Spring with Effie and Gywn


Effie Vernon Morris Parks (1900-1966)

I have written about my grandmother, Effie Parks, many times on the blog.  Here is a photograph of her in 1919, near Bend, Texas.  She cooked for chuck wagons on several ranches along with her husband, Jake, who managed cattle on horseback.  During the Great Depression, she sewed for the Works Progress Administration.  In her last years, she worked as a telephone operator in Lometa and Bend, Texas.  She taught me the rudiments of dominoes, playing guitar and hitting a baseball.  She and her husband were married by a parson in an onion field near the Colorado River in central Texas.  In her will, she divided her property among her two children and me.

Gywn Matthews Hollingshead (1920-2003)

This is my mother, Gywn.  This photograph was taken about 1938 when she was living with her mother, Effie, at Bend, Texas.  She married my father, Jack, in 1942, shortly before he volunteered to become a parachutist with the 506th P.I.R.  He was a member of Easy Company, made famous by Stephen Ambrose and Tom Hanks.  Gywn worked for over thirty years for the Southwestern States Telephone Company and General Telephone.  She helped pay for my college education and gave Brenda and me the money for a down payment for a $35,000 house in Mingus, Texas in 2000.  She would come to Mingus and visit us, sitting in the kitchen and looking out on the vineyard I had planted.  She always had a quote of some sort to throw out for the occasion.  One I remember is: Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies.  She was Irish mainly, and proud of it.

I have posted these photographs and short commentary of Effie and Gywn because it is April and Spring is upon us and I never can go through this month without thinking of how Effie and Gywn and I traveled the backroads to Bend, Texas, and San Saba to visit relatives at Easter.  The flowers of April and May emitted the most beautiful perfumes imaginable in nature.  They talked quietly about plants and cattle and loved ones that we saw and loved ones that had departed.  I sat in the back seat of the car and listened to their talk and inhaled the scent of bluebonnets and paintbrushes all around.

Today, Brenda and I can travel the same road to Bend, Texas, and flowers spring up again.  We can go down that road and crisscross the same roads I traveled as a boy with Effie and Gywn.


Filed under Bend Texas, Life in Balance

31 responses to “Spring with Effie and Gywn

  1. What a lovely post — and especially appropriate because it is Mother’s Day here in the UK.

  2. Jack, This is a beautiful tribute to these two women, mother and daughter. I love the photo of Effie in her cap, standing in that field. Your description of her marriage in the onion field is a great sentence.

    Your mother, Gywn, is a beautiful woman. In that photo she reminds me of the actress, Laura Linney. Your description of riding in the backseat as they visited in the front, the aroma of bluebonnets and paintbrushes all around, my that evokes a good feeling.

    This is such a nice post. It’s good to remember, isn’t it?

  3. Simple and profound memories of antepasados – ancestors. Precious! thanks for sharing!!!

  4. I’m always amazed at the parallels between you an me. I spent this last weekend looking into the history (oft on the unbeaten track) our our family. And then I read this post that you put up while I am thinking about something similar.

    In her own rite your grandmother was a pioneer. It appears she shed stereotypes and did what pleased her, and for that I say Hooray! She was a chuckwagon cook, that gave me chills as I was just learning that my great grandmother cooked at logging camps in Quebec. And she taught you guitar, dominoes, and baseball? All items that you can enjoy for a life time! Wow!

    Your mother is absolutely beautiful in this photograph. She certainly looks Irish, and I for one would know being married to a Maureen McLaughlin O’Malley. It sounds as if they came to the States early on. How did they end up in Texas?

    I loved the idea that your family came from a strong working class family and they earned what they had! Such wonderful memories to share and hold. You are a lucky, lucky man.

    I really enjoyed this Jack and will have to scan back through earlier posts of your family so I can catch up!

    • Yes, there are parallels — quite a few of them and I, too, am amazed. I read of your grandmother loaning you the money for the down payment and that made me think of what my mother did when Brenda and I bought the old house in Mingus. And, it was an old house. Mother gave us the money for the down payment. She and my step-father worked for large companies and stayed with them for decades. My step-dad worked for a power company, in the field, and it was hard work. Mother was insistent that I go to college and I did not need much pushing because of the toil I saw her engage in. I look back now and wonder how in the dickens they could do the eight-hour shifts, year in and year out.

      Well, Bill, you can’t get much more Irish than Maureen McLaughlin O’Malley. What a fine, fine name. So, then, you know the Irish, I’ll betcha!

