“Important for Greg”


Clayton to Gregory, 1958

    I have been thinking that I would write you for sometime, but since I am out of the habit I just let Mother do it; she seems to enjoy it. She went to her club all dressed up.  Nea said she looked pretty. Wish I had seen her. She was gone when I came in from work. We worked late; finished plowing up the peanuts. They will be better than I expected....

    You mentioned the cost of food, etc. in Austin....  Now forget about the cost of a meal; just expect to pay $1.50 for a good meal, or even more.

    We have so much to do. Seems that everything needs to be done now.  We have a lot of plowing done, which is slow work.  We are ready to begin sowing grain.

    I forgot to tell you that Gary went to Honey Grove to play football tonight so I am here alone, such a good time to write to you. I am sure you will get a good report of the Gainesville trip from Mother. I am sleepy so I will close....  P.S.  I have been cooking breakfast for Mother. I am feeling fine and enjoy every day.       

    1959 January 5:  (Gladys) At Sale Barn. You are on your way, and I am parked while the cows are being watered.... I shall pray with all my heart for the best for you...the kind of prayer that I know God will answer. That is all I know to do...so lets remember it together.

    January 7:  I got all my school census taken today, except Johnny Hall’s kids and one more family just down the road south from where Jack Crumby lived.  A new family has moved into Jack’s house.  That house sure has gone to rack; steps at the front have fallen in.  A very poor family...with three kids.

                photo: a different house, same road, same time

    Margaret and Audry [Cain] and girls talked and talked. Louise got a record player for Christmas and Laquita got a cedar chest and Debbie a big doll.

    The Prices were sort of down and out. Dean had to have his two front teeth pulled as they had both abscessed.

    Bakers were sort of friendly....

    Bonnie and Loyd Venable have a comfortable home and seem very happy.

    Daisy and Homer [Ball] are getting along better than they ever have. Daisy seems happy and Homer does all he can to help her. 

    Loraine was serving Melba supper. They all seemed—well, just subjected—happy in their own way.

    Mrs. Guffie, who lives west of Bakers, was just up from her day of

sleep.  She works at the Cotton Mill every night from 10:00 to—well, I don’t know when she gets off. Her little girls shift for themselves....

    It was so revealing to go from home to home—if only for a few minutes.  Lester [Hall] was at home—all alone. The house was tossed, confused, untidy. Beds were made, but it had been lived in, and there was plenty of evidence. Lester looked so old. I felt bad to look at his face, so wrinkled around his eyes...very friendly and seemed to like to talk to me. 

    I stopped by to see Mrs. Overton who wants to see me, so Mrs. Baker said, but I guess she was at the barn helping Leonard milk. The barn was lighted like a palace....

    Mrs. Roberts was so tired, little to do with. But I was astonished. When I drove up one of the big boys came from the back, walked ahead of me to the door, opened it, stepped aside and said, “Go in.”  I felt so, so—terrible. Such simple politeness in the face of this environment. Mrs. Roberts had a glass of water and two white pills in her hand, and was on her way to a darkened room where, among heavy quilts, lay a child with convulsions. He has been having them quite often since Christmas. I just had such a vivid picture of each home I visited.

    1960:  (one day after school)  Something funny happened today.  I kept all the bus children.  When we were in the hall, Mrs. Smith introduced me to each one of hers, saying, “This is Mrs. Hall.”  One little girl with lovely blond hair and pretty brown eyes just smiled and said, “You were the teacher I wanted but I didn’t get you.”  Both Mrs. Smith and I ignored it, but in my room I asked her, “Why did you want me for a teacher?  Did you once have a friend who was in my room?  For what reason...?  Do your parents know me?”

    “Oh, no,” she said.  “I saw you when we visited all the rooms last year, and I thought you looked like the youngest one, and I wanted the youngest teacher.”  Well, this was more than funny to me, but she continued, “There is another reason, too—but, but I won’t say it.”

    “Oh, do tell me!” I said.

    “Well, I thought you had on the prettiest dress.”

    I said, “So you liked my dress.  What color was it?”

    “Blue,” she said, “and I thought it was so pretty.”

    How’s that for a six year old?

    1961 January 18:  I went to see Poor Ed. He only weighs 90 pounds. He is so humble. Thanked me for thinking of him. I asked him if he wanted anything, and he asked if I had some canned tomatoes. I told him I’d see, then I asked him if he had any crackers, and he said “No.” Imagine! No crackers for such a desperately ill person. So I took him both.... I told that old lady to see that he got it. Who knows? But Ed is happy with his children....

