SONNY SCOTT: Light from a life of joy

My friend and neighbor, Mrs. Nancy Cliett, a passed away on June 27 at age 94. As I recall our friendship and professional association (we taught at Woodland together for 16 years), the refrain to “Keep on the Sunny Side” keeps running through my head.

In Mace’s Springs, Va are the graves of A. P. Carter, and his ex-wife, Sarah Bays. Their matching headstones are modest for a team that laid the foundation for the folk music revival of the 60’s and helped create commercial country music.

“Keep on the sunny side” is engraved into the pink granite. Composed by Ada Blenkhorn in 1899, this was the Carter Family’s theme song.

Keeping on the sunny side could not have been easy during the lean years of the Great Depression. Cuckolded by his wife and left to rear three small children while manfully hiding his pain, A.P. seemed ready to reap his reward in the fall of 1941 when Life Magazine prepared a story on the Carter Family. A Life cover would propel them to national prominence, and the family could share in the wealth they had created for others. It was to run the 2nd week of December, but Sunday morning at an obscure naval base on a Pacific Island scrubbed the Carter story. A.P. remained in obscurity and poverty, but with dignity intact.

Also in 1941, a vivacious young lady in Mississippi married her beau. She was the only child of a school teacher and administrator in a time when such brought a measure of social status, but little financial reward. She lost her mother at a tender age, but was afforded the benefits of a “lady’s education” at Blue Mountain College. She learned piano, the liberal arts, and how to be a lady. Her young husband was energetic and hard-working, and the young couple planned a bright future. The same event that shattered the Carters’ dreams postponed theirs, and seven short months after their wedding, her groom went to India with the Signal Corps for the duration.

Blessed with a pleasant countenance, a winning smile, and a melodious laugh, she spread joy about her. Those who knew her only from her music assumed that she played by ear, but she learned the old-fashioned way – sight-reading and laborious practice. Her joyful exuberance manifested itself whenever she played the piano, however. The beauty of her soul and her joyful goodwill manifested themselves in everything she did. Life brought its trials to her door. Her husband died young and one of her sons died in an accident. Through it all, she projected peace and calm acceptance. She shared her joy, but her grief was private.

Do some people feel grief or disappointment less acutely, or do they have a greater degree of self-control? I know that Mrs. Nancy was gregarious and cheerful by nature, but I am convinced that her stoicism in the face of loss was due to mastery of her own nature, and to her buoyant, happy faith. She would have considered maudlin and public mourning a selfish indulgence unworthy of a lady. She kept on the sunny side, and made the sun shine brighter for those of us blessed to know her.

Community columnist SONNY SCOTT is a Chickasaw County resident. Contact him at

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