Thursday, July 05, 2012

Gardens and Cats and Being 105

 Today would be my Grandmother's 105th birthday.
I first published this memoir in 2006.

It was July 5th 1907. With temperatures creeping up to the 100 degree mark it was undoubtedly a hot and scorching day in rural East Texas.  

My Grandmother was born into a sharecropper family.

Here is description of what  being a sharecropper was life after the Civil War.

The Civil War changed many things, among them, who owned what. Many Texans never returned from the war, some killed, some relocated to other states or nations. Their land was sold for taxes, and so was the land of some who returned without funds to pay their taxes. By the 1870s, as many as 70 percent worked land they did not own. They became sharecroppers. This is how it worked: the land owner provided land for farming, shelter for the farmer and his family, equipment such as mules, plows, seeds, and, most importantly, credit for living expenses until the harvest. The sharecropper provided his only resource, his labor. When they settled up, the landowner received three-fourths of the yield and the sharecropper one fourth.On its face, this seems fair, considering the lopsided investment of the landowner. But the sharecropper had to pay back the "credit" for his living expenses, and most of the time this required all he had earned. Possibly, he owed even more. This was easy to arrange by "fixing" the prices. So the sharecropper had little choice but to remain on the place and do it all over again next year and try to produce more so he could get out of debt, but nearly always finding the same debt waiting at the end of the row

She was the oldest and only surviving girl of 7 children born to George and Annie . She had 4 younger brothers, Buddy, Ollie, Hazel and GW, and two others who names are lost to history. She did not share stories of what it was like growing up, but she must have spent a good portion of her childhood working in the fields around the farm where they lived. She only had a grammar school education, but she had a mind as sharp as a tac. Like many of that time, she married young. She was only 16 when she married Luke. A tall nice looking young man of 19. I have only one picture of the two of them,and it was taken on their wedding day. My Grandmother, Irene was a real beauty with coal black hair and piercing blue eyes. My Grandfather Luke, gazes out to me with those brooding dark eyes, eyes which I never got to see, and wonder so much about. In the background of this picture they are in front of a farmhouse. I don't know how they met, or even much about this surviving picture. But, I do believe pictures were a rare occurrence in rural East Texas in 1923. So I am grateful for this one treasure because it is my only link to both my Grandfather and Grandmother together. I'm sure life was not easy in those days. They lived with no electricity, no indoor plumbing and little insulation in a tin farmhouse. It gets very cold in the winter and very hot in the summers. They worked the land harvesting the crops which was mainly cotton and tending to the livestock. the food they ate was mainly grown by them with meat being provided by the poultry and the pigs that they raised. It certainly wasn't like driving to the nearest grocery store and getting everything you need neatly packaged.In December of 1928 my Father was born in the farmhouse they were living in, he was a large baby, 11 or 12 pounds, it must have been a difficult birth for my Grandmother because she was a petite woman. Eleven years later in September of 1939 a second child was born, a baby girl and that completed their family. Misfortune struck December 4, 1943 when my Grandfather was killed by a drunk driver, my Grandmother was a young widow at only 36 with two children to raise. It was only with perseverance and hard work that she survived because in those days there were no special services or agencies that helped needy families. But make it she did. My Grandmother never shied away from hard work. She continued to work in the fields just as she had done all her life. She was well into her 5th decade before she stopped working out in the fields picking cotton. She was an excellent housekeeper and cook, and very good with her hands. In fact all of these abilities served her well. If you could think of  Paula Deen with a bit more twang in her you would have had my Grandmother pegged. She was an extraordinary cook and I well remember her feasts each summer when we would go out to visit. She also used these skills to make extra money and her pies and desserts were well known around the county. She also parlayed her homemaking skills into housecleaning work. She was Molly Maid before they were thought of. She  had a real talent for crocheting which she did up until she died. In fact she was working on a special throw for me when she died and which my Aunt graciously completed for me.My Grandmother always was dying. She was never going to make it to the next year, but make it she did. Beneath it all, she was a true steel magnolia. She also loved animals, and she was fond of Siamese cats, she had one she named Tonya (which she pronounced TONE-YA) when the first Tonya passed away along came Tonya #2 and so on. She also had a little dog to share her life with. She did not remarry until the early 1960's and her second husband did not live long, so she was widowed a second time. She never remarried after that. She was fortunate to be able to live in her own home until her 90's, which she was taking care of herself, inside and out until her body betrayed her with a series of unfortunate strokes. She was forced to live her remaining time in a nursing home. She passed away in February 2002 after 95 years on this earth. Today she would be 99,(and 105 in 2012) she isn't here in physical form , but I am sure she is with us in spirit. I must say she really had quite the extraordinary life, although she would probably not think so. She was born, lived and died in the same small East Texas town. She saw many changes in her life, and she experienced all of it's turmoil's and strife's, but yet she experienced all it's joys and rewards. She had a good life.

I find the longer those who have gone on before the more we miss them.
Things we wished we had asked....Things we'll never know.
How I wish I could sit at your table again...
Happy Birthday Irene.

Whisker kisses.


  1. What an amazing story! Thank you for sharing it with us.

  2. An amazing story-Whisker kisses to all of you--especially my handsome Ping.

  3. What a bittersweet story told beautifully. The photo is so captivating. What a handsome couple they made. Happy Birthday Irene.

  4. What an amazing woman your grandmother was! Happy birthday to her, where ever she is watching from now.

  5. This really touches my heart as some days I miss my Daddy so much, I don't think I can bear it. Thank you.

    And thank you for coming to visit us. We are so glad to be visiting you again. We have missed you.

    Take care our wonderful friends, and we'll see you again soon.

  6. What an amazing woman, Grandma Irene was. Thank you for sharing her story with us.

  7. What an interesting, amazing story. It's good to remember those before us, especially when we think we have it rough. We don't know what it's like to live back in that time with all the struggles they had. Thank you for sharing that with us.

  8. Oh my what a beautiful post in memory of G-ma Irene. What a beautiful lady.

  9. That was wonderful and such an interesting story.

  10. What a wonderful and touching tribute to your grandmother. Thank you for sharing her story.

  11. Thank you for sharing this. It's easy to forget how others lived and the struggles they survived. Happy Birthday to your grandmother.

  12. Such a lovely remembrance of your dear grandmother. What a fascinating life she led.

    Happy birthday, Grandmother Irene.

  13. this was an incredible remembrance of your Grandmother. I looked at that photo and look at her hair and dress...her hair looks like it is sort of in an "updo" and she looks in style now! She was so beautiful, such delicate features. Your Grandfather was so handsome, what a beautiful couple. Your Dad weighed 11 or 12 lbs when he was born? OMG!!
    Your Grandmother's life sounded as if it should be made into a movie. Such a colorful time she lived in, full of family and hard work.
    Thank you for sharing

  14. Definitely stuff movies are made of. Wonderful story, thanks for sharing it xox

  15. I will tell you, I read every word and went back and read it again. It was that interesting and that captivating to me. One of the best blogs I have read. And the picture was a hoped for but unexpected joy at the end. Thank you for including it and to Irene, I feel that you are surrounded with love where you are.

    Thank you for the blog today.

  16. A wonderful story!! The Human often wishes she could have had her grandmas for longer so that she could have appreciated them and their stories more. They both died when the Human was 24 and she hadn't really lived enough yet to understand what these two women had experienced.

    You told your grandmother's story beautifully and that picture is a treasure!

  17. LOVE this post 105, oh my. I'm not commenting much as you know but had to on this one!


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