I would like to introduce you to my parents’ memoirs—Paint Lick, by Doris Burgess Hayek, and Growing to 80, by Mason Hayek—and to my own, A Woman in Time. My parents and I were a team. A clerk once asked the three of us if we were triplets. When we were on a Hawaiian cruise, my father asked a new acquaintance which of my parents I looked like. The acquaintance said, “You all three look alike.” And so it just makes sense that our memoirs would be completed at the same time, December 2016. The resemblance and closeness were more than skin deep. We even referred to ourselves as the Triplets or the Three Musketeers.
I’ll be sharing our books and telling a little about our stories because I believe that every life is a story worth telling, both for the ways it contrasts with others’ and for the qualities we humans have in common. My parents grew up in an era and in settings that would be lost if stories such as theirs were not told. My life, too, has had its memorable times. And like everyone, I see the world in my own, individual way. So I share my parents’ and my books as part of a conversation. The other half of the conversation is in readers’ memories as they—as you—compare lives and points of view.
While my mother’s memoir was finished in December, it had been in progress for decades. Her book, called Paint Lick after the village in Kentucky where she grew up, is based on transcripts of tape recordings that she made about her experiences. She was a gifted storyteller, and my father recorded many of her stories during the long drives between Delaware and Kentucky, to and from visits to our relatives’ homes. In addition to transcribing the tapes, my father did preliminary editing for my mother’s book. She herself turned several of the transcribed episodes into polished chapters. Then I had the honor of completing the editing—of sorting and pulling together the transcripts and essays and of adding additional material from taped interviews with my mother that I had made, including several during the last few years before she passed away in February 2014. The cover photograph shows my mother (with a gosling on her head) and her sisters, Ruth (six years older) and Winnie (three-and-a-half years younger). I was named for my Aunt Winnie.
Paint Lick is the story of a village just inside the Bluegrass Region of Kentucky and of the life that Doris Burgess Hayek lived there from her birth in 1917 through the 1920s and 30s. In Doris’s Paint Lick, neighbors are family and entertainment includes “sitting ‘til bedtime” with friends, pie suppers, community plays, music at school and in the churches, WSBS (whose call letters stand for “World’s Smallest Broadcasting Station”), a visit to Coffee Grounds Lucy, games of croquet under the maple tree in the Burgess family’s front yard, and—for the children—the thrill of rolling downhill in an oversized tire. More challenging are a bank robbery, fearsome horses, sisterly disputes, chores such as churning and cleaning coal dust off white woodwork, a nighttime intruder, and Mrs. Smith’s driving. In Paint Lick, we meet the memorable Burgess family and their friends and some of the village’s most colorful characters.
My mother’s book begins:
In my memory I see Paint Lick on a summer afternoon. From the street I hear the laughter of women as they sit visiting by the big window in Mrs. Logsdon’s store. I see my father going into Cox’s Store to talk with the men who are gathered there. Dr. Smith is returning to his office, and the bread truck from Berea has just come in with loaves of warm, salt-rising bread. My sister Ruth is entering Burl Hammock’s barbershop as children play nearby. Mr. Grady sits dozing on his favorite bench. Farmers are approaching in trucks and buggies to trade in the stores before closing time.
In 1917, when I was born, and during my childhood in the 1920s and 30s, roughly two-hundred people lived in Paint Lick and the immediate vicinity. This community was everything to us and to our neighbors. Each part of the village and nearby countryside was a living part of our days. Our livelihood was there. Our social life was there. Much of the food we ate came right from the land of our home places. Every building was a home or business for our friends and a place where we gathered and shared our experiences.
One such experience is captured in my mother’s account of “The Bank Robbery”:
Paint Lick life was not without adventure. This is the story of some amateur desperadoes who outwitted some village vigilantes but, in the end, fell into the hands of the sheriff and one of Paint Lick’s little ladies.
In those days, it wasn’t uncommon for someone to pick up the phone receiver planning to make a call and hear a conversation on another line. This we called “crosstalk.” One such time, a Paint Lick resident heard over crosstalk a conversation between two men planning to rob a bank. One man told the other that Paint Lick was unincorporated and the bank was strong. They set a date. The news from the crosstalk spread in the community, and several men planned a warm welcome for the robbers.
On the morning of the day the robbers were supposed to come, the Paint Lick men, each with a shotgun, assembled at second-floor windows across from the bank. They planned to shoot out the tires on the robbers’ car. The men waited and waited, and the robbers didn’t come. This time crosstalk had helped the robbers. They had been tipped off that the Paint Lick men were waiting for them.
Time passed, and everyone assumed the threat was over.
