In May 2008, six months after my mother died, I found letters she wrote to my father from 1929 to August 24, 1932 when they married. They met as students at Stephen F. Austin State Teachers College (now Stephen F. Austin State University). My father left the university after his first year and returned home before leaving for law school. The letters are from my mother to him in his home town of Liberty, Texas. Finding these letters began my quest to understand my mother by writing her story and mine.

Chapter One - The Letters


I found them after I lost her.

Six months after my mother’s death and two months after my sister’s, I began to clean out my mother’s room, going through two chests of drawers, a dresser, and boxes never unpacked from when she first moved in with me after my father died in 1998. Not up to facing the task by myself, I invited my niece to come stay with me for a few days to help me clean out my mother’s room, and we spent several days, laughing and crying as we traveled through the memories my mother’s stashed away items stirred.

A Depression-era packrat, my mother did not throw anything away. We found wax paper, folded foil, frozen food trays, the little pans pot pies come in, used paper towels, the elastic off of adult diapers, every pen and pencil that had disappeared from our pen holder next to the kitchen phone, postcards, birthday and mother’s day cards, empty candy boxes, Barbie doll clothes, my toe shoes and costumes, little bottles of liquor from my travels, cough drops, unmatched glassware and dishes, eight pairs of new house shoes, my sister had sent to her and to me (although I never knew my sister intended a pair for me) each Christmas, her collections of state spoons and plates, and more.

Much of the paper was garbage, but it was mixed in with treasures of family history, including family pictures, many of people I do not know and many of my sister as a child, a young women, and an adult with her five children; my mother’s bank statements; her marriage license; her, mine, and my father’s birth certificates; wills and divorce papers my father had drawn up for his clients; obituaries on mother’s mother and father—and the letters.

Letters of various sizes, 26 in all, were in a dresser drawer among all of this other stuff. All but a couple of them are letters from my mother to my father starting in December 1929, and ending just a couple of weeks before they married on August 24, 1932. Most have no return address, but a few were written on borrowed stationery from Gray Mercantile Company or Stephen F. Austin University. The envelopes and the letters, yellowed with brown specks on thin paper, tore at the creases when I opened them. The post marks are faded, but most are from Nacogdoches, with a few from Wiergate or Newton. The two-cent stamps and the address suggest a time past. My father’s name and Liberty, Texas were all that was needed to get the letters to him: no street address or post office box number, no zip code. A few had drawings on them.