In my mother’s older years, she spent a good deal of her time writing stories about her life with my father who died at 36 of a heart attack in June 1956. At the time of his passing, she was seven months pregnant and just 34 years old.
As a single mother, thanks to hard work and determination, she went on to make a good life for herself and her children. She got her bachelor’s degree and became a teacher. Later, she went on to earn a master’s degree and ultimately became the primary school librarian at one of our hometown’s elementary schools.
Nearly 40 years later, at the age of seventy, she married for the second time – to a man named Leon Foote. Once, when I was visiting them, she showed me a box filled with spiral-bound notebooks filled with hand-written stories about her life with my father, and as a young girl growing up on a farm in west Texas. I often wondered about the stories in those notebooks.
After Leon died, mother brought the spiral notebooks to my house. She’d come to live with me for five weeks before we decided she needed to move to a nearby care facility. Recently, I opened one of the boxes containing those notebooks. There, I encountered her familiar handwriting in faded ink. The pages were filled with scratch outs, cross throughs and addition and subtraction columns in the margins or on blank pages. I am sure that the ‘figuring’ was mother’s attempts to calculate someone’s age or determine the correct year an important event took place like moving from one town to another, the time it took to drive to town from the farm and back. I could see her mind working.
As I read those notebooks, I found myself filled with nostalgia and appreciation for her efforts to connect my family to the lives and stories of our ancestors. Her writings recounted stories about her romance with my father and going ‘Kodakin’ before they married. They chronicled events in the lives of our family, my brother, me and our little sister, born two months after daddy’s deadly heart attack.
Mother ultimately published a book about her life with my father in 2013, entitled Livin’ Till. She dedicated Livin’ Till to my younger sister, who inspired the whole endeavor by saying, “Mother, I know nothing about my dad.” Two years later mother finished her second book, As I Recall about her childhood. We had each book bound on Shutterfly.
Toward the end of one of the notebooks, I came upon an emotional passage written in mother’s familiar script describing the events on the day my father died. She went on to reference the marker at Dad’s gravesite, which includes the epithet: a quote by Thomas Campell, “To Live in Hearts We Leave Behind is not to Die.”
Then, she skipped a line and began a new paragraph. She wrote, “During these many years, I’ve often dreamt of Cliff, especially if we had problems. Since I’ve married Leon that is not so.
Just a while before Leon and I married, I dreamt that I was with a family group and I heard a noise. It sounded like a knock but nobody else heard it. I went to the door to check who was there and found a red rose with a note that read, “You know I always loved you.”
“If you don’t believe that,” Mother wrote at the end, “that’s your problem.”
At the end of mother’s saga, she explained one more very important message she wanted the reader to know. Perhaps it was meant for Leon’s and mother’s children and grandchildren.
“Leon and I have had a wonderful life together. We agreed early on that Leon’s wife Tommie and Cliffs name were never off limits. We go together to where both are buried on special occasions with flowers and flags.”
My mother’s ability to chronicle her life has been for me an ever-lasting gift. Her writing not only uplifted her spirit but provided all of us with memories for generations to come. What memories do you wish to leave behind?
© Tyra Manning 2019