Today would be my Mommy’s 97th birthday. I always called her Mommy and never thought a thing about it. We called her mother Mommie Dude and my children called my mother Grandmommy, so that’s the way it always was.

My mother, Betty West Hamilton, was a strong woman, bred from women who didn’t have easy lives but worked hard. I’ve written about her mother, who was widowed at about 27 and left in the middle of the Depression with three children. My mother was 6 at the time, the youngest with two older brothers. They were a close, tight family.

My mother and I didn’t always agree and she aggravated me no end a lot of the time, especially when I knew she was so often right. I fought to be my own person and not like her, to be more like my father. In the end, I became a mix of them both, becoming more my mother’s daughter as I grew up and realized the strength of the women in my family. She taught me so much, from how to make a bed with hospital corners to how to set the table. She taught me to always want to go places, to be ready for anything fun. Her mother taught us both that. “Let’s go do something!” was our motto.

Mommy was a beautiful woman who didn’t seem to age very much. When she went to the hospital for the last time, they were surprised at her age (almost 85). Her blonde hair (well, who knows what color it really was) and her incredibly smooth skin (moisturize, moisturize – the words still ring in my ears) belied her years. This photo was from years before, but one of my favorites. photoIn the end, she was on oxygen and had painful neuropathy in her feet, but never lost her sense of humor or her ability to listen to us tell about everything in our lives. I would say a fault was that she never liked to admit she was wrong, but she even mellowed in that as she grew older.

She almost always wore white. Sometimes there was a pastel or beige, but white was her preference. Our family and friends were amused by it, but it was so her…

Besides her mother, the woman who had the greatest influence on her was her paternal grandmother, Hattie Mills West. Grandmother West, as she called her, also always wore white – at least when my mother knew her. I only have two pictures of her and the first one was taken with her husband, E. Z. West and their son, John, who died at the age of 20. The original is an old tintype. My mother said Hattie had red hair, which she kept short, unlike the style of the day.Hattie & EZ West with John (2)I’ve tried to track down Hattie’s history, but it’s elusive as is the data on many who lived on farms across our country. From what I’ve found, she was born July 29, 1856 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama to Benjamin Mills and Dorcas Fox. The records get fuzzy because I find their names spelled different ways, etc. Some of those census people weren’t too careful back then.

Anyway, the next thing I could find was a census listing Hattie at the age of 14 as domestic help in Houston, TX. That 14 year gap is a mystery I keep trying to solve. The next thing I know she is marrying Ephriam Zacharius West, known as E. Z., around 1876.  They soon had my grandfather, Benjamin West in Denton, TX, followed by the birth of another son, George, and another son, John. George died at the age of 8 in Denton, Texas. Eventually, they made their way to Ardmore, Indian Territory, arriving by covered wagon as pioneers citizens of that community in 1895.

Ardmore was growing and a good place for a young couple to build a business and a life. They built a house and had a wagon yard adjacent to it. I had to ask my mother what a wagon yard was, thinking it was where they built wagons or fixed them. She explained that it was more like an early motel where people stayed when they drove their wagons to town. There were rooms with a little stove, a store to buy supplies, and probably stalls for the horses. Between 1893 and 1925, Ardmore had 39 wagon yards. The West Wagon Yard was located near where Central Park is in Ardmore today. I also found that E. Z. and his son, Ben, had other wagon yards, too.

I don’t have many details as I really didn’t ask enough questions until the end of my mother’s life. I know that John Q. West died in 1904 at the age of 20. His tombstone is the marker I use to find the family plot in the Ardmore Rose Hill Cemetery.IMG_3065IMG_3076John lived long enough to join the Woodmen of the World. I guess Ben helped E. Z. with the wagon yards until there was no need for them with the new automobile age. E. Z. died in 1920, the year before my mother was born.¬†IMG_3067Piecing this story together, Ben lived with his mother, working in the wagon yard and then for the phone company as a lineman, as I recall. They had the wagon yard long enough for my mother to have a vague memory of it as she sketched me an picture not too long before she died. Ben met my grandmother, Artie Holt, when she was 18 and he was probably 38. They married and he brought her home.

Not to shorten the story of Ben, but to go on to my great-grandmother, I found that Ben had a small neighborhood grocery before he died. He had Bright’s Disease, which my mother said her doctor told her was probably caused by a childhood disease. Anyway, he died at the age of 50, leaving a young widow with three children and his mother. His is another story to tell.IMG_3072Hattie now is a widow and her husband and sons are gone. She is 71 years old and a respected Ardmore lady. The wagon yard was leased as a lumber yard before being developed in later years. She had her home, which was across the street from what is now Central Park in Ardmore, and she had several other properties. My grandmother and her children lived in a large home and my grandmother left each of the grandchildren their own house.

In the years before my mother died, she started telling me the stories of her grandmother. I’d always known what a great influence she was, but it became more and more clear why. Of course, the grandchildren spent time with her. This photo must have been taken around the time my grandfather died. I hadn’t seen it but recognized my great-grandmother immediately from my mother’s descriptions of her.Scan 2One day, I brought a small tape recorder and turned it on while my mother talked as I asked her to repeat stories she had told me. She didn’t know she was being recorded, not that it would have mattered. She took a piece of paper and sketched as she talked, showing me the inside of my grandmother’s house and sketching her garments.Grandmother West's house in Ardmore_2We went back in time as she described the rooms and the furniture. At one time, Hattie and E.Z. purchased a farm and moved there, although Hattie hated being out in the country. I honestly believe my mother was born out there, but she didn’t admit it. There were barrels around that they used to bring things in from the farm. My grandfather lived at the back of the house and my grandmother had a big armoire in the living room where she kept her opera hats. Yes, there was an opera in Ardmore as artists traveled from town to town. The hats were described as wire frames that Hattie stuffed with chiffon. I know she kept copies of Mary Baker Eddy’s books, although she wasn’t a Christian Scientist.

I remember the house because my aunt and uncle lived there when I was little. Here’s a photo of me in the yard.Scan 1

My mother described a woman who ate very sparsely, but made cookies that were heavy that my mother loved. Once she mentioned that people often came by to visit and talk. My mother said her grandmother never changed the way she dressed. Her clothes were the same as she wore in 1856, which made my mother laugh. Underneath was a pantaloon type thing that was basically two legs with a drawstring. There were other layers with several undergarments, which meant a lot of stuff at the waist. She wore a camisole type undergarment and a shirt waist. Most of these must have been made from feed sacks or cheap cloth.

Hattie lived for thirteen years after E. Z. died, so she was there until my mother was grown and had left town. There are gestures my mother made that I know she must have seen her grandmother do. She described how her grandmother took her fingers and fixed her hair and I could see clearly how that little girl watched. I sense that Hattie had a sense of dignity and a common sense that influenced everything about my mother. Hattie died in 1940, five years before I was born.IMG_3066IMG_6294I wonder what I would have thought of this lady in white who influenced my Mommy so much. I can only take what I know and read between the lines to fill in the story.

Today, as I think about my own mother, I realize how much of me came from her, and how much of her strength and personality came from her mother and her grandmother who both had so much influence on her. I hope that some of this has filtered down to my daughters and granddaughters whose lives have been so much easier than their ancestors.

It is a good feeling to know that you have the blood of these women to see you through the hard times as well as the good ones. I wish I had known my great-grandmother, Hattie. I miss my grandmother, Artie (Mommie Dude), who had so much influence on me.

I especially miss my Mommy. She was a good one!