Walking a good walk


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Walking a good walk
By Bobby Neal Winters

We don’t do what we do for rational reasons. Not always at least. We come into the world without say of when, where, or who are parents are. We make our choices and walk our own path, but we’ve got no say in where we start that path. It’s not were we start out or where we end up so much that matters, but how we walk our walk. If you walk a good walk, that can have an effect to last generations, even if you are a modest person—like my Great Grandma Mandy.

I live in a comfortable home, and I have all my life. The places I’ve lived may have been modest by the standards of some, but they’ve always been good enough for me. I’ve never been cold, and I’ve never been hungry in any real sense.

My dad couldn’t have said that.

His grandfather, my great grandfather, followed the cotton crop back and forth from central Mississippi to northeast Texas. At some point he got tired of this while he was on the Texas end of it, sold everything, and decided to hunt, fish, and generally enjoy life. While I’m not entirely unsympathetic to this point of view as I sometimes toy with the notion myself during long faculty meetings, my great grandfather’s actions had consequences which went beyond his own time.

He had a little nest egg, but lived off the principal and not the interest and so after time the family resources were exhausted. There was no cushion and living was literally from hand to mouth. There was nothing to give his children a start in the world.

As a consequence, my father spent a portion of his early life in a house with a dirt floor. There were times when he was cold and hungry. There were times when the family moved at night to avoid paying the rent. We are not proud of this, but truth is truth, and we should remember these things about our own history lest we judge others too harshly. I have to remind myself of this more and more often as my own life becomes more comfortable.

My great grandmother’s name was Amanda Spence Winter. (Our family has gained the ‘S’ on the end of Winters within the last two generations.) My Grandma Winters, who was Amanda’s daughter-in-law, loved her. She always called her Mandy. I gather the name Amanda was just too fancy.

Mandy had grown up in Mississippi right after the War Between the States, and was no stranger to poverty. She’d learned to live on pokeweed, lamb’s quarter, and to use the natural herbs as medicine. She was a midwife who helped deliver babies, including my father and his twin brother. By all accounts she was a sweet woman, a useful woman, and a good woman who was loved by all who new her.

She died in 1925, when my father would have been 7 years old, and was buried in Boswell, Oklahoma. My great grandfather sort of went off the rails when she died. He lived by himself after that. It is told that once when my grandfather went to visit him, he had boiled some eggs over an open fire out in the yard, the eggs had chicks in them, but he ate them anyway.

His reduced capacity might have had something to do with the fact that he never put a marker on Mandy’s grave. He might be forgiven for this—though my Grandma Winters and my father never did—but no one else in the family put a marker on her grave either. It was left unmarked and it was lost.

Daddy was haunted by this.

When they tell you how to manage your time, they tell you there are matters which are important and those which are unimportant. They also say there are matters which are urgent and those which are not urgent. Matters which are not urgent and not important don’t get taken care of and it doesn’t matter. Matters which are urgent and important usually get attention.
If a matter is important but not urgent, it can be a problem. They need to be done, but they can be put off.

Daddy thought this was important, but as he had to put a roof over his kids’ heads, a floor under their feet, and food in their bellies, the matter of the marker got put off.

In 1985, sixty years after Mandy’s death, Daddy retired from truck driving. He and my brother Jerry, who was out of work at the time, went to the Boswell Cemetery and found Mandy’s grave as near as he could remember from his 7-year-old self.

Then he bought a marker—with help from his twin brother—and he and my brother Jerry took the stone to Boswell.

I was talking to Jerry on the phone about it. He said they hauled it in the trunk of their 77 Malibu. The stone went into the trunk easily. He and Dad just set it in. Getting it out was another matter. When you put something heavy like that in the trunk of a car, it weighs the springs down. When you lift it out, the springs push the car up under it, so you can lift it quite a ways but it’s still on the floor of the trunk. After the appropriate magic words were said, they got the stone out, and set it where Dad remembered the grave was.

Daddy was dead himself a little over a year after the marker was set.
That was twenty years ago, and Mandy died sixty years before that. There has been a span of eighty years since she’s died, and she is still having an effect. Her story continues, and the fact that she existed has an effect on us in a good way even yet.

(Bobby Winters is a professor of mathematics, writer, and speaker. You may contact him at bobby@okieinexile.com or visit his website at www.okieinexile.com.)