Reading all of Glennon’s recent posts about her family made me feel so happy. I love knowing that there are extended families out there that really know and like each other. Reading about her lovely cast of familial characters got me thinking about my own extended family, and from what you wrote in your comments, it also got many of you thinking about yours. Some of you seemed to be wishing that you had a close-knit group of cousins, aunts, and uncles to write about with the same deep affection Glennon has for her clan. Glennon’s writing was so tender, it was almost depressing NOT to have a big, close-knit family. So in order to make some of you feel better about your own relatives, I decided to write a little bit about mine. My family can be the yin to her family’s yang. Once you read this and compare your forefathers to mine, you will surely feel like you descended from royalty.
Both sides of my southern, small-town family have generations filled with colorful characters worthy of fireside stories, country songs, scandalous novels, far-fetched movie plots, and the like. But for now, let’s concentrate on my mother’s side. Her people were a bit bawdier, far drunker, and more likely to start gunfights.
I’ll start with this family tree:
This chart was written by my Uncle Jerry, my mother’s older brother, sometime in the 1950’s, and she gave it to me a few years ago. It is one of my most treasured possessions. He wrote it for her so that she wouldn’t forget important details about her family history. He drew the chart showing the generations of mothers and fathers and in the margins, he wrote what details he could remember about the people on the chart. (My favorite thing about this is that he honestly did not intend for it to be funny.) Here are my favorite excerpts:
Dad remembers Orval Lyons having a pistol duel and killing his rival.
One of the Fulgrum boys killed his wife, mother, father, and brother-in-law two years ago in Shreveport.
Henry Thomas Baker was killed in a gunfight in a store in Spring Hill Louisiana.
Nathanial Thorn disappeared en route to Shreveport from Rodessa to see a doctor. The belief is that the doctor killed him.
Joseph Lyon was killed by guerillas.
If you tilt your head to the left and look in the corner, you can read, “ Jerry Cox wrote this” written in my mother’s handwriting. The kicker is that not long after it was written, Jerry Cox, too, was killed in a gunfight. And years before Jerry was shot and killed, he shot his wife and her lover when he caught them in bed together. Jerry never went to trial for the murders because in those days, killing your cheating wife and her lover was considered justifiable homicide in the state of Texas.
Did you read Sister Amanda’s comment on February 2nd that told the story of Alice and her sisters? She wrote about how the oldest sister worked the second-oldest sister’s way through nursing school. The second sister put the third sister through nursing school, the third put the fourth through nursing school, the fourth the fifth. What an incredible story. No wonder Glennon and Amanda are such amazing women. They come from good stock.
Okay, now it’s my turn to tell you about my grandmother. When my grandmother Spencer was 7 years old, her father loaded his gun and went to town to collect a long overdue debt. The fellow who owed him money shot him dead, of course, and his body was brought home in a horse-drawn wagon. That horse-drawn wagon was never moved from its spot in the front yard. Instead, it sat in front of the old homeplace for decades and became a shrine of sorts. My grandmother and her sisters grew up revering the wagon in the front yard and remained sentimental about it as adults. Doesn’t that sound like the punch line to a joke? You might be a redneck if…the disintegrating wagon that carried home your father’s body is still in your sad looking front yard surrounded by overgrown weeds. My grandmother and her sisters never worked each other’s way through nursing school, or any kind of school for that matter. When they were together, they just did a lot of drinking, hollering, fighting, and cussing.
I also loved the part of Amanda’s comment where she wrote about travelling to Ireland and coming across a sign bearing her family name hanging over the west gates of Galway that said “From the Ferocious O’Flahertys, May God Protect Us.” That brings me to my next story about the other side of my mother’s family, the ferocious Cox’s. They were just as spirited as the Spencers and just as fond of guns. My Grandfather Cox had a sister who was more than fourteen years older than him. There is a Cox family portrait hanging in my parents’ house today, and you can see this much older sister standing with her husband and her children. Nobody knows for sure what really happened to that sister, but legend has it, she was killed by her husband (with a gun, naturally). The murder could never be proven, so the husband went free. After my grandfather Cox grew up, he and his brothers decided it was time to meet their older sister’s grown children and went to pay them a friendly visit. When they showed up at the family’s home and knocked on the door, they heard the heavy footsteps of a man quickly dashing out the back door of the small house and running away at full speed. It was the dead sister’s husband, who was afraid that he was about to be the victim of a much delayed revenge shooting. The Cox family doesn’t have a fancy schmancy sign written in Gaelic hanging above the gates to any city, but people in their little Texas town certainly knew to run like hell when one of them knocked on the door.
I’ve only gone a few generations back, and already I count eleven deaths by gunfire, one death at the hands of a doctor in Shreveport, and one death by guerillas. I could go on and on, and I’m not making this stuff up.
Now I’m sure there are some soft-hearted readers who might think my family history is a bit sad, and parts of it are. Not all of our stories are funny ones. My mother’s childhood was completely ruined by her parents’ alcoholism, and while their antics make for good storytelling, she saw things growing up that no child should see. (If I told you those stories, I would be adding another shooting incident, a stabbing, and some serious hand-to-hand combat to the total.) But my family chooses to laugh at the madness from which we descended. Actually, I’m fiercely proud of my heritage. I would take my crazy, backwoods family and all of their zany stories over a froufrou pedigree any day of the week.
Since my goal was to draw contrasts between Glennon’s family and mine, I’m going to end with a poem. Don’t worry. You won’t be sniffling and dabbing your eyes with a tissue the way I do when I read Bubba’s beautiful writing. This poem is the only one my father has ever written for my mother. It was her Valentine’s Day gift in 1963. It was written on a scratch piece of paper. It read:
Up your ass
And down my spine
Won’t you be my Valentine?