Living in a multi-generation household was great! As an only child I pretty much had a monopoly on attention. We lived in the ancestral home of my father along with his mother. My grandfather had died when I was barely old enough to remember him. From my earliest remembrances I knew I was the apple of my grandmother’s eye.
Mary Ena Aycock had come to Temple, Texas, with her railroad family when the tracks were first laid through central Texas. She lived a life of relative ease for those years. She loved to tell about her formal education. She took pride in her music studies. She would sit and look longingly at photos of her family in nice clothes in front of nice houses. It always seemed strange to me that life had turned out so differently than her beginnings.
Like many families she had picked up a grandmother name that was unique. One of her first grandchildren had wanted to go “to Mama.” Somehow in the mind of that youngster Tomama became her name. It soon spread to other grandchildren and Tomama answered to her unusual handle for the rest of her life. The name seemed appropriate. We all went “to mama” for comfort and counsel. Her easy positive attitude just made you feel better whatever the situation.
Tomama was short and rotund. Climbing into her lap was like trying to climb a treadmill. But once you managed to get in place it was a lap worth sitting in. Endless hours of reading and story telling would follow and somehow the next event would be waking up in bed and not remembering how I got there.
The old bungalow house she had spent most of her adult life in was never much to begin with. The years and 11 children had taken a serious toll in wear and tear. My father had done well with several crops and especially the booming turkey business. It was time to build a new house! The old house was demolished and much of the old lumber was reused in the new house. We moved in and everything looked as rosy as only the world of the 1950s could.
Good smells filled the new house. Country cooking was an everyday occurrence and that day was not to be an exception. Then it happened! There was a thud and an excruciating groan of pain. Tomama was in the kitchen floor and my world was changing forever. She couldn’t get up and her weight was beyond reason for my pregnant mother who was feverishly trying to help her mother-in-law. Help was needed. If anyone was going for help it had to be me.
The gravel road in front of our house was deserted as always. My father was plowing on my uncle’s farm about a mile away. He was the nearest help in a world before telephones. My feet began the trip easily enough. As I got farther from the house the fear of a five year old took over. The road seemed to go on forever. My brown felt moccasin house shoes kept coming off. Was Tomama going to be all right? Why was my mother in such distress? Could I find the way through the fields to my father?
Fear comes to everyone. My first recollection of fear is the feeling of that day. The tears flooded my face. They dropped onto the felt moccasins. They dropped onto the dusty road. Sometimes we just have to keep going through the fear of our lives. All I could do was run for help. Fear could not win–Tomama needed help.
Fear also eventually goes away. After an eternity of running I could see across the field to my father. When he spotted his five year old running across the field he knew there was trouble. Soon I was on the Farmall tractor with Dad and we sped to the house where he began the process of moving Tomama for the trip to the hospital about twelve miles away.
Things were never quite the same after that day. Tomama never fully recovered from the broken hip. She would live the remaining thirteen years of her life in a wheel chair. She would spend her final years suffering from “hardening of the arteries”–now known as Alzheimer’s. My mother’s attempts to move her injured mother-in-law resulted in one of her several miscarriages. The hospital bills took our family to the edge of desperation. Both Mom and Dad would go to work in town. We continued the farm and ranch operation. By eight I was farming during the summer days and Dad would work on the farm into the night.
Over six decades later I have observed many changes. The most troubling of these has been the loss of family continuity. We all live with an awful fear. It is the fear that those closest to us will exit from our lives. The fear I felt as a five year old was awful, but it never occurred to me that we could ever stop being a family. I knew that Tomama would be cared for. I knew that we would survive the disasters of that year. There was no stress that could pull us apart! It made the fear bearable. It still makes the fears bearable. That feeling was and is the best gift any family can give a five year old.