September Spotlight: Dot Hatfield
This month, September 2002, we feature a short piece by Arkansas Writers Hall of Fame Member Dot Hatfield.
The image above is a photograph of the subject of this memoir: Charles Alderson, Dot’s grandfather, resting with his great grand daughter, Linda, in 1959.
We hope you enjoy Dot’s story!
I Think I’ll Stay: A Memoir
he grandfather I haven’t written about, my dad’s dad, was Charles Robert Alderson. We called him Papa. He had glaucoma and went blind when he was about 65. Only in my vaguest recollection can I remember when he worked as a custodian at Bonham High School. While he was employed by the school district, he and my grandmother lived in a huge house just behind the football field. He stayed there as long as he could, even when his work suffered because his vision was so poor.
Aunt Charlie Faye, Daddy’s youngest sister, lived at home with her parents until her late thirties. She wasn’t married then but dated steadily a man named Steve. My grandparents didn’t approve of him for some reason, probably because he was divorced. Other problems, like drinking, have since been alluded to, but I was too young then to know what all the deal was. Apparently, the disapproval of the whole family kept the couple from marrying, but not from dating.
Charlie and Steve finally married after “going steady” for twenty years. Even then, it might have been without approval. Charlie told me many years later, after Steve had died, that she came to a point when she thought she could no longer tolerate marriage to a drinker. She told my grandmother she planned to leave Steve and get a divorce. Mamos said, “No. No one in our family has ever divorced and you will not be the first. You wanted this, now you have to stick it out.” Rather than face her mother’s disapproval, Charlie had waited twenty years to marry the man of her choice. Now, for the same reason, she would stay in an unhappy marriage.
Her story had a happy ending, though. She must have been in her late sixties when she married a second time, this time very happily, and spent her last years enjoying life. She never had any children but was very fond of all the nieces and nephews her brother and sisters provided.
Back to Papa. Two or three times a year he came to visit our family and stay a couple of weeks. We kids all loved him and enjoyed him being around. He was fun, told jokes and sang with us. He could play the mandolin very well. And he trusted us to lead him around town. At least once during his visit we would go to the local Five-and-Ten. The lack of money did not dampen our enjoyment at looking at all the wonderful merchandise.
Papa had such a good sense of humor and loved a laugh. I know there were times we walked him over rough terrain without thinking, or ran him across the street to make a green light, or forgot to tell him to step up or down.
He seemed to enjoy our reading to him. I couldn’t wait until I could read well enough to have my turn. He was so patient. We would spell big words we didn’t know and he would help us out. Imagine a young reader trying to read the newspaper aloud, spelling every other word. I don’t know how he got any sense out of the war news we read. He liked the Reader’s Digest and I loved to read that to him. I still like the Reader’s Digest.
It never occurred to me that the purpose of Papa’s visits might be to give Mamos a break, or that it might be extra work on Mother. I’m sure it was both, but Mother loved her papa-in-law very much and would never complain about caring for him. He tried to be little or no trouble and actually got around the house well, once he was oriented.
Texas provided an old age pension for persons over 65 who had no retirement funds. They also had a stipend for the blind, which he qualified for. Social Security was new and he had not worked enough quarters to draw that benefit. In some old family papers, we found letters he had written to petition the State of Texas legislature to include other school personnel in the teacher retirement program. But it didn’t happen in his lifetime.
Papa was a pretty good carpenter by touch. I’m not sure but I think there was some “voc rehab” even back in the early forties to help him learn some basic skills. He also mastered the “touch” typing system that enabled him to write independently. One Christmas our family gave him a radio that had push buttons that could be pre-set to particular stations. He enjoyed that radio very much and often entered the sweepstakes or contests that were popular during that era. He won some, too.
Papa was deeply religious and fortunately had committed a great deal of scripture to memory before he lost his sight. Much of his writings after losing his sight were sermons and inspirational essays.
Mamos, Hattie Jane Miller Alderson, was a more solemn person. She, with her Native American heritage, has been the subject of my writing before this. I never heard her tell a joke or sing a note, but she often made us laugh with her wry comments.
Once, Papa was telling us stories and we asked how he met Mamos. He said he walked her home from church one evening and when they got to her front porch, he leaned over and kissed her on the cheek real quick. Before she could react, he jumped over the banister of the porch and ran home. We were all laughing at this and someone asked Mamos, “What did you do when Papa kissed you?” Never taking her eyes from her crochet, she replied, “I said, ‘You old fool.’”
When Papa was in his late eighties he became too weak and disoriented to move around the house. He became bedfast and sank into a depression. He began to remember and relive every sin, mistake, curse word, bad attitude, and transgression. His grief and guilt were palpable. He felt miserable and made us feel the same. One day he told my dad, “Last night I had a dream or vision and Jesus was sitting on the end of the bed. He said, ‘Charlie, you can go home tonight or you can stay a little longer. You can choose.’ I thought about it and I said, ‘I think I’ll stay a little longer.’”
Dad asked, “Well, since you’ve decided to stay, don’t you think it would be better if you could be content for the rest of your time?”
Papa agreed that would be a good idea and from then on was a changed person for the last few months of his life. He continued to be a blessing until he went to his heavenly home.
You can find out more about Dot Hatfield on her profile page.