Rachel West

WMST 101-01

October 22, 2001

Oral History Paper


        My grandma, (“memaw”) has always been some kind of mystery to me. The

harder I try, and the more I learn about her, and the more I communicate with

her, one would think that I just might finally figure her out, but I never do. 

In fact, the more I learn about her and listen to her feelings and insights

regarding life and being a woman, the more I dislike her.  Now that might be a

horrible thing to say, I don’t know, but my grandma, Evadene Reynolds, is

absolutely impossible. 

        I used to look at her with admiring eyes, and even though I didn’t know

much about her she always seemed brutally strong.  She had been through so much

in her life, and she still managed to love and laugh and enjoy her family.  She

grew up in an extremely poor family, was married before she graduated from high

school, never went to college, suffered through a disastrous divorce, and now

lives with a man she isn’t even married to, and whom I don’t think she even

cares for.  She is a woman and she has never been able to stand alone.

        “My life was shaped as it was because that was the way that I chose it

to be.  When I grew up girls were expected to be girls and to marry, have

children, and be the caregiver for her husband and for her children.  I believe

that I gave it my very best.”

        This was how my grandma answered my first question, and since I had to

do my interviews via e-mail I couldn’t hear emotion in her voice, but from what

she said I don’t think that she has an inkling or a clue about how much her

life has been shaped by the fact that she is a woman.  She chose to drop out of

high school, get married, and have children? I find it hard to believe that she

would compromise college for what she got.  In fact she even says that she has

many regrets.

        “I did marry entirely too early in life and do have some regrets, but I

tried to make the most of it.”

        Tried to make the most of her life? Of course, we are all trying to

make the most of our lives, but because she was a woman, and she needed to

marry and have children, and because it was what was “expected” of girls back

then, she never got the chance to make the most of her life.  She never really

acquired the opportunity to see what she is capable of. 

        The entire time I was conducting my interviews with my “memaw,” I

couldn’t help but feel distant, and like I wasn’t really getting everything out

of her, and in some ways I felt like she was holding back from telling me

everything.  Her answers were always short and abrupt, and in some ways

bitter.  I wanted to become closer with her by doing this, and I really do not

feel like I have gotten too far.  I guess now maybe I know what my mom meant

when she used to say, “memaw” is “not easy to talk to.”

        “I grew up in western Oklahoma as the next to the youngest of nine

children.  My father and mother had an eighty acre farm that they tried very

hard to make a living from.  We had very little.”

        This is all my grandma would say about her childhood, and when I asked

her about any one experience from her childhood that she often thinks about,

she talks about how much she worked on the farm growing up, and what was

expected of her.

        “Go to school, study, do the best that I could, come home and help with

the housework, help in the cotton fields, hoeing cotton in the summer and

pulling cotton in the fall.  This was our only means of having any money of our

own.  We had to earn enough in the fall to buy our school books, and clothes.”

        She has had to work all of her life, even as a child, and I think in

some ways she resents that.  I think she resents the way that children live


        “Most young children have entirely too much freedom and too much money

to spend that they have not had a part in earning.”

        I also think that because my “memaw” was a girl, she did have specific

expectations from her family growing up.  She learned to cook at a young age,

and she was expected to help her mother cook dinner every evening for her dad

and brothers.  She says that she doesn’t think that she was raised differently

from the boys, she says growing up in a big family was a great experience, and

she said the boys often looked after her.

        “I do remember when I was very small and a pretty bad storm was coming

our way and one of my brothers, I can’t remember which one, grabbed me and took

off to the cellar along with all the rest of the family.  I believe that my

other two sisters were also being carried by a brother; it was very comforting

to know that they were looking out for us.”

        I like that story a lot, and I think in a lot of ways it characterizes

the way that my “memaw” has always handled the men in her life, as her carriers.

        My “memaw” went through a very rough divorce, and I have often wondered

exactly what went wrong with her and my grandpa, but I was too afraid to ask

her.  So I gathered up the courage to ask my mom about it, and although she

didn’t really want to talk about it, she told me.  “He just left one day.  Said

he had been seeing another woman for a couple of years now, and wanted to be

with her.”  Since then, my “memaw” has had a horrible outlook on marriage, and

to me she is walking wounded, and broken hearted, still.

        “Our courts have made divorce so easy and it has made a wreck out of

lives for so many.”

