Christopher Columbus “CC” Seal was born August 17, 1879 in Hancock County, Tennessee, son of Evan and Mary Jane (Manning) Seal. It is not currently known how many siblings he had, however it is presumed that there were several, as families of that time, particularly in rural communities, were quite large with several children to help with chores and working the family farm.
On September 17, 1899, 20-year-old CC married Lydia Sue Spears, who was 15. They were married in the town of Sneedville, the county seat of Hancock, and by August of 1900, welcomed their only surviving child into the world, Sarah Elizabeth.
At some point within the next 10 years, Evan and wife Mary Jane, along with CC and his family, as well as possible other members of the Seal family, packed up their belongings in covered wagons and moved to Ozark County, Missouri, settling near the town of Thornfield. In June of 1913, Evan Seal died, and CC packed up Lydia and Sarah and moved to a little farm east of Ava, Missouri, several miles northeast of Thornfield, on a dusty trail called the Happy Home Road. By this time, CC was a circuit preacher, riding on horseback to preach at several churches in the area. In those days the circuit preacher would travel on Saturday to the town where he was to preach the next day. Some layperson would volunteer to receive the preacher, feed him dinner Saturday evening, then let him sleep at their home that night so that he would be rested and ready to deliver a sermon on Sunday morning. Then the preacher would mount up and ride home that afternoon, after his belly was full from a hearty lunch. Such was CC’s life, allowing him to work his farm through the week, then preach on weekends, save for the occasional revival gig or Wednesday night preacher opportunity.
In late 1917, CC and Lydia took in 18-month-old Walter Lauren Wilson. Walter’s entire family had been wiped out by the influenza epidemic that was sweeping the nation at the time. Though they never formally nor legally adopted Walter, they raised him as their own child, and he became like a brother to Sarah (although family legend tells that he was given preferential treatment because of the loss of his family, and Sarah was never given a fair shake).
On October 10, 1921, Sarah married Orville Nelson Ritter, and they moved to a farm a couple of miles west but still on the same Happy Home Road as her parents. They began having children, then moved to the little town of Hammond in Ozark County and had more children including twins, then by 1941 moved back to the Happy Home Road outside Ava, onto a farm next door to Sarah’s parents, CC and Lydia. By this time Sarah had given birth to 11 children, 9 of whom lived to adulthood.
It is from their later years in life that many stories surface about CC and Lydia. Interesting peculiarities began to surface, which became the fodder of many stories, tales and legends.
Drowning in Goat’s Milk
Country folks of the early twentieth century did not have the luxury of immediately available health care. This often led to the creation of many home cures for ailments and injuries. Folks took what knowledge they possessed about nutrition and existing remedies and often created their own variations to help ease whatever was bothering them.
CC had been fighting a cold for some time and could not get much in the way of relief. This cold was hindering his ability to fulfill his basic duties, so at some point he began to ponder what he could do to start feeling better. Among the home remedies that came to mind, the old method of breathing steaming vapors seemed appealing.
Being a creative man, CC thought of taking the healing process one step further. Recalling that his mother Mary Jane had often given him goat’s milk when he felt bad, he decided this would be a nice addition to the treatment.
He collected some goat’s milk in a large pot and began to heat it on the stove. Traditionally people lowered their head over a pan of steaming water and covered their head with a towel to trap the vapors for the full effect. CC grabbed a towel, leaned over and covered his head and the pan with the towel.
At some point he must have recalled that he typically drank the milk, and that people inhaled the vapors, so he decided to combine the two processes—he stuck his head in the steaming goat’s milk and sucked in through his nose for all he was worth.
CC almost drowned in his own kitchen.
He pulled his head out of the pan and backed away from the stove, sputtering and spitting and blowing and coughing until he could again breathe halfway normally. Red-eyed and gasping for air, CC stumbled his way back to the living room, collapsing in his rocking chair.
It is not known what ever became of his cold.
Chewing Tobacco and Pyrez Dishes
The late Mary (Moore) Ritter, first wife of Delmas Ritter (one of Sarah’s twins), told an interesting tale of her first encounter with CC and particularly Lydia.
