Nothing helps us heal like remembering, writing and celebrating our stories. In my case, storytelling is a part of my soul. I’m fortunate and grateful to have a great deal of poignant memories from days gone by.
Over the course of my lifetime, many people have taught me important life lessons and I continue to draw on them, no matter how much time has passed.
I’m not unique in having lovely and sometimes sad stories in my repertoire and I hope that sharing my experiences encourages others to share theirs. Our stories narrow the space between us and teach us that we often have more commonalities than we do differences. My wish is that sharing our stories will bring us closer together.
I first learned to tell stories at age five, when I played Red Rover Red Rover with my next-door neighbor, Ida Mae. Ida Mae’s rules for our Red Rover game were that I had to tell a story and act out my character. Then, she had to guess who I was. Those games gave me my start in constructing narratives.
Lessons from my Grandfather
I am named after my grandfather, my mother’s father. He was Tira Garland Sexton and a farmer in Brownfield, Texas. We called him PaPa. When Daddy and Mother traveled around the country looking for a doctor who could cure Daddy’s heart disease, I often stayed with Nennie and PaPa on their farm. By then, I was seven years old.
PaPa’s major crop was cotton and he took pride in his straight rows and weeded crops. On special evenings, after he returned from the fields and washed up, we’d go for a walk. On one evening I’ll never forget, I was crying because Mother and Daddy were out of town and I was desperately homesick. My brother was staying at his best friend’s house in Seminole, Texas, where we lived.
PaPa said, “Tyra, come go with me. I need to walk the cotton rows in the field across the road.” I dragged my sniffling self out of Nennie’s lap and followed him.
We walked from the back of the farmhouse across the red dirt road to the cotton field. PaPa wore his overalls. I wore jean shorts, a tee shirt and was barefoot. The hot West Texas sun was cooling and had begun to move closer to the horizon, but the red dirt between my toes was still warm. It felt good and my sniffles had dissipated.
PaPa reminded me Mother and Daddy would be home in one more week. As PaPa and I walked, he pointed out the plants that were producing and looked promising. He walked the straight rows with pride until I pointed out an anomaly.
“PaPa,” I exclaimed, sure that I had discovered a flaw in his plan. “This row ahead of us is not straight. Why is it crooked?”
“I plowed it that way,” was his answer.
“Why? Why did you do that?” I demanded to know.
“There was a mother rabbit’s nest there. I plowed around it.”
“But PaPa, I thought you said rabbits chewed on the cotton!”
PaPa’s voice softened, “Sometimes Tyra, what looks right and seems right ain’t always right. The day I plowed this row, it just seemed right to go around. Besides, the nest was almost at the end of the row. I didn’t lose much.”
I understood that PaPa had shared a secret with me. On other days, he might have plowed over that nest but, that day, he didn’t. I loved PaPa for that.
Throughout my life, especially when I was in a position of authority as a school administrator, there were occasions when, as I determined consequences for children (and sometimes even adults) who had made bad choices, I heard PaPa whispering in my ear, what looks right and seems right ain’t always right.
For those who benefited, they would have loved my PaPa.