A Reminiscence by Peggy Dickinson Fleming.
Throughout my life I have been a very lucky person. I am thinking of the luck that brought me to be one of the grandchildren of Jacob McGavock Dickinson Sr. Specifically, this meant that I was the heiress to all sorts of good things connected with him: namely, the many great names that brought about the cities of Nashville, Memphis, and other places in Tennessee. Perhaps I inherited a small portion of his greatness and love of life.
When I was born, my father, Captain Jacob McGavock Dickinson Jr., was fighting in the trenches in France, specifically in the Battle of Champagne during World War I. When he received the news of my arrival, he had the chaplain of his regiment christen me in absentia with a small vial of holy water that he had saved for the purpose, using his helmet for the basin. When the 42nd Rainbow Division was reactivated in 1943, he took his family with him to Tulsa, Oklahoma, the site of the reactivation. Upon hearing the news of my “activation” in the Rainbow, the General of the Regiment, Colonel Harry J. Collins, officially designated me “The Rainbow Girl.” I have attended many reunions of the 42nd Division since that time, basking in the recognition and praise for “The Rainbow Girl.”
After the death of my grandfather, my father and mother moved our family back to Nashville. This was in the late 1920s. They purchased my father’s ancestral home, Travellers Rest, where his mother, Martha Maxwell Overton, had been born and raised. I spent many happy years at Travellers Rest as well as at Antrim in Columbia, where I moved after my marriage to Stuart Swope Fleming.
My life has indeed been a happy one, and I like to think that perhaps some of that happiness is due to my close association with and love of my grandfather, Jacob McGavock Dickinson, Sr.
Grandfather loved his family very much. He bought Belle Meade with the idea of using it both as a place to entertain and as a retreat. When business called him elsewhere, his eldest son, Overton, and family lived there. After a very unfortunate tragedy occurred — both Overton and his wife died from complications of influenza — Grandfather sold Belle Meade, and, as far as I know, never went there again. Overton’s two little girls were entrusted to the care of his sister-in-law, but Grandfather was very attentive to their education and took them on many wonderful trips.
All of this occurred before I was born. Grandfather moved to Chicago to serve as counsel for the Illinois Central Railroad. After he established law offices there, my father, mother, and family moved to Chicago, also, settling in Winnetka, Illinois. Grandfather was a most loving grandfather. He came out on the train on Sundays for lunch, armed always with Hershey chocolates that I, being of a saving nature, squirreled away in my closet. I remember sitting on his lap, when he would run his finger up my spine and admonish me always to hold my back straight.
Grandfather was very fond of my mother. When he sometimes invited her to have lunch with him, he would order only the best. On one memorable occasion, “the best” included raw oysters. Mother was dismayed but gamely resolved to eat them. When he glanced across the table and discovered her actually trying to cut them up, Grandfather sternly admonished her to “Stop murdering those oysters!”
When Grandfather was Secretary of War under President Taft, who was a great friend of his, he was in great demand as a dinner guest. However, I don’t think he was particularly interested in the constant dinner parties. One persistent hostess kept after him, starting with an invitation for Monday night, which he declined. She progressed through the week, day by day, and when she reached the weekend, Grandfather replied, “Dammit, madam, I’ll just come Monday!”
We went into Chicago on occasion to have lunch with him in his apartment. The chairs for the dining table were upholstered in a very dark green horsehair, a very scratchy material at best. He had an elegant bedroom set consisting of bed, armoire, dresser, and night stand. I am fortunate enough to have that now here in my house. When he was taken ill, he of course was propped up in that big bed. I can see him now.
After his death, we all traveled to Nashville on the train to accompany his body, which lay in state in the Tennessee State Capitol.