-Gertie Stewart Phillips
1872 - 1974
Market Street, Mannington, WV
Anna Gertrude Stewart was born 3 November 1872 to Francis Ross Stewart, listed in the census reports as a "marble cutter", and Mary Elizabeth Mort in Mannington, West Virginia. Evidently she was called Gertie and several reports have the initial A as the middle initial. She had two brothers, John and Ray, and two sisters, Jessie and Beryl. I could not discover much about Gertie's early years, but at the age of 7 she was living with her family in Mannington which appears to have been her home for most of her life. According to census reports she completed 4 yrs of college, unusual for a woman in her day, but I haven't found which was her alma mater. I did find an article in a family history volume that stated she was educated "at Roanoke and Lynchburg, Virginia".
Gertie married in 1896 to Samuel Edgar Phillips and they apparently moved in with her parents, as they are listed as living there in the 1900 census. By 1907 the couple had moved to Fairmont, WV, but returned to Mannington by 1910 where Edgar had opened his own business, a jewelry store, called S E Phillips & Co. which was located at 22 Market Street in Mannington. I could not find any children for this couple, though there may have been. In fact, a few of her poems seem to mourn a child who died. I did find a record for a Sylvie E Phillips, born 1900 in Marion cty and died 1902 in Mannington, WV, but these records did not list parents. Sylvie could have been Gertie and Edgar's little girl. Edgar would also sadly die young. He may have died in World War I, as one poem below seems to indicate. By the 1930 census Gertie is living alone and listed as "widow".
In 1935, at the age of 63, Gertie married for a second time to Henry C Howard. By this time she had published her first book of poetry entitled Blown Leaves and Petals in 1934. Her new husband was a pastor, and Gertie was no doubt busy with the activities of a pastor's wife. I found record of her as an active member of The Daughters of the Revolution, and she managed to publish her second book of poetry in 1942 when she was 70 years of age. This is the volume that I have in my collection, and it is entitled Lonely Apples.
This book was printed by Kaleidograph Press of Dallas, TX, which was a self-publishing printer. It is dedicated to Henry and Beryl - her husband and perhaps her sister, though she may have had a daughter Beryl whom I have not been able to verify as of yet. My copy is signed thus: "Autographed for Barbara Whitney by Gertie Stewart Phillips (Mrs. Henry C Howard) 1943".
Gertie lived to the exceptional age of 102 and passed away on 23 November 1974. If anyone has any further information about Gertie, I would love to add it to her page, as I was only able to unearth the bare bones facts of her life. Here is her poetry:
Mannington, WV today
by Gertie Stewart Phillips
Swallows at Evening
Dusk was a haze of beating wings,
Gray in the semi-light
As shadows are; such lovely things
Busy with flight!
No sound accompanied them, no cry;
Rhythmic as tidal flow
Edging toward oceans of sky,
I watched them go
Into a distance grown opaque;
Quickly the tear drops start--
Showing how beauty's power can break
The lonely heart.
Well I remember our two selves
Going to seek arbutus bloom,
Searching a mountain's oaken shelves,
Cluttered with leaves, for their perfume.
How pungent was the scent of fir
From needles and the perished cones!
I mind a stream that laughed, the whirr
Of startled wings, gray lichened stones.
We had not learned war's cruel ways
With youth and love; how with a thong
Of hate it binds the lyric phase
Throats use in fabricating song.
Now I am wise. In that dim space
Above earth's chaos where you dwell,
Know you how time acquires a pace
Only a snail can parallel?
Slow as the tread of one who weaves
A pathway on the ledge of spring--
Faithless, until the shrouding leaves
Reveal arbutus blossoming.
Snow At Dawn
My Baby's Lips Were Warm And Red
The evening shivers in the glacial blast;
A lonely tree bends while its tattered cowl
Streams in the air; in restless limbs an owl
Cries, as the final rusted leaf is cast,
No star is visible; a cloud wrought door
Interns the full moon in a dismal cell.
As winds intone dead autumn's funeral knell
Again the owl calls from the sycamore.
O loneliness of dark that waits the dawn!
Could a tumultuous heart but be as sure
Its desolation only would endure
Until the night of starless hours is gone,
And with the morning wear a seamless dress
Of tranquil, unimagined loveliness!
With loneliness I eat and sup,
We two wash one blue plate and cup;
(There's no one now to clutter up.)
Cleansing a knife, and fork, and spoon
Requires but minutes, and too soon
The sun is like a gold balloon
And we must drink again, and eat.
(My little girl was glad and sweet
With ringlets colored like ripe wheat.)
Why two should use one fork, one knife,
I could not tell you for my life--
I'll ask a neighboring housewife.
But loneliness tugs at my sleeve:
"Better we wait awhile and grieve
And watch the loom of shadows weave
A somber tapestry instead."
(My baby's lips were warm and red)
And then we two creep into bed.
*this sad little poem seems to indicate the loss of a child
Grapes of Song
Earth's Orbit Circles True
My lips drank deep of joy,
Drained the harsh cup of grief;
One proved a singing boy,
And one a thief.
Inebriates, the quaffed
Joy's chalice till I knew
Lips must forego the draft
For sterner brew.
Too long, O grief, I supped
The vintage of your vine;
Now grapes of song have cupped
A sweeter wine.
Walking where centuries had trod
I touched a fruited pear,
Saw dandelions mark the sod
Like constellations there.
Who starred the grass with gold, I knew
Spoke to the willing tree;
Earth's unseen orbit circles true
Because of Deity.
Yet there are scoffers who refute
The inexplicable Power,
Who cannot even shape one fruit
Or fabricate a flower.