Reynolds Family Circle
Ora Lee Allen - Part II
This is the continuation of the Family Story of Ora Lee Allen from last month. We pick up with the writings of Mary Burcha Bursell Maupin: She helped my Dad 'prove up' on the homestead out on the North West Flats. On the morning when Clay was born, she was pulling nails from some used lumber so they might use it to build shelter for their cattle. She milked cows, made butter and sold cream, worked in the broom corn, rode the harrow and drove the team. She nursed the sick and helped deliver babies and even set my Dad's broken leg after he was run over by his own wagon. She raised four children of her own, a stepson, Homer, and a ten year old boy, Billy, who got off the orphan train from New York about 1917.
The years of the "Dust Bowl" and the Depression years that followed were hard on Mother. We moved from a house in Guymon to the Coldwater Ranch, then to Ringwood and on to Granddad's in Oklahoma City and finally to his homestead in Cleveland County, nine miles east of Norman and a mile and a half south on the place where she was born. Granddad, Claude Barefoot and my Dad built a two room frame house roughly in the same spot and almost identical to the one she had lived in. Claud Barefoot helped us plant and dig sweetpotatoes that year and we had a few cows, but no money. Clay, now about 20 years old, joined the CCC's to help support us.
In 1936 we moved into Norman where Mother went to work at the Oklahoma State Hospital and made pies for the creamery. Rutherford, now 14 years old, joined the CCC's and was sent to Purcell, not too far from Norman.
Mother and Dad divorced and the three of us, Mother, Cordelia and myself, moved to Granddad's in Oklahoma City about 1937 after Cordelia graduated from high school. Granddad was in California so we lived in his house while Cordelia attended Hills Business College. Uncle Ollie cam back from Stillwater soon after, and Cordelia and I moved into Granddad's little two room house near the oil well. Mother lived at the State Hospital (free room and board) and rode the interurban back and forth to see us when she had the money. In the summer of 1939 she was scalded down both legs when she was helping my Dad pour hot water into the gasoline powered washing machine that Clay had rebuilt into an electric. We had no money for doctors or medicine so she laid up most of the summer, blisters as big as dinner plates, with only Ungentine and cool cloths to ease the pain.
Mother and Dad remarried in 1939 and bought a house in Clinton where she took in boarders. When that wasn't enough to pay the bills, she got a job at the WPA sewing room.
In the spring of 1941, she decided to go to her Papa's. She had $100.00 in savings at the Post Office, a 12 year old child to feed, clothe and educate, and no skills to earn a living except the time spent at the State Hospital and the sewing room.
She worked in the nursing home for Aunt Ola a few months for our board and room. Then she went to work for Robinson Steel in the bakery of the cafeteria. She had already demonstrated that she knew how to make pies in large quantities. A friend of hers was a nurse at Mercy hospital and suggested she try for a job there. When she was there only a few months her supervisor suggested she get a GED and go into their nursing program.
But Mother had only gone to the third reader. Her grace in manners and genteel behavior was molded form childhood and watching other people. She learned math from looking over Cordelia's shoulder and fractions from a measuring cup. The thought of being in a classroom of wealthier, refined, better educated students cared her. She never realized how her elegance of character and charm influenced those around her.
When school was out in 1943, she made arrangements for us to go to Nevada where Uncle Arthur was making mattresses for the government housing at Henderson. She and Aunt Otha always had a lot of fun together, laughing and cutting up like two school girls.
She married Ben Wilkerson in 1944. He worked for the BMI plant in Henderson, but both of them thought Phoenix would be a place to start a new life together. In October of 1945 we came to Phoenix and they bought a small service station. Mother told Ben she could make hamburgers and pies, so they rented the little shed next to the station. A few months later they sold the station and the hamburger stand to Darrell Walters and with the profits bought a farm in Arkansas.
Neither were as happy as they thought they would be. They had a big pair of Perchion horses and Mother sometimes walked behind the plow tilling the soil just as she had done in her earlier years in the panhandle. Their tomato crop was a disaster so they sold the farm and bought a cafe in Supulpa, Oklahoma. In December 1948, while Mother was in Phoenix visiting me, Ben had a stroke. Mother cared for him almost two years before he died.
She stayed with one or the other of us children - - never in one place for very long at a time. Uncle Ollie fixed up his garage for her in the fifties, but she was never really satisfied. Rutherford found a mobile home in California and she bought it and moved it to Blythe, California. She said she liked it there because it was hers and she was near enough for her children to visit.
After a severe heart attack, she came to live with me. When I left the Blythe hospital with her in March 1969, the doctor said...'if you get her to Phoenix, she might live 3 months.' As she recovered she began to cut out quilt pieces and quilt them in a very fine stitch. She crocheted and learned to make different crafts. In 1971 Uncle Arthur and Uncle Ed and their wives visited us. In 1973 she entertained three of her brothers, (the four of them had not been together in over 63 years) and their wives and enjoyed every minute of it.
We even took a couple of trips to see Aunt Otha at Leota's and Robert's ranch in New Mexico. When we arrived, after a fourteen hour trip, she sat down on a bench outside before going in. (Rutherford and I jointly agreed she was the best co-pilot to have on a long trip). Leota's pet coyote came from out of nowhere, jumped upon her lap and laid there for several minutes for her to pet him. The coyote usually shied away form any one except Leota and Robert, but Mother had a special way with animals, tame or wild.
However, as the years went by, she became more dependent upon others. She had a cataract on one eye and a detached retina on the other. Seeing became quite a problem. She misread her prescriptions and thought I was trying to get rid of her when she overdosed on water pills thinking they were digitalis. As soon as she got better she packed her things and went to Clay's in Texas. That lasted almost a year. Then Rutherford brought her back to Blythe and she bought another mobile home. But at age 83, with advancing leukemia and an enlarged heart, long over stressed, she came back to my home in Phoenix to spend her last six months. She received many cards and letters, but she especially liked the one from Gene who told of his cherished memories of her.
Two weeks before her death, Aunt Otha, Leota and Eva came to spend time with her and she was overjoyed, not wanting any of them to leave. Her attitude and sense of humor never changed. She laughed at her own mistakes in her speech saying, 'Now, that didn't sound right, did it?' If I gave her a quizzical look, she would laugh and say, "Did I come out crazy again?" Her ingenious wit is still puzzling to me after all these years.
We spent many hours talking of the early days of her life. Some sad, and some humorous. But even the sad times had good memories for her. She often wondered why she had been blessed with so many things in life she thought she was unworthy of having. She never regretted living the way she had to live. It taught her to be able to overcome future obstacles and be stronger for it. She felt ashamed of the fact that she hadn't any talents to pass on to another generation.
One afternoon shortly before she died, she had awakened form a nap and wanted to tell me about the dream she had. She was standing on a giant spiral staircase dressed in a flowing pink gown. There was a party going on below in her honor. I asked her how she knew the party was for her and she replied, "Why, they're all there! Mama, Papa, Ollie, Fred, Gertrude, Maude, Arley and Arther", and Ed is calling me his pet names, "plousum, lousum, gotcha lousum". She even mentioned the "Little Babe" and I thought she was going to say his name, but the memory slipped away. On Monday morning, after a full day of Sunday visitors of friends, children and grandchildren, she went into a coma.
Wednesday, August 8th (30 years to the day of her Papa's death), Clay placed his hands over her eyes to close them for the last time. She was lying on her right side so I lifter her from the shoulders to straighten out her body and put in her dentures. As I pulled her towards me, one eye came open as if to say, "I'm still watching you, Mary Burcha."