A letter to my niece, concerning writing

[Long ago, I wrote this. Yes, its details are old. Still, it’s valuable.]

Well, seeing that my niece, like my mother, is a talented writer, I went to Barnes & Noble, thinking to buy equipment. My idea was

Gabrielle Lusser Rico’s Writing the Natural Way
A blank book for journal writing
A pen.

So I looked at Rico’s book, and I saw that, at the beginning, it’s rather academic. I thought, Maybe I could sit down with it and go through it with a highlighter, marking the practical exercises so Kara can just skip over the rest.

Then I checked out the blank books. Some were soppy New Age things, with silly quotations and untrustworthy suggestions. Some of the books were made in China, with lined paper like in a school notebook. Some were from Spain, with quadrille paper—like graph paper. Some were really blank: no lines at all, good for drawing as well as writing. Some, made in Italy, had beautiful bindings. There were leather-bound journals from Italy and China, some designed for travel. Some journals were big and thick. Some were small.

As I looked them over, I thought, Would any of these be something Kara would like? Does she want something big and thick, to fill with all sorts of ideas? Or something small, for carrying with her? The fancy, leather-bound ones might make it harder to write: Is my writing worthy of such a package? Is the next sentence I write worthy of the one I just wrote? Or maybe she wants to keep a diary . . .

My mind kept going back to what a writer needs and wants.

Books like Rico’s can be useful—but I learned what I needed from it because my wife taught it to me. I didn’t read the book myself (though my aunt Marion did, on my recommendation, and found it very valuable).

And blank books are neat—but any blank book will do, if only the dollar-apiece school notebooks I buy at Walgreen’s. I kept my high-school diaries in books like that, bought from the Rice University campus store.

The Writer Reads

Out of all this pondering, one thing remained certain: you learn to write by READING. Now, there are books out there about writing, written by great writers.

Italo Calvino writes five essays about the qualities of experience that we look for in great writing. Nadine Gordimer, the South African novelist, writes about writing and social responsibility.

But that’s writing about writing , and it isn’t what I mean. No, you learn to write by finding writers who do what you admire, and then you see how they do it.

In high school, my model stylist was the philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell. I read his History of Western Philosophy not because I was so interested in the subject, but because of the way he shaped his sentences. And I wrote short stories shaped like the ones in the science fiction anthologies. Later, when I was in Saudi Arabia, I wrote short stories under the influence of James Joyce’s Dubliners stories.

The Writer Learns a Craft

That’s the fact: writing is a craft, and you learn your craft by apprenticing to the masters. To write well, you have to have vocabularies.

One vocabulary is words.

If all you know is the words spoken by your friends, you’re limited to expressing what your friends know and think. The spoken vocabulary is pretty small, and the less education you have, the smaller it is. So the only way to develop a writer’s vocabulary, one adequate to express a range of thought and feeling, is by reading.

But there’s another vocabulary, and that’s the vocabulary of sentence structures: ways to say things.

Spoken sentences have to be relatively simple, because they’ve got to be understood as they are heard. Written sentences can be reread, if need be. So they can be more complex and less repetitive, and they can express more complicated thoughts.

The Writer Expresses Ideas

So reading exposes you to different ways to say or write ideas. And that, Kara, is the key! Because you don’t really write ideas at all, or, rather, when you write in one way, you express one idea, and when you write in another way, you express a different one.

In high school, I remember, I’d have ideas, but they were really vague and general. And when I’d try to write them down, I found that they changed as I wrote. What happened was, when I had to choose a particular word or phrase, I had to decide whether I meant the idea that I was writing, or a different idea that I hadn’t yet written. I’d write a sentence, and then I’d read it, and I’d say to myself, That isn’t what I was thinking, but it’s interesting. And then I’d rewrite, to say what I now thought was true.

Writing as Self-Discovery

Maybe you can see where this process was going. For me, writing is a way I can find out what I think (discovery) and determine what I think (commitment). Another way to put it: it’s a process of defining who I am.

Writing down words on the page is committing to one idea rather than another, being one me out of a whole chorus of potential mes. It’s a way of engaging in debate with myself, talking things over with myself.

I’ve always said that, for the money, I liked my own cooking best. The same is true for my own writing, and maybe my own company as well.

Of course, that gives another reason to value reading: it lets you engage OTHER minds, listen to OTHER voices. 

And sometimes you decide that reading trashy writing is like hanging out with trashy people. Unless you’re deliberately slumming, you tend to avoid it. 

