Saturday, February 27, 2010

In Loving Memory of Opal Murriel Gray Hollingsworth (1916-2005)

by
Linda Sue Hollingsworth Littlejohn Robbins, Murriel’s oldest child
Those who knew her, loved her.

Opal Murriel Gray Hollingsworth was a beautiful and loving wife with her husband and a caring mother with her children. It is the case in most families that there are trials and tribulations and problems to solve throughout the years of growing a family. Our family was no different, but in using hindsight, I know that my mom performed a more than admirable job of raising her four children.

Murriel (pronounced Mer-re’ul), as Mom was called the first 70 years of her life, gave up material things for herself, so that we could have what we needed and enjoy more of what the world had to offer. It must have been difficult and challenging, just as it is today, to live within ones’ means and also be able to give of one’s self to the family and community, but she did it.

Mom was born in November 20, 1916 and lived in east Texas in the Antrim community in Anderson County for her first three years. Mom’s parents were very humble, but proud, country folks who mostly were farmers. During their first 26 years of marriage, they rented homes, and at age 46, they bought a home in Liberty County’s Cleveland, Texas with the financial assistance of their oldest daughter. It was this home where their four remaining adult children, their spouses, and 14 grandchildren visited from 1939-1978 and 1980 when Mom’s parents passed away, first her dad and then her mom.

Murriel’s family moved east of Elkhart, Texas on Grapeland Road, also in Anderson County with her family by 1920. Her father was a farmer. She, her older sister, and younger brother went to country schools and helped their mom and dad in the fields and in the home. In 1925, her youngest sister was born. By the third grade, Mom and her family had moved to Montgomery County, west of Conroe, Texas. Next the family moved to Cold Springs, Texas in San Jacinto County where they were active in the Cold Springs Methodist Church. Mom and her older sister graduated from Cold Springs High School age 17. All schools at that time went through the 11th grade. In the 1930s Cold Springs community had a church and the High School was a four-teacher school. Mom’s older sister was the valedictorian of her class.

In 1935, at the age of 18, Mom attended the Houston, Texas Beauty College and graduated with a beautician’s license. She moved to Conroe and Anahuac, Texas to become a beautician and at one time owned her own shop. In 1940, Mom, age 23, was a beautician in Cleveland, Texas according to the Liberty County Poll Tax (Voting) receipt and lived at her parents’ home.

Murriel met my dad, a young 30 year-old Methodist preacher when he was assigned to a five-point circuit at Lovelady, east Texas after 1939. They married June 23, 1941 when Mom was 24. They married at Cleveland, Texas where her parents had moved. She and Dad spent their honeymoon at the Rice Hotel in Houston, Texas. This began a lifetime of service in the Methodist Church for both of them and also a lifetime of moving. Mom and Dad moved more than 20 times to live in church parsonages in 15 towns, six in Texas and nine in Oklahoma as they served 14 churches and one administrative position during the next 40 years.

Mom and Dad moved to Tomball, Texas where his next pastorate was located. Serving a single church was called a station. Their home was behind the church and directly connected to it with a hallway. The women of the church used the parsonage kitchen to prepare food for the church.

In March, 1942, Dad was assigned to the Linden Methodist Church, Linden, Texas, in Cass County, which is in northeast Texas near Texarkana. Murriel and he had their first child when Mom was 25, a daughter, who was born in the home and was delivered by a local doctor. Both of the baby’s grandmothers came to assist for several weeks. The family shared a milk cow with the Baptist preacher’s family who lived behind them. In April, 1943, at Linden, their second child, a daughter, was born at home who was delivered by the same doctor. Again, both grandmothers came to assist Mom and the new baby for several weeks. A lady who now lived in Tyler, Texas visited with me earlier this year by phone and explained that as a teenager, she babysat me and my next sister when we were one and two year olds. She believed that it was her mom who assisted the doctor in our deliveries as she knew her mom was called on often to assist the doctor.

Dad was assigned to First Methodist Church in Athens, Texas, in Henderson County from 1945-1948 where their third child, a son, was born in 1947 at the hospital. Our mom often dressed her two daughters in the same outfits or similarly, even though we were one year apart and one had brown hair and one had blond hair.

Methodist preachers and their families were assigned churches and locations within a geographical area called a Conference. Dad’s first 20 years as a minister were in the Texas Conference, one of five in Texas, located in east Texas, now approximately east of I-45 and not including Dallas, Texas. His last twenty years of ministry were located in the Oklahoma Conference which coincided with the geography of the state of Oklahoma.

