Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Mama Pattie and Daddy Joe

I am probably the only person alive today who remembers my father’s parents.  I called them “Mama Pattie” and “Daddy Joe.”

Daddy Joe was born in 1861; he said, “That’s the year the war begun.”   Mama Pattie was three years older.  They met in the Kentucky community where his family lived when she came there to teach school.  His younger siblings, Hugh and Mary, were among her pupils.  The whole family, including Daddy Joe’s parents, came to Texas around 1900.  Most of the men worked for the railroad, but Daddy Joe moved to Comanche County, Texas, where he became a rural mail carrier.  He started delivering mail in a buggy.  I’ve seen pictures of his mules.  What I remember his little model “T” Ford.

My earliest memories are going with my father to visit them, traveling on the wretched two-lane highways of Texas in the 1930's.  The rough pavement always punctured a tire, and Daddy got out of the Hudson, took off his suit coat, and rolled up his shirt sleeves to jack the car, take off the flat tire, and put on the spare.  It had an rubber inner tube, which had to be filled with air, Daddy’s arms struggling with heaving a bicycle pump.

We went through a series of little towns: Burleson, Cisco, Stephenville.   At Comanche we turned off onto an even smaller road, unpaved and dusty.  When the road wound between two little hills called “Round Mountain” and “Long Mountain” we were coming close to Sydney, the place where my father grew up.  The “town” consisted of four houses, two stores, a tiny post office (no bigger than my bathroom), a school, and three churches – Baptist, “Campellite”, and Methodist.  

Sometimes we arrived after dark, and I was carried in to be put to bed in a cold, dark room.  Daddy went across the hall to the where my grandparents waited, a room with a fireplace, and I was left alone, under a down comforter but still cold and miserable in the dark. 

My grandparents’ home was a typical small frame Texas farm house: a front porch, a center hall with one big room on each side, and behind the left hand room, a kitchen.  Three rooms, that was all.  There was no plumbing, no water faucets, no electric light.  At nightfall my grandmother lit the kerosene lamp.  Only one room had heat: from a fireplace faced with rough stone.  One Christmas Santa Claus came down that chimney and brought me a delicate blue china tea set.  My daughter still has the teapot and three cups and saucers at her home in Naperville, Illinois.  

When I was three years old my grandparents moved to Brownwood into a four-room house with a bathtub and a toilet.  It also had electricity for lights and to run a fan to stir the air on hot summer days.  But no fireplace.

Daddy Joe always grabbed me and kissed me.  I did not like that.  His bushy white mustache scratched my lips.  He stood straight as a soldier on parade.  My mother told me he had attended Kentucky Military School as a young man.  To me he seemed very tall.  Actually, he was probably no more than 5 foot 6 or 7 inches, but he was a head taller than my grandmother.

My Mother told me that my grandparents were always arguing with each other.  They disputed everything, but mostly they argued about religion.  They quoted various Bible passages, never agreeing on the interpretation of any passage of scripture.   My brother Don and I do the same thing.  It must be a family characteristic.  I do not remember the arguments.  All I remember is the love between these two old people.  

Mama Pattie and Daddy Joe were married for more than 50 years.  She died in January 1937, after a failed operation for kidney stones.  I was not yet eight years old.  Daddy Joe could not live without her.  He threw off the covers on freezing winter nights and managed to catch pneumonia.  Two months later he, too, was dead.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

My Other Grandmother

“Nonna”, my mother’s mother, was a constant presence in my life until I married.  Nonna was only 43 when I was born.  Mother spent every day with her mother. Nonna was still a vigorous 66 when I married and moved to Illinois.  My children knew their great-grandmother as well as they knew my mother.

As a small child, I had another grandmother.  My father’s mother, whom I called “Mama Pattie”, was 71 years old when I was born. 

I remember “Mama Pattie” as a little woman with gray hair pulled back in a tight little bun at the nape of her neck.  She always wore long, black dresses, an archetype of an old Victorian lady.  Her shoes were black patent leather with a single strap across the instep, just like the “Mary Janes” my daughter Martha wore when she ten years old.  When Mama Pattie and my grandfather listened to the radio, she sat in her rocking chair and patted those “Mary Janes” in time to the music.   

My father went to see his parents one weekend every month, a perilous drive on wretched roads from Fort Worth to their home in Comanche County.  I often went with him.

Only once I remember Daddy’s parents coming to Fort Worth.  A mouse was caught in a trap by his tail.  My little grandmother picked up the trap, and I followed as she carried it, mouse wiggling as he dangled, out into the backyard.  As a five-year-old, I watched fascinated, as Mama Pattie placed the mouse on a log, picked up a brick, and smashed down on the poor little creature.  My little old lady grandmother was a formidable woman, not to be trifled with.   

Recently I cleaned out the closet in my second bedroom.  I found a box I had not opened since I moved to Texas in 2006.  Most of it was junk, which I threw away.  One thing I kept was an old letter, the fragile paper faded to brown, the ink barely legible.  When my son David saw it, he said, “What beautiful handwriting.”  This is what the letter said:

                “Thursday – 14 – 1935
        Dear Little Granddaughter,
            Enclosed find $1 for
        your birthday.  Decided Mother
        would be more able to get what
        you need or what pleases you
        better than I would or could.
                Yours for a Happy
                Birthday - Mama Pattie”

Less than two years later, Mama Pattie died.  I was seven.  I am probably the only person alive today who still remembers her.  

As I held her letter, I marveled that I held something written by the hand of this grandmother born in 1859.  I took it to the safety deposit box.  Will my grandchildren treasure it the way I do?

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


At the retirement home where I live, some people see their grandchildren every week.  David’s granddaughter comes every Sunday and takes him to church.  I envied Nell, whose delightful small granddaughter and grandson came bounding into the dining room and ran to give her hugs and kisses. 

My daughter Martha lives in the Chicago area.  She and her husband, Don, have three sons.  The boys barely know me.  I have always lived 1,000 miles away.  I have not visited them since I went on dialysis four years ago.

I still think of them as little boys.  As children I took each of them on Elderhostels where I spent a week with one of the boys.  Doug went with me to the Art Institute of Chicago and to Washington, DC.  Richard and I spent our weeks in New Mexico, first time with the Navajo Indians, the second in Roswell, where he built a rocket.  Joe stayed in Illinois; we studied Abraham Lincoln and went to the new museum in Springfield. 

Going away with one boy without his parents or siblings was a great way to get to know a child, but it does not compare with seeing grandchildren every week.   

Now the boys are men, all over 6 feet tall.  Doug has come to see me several times.  He is a charming, outgoing kid.  The first time he came, we had a luau beside the swimming pool.  Doug put on a grass skirt and got up and danced the hula, winning the hearts of all the old women at this retirement home.

Doug and Richard both came to see me this year.  Richard has a different personality.  He is very shy, but he cooperated with everything Grandma suggested.  He let me take him to see “Gone With the Wind” which he had never seen before.  He made no comments afterwards.  At home in Illinois he plays the cello in several orchestras. 

Doug drove me to Fort Worth to see the exhibits at the Kimball and Carter art museums.  I was delighted to see he continued the same enthusiasm for art that he did when he was 12 years old.)   Richard’s choice was also a drive to Fort Worth, but instead of going to the city’s famous museums, Richard wanted to hear a concert of classical music.  Their visits were brief, but at least I know a little about these two, very different grandsons – and as adults they got to know me. 

I have not seen Joe since he was twelve years old.