    We got out at 2:00 o’clock today, to take the school census.  I did the hill folks on Tuesday night. Such a time really lets you in on the home life in Mulberry. Very, very interesting. First I went to Andrew’s. Old Laurie came creeping out. She whispered through the door to shoo the kids back in and wouldn’t let them come out. I couldn’t help telling her what an injustice I thought she had done the kids to take them out of school. But I didn’t argue or point out her lies. I just ignored them. The kids came to school today. Lola had such a distressed look. I couldn’t keep my eyes off her. It haunted me. It makes me furious that somebody doesn’t release those children.

    The Guffrys were picking up pecans.  They had left one of the girls at the house with the smaller ones.  They have reworked the inside of their house, changed petitions, and plan to build a big room across the front.  Took off the porch and will first make a fall-out shelter, then build a room over it.

    The Pitmans at the far end of the dead end road have five children and are expecting another one.  They work for Lester, with only the father to work.  She is thirty-two and worried about herself.  She has not been to a doctor but wants to go and see about herself.  Worried that she will die and leave the five she has.  Everything clean.

    The Browns:  Macy with his three children, and his sister with her two, live in the Warren house by the Prices.  I was really shocked.  Those kids of Pee Wee’s are as cute as they come.  The baby is a dear, just beautiful.  The little girl is fully average, if not a little above.  Could be a doll with better care.  People would love to have them, but the sister said Macy would keep them.  He said, “We’ll starve together if we have to.  I won’t give them away.”

    The Bakers and Prices seem content and happy.  The Underwoods were clean and comfortable, with a very nice home it seems.  At Margaret’s I almost never got away....

    1967 September 21:  I have nothing to tell except small pieces of events that occur in a day’s work, simple in themselves, but significant too.  There is a Negro boy in my room, not bright, who will be moved tomorrow into a special education class.  He is not bad but he can’t do the work.  I gave the others their workbooks, but not his, as I think his teacher will prefer to start him at the first and go on at his speed.  As we work, he sits, and I heard a mumbling.  I listened, and he was saying, “What about me?”  That struck home.  It hurt.  “What about me?”  In his poor, humble, untaught mind, he knew he was being left out.  I gave him drawing paper and asked him to draw for me, which he did, but those words will remain with me as long as I live....

    1971 April 1:  You never know what a day will bring.  I am keeping a diary and write at night.  I always write tomorrow’s date before I close the book.  I look at the blank lines and it seems frightening, for I never know what the blank spaces will say.  The wind has subsided a little, and it came a light shower sometime before dawn.  Maybe these winds will bring a real rain....

    My experience with God has been that to have this peace of mind and security within, you have to want it more than anything in the world, and to get it, be grateful to be able to give everything for it.  It’s the things we want to hold onto, cheating ourselves out of the Pearl of Great Price.... 

    Oh, those days.... On the way to school, morning after morning, my prayer would be for you, as for all of us.  To God, I would say, “I cannot ask for a specific thing, for friends, for love, for a pleasant work, for money to travel, because I, in my small mind, know nothing of what is best.”  So I made my prayer one that God couldn’t turn down:  I asked him to give you what was best for you.  The thing that would let you know he is real, feel him, hear him.  Because I’ve experienced this, I wanted you to experience it too.  As I listened to you so many times, I could only listen, for I did not know how to answer, but in my heart I did not panic, for I heard, “Wait—just wait.  I have heard your prayers....”

    Thinking of you and Gary—and trying to prepare myself for the inevitable time when I won’t be here anymore.  Not a bad thought.  Just want to keep this in mind.  Thanks for your letters.

    1971 August 28:  Sunday night Loraine and I were sitting close together at church and someone asked me if I were going to teach.  I said, “No, I’ve taught long enough.”  Loraine said, “Yes, and you missed a lot you can’t ever regain.”  I said, “Yes, I guess I have.”  

    I went to see Mrs. Venable yesterday.  She is pitiful.  Has arthritis so bad she can hardly get around.  Nobody comes around, and very few people pass her house.  I imagine she will be glad when her time comes.  Jack came and got her and kept her for several days.  She said she enjoyed that very much, but that one more day would have been too long....

    Clarence says he wants to be buried in Bonham because his nieces and nephews would be hounded for money to keep up Uncle Clarence’s grave [in Mulberry]....

    1974 November:  Look North, South, East, and West—From personal experience I can truthfully say that I am never as unhappy as I am when I feel sorry for myself.  When I start feeling this way, a thought crosses my mind.  Lady, you had better look to the north.  There you see a woman alone in the world, childless, unloved, and suffering from a bad case of self pity.  The whole world has shut her out.

    Then, Dear Lady, says the silent voice within me:  Look to your east.  There you see a mother who has reared ten children.  She has worked side by side with them in the fields.  Alone now, she tends faithfully to her ailing husband, who is a mere vegetable.  She—so alone and so detached from the world, that through sheer madness for the need of only a twinkle of deliverance from her load—weeps hysterically.

