I met this personality at her 96th birthday party. How I had missed her until then has been my loss. As I walked into her party, a petite lady decked out in a pink feathered boa and white plume in her hair was surrounded by family and friends. This is how IDA O'NEAL likes to spend her time when she is not making quilt tops or making aprons or in her kitchen baking for someone or maybe sitting visiting with one who has just dropped by.
Ida does not ever meet a stranger. They are someone to be cultivated into a friend and shared with. When I left her party, I carried with me one of the beautiful homemade aprons which I shall cherish. Her birthday was a time for her to give gifts.
On Tuesday, I visited Ida in her home where we spent three hours packed with history of her 96 years, much laughter and since it was coffee-time ( you will hear more about this later), friends Ann Goff and Joann Wilson were there along with her caregiver, Faye Danz.
Consider some of what this lady has experienced in her lifetime. There was The Great Depression, World War I and II, the Wright Brothers flight, Man on the Moon, the Space Station, automobiles, television, electricity in rural places, Woman's right to vote, fast food places, cure for polio, from the rub board to the automatic washing machine, from crank to cell telephones, computers and she has lived to see 17 presidents come and go.
Ida was born February 14, 1914 to parents William Alexander (Alex) Morris born 1878 and Lilly Snow born 1883 who married in 1905. Ida was born on the Ford Ranch near Brady, Texas where her father worked. There were 15 children in her family. She gave me their names faster than I could write. They were: Clara 1906, Earl 1907, twins Elzie and Elsie 1908, L. V. 1909, J. D. 1910, Robert 1912, twin girls who did not live 1913, Ida May 1914, Lonnie 1916, Nettie Ray 1919, Minnie 1920, Alfred 1922 and Hazel 1923. Ida and Hazel are the only children living today. Ida said, "Mama and Daddy would have been proud of all us. We have turned out pretty good."
Ida's mother died after the birth of Hazel and her father never remarried. So, the children all worked to help. Ida said, "We didn't get much schooling, but when we got to go we went to Ten Mile School. Daddy was working at the Block House Ranch. It wasn't easy to go because we got laughed at because we didn't have many clothes. We never took a lunch. We ate when we got home. I remember one girl called my sister a bad name. I chased her for a mile before I caught her. I was going to get her good, but I just pulled her hair a little." There was this twinkle in her eyes and I had to wonder if I got all of the story.
Ida continued, "When that girl got home she was crying and her mama asked what was wrong? The girl told her I had chased her. Her mama wanted to know what she had done to me. I guess she told her mama the truth. So, her mama told her to make some chocolate candy and to bring it to school and give it to us. She did and that was good candy."
I asked about games she played as a child. She told me, "We played in the river when we got a chance. Of course even then there were things to do. My brother gave us a smooth stone and told us to rub our clothes with it. It cleaned the soil off. Then we were to sit on a big rock until they dried."
When Ida was about fourteen in 1928, she went to Corpus Christi, Texas to live with her dad's sister. She said, "I got up at 4 AM to cook breakfast, then wash the dishes, straighten the house and put on beans for dinner. Then I went to the fields to work until it was time to go back to the kitchen and make biscuits or cornbread and maybe potatoes for everyone. The dishes were to be washed again and back to the fields until supper time. That's how it went."
Ida's eyes went soft and a far-away look came over her as she began to talk about her memories of her mother. She was about 7-8 when Lilly died. She said, "I can remember mama churning and it's like I can see her kneading bread. Just folding it back and forth over and over. I don't remember eating the bread just her kneading it. I also remember her singing Shall We Gather At The River. She was a tall woman. She was six feet tall and daddy was six feet two."
Joann urged Ida to repeat some of the poetry she learned when she had gone to school. The lines poured from her like she had learned them yesterday. Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star was one and if you want to hear about the Redheaded Woodpecker you need to go by. It's a little risque but she quoted every line perfectly. This lady enjoys her life.
When Ida began to talk about her Jack, I knew this was going to stir my heart. She said, "When I was about 16, I saw his picture and told my friend, I'm going to marry him. She said, 'He won't look at you.' He had left home at the age of 15 and went to work on an oil tanker. When that was finished. He came to church and I saw him. I made a point to get to where he was. He started talking to me and we got married November 11, 1931 at North Beach in Corpus Christi."
