Wednesday, June 29, 2016

How to Share Another's Story

For 20 years now I've wanted to not only share my grandmother's story, but to also do it justice. At long last I finally decided to put it forth, mostly as Nanny wrote it down for me, ( but with a few thoughts of my own here and there. But what is to follow is really only the top layer, there was still so much more she shared, but I know there was so much left unwritten.

So this is where I'll begin her the story of her life.

The photo above was taken of this beautiful lady for her high school graduation in 1934. It's hard to imagine that she would be a mother in a little more than 2 years and settled into a life of normalcy. How she had the fortitude to keep going was up until now, hard for me to understand. But now I see that her will to not let circumstance get in the way of her dreams most likely came from her grandparents who raised her.

On January, 1, 1917, they lost their oldest daughter, (Nellie, my great-grandmother) when Nanny was only an infant. On July 5, of the same year, their 4th born died at the age of 21. In six years they would lose another daughter, Bessie at the age of 28.

Perhaps it was common to lose immediate family members due to illness at that time, but it still had to have been devastating. On top of it all, they found themselves raising their granddaughter. Nanny's dad took the two sons who were older than my grandmother and moved to Tulsa where his parents had moved at an earlier point in time.

From Nanny's account her early childhood was just like most other kids her age. I get the impression her grandmother, whom she called Mama, was a no nonsense lady, but who also provided a loving environment.

"My folks had made the smokehouse into a playhouse for me.  They were always doing something nice for me. I had a lot of dolls.  I had a 2 wheel scooter, tricycle, ukulele, violin.  I also took piano lessons.  At night when we had nothing else to do especially in winter, we played a card game called Flinch.

We raised chickens and ducks.  I had a pet chicken, also a duck.  They would let me carry them around.  Don't remember what I named them. 

I remember one time Mama came to school - maybe I was in 2nd or 3rd grade to tell the teacher to let me use my left hand to write.  She was trying to make me write with my right hand.  One girl that was left handed - teacher did her the same way and she got where she couldn't write with either hand.

Christmas time was very exciting for me.  We would string cranberries and popcorn for decorations for the tree.  We made all our decorations. She would make all kinds of candy.  Sure was good."

Unfortunately it would all come to an end when Nanny's grandfather, Papa, passed away from stomach cancer when she was 11-years-old. Two years after his death, Mama married Mr. Harris. Mr. Harris had lost his wife, and prior to this, both couples were good friends.

Below is the next few years as Nanny wrote it down.

"We moved to the farm where he lived. All we took at the time was some clothes and a few other things. Planning on getting more of our stuff later on. One Sunday night about 3 weeks after their marriage - we were playing cards and Mama had a spell with her gallbladder. He wouldn't let me call the doctor. His daughter was supposed to be taking care of her while I was in school.

Anyway after Mama died (Nov '29) her casket and body was in their parlor. Mama was hardly cold and Mr. Harris was worried for fear I'd have to stay there. Mama's youngest sister, Aunt Mary, said I could live with her for awhile. She wasn't in very good health, besides they'd never had children. I was in a play at church, had to practice quite a bit in late evening. Me being 13, I couldn't just sit down and not go anywhere. 

After Christmas I went to Holt, Michigan to live with my Aunt Chloe Delle and family. They had 3 boys and lived in a little 4 room house. I lived with them and went to school (3rd school for 8th grade for me that year).

After I finished that year my Aunt said I'd have to find somewhere else to live as they just didn't have the room. So one July day I took off for Mason. It was 5 miles from Holt - I walked all the way. 

First house I came to they raised baby chickens. I asked them if they could use help in wintertime. So I had a place to stay and work for my room and board and go to school.  Their last name was Zimmerman. They had 2 girls, older one's name was Mary and the other, Ann. 

To make a long story short. All except the man and myself came down with Scarlet Fever - so I had them to take care of and I couldn't go to school because of what they had. I was out for six weeks. They were afraid I"d come down with it - then they'd have to take care of me - but the Good Lord had other plans for me. I guess, as I didn't take it. Believe it or not, I was able to catch up my school work as I was in the 9th grade.

