GALLIPOLIS, Ohio — With Valentine’s Day on the horizon, thoughts turn to those we love which is not limited to significant others. For one of Gallia County’s most famous sons, a special person in his life was his grandmother, Mary Joan Jones McIntyre.
Oscar Odd McIntyre has been dubbed by some to be a pioneer in modern pop culture reporting and one of the first syndicated columnists in the country. The Gallipolis-area newspapers during McIntyre’s time would publish his columns on the front page. With an upcoming tribute to McIntyre coming to the Ariel Theatre, the Tribune asked the Gallia County Historical Society for permission to reprint a selected text of McIntyre’s from a collection of short stories and columns compiled and annotated by the late Dr. Laura E. Kratz. What follows is the reprinted work of McIntyre as he describes his feelings for his grandmother, who was integral to his upbringing.
The picture on the opposite page is of my Grandmother McIntyre. My mother-in-law brought it with her the other day on her return from a visit to my home town, and what a Niagara rush of pleasant memories it inspires!
She was eighty-two years old at the time this picture was taken and lived more than four years after that. Grandma Mclntyre was the only mother I have ever known. Just a flicker of remembrance — like a shimmer of waves of wheat — of my mother remains.
I especially recall the last time I saw my mother because my father acted so strangely. He took my sister Katie and me by the hands and led us upstairs to my mother’s bedroom. She was seemingly asleep — very white and very beautiful. My father hugged us to him and wept; I had never seen him cry before.
A few days later he took us on a long train ride from the little town in Missouri to the little town in Ohio where my grandmother lived. I remember he wore an odd black band around his hat and rarely spoke. Now and then he would quickly wipe his eyes.
I loved my grandmother from the very first. She understood children better than anyone I have ever observed since. She was even then an old lady with a young heart. Everything about her was pretty to me — even her euphonious maiden name of Joan Jones.
She was born in the sleepy little town of Malden, West Virginia, on the tranquil Kanawha. She met my grandfather, a young tinner who had migrated from Scotland, while she was visiting in Gallipolis, Ohio. Theirs was a love match the like of which I have never seen.
Not long after they were married they journeyed to Nebraska in a covered wagon, fired by a pioneer zeal to wrest a homestead claim out of the Middle West wilderness. On their way a son — my father — was born. They staked their claim and my grandmother helped erect a log cabin in the clearing.
There were years of backbreaking toil to salvage a living from the soil, and then a bumper crop seemed a reality. But a devastating grasshopper plague descended and my grandparents made their way back again to Gallipolis.
There, shortly after, grandpa died, leaving my grandmother and her little brood, four boys and a girl, to face the world alone. I never saw my grandmother in anything but a cheerful mood. She was not a professional Pollyanna, for grim reality had seared her and left ineradicable scars. She simply would not bow to adversity. She had as much trouble as the average woman of her day, if not more, but she was unconquerable. She was a God-fearing woman although she rarely went to church. In fact, my grandma rarely went anyplace.
She had never been to the theater or the river show boats that came to our town, nor did she ever visit a circus. Once a year she took my sister and me to the county fair for the afternoon, chiefly because she always entered one of her quilts in the competition for prizes, and she usually won, too.
For the house grandma always wore a black wrapper with a capacious side pocket in which she carried her snap purse. That pocket had a great attraction for me, for from it she extracted the occasional penny she would give me for some well-performed service.
Her “company dress,” which she made herself and which you see in the picture, was black silk with a white lace collar and a gold brooch. It was a dress like this that she always wore on those thrilling Saturday night excursions to which I looked forward with such pleasurable anticipation.
On such nights grandma went to pay the grocer and other tradesmen for bills contracted during the week. At the grocer’s a five-cent poke of candy of my own selection was the reward. Grandma and Mr. Milton Smith, the grocer, would wait patiently while I, with my nose pressed against the show case, wavered between the jawbreakers with caraway-seed centers and the tin skillet with candy fried egg and tin spoon.
As I grew older and more wayward grandma was the anchor in what seemed at the time a storm-tossed life. My maiden aunt, a milliner, who loved me, I presume, in a precise way, was a stricter disciplinarian. She thought, and deservedly so, that now and then I should have a dose of what grandma called “birch tea.”
