MYRTIS LEE HEARD JACKSON – HER FAMILY AND LIFE
(I wrote this in the summer of 2012, and never finished it. I found it, and decided to publish it even though it is not yet complete.)
|Myrtis Lee Heard while in Graduate School at LSU|
OBJECTIVES-- Myrtis Lee Heard Jackson was born on Aug. 8. 1912 and died on April 11, 1995, having lived almost 83 years. The 100th Anniversary of her birth will occur this month. This approaching “birthday” and other recent events have left me reminiscing and missing her so much. More than anything I wish I had “known,” really “known” my mother. I can recite the events and important dates of her life; I can recount my memories of things she did and said; but I am uncertain as to how much these allow me to actually understand who she was. In writing this Blog, I hope to accomplish two things:
1. To bring together what I know of Myrtis Lee -- to explore, organize, synthesize, summarize, analyze, and maybe, just maybe gain more insight.
2. TO ASK YOU – my readers to share your thoughts and experiences in order to expand and explore the mosaic that was Myrtis Lee’s life. To this purpose, I invite your responses and comments. PLEASE CONTRIBUTE.
THIRD GOAL -- We may or may not achieve these two ambitious goals, but in our efforts, I am fairly certain we can achieve a third and equally important objective – to leave some stories and impressions for Myrtis Lee’s great grandchildren – Veronica, Patrick, Carlos, Sarah, Alex, and Brody. Myrtis Lee lived to hold the two oldest, but only Veronica has any memory of her. Kyle and Roni Jackson were expecting Alex while Myrtis Lee lay dying, and she taped a picture of the expectant couple exactly where her eyes rested as she lay in the most comfortable position afforded her. I found the photo after her death, and knew it was the image impressed on her heart at the end. On one character attribute there can be no doubt – Myrtis Lee loved her family; the family she grew up in and the family she created with Wilmer “Jack” Jackson, Sr. The second attribute which cannot be denied, was her love of teaching of the children she taught.
TO THE READERS -- To begin at the end, I remember that on April 12, 1995, as my mother lay in the funeral parlor in Logansport, a steady stream of people passed through. Most had a story they wanted to share -- a story about my mother, and what she meant to them. When I went to bed that evening, I knew that I would be burying someone I had never really known. She was my beloved Mother, and that was the way I knew her. All these other people knew other aspects of her; other facets of the total person. They had offered me new insights, new knowledge of the complex person I had called Mother for 62 years. I am hoping that some of those who shared their stories on that occasion and others who have not shared their stories, will take this opportunity to share stories about Myrtis Lee. DO IT NOW. Just go the end and add your story. Even if you decide not to dig through all that I have written, please write your entry. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR CARING AND SHARING.
If you are like most people, you have had the experience of sharing deeply with some stranger http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consequential_strangers; http://faculty.kent.edu/ehollen2/reappointment/CPHollenbaughEverett2011_anonymity . Sometimes these encounters happen on a plane or train, at a conference, on a vacation, on the internet, or on a Blog. In a disconnection from ordinary, daily life, two strangers engage in a conversation in which they reveal their deepest fears, hopes, desires, disappointments, joys. With a stranger, whom we don’t know and will probably never meet again, there is a sense of “safety” a freedom to reveal what we normally keep hidden. Is it possible for us to engage in such revelation with someone with whom we have a long and intimate relationship; or do the very demands of that relationship preclude openness and self-revelation? Can we ever really know those who are most close and dear to us? Most of us want those we love to see only the best in us. Most of us want to know only the best about those we love, and are often deaf, and blind to their failings. We all participate in conspiracies that restrict and define how well and how deeply we actually know those we love. I guess I am asking whether a Mother can (or should) know her daughter; and whether a daughter can ever really know her Mother. Are we doomed to have less appreciation and understanding for those we love most? I know that I would give anything to engage today in a deep and personally meaningful conversation with my mother; but I also know that I would be deeply frightened about engaging in such a conversation with one of my daughters. Can we transcend this paradox, and achieve greater empathy and understanding of those we love. This is an eternal question in human existence. It won’t be answered, but it can be addressed.
