Submitted 30 Sep 2005
by Howard Bryant


By Cecil Hayes, edited by Howard Bryant
From letters and notes by Cecil Hayes:

“My aunt Ida Carrithers Bryant-Cooke was one of the most wonderful persons I've ever known. She had a very favorable influence in my young life, as well as later years. In 1932, when I had mumps or measles, she came to our house in Arkansas. She had a present for me. I watched her as she unwrapped it. It was a book, a book with colored pictures. The name of the book was A Child's Garden of Verses. It was written by a poet named Robert Louis Stevenson. I was delighted with the gift. I was just learning to read. I read that book so many times it finally fell apart. But it didn't matter; I had memorized every poem in it. My favorite was the "unseen playmate". It seemed to fit my life completely. I was born to be a loner and had trouble mixing with other kids. That was the first of many books this wonderful aunt of mine gave me. The others were Aesop's Fables, the Just-so Stories, by Rudyard Kipling, Grimm's Fairy Tales, the Arabian Night Stories, the Jungle Books, and finally more grown-up books like the Black Stallion, Robinson Crusoe, and Treasure Island. Perhaps she didn't know it then, but she was laying a "yellow-brick road" that led me straight into the magic world of books. I will never cease to be grateful to this wonderful woman who influenced my young life so deeply.

Years and years later, when I was 29 years old, I rented a spare room in the home of Aunt Ida for about six months. I had a full time job, but was trying to write for magazines and spent incredible hours at my typewriter. Aunt Ida worried about my health, that I was not getting enough sleep. Countless times she brought coffee to my room at two in the morning. When the rejection slips kept pouring back in a steady stream, she encouraged me and inspired me to keep trying. She read everything I wrote and declared it good. When I finally sold a story I took her out for a steak dinner.

At that time, she was very religious and read her Bible a lot. She belonged to a small church on South Howard Street, which she had helped found. It started in the home of a couple named Sam and Ivy Mays but finally became so crowed that all the attendee could not get into the house. The began having church in the front yard but it soon became too small also. So they bought an old Army barracks and moved it to the May’s property. Ida helped pay for the building. I knew she couldn’t afford the contribution then but she said to me, “You can’t out give the Lord; I’ll be paid double!”

The battered old Army barracks would hold at least a hundred and fifty people but it too soon too small. That’s when they purchased a new building in the west end of Blytheville. They were sure they would never fill the space and probably never be able to pay off the debt. But within a few years, the new building was too small. I don’t know how many other buildings they bought, each larger than the other. Today, the church that started in the living room of Sam and Ivy Mays with less than a dozen people is the largest church in the city, covering several blocks with an attendance of well over 3,000 people. The name of Mrs. Ida Cook is at the top of the charter list.

One of the saddest days of my life was when I said good-bye to her and moved away to Indiana. I promised to see her soon, but I never did. Soon after I left, she moved to Florida to live with her daughter, Ella Mae Bryant Herron Ward.

While I was residing at aunt Ida's I learned a lot about her life in Alabama. She was the first of eight children born Sept. 27, 1880, near Chickasaw, AL, to John Calvin Carrithers, Jr., and Amelia Ann (Annie) Williams Carrithers. She was named Ida Jane but was said to have detested the name Jane and appropriated ‘Leona’ instead. When she Was about six or seven, she went to live with her grandmother, Sarah Ann Hyatt Carrithers. Sarah Ann was a retired schoolteacher and she taught Ida to read and write.

On November 12, 1897, just 25 days after her 16th birthday, Ida married to Wiley Eugene (Gene) Bryant. They were married by a justice of the peace in Riverton. The Bryant family was fairly wealthy and lived in a fine house in south Riverton. Remnants of the old Bryant home are still standing. Bishop Bryant, Gene's father, was a prominent person in the Riverton area.

