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.”
The Indy 500, or the Daytona 500, or really just anything that had wheels and went fast. That was our thing. I don’t think it’s our thing anymore because my dad just seems tired of it now. I have to catch up on YouTube, if the races get uploaded, because my dad hogs the TV.
I do miss it. We really didn’t do anything special, but it was our time. We didn’t talk much. Mostly we had our faces glued to the TV watching the cars go round. Our favorites were the Indy 500 or anything NASCAR.
I often say I’ve seen the Indy 500 from the womb, the first being the one in 1982. From what I’ve heard, I wish I’d seen it. The closest finish at that point in time: 0.16 seconds. That’s nothing.
I’ve seen the spin and win by Danny Sullivan in 1985.
Emerson Fittipaldi spin out Al Unser, Jr. in 1989.
Emerson court controversy in 1993 by drinking orange juice instead of milk.
Emmo and the juice
We were there for the open wheel split in 1996.
We saw the rise to national fame of Indiana’s Tony Stewart, long before he touched anything with a roof and fenders.
Memorial Day was our holiday. ABC Wide World of Sports our ritual.
But NASCAR was what we did week in and week out. My most vivid memories are from the early 90s, when men like Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip, and Davey Allison were at the height of their game.
Confession: I had a ten year old’s crush on Davey Allison. So when he died in the summer of 1993, I cried for days but it felt like months.
But my best memory is getting to see Darrell Waltrip’s car up close and personal. His sponsor was Western Auto and one of his cars that had been wrecked too hard to be repaired enough to race was on tour and it came to our Western Auto store.
I remember being so excited and I remember my dad being excited to see inside the car and under the hood. He’s way more mechanical than I am.
But what excited me most was that I was with my dad. My dad was my hero and still is, really. He’s bent by arthritis and disease, but not broken. He never will be because he’s my dad.
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.
John Green Holley was born on 18 December 1833 on the family farm in Franklin, Tennessee, a few miles south of Nashville. His parents were Sion Holley and his wife, Martha Bradford. Apparently, the unique child naming ended with Sion because John and all of his siblings have those nice, common names like John, William, and Nancy. They must not want to be found.
John had moved with his family to Tippah County, Mississippi by 1850. By the turn of the next decade, we find him married to Nancy Rich and beginning a family of his own.
Seems all nice and sweet and rose colored, right? Happily ever after, maybe?
Nope. Just plain nope.
By 1880, John and Nancy are living apart and just a few years later, John completely moves off to Texas. He wanted his space and just getting out of the house wasn’t enough. He had to put a state between his family and himself.
One of my first posts considered the problem I had with my great-great grandparents, John and Nancy Holley, if indeed that’s who they were. The paper trail didn’t match anything I had been told. I know I’m not exactly supposed to believe everything I’m told, but it helps to have accurate information as a starting point.
Years ago, I had sent off for the death certificate of who I had thought my great-great grandmother was, Ann Carolina Rich. I got a letter saying it could not be found. Hmmmm, well, okay. I got on with the research, but going nowhere.
Two months ago, I was reorganizing our library’s genealogy room. I was digging through the last box when I found a book labeled Walnut death records. Walnut, Mississippi is the closest town to where that part of my family lived. On a lark and with a little time to kill, I flipped through the book, not hoping to actually find anything important. I get to the H’s and find this:
The death certificate I had been looking for. Besides the disgust at the state health department for not being able to find the obviously existent certificate, I was in shock.
The paper trail seemed to be wrong.
One, at no point do the names Nancy and Carolina ever appear together in any of my research. Two, the informant’s name J.T. Holly appears on a 1910 census as the name my great-grandfather went by. My dad’s theory is that he had three names, as many of our family tend to have. My theory is that they hated enumerators and told them whatever they wanted just to get them out of the yard. They had no compulsion about mixing names and dates often. So I don’t think I will ever know for sure.
I never knew any of my grandparents. I was born after they died. They weren’t around to teach or bestow gifts and affection. But teach they did. One thing I learned from my grandfather was you can’t take anyone at face value. He was the first to “do” genealogy in the family of whom I’m aware. This was the 50s and 60s, so pre-internet but with access to that greatest resource of all — older living relatives.
But what do you do when paperwork doesn’t match the history?
My grandfather (and a host of other relatives) swore that his father was Thomas Monroe Holley and his grandparents were John Pinkney Holley and Ann Carolina Rich. In fact, there’s a tombstone testifying to this fact:
Trouble is, the paperwork supports none of it. His grandfather’s name was John, but that’s about all to be sure of.
As you can see, Thomas was the son of John G and Nancy D Holley. So what is the origin of John Pinkney and Ann Carolina? I don’t really know for sure. Most census records list him as John and the others use a clearly defined “G.” The only thing I can think of is the youngest son is named, you guessed it, John Pinkney Holley. I think the assumption was like father, like son. And it stuck. None of these relatives my grandfather spoke to are currently alive and weren’t when I was born thirty-one years ago.
I was raised to believe that if something wasn’t the truth, it was a lie. I guess that was to instill some sort of right from wrong mentality. Liar has such a negative connotation. But when I grew up, I realized it wasn’t that simple. There are so many motivations here, from bad memory to a real honest-to-goodness coverup. Records weren’t great and common names passed down made for a great deal of confusion. Was my grandfather a liar? I’ll say no, but he was wrong. Genealogists just starting out want to take every close relative at their word, but they can’t. Not because the relatives are evil liars, but because they are but human. We all make mistakes.