|Myrtis Lee Heard as an Undergraduate at Louisiana Tech|
LIFE AND TIMES --
My Mother, Myrtis Lee Heard Jackson was the 8th of 13 children born to James Addison Heard and Clora Frances Nolen Heard. Her Father was a graduate of the first Louisiana Normal College in Lake Charles and taught until he couldn’t support his growing family on a teacher’s pay. He then became a surveyor and timber buyer for the sawmills that cut the long leaf pines of southwestern Louisiana. Her mother raised the children and ran the farm outside of Pitkin, LA.
|James Addison Heard|
Her paternal Grandparents, John Thomas Heard and Sarah Adeline Lindsey Heard were early pioneers and residents of Dry Creek; while her maternal Grandparents Merida Tilus “Til” Nolen and Maria Theresa Jones Nolen grew up in Surgartown, and moved to Pitkin after their marriage. Til Nolen grew up in poverty after his father was murdered by a group of “home guard” during the Civil War. However, Til achieved prosperity and owned a large farm and the Pitkin Mercantile (hardware and dry goods) Store in Pitkin. After his marriage to Clora Nolen, James Addison Heard homesteaded a farm adjacent to his father-in-law’s property, and built a home for his family. This farm is owned and maintained until this day by their descendants.
It is a challenge for us today to comprehend the dynamics of growing up in a large family in rural Southwest Louisiana during the early decades of the 20th Century. Just consider: Myrtis Lee’s oldest brother was born in the 19th Century and two of her siblings lived into the second decade of the 21st Century. Collectively, James Addison Heard and Clora Nolen Heard have over 100 descendants spread over six living generations.
I confess that the complex dynamics of sibling relationships has fascinated me since I began to realize that my Heard Aunts and Uncles had patterns of differing relationships. Some of my cousins and I have discussed this topic and can identify two distinct patterns among the 12 Heard siblings: First, there are the “Playmate” groups (those siblings who were close in age, and played and grew up together); and Second, there are the sibling parent/baby pairs (in which an older sibling assumed a parental role in the rearing of a younger sibling).
The Oldest playmate group consisted of T. P., France, Addie, Glenn and Rufus. Rufus was the swing man in this group, belonging both the oldest playmate group and to the Middle playmate group, which consisted of Burkett, Simmie, Myrtis Lee, and Vera. The Younger playmate group consisted of Meredith, Alton, and Lindsey. Interestingly, this “younger” playmate group was supplemented by the oldest grandchildren, Hewell and Jerry, who spent the summers and holidays with their Uncles on the farm. Hewell was the same age as Lindsey, and Jerry was only two years younger.
Myrtis Lee’s two oldest brothers fought in the 1st World War. The eldest, Thomas P. “Red or Skipper” Heard returned and entered LSU, where he came to the attention of a number of influential people, including Huey Long. He worked as the first trainer for the LSU Tiger football team, and after receiving his bachelor’s degree, he managed the business of the LSU sports (http://communicatinglife2.blogspot.com/2011/06/thomas-pinkney-heard-pink-red-tp.html). Huey, later made him the first Athletic Director at LSU. Her second brother, Frances Hewell “France” married and settled in Ruston, LA. to raise his family. Her oldest sister (10 years her senior), Adeline Theresa “Addie” became a teacher and taught in schools near the family home in Pitkin. Addie was Myrtis Lee’s teacher and basketball coach in high school.
Addie taught during the school year, and went to school in the summer, advancing from a high school degree, to a two- year Normal teaching degree, to a full Bachelor’s degree. These were the depression years, and Addie was fired from one teaching position because she was a single woman, and a man (with lesser qualifications) needed her job to support his family. Addie was an outstanding basketball coach, and coached a state championship girls’ team in 1923. Addie taught almost every grade at some time, but eventually decided she preferred first graders. After many years of teaching, she attained a master’s degree. She taught in Louisiana and Texas schools for almost 50 years.
For a woman who wasn’t allowed to vote until she was 38, Clora Frances Nolen Heard had an interesting gender philosophy. Clora said she hoped her sons would seek an education; but that she would see that her daughters finished college. She held that men could do quite well in the world without advanced education, but that a woman’s best hope for a good life was education. Clora fulfilled her pledge -- all three of her daughters finished college, and two went on to complete graduate degrees.
