I’ve posted scores of excerpts from my grandfather’s memoirs here, including a lengthy section called “Pappa’s Childhood ” that my mom edited. He wrote so prolifically (sometimes repetitively) about his life, I will be harvesting fragments to share here for a long time to come. My sister-in-law got tired of hearing about this patriarch, I guess, and asked me crossly once, “Why don’t you ever talk about your grandmother?”
Fair enough question — but Granddad’s memoirs make it easy to tap into his life experiences. Gran Massey (all my Massey cousins call her Granny, but Dad’s mom, Tilly, was “Granny” to me & brother) left no written memoirs. So, whereas I have a lot of direct memories of her as my grandmother, I don’t remember her speaking of her life growing up or raising her family. The reverse is true with Granddad, whom I only vaguely remember as a person (more as a physical presence, large, old, and quiet) but know well now through his voluminous manuscript.
So, I actually know more about Gran Massey as a young woman from Granddad’s description of the young woman he chose for his second wife than from her own words. Unexpectedly widowed with 5 children and mostly grown or adolescents, Granddad knew he needed a helpmate — and fast. After repelling the advances of an aggressive housekeeper who sought to marry him, he picked a young schoolteacher, Nora Villa Ault, whom he met. They were married the following spring, raised four children, and stayed married the rest of his life. She never remarried in the thirty years after she survived his death.
That simple act of marrying a fellow with 5 almost-grown children demonstrated an amazing bravery and fortitude. She stepped in with grace and made it her place to help the family.
I love this picture from 1931. The back row of people are mostly Cade & Carrie Massey’s older set of children and spouses (Marion stands behind her mom), and 3 of the kids in front are Cade & Villa’s children (Roy Jean Bond, a granddaughter, sits next to Gran Massey)
Gran Massey struck me as the perfect grandmother when I was a little kid. As I bragged to a friend once about getting to visit her in San Angelo, “She cooks pancakes for you every morning — and you don’t even have to ask!” She loved children and put up with some mildly outrageous antics, as long as we didn’t destroy anything.
And animals. She loved animals of every sort. I once tried to count the number of feral cats that scattered under her house at my approach and lost count at 15 or so. Daily feedings morning and night were patiently delivered with no attempt to approach the skittish kitties. When I tried to once was the only time I remember her scolding me. For the longest time, she had this old black cocker spaniel, Hector, who lost an eye along the way but never lost sight of her love for him. After I stopped in there one time with my rascal of a dog, Brutus, she would always ask me whenever she saw me, “How’s Brutus?”
By the time I was a teenager, Gran Massey struck me as having been great as a grandmother for a kid, but not once you started growing up. Her admonition, “You listen to your mother” during a late-60s Generation Gap argument of the day seemed stunningly simple-minded. But her love was unending and undeniable. She just wanted her family to stop arguing.
These memories were brought to mind when I recently rediscovered an audiotape my dad made. On one side is Gran Massey’s funeral service, including a beautiful rendition of “Amazing Grace” led by my cousins, Jule and Will T. Massey, and a lovely eulogy from her son, Tom Massey (Will’s Dad, and my uncle).
The other side has a short interview that Alyson, Will & Julie’s sister, conducted with her. She speaks of being born near Roby, Texas and riding horses to school. Her family moved to Mertzon and she graduated from high school there before studying in San Marcos for her teacher’s certificate — “They didn’t have degrees back then.”
In remembering her high school graduation (Class of 1912, six students), she recounted the following:
“We didn’t wear caps & gowns. We didn’t have caps & gowns back then.
And we had to write our speeches and memorize them — a long speech. And, as I said, we didn’t have caps & gowns, we wore — every graduate had an individual long, white dress, beautiful lace and things.
And we dressed in those long, white dresses and we sat on the stage. In chairs, on the stage. And when they called your name, you had to walk to the middle of the stage and recite your piece. You had to know that. (Really?) Yeah.
Then, after that, when you finish, they’d bring flowers to the stage.”
I would have loved to hear what young Nora Villa Ault said at her graduation. And I’ll bet you looked radiant in that dress.
Thanks for the memories, Gran.