Most of you won’t remember Decatur, Alabama in the 1920s or even know of the city today. But it’s in this North Alabama town where a significant part of Red Land Cotton’s story actually began.
See, it was in the 1920s that Mr. and Mrs. Robert and Madeline Gray set up housekeeping in a home on Grant Street in downtown Decatur. Their house was nestled close to Delano Park and Central Methodist Church, where they were members. There, they raised their only child, Wendellyn, or “Winnie” as most people called her.
Mrs. Madeline Gray had exquisite taste and she kept an immaculate home. Attention to detail was the order of every day. In this home, her friends and family knew they were loved and welcome.
This post is about Mrs. Madeline Gray. It was her linens, dating back to the 1920s, that we reverse engineered to create our sheets. We are proud of how one Southern lady’s legacy of love and fine linens lives on today in our products.
Sunday School (How we came to know Madeline Gray)
In 2016, Mark Yeager, our co-founder, and farming aficionado, walked into his Sunday school classroom and mentioned an idea to Daphne Sittason, a sweet family friend. Mark explained that he and his daughter Anna had an idea to create linens from the cotton grown on the family’s farm and they were looking for the old-timey good sheets... "like your grandmother had". (Watch here as Anna tells what inspired their idea.)
Without hesitation, Daphne offered Mark some of the linens she had at her home. Daphne and her husband Bob had (and still use today) many of the sheets from Bob’s grandmother, Madeline Gray.
Halfway Between Nashville and Moulton
Not long after that Sunday school conversation, Anna and her parents met at a Cracker Barrel off I-65 halfway between Nashville, where Anna and her husband live, and Moulton, AL, where the Yeagers’ home and farm are located.
The Yeagers were armed with one of Mrs. Madeline’s sheet that Daphne and Bob had loaned them. They wanted to know Anna’s impression of the linen. Was it this 1920s sheet they wanted to replicate for their fledgling idea of Red Land Cotton?
It didn’t take long for them to decide a resounding yes!
On A Mission
A few days later, Anna and her mom Cassandra headed to Daphne and Bob’s home to search through all of Mrs. Madeline’s linens.
These ladies were on a mission to find inspiration and to find a sheet that they didn’t mind sending away for textile engineers to cut up and analyze. In that process, the sheet must be cut, and many of Mrs. Madeline’s linens, frankly, were just too nice to cut.
Anna and her mother found a treasure trove full of beautiful vintage linens. Hand embroidered monograms on pillowcases, hand tatted lace, and intricate hemstitching were just a few elements they found amongst the sheets and pillowcases tucked away in a box at Daphne and Bob Sittason's house. This was exactly the kind of inspiration they needed to jump-start the creation of their first line of bed sheets!
Mrs. Madeline's Tastes
Many of Mrs. Madeline’s sheets had lace adorning the edges, and hence, why our Madeline Gray sheets sets today have 2 1/4” of cotton lace that extends from the hem of the top sheet and pillowcase. It just seems fitting to place lace on the sheets named for her.
Ms. Madeline was a simple lady with elegant tastes. Simple, because life for her came down to a simple principle — love people well.
While her brother was serving in World War II, Ms. Madeline often invited her sister-in-law and young niece Penny (now Penny Mann of Decatur) to stay with them for a few weeks at a time. They would travel from Nashville to North Alabama and be spoiled by the Grays for a time before heading back. These trips took their minds off the uncertainty of war, and Penny missed her Dad just a little less.
Memories From Madeline's niece, Penny: A Lap Lunch
When Penny got a bit older, her parents would allow her to board the train in Nashville and ride it to Decatur where her aunt and uncle were waiting for her. Penny remembers these summer trips – the wading pool in Delano Park each night and then the short walk to the watermelon stand on 6th Avenue where the Grays made sure she had her fill.
One of Penny’s fondest memories, though, always came on her trips back home to Nashville. Mrs. Madeline would not allow Penny to leave the train depot without a “lap lunch,” the term Mrs. Madeline used for the light lunch she always packed her beloved niece.
The simple lunch she ate - on her lap - as she traveled to Nashville was a reminder to Penny just how much she was loved.
Memories from Madeline's Grandson, Bob: Chewing Tobacco
It’s easy to envision this proper lady, a slip of a woman with her manicured nails and coiffed red hair (Mrs. Madeline went to the beauty shop once a week, like clockwork) buzzing around the kitchen, packing a lunch for Penny.
Yet, she also had a fierce, do-what-has-to-be-done attitude because loving people well means tough love too sometimes. :)
When she learned that her grandson, Bob Sittason, was chewing tobacco at the ripe old age of 10, she set out to fix that! A little talking to just wouldn’t do.
So, she pulled out the ole “your grandfather would be so disappointed if he knew you were chewing tobacco.” Bob’s grandfather, Mrs. Madeline’s husband, had died a few years earlier, and both of them had respected him greatly. She was pulling out all the stops, and Bob knew it.
As most 10-year olds would’ve done with peer pressure from their neighbor friends, Bob continued chewing tobacco…less often and more discreetly, though, and with a much heavier heart.
As Bob matured, he dropped the habit but still remembered that rebuke from his sweet, very determined grandmother.
As he talked one day to a long-time neighbor of Mrs. Madeline’s after she passed, he mentioned that conversation. The neighbor balked and began explaining how Mr. Robert, Bob’s grandfather, had loved tobacco and would go fishing (often!) so he could chew tobacco, away from Mrs. Madeline’s disapproving eyes.
Bob was shocked to hear how his grandfather chewed as well.
And, he was in awe of his little spitfire of a Grandmother and the lengths she went to sway her grandson away from a bad habit. Although she be but little, she be fierce…and determined. That seems to describe Mrs. Madeline well. :)
Remember how we said she was simple, yet elegant? We've tried hard to weave these traits in the bedding we make. Her simple philosophy of loving people well permeated everything she did, and we strive for this too.
We hope you see how much we love serving our customers. We hope it's evident our love of working alongside other American manufacturers. We hope our love of farming is undeniable.
Her elegant taste radiated throughout her Grant Street home...from the Duncan Phyfe dining room set to her Victorian-inspired living room to her lace-adorned sheets. Her tastes were exquisite, and she appreciated well-made things.
That's our goal - to make well-made linens from our cotton that last... that are beautiful, yet durable, and, most importantly, comfortable.
We think Mrs. Madeline Gray would be proud that her heirloom linens inspired all of our simple, yet elegant Red Land Cotton sheets.
A special thank you to Bob and Daphne Sittason and Penny Mann for their time in helping tell about the beloved Madeline Gray.
By: Rachel Eubanks, a girl blessed with a small-town Alabama raising. She grew a deep appreciation for farming as she watched her father, an extension agent, work alongside farmers for over 30 years. She now lives outside of Huntsville, AL.