Murriel knew that she would need to follow her husband to each new pastorate with her family. By now, at age 30, she was living in her fourth town after marrying my dad. This would continue with 12 more moves to different towns and churches for almost another 30 years until she was 60.

From 1948-1950, Mom, age 32, and family of five lived in two parsonages, plus a rental duplex in between, in Palestine, Texas. The first home was Victorian style and next door to First Methodist Church on Magnolia Street. The second home was built south of town on Highland Drive. Her family lived in a rented home while the second parsonage was built. Her oldest daughter attended first and second grades at Lamar Elementary School and her second daughter attended first grade there.

The next move occurred in June, 1950 to Galveston, Texas where Murriel, age 34, and her family grew to four children with the addition of a third daughter in 1952. Her husband was transferred to Galveston’s First Methodist Church where they lived for five years. It was an exciting time for Mom and the family with the beach so handy. My mom loved to go crabbing, and we would go to the east jetty and carefully walk out on the slippery rock rubble jetty and try not to fall between the cracks between the huge boulders. We took leftover beef meat and bones to tie a string around and lowered it into the water. Crabs would cling to the bait and we would bring them up.

Mom and Dad loved seafood of all kinds. In those days, a favorite way to prepare fish fillets was to deep fat fry them in deep electric fryers that had recently come on the market. Mom and Dad also took us to Gaido’s on Sundays after church where our favorite fish was fried shrimp. In contrast with today, we eat mostly grilled or broiled fish. Other Sunday outings included riding the Port Bolivar free ferry operated by the Department of Transportation, Dad driving the car up on the upper seawall at the east end of Seawall Boulevard, going to Carnation’s for ice cream, driving to the airport at the west end of the island to watch the airplanes come and go, and driving on the hard sand beach at the west end of the island.

During our time in Galveston, Murriel saw that the older daughters took piano, art, gymnastics, dance, and voice lessons from members of the church or in the community. It was the fashion of the time for women and girls to wear hats and gloves when we were dressed up, and our Mom and we followed that custom. Mom also saw that we ate meals on a regular schedule, with breakfast, dinner, and supper the names of the three meals as was common in those days in the South. She also taught the children to say, “Yes, m’am, no, m’am, yes, sir, and no, sir.” as did her mom. Cursing was not allowed in our home, and we could not play cards or go to a movie on Sunday.

The oldest daughter went to three schools in Galveston. The first was San Jacinto Elementary in the third and fourth grades in 1950-1952 when our family lived in a two-story Victorian home next to First Methodist Church at 1920 Sealy that was built before the 1900 storm and survived. The second school was Alamo Elementary near the home we lived in at 4420 N ½ Street in the fifth and sixth grades. The third school was Lovenburg Junior High in the seventh grade. My mom enrolled the three oldest children in swimming lessons at the then new Ball High School Swimming Pool and the oldest daughter began band in the seventh grade. The youngest sister was born in 1952 during one of the fierce storms that frequent Galveston.

1955-1957 saw the another transfer for Murriel, age 39, and her family to Grace Methodist Church in Houston, Texas in the now historic Heights area. The first parsonage was a frame home on Yale Avenue south of the church with an extra bedroom addition. The second home was a newly built parsonage one block east on Heights Boulevard south of the Heights Public Library. The oldest daughter and her next sister walked to Hamilton Junior High School at the north end of Heights Boulevard. The oldest daughter took Driver’s Ed in the ninth grade to receive a Texas Learner’s Permit. The two daughters would walk home and sometimes stop at a hamburger stand that might have been an early Whataburger because the hamburgers tasted the same. The sisters participated in the church choir and the oldest sister was in the school choir and was a member of Rainbow Girls. Mom had distinctive opinions about Elvis Presley and her oldest daughter was not allowed to see him when he came to Houston.

1957 was a historic year for Mom’s family. Bishop Angie Smith of the Methodist Church (an elected position) asked my dad to transfer from the Texas Conference to the Oklahoma Conference where the bishop’s brother A. Frank Smith was also a bishop. My dad agreed to the transfer, so all of our family’s roots from the eastern half of Texas were uprooted to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma to the Crown Heights Methodist Church. Mom was 41. In those days people, particularly men, did not give up the opportunity to move within an occupation, profession, or company for possible fear of not advancing, so our family made the change.

