Iona and Patty Jones
Patty and Iona Jones in 1958.
I remember Mama...Sitting at the table with her book, her coffee cup and her ashtray... Standing at the stove, stirring spaghetti sauce or frying chicken... Answering the phone when I made my weekly phone call saying "I knew it was you."... Sitting at an earlier table with her friends smoking and playing pinochle... Teaching Vacation Bible School -- singing about some guy in a sycamore tree and showing children how to grow a mustard seed... Singing "O Come All Ye Faithful" when her kids begged her to sing Christmas carols for them and "Jeremiah was a bullfrog..." along with the radio on a Sunday drive... Teaching me to play "Gin" and "Casino"... Hours and hours after school and on summer vacations, just me and her, playing cards... Then she'd say "Berta, come play a game of 'Casino" with us -- it's better with three..." Hugging me with tears in her eyes the day I left to join the Army... again the days I left for Korea and Germany... Her arms held out to me as I came through the door as she lay in her deathbed -- Brenda saying "Patty's here. I told you she was coming."... Yes, I remember Mama.
We lost my mother, Iona Bruce Jones, two years ago on the 24th of May, 2003. She was sixty-five years old. She and my father had been married almost forty-seven years. She had five children, ten grandchildren, including one she never got a chance to know because he was raised by his father, and nine great-grandchildren. I've started this memoir many, many times and given up because the tears were flowing and nothing came to mind but that last image as she lay dying. I didn't want to write about that. I wanted to remember the Mama who laughed and sang... The mama with a crush on Bruce Boxleitner when he was in "The Scarecrow and Mrs. King" and Paul Newman's blue eyes... The mama being joyfully greeted by her "granddogs" whenever she came to visit us at our house... The mama dressed in a sarong made from a sheet when she played the wicked queen in our Thanksgiving production of "Snow White and the Ten Giants" (you had to be there)... The mama blowing on my skinned knee to "make it all better"... then telling me that if I was going to die, I should do it quietly... Let me try to start.
My mother was born on 2 September 1937 in Huntington, West Virginia. Her father's name was Leonard Bruce and her mother's maiden name was Viola Chandler. She was the youngest of four children -- the oldest, her sister Wanda, was just five years older than Mama. It was the Great Depression and times were hard in the Bruce household. When Mama was four or five years old, Leonard left. My grandmother was forced to put her children in the Union Mission for a period of time, because she had nowhere to keep them. She got a job and an apartment, but no children were allowed. Grandma got the kids out anyway. The girls went to stay with her sister and she brought the boys to her apartment. They were under strict orders not to make any noise, so the landlord wouldn't find out. He did eventually find out when one of the neighbors complained about the boys sitting, oh so quietly but in plain view, on the stoop waiting for their mother to come home from work. Instead of kicking Grandma out, he let her bring the girls to the apartment too. Grandma had Leonard served with divorce papers when he got off the train returning from duty in World War II. She married twice more while her children were growing up, but, for the most part, Grandma raised them alone.
Mama saw her father very infrequently, if at all, after he left his family. She did have dinner with him on or shortly after her eighteenth birthday. She got up and left when he told her the reason he had abandoned his family was because Grandma was always "breaking dishes". Her eyes still flashed with anger when she talked about it when she was over sixty.
Around 1952, Grandma packed up and moved her family to Santa Ana, California. Mama quit school in the tenth grade, lied about her age and got a job as an operator at the phone company. In 1956 she met and married my father, Walter Jones, a Marine stationed in Santa Ana. Daddy's told the story of how they met and the early years of their marriage. They had three children in four years. I'm the oldest, born in 1957. My sister, Roberta, was born in 1958. We were both born in California. Then Daddy was transferred to Quantico, Virginia. My brother, Robert, was born there in 1961. One of my strongest memories of those years is when we got our dog, Rebel.
We went on vacation and visited Daddy's relatives in Mississippi. Daddy's uncle had a litter of hound dog puppies. Kids love puppies and we were no exception. We petted those puppies and hauled them around every day. Daddy would tell me "Ask your mother if you can have a puppy." So I'd ask and Mama would say "We have a cat." Mama had left her cat, Checkers, in the care of her friend Kate. The way I remember this was Mama talked to Kate on the phone and she said Checkers had run away. So, now we didn't have a cat, so we got a puppy AND a kitten. We took them both back to Virginia with us and there was Checkers sitting on the porch. The cat, Tommy, didn't stick around long that I recall, but Rebel was with us until 1977, I believe. Checkers treated Rebel like he was her kitten, bathing him and protecting him. Mama used to say Rebel thought he was a cat -- he always had cats to give him a bath and he loved that.
