What kind of grandfather drags his grandchildren to multiple cemeteries and calls it fun? What kind of family historian allows the fear of a little traffic congestion keep him from a genealogical gold mine? What kind of person never stops interviewing his aged mother and gets rewarded with a story he has never heard? That would be me, guilty on all counts and hoping you benefit from my experiences.I’ll answer these questions in three posts.
A Tip for the Ages (Or should that be “the aged”?)
My eighty-three-year old mother lives on property with my younger sister Debbie and her wonderful husband Jim. Their summer vacation/dulcimer workshop in June provided me with an opportunity to spend extended time with Mom at her place. Her little house has double porches with double fans and multiple rocking chairs. The back porch faces Debbie’s garden and house. It has become one of my favorite places on earth. The pre-dawn time there is magical, while dawn itself provides a parade of sights and sounds. My first morning a skunk waddled by after working the night shift and said good night. He kept his scents to himself. I was grateful.
I used my time with Mom to impress her with my culinary skills learned at her elbow as an impatient school boy ready for dinner to be on the table. I peppered her with questions as I often have, but this time I came prepared to put her answers on video. I was rewarded. Genealogical Tip: Never stop interviewing your living relatives. Keep asking questions, give them time to reflect and listen for the nuggets.
Mom and Dad married two days before her seventeenth birthday. Dad was fourteen years her senior and would soon whisk her away to the big city life of Fort Worth, Texas. She saw comparative little of her family for most of the rest of her life. This was the area of my inquiry when I received my golden story.
A little background’s necessary. I need you to see from my point of view or you may not recognize the value of the story. Put yourself in my place and you’ll understand, maybe, my prize is more than fool’s gold.
Except for one glorious year I spent on a ranch/farm as a nine-year-old, I grew up in a small city (31,000) with two universities. It was a wonderful time of innocence. We rode our bikes anywhere we pleased, even out-of-town to reach the best fishing holes. We shot BB and pellet guns in town. We spent evenings visiting on the porch with our neighbors the Phelps. We enjoyed the small-town-feel with the mental stimulation inherent in university life. I cherish the environment of my upbringing now, but at the time, I just wanted outdoors. I explain it like this to my friends. I grew up in the city with a “country” heart. (Please don’t interpret this to mean I must really like country music.)
My Dad bought me my first four guns over a span of ten years. He taught me gun safety. He taught me how to shoot. He taught me how to clean and care for my guns. He took me shooting, only once. He never took me hunting. Dad was forty-six years old by my 10th birthday. I suspect he had seen all of the killing he could stand in the second World War. I hunted on my own and only small game until my early twenties when a friend introduced me to deer hunting in East Texas. While home for the holidays I began pestering Dad about his deer hunting experiences in the Texas hill country. That part of Texas is known for having herds of deer. I was asking for tips to improve my success. After a series of questions about which he was mostly non-responsive, he finally blurted out (which was his custom), “Son, I’ve never killed a legal deer in my life. I’ve never even hunted in the daytime for a deer.” (Apparently, “spotlighting” for deer was not something invented by East Texans.) Only my umpteenth interview with Mom would keep this incorrect “blurtation” from becoming part of our family lore without challenge and give us a wonderful new story about our mother.
“So Mom, did you and Dad spend much time with Uncle Charles and Aunt Inky?”
She replied, “Not, really.”
“Can you remember a time or two?” I asked.
After some time, she said, “I can remember one time…” and her story began.
Mom began telling how a doctor with whom Dad worked invited them to fly on his private plane over the weekend. The doctor was on his way from the Fort Worth area down to Corpus Christi, Texas on the gulf coast. He dropped my parents off in the sleepy little hill country hamlet of Leaky. Mom grew up in the region and her younger brother Charles Byrd and his new bride Inky lived there on the Frio River. This was one of the few times Mom remembered being with them. Uncle Charles offered Dad the opportunity to take a dear from a group which came out every day in a nearby meadow. His deer-stand overlooked the meadow and allowed Dad and Mom a place from which to hunt.
This story counters and corrects Dad’s memory of never having legally hunted for deer in his life. That is, of course, if the deer were in season, Dad had the proper license and permits, and sought to take them with a legal weapon during the legal hunting times. OK, so it doesn’t necessarily correct all his view of history. They were at least hunting deer in the daytime and it gives us a cool story about Mom. I had no idea and never thought to ask my mother if she had ever hunted deer. She had! Who knew?
I saved the best part of the story for last. It was Mom’s one and only time to pursue deer. So, I asked her. Did you see any deer? Did you harvest one? She replied, “I can’t remember.” What? It was your first and only time to hunt deer and you can’t remember if you saw or took one? To which she replied, “I tore my brand-new pants getting into that stupid deer-stand and that’s all I can remember!”
My Mom the deer hunter, I never knew…until this, her 83rd summer!
We often think we’ve asked all the questions, heard all the stories. Good family historians never stop asking, never stop interviewing, never stop listening. I hope I’ve learned something.
More “Summer Fun and Tips” continued in the next post…