Oldest daughter and next sister attended Harding High School in the 10th and 9th grades where both sisters were in Pep Club and the oldest daughter took Driver’s Ed. Some students who took Driver’s Ed the same semester already were driving their cars to school that they parked in the parking lot. Her younger brother and youngest sister attended Emerson Elementary School. Mom was the dutiful pastor’s wife and led women’s functions in the church and entertained church members in the home. The children were active in the youth groups and choirs in the church. It was nice to visit often with Dad’s oldest brother and his wife because they had moved to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma early in their lives in the 1930s.

Murriel’s eighth location at age 42 was 1958-1960 when her family moved to Duncan, Oklahoma’s First Methodist Church. The family lived in two locations: one a smaller frame home with a detached garage and the second, a two-story home with a non-livable basement. At the first home, Mom and the children helped to hang out the clothes after they were washed. On one occasion, they had to quickly gather the clothes in because the sky had turned a weird, sickly shade of green with increasing winds that signaled the approach of a strong storm and possible tornado. That was in the days before one could see the weather forecast on the computer or warnings on the radio or TV. At the second home, Mom presided again over entertaining functions in the home for church members. She also gave a formal tea for her oldest daughter’s high school graduation. It was in Duncan that the two older daughters were active at school and in church. The oldest daughter performed in school choir and the second daughter was editor of the school yearbook. Both daughters were in the active youth group at church, sang in the youth choir, and had fun at the after Sunday evening church service youth group dances in member’s homes. Also at this time, the two older daughters began dating.

From 1960-1966, at their ninth location, Mom, age 44, Dad, age 49, and the three younger children moved to Woodward, Oklahoma for Dad to become the Woodward District Superintendent of the Methodist Church, an administrative and guidance position. From their home, he and mom traveled to 35 churches that stretched from the western edge of Oklahoma’s Panhandle to east of the Panhandle in the Woodward area. It was during these years that the second daughter and son graduated from Woodward High School in 1961 and 1965 and the oldest daughter and second daughter attended and graduated from Oklahoma City University, a Methodist university, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Their oldest daughter married in 1965 in Dallas, Texas when Dad married his daughter and her fiancĂ© at University Park Methodist Church. The family participated as members of the wedding party.

In June, 1966, Murriel, age 52, and Dad, age 57, moved to their Lawton’s Centenary Methodist Church, 704 S.W. D. Avenue, Lawton, Oklahoma for one year with their youngest child, Deborah as their tenth assignment. I recall visiting there with my first husband, and the garage doors would go up and down unannounced as their automatic signals would be set off as nearby Fort Sill was performing maneuvers with the same frequencies as armaments were shot.

From 1967-1970, El Reno, Oklahoma was my dad’s next pastorate and eleventh location at Wesley Methodist Church at 101 S. Barker Avenue where the parsonage was next door. The home was a one-story with a livable basement. I recall that my brother came home from the Vietnam War and stared often out the front door when we visited there. My dad also would barbeque on the grill outside in his suit and hat. As usual, Mom, age 51, belonged to the Women’s Christian Service group, lead in it. and Vacation Bible School, Sunday School, and entertained women’s groups at the parsonage. Their youngest daughter graduated from El Reno High School in 1970. A significant change came about in the Methodist Church in 1968 when it became the United Methodist Church.

In June, 1970, when Murriel was 54, she and Dad moved to Okmulgee, Oklahoma, their twelvth assignment, where he was the pastor of First United Methodist Church at 302 S. Seminole, Okmulgee, Oklahoma for two years. Okmulgee is in eastern Oklahoma where my children’s great aunt and uncle lived most of their adult lives, taught in the schools there, and were members of the First United Methodist Church. It is also the town where Mom and Dad’s youngest daughter settled with her husband in later years and raised their two children. The Okmulgee Cemetery has several family members located there: the oldest daughter’s children’s paternal great-grandparents where the husband was a Methodist minister for 30 years, the oldest daughter’s children’s great aunt and uncle, and the youngest daughter’s husband, and his parents.

