The Gathered Words

part 2:  of Gladrags

                Feeling confident
and prepared, Gladys leaned willfully against the world she knew. To her parents, and Clayton, she said an “ideal home” was what she wanted, along with a career in religion or politics; and when marriage came four years later, in 1929, she still expected to create that home in Mulberry. Except that, after the trip to San Antonio and Catarina, “sudden change of plans,” and “Courthouse twilight,” as the car turned the corner at “Miss Zona’s mailbox,” heading west into Mulberry, nearer Clayton’s home—“Home again at a different place”—Gladys had the strangest feeling. “So this is where I will spend the rest of my life?”

        But soon, at the bottom of a postcard, she was writing again with characteristic spirit, “I’ve met Isabel.” Gladys may not have met her father-in-law,  John Forest Hall, until that first arrival in Mulberry. She wasn’t a “big girl,” but “educated,” he observed.

        Still, Gladys did not know the other women, starting nearly a hundred years earlier, who had come to Mulberry—Ursula, Sarah, Nancy, Ola. (Isabel was the Mexican man on the Hall place who entertained his guests with a Victrola and did math calculations in his head.) In addition to “the girls,” Clayton’s sisters, Lelia and Vera, Gladys will meet new sisters-in-law, Edna and Loraine, then “Mandy and Jubie,” Zona, Grace, “Bird and Odie,” mother and daughter. Looking down that road, she was thinking, “A new chapter is beginning.” Six days later: “I am blue a little bit because I want a home and a really, seeming-like husband all of my own.”      

Letters Are Special

        Gladys wrote many letters during her life:  remarkable, finally, how well they tell her story. More than fifty years she will live in Mulberry, sending out and receiving. I know well:  As the recipient of so many, shaped, but also consoled, just by the knowledge of their safe arrival in places far from Mulberry, where I saved them till night came, to read. In later years, she wrote also in notebooks, believing she could help me “tell the story,” one day flagging a segment, “Important for Greg”. She had more faith than I did then, but a comfort now is knowing I placed a few of the early pages in her hands. My grandmother Maudie also treasured letters. From the time of her marriage in 1904, she slipped them under the lid of a trunk to fall inside, which might have been oblivion. Gladys’ first letter from Wesley College in 1923 was saved by waiting there. 
        1961 October: [Alvin, her father, to Gladys] ... You really missed out on something you would have enjoyed. Wanda happened to think about Mother’s trunk. So we went out to the old dirty smoke house. I got the trunk down where they could get to it easy. Dean wasn’t out here yet. So Wanda, Ray, and the little girl stayed out there about an hour. Dean came in time to get in on it. I told them to take anything they wanted, but to leave anything they thought you might be interested in. So I don’t know just what they took or what they left. You can find out when you come if you can think about it. It is time for the Postman, so Bye, Bye, Dad [Gladys added this note: “Wasn’t this interesting—a life story in an old trunk! I regret not being there.”]         

        Hello Gregory [Aunt Ruth’s letter was dated July 12, 1992], I have before me the letter you sent me after the death of your mother. I have a “keep it” box that holds a few special pieces of memorabilia and it’s there your letter lies. I notice it is postmarked 1 p.m. March 18, 1991. So you see I don’t get around to answering letters very soon. 
        Letters are special. I once read an editorial on letter writing and it said that a letter is a “telling,” and that is true. No dialogue, but of course to find a reply to one’s letter is a good substitute for conversation. 
        The clock on the wall has just chimed 3 a.m. Since I live alone the 24 hours of the day is not just get up at dawning and to bed at dusk. Some of the best hours I spend are at night. I mean the waking hours. The noise of daily traffic on the highway near by is not a constant roar. The glow of a full moon is beautiful. It’s a good time to read or just think. Of course, at my age, 88 years, the thinking is usually thinking back. I’ve had a good life. Of course, many ups and some downs but a good balance. 
        Your mother and I were more like sisters than aunt and niece. We graduated from high school in 1923. I have a copy of the yearbook. That was a long time ago. Guess that’s enough of the past.... I would like to go to Gainesville and visit the scenes of my childhood but I’m really not up to it.... It is now daylight. I’ll go out and get the Sunday paper, have another cup of coffee. So bye for now.                                                            

photo montage:

(upper left) Odie and Gladys
        on Mulberry school ground
(lower right) Odie, Zona and Bernice
        at Zona’s house

          Dimensions of character
and shades of emotion were persistent through the years, making it possible to miss that she—Gladys, Gladrags—will experience a transformation determined only in part by this Mulberry, as place, and the passing of time. “Changing” is the true action of  Gladys’ story:  how the accumulated debts of the Hall estate were transferred within a year of her marriage (1929) over all hope for an “ideal home,” then Clayton’s “illness” as they avoided children—the “wise old doctor” said it would—returned. What merged was “grief” for her mother’s death (1938), then knowing a “forgiveness” that tempered doubt (1948), finally “bitterness” (1968). But there was always more, the Story....

        It would not have been her way to say this story is about “following Jesus,” though one of the first books in our house was In His Steps. The question (was it C. S. Lewis who asked?)—“Why is it that God never speaks to us openly, or answers with a clear voice?
Why are we never allowed to see his face?”
—received its challenging answer in Gladys’ life: “How can God met us face to face, till we have faces?”

photo: Gladys Gregory (1926)


 Thomas Hardy’s The Return of  the Native was Gladys’ favorite book in all of literature, where Chapter 1 begins, and ends, on a road:

        A Saturday afternoon in November was approaching the time of twilight, and the vast tract of unenclosed wild known as Egdon Heath embrowned itself moment by moment....
On the evening under consideration it would have been noticed that, though the gloom had increased sufficiently to confuse the minor features of the heath, the white surface of the road remained almost as clear as ever.... 

        photos: “Letters are Special”
                                            below: Gladys Hall (1946)