Over the next several Mondays, I plan on transcribing the short diary my paternal grandfather left behind. Mack Holley was an enigma of a man, even though I never knew him. There were so many who did, or thought that they did anyway. He was an outwardly friendly, generous man who kept many secrets and was prone to dark, dangerous mood swings. He had a tumultuous relationship with his parents, to say the least, but never saw fit to break the cycle with his own son. The older I get, the more I understand that the key to figuring out who I am is in large degree connected to figuring out who Mack Holley was.
All of my grandparents died before I was born, so I spent a lot of time trying to figure out who they were by speaking to not only my parents, but to the older people around town who knew them.
I’ll let my grandfather speak for himself now. I’ve added some punctuation and words to make it easier to follow but I have tried not to change too much in order to preserve his voice.
“I was borned May 21 1913* in a log house just across the bottom, on a hill in west part of Alcorn County Mississippi, near my uncle M C Mathis country home and store. My parents were farmers Tom and Mary Clementine Mathis Holly. At my birth I only weighed 3 lbs and [was] very weak and sickly.
In early childhood I developed whooping cough which in those days were very bad. They almost lost me in my early life. I moved with my parents and my two brothers and sister to Tippah County Mississippi in a large house in Tippah County. At [the] foot [of] the hill I never will forget were an old water mill [and] cotton gin surrounded by chestnut trees I can see plainly till this day. I played so many days on the red hill and the old gin that still stood [and] which had been there many years.
I was a weakly child, never got to go to school till I was 10 years of age. Finally that first school day came around. I shall never forget the morning my sister and myself got up early to get ready for school. As we walked out on the roadside to wait for transportation, she with high top shoes and a plat of hair down each side of [her] cheeks, myself wearing heavy shoes and new overalls. In a few minutes we saw the covered top wagon coming up the muddy road being pulled by two mules, counting by their ears. They pulled up and stopped, the back door flew open, [and] we got in and set down [in] the full packed wagon. All seem to stare at me. It seemed that we never would get out. Soon we pulled in the school yard, Providence in Tippah County. We got out and went in the school room. I were scared out of my wits. The day were longer for two days [meaning the day felt like two days]. I can see till this day how that old tall plank school house looked.
I was there this passed [past] July attending our family reunion that we held there [this] summer. Altho the old building had burned up in the years passed [past] and had been replaced by a brick building, it really brought back old memories over the years. Things are so much [different] and looking so [different], even the people has changed.
Since the day I first started to school at Providence at the age of ten years old so [different] from the way childrens are these days. [Now he goes back to talking about his first day of school.] The day finally ended. We got back in the wagon and on our way home. Being the son of poor farmers, moving around from place to place, I went to several difference [different] schools in Tippah County including one teacher schools and summer school.
As I have mention[ed] before things are so much changed. Some I like and some I do not. But I accept them all as I know they must be. As I sit here today alone by the window at home looking outside at the beautiful October day 1967, the leaves so beautiful as I watch them fall from nature and go many [different] ways and finally settled down on the ground and gradually fade away. It reminds me of my life from place to place and sometime I will also as leaves [do] grow older and older and turn to the ground, go down, and fade away.”
The first time I read this I was a know it all teenager, but I was impressed with the philosophical nature of the writing, despite his lack of what we would consider quality education. My grandfather was a deep thinker and cared a great deal about many things. But he just doesn’t seem like a worrier. At least, not yet.