Janice Williams Loves Austin And sometimes I write about it.

February 8, 2015

My Aunt Billie’s Birthday

Filed under: Childhood Memories,Family,Genealogy,Travel — Janice @ 4:34 pm

Several years ago I wrote about my Aunt Dorothy for her birthday instead of giving a gift. In January we celebrated my Aunt Billie’s 90th birthday and I decided to do it again. Writing about Aunt Billie is a little more challenging because she was always the most elusive aunt, the one I didn’t know as well. Aunt Billie and her family lived in Tyler when I was a child and then moved to Fort Smith, Arkansas before I was a teenager. We would see their family on the rare occasion that they came on a vacation to see us or we went to see them (it did happen a few times) or at family events somewhere in the middle, like Eastland, Texas, or Eldorado, Oklahoma.

Aunt Billie acknowledging the throngs of well-wishers at her 90th in January in Fort Smith:

2015-01-24 13.40.23

I never had the ability to just drop in on Aunt Billie. I have crashed all the other aunt’s homes to eat, shower, sleep, visit, or just take a break from the road, but never at Aunt Billie’s. We haven’t had much of a correspondence over the years either, but that would be because I didn’t write her. She is definitely a letter writer and there’s no way a correspondence would wither from her end.

If I wanted to help you envision my Aunt Billie, I would have you think of Lady Bird Johnson. It’s not that they really look alike, but I somehow got them intertwined when I was a kid and still see some of Billie in Lady Bird and vice versa. Lady Bird’s dark hair and her sweet laughing face are only part of it. They really do share an accent. That part is critical for you to hear in your mind to hear Aunt Billie. She has a very different accent from the rest of the family. I guess we are all West Texas and she is very East Texas. It’s not a lazy Southern talk, sometimes she talks very fast, but then there will be a long languid vowel just before the sentence finds its conclusion. “So-I-said-I’d-be-there-on-Sat-ur-daaaaaaaay?” There’s always that lilting upward inflection at the end, too. Not “uptalk” like the teen girls in America, but a gentle inquisition that seems to be asking politely, “Do I need to slow down for ya’ll to understaaaaand meeee?”

What do I know about Aunt Billie? Whenever I ask that question about a relative or ancestor, the glaring omissions of what I don’t know starts jumping out at me rather than the part I do. But I’ll try to stick with the facts as I know them.

Aunt Billie was the second child of my grandparents. Aunt Dorothy was only about 18 months old when Aunt Billie was born so my grandmother had her hands full at only 22 years old. Billie was born in Newburg, Texas, the same place her father and her grandmother had been born. She was born in 1925 and the family had lived in that neighborhood for 70 years, stretching back to the times of Indian raids and depredations.

2015-01-23 20.44.44

She grew up in Grosvenor (north of Brownwood) where her father, Arla Hallford, was the superintendent of the school there. She had 2 younger sisters, my mother, Patsy, and the baby, Lou Helen. There are great adventures to tell of the family living in Grosvenor. One frightening story was when the four daughters were left at home when their parents chaperoned a school bus full of kids going to the Fort Worth Stock Show. They were bundled up in their bed when a man entered their house and they could see him by the firelight. He caught sight of them and asked, “Has that bus already gone?” or some other question, made up on the spot. The girls nodded in fright and he left. When the family returned and authorities were notified, they brought several men from the community into the lights of a car for the girls to try to identify who it had been, but it was none of these men. And then there was the time the family was all almost washed away when the new dam that formed Lake Brownwood—and stood between them and their home in Grosvenor as they returned from Brownwood—collapsed during a deluge of rain.

The family moved to Quanah when Aunt Billie was in high school. Her dad was no longer her school superintendent; he had gone to work for the State Welfare Office. She graduated from high school in Quanah and was very active, as she would be all her life, in the First Baptist Church.