Clora Frances Nolen was a woman who looked life straight in the eye and never flinched. She was barely 5 feet tall with flaming red hair, and ran the Heard farm, primarily with labor birthed from her own body. When anyone in the community was ill, Clora was called in to provide care. She was also the local midwife. Clora knew a great deal about quarantine, transmission, and prevention of diseases. When Myrtis Lee contacted typhoid, Clora identified the bad well and closed it. She isolated Myrtis Lee, and sterilized everything the infected child touched. None of the other children contacted the disease.
Clora was also the one called in to tend to the dying and the dead. She closed many eyes, and washed and clothed bodies for burial. She never considered these services to be less than natural. Clora had only distain for those who avoided or denied the unpleasant aspects of life. If you said something foolish or downright stupid, she would look at you with a mixture of pity and scorn and say, “Aw pshaw.” You did not want to speak nonsense, lies, nor bull-shit to Maw Maw Heard.
Clora Heard practiced an amazingly effective form of disease prevention for her children and grandchildren. She maintained a cabinet of the most vile smelling and tasting medicines known to man. Most were either laxatives and purgatives or antidiarrheals. They ranged from castor oil, milk of magnesia, and versions of senokot to kaopectate. She also had a supply of equally vile cough and fever remedies. If a child (or grandchild) had a minor complaint, out came the medicines. Grandmother Heard felt that a laxative/purgative was appropriate for everything except diarrhea. As she put it, everyone needs a good “cleaning out” from time to time. Needless to say, the children in Grandmother Heard’s care quickly learned not to have any minor illnesses. We did not complain unless we were near death or in great pain. In those cases, Grandmother Heard’s response was quite different. The sufferer received both sympathy and tender care. Her most frequent medicines for pain were paregoric or a hot toddy made with good Irish whiskey. I still remember my Grandmother’s tender and effective care for my earaches and menstrual cramps. Till this day, the smell of a hot toddy brings her image, and feelings of warmth and security.
While Myrtis Lee was still in school, and Addie was teaching, the Heard home burned, and the family lost most of their belongings, including furniture and clothing. James Addison Heard received burns on his face and torso while trying to rescue valuables from the burning home. Myrtis Lee said that the children left home for school in the morning, and returned to a burned out shell in the afternoon. It was a tragic, and unforgettable event for the family. They built a smaller home (since several of the children were now grown), across the field from the burned home. This second house still stands on the Heard Farm outside Pitkin, La. Bricks from the original home were used in the construction of the fireplace in the newer home. Some of these bricks are in the hearth of the fireplace in our house in Joaquin.
Initially, Myrtis Lee did not want to teach. She opted for the only other profession open to women of that era – nursing. Her grandmother, Maria Theresa Jones Nolen, held an old fashioned view of nurses, as little better than prostitutes, and would not speak to Myrtis Lee when she left for nursing training.
Rejection by her Grandmother Nolen was very painful for Myrtis Lee. She had always been close to her Grandmother, whose farm was adjacent to the Heard property. Maria Theresa Jones Nolen was an aristocrat, and matriarch of her family. Married at 19, she lost four babies at birth or in early infancy; and raised three daughters and two sons. Her father, William Jones died when she was 8 leaving her mother with four children to raise. William was a prosperous farmer, who lost everything after the Civil War, dying in 1865 with few remaining financial resources. In spite of (or maybe because of) their poverty, Maria held tight to pride in her Jones and Jelks family heritages. While deprived of their opportunities for education, Maria and her brother Robert made certain that their children received educations in the local schools. Robert’s son Sam Houston Jones became a lawyer and was elected Governor of Louisiana in 1940. Sam served one term, cleaning out much of the corruption of the Long Machine, and instituting the Civil Service system for state employees (thus eliminating the “spoils” system in state jobs). The Jones family were staunch Democrats, but consistently opposed the Longs.
