The Texas Relatives

Spiritual Smart Aleck


Opened a paper bag the other day and came upon letters from the mid-70s from my mother’s oldest sister, Gladys, in Texas, to Sister, my aunt whom I knew growing up.

Now, these were the Sheffield siblings: Gladys, born ca. 1906-07; Allie, named after his father but later changed it to Allen, born 1910; Della (Sister), born 1912; Thelma Juanita, my mother, born 1915; Genevieve, the baby, born after my mother sometime.

The only one whose year of birth I know for sure is my mother.

Gladys did not go into the home with her four younger siblings in 1921, the home being the Salvation Army orphanage in El Paso, Texas. At sixteen, she was considered too old.
Allen, like all boys, was kicked out when he turned twelve, and Sister, Juanita, and Genevieve remained.

Gladys probably went to work. She married young, a marriage that did not last. She remarried and stayed in Texas the rest of her life, and stayed close to their father, Allie Sheffield.

In these letters she was talking about their father, Allie, after he died. She asked Sister for help paying for his funeral and interment, because it would take her and her husband years to pay off that $250.

From Gladys’s letters I got the impression that Allie was a likable guy with a sense of humor, who was popular in his community, and he would be missed.

Sister had stayed in touch with him and Gladys after she left Texas and had gone back to visit them at least once.

She did help Gladys out with the bill. I found mortuary receipts.

Allie had lost a leg around 1920, and that was the reason the children were put into the home. He was no longer able to support a family of five with only one leg.

There was a picture of Allie with the letters, showing him full length, standing on his wooden leg, next to his pickup.

The wooden leg was a peg leg contraption unlike anything I have ever seen, a bracket strapped to his thigh, with a piece of wood coming down out of the bracket. The bottom piece was shaped down to a more slender end, and it might have had a metal cap.

That picture was a real find for me – after hearing about Daddy’s leg all those years, this was the first time I’d seen it, or seen my grandfather, for that matter.

When my father died in 1975, it hit me hard, so when Allie died sometime later, I expressed condolences to my mother.

She brushed them aside curtly: “I didn’t know him.”

In her late seventies my mother acquired a boyfriend, Armand. Apparently once when my mother was behaving badly – she was a world class complainer – Armand explained to some friends that she grew up in an orphanage and that was why she behaved that way.
That REALLY pissed her off. Later when she was complaining to me about Armand, she mentioned him saying that. Growing up in the home had not affected her like that, she said.
Hm. I could have sworn it had affected her exactly like that.

She once told me she had been a “happy go lucky” child.

Eh, maybe she did have a cheerful disposition until she married my father and had children, and then was dealing with her depression, and raising children, and my father’s temper (he had a bad one, she said), and doing it all without medication or therapy, except for that once a week visit to Polly to get her hair done.

I have been much more fortunate in my life than my mother was. For one thing, I didn’t grow up in an orphanage, but also attitudes about women changed in the last few decades, and I have had the resources of therapy and antidepressants, and I have been willing to accept help.

In the 1950s, you toughed it out and sucked it up. Too bad for you and your children.

Here is the picture of Allie Sheffield and his truck. And his wooden leg. He died around 1977.
Sister died in 1987. Don’t know when Gladys died. Allen died of cancer in 1964, which was a relief for me. You figure it out.

Their youngest sister Genevieve died young. I don’t know how. No one ever spoke of Genevieve. Ever.

My mother was the last of the siblings to go, in March 2001 at the age of 86. Heart disease. I think it was eating at MacDonald’s every day with Armand that got her.

I have relatives in Texas, but I would have to do some serious genealogy searching to find them. I’ve made it so far without them and I’m willing to keep it that way.

As my cousin Nancy always said, “Family! the other F word.”