On this particular visit, Delmas and Mary had only been married a few months and were expecting the birth of their first child, Debbie. As Debbie was born in January of 1961, this event must have taken place sometime during the late spring or early summer of 1960 (It should be noted that this visit would have taken place not quite a year after a tragic and fatal fire swept through Orville and Sarah’s home, next door to CC and Lydia. Orville died from pneumonia a few days later, while one of their sons, Dewey, died in the fire, along with is 18-month-old son Gary. Sarah at this time was in St. John’s Hospital in Springfield, recuperating from her burns).
Since this was the first to Ava since getting married, it was Mary’s first opportunity to meet CC and Lydia. Everyone sat in the living room of the old shack, with Delmas and Mary seated on the old couch, and as had become their usual style, Lydia and CC were seated side by side in their creaky wooden rocking chairs. Mary noticed they each had large metal coffee cans on the floor next to each of their rocking chairs. Apparently both CC and Lydia had taken a liking to chewing tobacco, and their preference was the old-style twist tobacco. CC would take a package with the thick slab of tobacco out of his pocket along with his pocket knife, open up the knife and cut off a chunk for Lydia, pass it over to her, then cut a chunk for himself. Then he would close up the pocket knife and slip it back in his pants pocket, the close up the package of tobacco, and slip it back in his pocket as well. He then would return to rocking, as he and Lydia were content to chew the wad in their mouths, occasionally leaning over to spit in their respective cans.
As a sidebar, it is worth noting that while they both thought nothing of chewing tobacco, apparently Lydia had an aversion to seeing anyone smoking a cigarette. Once Elda June, one of Sarah’s daughters, got into quite the tiff with Lydia over cigarette smoking, when Lydia decided to tear into June over the cigarette in her hand.
“That’s sinful! How can you dare to smoke that cigarette like that! You should be ashamed of yourself! That’s sinful!” growled Lydia at June.
June was a beautiful, feisty young woman, and she wasn’t about to take such an attack from Lydia without having her say. June snapped back, “Well what in the hell would you rather me do? Chew that damned old nasty chewing tobaccer?!”
Allegedly, Lydia just turned away and did not say another word about June’s smoking, which tickled the other family members in the room who witnessed the exchange.
Back to Delmas and Mary’s visit, apparently Lydia was not pleased at this first meeting. She gave Mary some evil looks, grunted and snorted under her breath, “I don’t like this woman comin’ and takin’ away my boy!”
Delmas heard this, and replied, “Grandma, we’ve gotten married and we are expecting our first young’un,” to which Lydia grunted in disgust.
Finally CC had listened to all he was going to. He turned to Lydia and scolded her, snapping his finger and pointing towards Mary.
“You leave her alone! She’s alright! She’s got a blue dress on!”
Apparently CC liked Mary’s blue dress, so in his book, she was ok. After CC’s scolding, Lydia decided to quiet down a bit.
Both CC and Lydia died in 1962, within less than a month of each other. CC died November 12, while Lydia passed away on December 6. About a year before their deaths, Delmas and Mary were again at the old farmhouse visiting the Seals. Lydia’s frustration had long since passed, and she and Mary had developed a nice relationship. As was a typical tradition back in those days, Lydia decided that she wanted to give Mary something of hers, to remember her by.
“Here, dear,” Lydia said, handing Mary a dark opaque Pyrex casserole dish, “I’d like for you to have this. It’s been one of my favorite dishes, and I want you to have it.”
“Thank you Grandma!” Mary smiled and gave Lydia a kiss on the cheek.
Later, when Delmas and Mary returned home, she began cleaning the old dish. It was greasy and dirty, as Lydia’s version of washing dishes was said to have been just wiping the dish out with an old rag then putting it away. As Mary began cleaning the dish, she discovered something that surprised her: the dish was not a dark opaque glass as it had appeared; it was clear. All those years of cooking and just wiping out the dish had make it look dark, but once Mary got it all cleaned up, it was as clear as a new window.
Delmas and Mary had a good laugh over it. That dish became a treasured piece, and an amusing reminder of a loving last gift.