Maria Jones Nolen held education in high esteem, supported women’s suffrage, and wanted equal treatment for her daughters. Her husband left his land and businesses to his widow and his sons. After his death, Maria gave her daughters equal shares in the estate. She was fond of her son-in-law James Addison Heard because he was an educated man. She was quoted by her grandchildren as saying that she wished she had an education. Specifically, she said that with an education she might have been able to say what she wished to say without offending and alienating people. In short, Grandmother Nolen was a woman who “told it like she saw it,” and the listener could like it or not. From the stories I have heard, I don’t think a better vocabulary would have solved Grandmother Nolen’s communication problems. Her descendants, with far better educations, still find it difficult to sugar-coat the truth or keep quiet when others spout nonsense. Grandmother Nolen lacked tact, and had a low tolerance for bull-shit. Most people either loved and admired her or hated her. Clora, Addie, Myrtis Lee and Vera had many of her traits, and some of these may (just may) have been transmitted to her granddaughters and great granddaughters.
It was her Grandmother Nolen’a opposition that prevented Myrtis Lee from leaving nursing school after the first few weeks. The nursing school was a Catholic educational program, run by the nuns with rules that were restrictive even for the early 1930’s. The nuns were making sure that their nurses were not mistaken for loose women. Myrtis Lee hated the rules and restrictive life, but stubbornly stuck it out. She just wouldn’t return home to her Grandmother’s, “I told you so.”
Myrtis Lee learned a lot from that year as a nurse –in-training. All of her life, she gave shots for family members (especially diabetics), and provided bedside care to ailing family members, including those who were dying. She never flinched, nor turned away from the hardest, most emotionally devastating aspects of illness and death. Her loving face was the last earthly sight for many.
After a year of nursing school, Myrtis Lee returned home briefly, and then accepted an invitation from her brother France and sister-in-law Bessie to join their household in Ruston, where she would attend Louisiana Tech. Jesse Burkett Heard, who was four years older than Myrtis Lee was also living in Ruston, where he had recently married Lois Glenn Barker. Burkett worked at Louisiana Tech for over 50 years. His daughter, Bette Lois Heard Wallace and grandson Sam Wallace have also made careers at the University.
Stories of this time in Ruston were told by Myrtis’ nephews Hewell and Jarrell “Jerry.” Myrtis lived part of her time at Tech in the dorms and part of the time in her brothers’ homes. The boys remember her as lively and adventurous. They tell a great tale of the day Bonnie and Clyde were shot (May 23, 1934). When word of the shooting reached Ruston, Myrtis Lee wanted to go see the excitement. She and Bessie and the boys drove to Arcadia where they saw the bullet-riddled Ford in which the outlaws died. However, the bodies of Bonnie and Clyde were laid-out inside a building, and closed to the public. Myrtis Lee and the boys slipped around to the back of the building, and managed to lift and boost each other up so that one at a time, they could look in a high window to see the bodies laid out on a table.
Jerry vividly remembered Myrtis Lee winning swimming and diving contests held at LA Tech. The boys were so proud of their petite Aunt (5’1”, less than 100 pounds) who swam faster and dove better than the older, larger girls. Her victory was more remarkable because she had never had opportunities to swim in a pool. Her swimming was done in Six-Mile Creek, and her diving was perfected on tree branches over-hanging the swimming hole.
At Louisiana Tech, Myrtis Lee majored in English, but the teaching certificate she received covered all grades, elementary through high school. She taught one year (I believe) before accepting an invitation from her oldest brother, T.P. “Red” Heard to come to Baton Rouge for graduate studies at LSU. As Athletic Director (in an era when nepotism was an accepted part of the culture) Red gave Myrtis Lee a job in his office where she worked for his assistant, Bernice Golden. Her brother was called Red, so Myrtis Lee became “Little Red,” a nickname used by many of her fellow students and colleagues.
Myrtis Lee was not the only Heard daughter at LSU that fall,. Vera Ruth Heard (three years younger) was also at LSU, and they lived together. As an undergraduate, Vera had a job in the Post Office. The sisters were frequent visitors in the home of their older brother and his wife Elizabeth McKnight Heard., and became close to their nieces and nephews, Harriet “Sister,” Tommie, Florence Adele, and Robert.
The two sisters, who came to look much alike in their later years, were quite different in their youthful appearance. Vera was a taller than Myrtis, and very slim with dark hair and deep dimples. Myrtis Lee had dark auburn (mahogany-toned) hair and was shorter and more curvaceous. It irked both sisters that most people assumed that Vera was older. Myrtis Lee kept a photograph album from this era, with pictures of the two sisters with friends and suitors.