But you understand, too, that what you read is as much part of you as who you make friends with. If you keep a book close to you, it’s because it’s part of you. It appeals to one of those potential selves that waits inside you. We are all bigger than our skins, you know.

Oh, well . . .

Anyway, I gave up on shopping at Barnes & Noble. I decided to give you a gift certificate instead, so that you could choose what’s right for you. Maybe you want a big (or small), leather-bound (or cloth-, plastic-, or cardboard-bound) blank book. Or maybe not. Maybe you’ve decided you’d like to take a chance on Rico’s book, or even have me mark it up for you. Or maybe not. Maybe you want some fantasy novels or a best-seller or a picture book or a dictionary . . . whatever you want to read and explore.

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Uncle Don’s search for a mate, Part 2: Domestic

Later in 1954, Don tried again to find a mate, this time with more success. His letter “Tall Texas Bachelor Would Like To Know” was published in the Palm Beach Post-Times for Sunday, September 19, 1954. He inquires regarding an article in the September issue of Real magazine entitled “Paradise for Lonely Men,” which says that Florida’s “chief import is widows and divorcees”: “If so, this is one tall Texas bachelor who would not mind getting acquainted with a few.”

Including his address, both there and in his letter to “Colonel Clearwater” in the Clearwater Sun, was effective. He got postcards from Sofi Weiss in Clearwater and M. English in West Palm Beach. He got over a dozen letters from Florida, including letters from two nurses, colleagues at a hospital, and a couple from a lonely lady in Portland, Maine, who had a friend in Florida. One lady writes, “I never did anything like this in my life, but thought it would be fun to try.” Sometimes the letters contained pictures.

Don followed up. He responded to Theresa Green, of West Palm Beach, on September 24. “So far,” he tells her, “I have received five replys [to the newspaper letter] and all were very favorable except one I received from a divorcee in Lake Worth, Florida who came to your state to get away from it all and who signed her name a divorcee who wants to stay divorced. That is her privilege, however, as it is a free country . . . and it does not make dampen my Texas sense of humor in the least. I always look for peoples good qualities and try to ignore the bad ones if possible.”

He is, he tells her, a member of the DAV, chapter 31 (previously in DAV chapter 11), and a past member of the Dallas Council on World Affairs. “I have had three years of college, one at Oklahoma A&M College, Stillwater, Okla in 1934 and two years at North Texas Agricultural College, Arlington, Texas from 1935 to 1937.” He enclosed a photo and asked for one from her. That letter was returned undeliverable.

This was not his only avenue for meeting women. In 1954 he became a member of “Help Company” and received a typed list of over 60 women looking for mates. He received the name, address, age, height, weight, hair color, eye color, religion, and the woman’s own characterization of herself. Doubtless, he provided the same information about himself, to be passed along.

Don marked the items that interested him: eighteen in all. Georgia Warf, 40, from Bluefield, WV, says she “Enjoys all sports, theatres, but most of all loves a good home where there is a real companion to share it and make it complete.” He wrote her. She wrote back. Veronica Schaffer, 27, of Concordia, Kansas, answered his letter and enclosed a picture.

His diligence didn’t pay off. Nonetheless, he continued to have an active social life. He was a member of Dallas’s Baha’i community. A cousin tells me:

In the mid to late 1970’s I had several experiences in Dallas that involved Don. Many, many times I was asked if I was related to Don SoRelle of Dallas. I attended a teachers’ workshop at the Museum of Natural History in Dallas, maybe ca. 1975, and members of the Audubon Society asked me, after they knew my name, if I was related to Don SoRelle. He was highly regarded by their society. Later, around 1976, when I worked in a Montessori school, a teacher at the school, of the Baha’i faith, also expressed that high regard for Don. I assume, since he was an honorary member of the Alabama-Coushatta tribe, that he was also highly regarded by them.

Don’s involvement with the American Indian Center provided, as far as I know, his last opportunity to find a mate. He met a Native American woman with children, proposed to her, and was accepted. His sister met her and explained Don’s situation to her. The woman took it well, and that was that.

Uncle Don’s search for a mate, Part 1: Overseas

I found a bag of my Uncle Don’s correspondence from the 1950s. The most interesting subject was his attempts to find a mate.