After several years in Virginia we moved to New River in Jacksonville, North Carolina. Then we moved back to California while Daddy was in Viet Nam. First we rented a house and Grandma, Mama's mother, lived with us for about six months and then we moved into Grandma's house, which she had been renting to her sister and brother-in-law, until Daddy came home. When Daddy came home from Viet Nam he was stationed again at MCAS Santa Ana so we moved into base housing. My sister, Brenda, was born in 1968 when I was eleven. I remember all my friends thought it was really neat that Mama was having a baby. I thought it was pretty neat too. Robert wasn't so thrilled, because he wouldn't be the baby anymore and it might even be a boy!
After a year or so, we moved back to Quantico. This is about the time Mama taught me to play cards -- "Gin" and "Casino". We'd play every afternoon. Mama won about 90% of the time, as I recall. We were also reading the same books by this time. "Governess books" we called them -- gothic romances and historical novels. So we talked about school and books while we played cards. I remember looking forward every day to sitting down and Mama shuffling the cards. We'd play several games of "Gin" and then Mama would say "How about a game of 'Casino' before I cook dinner?" Sometimes she'd call Roberta over to play 'Casino' with us and sometimes we'd play alone.
About this time Mama started teaching me to cook. I'd help her with dinner sometimes. One summer she was working at the FBI Academy in their cafeteria and I got paid to babysit and fix dinner. Every night Mama would make a note of what was to be done the next day, including dinner. If it was something I'd never cooked before she wrote down instructions and a recipe of sorts. Lots of Mama's recipes included a "pinch" of this and a "handful" of that... After we were all grown-up, my sisters sometimes intimated that it was unfair that Mama taught me to cook, but didn't teach them. Mama would just say, "Patty asked. You didn't." I'm not the cook my mother was, but my family never complains.
In 1972, we moved back to North Carolina. During this time I wanted to be a writer. I got an electric typewriter for Christmas about this time. I was always typing out short stories and outlines for great novels. One day Mama said, "We should write a book together." So we put our heads together and came up with an outline and character summaries and maybe the first three or four chapters of a book. We worked on it for several weeks or a few months. I'm sure it was truly awful, because it was full of the worst cliches and plot contrivances of the formulaic gothic romance, but it was great fun working on it with my mother. I wish I'd kept it.
In the beginning of 1973, I remember coming home from school one afternoon and Roberta told me "Mama's having another baby". Becky was born on the 5th of June and my Dad retired from the Marine Corps on the 30th. She was his "retirement present". I remember Mama and I were playing cards and she said "Excuse me a minute." She got up and called Daddy and went in and got her little blue suitcase and put it by the door. Then she sat down and dealt the cards again while we waited for Daddy to come home and take her to the hospital. That evening, I was babysitting the kids down the street and Daddy came and told me I had another little sister, Rebecca Rae. The first night the baby was at home, I heard Mama get up with her and I went out and sat on the couch with her and Mama let me feed her. I'd fed babies before, so I was already trained, but feeding a newborn was really cool. My cat, Beauregard, came in and sat on the edge of the couch watching the baby intently. Mama took the baby and held her out to him and let him sniff all over. "He just wants to find out what she is", Mama said. When he'd determined she was another rug rat, he sniffed dismissively and hopped down, curiousity satisfied.
Daddy and Mama were having a house built in Kenner, Louisiana, but the house wasn't ready yet when we left North Carolina, so we stayed in Mississippi with Dad's mother, Aunt Ned and Uncle John, for the summer. I remember driving down to Mississippi that June it was hot and the air conditioner in the car was broken. If you turned it on, it was really, really cold. So we'd turn it on as long as we could stand it. Then we'd turn it off. The baby would start getting all sweaty and red and Mom would say to me "Is she cooked yet?" And that's how we decided when to turn the air conditioner back on. Then we'd wrap Becky up in a blanket and Mom would say "Is she blue yet?" Then we'd turn the air conditioner off.
Two years after we moved to Louisiana I graduated from high school and decided to join the Army. I was seventeen when I decided to join the Army and Daddy didn't want me to do it. He thought I was joining the Army because I was mad at him for telling me to get a job. Admittedly, that was part of my motivation, but it wasn't the main reason. I had thought about joining the Army for a couple of years and I'd just broken up with my boyfriend. Anyway, Daddy said he wouldn't sign the papers. Mama told him that if he didn't sign, I'd just wait until I was eighteen -- and I couldn't actually go on active duty until I was eighteen anyway. The day the recruiter was coming to pick me up to go down to join the Delayed Entry Program Mama told me to get the permission slip down and she'd sign Daddy's name. When I took the form down, Daddy had signed it, so Mama didn't have to. Turned out there was some kind of mistake on the form and the recruiter had to fill it out again and Mama DID sign Daddy's name after all. I left for the Army six days after my eighteenth birthday. I was never sorry I joined the Army, but I have regretted getting out after four and a half years.
So began my journey to adulthood. I'll stop this story here and continue in another chapter later.
Written by Patricia Jones Dumond in Hinesville, Georgia, June 2005.