The next year I found a place closer in to school. Her name was Effie Hawn - an ole maid. Had worked at the Ford place for years. I stayed each school year with her until I graduated. I'd work in the summer time and save my money so I could go to school the next year. Sometimes someone would give me some clothes. In those days we had to buy our books. I always had to buy used ones - that was o.k. I usually got $3 a week and room and board. It was keeping house for folks and taking care of children."

Nanny forged on until she graduated high school.

"...I decided it was time to meet my Dad and Donald (her brother). I was 18 – Had been on my own more or less since I was 13 – so this new adventure was just another path I was taking.

The name of the train was “the Scout”, it was on the Santa Fe. Best I remember it took 2 days and 2 nights to get to Borger, Texas. My, what a desolate country – could see for miles - very few trees. My stepmother, Bessie, and her sister–in-law were at the station to meet me. When I saw her I wondered what I’d gotten into. I was ready to go back to Michigan and would have if I’d had the money. We went to the house – no screens on the windows and no screened doors. I had some real nice clothes when I came out here. Dad came home from work that evening. He looked a little better than Bessie. Then Donald and his wife Billie came that evening – they looked like my kind of people. Was so blue though, felt like I’d made a big mistake."

The main source of jobs in Borger, Texas was from the oil industry, with the first successful oil drill occurring in the early 1920's. This drew a a large contingent of people who were either directly involved in the oil industry, like my grandfather who was an oil truck driver, and of course Nanny's father who had been involved for many years in the up and coming industry. This drove the creation of many other jobs created from oil boom, mainly restaurants, hotels, etc.

For the next several months, through many ups and downs and a handful of moves within Borger, Nanny worked various jobs, mostly cleaning and eventually taking in clothes for washing and ironing

"There was a man that lived in the end apt that needed someone to do his laundry and got the tub and rub board for my pay.  Oh yes I got 2 flat irons also, the kind that you put on the stove to heat. 

Then I found out there was an opening for a maid at the hotel.  So I had it made for a while as I got my room – (which wasn’t much and it was very small, think it had been a storage room) plus salary besides working in the dining room for my 3 meals each day.

That is where I met my “sweetie”.  He ate at the dining room and had a room in the hotel.  He was a truck driver for J. A. Robinson Oil field trucking company.

I didn’t seem to be able to make ends meet so I rented a small 2 room apt upstairs about a block from the hotel.  I went into the laundry business.  Had no electricity, just gas and gas lights and had to carry water from across the hall from the bathroom.    I had plenty of laundry to do as the guys at the hotel were glad for someone to do their clothes.  Some of the worked at the carbon black plant - it was a chore to get their clothes clean, but I did.   Still had my wash tub and rub board and flat irons.  I’d boil the clothes in the tub on the stove – yes, I was still at the dining room and doing maid work at the hotel.  Had to dry the clothes in the apt.  I’d get up at 4:00 and either do washing or the ironing till time to go to work.  Then do whichever needed doing when I’d get home of an afternoon.  Yes I did Pappy’s laundry too.  He brought me  pair of house shoes one time.  Felt sorry for me as I’d get so tired.

Don’t remember how long I worked that way before Pappy asked me to marry him.  (We had gone together for 6 months).  Guess what?  I said yes as I thought he was the greatest guy I’d ever met.

We were married on Thursday night Jan. 30,1936, at the Methodist parsonage.  My boss at the hotel and her husband went with us as our witness.  She let us use her wedding ring as we didn’t have one then.  After our wedding, Tommy and I went to a cafĂ© we were familiar with to eat supper.

Back at the hotel he gave me $5.00 that was half of what he had.  He told me to go to town the next day and buy me a wedding ring.  Believe it or not, I found one for $5.  I had spent my money for a real pretty blue wedding dress.  Nothing fancy.  Could be work anytime – in fact I’d waer it when we’d go to church."