One morning when I was playing croquet in our front yard with my sister, her girlfriend Polly, and Joe, a young neighbor boy, we looked up to see a big black car pass by. We wondered why the occupants were moving around. Polly said, “Ooh, those mean-looking men,” and she danced around, swinging her mallet and singing, “I’ll be glad when you’re dead, you rascal you.” Shortly, Mrs. Roop, Joe’s mother, called, “Joe-oh, come home.”
Word spread quickly: The bank had been robbed. The men in the big black car were the robbers, and Mr. Roop and two other men were locked in the vault.
Soon, we heard Mrs. Logsdon’s account. She was standing in the doorway of her general store, next to the bank, when the robbers arrived. While three of the men entered the bank, a fourth stood outside holding his gun. In Mrs. Logsdon’s words, “I knew I was covered.” She stood motionless until the car had pulled away, and then she went straight to the phone.
The robbers abandoned their stolen car on the Cartersville Road, a few miles from Paint Lick, but two of them weren’t able to elude the sheriff and his men for long. They were caught, and they went to prison on Mrs. Logsdon’s testimony.
Eventually the two robbers were out of prison. One day, Mrs. Logsdon was visiting with Mrs. Goodman in Dr. Goodman’s waiting room when who should walk in but one of the robbers. Mrs. Logsdon recognized him at once. While the three waited for the doctor to come in, Mrs. Logsdon cringed every time Mrs. Goodman said “Mrs. Logsdon,” but there was no obvious recognition by the robber.
In this brief recording, my mother explains that Paint Lick people left their doors unlocked. Obviously robberies were out of character for the community:
(The first audio in the sidebar is the longer recording from which the above clip was taken. The longer recording includes an account of the bank robbery and of other Paint Lick adventures that became part of my mother’s memoir.)
Like the village itself, the book Paint Lick is filled with memorable characters. I only have time to give you a taste. Among those we get to know is Virginia Beasley and her sons. Mrs. Beasley was proud and loved picture hats:
When she was a young woman, she asked her friend Anna Walsh which suitor to choose. The friends had attended a girls’ finishing school together. Virginia said to Anna, “I’ve had two proposals for marriage. One is for money and one is for love. Which should I take?”
Anna replied, “Oh, Virgie, by all means take the one for love.”
But Virginia decided differently. She accepted Mr. Beasley’s proposal.
We also meet airy Mrs. Smith, who thought it necessary to turn the steering wheel on her Chevrolet back and forth continually as she dodged traffic, and Miss Mary Walker, whose family raised famous hunting hounds and knew Neville Chamberlain—Miss Mary imperiously drove her buggy into the village and then called to the merchants to come out and take her orders. We meet a wealthy merchant who was such a skinflint that he wore paper bags on his feet to avoid buying overshoes. We get to know Miss Kate, whose parrot served as her receptionist, hollering “Miss Kate out” when the (rather inept) dressmaker was unavailable. And Mother introduces Mr. Treadway, who would stop women driving into Paint Lick and ask, “Does your man make you a good living?” Among the dozens of other Paint Lick notables was Mr. Grady, a reclusive housepainter who carved peach pits for the children, for five cents each. Here is a monkey he carved for my mother:
Education was a value in my mother’s home. The recollections in Paint Lick include school-day adventures, misadventures, teachers, and classmates. The picture here is of her class in 1924, when my mother had just turned seven; she is in the second row on the left:
The picture on the left below shows my mother in seventh grade. In the middle photograph, she is in high school and is wearing a dress made by her mother, Martha Jane Spurlock Burgess. To the right, we see my mother in her college band uniform.
To close this overview of my mother’s book, I’ll share a little bit of a recording that found its way into her book. Here my mother is telling my father, Mason Hayek, about her father’s—Ulysses McClure Burgess’—amazing knowledge of history and her own shortcuts to some of her school assignments:
My father, Mason Hayek, explained his choice of Growing to 80 as the title for his memoir:
From childhood on, most of us have stories to tell about our lives, and those stories tell far more than a chronological record. Facts, themselves, are only the sets for the many acts in one life. Essays, poems, truth told through fiction, drawings or sketches, and photographs individually and collectively communicate a personality. In my case, all of these means of communication describe who I am (an ordinary person) and how I have grown to 80.
The photograph on the cover shows my father and his dog Jerry in 1927.
Much of my father’s story is told through his drawings. I have been very concerned to preserve my father’s artwork—as well as his and my mother’s stories and writings—so that it will survive after I’m gone. I hope that by publishing my parents’ work in their books, their histories and artistry will have permanence beyond my lifetime. My father had finished about two-thirds of his memoir by the time of his passing in August 2004. To complete the book, I added other writings of his that I found, as well as numerous additional drawings and photographs.
My father grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota. As he explains:
The drawing here [below] shows our house, 317 Superior Street (formerly Yankee Street), St. Paul. Mother and Dad bought a cottage at this address shortly after their marriage, in 1904. Dad then enlarged the house to that shown here, using his skill in carpentry and bringing much of the material for the alteration on his bicycle in 1922.
As a boy—and throughout his life—Mason loved trains and nature. This piece is one of several telling why trains lived in the center of my father’s boyhood. It’s called “The Trains, 1930”:
The trains were more than trains for me, watching from the railing at the cliff two blocks from home. I watched the locomotives belching smoke as they struggled to pull the long passenger trains or freights leaving the city and climbed the two-mile grade from the depot to the “short line,” the street-car crossing at Seventh Street. Trains coming into the city glided down the grade to the sound of the bell at the crossing, the click . . . click . . . click . . . click of the wheels on the track, and the wheezing of the air breaks.
I knew the schedule: the Pioneer Limited from Chicago at 7:15 in the morning, the Rock Island to Rock Island coming down ten minutes later, followed by the Soo Line to Chicago, then perhaps a freight. But best of all was the Olympian to Seattle at 9:20.
I could see the Olympian coming up the grade at Chestnut Street, a mile away, two engines at the head working to pull seventeen or eighteen cars, an observation car with an open platform at the rear.
The magic of imagination put me on the observation platform, watching the rails slip away. But, however fine it was to be a passenger, it was not as fine as being the engineer, my hand on the throttle as I looked past the engine side to the clear track ahead, saw the tall wheels below the cab, wheels as narrow as your hand riding smoothly over narrow ribbons of steel that stretched from coast to coast. The cars in a long line that followed in imagination were filled with happy passengers going somewhere.
At night, as engineer, I saw the powerful headlight piercing the darkness, illuminating the track a mile ahead, opening the way for the train to push aside the night until night followed the last car.
Whether days for me were difficult or easy, the trains were always there: strength and order, order and strength, dependability; narrow wheels on narrow tracks, steel against steel. Whatever feelings lingered from the day, after bedtime I could be on the night train to Omaha on the tracks over the river. Two short blasts from the engine’s whistle responded to the bridge tender’s signal that all was clear. Faint sounds like distant thunder said the train was crossing the bridge. Minutes later, the train whistled at the Lillydale junction. Then silence. The train would be in Omaha the next morning.
The trains are gone. The engineers and most of the passengers are gone. Though time has stolen all the outward sights and sounds and smoke, in my mind I still can hear the crossing bell at Seventh Street. There’s barely time to run to the railing to see the train.
In his book, my father describes outdoor explorations with his father and friends. Often the walks were along the banks of the Mississippi, including visiting a cave where his father had played as a boy and other caves where hobos lived. Many of the poems that my father continued to write throughout his years describe his experiences with the natural world. Here is “Dusk in April”:
The last of day sinks slowly in the west and draws night’s blanket from the east. A robin pours its last, sweet song of day across the dusk, the only sound except our quiet steps.
This is spring. Against the western, fading light the silhouettes of trees’ bare branches show last winter’s nakedness, soon to be covered by summer’s garments.
Light fades. Then Sirius and Venus reveal a universe hidden since dawn. This mirror of the Sun, the Moon, now just beyond first quarter overhead, illuminates our path. Our faint shadows join those of trees to emphasize the calm of coming night.
The scene recalls affection for times long gone and places far away— fragile, fleeting, quiet joy.
All life around us seems asleep until an owl asks, “Who?” And then we know the night lives too.
Many of my father’s drawings, too, are scenes in nature.
My parents met in May 1943 in Louisville, Kentucky, where they were both working. Daddy grew to love Kentucky and to consider my mother’s family as his second family. Here are my parents around the time of their marriage:
Much of my father’s love of Kentucky is expressed through his art, including this drawing of a farm near Paint Lick:
Because my father was hired by the DuPont Company, my parents moved to Wilmington, Delaware, in 1947. As with Kentucky, in addition to his essays and poems, my father’s drawings tell much of the story of his time in Delaware, including my parents’ travels. I’ll share three examples:
I’ve called my memoir A Woman in Time because the time, places, people, and circumstances of our lives are part of the essence of who we are. The first section of my book, “How It Has Been,” describes scenes and situations that give a sense of the people, places, and circumstances that have mattered most to me over the years.
My book’s second section, called “Longing and Romance,” begins with a poem titled “The Rogue’s Gallery,” which pretty much says it all about my romantic life:
Sam, with your dark-red mustache and handsome face, You were almost an attractive man. You were my big strong knight; For you I wore ribbons in my long brown hair. But you swept the Scrabble pieces to the floor when I won; You hogged the piano, panned my friends, And decided three weeks before the wedding that a church ceremony was not for you. So I returned you to your loving mother.
Sheldon, you were my lost soul, my romantic invalid— Until your body healed and your mind settled back down into its customary trough. As I rode around Philadelphia in the backseat of your car— While you impressed a friend who was allowed to sit up front— It came to me: perhaps I wasn’t ready for a life of waiting for you to have time for me. And so I returned you to your loving mother.
Hank, you were the last of the big spenders, the lavish tippers, the tellers of tall tales. We would marry and live in Italy in a quaint red house you had found for us. The ring? Oh yes, the ring was coming—only a short delay putting your hands on the perfect stone. The wedding date? Oh dear, some slight annoyance about a previous marriage that had not quite ended But just never seemed to have come up in conversation. So I returned you to your wife, who, I am sure, left the package unclaimed.
Robby, you were the little teacher I picked out for myself. Whatever I thought of the others, I did love you. Too bad you had eyes only for your guru, Who answered all the questions of life And saved you from actually having to think. Time cleared the mantras from my eyes. Even so, I did not want to return you to his holiness, But you were his already—body, bank account, and soul.
Carl, in you I found another redhead, though a foot shorter than the first. When you set eyes on me, like all nerds, you fell under my spell. You were a Ph.D. from Stanford—but A.D.D. in human relationships. “You’re certainly not known for your looks,” you said to me— And found yourself whimpering on the wrong side of my closed front door. I returned you to your nice impersonal computer.
Fred, in you—at last—I found a man who loved concerts, ethnic food, and travel. Well, you loved all these as long as we used my car and my money. You gave me plenty of advice on how to drive, where to park, And when to visit the restroom. Too bad I waited so long to return you to your solitary Sunday afternoons So you could listen to your favorite operas on the Walkman I had bought for you.
Jack, you distilled the essence of all who came before. In my mind’s eye, I still see you in your baggy polyester trousers, The ensemble set off by a giant pair of Nikes with worn-out soles. Your idea of a good time was doing absolutely nothing. Perhaps you liked having someone next to you While your mind was away somewhere mathematical and manly. You, too, had a computer with whom you had much in common, So I stopped keeping you from your intended.
Sam, Sheldon, Hank, Robby, Carl, Fred, and Jack, In response to your portraits in my rogues’ gallery, I have returned to Saturday-evening dates with men on whom I can depend: Maigret, Poirot, Dalglish; The Beatles and Bocelli; Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart. Who says there aren’t good men out there?
In addition to covering misguided romance, the section talks about my passions such as Italy and writing.
The third section—“Leaving and Loss”—is especially about the loss of my parents and about leaving behind the life we had together. Here are my parents in the kitchen of our family home:
I have written about losing my father, and during my mother’s last few weeks in this life, I wrote a brief free-verse poem each evening. The poem “Unknown” is one of them:
We are suspended in the unknown, Sliding toward it, Holding back. Time, The day, The date, The Earth circling the Sun, The lives being lived Next door and across the globe Continue on without us As we wait and wonder, Wrapped in anxiety and love.
Loss is a part of aging, but renewal can be, as well. And my book’s fourth section—“Aging and Renewal”—considers the paths still opening up. Quakers believe in what we call the “Inner Light,” also known as “that of God in everyone.” The Inner Light can also be thought of as our higher self, as that which connects us with the loving energy of the Universe. In some of the essays and poems, I consider what my Inner Light has to say to me about getting on with life and doing better.
The poet, essayist, and cleric John Donne said in a well-known meditation written in 1624, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” Like Donne, I believe, as my parents also expressed, that we are part of a whole. I believe that all humankind—in fact all creation—is tangibly linked. And so the last section of my book is called “All One.” Some of the pieces in the section consider the lives of other people, from the Bible’s Eve to a woman I observed in a natural-foods café in Philadelphia. Other entries, like the piece that ends the book, are additional examples of my recording what I sense the Inner Light—which links us all—is telling me. Here is a little of the closing essay:
If you love and I love and we reach those around us so that their love grows and is shared, we will change the world. Love is shared in many ways—writing a poem, encouraging a friend, speaking up kindly but firmly in the face of unkindness and injustice, refusing to go along with behavior and attitudes that harm, building a soup kitchen, teaching children to read, creating music and art. All of these can be an expression of love. . . .
So many ways of being are possible. There is not one right way but infinite right ways along the path of caring and kindness. Each such way amplifies love in the world, helping to spread it where it might not have gone before. From here on throughout our years, let each of us light the lamp and show the way according to our map and journey.