Aunt Billie went all the way to Kingsville to attend Texas A&I College. It was a long way from Quanah, but Aunt Billie had developed a close relationship with the pastor and he and his wife were moving to Kingsville and encouraged her to come with them and go to school. My mother remembers the adventure of getting to visit her there (while Mother was still in high school) and passing kids at the Baptist Student Union and have them say, “Hi Billie.” She had never known that she looked that much like her sister.

2015-01-23 20.44.57

Aunt Billie had office jobs before she married. She worked at the Western Union office and at the National Farm Loan Association in Quanah as assistant manager to Mr. Silas Mitchel. Then she took the job of secretary to the Vice President and General Manager Quin Baker of the Quanah, Acme, and Pacific Railroad. She stepped into that job when her older sister Dorothy had had before she married. I’m sure Mr. Baker knew quality workers when he found them.

Aunt Billie had many jobs through the years, but her main job was always mother to her four kids, my cousins Hank, Patsy Lee, Jo, and Becky. We have always marveled at their large family and how they would pile in the car and go on their vacations without a fuss or a fight (it seemed to us anyway). Still to this day this is the closest family you’ve ever seen. It seems like there is a birthday in their family at least once a week and a family celebration at someone’s home.

Aunt Billie is the only sister of the Hallford family that has traveled the world so extensively. She visited Israel, The Philippines, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Germany, and other countries in Europe. Sometimes she was there visiting her children who lived there. Jo and her husband Dru were missionaries in Israel for a while. Hank and his family were in Germany while he was in the Army. Many of her trips were related to Aunt Billie’s church work or her desire to know more about the Bible and expand her education. Of all the children in the Hallford family, Aunt Billie is the most like Papa Hallford in her desire to be a constant student. She makes the effort to not just read, but to study and absorb and seek out people to discuss topics with. There’s no doubt she could step into a Sunday School room, a Bible study, or even the pulpit and be ready to go at a moment’s notice.

Aunt Billie has her quirks, there’s no doubt about it. But I love that she is perfectly content with who she is. We should all be so confident and self-assured. While MOST in our family have a need to look “proper” to the outside world, Aunt Billie does things her own way and you can take it or leave it. One time she and I shared a motel room on our way to the Cunningham reunion. Aunt Billie brought her own sheets, pillow, and blankets with her and made her own bed on the couch of the hotel room because she didn’t trust sleeping on the hotel sheets. She also had her house shoes and wouldn’t cross the room and the carpet with bare feet. I was amused, too, because her “luggage” was grocery sacks because they were convenient for her. That was 20 years ago and I find myself traveling with grocery sacks more and more. I have learned a lot from my Aunt Billie.

Aunt Billie is a writer. That’s kind of a thing in this family. I have a story she wrote many years ago about “The Church Pan.” It’s a story you can relate to if you ever took foods to the church for funerals or Wednesday night prayer meeting (… I would assume. I can’t say I’ve done it.). She accidentally took home a church pan along with her own and then failed to get it back to the church in a timely manner. As the time stretches further, her guilt grows and she is certain the church brotherhood is going to ask her to come before the church to confess her sin of coveting and stealing the church pan. She has a way of making you laugh and feel the guilt she felt, all at the same time.

Aunt Billie became a widow young. She married Uncle Glendon when they were in their 20s. They had a church wedding after church on a Sunday at the First Baptist in Quanah. He had been a bombardier in World War II and was shot down over Germany and was held in a German POW camp for over a year when he was just 21 years old. Aunt Billie hadn’t met him at that point. He came home, they fell in love, and started their life together. He sold car parts, like Delco batteries, to parts stores and auto dealerships. They lived all over Texas… Abilene, Corsicana, Roame, Emhouse, Crowell, Tyler, and then they finally settled for good in Fort Smith Arkansas. Glendon died when he was only 61 and is buried in the National Cemetery in Fort Smith. Aunt Billie has been an active and self-sufficient single woman for almost 30 years now.

