Sophie and Elizabeth - the daughters

Sophie and Elizabeth Dabbs

There is no point in trying to write about Sophie and Elizabeth separately.  They will always be remembered as one unit:  Aunt Sophie &  Aunt Elizabeth, or Toto and Dits or Bessie, Lala or Beps, depending on who’s telling the story.  Elizabeth and Sophie lived at the end of the long avenue stretching toward Highway 378.  They were eight and ten when their mother died and their father would marry Mother Sudie two years later.  They once described it as being “lonely” growing up out in the woods and so they became dependant on each other’s company very early.  They also developed a life-long fondness for animals:  Elizabeth for cats and Sophie for dogs.  These animals would become their family as the years progressed and a wide array of pictures of dogs and Persian cats would adorn the walls of their home.

Sophie and Elizabeth

Elizabeth was the more social of the two.  She left and went to Winthrop College – The South Carolina College for Women in Rock Hill in 1914, and graduated in 1918.  Sophie was enrolled as a sophomore at that time and graduated in 1920.  A note in their yearbooks says of Elizabeth that “Her ways are ways of pleasantness.”  Of Sophie, it reads: “A violet by a mossy stone half hidden from the eye.”
From Winthrop, Elizabeth proceeded to New Haven Normal School in New Haven, Connecticut.  NHNS is now known as Southern Connecticut State University and was a two year training school for teachers.   From NHHS she went first to West Texas State Teacher’s College as the Director of Physical Education for Women and then, in 1927, to Western Kentucky Teacher’s College as the Director of the Physical Education Program.

Sophie meanwhile graduated from Winthrop and taught for two years in Estill, South Carolina, where she writes to her brother, James, in September of 1921,   “I am keeping study period for the 9th and 10th grades now.  If my writing looks shaky, please excuse it – I’ve been freezing all day.  It is a cold, dreary day, and it seems impossible to get this schoolhouse heated up.”  ……… “Honestly, you know, I believe I am crazy about teaching.  Or, perhaps it’s the Wards (the family she is boarding with) I am in love with, because sometimes at school I get furious with the children.  I like all of them; but when they get rowdy they get on my nerves.  About once a day we have an explosion, which clears up the atmosphere for a while.  I know I couldn’t stand it if I didn’t have a nice place to board.  But, as it is, I suppose I love it.  But I am not too much in love to count the days before I’ll be coming home – twelve weeks and four days.”                                      