After their marriage, Gene and Ida Bryant bought a small farm in a valley called "hog hollow". The valley farm, which embraced the entire valley, was owned by Ida's parents, John and Annie Carrithers. Gene and Ida built a lovely home and for a time Gene tried his hand at farming. But this was not his calling. He left his family and went on to working with heavy earth-moving equipment, first around Chickasaw and then in FL and LA. He came home periodically. ‘It seems that every time Gene came home I got pregnant,’ aunt Ida told me. They had nine children in all.

In the above picture, taken about 1909, Ida Carrithers Bryant is shown holding Lila with her sister, Minnie, sitting beside. The top row shows Harris and Gene, the oldest. The 2nd row, Dovie, Grace, and Ella Mae, and the bottom, Hugh (Jude) and Harvey (Mack). (Picture from Bryant Genealogy collection.)

“’Then one day Gene came home’, aunt Ida told me, ‘and I could tell that something was troubling him. I asked him what it was and he finally told me. He had been seeing another woman and had gotten the woman pregnant. Her brothers promised to kill Gene if he didn’t get a divorce and marry their sister.’

To any other woman, this startling news would have triggered an explosion, but Ida revealed the rare quality that made her so great and so wonderful. She forgave Gene and advised him to ‘do what is right by the woman’. Gene Bryant walked out on his family, got the divorce and married the other woman.

Ida, at aged 38, found herself with nine children to raise. She had no income. Never again did she receive a penny from Gene Bryant. He had abandoned his family forever. Ida began to mortgage the house and farm to keep her family alive. In time she owed the bank more than the house and land was worth. She was forced to move.

For a brief time it, seemed good fortune was smiling upon Ida. Tripili, or rottenstone, or silica (called chalk in Alabama) was found on her land. This could mean she could end up a very rich Person. But ill fortune intervened: the vein proved too small to be profitable to the company. The sack of gold slipped from Ida's hand.

Lila describes in a letter what happened next. One of her sons was married and living in Lauderdale county, on the north side of the Tennessee river. Ida, taking what she could get in a boat, left the house and farm and moved across the river. Lila was her last child and the only one still at home. This was the beginning of a long odyssey for Ida Bryant. For a time she kept house for her sister, Sally, and Lila went to the Riverton school. Finally, when she was grown, Lila left her mother and Ida wandered on alone.

I remember Aunt Ida coming to our house in 1933, when we lived in Arkansas. “Those were the loneliest years of my life," she told me in 1950. "I felt lost and unwanted."

In about 1935 Ida met an elderly man named John Cooke. My family and I knew Mr. Cooke long before Ida met him. He gave every appearance of being a wealthy man. He told of oil wells in Oklahoma and of how much money he was worth. When he met Ida, at our house, he proposed marriage to her right away. Ida was tired of being alone, and she was tired of drifting from pillow to post, not having a home or any family of her own now. She accepted and they were married in Blytheville, Arkansas. My mother went with her to be married at the County Courthouse. We were all happy for my Aunt Ida.

At first they rented a lovely house in our city, Blytheville. The old man seemed to have money to burn. They really lived it up. My cousin and I used to do yard work for them and Mr. Cooke always paid us well.

Then they bought a home of their own on south 21st street in our town. It was there that Mr. Cooke's gold mine seemed to peter out. The oil wells he owned in Oklahoma were reduced to a single well, and it was going dry. Soon it was gone altogether and he had no income. And then he became ill and almost helpless. He had children somewhere and appealed for their help, but they ignored him. Aunt became a nurse-maid for a helpless old man. Once again
the cruel hand of fate had dealt her a terrible blow.

But even as I talked to her in 1950, she was not bitter about what had happened. It had been she who advised Gene to get a divorce and marry the other woman. The unselfish attitude she took elevates her in my mind. She had to be the most wonderful person I've ever known.”


Also See: John Calvin Caruthers Biography
Eugene and Ida Carrithers Bryant Family Pictures
John Calvin Carrithers, Sr. Pictures
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