      Yours and my grandmothers were similar in cooking for outdoor workers. Your great-grandmother cooking for loggers — what a sight that must have been in the Canadian woods. I’ve never been to Canada.

      One side of mother’s family came from Ireland in the Civil War period, raced horses in California and ranched in Texas. They were consistently on the edge of the frontier in Texas and eventually settled near San Saba and Lampasas along the Colorado River. It was that side of the family she favored in looks and temperament, and so did I. The Irish is strong in me because my father was Black Irish. He was born in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, and came to Texas in 1941 to train at Camp Bowie. He was a welder and painter before the war. Working class through and through.

      Bill, mother always said to buy land and hold on to it — regardless. I did what she said and turned what I could into this place I have now. Thank you for saying such nice things about my mother. She would have loved hearing and reading about you and the land you live with. She would have said: Bill is a man to ride the river with. I agree. Thanks, Bill, for your thoughtful comments.

      • Like you I came from a family of hard workers. Our family lacked education for generations. My sister was the first on both sides to graduate from high school, and I was the first to graduate from college and get a Masters degree. My mother, from the time we were little kids, told us that we were going to college no matter what. We didn’t have any money, my father was unemployed for years as the results of being involved in labor issues, and still she said there would be no excuses. I worked after school all the way through high school. From potato fields to late afternoon school janitor no job was too menial. I was required o save half of my money for school. My parents helped me with the first year of college, and I was on my own after that. I continued to work, dropped out and went back several times as money would allow, and in the end I gained a lot of practical experience.

        I will never let go of the memories of knuckling down and getting through it all. The determination was inspired by my dear mom, and for that I was always thankful.

        It is nice to connect with others who were not born with a silver spoon in their mouth who forged ahead and found a path to success. We share the experience of a life worth living, that’s for sure.

        Isn’t it amazing what we inherited from our ancestors?

      • I’m with your father. I’ve been on the union side for a long time. We don’t have them in Texas in the schools. I belong to the AAUP, the nearest thing.

        Goodness, you worked hard, too. I hauled furniture, painted and worked for my uncles on cattle. I also worked in a sweat shop, carrying bundles of flannel shirts for the navy seamstresses. And, it was terrible work. Mother pushed me, too. She was able to provide monies and a room for me at the house while I went to college. I worked in a funeral home and would bring home my laundry for her to do.

        Mother wanted to be a veterinarian. She had one year at St. Mary’s in San Antonio (her uncle grub staked her for a year), but her mother (Effie) and husband had and accident near Sonora, Texas. Jake was injured in rounding up cattle and was missing for three days before they found him. Never fully recovered. Mom had to help in the late 1930s and gave up being a vet.

        We both were pushed and we had to knuckle down. I could not have done it all by myself, like you. That boosting and inspiring was necessary. I feel so sorry for a lot of people who don’t have the support. I see it everyday at the college. In some ways, that’s what keeps me going back in the classroom — maybe a little boost, a little advice and me giving them reality checks will help.

        Yes, I am amazed what we inherited. Thank you, Bill, for your comments.

  5. What wonderful women. I wish I could sit down with your grandmother and talk to her about her sewing for the WPA. I wonder if she had any time to quilt, or your mom, for that matter. Those women are the backbone of this country, in my humble opinion. You are fortunate to have had them in your life and it’s wonderful that you continue to honor them and their accomplishments.

    • Yes, she had time to quilt and hook rugs. I have so many quilts from her and mother. They were the backbone of the country and their men and brothers depended on them so very much. I would like to find out more about her WPA work. I have some documents and even check stubs, I think, from back then. I know grandmother would have loved to talk to you and hear about your work. I’m glad to see that you are posting every now and then. I am sorry about your sister, Martie. I hope things will get a little better day by day.

  6. Beautiful, Jack, just beautiful.

  7. Wonderful post Jack and wonderful memories. Those are a couple of generations I wish would be repeated!

    It brought back memories too of my mother and grandmother, who I think lived close to a generation before yours. When my grandfather died, my grandmother and my mother ran a boarding house for miners in Wisdom, Montana, and later my mother also worked as a switchboard operation in the mining town of Butte, Montana, where she met my father.

    • Isn’t that interesting about telephone operations in both families. You’ve been a long time in Montana, haven’t you? They managed and managed well.

      • Those generations did what they needed to back then I guess. My dad even worked in the mine in Butte for a brief period: didn’t take him long to figure out that wasn’t good!

