The Way It Was: Hettie and I


Editor’s note: This is another column in Bill Boyd’s new series, “The Way It Was,” about growing up in Marysville. Bill continues to work with the Union County Historical Society to obtain information for his stories. With Marysville and Union County celebrating Bicentennial anniversaries in 2019 and 2020, respectively, these articles help depict what life was like in those early years.
Hettie and I
I was born in 1932, in the house of my grandmother, Hettie Tracy, at 423 West Fifth Street. Then, during the early depression years, my mother, two sisters and I lived with Hettie, while my dad worked in Dayton and came home on weekends. I’m sure it was difficult for my parents, but for me it was wonderful. I wouldn’t trade those years for anything.
Hettie was like a second mother. She took me everywhere with her. If she went shopping, she took me along. If she visited a friend’s house, I went with her. Most kids have a special relationship with their grandparents. They visit them on holidays and things like that. But I got to live every day with my grandmother. It was one of the best things that ever happened to me.
Her husband, Thomas Tracy, died of pneumonia when he was in his early fifties. From that point on, Hettie supported herself as a seamstress, and she was really good at it. She had learned the trade by serving as an apprentice in the years before she was married.
When I was about five or six years old, Hettie taught me to play Dominoes. She would set up a card table on cold winter nights, and the two of us would play until bedtime. I wasn’t a very good loser. No, that’s not right. I was a terrible loser. If I lost one game, I could handle the defeat. But if I lost two in a row, I would get angry … so angry that I might knock over my dominoes.
She never scolded me for that. Instead, she would put her face in her hands and pretend to cry. Oh man, that was worse than being punished. I felt awful, and I would put my arm around her shoulder and apologize. Of course, she forgave me immediately, and we set up the dominoes for another game.
A year or two later, my parents, my sisters and I moved to a house on South Court Street. I missed those Dominoes games, so occasionally I would spend a night at her house, and we played until bedtime. Before we started, however, she made me do any homework that I had.
Grandma Tracy was a coffee drinker. She drank it at every meal, and on one of those overnight visits, she let me taste coffee for breakfast. I thought it was bitter, so she put a lot of cream and sugar in my cup. I liked the taste immediately. I think it was the sugar that made the difference. I didn’t drink the coffee. Instead, I dunked my toast in it and then ate the toast. I thought it was wonderful.
When I told my mother about trying the coffee, she was not pleased. From that point on, whenever I was spending the night with Hettie, my mother would tell me as I left the house, “Remember, Bill, don’t drink coffee at grandma’s house.”
It was easy for me to promise that I wouldn’t drink coffee. I never drank it. I just dunked my toast in it. I’m not talking about a single slice of toast. Hettie would make me several slices. Then she put soft butter on them, so it would sink down into the toast. Next came a layer of peanut butter, before she cut the slices diagonally. And I would start dunking. I would empty the whole cup of coffee, but I never drank a drop.
Things have changed over the years. I haven’t played Dominoes in a long time. I have a couple cups of coffee every morning, but I don’t put cream in it. And instead of sugar, I use one of those artificial sweeteners. Oh yes, I no longer dunk toast in it. I actually drink it. But at my age, I don’t think my mother would mind.
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