There was that inglorious day when my aunt discovered that had played hookey from school for an entire term of three months — I still secretly think it was quite an achievement. My father, who was struggling with a country hotel in Missouri, was notified by special post and there were grave family conferences in the front parlor.
I overheard my aunt speak of such terrifying places as “the reform school.” She, of course, was saying it knowing my ear was glued to the keyhole. At any rate, that night I tossed in my cot in grandma’s room in the manner I imagine a prisoner tries to sleep before the executional dawn.
In the midst of my feverish stir rings I felt grandma’s cool hand reach out from the darkness and smooth my brow with a loving pat.
“Never mind,” I heard her say. “You are grandma’s boy!”
In the magic of such nepenthe I immediately fell asleep. My father did not come to Ohio; I did not go to the “reform school” and my runaway escapades were never mentioned in our house again. That was grandma!
My grandmother’s world was the little world of her Court Street neighbors. She would not listen to gossip about them but was interested in their well-being. If she put up preserves or baked a tasty cake, she sent them “samples.”
In the evening, my sister and I, scrubbed to a shining cleanliness, would take our cushions and sit on the front steps with grandma. I recall that my cushion was embroidered with “Little Pet,” which somehow embarrasses me a trifle to this day.
After dark grandma would tell the approach of neighbors by their footfalls. She would say: “There goes General George House!” — or Colonel John L. Vance, Mr. C. W. Henking, Miss Fannie Rathburn, Mr. Ernest Halliday, as the case might be.
She was always right, until one evening my sister and I played a joke on her. I slipped off the stoop tiptoe in the dusk and raced around the block. When I got near grandma’s corner, I stamped heavily and made shuffling noises. Grandma cocked her head quizzically and finally said, “There comes some stranger! He must be crippled!”
When she finally recognized my figure looming out of the shadows, she was embarrassed as a schoolgirl. For want of some- thing better to say, she exclaimed: “Oh, you begone!” And for many years afterward when my sister and I would say, “Oh, you begone!” grandma’s cheeks would redden.
Grandma used to tease me about my first and only real love af- fair with the little girl who lived a block away and who is now my wife. When in the evening I washed behind my ears and gave my hair an extra swipe she would wait for me to come downstairs and would revamp an old couplet and sing:
“Oddie Poddie Puddin’ and Pie, Kissed the girls and made them cry!”
And it seemed to me I would suddenly become all knuckles and teeth. Then, as though she had no idea I was anywhere around, she would inquire archly:
“Is my little man going girling tonight?” How I suffered!
The last time I saw grandma I had rushed home for a brief between-the-trains visit and was what she called a grown man, trying to make my way in the world. Years of hard work, bearing her children and rearing her children’s children, coupled with extreme old age, had left their ineluctable imprint — a clouded mind.
She called me “Georgie,” the name she called her youngest son, long dead. With a suffocating lump in my throat, I sat beside her chair, holding her gnarled, withered hand trying to touch off a spark of memory that would make her recall the boy she had’ ‘rais- ed.”
It was hopelessly futile. She just rocked gently and clung to my hand. Now and then she mumbled pathetically: ”’You won’t go away again, will you, Georgie?”
The depot hack pulled up at the door and I had to leave. I stooped over and kissed her dry, bloodless lips and she gave me a quick, convulsive hug accompanied by a sudden faint and startled cry.
I should like to think that for a brief second in that embrace the cry was an echo of recognition rumbling down the haunting corridors of memory, but I fear it was not so.
I waved to her through the hack window as Tom Holmes clucked to his horses. Grandma lifted a weary hand automatically and with no light of recognition whatever.
It was the nearest my heart ever came to breaking. I was never to see her again in this world.
(Editor’s note: Grandmother Mclntyre died In 1911 and is buried in Pine Street Cemetery, Gallipolis, as are her husband Alexander and their children, Alex Jr., Georgie, Kate, and twins Bobbie and Mollie who died in infancy. The Ariel program is featuring “An Odd Book: How the First Modern Pop Culture Reporter Conquered New York,” and is slated to take place on April 22 at 4:30 p.m., along with visiting author R. Scott Williams who will be publishing an upcoming O.O. McIntyre biography. Dean Wright of Ohio Valley Publishing compiled information for this article.)