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Interview with Ma - A Brave and Adventurous Woman

(Only nicknames or middle names will be used for these Seventy-Five-Plus year old women sharing lives in my interviews. The anonymity is to help protect their privacy.)

Ma, you have lived 93 years. I suspect you have found ways to pass your knowledge and wisdom on. Is that right?

Yes, I tell my stories to my family, old and young. I also write letters, cards to my grandchildren and great-grands when I recall something special.


What kinds of things do you pass along? Can you give me an example?

I tell about my taking chances that are SCARY, after careful evaluation of consequence. Bungie jumping was a big one for me. Now I say, “Never waste a good chance, unless the reason is a wise one.”


I notice you are lively and real. What is underneath that liveliness, Ma?

Probably curiosity. I want and need to know things. I also give credit to family members. Maybe I’ve emulated their lifestyles. My Aunt Hildred was a single mother, blunt, brisk, hard worker. She had a mind of her own. My mother was full of kindness and in love with her husband Vilas her whole life. She was a school teacher. Then there was Dennis, my sailing Captain, who encouraged my writing and took me places of interest. He was my partner in curiosity.


Speaking of family, do you have siblings still living?

Yes, I have a younger sister. She lives over 300 miles away. To complicate things, her voice box had to be removed, so I can’t understand her words. She doesn’t use a computer or Facebook, so we aren’t well connected. I wish she would learn to use a computer. I am also the oldest of cousins left. I am left with very few people to refer to when checking on facts back in my family history.


Ma, what about your growing-up years and your writing?

I was born in 1930 during the Depression, in Bernard, Missouri. My grandparents and many other relatives lived close by. We were a close-knit family.

       I still have my Big Chief tablet filled with my penmanship exercises, cursive swirls. In the sixth grade, I was given a five-year diary, with a lock and key. That’s where I wrote my personal things. But my mother, in her concern for me (that’s what she said), opened my diary one day and read it. Next, she scolded me about some of the things written, about a boy I liked…sinful things to her.

       In 1944, we moved to St. Joseph, Missouri. It was there that I became interested in writing. Miss Stiles, my English teacher, was a spinster fuddy-duddy, but her teachings fascinated me. Through her encouragement, I learned to write. I remember writing letters, lots of letters to lots of people.


Any rules on how or what to write?

Yes. I figured out not to write down anything I’d be ashamed of if anyone read it. I needed to just keep those things in my head, not on paper.


What has given you peace and protection, Ma, these 93 years?

I’d have to say that it’s the love I felt in my personal family when I was young. As I grew older, the love I had with my husband, children, grandchildren. In my later years, the love from family and being able to always come back to this cottage. I am widowed and live alone now in a cottage on the Gasconade River. I love it here on the river.


I, too, live on a river. There’s something about waking up to it every day. Wondering, Ma, if you have a favorite decade of years? Can you break your lifetime down for me?

Let’s see. As a child, my joy was all about playing with cousins and siblings in the “crick” that flowed past my grandparents’ property in the country. As a teen, I enjoyed all sports that were offered in high school—baseball, volleyball, basketball, tennis. I attended one year of college, planning to be a Physical Education teacher. Then, as an adult, my fun was having nine grandchildren spend days and nights with my husband and me here on this river. We’d swim, tromp the woods, you name it! As an adult-adult, I spent 10 years on the Caribbean sea on a 28-foot boat. Once, we went from St. Thomas to Trinidad, back to the U. S., and up the intercostal waterway to Georgia. That was enjoyable, despite all the struggles and challenges that came with it.


You are an adventurer. Did you have other adventures?

Oh, yes! I’ve been all kinds of places. As a chaperone, I went with the Band to Texas to Hemisphere Celebration. Again as chaperone, I traveled to Washington D.C. (Nixon’s Inaugural Parade.) I took one trip to Europe with the Lebanon Jazz Band. Then, there were the other trips to Australia and New Zealand, Canada, Egypt, Newfoundland and Labrador, two trips to London, England.


Wow! You are a traveler, an adventurer. Ma, you seem “open” in sharing your whole self. Are you this open in your writings?

I think so. While sailing, I wrote for The Richland Mirror newspaper, then later for the Senior Living supplement to the paper. After the two papers shut down, I began writing my book on my Egypt trip. I found an editor and published it, then was asked if I would put together one of my Caribbean travel. And, of course, I did. My ground rules were to get the facts and places correct.


Perhaps you can offer us grandmothers and grandfathers tips on how to pass our goodness along to our grandchildren.

I try to be careful not to let any of my goodness sound like BRAGGING when relating the gifts I’ve given to others. I find I need to teach my great-grandchildren the characteristics of a SWIFT discussion whenever a problem might actually require FORGIVENESS.

    I remember sassing my own mother once in a very unacceptable way. She reacted as never before—she slapped my face. I never sassed her again.


We can hurt one another with our actions and our words. Anything you want to say about healing or reconciliation?

After the Captain sold his boat, and I had already left him, we conversed off and on while he was living with his mother. She eventually died, and I lost all contact with him. However, a few months ago, I learned that he has cancer and had lost part of his lung. I called him. We reconciled our friendship and helped each other by talking on the phone. It was sufficient.


You are a brave woman, Ma. Do you fear anything? 

The thing I fear most is having to finally leave my HOME in Turkey Hollow. I do carry a helplessness when I consider the UNKNOWN.


Being in our own homes. It touches many hearts. Do you still write?  

Recently the pen and paper part of my writing has turned into writing in my head. Amazing, the stories we tell ourselves. I can prepare a story to tell someone in vivid detail as it appears in my mind, but if I do not STOP AND WRITE that story down immediately, it creeps back somewhere into the crevices of my mind. And it stays there ’til I can tell it with my voice.

       I have become a story teller, holding onto the reins of the story writer I used to be. I guess the theme would be about the things I’ve done that I classify as adventurous.


I wonder if we become a living memory, to pass our stories along. What do you think?

Oh, my God in Heaven! That is exactly what I am right now in my 93rd year…a living memory.

Ma, a story teller, a living memory! Drawing by Mary Chambers of Jonesboro, Arkansas, with additions by Mark Storin of Salesville, Arkansas.

Poetry Books by Pat Durmon

Prose by Pat Durmon

The story of Lee R. Farrier from Norfork, Arkansas, is Pat's first book of prose and a tribute to Lee, the town of Norfork, and its people. All profits from sales go toward a scholarship at Norfork High School.


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