This morning my Grandmama passed away peacefully. Like so many of her generation, my Grandmama was inspirationally pragmatic. She was also gentle, caring, and had such a heart for her family and her country.
She taught me how to wrap presents (and let me use that $$$ fundraising wrapping paper that we all sold her!) and use cigar tobacco to take the hurt out of a wasp sting. During the summer, I'd go with her to church in the morning and play with her Ouija board in the afternoon. She helped me build a greater love for non-domesticated animals and Breyer's vanilla bean ice cream.
I'll be lucky to live up to her legacy, but a better person for trying.
Almost exactly nine years ago, I put together a series of questions for family members (I know that I posted some of these on Memorial Day way back in 2010), and my Grandmama was gracious to respond. Here’s a short autobiography:
March 29, 2010
At last I am mailing my sheets you sent a month ago and I apologize for having so long. Also, Guy is still looking at his copy and still thinking about how to answer the questions. He doesn’t have the dexterity in his fingers anymore since he doesn’t write except his name to endorse a check – Don’t give up – maybe he can dictate the answers to me later.
We enjoyed our company last week. Ed and Candi do have lots of fun with their children and they livened up our house. Susan and Patti plus Hannah and Megan plus Alan for several times made a busy four days.
After reading my answers to your questions, it dawned on me that no mention was made by me about military service. Daddy was in the Navy during WWI – went overseas to Europe – and remarked that returning home on the Leviathan, cooks ran out of food and all they had those last few days home was cheese! He said it took him a while to desire anymore of the stuff – My brother Jimmy was with 5th Marines and received a Purple Heart for wounds received when they landed on Okinawa on Easter Sunday. Claude served during the Korean War in the Navy.
Guy was in the 3rd Army Headquarters with Patton across France into Germany – has 5 battle stars. My service in the WAVES was a highlight in my life, too. I was not in harm’s way like the men were but we did release the sailors to sea duty – My brother Karl was in the Coast Guard and served in Gulf of Mexico and he told of submarines they destroyed. Not much was ever told on the news about that. The islands of Puerto Rico, etc., were where that happened.
Also, I never mentioned the fact that Mother was a pianist or organist in every church our family joined during my time at home. And – Daddy had a beautiful baritone voice. He sang on WFIW Hopkinsville radio in the early years. That song “My Blue Heaven” he would sing and change the words to say “Just Susie and me and our babies three” – He sang “O Holy Night” and “The Holy City” on specials at church and I remember being so proud of him.
There are more ramblings so better close and send this much on to you –
Know you had fun in Texas last week.
What is your earliest memory?
After much thought, my earliest memory is when I was three and a half or four years old. Mother’s dad, my “Granddaddy James” would come visit us in Hopkinsville and would always give Karl and me a whole pack of Juicy-Fruit gum. He was a very nice gentleman and wish often that we could have spent more time with him. We moved to Paducah when I was five and he died when I was in the second grade.
Did you like to play inside or outside when you were little?
The answer to this would be both – inside and out. There were always lots of other children in the neighborhood. We played hide-and-seek, dressed up with tea towels for capes and played “Zorro.” Inside we could always have a Rook game. Monopoly came out when I was in the sixth grade and when we had a real flood raining period in Elkton, we played for days at a time.
What favorite memories do you have of the places you’ve lived?
The years we lived in Elkton were only seven but I joined the church there, had my first date, made lasting friends and memories are always happy ones. Here in Auburn, I met Guy and we married in the Baptist Church here. In Jackson, TN, we had two daughters added to the son who was born in Atlanta, Ga. We owned our first home in Atlanta and enjoyed three years living away from parents and people we had known before. We learned to depend on each other and I believe that was a good thing.
What do you remember about your first day of school, or elementary school in general?
We lived in Paducah in 1930 when I went to Andrew Jackson school. No special memory there. The depression hit Daddy in 1933 when the Acme Mill in Hopkinsville could no longer keep the Paducah mill (where Daddy was manager) open. He was without a job and we had to move back with his parents when I started 4th grade in Hoptown. He works in Bowling Green for about four months so we lived upstairs at 10th & Chestnut and stayed until February when we moved to Elkton. So, during the 4th grade, I was in three schools. We did get to stay there until after my sophomore year. We had moved so much that I did get to know lots of people but it was always hard to leave good friends. I had some good teachers and loved going to school.
What was your favorite hobby when you were little? In high school? In early adulthood? Now?
My hobby when I was little was making doll clothes for my Shirley Temple doll. Mother was good about helping me and even let me use her sewing machine. The sewing carried over as a young adult because I made the girls’ clothes. Scrapbooking began a few years ago and I kept one for Legion Auxiliary for about ten years. Now I need to get started on the ones for Alan, Susan & Patti.
