Gleams from Grandmother’s Diary

I live on top of Horrell Hill, hundreds of feet above sea level, overlooking parts of Richland and Clarendon counties in the home my grandfather built. I am surrounded by Grandmother’s natural beauties, family treasures from generations, my own family memories, and the writings of a Southern lady of Horrell Hill.

In 1933, the first drive-in theatre opened in New Jersey; the Century of Progress World’s Fair opened in Chicago; WIS-AM Radio (now WMOG) in Columbia began transmission; Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated and launched his New Deal; The Lone Ranger began a 21-year-run on ABC radio; Duchau (Hitler’s first concentration camp) opened; the University of South Carolina, led by Coach Laval, finished the season with a 6-3-1 record; the Great Depression had reached its lowest point with hundreds of thousands, congregating in “tent cities,” traveling around America looking for work; and Grandmother began her “Gleams” diary.

Mamie Boozer Morrell was a lifelong diarist, beginning in 1890 when she was 15 and ending in 1947, three months before I was born. Eight diaries have survived: an 1890-95 journal, written when she was a teenager living in Columbia; her “Gleams” diary of 1933, written during the Great Depression; and her 1942-1947 diaries written during the War years. She was a mother with two sons fighting in the second World War.


Grandmother came to Horrell Hill as the bride of Howell Morrell, principal of the new Horrell Hill School and recently elected S.C. Legislator. She was the daughter of a lawyer, Albert M. Boozer and Amada Boozer. She lived on Plain Street, now Hampton Street, in downtown Columbia.

Grandfather brought her to their new, Victorian-style home on top of the “Hill”-elevation of Richland County is 285 ft.; Horrell Hill is 410 ft. and was the site of the county’s first courthouse, 1785-89.

Grandfather bought a tract of heart pine in the Congaree Swamp, sent the timber to Corley’s Lumber Mill in Lexington, built the house out of the finished pine and the outbuildings out of the unfinished pine. Then he had Horrell Hill terraced (purpose: erosion) and later planted crops on the terraces.

In December of 1932, Grandmother told her family she did not want to record more black days of the Depression and would not keep a diary in 1933. Her daughter, Ruth, protested by giving her a leather-bound 1933 diary for Christmas. It was embossed with Grandmother’s name, the year and the word “Gleams.” . It came with a challenge from Aunt Ruth to include a “gleam” in each day’s entry, no matter how gray the day. And she did.

Grandmother started each month’s entries with a poem. She prefaced the diary with “Gleams” by American poet Grace Nell Crowell. It begins:

The day will bring some lovely


I say it over each new dawn.

Some gay, adventurous thing to


Against my heart when it is gone.

It ends:

No day has ever failed me quite-

Before the grayest day is done,

I come upon some misty bloom,

Or a late line of crimson sun.

Each night I pause, remembering

Some gay, adventuresome, lovely


HER FIRST ENTRY, JANUARY 1, 1933: How shall I begin my beautiful book. so lovingly and painstakingly prepared as a Christmas gift by my dear daughter, Ruth? What shall be my first gleam, for the new year? That dear girlo mine herself-she shall be my first gleam!

JANUARY 2, 1933: The day will bring same lovely thing. Christmas day brought many lovely things. It was a gift of a my dear friend, Mrs. Barton Wallace-a framed picture of a woodlands vista with Joyce Kilmer’s poem “Trees” below. It has always been dearly beloved by me, and I always stop my work and go to the radio when It starts up.”

JANUARY 5, 1933: “I thought it would be quite a hardship to get up before daybreak to get John Albert (her son, a teacher)) off to his school but have learned that along with disagreeable things there are compensations. For the first time in my life am enjoying sunrises. This morning’s was lovely-first gray clouds with rose gleams, then silver clouds in a blue sky.”


In 1933, Grandfather was 73 and Grandmother was 59-years old. Like everyone in America, the family faced living through the 10-year-long Great Depression. Grandfather had sold some land and the $4,000 profit was to help his family survive the depression. My father, James H. Morrell and his older brother, John Albert, deposited the money in their local bank. The bank failed six weeks later. Grandfather began showing signs of dementia, and the family’s financial problems fell on Grandmother’s shoulders.

JANUARY 7, 1933: No day has never failed me quite. I have been in town most of the day on a nerve racking business trip and came home blue and discouraged. I had just remarked that there was no “gleam” for that day when came a group of neighbors to listen to the radio, and soon the room was filled with music, merry jokes, and laughter, and we had a jolly good time.”

FEBRUARY 2. 1933: The day has never failed me quite, but today it did almost. My heart is aching tonight over our financial situation, but still there are gleams in the darkness. Our dear pastor Mr. Hair gave us valuable advice and carried us to Blaney to see our darling daughter, who helped us out of embarrassment. It was noble of her to come to our relief but I am weeping tonight because we had to call on her. (Aunt Ruth was a teacher at Blaney.)

