we began to work with her to edit the stories (over 1200 single spaced typed pages) into a narrative. Although we changed the order of some paragraphs and edited her work for length, grammar and general interest, Growing Up With Bakers Corner, is through and through her book. Her voice and style of writing come through in each sentence on every page.
The response to Growing Up With Bakers Corner has been one of the most rewarding aspects of this publishing journey. Through book talks, radio programs, bazaars, and reunions we have met so many people who have been touched by the book. Many have shared their memories of Bakers Corner or the town where they grew up. And, just recently, the book was named a Finalist in the 2011 Best Books of Indiana competition (nonfiction category), see: http://www.in.gov/library/4478.htm
I have always felt that we could never repay Aunt Mary Elizabeth for the gift she has given us—the gift of knowing our family history so thoroughly and richly. We are so pleased, at least, that we could ensure these writing will have a lasting impact into the future.
Ellen D. Swain
October 28, 2011