My mother sent me this wonderful photo of Theodora Colcock Hutson (1882-1975), who was a granddaughter of Congressman William Ferguson Colcock (my great-great-great-grandfather) down a different branch of the family vine. She was my great-grandmother’s first cousin, to say it in another way. The photo was taken in 1899, about a month after Theodora turned 17.
Miss Dolly (as Theodora was called in Low Country social circles) never married, but she held a special role in the hearts of literally generations of children in the family (me included), who knew her as The Big Fairy. I don’t know where that nickname came from or when it started, but I know that it was perfect and fitting. “She was always so sweet, and soft, and smelled delicious,” wrote my mother in the note accompanying the photo.
There was indeed something magical and mystical and otherwordly about her. When I was a young child, the Big Fairy was in her eighties, frail, and living with her niece, Charlotte Hutson Young, on the other side of the only paved road in the Village of McPhersonville from where my grandparents and great-grandparents lived. (Well, sort of my great-grandparents, anyway . . . they were a brother and sister who had raised my grandmother after her mother died in childbirth). The Big Fairy loved the little ones, even in her old age, and visits to the Village generally included a stop in to see her. We would walk down the long sandy driveway of the family property, beneath ancient pine trees, watching out for the wild spawn of the many cactii that my grandmother had planted around the property, cross the main road, and then approach Charlotte’s simple farm house with a sense of weird anticipation. It felt like an event to enter The Big Fairy’s presence, and I can still clearly see and smell the room in Charlotte’s house where she held court and received visitors. You know those little plastic dipping bird toys that bob up and down, appearing to sip water from a glass? The Big Fairy had one, and that was the first time I ever saw one, and I remember sitting with her, happy as a clam and both of us laughing as the little bird bobbed up and down and up and down. She also would ceremoniously share a piece of candy with me, the simplest and sweetest of gifts for a child, offered with love and gravity and meaning.
Her extraordinary generosity actually resulted in a significant piece of South Carolina history being preserved, even as most of the old homes and properties in McPhersonville moldered, fell into disrepair, or were demolished. Read the story of the Colcock-Hutson Law Library, and how The Big Fairy’s amazing gift to the son of her minister made it possible by clicking this link. There’s also another picture of The Big Fairy about halfway down this page about McPhersonville. We made a point of visiting her the last time I was in Low Country, and so it was a particular delight to receive this photo a couple of days ago, a reminder of a sweet woman who spent her life simply being good to others.