I should start out by saying that Don SoRelle (1914-1996) was a strange fellow. What I know from before the 195os is limited. He graduated magna cum laude from W. C. Stripling High School, Fort Worth, in June 1933 and probably entered Panhandle A&M College, Goodwell, Oklahoma, that September. When war broke out in 1941, Don was drafted, and he was deployed to Panama, to guard the canal. I am told that soldiers from Brooklyn or thereabouts bullied him. He had a nervous breakdown and thereafter received disability payments from the Army.

I don’t think Don ever held a regular job after that. But in the ’50s, when I knew him, he ran a newspaper clippings service out of the home he shared with his mother and his sister Bernice.

From 1949 to 1956, Don collected news stories about the post-War shortage of men and many women’s attempts to find mates. Denton opened its Old Maid’s Day to bachelors. A Catholic priest in St. Louis tried to organize get-togethers as an alternative to bars and dance halls. Women in England were desperate, Irish women complained of too many bachelors, and pictures of English, German, and Italian women were published, with captions describing their desires.

Don combed these articles for the names of women and where they were. The place where the story originated was helpful, and he made lists of newspapers as well as women.

On February 5, 1954, came an announcement that the German Consulate had opened in Houston. Don wasted no time. On the 10th he mailed three letters to the Consulate, for forwarding.

He wrote one to the Mayor of Frankfurt, asking “If there are any single unmarried German girls who would be interested in corresponding with a single American man.” He enclosed a photo, and he described himself: “I am 40 years old, have brown hair, blue eyes, and am six feet tall. I am a totally disabled war veteran, World War II, now drawing a pension of $172.50 a month and earn extra money by running a news clipping bureau.”

He wrote a similar letter to the Mayor of Hamburg, but inquired about a woman who had been living there in 1949, and he wrote to the Mayor of Oldenburg, this time inquiring after Sigrid von Haessler. He must have been particularly taken by her, because he purchased a clipping from True: The Man’s Magazine. It was a long letter from Sigrid, with picture, that had appeared in the November 1949 issue. Sadly, the clipping arrived after February 11.

All was for nought: the German Consul turned him down flat. But Don wrote to a German woman in Washington, DC, and, in March, 1954, he received a kind response from her. She asked him to tell her about himself and to enclose a photo; she and a colleague provided their addresses in Germany. In July, 1954, Don wrote to the Hamburger Abendblatt, providing a photo and a paragraph for the Personals, which states that his purpose is eventual marriage. He is quoted a price with photo (over 100 marks) and without (DM 17.60), to be paid by international money order.

My mother’s childhood, Part 6: Books, dolls, and movies

I have always loved to read. Before I could, I was read to. I was crazy about fairy tales, the Oz books, mythology, and every “Little Colonel” and Louisa May Alcott book ever written. I fell in love with N. C. Wyeth’s illustrations for Siegfried and The Scottish Kings. Cooper’s Natty Bumppo and the noble Mohican were very real to me and not the least bit ridiculous, and I was very easy prey later on for the enchantments of “Beau Geste” and the Sabatini heroes.

Children’s books have been a lifetime interest of my mother’s. Not only did she see that we had the best printed, but she was President of the P.T.A. and helped select books for the school library, and she pioneered a program at the Fort Wort “Garden Center” (at the Botanical Garden) at which good books were reviewed for children every Saturday morning. Peg and I and many of our friends enjoyed going to these programs, and I especially enjoyed the Garden Center because I could go in the greenhouse there and smell the earth there, a sweet, dark fragrance like nothing I’d smelled before or since, and there were paths to follow down among the trees, and in 1936 we could see from the Garden Center across the expanse of forested park, the tents set up for Billy Rose’s “Jumbo” and the other buildings of Fort Worth’s Texas Centennial “Frontier Fiesta.”

There were dolls and dolls and dolls at our house. Two were from my oldest sister’s childhood, and she showed them to me now and then. One of them was a “Bye-lo Baby,” a china-headed doll modeled after a real infant; and the other was “Dorothy Gish,” who had a story about her I always like to hear.

When my oldest sister was small, my father had been in New Orleans just before Christmas. It was during the first World War, and toys, which at that time were mostly made in Germany, were understandably scarce. My father visited a toy shop and was disappointed by the crudely made American dolls, but as he often did with strangers, began to talk and visit with the old proprietor of the shop. The man was German-born, and he was cautious at first in his conversation; many German-Americans and their shops had suffered from the “super-patriotism” of looting, lawless mobs, but the old man warmed to my father’s friendliness and his story of the little daughter who wanted a doll for Christmas, so he led the way upstairs into the attic, where stored away, were two lovely German dolls, one light-haired and one dark. Since my father chose the dark one, and my sister called her “Dorothy Gish,” the other one must have been “Lillian Gish,” and I wonder what little girl got her.