It was an exciting time at LSU. The sports teams were winning; and state monies, invested in hiring the best academics, were building the university’s reputation. Many of the photos in Myrtis’ book include famous athletes who played for LSU during the 1930’s. During this time, Red introduced lights and night games to college sports. On at least one occasion, Huey Long charted a train so LSU students could travel to see the Tigers play in a bowl game. Myrtis Lee and Vera went on the first such excursion, and also helped raise money to buy the very first “Mike The Tiger.”
Myrtis Lee changed her educational direction at LSU, pursuing a master’s degree in physical education. Pictures from the era show her playing a variety of sports, including basketball, gymnastics, archery, modern dance, medicine ball exercise, golf, tennis, rowing, swimming, and diving. There were no official interscholastic sports competitions for women in those days, but Myrtis Lee competed in intramural sports and some unofficial interscholastic meets. She received her master’s degree at LSU, and went on to teach, and take additional graduate courses there.
Vera was the first of the sisters to fall in love. She met Pete Ballis, who played end for the Tigers, and the two began a life-long romance. They were secretly married for two years (I believe) because the terms of his football scholarship forbade marriage. My mother never told me about their “secret marriage” (apparently afraid it might set a bad example). Therefore, I never heard stories about a how the sister-roommates managed to hide a secret marriage, but I can imagine.
My Father, Wilmer H. “Jack” Jackson was in his late 20’s when he met Myrtis Lee. He had completed business school, and then four years of college at Northwestern State Normal, and taught for several years before entering graduate school at LSU. He majored in chemistry, and was teaching, coaching basketball, and acting as Principal at Fairview Alpha High School when he met the little red-head he was to marry.
Jack (as she called him) attended graduate school at LSU during the summers, and worked during the school year. He was an athlete, having played basketball (point guard), football (end), and baseball, and run track at Northwestern. I always believed that their mutual love of sports initially drew them together. Jack spent as much time as he could (when not in classes) around the coaches and basketball players at LSU. Myrtis Lee spent time with the same crowd, so their meeting was not unexpected.
The distance between Coushatta and Baton Rouge was an impediment to their courtship. However, there was another courting couple, Anna Mae Posey (a teacher in Coushatta) and Lester Vetter (a student at LSU, later state representative and mayor of Coushatta) with a similar problem, and the two couples made many trips together. The long distance courtship ended in Nov. 1938, when Jack and Myrtis Lee were married in Pitkin, LA. Their lives always operated on the School Calendar, and they married over the Thanksgiving Holiday. Each completed their teaching contracts for that fall semester, but that did not prevent them from conceiving their first child – me.
Myrtis Lee abandoned her career at LSU, and moved to Coushatta, where the couple lived in a boarding house while their new home was built. They moved into the frame home not long before my birth, on Oct. 29, 1939, just a few weeks short of their first anniversary. In the fall of 1940, Mother began teaching at Fairview Alpha School, where her husband was Principal and basketball coach. She taught English, and encouraged girls to participate in sports.
Jack and Myrtis Lee were teaching at Fairview the following fall (1941) when the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor drew the United States into the 2nd World War. Wilmer was 32 at the time, and was teaching agriculture as well as science. He was given a deferment in the draft because he provided essential veterinarian services for farmers in the area – vaccinating animals, inspecting sick animals, and checking for potential disease outbreaks in animals and crops. The fact that two of his Uncles were serving on draft boards in Red River and Natchitoches Parishes probably helped him, but he worked long, hard hours for the duration of the War. Some of my earliest memories are of going with him to farms where he would vaccinate cattle, horses, sheep, and occasionally hogs. On one of these visits, I remember seeing a cow with rabies. It was the only time I saw my Daddy put an animal down. He did it immediately without making sure someone took me away. I also saw a cow with lockjaw (Tetanus). His experience with this infectious disease frightened my Daddy so badly that he had me vaccinated every time I got a scratch. I must have taken 50 tetanus shots before I was ten.