        I was born here, then went off to college and the service. Ended up staying away for over 30 years and missing this country all of that time. We’ve been back nearly 20 years now.

      • Yes, I think they did. He worked in a mine. They were tough. We must be close to the same age. Your photography shows that Montana was and is your home.

  8. Erin R

    Memories of our mothers and grandmothers are very special. I’m glad that you have good ones, Jack!

  9. Kittie Howard

    Jack, your grandmother and mother are beautiful women. (I use the present tense because the beauty of who they are, inside and out, never died!) I looked at your mother’s picture a long time. I, too, had freckles and wondered if Effie told her they were angel kisses, like my mom told me.

    Those were hard scrapple days, for sure! I’ve often wondered the same, how folks did what they did, day in, day out, without complaining and saved so much out of so little pay. I think one reason those generations bring comfort today is that we remember a comfort zone then, with them. Times weren’t easy for anyone, really, but kids felt a sense of security in knowing elders were there. I don’t know how else to put it. They were ‘there’ and still are — with the spring flowers that trigger your memories — with the verbenas that Ma planted and which trigger my memories. I remember you had photos of verbenas last year.

    You come from good, hearty stock, Jack, the best gift possible, that you now give to others. Thank you for an inspiring post!

    • You are welcome, Kittie. I know you must have had freckles. From your blog picture, I can vaguely see that in you as a girl. Kittie! Post some pictures of yourself and husband! Yes, we felt security in knowing the elders were there. I’ll some more pictures of verbena later this season. We are really dry now. I have wondered how they did it — day in and day out. That mom worked for over thirty years on the switchboard keeps me honest in my toil in front of the class, going on now for forty-six years. It’s about time for me to stop. I have some other things to do.

  10. Kittie Howard

    I thought I’d add that today’s Washington Post, April 5th, has an article, “The cyber-hunt for Genghis Khan” that contains a section on page 5 about birds and a project run by the U.S. Geological Survey called Bird Phenology Program that I think would interest you.

  11. I just came back for a third time and read this from top to bottom again. This is a story that everyone should read. We are a country of immigrants. Your family history displays the rich and satisfying life that people lived without being of means. Hard work. love, and determination. That your mother helped you with a down payment when she clearly had so little is so sweet. Is there anything more satisfying than family?

    • No, there is not anything more satisfying than family. I have visited many of your posts again and again. Your family and mine worked very hard and did not make fortunes, but I never went to bed hungry or didn’t feel loved and cared for. The down payment was such a gift at the time Brenda and I were not making much money from teaching. I so admire your family, too, Bill.

  12. Elaine F Lee

    I loved this post! It reminded me so much of my own grandmother, who, sometime in the 60’s, decided to work outside the home. Grandma, working off the farm? We grandkids thought she was thoroughly modern — our own mom didn’t work outside our home! I believe Grandma worked just enough quarters that would allow her to draw Social Security. First there was the fried pie shop in Baird, TX and then in the butcher shop six miles to the west in Clyde, TX. She lived halfway in between in, what else, the Midway community. I doubt that her Social Security checks offered ample security since the wages she received couldn’t have been much. The Minimum Wage wasn’t much, but she had earned it herself, and that monthly check was hers. Before she died early in this century at age 95 just days before her next birthday and Mother’s Day, she had discovered Chiffon margarine and vowed to never eat churned butter again, and the little box of Dromedary brand Cornbread Mix was, in her opinion, decidedly better than her own tried-and-true (for years!) recipe for cornbread. However modern she thought herself, she never gave up flannel as the “in” fabric for nightclothes, nor did a “store-bought” blanket ever substitute for hand-pieced, hand-quilted bed covering. Modernity comes slowly to some items, and I’m glad. As the oldest granddaughter, I’m the recipient of many of her handmade quilts. Thank you , Grandma Dollie.

    Thank you, Jack, for sharing your Mom and Grandmom.

    • What great woman your Grandma was. I do love your detail and descriptions, Elaine. We have quilts on our bed from grandmother and mom. You have added much to this post by your comments. Thanks, Elaine.

  13. Pingback: Wild flowers of a dry Texas Spring day | Sage to Meadow

  14. Anonymous

    Hey I too have written stories about Bend in a book I called “Down the Road and Around The Bend” and Effie was “our” operator and yiu could ask her where someone was and she could tell you and about when they’d be back home

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