This is going to be the last entry for my grandfather’s diary because I deem most of what’s left too personal to publish.
“In October 1944 I entered Senatobia, Mississippi boarding school as I had never had the chance to finish high school. I graduated in August 1945.
I went to Memphis, accepted work with the U.S. [Army Corps of] Engineers. In a few years I got married. We have a son. In 1964, we decided to move back to Ripley, Mississippi, our hometown.
Everything has went wrong. I have not been able to get employment. Everything we tried to do has went wrong.
In June 1967 I decided to enter politics for county circuit clerk. I worked hard all the summer with my family. I received a good vote but strong politics overcame and I got left out. By hard struggle, we are still going. In November I came down ill [and] I entered the veteran’s hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.
There I went through many examinations and tests which were very painful. It was several days before the doctors decided an operation was necessary. One day the doctor came in and told me that they had decided to operate and told me the exact day. I [was] very much upset for [the] whole night. I prayed to God to give me faith, courage, and stand by the doctors and guide their hands in the right way [so] the operation would be a success. By the next day I had settled down and [was] calm and I was not worried.
I continued to pray. My wife and son came to see me every weekend. That meant so much to me [to] have them stand by me, which they did the four weeks I was there.”
Over the past few weeks, I’ve come to a better understanding of who my grandfather was. He was a man you cannot label easily, even though I’ve tried. He was proud and deeply thoughtful. He was terrified of change but somehow muddled through it because that’s what life threw at him. He was human, just like me. He made mistakes that I don’t ever have to understand or approve of but most likely, if he were alive, he would say much the same about me.
Last week, my grandfather had been elected to cotton weigher for Tippah County. He skips some time and we’re now in the 1940s. His parents were separated and he was living with his mother, taking care of her.
“On Jan. 1, 1941, my mother passed away. That was the biggest change and the saddest day in my life. 13 months later my father passes away. My home was broken up [and] I was left alone for ten years, lonely and broken hearted.
In July 1942, I got my greeting from Uncle Sam. I was drafted. I went in a few days to be examined, passing the test with no trouble. This was another big change for a country boy that had never been anywhere, only in and around my hometown. Later in July I was inducted in [the] service at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. I shall never forget I knew nothing [about] what it would be like. After my basic training at Camp Wheeler, Georgia for six weeks, I was transferred to Camp Sutton, N.C. for several months and finally it came to my time for going overseas. We got our order for overseas duty, going from there by troop train to San Francisco, California for a few weeks and then one morning we packed our bags and started to the docks. Walking up that gang plank to the ship was another big change. That was a feeling and thoughts for me when that ship pulled out for sea. Three weeks later we entered the dock in Perth, Australia. There I was in another country thousands of miles from home. Everything [was] so different, even the people, but really nice and kind to a lonely American soldier.
In a few weeks, I was in an Australian hospital. The Sister came [and] said get dressed, [that] I was being transferred to Melbourne, Australia. In mid morning, me and one other American soldier in the Army car and headed away to the airport. This was a frightening change in life.
We started in the plane [and] I was really scared. When we were seated in the plane, soon we were given orders to buckle our safety belts. I thought many times what would be next. I could hardly tell the difference when the plane began to move.
Finally I decided to look out of the small window. What did I see? Nothing but clouds. We had done flew above the clouds. That is the time my eyes poofed out. I wondered if we would ever get down but we did. In a few hours we landed at the airport in Melbourne, Australia. We were met by [an] American soldier and carried to an American hospital which was far better.
In a few days I got a day of leave to visit downtown Melbourne. Everything looked so different. Felt like everyone was staring at me. What a change for me in a foreign city and country. Soon I was lost in everything, even the money did not mean anything to me.
In a short time I was called up to return to the U.S. I was tickled and thrilled the morning we boarded the ship for home.
Finally in a few weeks, after seeing nothing but water, we spotted the lights in San Francisco, California, which grew bigger and bigger each minute. Finally we pulled into the dock.
It was several hours before we could go ashore. We were signed into the hospital for a few weeks [and] then we were transferred by troop train to Texas near Dallas. We were stationed there for a few weeks.”
This is the only clue I have as to his service as most of his service records were burned in the archives at St. Louis. From a news article I know he was awarded medals, but I do not have them. He seems to have spent most of his time in hospital, suffering from malaria.
“In October 1943, I was discharged from the U.S. Army in McKinney, Texas. It was a very happy [moment] of my life. I packed my bag and by bus went into Dallas, Texas. There I caught a bus for home in Mississippi, arriving in Memphis, Tennessee early the next day. There changing buses for New Albany, Mississippi, south of Ripley, Mississippi, which was my home at that time. Getting home was a big thrill although it was a restless peace. Different and strange. So many people had moved away. I was lonesome and restless, could not be satisfied anywhere doing anything.
Friend I met in N.C. during the time I was in the army called me to come and work for him in a railroad cafe. I tried that a short time. I could not be satisfied so I resigned and went back home, trying Sears Roebuck and Co. in Memphis. I could not be happy there.”
One theme I’ve noticed has been change. My grandfather seemed to abhor change. It made him nervous and upset. After the war, it seemed worse. I don’t know what he isn’t saying, what he doesn’t want to talk about. Even his friend, Billy Power, couldn’t help him be content.
One of the things I noticed about this short diary of my grandfather’s is his way of slipping off subject and becoming very thoughtful to the point of being morose. The last part of the diary did just that but now he’s back on track and talking about days past.
“I was reared as a poor boy on a farm until 1933 [when] we moved to town. I started to school and life was all changed again and [was] a big change for a country boy. After a short time I made new friends and everything was alright. Life came back again as I have had many changes in life.
I got the agency for the Memphis Press Scimitar for several months from house to house, trying to provide a living for me and my mother as a paper boy.
Finally, I accept work with the WPA as timekeeper for a few months. Soon it was finished, then I was out of work and no money. Finally I accepted a job as a clerk in a small grocery store, 75 cents per day. There I worked for three years, still tryig to provide a living for my mother and myself.
On Christmas on the third year my boss Mr. Ray Barnett gave me $10 for Christmas. I went on my way home by the county newspaper office and put my name on the ticket for county cotton weigher. Boy, was that a big change in life for a poor country boy that knew nothing. I had a hard time and fun along with the hard times. Finally came the election night. I will never forget when I won over five other fine men in the outcome of the accounting of votes.”
As I’ve said before, my grandfather was prone to dark moods. But reading about it, it made him live for me and I could understand him better.
“As I set here at home all alone this beautiful Oct. day trying to write these thoughts and memories! looking and listening to the T.V. and looking out the window, I pray to God for help and with a worried mind. I feel so lonely and sad. I feel alone in this world. I look up on the wall at a large picture of Christ. I realize I am not alone and I pray to him for guidance, hope, courage, and faith.
As being the youngest of seven in the family, I have always been of a lonesome nature. As I set here and look out at God’s nature, I think of everything [and] everybody: my family, Hazel and Billy, which means all in this world to me.
As I am unemployed at present, Hazel is working. Billy’s in school. As I watch them leave every morning, [a] million things run through [my] mind. Life is up and down, good and bad. It is more like highways. As I travel the highways [of] our great America, it reminds me of life. Up a long hill and down another. Some are beautiful and some are not.”
Granddad had too much time on his hands, it seems to me. He had all the time he wanted to obsess and worry. But he also had time to think of what mattered to him most and that was his family.
But life is a highway? Oh, granddad, you could’ve made money on that idea, if you only knew.
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.