In November of 1942, just as US War involvement was ramping up, my brother Wilmer H. “Jacky” Jackson, Jr. was born. Daddy was hunting when Mother went into labor, and she had to wait for him to get home. The doctor was in Natchitoches. Jacky weighed over 8 pounds, and it was a hard delivery for Myrtis Lee. Years later when she had a hysterectomy, the surgeon discovered internal tears that had not been repaired, and told her she would not have been able to have more children. However, the birth frightened Jack so much that he decided that two children were enough.
While her husband did not serve overseas, Myrtis Lee had four brothers (Glenn, Meredith, Alton, and Lindsey) and three brothers-in-law (Clint Jackson, Johnny Jackson, and Pete Ballis) in the military. They served in the Army, Navy, and the Air Force (after it was created). As a child, I remember watching the long lines of military trucks in “convoys” driving along the highway in front of our home. There were huge trucks filled with materials and men. There were even trucks carrying tanks and aircraft.
During this time, Myrtis Lee became close friends with Isabelle Lorain Page, who would become her sister-in-law in 1945, when she married Clint Jackson. Their friendship is documented in the many letters they exchanged over the years. In the weeks before Myrtis Lee and Jack were married, Page wrote Myrtis a letter each day. Theirs was a beautiful friendship that lasted until Page’s untimely death in 1963.
Myrtis Lee’s other dear friend during this period was her next-door neighbor and Aunt by marriage, Lizzie Adams, wife of Andrew Adams (brother of her mother-in-law, Ida Belle Adams Jackson). Aunt Lizzie, Uncle “Ander,” Doris, and Sarah Glen lived across the highway from us. Daddy bought the land on which our house was built from his Uncle Andrew Adams.
On the corner, catty-corner across the road from our house were one of our two other neighbors. The father in this family had a drinking problem, and on more than one occasion beat his wife. Once, when Daddy was away, she sought refuge from her husband at our house. When Daddy returned and learned that Mother let her inside, he was angry. I witnessed the only real fight I ever saw between my parents. (Not that they never fought, they just made sure we children didn’t see or hear.)
Daddy was afraid that the husband would break in and harm Mother or I in a drunken rage. He told Mother to tell the wife to go away. Mother put her hands on her hips and said she would not send any woman away from her door into the hands of a drunken beast. The two of them glared at each other. Neither gave in; and Daddy realized that Mother would not be dictated to against her conscious. He never admitted defeat, but he knew better than to push it further.
When we moved in, the new house did not have indoor plumbing or electricity, but Mother was proud of the nice closets. Electricity, through an rural electric coop, was installed not long after we moved in. The well was located just outside the back door, and the outhouse was a short walk away, under the big oak tree. By the time Jacky was a baby we had running water, and an indoor bathroom, but I have great memories of the outhouse. Daddy would take me out there, and wait outside for me. We played games. My favorite was the Three Little Pigs. He would knock on the door and say, “Little Pig, Little Pig, let me come in.” and I would reply, “Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin.” And we would proceed through the story, with huffing and puffing, etc.
Mother and Daddy went to school each day, and I stayed with a baby sitter. Sometimes I stayed with my Jackson Grandparents, Mama Jack and Daddy Jack. They spoiled me terribly. They took me almost everywhere they went to work on the farm. I helped Mama Jack in the garden, and went to the cotton field with Daddy Jack. However, when Daddy Jack went into the “pen” to milk or tend to the cows, I was not allowed beyond the fence. One day I sneaked through the fence, and sneaked up to watch him as he milked the little Jersey cow with the vicious kick. When he saw me, he grabbed a switch and chased me all the way to the house. I ran so fast, I ran out of my shoes. He must have worked hard NOT to catch me since his legs were four times the length of mine, but then Daddy Jack never actually gave me a single spank. Mama Jack had to do that when the occasion warranted. The family always laughed about the day Daddy Jack ran me out of my shoes.
When I didn’t say with Mama Jack, a young neighbor woman kept me. Sometimes she would take me to visit her parents. Her Daddy had a big garden, and he grew this plant with soft green fuzzy leaves. It was tobacco, and he grew it for two reasons. Tobacco was poison to insects and they avoided it. By planting it in his garden, he kept pests away from his vegetables. Even though it killed insects, he dried and smoked and chewed his own tobacco. I was fascinated.
