Mamie Ella

by Wayne M. Hilburn

Thank you so much for visiting me here in the Amarillo Nursing Home. The children are too far away to come here often. The staff is nice, but too busy to talk, much less listen to us old folks. Not that my life is such a story. Did you get your tea? Should I start now?

My name is Mamie Ella Hilburn. I was born December 29th, 1890, in Quanah, Texas.

As a young girl, I wanted to be a teacher. I received an appointment to the Denton State Normal College in Texas. I always loved to read. Poetry was my favorite reading.

I married Ancrum Mather Hilburn, August 15th, 1909. He was very clever at imitating people and "aping" them, so everyone called him "Ape." I had to give up my dream of teaching because women teachers couldn't marry, then. Men teachers could. Women couldn't. Anyway, we had three babies over eight years so that kept me busy. Ancrum ran a newspaper in Shamrock, , when I met him in 1908. Afterward, Ape decided he wanted to be an actor and went off to Chicago to study acting. I had to raise the children myself because Ape traveled the Lyceum and Chautauqua circuit with his impersonations.

My son, Henley Mather, was a rambunctious boy, sometimes got in fights, wouldn't mind me. The girls, Mildred and Jean, were good girls, Jean was flighty though. Henley got in truancy trouble at school around the eighth grade, as I remember. I finally let him quit. I think he was an angry boy, a real handful with Ape gone weeks and months at a time. He got a job at Mr. Spruells hardware store. Henley was born in 1911.

Ape came home when my father, George Joshua Duncan died in 1931. I got the farm and some money. We tried farming but Ape didn't take the hard work well. His father, Thomas Mather retired as a Methodist circuit rider and he and Florence came to live with us. Thomas was a fire-and-brimstone preacher. He was furious with Ape for wanting to be an actor. He thought acting was the most sinful thing. Florence never said what she thought of Thomas traveling all the time, same as Ape did.

Old Mr. Spruell thought the world of Henley. Said "he could sell anything to anybody." Electric appliances were becoming popular. I'll never forget the time Henley brought home a new electric ice box for me. It was a wonder, made it's own ice, too.

My children got married, the girls all moved away. Henley married Otta Hope in 1934. The next year they presented me with a grandson, Wayne Mather.

The depression was bad, you know. Ape was teaching speech and elocution at the local schools, but people couldn't afford many electric appliances, so Henley was doing poorly. Otta Hope and the baby stayed with us while Henley looked for work in Lubbock and Sweetwater.

Baby Wayne was a delight! As curious as a child could be. There weren't many children to play with so he made up his own games and imaginary playmates. There's a picture of him, must be about two, in that box. He's carrying his grandaddy's box camera around with him, pretending to take pictures. He seemed fascinated with everything.

I used to take him with me in the Model A Ford we had to the Shamrock Literary Club meetings. The ladies would pick an author to read and meet to discuss the books. Wayne loved crayons and drawing at such an early age. I think I've kept every one of them, somewhere. I even have a child's drawing table and chair of his. I remember he was a quiet child who loved to listen to his grandpa tell stories. Ape could do so many stories with his different voices and faces. Most were tall tales, but Ape had an attentive audience in his grandson.

When the second war came, Henley volunteered for the Navy and didn't come back until 1944. Florence died that year, followed by Thomas Mather in 1945.

Otta and Wayne stayed with us during the war. After the war, Henley and Otta moved away. Henley was able to get a good job selling again. Otta said he had to travel a lot. Ha! I know story.

My grandson has become a very good artist. I always told him he as good at making pictures. He writes me loving letters from so many places, and always includes a picture in it. A drawing or sometimes a photograph. He's tall and thin, just like his grandpa. Has my button nose, though. Henley got Ape's nose, that's surely true.

Ape died six weeks ago.

I miss that silly old man.

Sorry, can you reach a tissue for me? My hands have taken to trembling of late, just old age. Do you need some more tea? Where was I?

Oh, yes.

I often think about the Hilburns in my life, Thomas, Ape, Henley, and Wayne. They all had a real emotional streak in them. It just came out different ways. Thomas could preach with the wrath of God. Ape could mesmerize an audience. Henley could get you to want to buy something real bad. And my grandson, Wayne could show so much expression in his drawings. In their way, all were creative. I think of Florence, myself, Otta and my granddaughter-in-law, Patricia. We had to be the anchors to emotional men.

They could make us laugh, though, as well as cry.


Mamie Ella Hilburn died softly, June 23, 1970.