What is a personality trait you think you received from your mother? Your father?
Mother was very positive in her belief that there were plenty of good words to use in conversation without resorting to swear or vulgar ones. Guess that rubbed off on me. Daddy was always on time. He would tell us that you should never wait to the last second to do something and if you have an appointment, get there a few minutes early. I’ve always tried to do that.
What is your favorite meal that your Mama would make?
Mother could always cook vegetables better than anyone. I liked her minute steak, mashed potatoes, green beans and corn. Her cornbread and chocolate pie couldn’t be beat. Daddy usually had a garden and he grew enough to share with us when Guy started working with his dad in 1961 and we lived in Russellville. His squash and tomatoes would take a prize if he had taken them to the fair. So Mother always had some fresh food to cook when Daddy had his garden.
What do you remember about the first time you met Granddaddy?
We moved to Auburn in May of 1941. My best friend in Russellville asked me to take a graduation present to Guy Neal who lived next to them years ago when they lived in Auburn. We moved from Russellville on Friday and went to church on Sunday. There I met the postmaster (Raymond Wilson) along with a lot of others, of course. Monday I walked downtown where Guy lived, saw Bill Gaines sitting on the porch and he told me Guy had gone to the post office. So, Raymond introduced us when I got to the P.O. and that’s how we met.
What is a memory from buying your first house?
The first house we ever owned was in Atlanta. Guy’s parents decided we needed a house and not just a three-room apartment and gave us the down payment on a nice home with a nice backyard and good neighborhood on Deckner Avenue. Alan was born on December 6 and we moved two weeks later. A grocery truck offered to help us move and Guy’s Aunt Evelyn worked so hard getting us moved. Back then, a new mother didn’t do much of anything for a month after giving birth so all I could do was watch – Lucky me!
What is something Uncle Alan/Mama/Aunt Patti used to do when they were little that would make you laugh? (Even if they didn’t know it was so funny…)
Alan always said his prayers at night when I “tucked” him into bed. One night I heard him say “oh, no, God, erase that.” Guess he decided that petition wasn’t what he should say!
Susan and Patti used to enjoy dressing up in grown-up clothes and use make-up, especially lipstick. They could really put on a show. The girls used to rub no-tears shampoo in their hair and make lots of lather and design new hairstyles with their hair – that made me laugh _
What is your favorite place you’ve visited?
Guy and I have always been fans of the Dallas Cowboys so when we finally made our trip out West, we made sure we went to the stadium. It was off-season so we were able to tour the whole place. The new arena is possibly a much bigger and better one buy I’ll never forget our trip through the old one.
If you could visit any new place in the world, where would you go?
I really don’t ever expect to go but it would be nice to see Great Britain and Europe. They have shown so many movies and had TV specials about the different countries that I feel like I’ve been to some of them.
What was your first job?
My first job was parts manager for Coke Chevrolet Company here in Auburn. Remember, the war was on and all the men were in the service so although I didn’t know anything about a car – couldn’t even drive one – Mr. Coke agreed to hire me. The mechanics were so nice and knew what they wanted and where it was. All I needed to do was check it out to them. From 11am until 12 noon I had to stay at the gas station while Hardin Ayers went to lunch. Back then gas was rationed (A, B, C stickers depending on if car was for business, etc.). I didn’t have any trouble putting in the gas but don’t remember checking oil or water.
What are some memorable Christmases?
There were so many – those when we had Santa at home and then drove to Hopkinsville to spend the day at the grandparents’ home. With so many aunts and uncles and cousins, we got lots of presents.
Then when we had the fun of being Santa was great. So much excitement going on and we had to get up at dawn.
Here in Auburn, I remember that year we had everyone coming here and the temp was 22 degrees below zero. That was the year Ed got the little black puppy for Lil Ed and it was so cold, the dog couldn’t go outside longer than a second!
How did you get along with your parents? Siblings? Aunts, uncles, cousins?
I don’t remember not getting along with Mother and Daddy. My older brother Karl and Jimmy liked to tease me and make a “frog” on my arm. I’d chase them a while – never did catch them. Other relatives were always good to be around. Aunt Louise would give me movies money when I spent a week each summer with them in Hoptown. Aunt Ethel lived there, too, and she would have me come and spend the night during that week. Her daughter Jane was older and she passed her outgrown dresses on to me.
Betty and Claude came along when I was the right age to baby-sit so that is my memory of them. I can’t remember them giving me any trouble.
What are some of your favorite family vacation memories from your childhood? When you went on vacation as an adult?