Sophie McBride Dabbs
April 4, 1900 - April 19, 1984

 After leaving her post to go to University of Virginia in Charlottesville, she completed a Masters of Arts degree on June 14, 1925, and returned to the Crossroads.   At some point around this time Sophie was believed to have developed tuberculosis, and this is a story told by many family members.  However, in a letter dated August 20, 1922, she writes to her father and Mother Sudie that she has been checked for consumption and been told she does not have it, although the doctor feels she needs to get lots of rest.    In the same letter she remarks that the library “is the most wonderful one I have ever seen,” and she plans to meet them in Tryon, NC.    She obviously recovered, as she proceeded to graduate, return to the Crossroads and live until 84 years of age, in good health, for most of the rest of her life.
Another mystery surrounds Aunt Sophie concerning a lost love.  I have been told by numerous relatives that she fell deeply in love with an unknown man and had her heart broken.   Unfortunately, no one knows any of the details although I may be so inclined to invent them one day, but I’m doing my best to stick to the facts at the moment.  Oh, the questions we should have asked the living that were never asked.  My mother says that once Aunt Sophie told her she’d dreamed she was married and she considered that a nightmare and was relieved to have awaken.  As my grandmother was fond of saying when all of the grandchildren would visit and then go, leaving her  alone in her big house,  “Alone, praise the Lord, yes, I am alone.”In 1940 a strange thing happened on the way to a conference.  Elizabeth’s brother, James, was at a meeting in Beaufort, SC.  He met an artist, Walter Thompson, who, while well respected in his field, was struggling to make a living at his trade.  His specialty was landscape painting and James invited him to visit Rip Raps and stay for awhile to enjoy and paint the beauties of Black River Swamp.  This he did.   He stayed for six months and when it appeared that he would not be leaving any time soon, James’s wife, Edith, asked Stella whether he might stay with them for awhile.  Elizabeth stepped in and volunteered to provide all of his meals at her house if Stella and Eugene, Jr.,  would allow Walter to stay with them at nights. To this they agreed.  Shortly thereafter, Elizabeth went to her brother to tell him that she and Walter had decided to marry.  Well, Elizabeth,” Eugene W. Dabbs, Jr., is reported to have said, “You haven’t had any trouble in your life up until now, go ahead and get married.”  And that was how Walter Thompson ended up at the Crossroads.  Elizabeth was 44 at the time of their marriage and Walter was 60.  He died 6 years later, but during those 6 years, he bought a new dimension to Elizabeth’s life and left countless paintings of the surrounding landscapes that are now cherished. in the art community and continued to have his pictures displayed around the state.   Both Elizabeth and Evelyn Waggett Dabbs made significant efforts to catalog a record of his paintings and keep track of them when possible. Evelyn now has that catalog of pictures.  After both Elizabeth and Sophie’s death, each niece and nephew received at least one of his pictures.  Many other pictures were sold.  
Thus, Sophie and Elizabeth, after both completing master’s degrees, quite an accomplishment for young women in that time, returned to the Crossroads between 1927 and 1932 and lived in the home where they’d grown-up with their father and Mother Sudie. I believe Sophie returned after completing her master’s degree.   She was reported to have said at one time she’d rather starve than teach again.  Elizabeth followed after Mother Sudie died in 1931, but I can’t verify that.  We do know that young Mac, Jr., was born in 1932 and at that time Mac and Wrenna and Sophie and Elizabeth were all living in the house with Father Dabbs.
 Sophie was responsible for the chickens and evidently became quite an accomplished breeder.  It is noted in a newspaper clipping that she received top honors for her Rhode Island Red Pullet in Boston, Mass. in 1953.   She did worry out loud at one point what her former history professor would think if he knew that she had spent her life living in the woods raising chickens.
When their father, Eugene Whitefield Dabbs, died in 1933, he left half of his land to his youngest son, Mac and divided the remaining half between his other sons, James and Eugene, with the understanding that Mac would take care of Sophie and Elizabeth. They still maintained the land they had inherited through Mother Maude.
 In 1937, Sophie and Elizabeth sold timber and built their own home 150 yards to the SE of the original family home.   The total cost as specified by the building contractor, J.A. Sellers out of Sumter was $7,381.00.   It was built from loblolly pine with unpainted pine walls downstairs and screened-in porches on both the first and second floor.  Four fireplaces grace the house to provide heat in the two bedrooms and the living room and dining area.  Surrounded by tall pines and landscaped with beautiful   azaleas, camellias, magnolia, and lilies, this graceful home would hold a special place in the hearts of all of Sophie and Elizabeth’s nephews and nieces.  I used to describe their house as Little Red Riding Hood’s grandma’s house in the woods.  We all secretly desired to live there.
While Elizabeth was the more social and talkative, it would have been a mistake to underestimate Sophie. Diminutive and soft-spoken Sophie was a force to be reckoned with once she put her mind to something.   She read constantly and followed what was going on politically with special interest.   A copy of the letter she wrote to the members of the South Carolina Delegation in Washington D.C., on January 7, 1952, was published in the Sumter, Item.   In it she opposes the UMT (Universal Military Training) and states “Frankly, I am afraid of what military training does to the mind of anyone and especially to young people at an impressionable age.  Its emphasis has to be on force and submission to authority; while the life of free institutions depends on the constant questioning of authority by peaceful minds…..”  She continues, “I have talked with graduates of military schools and they frighten me.”   That’s a particularly interesting quote since one of her brother’s, Eugene, and four of her nephews, Eugene, III, Furman, Tommy and Rees had all attended the Citadel.
Elizabeth Gertrude Dabbs
August 17, 1898 - August 15, 1975

Walter Whitcomb Thompson (1/10/1882 – 4/29/1948) was born in Palatka, Florida.   He moved with his parents to his mother’s native state of Massachusetts where he took up painting.    He studied at the New School of Design in Boston.  He returned to his native south in 1930 and was Director of Art Education for Beaufort City Schools from 1934-1939 and then of Jessup County Schools in Georgia,  from 1939-1940.  He held a post at Coker College from 1940-1941, which was probably something arranged for through James M. Dabbs.    A wonderful portrait of Walter was done by his friend, Charles Crowsom, a Sumter native who became nationally known for his fine portrait work.  It hangs in the entry way of Whitfield.

Walter Thompson
Jan. 19, 1882 - April 29, 1948

At their marriage, a Studio was built about 50 yards north of Elizabeth and Sophie’s home.  The north side of the Studio holds an elegant cathedral window to provide natural light for the artist.  The south side of the building which had an adjoining wall, but a separate entrance was storage space for feed for the chickens.  Behind the Studio sat four chicken houses where Sophie raised chickens.  Two still remain overgrown but fairly solid structures in the woods.  Attached to the back of the Studio off the storage room was a small room with a cement floor and a water supply that fed into a lovely greenhouse where Sophie raised orchids.
For the next six years, Sophie, Elizabeth and Walter shared their home, Road’s End-in-the-Pines, and the Studio.  If there were any disagreements or discomfort over the arrangement no one knew of it.  The three seemed compatible in every way.    Here Walter painted for six years and did some of his best work.   He was charming and good natured and every bit a gentleman.  He gave away a good number of his works as thank-you gifts or wedding gifts. He would occasionally sell one for perhaps $200 or $300 but money was a problem most of his life.  Letters that have been found prior to his marriage to Elizabeth have expressed concern about his financial status. 
 Walter was known to drink although after they married he never let it get out of hand.  However, his packing crate for his pictures was also adorned with a portable bar out in the Studio.  It could conveniently be closed if discerning guests didn’t approve.  Years after his death, my husband and I explored the unlocked Studio and found the bar intact, paint brushes still on the easel and liquor in the cabinet just as they had been when he died.
There was no doubt about it that Elizabeth adored Walter.  Little love notes were still found in the trunk in the house when we moved in.  One she had left to him in the Studio.  Another he had left to her on her writing desk.
Elizabeth became involved in the art community throughout South Carolina and assisted when Walter set up showings of his work.  After his death, she remained active