Ida struck me as someone who made her mind up and went for it. Jackson Riley O'Neal was born January 3, 1910. His death was April 27, 1996. He and Ida had almost 65 years to share their love. There are four generations following. They have three children: daughter Nina Blair and husband, Wes, and two sons, Gerald O'Neal and wife, Louise and Emzie O'Neal. Grandchildren are: Nancy Moore and husband, Steve and Shirley Womack and husband, Andy.
Great grandchildren are: Stephanie Boedeckar and husband, Cody, twins Ashley Moore and Amanda Johnson and husband, Brine, Sheridan Womack, twins Alicia and Westly Womack.
Great great grandchildren are: Coy and Boe Boedeckar.
Jack promised Ida he would go to Lohn and farm a season and when the crop was in he would be back for her. He was back in Corpus Christi in November. They were married in 1931 and returned to Lohn where they lived until 1936 when they went back to Corpus Christi. Jack was in the Navy for two years as a cook. He got out in 1945 and got a job with the City of Corpus Christi where he remained until 1970 when he retired. They moved to Mason and lived in the Smith House at the time.
Ida talked about the early days of their marriage. "I had nothing when we married. I didn't have a shower like kids do today. There was the mattress I had made by picking scrap cotton after supper. Someone gave me two cotton sacks and I split them and sewed the edges together except for where it would be stuffed with cotton that had been ginned and blown in the sacking. Then I sewed the end together. It made a nice mattress but it got taken from me, I had to start all over again but I did and had that.
"I only had a pair of pants and my underclothes and one quilt. Jack bought me a dress, shoes and a coat to be married in.
"When we got to Lohn, Jack bought a Jersey cow that was going to calve, some hogs and chickens. We made a big garden and we ate good.
"I made butter from the rich cream that Jersey gave. I could have sold it for twenty cents a pound but I said that I'd just give it away. I did.
"We took some tin and cloth and made a milk cooler. Water seeped up the cloth and kept the milk and butter fresh. You know, that butter never melted even when the weather was hot.
"We had an underground cistern. Jack made his own beer. He would put it in a sack and drop it down into the cistern to stay cool. He would drink one at night. Now, my folks never drank. I tried that beer and kinda liked it. I drank another and when my little girl got fussy, I got unruly with her. That was my drinking experience. I never had another. If you get out of sorts from it, you don't need it.
"Jack was good to me. He never put me down for not having much education. He always made me feel good. We ordered from a catalog. He would tell me, 'Pick out what you want and we'll get it.' He bought me a sewing machine and a washing machine."
Ida feels like the washing machine was one of the best inventions man has come up with. She could be right. For someone who washed clothes on a rub board it would have to feel that way. She made her own soap too.
Ida said, "We had a crank telephone. Our ring was two shorts and one long ring.
For any one who would like to try it, she told me how to make hominy. She said, "You take a tub and put clean ashes in it and then fill the tub with water. Stir well. Drain the water off the ashes. Then, add dry shelled corn to the water. Let it soak until the husk is soft. Take the softened corn and rub on a rub board until the husk and eye of the corn is removed. Wash several times. Cook until tender." I was dumb enough to ask if they canned it? "Land sakes honey, we ate it as fast as we made it." Goes to show what I know. I buy mine in a can.
I asked what she thought when she saw her first airplane? "I just wondered what they were doing up there," she said. I have a feeling that not much suprises this lady.
She was very inventive with food. She told me, "Young careless weeds are some of the best greens you can eat. You need to get them before they begin to bloom and make those little tassels. I cooked Lamb's Quarter but it's hard to find now. I think the pesticides have ruined a lot of natural things. Poke salad greens had to be boiled and washed several times. Then, they were fried in bacon grease with onions." She loves to make jelly from wild plums. Also when she makes sausage over at little Willie Carter's place she has her own recipe and none other will do.