I loved my dolls. I had a couple of the Dionne quintuplets, two Shirley Temple dolls of which I was not very fond, many “Patsy” dolls, a china-headed lovely in a blue-and-white checked dress and sunbonnet, who had china hands and feet and white pantaloons, my bride doll, of course, and such oddments as “Betty Boop,” “Popeye,” and “You Bet” because he was a present from my grandmother, and that was a favorite saying of hers. You Bet was lost, and he was found; he was tossed around like a ball; he was dropped in the fishpond more than once (but then I fell in a few times, too), and one time I tried to restore his coloring (unsuccessfully) with pink and blue watercolors. You Bet is still around my present house somewhere. My boys always called him little “By Gum,” which seems to me a very ridiculous name for a doll.

I say I loved my dolls, but I really didn’t care for baby dolls at all, and the “Wetsy” and “Didee” things when they came in seemed to me quite horrid. Also, I could think of nothing more boring than patiently sewing doll clothes, although I loved to get “scraps” from the dressmaker who made our clothes — bits of red velvet, silk, flower prints and lace, and simply drape the dolls with them.

I liked paper dolls best of all, and Peg and I spent many hours playing with them. I had some that were quite unusual – ones depicting the Little Colonel and her friends as children and then grown up; some relics one store had left over of people like Mae Marsh and Rudolph Valentino; the Little Women ones that came out with the Katherine Hepburn movie version, and many others. At one time my mother had me mount them all in scrapbooks for a hobby show, and my father labeled them all in the pretty printing that was more natural to him than cursive writing.

More than any of these paper dolls, Peg and I loved the ones we cut out of movie magazines, for we were avid movie fans. When allowed to go downtown to the movie, we often would see two or three movies at two or three different theaters.

My mother’s childhood, Part 5: Christmas

My father and mother loved Christmas, and it was absolutely, fantastically, magically beautiful for us children. Once, I remember, I received a telegram from “Santa”, saying that since our chimney was too small (that fake fireplace!), would I please leave the front door unlocked?

My father always bought the biggest tree he could find and set it up in the far end of the living room next to the piano, but “Santa Claus” decorated it after we had gone to bed on Christmas Eve. One Christmas Eve I remember my father pointed out to me from my bedroom window, the “Christmas Star.” I said, “I only see the moon,” but then he led me to another window and said, “No, you see, here is the moon outside this window.”

I’m sure it’s difficult for all children to sleep on Christmas Eve; they tell themselves that the sooner they get to sleep the sooner it will be Christmas, but when sleep finally comes, “visions of sugarplums” is quite an accurate picture of the dream. Looking back, I wonder if it wasn’t a little strange that none of us were tempted to sneak downstairs during the night, or maybe at the times I remember, there were only two or three of us young enough to cherish the Santa-magic legend.

The first one up on Christmas morning—usually me—woke the others, but no one went down until all were ready. Then we assembled on the second floor landing of the curving double staircase, lining up youngest-first to eldest-last, waiting until my father and mother joined the procession to lead us down the East staircase to the livingroom. Before us was Fairyland! Whatever it was we had said we wanted for Christmas was there and more. The stockings had nuts and fruit and filled candies, and hard candies with pictures of flowers and fruit on them. One year, some time after Christmas, I found some bags of these dainties in the back of a pantry cabinet, and somehow this gave me my first suspicions about old Santa.

The pattern was the same from year to year; they all blend together with little difference except I remember especially the year tiny Puppy was under the tree, my brother Jack’s heart’s desire, the year of my typewriter (I wanted a real one, not a toy, and I got a Remington portable although I was only nine or ten), and the year of the bride doll.

That year we had driven to Dallas to see the Christmas lights (also a traditional family activity), and I had seen in Neiman’s window the first bride doll I’d ever seen, a novelty at that time. My mother told me a long time afterward that she and my father had not been satisfied with the quality of the doll considering the over-all price, so they investigated until they found the name of the woman who made the doll’s trousseau for Neiman’s, bought me a doll I already wanted, and had the woman make a trousseau for her.

