Mother is a storyteller, a spinner of tales. Her stories are mostly about rural Tennessee and her life growing up on a farm with a large family of eleven children. In rural Tennessee back in the 20’s the modern world went on someplace else and people continued to live a rugged, almost pioneer type existence of the same kind that was lived by generations before them.
As a child, I loved hearing her stories and often asked, “Tell about the olden days when you were little.” My sister and I grew up hearing an oral history about the previous generations. We always knew about our Tennessee roots and who we were. As we grew up, however, the stories, so remote and different from our own life, became less significant to us. We had heard them dozens of times.
As Mother became older, probably growing increasingly aware of her own mortality, she decided to write a memoir about her childhood experiences. The memoir was shared with family members, then tucked away in a drawer for fourteen years until my daughter, having heard about its existence from her grandmother, asked about it and it again came to light.
Our family is not famous or important. Does the history of common people really matter? I had heard the Tennessee State Archives might accept family histories for permanent retention. Somewhat hesitantly, I approached the archive staff with a copy of the memoir. Wonder of wonders — the selection committee was interested and accepted mother’s manuscript for permanent retention.
Mother’s book is a simple accounting of her recollections. I think that doing it was a way of bringing her life into focus and giving it significance. Educated and intellectual people write most history. My mother is neither. Yet, by writing her memories, she made her contribution, left her mark.
She had little in the way of material things growing up in rural isolation on a farm in a poverty stricken area of Tennessee. The family farmed, grew much of what they ate, made their own clothes, and slept in featherbeds with homemade quilts. The richness of my family heritage is not in valuable possessions passed from one generation to the next, but in love, memories and family values, things that our society sometimes seems to have lost today.