Her famous rolls have been found on many dining tables in Mason. It seemed as if each person I talked with had benefited from the food that seems to flow from her small kitchen. She said, "I've got to get busy and fill up my freezer with some pies and cakes. When the kids come they clean me out." I've been told that she made rolls for city employees, highway workers, business employees around town and nearly anyone she saw drive by. Roberta McMillan said, "Not just a couple of rolls but a couple dozen for each one." Any group that appealed for baked goodies for a bake sale usually ended up with something from Ida.
She has pieced quilts, had them quilted (paid for with her own money) and gave them away. Her daughter, Nina, told me, "Every family member has quilts from Mother." The way I hear it a big lot of Masonites have a quilt too. Nina also told me, "Mother and Daddy always had someone in the house if the people needed help. They were thrifty by nature. We were always well fed. Mother loves making her quilts and aprons for others."
Aprons are made by the dozens. This is so she will have something to share with you when you drop by. Every scrap of material she gets her hands on is made into something to share. She had made an extra long apron for Ann Goff because Ann is tall.
I asked Ida why she gave so much away. She replied, "My folks taught me. Any one who came to our house, we fed. If they needed a place to stay, we took them in. Why, when Daddy killed hogs, he would ride his horse and take fresh meat to the neighbors."
Friends, Melinda and Cindy Tomerlin of San Antonio were talking about Ida's life style, "Ida was our neighbor when Melinda was born and needed special care. She just took us in as a family. Helping our mother, Tina, and cooking meals for us."
Earlier, I mentioned the coffee drinkers. Well, everyday at 2 PM the coffee pot is on at Ida's house at the Mason Housing Authority where she has lived for the last 14 years and people just drop in. She said, "I just love company." That is all the invitation one needs. Everyone is welcome. I had coffee while I was there so now I am a official member of the Club.
Ida is a member of the Church of Christ. She has a copy of the letter sent from Vanderpool, Texas stating she had been a member in good standing there when she came to Mason.
Words shared by others are a living testimonial to how Ida lives her life. DeAnn Stahl said, "When Marvin was injured, she kept us flooded with food, quilts and aprons."
Betty Lu Stockbridge said, "Aunt Ida and my mom, Clara, were always so close that she seemed like a second mother to me. She has always been there for our family in every way."
Margie Wilson remembers when she worked at the Senior Center how Ida and Clara were willing RSVP members helping in any project going on. They were a lot of fun to work with.
Faye Danz, a caregiver for Ida said, "Aunt Ida is like a mother to me. We sew and cook together. I don't know who helps who the most. She has taught me a lot."
I was told to inquire about the boyfriends. It seems as if Ida has attracted several young men of the Mason area. She commented. "They just drop by and visit and I like it." I won't publish names but let me warn you fellows, "If you think you are the only one in Ida's life think again."
Her attitude about life is beautiful. She said, "I let tomorrow take care of itself. I don't worry about it. We eat good here. I enjoy people. I've got all I need." I truly believe this is so. It is probably the best advice for longevity we could get. I remember Levi Brawley telling me the same thing and he lived to almost 111. So, friends don't worry.
Ida had a very frightening thing happen to her in 1982. She was outside picking up things from the yard. There was a paper bag with cans in it. It had gotten wet and ripped. Ida reached for a can and was looking into the eyes of a rattlesnake. She said, "That snake was big and it struck so fast I never saw it coming. It had been in the sack. It bit me on my finger. I run into the house and called Clara and told her I was snake bit. I wrapped a tourniquet around my arm to stop the poison from spreading. By the time Clara and the ambulance was there. My arm was swelling so it looked like it would burst open. Terry Lange was driving the ambulance. They had no antivenin here in Mason. Terry took me to Kerrville at 120 miles and hour. Everything on the road got out of his way. If he hadn't got me there I would have died. I was in the hospital for a month with my arm tied straight up in the air. They found baby snakes in that sack but the mama snake got away. That was a tough time but I made it."
Tough times seem to have been a challenge to Ida a big part of her life, but there were no pity parties going on with her. She took the circumstances and made them into challenges to be conquered. In case you would like to go to a coffee chat these are the directions I received when I asked for a house number to her home. "Just come down Rainey Street and turn the corner. I am the one with the flag." Indeed she was.
My understanding of faith and trust was enlarged by meeting Ida O'Neal.