One year, too, I remember there was a present for all the family, a set of Shakespeare in many thin blue volumes. Its last owner had illustrated it himself in striking watercolors along the edges of the pages. There must have been other illustrations, but the ones I remember were the eerie wraiths and witches and dagger dripping blood that belonged to the story of Macbeth.

After the opening of presents, my mother sat at the piano and played Christmas carols, and we all sang until time for breakfast. Breakfast was traditional, too, — salt mackerel from kegs, potatoes boiled and buttered, and Southern corncakes, brown-and-gold and lacy-edged; and always then, as every morning and every evening when my father came home, the dark-roast French drip coffee he special-ordered from New Orleans.

Christmas was never cold that I remember. It was sunny, and after breakfast, my best friend, Peggy, and I got together to see each other’s presents. The Garretts were our nearest neighbors, and Peggy and I said we had “known each other before we were born,” because our parents had been friends for so long. Peggy’s grandmother lived with them most of the time. She was Swiss, from Wisconsin, and she made ginger-cookie men with pink and white icing to hang on their tree and give out to young visitors. Sometimes we’d have tea with her, and she’d read our fortunes in the tea leaves. I don’t remember anything about my own, but in Peg’s cup she always found an “S.” I thought because of this, perhaps Peg would marry one of my brothers. She didn’t, but she did marry Edward Smith.

 

My mother’s childhood, Part 4: Her parents’ families

Just about every year when I was small, my mother would reserve a “drawing room” on the train and take at least some of us to Tennessee with her to see her mother and other relatives. My grandmother was a strong, intelligent woman who sewed beautiful doll clothes for her granddaughters, enjoyed working in her lovely garden, and had a tremendous sense of humor. She also had a semi-secret vice: she dipped snuff. She didn’t mind our knowing about her “filthy habit,” but not outsiders, and I think she even thought my father did not know. She was very fond of him and he of her, and he did many nice things for her.

My mother’s sisters, Ella and Emma, were funny and fun to be with, and we liked her brothers and other sisters whom we saw less often. There had been ten children in Mother’s family, most of them my Grandmother’s, but my Grandfather, a doctor, had been married four times in all (he survived the first three), so some of the children were “half”-relations to the rest.

Sometimes we went out to Gallaway (“Gallaway”, the town, was named for my grandmother’s Mother’s family; “Gallaway” is my middle name) to see my grandmother’s sisters, maiden ladies who lived together in the old family home of their youth. The house had suffered from termites in its upper story at one time, and the ladies had been forced to have the whole upper portion removed. It was a very interesting thing to me to see inside the wide wooden stairway which led one’s eye up only to stop at the ceiling.

But more interesting than the house was the garden. My mother told me long ago it used to be a showplace. To me it was still something special – growing out of its beds onto the paths here and there, to be sure, but everywhere masses of color and the shade of trees, under one of which we had a picnic lunch. And here also I got stung! There as a family reunion held there one year, and during the festivities I was stung by a “great bee.” Looking back, it does appear I was, as a child, nothing but an insect’s banquet.

In spite of the bite, I remember very pleasantly my great-aunts’ garden, and I recall Aunt Anna, tall (or was it that I was small?), dark-haired, rather austere-looking with a black velvet ribbon around her throat, and white-haired, soft-voiced, sweet-faced Aunt Mattie. I wonder why they never married. Two of their sisters had been grandfather’s wives – when Rebecca died, my grandmother married her sister, Sidney Layton, who was my grandmother.

I did not know my father’s family very well, or maybe it was just that his family had scattered more, so I knew fewer of them. I remember his mother and father, especially his father who survived his wife by several years, and was, in those latter years, blind. “Daddypaw” was “Judge SoRelle,” (his name was “Don”). He had been a lawyer in Louisiana and East Texas before he retired. I remember him as an old man with a thin face, white hair, and a thick white mustache.

I gather from what my Mother has said, that she did not, when she and my father were first married, get along too well with his mother. There would seem to have been friction especially in the matter of my father’s brother, Don, of whom my mother was very fond, and whose romance with a girl his parents deemed unsuitable was broken up by his mother. Don died while still quite a young man, and the circumstances of his death (he was ill and taking medication) could have been construed as suicide by an overdose of narcotics.

