As robust as Andrew had been, Luvenia wasn’t. She was a sickly baby and a sickly toddler. By the time she reached school age, she was never well enough to go. Jane kept hoping she’d outgrow it but nothing changed.
In 1875, when Luvenia was born, there were no tests to find diseases of the heart. The only doctor around was Doc Campbell but he serviced Sneedville and the surrounding areas and was not up on the latest technology. He barely made it though each day with his services needed far and wide.
Dr. Campbell was aware of Luvenia’s illness and suspected a hole in the heart. He also knew that if a child made it past adolescence; they had a pretty good chance of living a longer life. He had explained all of this to John and Jane when Luvenia was about two. He suggested they take her to a specialist in Knoxville but money was tight and the trip was expensive. They decided to save up and take her when she was a little older but any spare money was spent when Andrew died. At 5-yrs-old, Luvenia was not strong enough to run and play with the other children but she seemed happy enough doing small projects where she excelled.
They put off the trip to Knoxville and started saving again.
When Luvenia was nine, John Carter was murdered. Of all the children, she felt it the most. Her father was her hero. He never let her tire herself out and carried her almost everywhere. Any kind of exertion left her breathless and it hurt him when she couldn’t catch her breath. She was his little princess.
Jane was aware of Luvenia’s suffering. She was pregnant, had four-yr-old Victor and two-year-old William, who were very active. Trying to keep the boys from getting into trouble and dealing with her husband’s death left little time for Luvenia. It wasn’t until her mother suggested teaching Luvenia embroidery that she found a solution that worked for her unhappy daughter.
Both John and Jane valued learning and could read and write so Luvenia was schooled at home. Her father had insisted that she have the same education as her siblings. Even though she didn’t attend school, she was a better reader than her brothers and sisters.
Needlework was considered a part of a girl’s education and Polly believed that it would be the perfect outlet for Luvenia. In the evening after leaving work, she made her way to her daughter’s house.
“Girls,” Polly shouted as she walked into the house, “Come see what I have.” Laura at 14 and Leoni, 16, were not interested in sewing. They had done enough and were quite frankly tired of it. “It’s not sewing” Polly told them, “It’s decoration.” Nothing she could say would make them pick up the colorful floss and a needle. Della, who was seven, looked decidedly interested. Luvenia approved of the colors but wasn’t quite sure what she was supposed to do with it.
“We are going to make a sampler”, Polly said.
“What’s a sampler?” Luvenia asked.
“It’s a way to show off what you can do with a needle. You can decorate your piece anyway you want. You can make the alphabet, create an animal, and write a saying. There are different stitches to learn.” Polly replied.
Della looked slightly less interested. “I don’t want to Grandma,” she said.
That’s fine, Della, you don’t have too” said Polly.
“How about you Luvenia?” Polly inquired.
“What would I make?” she asked.
“I have a suggestion if you’ll let me,” Polly said. “I thought it might be nice if you made something for you to remember your papa. You could sew his name at the top with his birth date. We could find a nice verse in the Bible you and he liked. At the bottom, we could put the day he died and finish it with a fancy border. When it’s done, one of your brothers could make a nice frame and we could hang it on the wall.”
Luvenia’s eyes lighted up. “That’s a lovely idea, Grandma. I want to get started right away. I want to make something special for Papa. Show me how.”
Polly was pleased that the young girl had something special to do. That first night she showed her the basic stitches and helped her draw out the beginning pattern. As the weeks went by, Luvenia learned more and more until she was more than proficient. As promised, she finished the sampler in no time at all and Floyd built it a fine frame. It was hung in a place of honor in the parlor, soon to be joined by other equally impressive pieces.
Luvenia was born on December 19, 1875 and passed away on April 22, 1913 at the age of 37. She is buried in the Depew Family Cemetery next to her mother. She never married and left no legacy. She is one of the forgotten ones because no one lived after her to tell her story. Luvenia Finetta Rhea was my great aunt and her life matters to me.