So this was essentially the end of what Nanny shared with me, telling me she just couldn't write any more down. My sense after reading it all was that of sadness. She was in her 50's when she lost Pappy to a heart attack. Not surprising, as he'd long suffered from a poor heart. So with that said, I'll leave you all with these pictures shared by my dad, Tommy (Jr.) and my Aunt Mirtie.

Nanny and Pappy with their first born, and the ultimate pride, the motorcycle, with a sidecar!

Nanny, with her first born sporting an awesome hat, while she's holding her second born. So much pride! I'd love to know more about the other ladies. Did they all stay in Borger, Texas, or move to Amarillo like my family did?

A must have for everyone, the family photo for the church directory. Not sure why Daddy looks so terrified!

And finally, at her 80th birthday party. I once asked her if she dyed her hair and she assured me she did not. My cousin, Pam, who is a hair stylist, confirmed this! We should all be lucky!

We laid her to rest along side her "sweetie" in November, 1999, back in their "hometown" of Amarillo. She was widowed too soon, at only 56 years of age, part of the hazard of marrying a man 14 years older. In the end she amassed so many friends, and those she considered "family", as in her own life there were so many who accepted her as "family". How much I love this lady!!!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Bess Eileen

June 15, 2016, marks the 100th anniversary of this lady's birth.  This lady who my brothers and my cousins called "Nanny", the mother of my father and his sister. This particular picture was taken at her 80th birthday party and has long been one of my favorites.

Even though we'd always had the traditional grandmother/grandchild relationship, as in she freely gave hugs and kisses and laughs, and of course fed us whenever and whatever we wanted, it wasn't until I was in my thirties that I learned of the incredible journey that brought her to Texas.

As far as I knew, seeing as how my life began in Amarillo, as did my parents, my entire family came from the Texas Panhandle. I later found out my paternal grandfather came to Texas from Colorado to work in the oilfields. My maternal grandfather was from Oklahoma, but the rest of us were certainly tried and true Texans, which of course included Nanny, or so I thought, as her brother lived in Texas as well.

Her story unfolded to me when I gave her a call one Saturday afternoon just to chat.

"Hi, Nanny, what are you up to?"

"Watching basketball."

"I didn't know you like basketball.  Who's playing?"

This is where it takes a turn.  The game being played was Michigan State against a Texas team, and come to find out she was cheering for MSU.

"Really, Why?"

"I used to live there, right outside of Lansing."

What?!?!  Not my native-Texan grandmother! I then found out that not only had she lived in Michigan, she was born and spent her early years in Ohio.

At this point I realized there was much I didn't know about her. I don't think that's too uncommon given the generations and the typical roles that are played, but now I wanted to know more, so I asked her to write about her life growing up.

I wasn't prepared for the incredible trials Nanny had faced growing up. From my perspective, there wasn't one single indication of her hardships.  She was always quick to laugh and quick to love. From what I recall she used to work in a hospital-like setting while in Amarillo, but not in a medical capacity. Instead, she cleaned the floors, doing what she'd done for years, whatever it took to make ends meet.

For now, I'll leave you all with her opening paragraphs.

"Sunday, June 15, 1916 at 6 am on a farm in Henry Township, Wood Co. Ohio, a baby girl was born to Roy and Nellie McCrory.  I was the 3rd child born to this union.

Donald Herbert, age 4 and Forrest Elroy, age 2 were my brothers.  Dr. Spitler, with the help of Mrs. Givens, delivered me.  Mrs. Givens had been helping my mother for quite a while as she was ill with T.B.

This Sunday was the day of the Foltz reunion.  (Don't know who made the announcement about "me".)  Oh, by the way, I was named "Bess" after one of Mother's sisters.  "Eileen" was from a piece of sheet music called EILEEN.  It was an Irish song.  I had the sheet music for years.  There was a picture of a very pretty girl on the cover.  The name Eileen was printed in white letters on a green background.  Wish  I still had the music

Mother died Jan 1, 1917.  That was 3 days after her 26th birthday.  I don't know how soon after her death that her mother and father took me to raise as Dad and the 2 boys moved to Tulsa OK to live near his parents." be continued!