Walter and Elizabeth Dabbs Thompson

After Walter’s death, Sophie and Elizabeth continued with life much the same way they had lived the previous years together.  One of the major additions to their home, however, was a television in the early 70’s.  Television was not something they particularly ever felt that they needed; however, their nephew, Tommy Dabbs and his wife Evelyn bought them one as a gift and set it in their upstairs bedroom.  Elizabeth and Sophie thought the invention was pretty useless and unnecessary, but agreed it might be interesting to watch the news once a day, and so following lunch they would go to their bedroom and watch the midday news.  One afternoon they both fell asleep during the news and when they awoke there was a court case being aired.   Well, court cases are pretty interesting and actually somewhat educational, they agreed, so they watched it until it ended.  They watched it that day and the next and suddenly it was part of their daily routine.   It got to be such a focus for them that one time when they had dentist appointments in Sumter that wouldn’t allow them to see their show and still arrive on time, they made arrangements in advance with the furniture store next door to let them come in and watch the show there before going to the dentist.  While they still limited their television watching to a minimum, I am told that as Sophie aged she became quite a convert to Days of Our Lives and tuned in daily.
On August 15, 1975, at 77 years of age, following a complete physical the week before where she was deemed in good health by her doctor, Elizabeth Dabbs Thompson sat down on the side porch to eat her breakfast and fell over dead.  Her death, similar to that of her brother’s, James, prompted folks to say, “Those Dabbses sure know how to die.”  Sophie would live an
Sophie’s will also left their animals under the care of Martha Ann. A separate kennel was built behind Martha Ann’s home across Highway 378 to enable her to keep the dogs.  It was hot.  Ironically, the kennel was air-conditioned.  Road’s End-in-the-Pines was not.  Martha Ann Prince has been a treasure to the Dabbs family.  Through three generations, she has been available whenever asked to help with care, cleaning or cooking and providing her proverbial wisdom on life. She worked at first for Mac and Wrenna and then for Sophie and Elizabeth.  I said to her once, as I mourned the loss of the pine trees after Hurricane Hugo, “Oh Martha Ann, remember how beautiful it was when there were pine trees everywhere the eye could see?”
  “Oh yes,” was her reply.  “I raked and raked pine straw until I thought my back would break, and then Hurricane Hugo came along and saved us all.”  She taught me that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
A woman of many talents and highly ethical, Martha Ann has stories that I would love to record for her but I don’t know that it will happen.    Martha Ann has high standards.   She is not comfortable telling stories on family members that might be misinterpreted to make anyone look bad. You have to respect that level of integrity.  That’s one of the many reasons everyone loves her dearly.
                It is essential that I mention the many hours that Elizabeth devoted to the church cemetery.    One of the reasons that Salem Black River Presbyterian Church can boast the beauty of this serene resting place is that long hours of labor and love have been put into its plants and trees.   The trunk in the attic was filled with numerous letters and notes of appreciation to Elizabeth for her constant care of the cemetery.   There would be mention of a $10 or $20 donation for the upkeep. There are still occasions when individuals report seeing someone who looks like Elizabeth out in the cemetery raking leaves or planting flowers, but when they go to look, no one is there.  Normally, I would tell you it is probably my mother, who resembles Elizabeth somewhat and has filled that void that was left after Elizabeth’s death.  However, there are times it is my mother, herself, who reports such a sighting.  

Sophie and Elizabeth in fron of their Fireplace

Road's End in the Pines
As Sophie and Elizabeth knew it before Hurricane Hugo
It speaks to the wonderful ability that Sophie and Elizabeth had to embrace everyone they spoke to with sincere interest and fondness that each niece and nephew felt a particular bond with these two aunts.  Their whimsical home in the forest was the envy of all.   Whether it was in front of their warm fireplace on a winter day or the lure of their hammock on the screened porch, one was always captivated by their countless animals, their extensive knowledge and curiosity about the world, and their intrigue and genuine interest in everything you were doing. You knew you held a special place within their hearts whenever you visited.