After Jacky was born, Daddy’s Aunt (my Mama Jack’s sister) Mary Ann Adams Jackson Nelson kept us. Aunt Mary Ann’s first husband was Daddy Jack’s brother. The Adams sisters married the Jackson brothers in a double ceremony. However, Aunt Mary Ann’s husband Anscar Jackson and their son Alon both died of “swamp fever,” probably typhoid. Alon was just a little older than Daddy, and they were playmates growing up. They didn’t let Along start school until Daddy was old enough to go along with him. Daddy told about playing in the cotton barn with Alon before the cotton was baled. They were jumping from the rafters into the cotton, and Alon dropped hard and disappeared beneath the cotton. Daddy tried digging him out and couldn’t. He ran for help, and by the time they dug Alon out, his lips were turning blue. He survived that scrape, but succumbed to the fever. The loss of his playmate was very hard on Daddy. It showed whenever he talked about his double first cousin.
Our only other neighbors were the Lindsey family. Their son Loren was my best friend and playmate. His mother sometimes kept Jacky and I when Mother and Daddy were at school. Loren was a little older than me, and the leader in all our adventures and escapades. Mr. Lindsey was a great fisherman, and we often ate fish at their house. I felt so grown-up when he let me pick out my own fish. Now I realize he only gave us buffalo ribs with no small bones. One day Loren and I found an old abandoned automobile in a field. We found the axel grease in the wheels, and began dipping it out with our fingers, and playing with the sticky, oily, black stuff. I think we painted one another. Any way, when Mrs. Lindsey found us we were covered. She filled washtubs with cold soapy water and washed us for hours. In spite of her best efforts, my white hair remained dark for several weeks. Loren went to school in Coushatta while I went to Fairview Alpha, so we weren’t schoolmates until years later at NSU.
After Jacky was born, Mother spent a lot of time with the baby, and I spent more time with Daddy. In the summer and after school, he often took me with him when he went to visit farms to care for animals. He also took me with him to visit with his Uncle Edward Adams, Aunt Myrtle and their son Lemoyne. Lemoyne was 7 years older than me, and I adored him. I would play any game he invented. Among other things, he taught me to ride goats, or at least to hang on to their horns until they threw me off. When Daddy went places with Uncle Edward and Lemoyne, I often stayed with Mary (the housekeeper) and played with the children of the farm workers. I loved this. Before starting school, I had few playmates, and at Uncle Edwards, there were lots of kids to play with. I came to believe that June Teenth was the biggest, the best, and my favorite holiday of the year.
Mother and Daddy had very different racial attitudes. Mother was raised in a part of Louisiana where there were almost no Blacks. She was grown before she encountered anyone of another race. Daddy was raised in cotton country where there were more Blacks than Whites. His closest neighbors were Black, and his best friend growing up was Black. Mother was hesitant and uncertain around Black people, while Daddy was as comfortable with one race as the other.
Uncle Edward had a pack of dogs that were mostly kept in pens. He had bloodhounds and other ground hounds, as well as air hounds. He also had “catch” dogs (mostly Catahoulas) that could hold the prey at bay. His hounds were mostly for hunting deer or hogs in the swamps. He also had some fine bird dogs (for quail and pheasants), and some duck dogs for waterfowl. Occasionally one of the bird dogs would become a pet and be kept in the yard. The same was true of his favorite squirrel dogs, usually small mixed terriers called “Fice.” Uncle Edward had a big hunting horn made from a bull’s horn. When he blew it, the dogs knew they were going hunting and they would go wild, barking and howling and jumping. Sometimes he would let me try to blow that horn.
People were always giving Uncle Edward small, orphaned animals. For many years he had a little herd of pet deer in a side pasture with a high fence. I remember helping him feed a small fawn from a big milk bottle. The fawn could pull so hard, she would almost jerk the bottle from my hands, and every now and then she would “hunch,” and almost knock me over. Giving a bottle to a fawn is not easy. The King of this herd was a big buck named Bill. Uncle Edward was the only human Bill respected. When he was a fawn, Uncle Edward gave Bill cigarettes to eat, and that deer became fond of tobacco. When Bill grew big, Uncle Edward loved inviting an unsuspecting victim into the deer field. The big buck would go straight for the package of cigarettes in the man’s shirt pocket. If the man resisted, Bill would rear up and literally take him to the ground to get the tobacco. Uncle Edward considered this a great joke.