        What gets me is that she isn’t angry with him, and he is the one that

left, and cheated on her.  In her eyes everything would have been fine, had the

affair been concealed, and they continued to be married.  She needed him …


        As far as raising my mom and aunt, I think that was the happiest time

of my grandma’s life.

        “Unpaid work, I guess includes raising Joan and Kathy, but don’t get me

wrong, this was something that I wanted to do; those were the very best days of

my life.”

        My mom always says that “memaw” was a great mother, and she couldn’t

have asked for a better mom.  I think maybe having two daughters to take care

of and love was a way for my grandma to escape an unhappy marriage, and it was

her greatest success, considering she never got the chance to go to college and

make a career for herself.  Indeed, I would say that it was a great success for

her.  She raised two amazing women, who today are raising four girls, who I am

sure that they want the same things for, as “memaw” wanted for them. 

        “I wanted them to become responsible and respected adults who could

make their own decisions as to what they would want for their lives.”

        The only two jobs that my “memaw” has ever had were at National Car

Rental and Texaco.  She worked at both of these places for only short periods

of time, and as soon as she met E.O. and they began living together, she no

longer needed a job; she had a man.  I think that she regrets not being able to

make a good living on her own.

        “I just hope that they (young women today) will get as much education

as they can.  They just don’t realize how important this will be in the future,

but I can look back and see for myself what I missed out on.  I am sure that if

I had been capable of earning more as a single person I probably would have

remained single, at least the second time around.”

        If I have only learned one thing from my “memaw,” and from being around

E.O., I definitely know that I do not want to end up dependent on a man. 

        “I am doing my best to grow old gracefully, but it is very trying at

times.  There are times when I am very afraid of being by myself, but millions

of others are in the same predicament, so I will just hang in there.”

        My “memaw” is 63, but she acts like she is 98.  I have always hated

that about her.  She is just so tired, and worn out.  It makes me sad, and it

makes me wonder how bad getting older could possibly be.  I guess what I wanted

her to say when I asked her about any one experience that makes her think about

what it is to be a woman growing older, was that she has been through so much

in her life, and through it all she has remained true to herself as a woman,

and is growing older, and at the same time wiser, and is happy.  However, as

might be expected by now, that isn’t what she said at all.  So, what is the one

experience that makes her think about what it is to be growing older?

        “Oh the aches and pains that I have now.  When I was younger, I just

didn’t have them like I do now.  But we must all remain optimistic of life and

always make the most of it.”

        I wish I could have heard her say that.  I know exactly what kind of

exasperated sigh she would let out, and I know exactly the type of expression

that her crooked, wrinkled face would project.  It is so depressing to me to

think that the one experience that she thinks of when she thinks about getting

older is the aches and pains.  It almost makes me angry.  Why can’t it be, that

her life has been full of happiness and wonderful memories, of family, love,

and travel?  Maybe it actually is because she is a woman.  She started with

nothing, born to a poverty-stricken family, not having the opportunity to

finish school and get a good job, and then always needing a man to carry her

through life.  Perhaps the detrimental effects of having less of everything,

including opportunity, throughout her life, has made it impossible for her to

see or feel anything else when she thinks about what it means to be growing


        Today my “memaw” is very religious.  Never had she attended church back

when my mom and aunt were children growing up, but now she spends a lot of time

at church.  In fact the one word of advice that she would give to a woman would

be to have an intense faith in god. 

        “Believe in the Lord God Almighty and make him the focal point of your

life.  And you will be blessed to the fullest throughout your life.”

        Maybe she feels bad for not making god a priority in her life before

now, and she is trying to make up for it.  Maybe she is scared of dying without

making peace with god.  Maybe she just needs something to do, or maybe she

really is trying to find some kind of enlightenment, in a world where she says

no one is ever privileged whether they know it or not.  Whatever her reason,

religion has become a very important aspect of her life as she has gotten


        I will probably never be able to get close to my “memaw.”  She is very

hard to talk to, and almost unapproachable at times.  She and I are somewhat

opposite from each other, and I am glad, and maybe she knows that when she says

she just wants girls today to realize what they can have if they just keep

focused, and don’t lose sight of what it is that they want.  Maybe she says

that indirectly to me like that so that I will realize that I don’t want to end

up in her situation.  And maybe she just doesn’t want to admit that her life

has been affected in ways that she didn’t particularly choose because she is a