    Then again, Dear Lady, look to the south.  In a huge house, once filled with the laughter of many children, there remains now a symbol of what used to be, one lone survivor, suffering from crippling arthritis, creeping feebly and painfully through the corridors of the once lavish country home.

    Glance to the west.  There you see a mother, always before, active in farm chores, sitting in a wheel chair, unable to stir about or move to the many unattended jobs, having two tumors removed from her brain; her mind comes and goes.  She lives from one good day to three bad days.

    Now take a look at yourself and pray God to forgive you, and in your search for happiness, go to these people, all within a mile of your home, and put your love to work.

    1975 November: Important for Greg.  About two weeks ago, in his sleep, Clayton was mumbling.  Once in a while he would say a word very plainly.  After the monologue was over, I thought, “How short a life span!  How revealing the short narrative of words were, concerning a life almost lived, a life almost completed.  As well as I can remember now, it went like this: mumble...”feeding”...mumble...”grass”...mumble...”Clarence” (loud, clear) mumble...”Glenn” (softly)...mumble...”Mulberry” ...mumble....”preacher”...

then he was quiet and still.  Sleep came to a troubled man.  I lay in my bed beside his and thought how fast life flies by.  These few words are the highlights of a 70 year life—all flashed before me in a matter of seconds.  Last week, the same thing happened again.  He said loudly and clearly, “It’s testing time.”  So true, I thought. Testing time comes to us all.  “Where is your faith, Clayton Hall?”  “Gladys, where’s your faith?  

    1976 July 8: It just seems so strange to look out of windows and doors and see other people plowing our fields, cutting our grain, planting our peanuts.... 

    I went down to see Loraine about 5:00, then on to see Mrs. Kirkham, by to see Lelia and Vera (they were gone), on up to see Mandy, who is home from the hospital after a knee operation—then by to see Edna.  So, I had several visits of infinite value to me, and to you....


    1977 August 7:  ... Also approaching August 14th, the last day with Mama, on August 14, Sunday.... So I’m beginning to feel and live the days over again.  I want to forget, but that’s what I did all my life.  I forgot that Mama wanted things I never gave her....

        1986 June 29:  Forever is forever and I won’t say this is goodbye                                         

forever, but it is a long way to forever!  Keep me always forever in your heart.  Love, Aunt Gladys

    Vera Tennessee died in a nursing home on May 25, 1989. She was buried near her father and mother at Bonham’s Willow Wild Cemetery, beside Joe.

    Both past ninety, Lelia and Vera did not share the same room. Lelia kept her telephone and took a great interest in the family of her new roommate. Alone for the first time, Vera suffered the indignities of old age. She was identified with the Halls of Mulberry at a memorial service, and was, according to her wish, “Mrs. Joe Neathery, survived...” by step-children, Merle and Jack, and all their children.

    I asked Aunt Lelia about the Victrola Aunt Vera didn’t give away. She was noncommittal, but called back the next day to say she had something to tell me. We couldn’t talk about it on the telephone. I said I thought Elizabeth should have it because she had done so much for Aunt Vera. “No, Vera would want you to have it. And take the little scarf she made to go on top of it.” The next week Gary helped me move the Victrola to my house. Elizabeth had said (I was told), “It isn’t necessary to buy a new one. She has dresses we can use,” but Mrs. Joe Neathery was buried in a new dress.

    Gladys said Lelia became “more admirable” with every passing year, though old habits, on both sides, died hard. While still living in Bonham, she wrote:

    ...I was very rude to Aunt Lelia yesterday and today.  I’m sorry, but she was trying to trick me into doing what she wanted me to do, and I was in a bad mood.  My head still doesn’t feel right, and I’ve been worried about it...so when she invited me to come down to the Mulberry Revival, I flew out at her and told her I wasn’t going anywhere, so just now I had to apologize.  She said she knew I didn’t mean it, so I had to tell her that Yes I did mean it, then I hung up because I was afraid I would be ugly again.  I’m in a bad way.  I guess I just need to start quilting....

    When Aunt Lelia was hospitalized for the last time, I helped in a round-the-clock vigil. Elizabeth and Alma were with her every day. Jerry and Patsy were there the night she died, July 22, 1989. Aunt Lelia told Alma she had a dream, or vision, that the house in Mulberry, her father’s house, had burned. Alma said, “No, Aunt Lelia, it didn’t.” But she replied, “Oh, I know you wouldn’t tell me. That’s alright. It’s ashes now.” Lelia Hall was buried beside her father and mother at Willow Wild, not in Mulberry.

    1989 November 27:  Clarence Dee Hall died in a car crash west of Bonham. Aunt Hazel was driving fast.  Her purse contained more than $40,000, some of the cash in rubber bands disintegrated long ago. Five years after his burial at Willow Wild, Clarence still had no gravestone. Yet he would never take a “vacation” without first paying everybody he owed anything. “You know how people talk....”