Aunt Billie and Uncle Glendon and the first 6 of their 12 grandchildren:

157095_472598120417_6537040_n

Aunt Billie has a very close and special relationship with God. While I was there for her birthday, I heard a great story that illustrates that. Her daughter Jo had come to visit her for an afternoon. Before she left Aunt Billie got her purse and said she was “convicted by God” to give Jo some money. Jo said she didn’t need any, but Aunt Billie pulled out a checkbook and wrote a check for $2500 and was insistent that Jo take it. Jo complied and took it, but said she didn’t need it and wouldn’t be cashing it. When Jo got home, it wasn’t long until her husband had a heart attack and was rushed to the hospital. He made a full recovery, thank goodness. Their out-of-pocket portion of the hospital stay was $2500. Jo hadn’t known that she would need that money soon.

I’ve always loved Aunt Billie’s personal library and her ability to catalogue and file her books and papers and notes. If you bring up a subject, she can pull files and sources and be ready for a discussion in minutes. Her cataloging goes beyond her intellectual pursuits. She has also saved every family letter and photo she has ever received. A few years back she divided her stash and returned the letters and photos to those who sent them. I inherited the ones that my mother got back from her. There were letters from me when I was a kid, my high school and college graduation announcements, photos. She had even created a scrapbook of the school pictures of me and my sister. All in all, she may have had more of my school pictures than I did!

One wonderful discovery in her files showed up in time for her birthday celebration. Her daughter Becky found a song Aunt Billie had written to accompany a poem her father, my Papa Hallford, had written for her many years before. It was a complete piece of sheet music with words and music. Her creativity still surprises me. I knew she played piano, but didn’t know how much she did with her music. I learned she had majored in music in college.

Aunt Billie, like her sisters, is a great cook. I didn’t get to enjoy as many meals at her house as I did the others, but I have seen what wonderful cooks her daughters are and I know where they got it from.

Aunt Billie has been a staunch supporter of me and my genealogy efforts through the years. She has always supplied the information I’ve requested and has passed along photos and books and anything I’ve needed, asked for, or that she thought would be helpful. She has come to lots of the Cunningham reunions (even though Comanche is a very long way from Fort Smith) and I appreciate her children for being willing to jump in the car with her at a moment’s notice to go to a reunion.

Tenacity, faith, humor, creativity. Aunt Billie got a big portion of great traits in our family. I love that she is still living in her home, doing what she has always done, and sees no reason to change anything now.

____________________________________________________________

The four sisters:  Lou Helen (holding Nathaniel), Dorothy, Billie, and (my mother) Patsy.

old box from Mackies house scanned 9 10 2011 001 sisters with Nathaniel tight crop

4 Comments »

  1. Good job, Janice. You have captured my sister beautifully and thoroughly. Frankly, I don’t think I will ever reach my 90th birthday because I certainly wouldn’t have this much excellence or this many quality characteristics to write about. But, just in case, please remember that fiction will be accepted in my case.
    You and Billie have the same writing muse. I didn’t realize how many of her great qualities you share. Thanks for this. Only Billie could have written it better and her lack of interest in herself would not allow her to do it.
    I hadn’t seen this picture but Nathaniel was the cat-love of my life. I opened the Bible and got his name. One Sunday the preacher read from the Bible, “And straightway he looked about and Nathaniel followed after him.” All our eyes met across the congregation with titters of laughter coming from all of us.
    Your blog will be treasured by all of us because it holds so many cherished memories about out gentle and tender-hearted (and beautiful) sister.

    Comment by Louie White — February 9, 2015 @ 7:28 pm

  2. i loved getting to know your Aunt Billie.

    Comment by Bev — February 9, 2015 @ 11:36 pm

  3. This is fabulous! I loved reading about Neenaw and hearing stories I had forgotten. I’m so proud of her and all she has done. She is a wonderful grandmother!

    Comment by Sarah — February 13, 2015 @ 5:35 am

  4. Thank you so much for writing this! What a gift. Jo is a special friend of mine and someone I have loved for years. Reading about her mother was such a treat. I love biographies and even more, I love to know about the people in my circle…and their people! Thank you for taking the time to do this.

    Comment by Kelly Shaddock — February 13, 2015 @ 11:20 am

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress