Cassandra Theora Farmer Walker was no stranger to sorrow. Her father, Ira Alexander Farmer, was ambushed and killed when Cassandra was the approximate age of five years. Back in the waning years of the nineteenth century and especially in the baby state of Texas, vigilante justice often superseded the more appropriate and official law and order norms. A make shift posse quickly caught Ira’s killer and, hopefully with the best of intentions, brought him back to Cassandra’s front yard where a large oak tree grew. The posse hung the alleged killer from that tree and young Cassandra Theora Farmer watched him die. While it is not known if Cassandra’s mother, Mary Lewis Farmer, witnessed the hanging, she nevertheless died the next year when Cassandra was age six years. When she was eighteen years old, Cassandra married Thomas Randolph Walker and gave birth to two sons and a daughter. When he was forty-five years old, Thomas Randolph Walker died. For the next forty-three years my great grandmother, Mama Walker, wore only black. Mirroring his grandmother’s loss, my father’s mother died when he was six years old. Mama Walker made the arduous trip from Texas to Arizona to help her son care for his five motherless children all under the age of nine years. My father remembers Mama Walker as a stern, unsmiling person who never gave him enough to eat. Indeed, my father felt hungry for the rest of his life. I blamed Mama Walker for his hunger until I finally broached the subject with Mama Walker’s namesake, my Aunt Cassie. Cassie looked at me with alarm and disbelief. “Mama Walker was a wonderful woman,” remembered Cassie. “She sang and laughed with us all the time. And she was a wonderful cook. We always had plenty to eat.”
Family stories are essential and must be told. Without their telling we are left with mysteries of who we are and from where we came. Without the stories our understandings of how and why remain limited. However, when we hear our stories we are given keys to greater understanding. For example, my father’s life long hunger resulted not from an unfeeling, uncaring grandmother but from the death of his own mother. Perhaps Mama Walker shared a similar hunger which might also explain why she cooked and fed and sang and comforted. She also knew the hunger of young loss.
On the cattle ranch of my youth winter darkness often came early. Watching television wasn’t possible. Neither was any other type of electronic screen viewing. After the evening card games ended and after Daddy tired of playing his harmonica the family stories began. Because of them I know who I am. I know all about the braveries, the passions, and all too often the unthinking stupidities of those who came before me. I stand on their shoulders and learn from them.
I grew up hearing family stories. Now I tell my own. You have stories also. Now is the time to tell them.