|On her birth
certificate she is listed as Infant Girl. She was born to
Sarah Nettie Parson and William George Bolt on August 16,
1909 in Coleman, Texas. When she was only four years old
- still a baby herself, the responsibility of an adult
had already been laid at her feet. She fought hard to
hold on to something we each take for granted every day -
her name. I don't believe she knew her real name, even as
she took her last breath and slipped out of my life. She
was one of the most important persons in my life;
although I may never know her true name, I am proud to
call her Grandma.
It is believed that she began her life as Delores Joanna Bolt. I don't know much about my grandmother's parents; she never spoke of them, and I never questioned this while I was young.
My memories of my grandmother begin early in my childhood. My grandparents were farmers. My grandfather built a small brick house in Terra Bella. I loved to follow Grandma around the yard as she worked, exploring the world with her. She would tell me what the world was like when she was a little girl. Sometimes we would sit beneath the shade of the weeping willow tree and eat green apples and watch the clouds float by. There were lush patches of clover all over the yard. Grandma always found four leaf clovers, and would give them to me to put in my shoe for luck. I would search for days trying to find another, and later discovered my Grandmother's secret - she had spliced two together. Grandma always tried to make the best out of life even under the worst of situations. Others would have just given up, but my grandma would just make her own lucky, four-leaf clover and face what ever the world threw at her with dignity and courage.
Grandma often told me that as a child, I would ask her if I could be her baby girl. She always replied, "Yes, you will always be my baby girl." Grandma was the strongest woman I knew, but she was also vulnerable. She needed to feel connected just as much as I needed her - this created a bond between us stronger than our family ties.
I became interested in my family history during my early teen years, and began asking Grandma questions. As she spoke of her parents, the anger blazed in her eyes. The hurt spoke out clearly in her voice as she told me that she could never forgive her parents for what they had done. Her eyes narrowed into what our family refers to as her "Bulldog Look." It was clear something was bothering her so I dropped the subject.
In 1910 she lived with her Aunt Myrtle. She never told me why, but she was nicknamed "Little Myrtle." She hated the name. She always told my cousins and me, "Whatever you do, don't name any of your daughters Myrtle."
On a hot, Sunday afternoon when she was only four years old, she walked alone to a local church. After church she walked up to the preacher and asked him if he would come to their house. The preacher explained that he was sorry, but he already had plans and couldn't break them. Grandma looked up at him and said, "You should come and see our baby he is sick." The preacher was concerned and explained that he was going to check on the Bolt family and would be a little late for supper.
He arrived to find the Bolt house in complete chaos. The older children were lying on the ground out in the sun, trying to die of sunstroke. Grandma was sitting on the porch crying; she wanted them to get out of the sun. She was telling them she didn't want them to die. The baby was nine months old, and very sick. He was still nursing; the older kids were chewing up pieces of apple and feeding them to him. There was no food anywhere in the house. Sarah and William Bolt had abandoned their children to join Clarke's Carnival.
My grandmother was moved in and out of several different orphanages, and this did not leave a good impression on her. She told me how they would change her name each time she was moved to a different family. She would sit in the corner rocking back and forth, repeating her name to herself over and over again; she was determined that she was not going to forget her name. She was passed between aunts and uncles, and many family members. Her parents eventually divorced and remarried other people; she was then shuffled back and forth between her parents. Grandma fondly remembers living with a Jewish couple. Becoming attached was not allowed because they were not of the same religion. They were not to teach my grandmother their faith, but she could recite the Jewish prayers even days before she died.
During her teen years she lived with her older sister. At night she worked as a switchboard operator; she slept next to the switchboard. She told me of one experience I will never forget. One night she was working and a soldier in the army was trying to get a call through to his girlfriend. It was a stormy night and his call couldn't be connected.
Grandma could talk to him and she could talk to his girlfriend, but their lines just wouldn't connect. The soldier asked Grandma to explain to his girlfriend that he tried to call and could not get through to her; he was so upset. He explained to my grandma that he was going to ask his girlfriend to marry him. He suddenly came up with the idea to ask my Grandma if she would ask his girlfriend if she would marry him. My grandma passed their conversation back and forth between them. Grandma said, "He is asking you if you will marry him?" Grandma told the soldier that her reply was, "Yes!"
My grandma had spent her entire life trying to connect her life to someone. She lived a very hard, lonely life. She never complained. She accepted what life had dealt her and made the best of it. It seems ironic that she should spend many years of her life as a telephone operator, connecting people and yet her life was so disconnected - she didn't even know her true name.
When my grandma began having children, she noticed something on their birth certificates. Her first three daughters were born to Myrtle Jaunita Biggerstaff and her last two daughters were born to Myrtle Josephine Biggerstaff. She sent away for her birth certificate expecting it to say Delores Joanna Bolt, but it came back as Infant Girl. She legally changed her name to Myrtle Jo. It was cheaper to change the one document instead of changing all the birth certificates and the marriage license. My Aunt Freda, while doing family research later found that my grandmother is also listed in a city directory as: Coleta Walker and Coleta Biggerstaff. I can remember looking into Grandma's eyes and seeing the resentment of her name being taken from her. Our name is something we all take for granted, but through no fault of her own - she never knew hers.
Whatever her name was intended to be, I only knew her by one - Grandma. She taught me the meaning of courage and strength. She and I built a bond that no one could break. As I began to unlock the secrets of her life, I also began to understand the similarities we shared. She always knew how I was feeling and she always taught me that life could be worse - she knew because she had experienced them.
The last few days of my Grandma's life were hard for me to watch. She fought hard, even to the end. I sat and I held her hand. I watched her slip back and forth from the present into the past. It was hard watching her because I could do nothing to ease her pain. I reminded her that we had a date. She bought us matching nightgowns a month before she died. She wanted to watch the World Series together; she loved baseball. I promised to wear my nightgown and make popcorn. We never got to keep our date, because she began slipping away so quickly.
I began to visit her each day after class; holding her hand in mine, I would remind her of our days together walking under the apple trees. She would finally close her eyes and drift off to sleep.
I don't know what name she was originally meant to possess, but I do know how special she was. She taught me the meaning of true courage. I called her "Grandma" and she called me her "Baby Girl."
Property of Joy Elaine -- Revised November 2000