When most of us old codgers think about our childhood, we always manage to remember the good rather than the bad, but even the bad, we’ll often view through tinted glasses.
I was lucky to have been part of two wonderful families, families vastly different from each other in some respects, yet bound by the common chains of hard work, frugal spending, and boundless love.
Dad’s families lived in town. Mom’s on the farm.
And even back in the thirties and forties, there was a world of difference between the two cultures.
Mom had four brothers and three sisters. She was next to the youngest of the girls. The youngest was Mae. Of the four brothers, Troy was the youngest.
Two weeks ago at ninety-four, Mae passed away, joining Mama and Papa Holley and all her siblings, except one, Troy, who lives in Nevada.
Remembering her seldom dull ninety-four years, it is sort of apropos that she left us on July 4. She went out with a bang, just the way she lived her life.
She was a beautiful girl and striking woman. Of all the girls, she was the one most likely to pull against the traces, to live life as she chose.
Back in the twenties and thirties, farm girls had to be tomboys, but Mae was even more of a Tomboy than the other girls. She could give as much as her brothers could hand out, then throw it back at them harder than they could take.
Once sitting out on the patio on a warm summer night in Fort Worth, Dad recollected helping the family harvest a patch of cotton. They had an old goat running loose, wandering the cotton field, chewing on the leaves. Kids being kids, none like pulling cotton, so Mae, looking for some distraction to perk up the boredom of their sweaty work, discovered that if she hit the goat with a green cotton boll, the goat would scamper over to Papa Holley and jump up on his cotton sack.
Papa, according to Dad, would curse and scream at the goat, which promptly bounded away. Despite Papa’s raving, no one would admit throwing the boll. But, every time the goat came within Mae’s range, she popped the animal with another boll.
Now Mae was in her teens, so when Papa finally figured out the culprit, he couldn’t whip her. She was too big, but after that out in the cotton field, he always kept one eye on the row, one eye on the goat, and the other eye on Mae.
I remember once when I was small. I’m guessing around five. We lived in Wheeler, and Mama and Papa Holley were out around Littlefield, north of Lubbock. Mae was visiting us, and she and Mom got it into their heads to visit their folks with me in tow.
Now, that in itself wasn’t unusual, but the fact they decided to hitchhike was unusual. And we did, over two hundred miles. As I remember, they dressed me in a sailor suit. What driver or his wife could refuse a five-year-old in a sailor suit with his thumb out?
We made it without a problem.
She was always adventuresome, and more than once out on the farm, she’d get into rock fights with my cousin, Ed, and me. She won most of the time. She didn’t hurl a rock like most girls. She whipped her arm over her head and twisted that wrist just as she released the rock. She was a darn good rock chunker.
She married a construction boss. The company for which he worked built dams, so they traveled a great deal, taking with them their children. Not one to whine, Mae was one of those women who adapted and adjusted to whatever the circumstances. And in those years of traveling around the country, pulling their trailer house behind them, Mae always was bright and cheerful—at least as bright and cheerful as possible with a handful of kids around.
She was one of the most positive people I’ve ever known.
When we lose a loved one, all of us reflect on what has been, and we all feel the pain of knowing that what once was so vital in our lives is almost gone. With Mae’s passing, only one brother remains, and then it’ll be like an era has ended.
It hasn’t, and I know that. Their blood still flows in many veins. I guess what really bothers me is they, as countless families in the past, will soon be forgotten.
Two generations from now, who will remember the little things like Mae being a great rock chunker, or that she and Mom hitched over two hundred miles with a five-year-old?
Small things, but it is the small things that define us, that most of us cherish.