1972-1975 saw Mom’s thirteenth move to Claremore, Oklahoma with Dad to the First United Methodist Church at Claremore and Foyil. It was a significant move in that Mom and Dad chose Claremore, Oklahoma as a place to retire to later in life. It was a momentous decision because Dad did not get to make the move five years later due to his death. Mom really enjoyed the church at Claremore, making many friends who would remain her friends when she retired in Claremore later. After her children grew up and left home, she had begun to work outside the home, especially in elderly care in private homes or small nursing homes where she could sit or work with patients during the night.

In 1975, Murriel, age 59, and Dad, age 65, moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Sheridan Avenue United Methodist Church where the parsonage was next door. This was their fourteenth assignment. Christmas that year was a joyous occasion because their son and his wife from California came to visit, as well as Dad’s oldest brother and youngest sister, along with of their other children, including the oldest daughter and her husband’s children, the second daughter from Washington state, and the youngest daughter’s boyfriend who would later become her husband. There was a beautiful snow on Christmas morning which was very unusual to occur that early in the season.

1976 was the last and final move for Mom, age 60, and Dad, age 65, to Perry, Oklahoma First United Methodist Church, as a Methodist minister and his wife. They had completed fifteen moves to different towns in two states. Dad was in good health until March, 1977 when he had a heart attack while he and Mom were visiting their oldest daughter’s family in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Dad was able to go home to Perry for a short while, but had another heart attack two months later at their home in Perry. He was transferred to St. Mary’s Hospital, Enid, Oklahoma where he lived for a few weeks until his death on his 66th birthday, June 11, 1977. Mom, her oldest daughter, and family got to be with him in the hospital before he passed away. During the two months when he was gravely ill, Mom took care of the business of having him officially retired as a United Methodist Minister in the Oklahoma Conference at the Annual Conference in June, 1977. His funeral was held at the Perry First United Methodist Church where his oldest and youngest daughters sang several of his favorite hymns as duets during the service. His body was transferred to the Claremore, Oklahoma Woodlawn Cemetery where he is interred with Mom who passed away in 2005.
In 1977, Mom, age 60, as a widow, moved to her home at 300 N. Wortman Place in Claremore, Oklahoma that she and dad had planned to move to together for their retirement. Instead she moved by herself. Her second oldest daughter came from Washington state to help her move in and get organized. For several years, Mom was active at First United Methodist Church, Claremore, Oklahoma, and worked at Picketts’ Plant Nursery and at Aunt Carrie’s Home for the elderly. In her spare time, she walked every day for exercise and had an extensive garden in her backyard. When her oldest daughter divorced in 1978, Mom took her oldest daughter and three children in to her home until they were able to purchace their own home in the same town.

Before the age of 72 in 1988, Mom had a major stroke, but was able to continue living in her home after rehabilitation.

By 1995, at age 78, Mom had developed the beginning stages of dementia with mini strokes, she became lost in her neighborhood, and it was determined that she needed to move into residential care. She moved to the Baptist Retirement Center, Okmulgee, Oklahoma, where she had a two-room apartment and was under the care of her youngest daughter, her husband, and two young children. It was at this time that Mom's middle name Murriel was changed to use her legal first given name, Opal. I have often wondered how strange it must seem to a person with dementia to be called by a new name that was never used before in one's life. I wonder at what point in dementia does one lose the ability to recognize one's own name.

Later in 1995 or 1996 Opal Murriel was moved to the Baptist Retirement Center in Owasso at Mimosa Manor where she had a smaller apartment. At the end of her living in Owasso her older daughter assumed the responsibilities of her financial and medical care.

In 1997 Opal Murriel moved to Stillwater, Oklahoma to be near her oldest granddaughter and her family where she was cared for by them for nine years until her death June 2, 2005 at age 88. She resided at Sterling House Assisted Living facility, Westhaven Nursing Home, and Grace Living Center. It was during those nine years that my oldest daughter, her husband, and their two young sons went to visit their grandmother daily and saw to her needs at that critical time in her life.

Opal Murriel Gray Hollingsworth was laid to rest next to Dad at the Claremore, Oklahoma Woodlawn Cemetery on June 10, 2005. Strode Funeral Home, Stillwater, Oklahoma was in charge of the graveside services. She was preceded in death by her parents, two brothers, and her husband. She was survived by one son, three daughters, five grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren. She was also survived by two sisters.

With this narrative, I honor Opal Murriel Gray Hollingsworth's memory for her family and friends who loved her for 88 years. Throughout her life, she showed strength, humor, compassion, and love for those around her.