My mother, Colleen Springer Simmons, was a writer. Recently, while going through some of her manuscripts, I found this draft of a speech she wrote. It has lots of margin notes and crossed out words and changes. However, I think I've copied it accurately. I think it gives you some insight into why five generations of our family have put words on paper.
Speech for Women’s Literary and Music Club
by Colleen Simmons
In an article from Woman’s Day, titled “The Power of the Open Heart”, Ardis Whitman tells us about the old farmer who sat long and silently on the porch one spring evening with his wife of 50 years, then suddenly blurted, “Sometimes, when I think what you have meant to me all these years, it’s all I can do to keep from telling you.”
And as funny as it may sound, it’s really sad and too often true. Ms. Whitman goes on to say that the reason we don’t communicate well is because we’re often defensive and afraid. “We are afraid of having our hearts touched, our sensitivity revealed,” she writes, “What will the other person think of us? What if we give away our inner flaws? What if we are rejected?”
Of course the lesson she has woven throughout her excellent article is that we should open our hearts to other people, listen to others and when we do express ourselves, we should try to say what we mean. And she quotes this advice, “Don’t let anyone else write your lines for you. Be honest, be genuine and be fair.”
And if a young writer were to ask me how to write, I’d tell him or her to “write your own lines, try to be honest, try to be genuine, and try to be fair”.
Thinking back through the years, I know I first became interested in writing about 50 years ago. My Grandpa Banta had a small country store and a little office where he kept this ancient, clackety-clackety typewriter and although I was still very young, I knew his typewriter represented a lot of good things. He was “the man of letters” at Liberty Hill and he wrote letters to the government for the neighbors. This was right after World War II and many needed help with their pension checks. Many of the Indians who lived near us in the woods couldn’t speak English so he also wrote letters for them. And Grandpa wrote a weekly newspaper column for The Caddo Herald. Rufe Bolts was his pen name. He wrote of the births and deaths and cakewalks and revivals in the community and sometimes he even managed to sneak in a little preachin’ of his own.
I know you’ve read more of Della Springer’s columns than mine. I tried to figure it up once, and I estimated that Mother had written about 4,160 articles and stories and newspaper columns in her lifetime.
As you know, Mama had her own special style and searching through a scrap book of her columns I found this one that seemed just right for today, the opening of deer season. It’s titled “Hanky-Panky in the Piney Woods”.
I’m sure there were times when English teachers may have winced while reading Mama’s columns. Her grammar, her word usage, may not have always fit their textbooks, but this one aspect of writing is my biggest pet peeve. And many of you may disagree with me. I don’t think every word we say or write has to be grammatically correct. I’d rather hear someone say, “Ain’t it a beautiful day.” and mean it, than “Isn’t it a beautiful day” and not mean it. There was a letter to the editor recently from a lady who had critiqued some children’s letters that were published in the Durant paper. And she was complaining because these little ones had made so many errors, but I thought their letters were priceless because they were so honest. Rules of grammar change, even punctuation rules change, meanings of words change, but the feelings we need to express remain the same. I’m more concerned with what we say than how we say it. I mean, I can’t even spell. Only my editor, Lyn Fene, knows what a lousy speller I am.
But back to Mother’s writing style. I know that what impressed me the most about her writing was the spark of life, the enthusiasm for living she maintained despite almost total blindness and many other health problems. And then her audacity. She always stuck to her guns and wrote what she truly believed was right…regardless.
As for my own writing, when I was in high school the Lion’s club had a writing contest and the subject matter was patriotism, the flag and country, and I won the $2.00 prize. Later I began to write True Confessions and True Stories because most young girls back then thought they had learned all about life from these magazines. I remember having 3 or 4 stories published in True Experience and True Confessions, but today I’m sure those magazines are quite different and I don’t think I’ll try to write any more of those.
During the ‘70s I was very lucky because I found a Sunday Supplement that published country stories and the editor seemed to like my work. So I had several stories published there about Grandpa Banta and farm life and my childhood at Liberty Hill. They published this article: “Does Your Child Have Trouble with His ABCs?” and the American Optometric Association gave me a national journalism award and $500. Of course I’m proud of the award, but six years later, in 1980, a grandmother in Seattle, Washington read my article and wrote telling me that because of her reading about my son’s Lazy Eye she had discovered that her grandson had similar vision problems and after he had surgery his vision was saved. The important thing to me is that a newspaper article in Oklahoma can reach across the miles and touch another life. We never know what our words will do. Just as they sometimes hurt so much, they can also help others.
And I want to tell you that of all my writing, this little story about “Annie” brought the most response. It was published in the Bryan County Star and people called me from Durant and Caddo and Calera and Atoka, not because of my writing, but because of Annie Hartman’s courageous life. She lost five members of her family in the space of a few weeks, and still she managed to survive, alone most of the time. And she remained the same sweet Annie.
I never intended to write newspaper columns. I always thought I would write novels and be rich and famous. But now I really appreciate having inherited my column space. I think we have so many unsung heroes today.
I don’t know whether any of you attended Lucille Coats funeral. She taught school here for many years. But just before she died she had written a letter to be read at her funeral. and in the letter Lucille said, “I wish someone would write about all the good students we have at Caddo and all the good teachers.” And I agree with her, don’t you?
I know I haven’t said anything about the art of writing, the mechanics of writing. If I started talking about that we might be here all day. Or you might just get up and leave. I’ll just say that putting words on paper is very hard work, not much fun. Most of the time a blank piece of paper and me. But unlike other field of endeavor there are no age limits, no barriers to writing. And we all have own stories to tell, don’t we? Now in my remaining few minutes I just happen to have brought my little notebook and I thought some of you might give me some ideas for “My Gentle Touch” (column).
Hanky-Panky in the Piney Woods
By Della Springer
And sure enough, it has gotten that time again- time to snuggle up under those electric blankets to close out the bitter cold of winter. Sometimes it stays warm and clear up until after Christmas, but no chance of it this time, I suspect.
Before confined so close to home I am getting a little like Will Rogers: all I know is what I read in the papers. While looking through a local paper yesterday I saw where there was a little hanky panky going on in the deer woods.
Two-legged Dears were invading the piney woods in search of game, that should be off limits.
I am not very smart, but I can think of a good solution for the wives to use. They could arm themselves with shotguns and shells loaded with salt and to do a little hunting for themselves.
A shot of salt on the north side while they were going south would more than likely cool their enthusiasm for illegal husband hunting. But then maybe all wives are not as vindictive as I am.
My guest sat on the edge of her chair. With here eyes she swept the room.
Made me wish I’d done it sooner…with a broom.