Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Mamaw Eunice's Legacy

Her full name was Eunice Katherine Ann Williamson, and she married my grandfather, Malone Roswell Masters. (That's Malone and Eunice holding Big Sis and a baby Big Brother in 1959 in the picture.)

When I would write letters to her over the years, I would write her complete name, Eunice Katherine Ann Williamson Masters when addressing the envelope, starting out with normal sized letters, and soon I would run out of space, and would complete the whole name, the letters getting progressively smaller and end at the right edge of the envelope by curving the last bit of her name down along the side of the envelope and writing really small. I wrote it like that on most letters to her.

She always got a kick out of that.

When Lovely Wife and I were living in Bossier City, Louisiana in the mid 1980s, I had spoken to Mamaw on the phone one evening. She asked me what, if anything, of hers would I want her to leave me when she died.

I told her that what I wanted more than anything from her was some of the stories of her life and how she met Papaw and her life while growing up. I asked her to get a pad of paper and write my name at the top, and when she felt like it, to just start writing things about her life.

I told her it didn't have to be a complete autobiography; just some of the things like I mentioned above, various stories from her life. Whichever ones she felt like writing about on any particular day.

She died in 1989. When my Aunt Gayle went through her stuff after her death (Papaw had already died in 1983), she came across a stack of 59 hand-written pages with my name on top of them.

She had written what she could. It's one of the most precious things I own.

Last night I started scanning them into JPEGs on the computer to have a digital copy of them.

(That's Eunice on the left, with her cousin Florence on the right. This is the only teen or young adult picture I've ever seen of her.) Mamaw Eunice tells in the pages about how as a girl she desperately loved to play basketball. She was a tall woman, and apparently as a girl, she was really tall compared to the other girls.

One problem. It was the late 1920s in rural central Louisiana and her moonshiner father, Dock Williamson, forbid her to play basketball because the girls had to wear what she called "bloomers", basically some of those part short pants, part skirt thingies.

She tried the old bait and switch for a while, wearing a dress to school and hiding and changing into a pair of bloomers after school to practice basketball. And walking home, before she got to the house, she'd step into the woods and change back into her dress.

Well, her Dad caught her one day while still wearing the bloomers, and punished her by making her quit school altogether.

So Mamaw Eunice only made it part way through the eighth grade.

Her writing is like one continuous sentence. Little to no punctuation and not capitalizing the first letter of the first word of the next sentence. Makes reading her writing a bit slow, but she had no problems whatsoever expressing herself and making you feel her pain. And joy. And embarrassment. Whatever emotion the story stirs in you.

Anyway, here's a sample. The first page she wrote. Click on it, hopefully it's big enough to read if you care to do so.


Babystepper said...

Great stuff, JAM! I really wish I'd asked my PawPaw to do the same before he passed away. He was a WWII vet, and towards the end he was finally willing to talk about it. Never got it in writing, though, as he had Parkinson's by then. I would love to ask my other Grandparents to do the same thing, though, as they're still here and fit. Any ideas for how to ask that tactfully? Obviously you did well, but she gave you a lead-in.

JAM said...

I don't really know. If you have a great, casual relationship with them, I'd just ask them.

I've asked my mother do the same thing, but though she has been retired for ten years, to my knowledge she hasn't written a word.

All you can do is ask, probably better in a one on one situation than with everyone around and the kids playing and such. They might like the idea but not follow up on it. I didn't know that my grandmother had until after she died.

Travis said...

What a truly precious gift.

scribbit said...

That's so wonderful--both that she would do that for you and that you've been able to keep it and treasure it. The older I get the more important family becomes.