At age 28, my father moved from one end of a rural county to the other, further from home than his seven siblings. At age 28, I drove my MGB across the country, interviewing for jobs in New Mexico and Arizona, and ending up on the west coast.
Recently, I found a letter in my attic that my dad’s mom sent to me after I had moved to Santa Monica. Ma Hattie had a fourth grade education and knew more than I will ever know about growing food and living off the land. She was both tough and gentle. Her grandfather had survived the Civil War, and her father died young from a logging accident. She raised eight children and some of her grandchildren, and she loved us all unconditionally. My father once said she was stronger than any two men he ever knew. She once told me that she married my grandfather because “he had a mule and two cows, and he didn’t know what to do with them.”
To be sure that her letter would arrive promptly, Ma Hattie wrote “Air Mail” on the envelope. The letter was dated May 23, 1978. It was written in cursive with little punctuation.
“Dear Terry, Just a few lines to let you hear from me am doing fine hope you are O.K. It sure has turn hot hear today Robert garden is real pretty The peas are in bloom. All my children are OK Dot and Anne have been to Florida and stayed a week I haven’t saw them since they got back but I have talk to them several times All the rest of the family are OK. Sherry is working in Nashville she is making six hundred a month said she has to type most all the time Marty works for Purity Milk Co in Nashville, Claud workes for the same company two and Tracy is in school, Kennett works in Brentwood for a Dentist fixing teeth, Charlie is in school and and is playing Ball two They played last nite but I don’t know how they come out over (“over” meant “turn the page over”) hope you have a good time but don’t stay two long. haven’t seen Glenn and Honor (my parents) since Mother day have got to get this in mail so be sweet and write…let me hear from you and don’t stay away two long. I love you. Ma Hattie.”
I’m proud to be Hattie Stovall Huff’s grandson. I moved back to Tennessee before the end of 1979. Ma Hattie began her decline into dementia soon after I returned. Eventually, she moved into a skilled nursing facility. When I visited her one day, she was lying in bed, unable to walk. She asked me whose boy I was. Then she reached up to touch my beard and said, “Cut them whiskers off; you look like an old man!” She smiled when I told her she just needed an excuse to touch the beard. The last thing I recall her saying to me was this: “I’ll get up in a minute and go to the kitchen to get you something to eat.”