Interview with Jenny Dee
1876 – 1906

Jenny Dee, my grandmother and from whom I get my name, died in 1906 – when my father was three. It would be forty-seven years before I came along, another forty-seven years before I saw a picture of her; and, since Dad was so young when she passed, there are precious few stories that could come directly from him. My uncles, fortunately, were old enough to remember their mother and it was from them the sparse facts of Jenny’s life came to me… until today.

OFG: Jenny? Jenny Dee Robbins?

Jenny Dee: Yes, that would be me. Well, Sarah Jane Dee Robbins… but they called me Jenny Dee.

OFG: You’re my… grandmother.

Jenny Dee: That I am. Your father, Sidney, was my last child. Well… there was Roy, but he died the year after he was born, and the one I was carrying when I died… but she didn’t count.

OFG: She? How’d you know it was a she? It was – what? – 1905? 1906? Over a hundred years ago.

Jenny Dee: 1906. And I knew.

OFG: When and where were born… er… Grandmother? Gramma? Jenny? What would you like me to call you?

Jenny Dee: Mmmm… Grandma. I never got to be called ‘grandma’. Or anything but ‘Jenny’ and ‘Mama’, for that matter. Call me ‘Grandma’.

OFG: Grandma, it is. So… when and where were you born, Grandma?

Jenny Dee: I was born March 29, 1876, in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. I was the second of twelve children, the first girl, and the first child to survive infancy. For some reason, we were on our way to Texas, where my sister, Cora, was born in 1877, but the following year we were back in Missouri. Stayed there ‘til ’87, when we moved back to Texas again for the birth of the last three of my brothers and sisters.

OFG: Any idea why your parents moved so much?

Jenny Dee: Daddy. He was flighty. Artist type. Poet. You get your writing ability from him, I bet.

OFG: I’m no poet! Best I can do along that line is a limerick.

Jenny Dee: Ah, but poetry doesn’t have to rhyme, Granddaughter. Between Daddy and Sidney, who wove some pretty fish stories in his day, the prose won out.

OFG: So you were in Texas when you met Charlie?

Jenny Dee: I was. We married in Bonham, Texas, in 1892. Nine months and thirty minutes later, your Uncle Clarence was born.

OFG: You were one of twelve… and you had – how many?

Jenny Dee: I was pregnant 10 times from the day I married ‘til the day I died. After Clarence, there were Gertrude and Jerome, the twins. Then came Mable and Claude and Charles, Jr., William, Emmer, Sidney, and finally, Roy. Mable died when she was six… Emmer, Emmer was just eleven months. He died the year your daddy was born.

OFG: Catholic?

Jenny Dee: Catholic. Very much Catholic.

OFG: Were you living in Oklahoma by then?

Jenny Dee: Well, no, not exactly. It was still Indian Territory. Didn’t become Oklahoma ‘til the next year after I died. Your grandfather was leasing Indian land, working it for lumber and food when he wasn’t down in the mines around Coalgate, digging for coal.

OFG: Hard life.

Jenny Dee: Very hard. Cold. Windy. Hot. Stormy. But we did alright. Kept the kids fed. Kept body and soul together.

OFG: Until you died and the family had to be split up?

Jenny Dee: Hard for a man with seven living children, all under the age of twelve… especially with a two year old and a three year old. And it wasn’t like there were women lined up to marry a man with a ready-made family that size.

OFG: So what happened to you? How’d you die? What went wrong?

Jenny Dee: Gangrene, Granddaughter. Cantankerous milk cow and a clumsy woman big with child. She jerked her head around to swat me off and her horn caught me right here, beneath my ribs.

OFG: When did that happen?

Jenny Dee: February, 1906. I kept thinking it’d get better… but it didn’t. Once the gangrene took hold, I was all but gone in less than two weeks.

OFG: Hard way to go.

Jenny Dee: Harder for your granddad. Passin’ on was the easy part for me… then Roy died the following October and my mama stepped in from DeQueen and took your daddy and the next two youngest. The older boys stayed with Charlie and tried to make a go of the place ‘til Charlie finally found him a woman willing to take him and his kids on.

They had one of their own before Charlie died of typhoid in ’12… but that boy died, too, soon after. By then, Clarence and Jerome took off on their own, thinking they were old enough to make it, and the rest went to Charlie’s brother. I guess they all turned out alright, didn’t they?

OFG: They all turned out alright, Grandma.

Jenny Dee: You lose track after awhile, Granddaughter. You follow along for a time… but then you wake up one morning and you’ve lost your place. You can’t find it and you begin to forget… and people down here, they begin to forget, too, until there’s no one left who remembers who you were. No one left who remembers your name.

By the way, Granddaughter… what’s your name?

OFG: It’s Jenny, Grandma. Jenny Dee. That’s the only thing Dad remembered, so he named me after you.