“I’ve never been hurt, never been hungry, never been abused, have had pretty good health all of my life, I just don’t see how anyone could ask for more.”
95 years old and looking back on my life I have no regrets. I was born in Electra Texas, the daughter of Emmet Tunnell and Lizzie Ophelia Green. My birth name was Erma Ruth Tunnell but I’ve always gone by Ruth. Grandmother was named Betty Ermine Scott and I was named for her only they just used part of the name. My granddaughter Teresa has a broach pin that belonged to her.
I made my appearance July 12, 1914 in our house on Main Street in Electra. It was Sunday afternoon. We were all born at home then. Grandma Betty was there to help. Mama was always mad because there was a bunch there playing music and daddy was with them while she and Grandma had the baby.
Martin Edgar (named after grandpa but went by Edgar), Leola May, Alma Lee, a baby that died came before me making me the fifth child in the line. Mama was 28 years old at the time. After me they lost another baby, Robert E, Then came Dorothy Nell, Janie Loveta (Ray couldn’t say it and named her Meta and it stuck), Earl Ray (who just went by Ray), and Billie Bob.
Where I fell in line I was too little to be a big kid and too big to be a little kid. I didn’t get to learn to ride a bike or go swimming or any of that. Every other one would have been a boy except between Leola and Alma, counting the two boys they lost.
The earliest thing I remember was a little girl that lived next door had a tricycle. She wouldn’t let me ride it but she’d let me stand on the back while she rode it. I remember us going up and down the sidewalk. The next vivid memory I have was moving to the field as they had finished our house. Edgar had a room, Alma and Leola had a room and there was a big room that the rest of us slept in, then a dining room and a kitchen. Mama and daddy had a bed in the big room. When another kid came along we just made room. There was a screen porch down the side of the house that kinda caught everything.
We were a poor family. Daddy and Grandpa built the house out on the lease. I remember riding on the wagon that was taking us out there. I was four years old.
We had to haul our drinking water so we couldn’t have a garden. We tried it a couple of years but the soil give out. We had a friend that lived in town that came out and visited a lot. She came out one day and said Leola and Nell were the smart ones and Meta was the pretty one. She just left me and Alma out. I never did quite forgive her. She coulda thought of something to say about us.
We had a good life. We didn’t expect a whole lot so we were happy with what we had. We played with bottles, and pulled the weeds up where we’d have a square to play in. We didn’t have all these toys that kids have these days and don’t care anything about. We liked to play with horned toads and hitch them to matchbox wagons.
We played at home, mama didn’t let us go off and play at other houses. We played well together, there was no fighting. Mama always said if anybody was going to hit anybody it’d be her, so we behaved. There were more of us than the number of kids anybody else had. I don’t see how they fed us really, but we dressed as good as anybody because mama made all of our clothes. A lot were made out of patterned feed sacks.
At Christmas time we’d hang our socks up and get Oranges and nuts and such. I got a coat for Christmas when I was six because I was about to start school and didn’t have one. We thought we had the best daddy in the world but we were afraid of him too. Just a word from him could just destroy us.
Mama handled most of the discipline. I was grown before I realized how hard that must have been on her. I remember her lining up all the kids and spanking all of them just because she didn’t have time to sort out who did what.
Mama was a fraidy cat, afraid of everything. She always had a baby or two to rock. She’d keep us up at night when daddy worked towers and tell us stories. She could take the simplest tale and scare the pants off you with it. We thought she was just wanting to entertain us but it wasn’t until later that we realized she was just afraid to be in the house alone (everybody asleep) with daddy gone.
All the kids but Alma Lee, Edgar and Ray graduated. Alma Lee got married, Edgar quit and got a job to help support the family and of course Ray wasn’t capable of it. (Ray was mentally handicapped, never matured intellectually beyond the age of a boy, but he could play a piano like nobody’s business.)
It has been a good life – so far – and I wouldn’t change anything about it if I could.