On another occasion, a neighbor brought Uncle Edward a litter of orphaned baby skunks. He had their “scent” glands removed, and raised them like cats. He decided to give one of the weaned baby skunks to me, and I was delighted. I can still remember my Mother’s reaction to my bringing home that baby skunk. I cried and pouted for weeks because she wouldn’t let me keep my skunk.
Uncle Edward loved teasing my Mother. She was a favorite of his, with just enough temper to make teasing fun. When I was really little, he delighted in teaching me curse words. He would only teach me one at a time, and then wait until I used it in front of Mother. I eventually caught onto the game, and learned the new words, but didn’t use Uncle Edward’s words in front of my Mother.
About the time my brother was big enough to go places with our Daddy, Daddy realized I was able to understand what the men talked about. He decided I was too old to go with him on his rounds. I was crushed. This was the first, and the most awful rejection of my life. However, I had a bit of revenge. My brother wouldn’t go with Daddy. Daddy tried, but Jacky was very much a Mother’s boy, and he would not go with Daddy without Mother. Instead, Daddy went off alone, and I had to stay home with Jacky and Mother.
I started school when I was 5, and rode to school every day with Mother and Daddy. We would drop Jacky off at Aunt Mary Ann’s. We had to get to school more than an hour before classes started, because Daddy coached basketball, and the team practiced before school most of the year. They didn’t have a gym, but played outdoors on a clay court. They usually had only 11 or 12 players, and whoever was left when they scrimmaged had to baby-sit me. I learned to pass and dribble when I was still mastering the alphabet and counting. In spite of their lack of a gym or fancy facilities, Daddy’s team won the Class C State Championship in 1948.
Mother taught English in the High School. The gap between our worlds was large, and I knew little about her as a teacher, but she brought stacks of papers home, and graded them after Jacky was put to bed. Daddy was given the task of reading me to sleep. I especially remember a book called “The Twin Grizzlies of Admiralty Island. Daddy didn’t read “down” to me. He read real books with real stories. He had the beginning readers at home, and I read those long before I started school. No one (including me) was ever sure whether I memorized the books or was really reading the words. At some point there was no difference, I had learned the words and began reading to Jacky.
On Sundays, we attended church at Zion Baptist Church near Fairview Alpha School. Mother’s family had been Methodist, but when she was growing up, there was no Methodist Church in Pitkin, and she attended the Baptist Church. She was a dedicated Baptist all her life. Daddy was raised a Baptist and became a Deacon in his later years. Sometimes I thought that Daddy married Mother so she would keep him on the straight and narrow when he was tempted to stray. It certainly turned out that way.
The Minister at Zion was Rev. Ben Joiner, Sr. Bro. Ben was a powerful preacher, and could become dramatic and intense in his sermons. I best remember his preaching the end of the World. According to my memory, (and this was before I was 8) Brother Ben had studied the Book of Revelation, and calculated the approach of the end times and the Second Coming. He gave us the date and we began to prepare. When the day came, I was very let down, but noticed that the adults weren’t too surprised. I think the seeds of my skepticism were sown then.
Looking back over those years and others that followed, I realize that my parents had an unusual relationship. They shared almost every thing, working together at school all day, and raising their family together. They had mutual friends, common interests, and shared daily experiences. Very few couples (outside of farmers) share as much of their daily lives. They especially shared a love of sports. They never missed a game played by their school, and they attended college games whenever possible. When I was young, they listened to sporting events on the radio, equally intense in their mutual concentration, seeing the action in their imaginations, and sharing their reactions. Later when we had television, sports were the most watched programs. In their later years, when Daddy’s hearing failed, they would usually turn the sound down and just watch. Sometimes Mother would have the radio on, listening to one game while watching another. From time to time she would give Daddy a score or report action from the second game. After Daddy’s death, Mother continued to watch sports. Occasionally, she would tell me what Daddy would have said or thought about some action in the game.
That 1948 State Championship was the climax of Daddy’s coaching career. That summer we moved from Red River Parish to Logansport, and began a new chapter in our lives.
TO BE CONTINUED.