These are some of the stories my grandmother, Margaret Donley, told me and her other grandchildren. Most of the stories are about her childhood in rural Texas -- mostly Montague County and Wellington -- before and during the Great Depression. Among the people she references often are her parents, her grandparents, and her siblings, Mary Jo, Muriel, Kathleen, Ben, and Snooks. These stories were collected by my mother prior to my grandmother's 95th birthday; they are told in a close approximation of my grandmother's storytelling style.
Read Part 1 and Part 2
"Let Me Call You Sweetheart"
We just moved to Wellington and didn't have a house yet. We were all staying with different relatives -- Aunt Sally, Betty, whoever had room for us. Kathleen and I were staying with Eunice and Sandy Parsons. She was Papa's niece. In the middle of the night, Eunice said she heard me singing "Let Me Call You Sweetheart." She woke Sandy up to listen. She said I sang it all the way through, and it just trailed off at the end. I didn't know anything about it until she told me the next morning.
Muriel and Mary Jo taught school at Wellington. They bought a Model T Ford. Ben was living with them and going to school. He had learned to drive the car. When they came home for the summer, he'd want to go somewhere in the Ford. If he didn't have money for gas, he'd steal one of Mama's chickens and sell it. Mama would see him taking her chicken and laugh and say, "I guess he's out of gas."
In the winter, we'd sometimes have people stop by the house just to get warmed up. They didn't have cars, so they'd sometimes walk or ride a distance out in the cold, so they'd stop in a house of someone they knew so they could get by the fire and get warm before heading back out.
I don't remember her family's name, but Myrtle was one of those people we'd see when her parents stopped to get warm. I was about four or five, and I think Myrtle was maybe eight years old. I never knew very much about her.
She and her family stopped one night to sit by the stove for a spell. Myrtle got real close to the stove, closer than must've been comfortable. I was sitting nearby watching her, and she stayed there for a long time, and her face just got redder and redder.
At the time, I was sucking my thumb all the time. I took my thumb out of my mouth at one point and said, "Are you getting hot, Myrtle?"
"Yes," she said.
"Move back, Myrtle." And I stuck my thumb back in my mouth.
The Kid from the Poor Farm
One day, my grandfather went out to the Poor Farm to find some day hands for some work, and Papa, who was probably six years old, went with him. While he was there, a boy, about 11 or 12 years old, stayed real close by. My grandfather said, "Son, do you want to come home with me to stay with our family?" And the boy said yes, he reckoned he did. And he stayed with them until he was about grown up.
We didn't find out about this until much later. When I was a girl, a man and his daughter came up the road in their car. They'd been traveling. They came to the door, and Papa called us around and said, "I want you to meet your uncle." They told us the story, and the man and his daughter stayed with us for a few days before they moved on. They'd come see us occasionally. We moved to Wellington only a few years after that.
(My mother doesn't remember the name of Papa's foster brother, and my grandmother isn't alive any more to tell us.)
One more, from me, not my grandmother:
My grandmother was always a great laugher, as you may suspect from these stories. She loved funny stories and jokes and just sitting around cutting up with family and friends, and especially with grandkids and great-grandkids. These are two of the times I remember her laughing the hardest.
First was when I told her my most successful joke ever. I learned it in a more generic format, but adapted it to star my grandmother and two of her sisters. It went something like this:
"Once upon a time, Mom, Muriel, and Kathleen went for a drive in the country. As they drove into a new town, Mom asked, 'Is this Wembley?' Kathleen said, 'No, today's Thursday." Muriel said, "Me, too, let's stop and get a Coke!' "
This made my grandmother giggle like it was the funniest thing she'd heard, and I don't really know why.
Second was when she drove my sister and me to Brownfield to visit her brother and sister-in-law. After our visit, she took us to Dairy Queen for a Blizzard. At the time, the Blizzard was fairly new -- my sister and I had eaten them, but my grandmother never had, and she wasn't really sure what to expect. What she got was a cup of ice cream that was much larger than she'd been expecting.
It tasted good, and we were having fun together -- but the sheer size of the thing made her laugh at how much ice cream she was going to be eating. And this made my sister and me laugh, which also got her to laughing harder.
As this was going on, we were being glared at by a bunch of dour grumps who were mightily offended by all this unseemly laughter in their Dairy Queen. And that made my grandmother laugh harder.
I think it was the best Blizzard I ever ate, just because my grandmother enjoyed it so much.