The real thorn, however, in my mother’s relationship with my father’s family was his brother, Andrew. All the ramifications of this conflict I do not know. I know that Andrew always remained close to his parents’ church, the Baptist Church, and my father did not. I know that my father left L.S.U. before getting his degree in order to provide for Andrew’s education. I know that my father bore more than his share of helping support his parents for many years. I know that my mother feels that Andrew used his brother unmercifully and in every way possible. After one incident (what?) my mother determined never to have anything to do with him again, but when he called and was received by my father, she went to her room, fought out with herself her private dragons of pride and anger, then returned and welcomed him, as a member of my father’s family to her home.

My father was very fond of his younger sister, Eloise. I liked her, too, when she would come to visit us with her husband and three small boys. The family had lived in Cuba and Puerto Rico, and the little boys spoke Spanish as well as English. They lived in Wichita Falls for a while, and it was there that Eloise became ill and in time died from cancer of the bowel. I remember the night my father returned from the funeral, how he stood in the darkened living room with his back to the fire, his head bowed and tears in his eyes. I went to him and held his hand and put my arms around him.

My father did not have any hobbies, or as he said in an article about him in an oil magazine, his “family was his hobby.” He did not like to play golf at the country club, or cards with the “boys” or the neighbors. He did take my brothers, Jack and Layton, on a hunting trip where he could teach them to shoot, and he loved taking the whole bunch of us to the circus or to the rodeo and Fat Stock Show. He was on the board of directors of the latter, and we always had a box, often watching Jack and Layton ride in the saddle horse event.

 

My mother’s childhood, Part 3: The servants

Dear Mattie! She was a short, “tubby” Negro with a broad, pleasant face, and dark ringlets of short hair. She was rather light-skinned—part Indian, I think she told me, and she was my very dear friend. Mattie took care of me a great deal of the time, and I would sit on the back staircase which led into the kitchen and we’d visit while she’d produce for me a bread-and-butter sandwich or a glass of “ice cold water.” Mattie’s son, Clarence, was our chauffeur. He was light-skinned, too, and he stuttered, but he was a good driver—he had to be with a car full of us kids constantly bound for school or dancing school or dramatic lessons, or the like.

I used to like it when my mother had a big party or tea or similar occasion, not because of the party which I’d avoid, if possible, but because Mamie and Ernest, or Brock, or perhaps Johnson would come help out, and I liked to be in the kitchen to sample the chicken salad and watch fancy-shaped sandwiches being cut out of colored bread and talk to the help as they worked.

Mamie was a favorite character with all of us. She had a high-pitched, nasal voice, and she used to sing, “When they ring them golden bells” at the top of it. Also, she had a tremendous imagination and a favorite story about a wrestler she mis-called “Juan Humbuggo.” Mamie drove a little blue coupe that possessed a great attraction for all of us children—a rumble seat. We would wheedle Mamie into taking us for rides, and one occasion I remember very well when Mamie’s driving suffered from her story about “Juan Humbuggo.” When old “Juan Humbuggo” “Picked him up, and he threw him down,” Mamie let the steering wheel go, and my brother Layton had to do some impromptu steering.

Johnson was another interesting character. What her first name was I have no idea, or was her first name “Johnson”? Anyway she was very tall, very black, and she was old. She was an excellent cook, and she said she’d been in “Chiny” and “Jaypan,” and I rather think she had.

I will never forget an incident when I was about eight. By this time, there were five more houses, widely spaced, in our addition. One of them was owned by a friend of my father’s, a Stanolind executive, who lived there with his wife and only daughter. Mrs. McCorkle, was, I learned later, from a Western ranch background. She was big, hearty, and plain-talking and was totally convinced that her plump little daughter, Elna, was another Shirley Temple, to which end the child wore countless ringlets and took tap-dancing from the most “exhibitionist” teacher available. Elna was my playmate; and my best friend, Peggy Garrett, and I used to go many places with Elna and her mother or over to her house to play in the cottage-sized playhouse her father had built in their back year.

This particular time something came up in conversation about some white boys from the Arlington Heights area who had gone over into nearby “Niggertown” and thrown rocks at some of the inhabitants. I was incensed. “Why, they’re as good as we are!” I said. Immediately it was as if I’d committed the unpardonable sin. “You think,” said Mrs. McC., “that a black nigger’s as good as you are?!” and she continued in this vein. I was really very upset when I went home, and I went to my mother and I asked her if Negroes were as good as we were. She hesitated (my mother’s people were Tennessee plantation owners, and her background is South), and finally she said, “Well, Negroes have always been a serving class.” If she said anything more, I don’t remember it, but I do remember going downstairs to the kitchen and throwing my arms around Mattie and kissing her on the cheek.