FEBRUARY 15, 1933: Blue and discouraged today, had remarked to Ruth that this day had failed me quite. She reminded me I had listened with such delight to a selection from Wagner’s Lohengren over the radio. Yes, of course, that’s my gleam!


When my Grandfather asked Great-grandfather Albert Boozer for permission to court Grandmother, the immediate answer was “No!” He said, “She can’t even cook.” Grandfather’s reply: “I don’t want a cook, I want a wife.” And, from all reports, that’s what he got. Grandmother did NOT like kitchen chores. At least once a week she muttered about dirty pots and pans. Often she referred to the stove as the black monster and wanted to hide all the dirty pots and pans behind it. For years, the family had a full-time cook. I surmise Grandfather hired her out of self-defense.

But during the Depression, hiring kitchen help was almost unheard of. Crops lay rotting because farmers couldn’t pay their farm workers, and people couldn’t buy food because they were out of jobs and had no money. Often men would offer to work for the farmers in exchange for fruits and vegetables.

JANUARY 12, 1933: What bliss in the evening to leave that black monster, the kitchen stove, with its endless greasy pots and pans and to sit down into a big easy chair by a cozy fire and doze and doze.

FEBRUARY 27, 1933: My gleam today? A brown face with a wide grin, appearing at the door this morning-Liza (a former cook) coming to help me. Piles of dirty dishes, pots and pans which I had been gazing at despairingly disappeared as if by magic. Liza departed happily with lots of food.


FEBRUARY 11, 1933: We looked out on a beautiful, crystal world this morning, everything ice-coated.

MARCH 15, 1933: Signs of spring on every side-peach trees budding, masses of yellow Jessamine. Crab apple buds bursting, our first asparagus for dinner, delicious!

MARCH 27, 1933: Passing through the hallway this morning, I was arrested by a lovely picture and could not move for some mites. Framed in the glass of the front door was a scene down the avenue. In the distance, emerald green fields; nearer, the arching elms in their tender, new yellow-green leaves, and across the foreground, the wisteria.

JANUARY 23, 1933: This springlike weather we are having now is calling out the flowers too son, but how I do enjoy them. I neglected my work to be with them today. The japonicas are crimson clouds and the Breath offspring masses of sweetness.

FEBRUARY 28, 1933: Some sudden beauty—–A swatch if a song. A glorious voice coming over the radio, Madame Frances Aladea of the Metropolitan Opera Company broadcasting from her studio in the Waldorf Astoria in New York. John Albert and I listening spell-bound and saying we had never heard a lovelier voice.

MARCH 4, 1933: This morning received a jolly letter from Ruth telling of a party she had attended (in Blaney)and received first prize. At noon, Hanley (her youngest son, and later Major General Robert (Bob) Hanley Morrell, commander of McEntire Air National Guard) and I and all the others in town, listening big-eyed and thrilled at the inauguration of President Roosevelt over the radio and saying that we really saw and heard more things than many who were here. Liza running things in the kitchen, so that I could listen with an easy conscience.

APRIL 12, 1933: Morning-Clouds across the sun causing a lovely light and shadow effects of the distant hills, bringing into bold relief the nearly leaved trees against the somber pines.

Grandmother and Grandfather had a life-long love affair, even though there was a 14-year age difference and she always called him Mr. Morrell. They met when he hired her to be his assistant principal at Horrell Hill School in 1899, and she never shed the Mr. habit. They fell in love that year, but when Grandmother’s parents wouldn’t allow him to court her, she had to quit her job and return to her home.

MARCH 16, 1933: Lines in a poem pasted in on this day entitled To My Husband: To know you are there, that is enough…I’ve learned how kind a heart hides behind that rough exterior, so through my aging pulse it sends a glow to know that you are there; and so I grip your hand beneath the toil worn cuff.

MARCH 19, 1933: Sunday afternoon, Mr. Morrell and I sitting on the front porch for the first time this season, enjoying the spring landscape-tender green coming on the trees, masses of peach blossoms, drifts of plum.

MARCH 29 1933: Mr. Morrell and I spent a happy day in town with our dear friend, Mrs. Wallace. Everything possible was done for our comfort and entertainment. After a delicious dinner, while M. M. strolled about or relaxed in a cozy corner, Mr. Wallace and I examined works of art, read poetry, and exchanged opinions and experiences.

MARCH 16, 1933: Lines in a poem pasted in on this day entitled To My Husband: To know you are there, that is enough…I’ve learned how kind a heart hides beneath that rough exterior, so through my aging pulse it sends a glow to know that you are there; and so grip your hand beneath it toil worn cuff.

November 25, 2016 | Columbia Star, The (SC)Author: Kathy Newman | Section: Society

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