There were no theme parks to visit but we did have parks. One picnic our entire family had stands out as a favorite. We lived in Elkton and just before Karl left to join the Coast Guard, Mother packed a lunch and we drove out where Spring Acres pool was built much later. It was near the spring and we had such a great time. As an adult, I really enjoyed the time Susan, you, and Ed, Patti, and Hannah went with us to Hilton Head. Guy and I later took the fall trip to New England and later, still, out West.
What personality traits do you think you’ve passed on/hope you’ve passed on to your children/descendants?
I consulted Alan about this question. His answer was that I taught him to be calm as possible when he was angry or upset about something – not rant and rave but be cool about it. I hadn’t realized that trait had made such an impression.
When the children were youngsters, I would read Bible stories and listen to their prayers but realized that church attendance and participation in youth activities would further their desires to lead good Christian lives. Therefore, we went to church and did take part.
Also, I have always loved the U.S. and have tried to show that patriotism by voting every time the polls open and showing interest in politics. We live in a great country and I believe our children are aware of that.
Lastly, family is important and I believe our children and grandchildren know we would always stand with them in any way we can.
What is your favorite season? Why?
My favorite season is the fall. After a long hot summer, those first cool days are so welcome. Also, I like to watch football.
What is your favorite book?
My favorite has always been “Gone With the Wind.” I was in high school when I read it. As a teenager I read the Nancy Drew books and the Bobsey Twins books. The Library in Elkton had so many good books for youngsters. With no TV to watch and the radio had nothing special at nigh that interested me, I had lots of time for reading.
What is your favorite song? What were your favorite songs growing up and what memories do they bring to mind?
I like the 50s music plus the songs made popular during WWII so that should explain why we enjoy Lawrence Welk’s shows today. “As Time Goes By, “ “Deep Purple,” “I’ll Never Smile Again” are some of my favorites. However, I wore out a 45 record of the song from “Moulin Rouge” – “Where is Your Heart.” There’s something about that melody that I’ve always liked. Guy and I called “Star Dust” our song that first year we were married. He gave me a jewelry box with a music box that played it. I still have the box.
What is a unique family activity that you enjoyed/didn’t enjoy growing up?
My dad was one of eight children so when they would get together with their families for holidays, there would be a crowd. Mammy and Pampaw, as we called Daddy’s parents, had a very large dining room but they always fed the men first, women second and children last. That was something I didn’t like. What was great was when there were lots of presents to unwrap at Christmas! I was named for Aunt Louise and she worked at a department store that carried the prettiest dresses. She used to give me for birthdays some nice ones.
What is your funniest memory?
Alan brought three of his football friends home one night when he was in high school. They had bought some cheap blonde hair dye and wanted me to dye their hair. Well, I did and they looked pretty good. The funny part came later when Gerald Gaddis went home and to bed without seeing his mother. Next morning, she went to awake him for school – saw the blonde head – thought someone else was in her son’s bed and went all over the house looking for him! I still laugh when I think about that.
Have you ever had a pen pal, or person you kept in touch with primarily by mail?
Church camps and 4-H camp were good places to meet people and then write to them later. I can’t remember any long-time correspondents.
Also we would meet G.I.s at the U.S.O. and dances at Ft. Campbell who would ask us to write to them.
Is there any “daredevil” thing you wished you could do? Skydiving? Parasailing?
No, that’s something I’d never do. When we flew to the Bahamas I insisted on having a seat on the aisle. I’ve been afraid of heights most of my life. When we visited the Grand Canyon, Guy would walk close to the rim but I was several feet back!
Have you ever had a recurring dream at night?
Yes, I am forever losing something. If it isn’t my purse, it is my keys. It is the greatest feeling to wake up and find it is only a dream because I never find anything in my dream.
What is the first movie you remember seeing in the movie theater?
It was in 1934 at the Capitol Theater in Bowling Green. Mother gave me a dime for my ticket and let my friend Dorothy Snowden and me walk by ourselves to a matinee! We liked Clara Bow and she was in the movie. I can’t remember the title but she played the part of a mother whose baby died. I don’t know whether the big screen made it so real or what but we both began crying so loud that an usher came and escorted us out of the theater. So, we really didn’t get to see the whole movie but that was my first.
Did you have pets growing up?
My brothers always had dogs – mostly hunting dogs and Mother loved cats so we had them, too. However, in Elkton we lived on the edge of town and Daddy raised chickens. He would fill the electric incubator full and it seemed we always had baby chicks around. Well – they became my pets and I would make little caps for them and even name each one I played with. To this day, I can’t eat chicken dishes.