NOTE: I wrote this piece for the Dallas Times Herald in 1985. I was 31 years old. I’m now a healthy 67-year-old struggling to do all the right things during a worldwide pandemic. After reading this, you won’t be surprised to learn that I’m fully vaccinated and wear a mask.


Live fast, die young and leave a good-looking corpse — (John Derek in Knock on Any Door, 1949)

I want to live slow, die old and go to my grave with my own teeth.

This shocks my friend David, who moves as soon as his magazine subscriptions catch up with…

Photo by David Tharp


For all we know, Callie Cantrell told bawdy stories after sipping one cordial too many. Or, she spent hours in her church pew, wearing black bombazine and a dour expression. Perhaps she sang sweetly and baked delicious cakes.

Because Callie was an exemplary Victorian woman, hers was a private life. Her activities were not for public consumption nor (it was presumed) did they merit it. She was defined by the accomplishments of her father, brothers and husbands. And so, it is in the margins of their lives that we find her.

What we know for sure is that she wasn’t…

Photo courtesy of Sherri Taggart

Henrietta Taggart (1842–1915)

On a February morning in 1878, two years after moving to Dallas with her husband and two small daughters, an exhausted Henrietta “Hattie” McCoy Taggart sat down by the fire to write to her mother back home in Indiana:

Oh, Mother, this is a weary dreary world … I have lost so much sleep that it seems I can’t sleep even when I have the chance.

Hattie’s girls — Cora, 5, and Laura, 6 — had been sick for nearly four weeks, Hattie was pregnant with son George, and husband Will was away working in Austin. …

Photo circa 1910. Courtesy of Peggy Hall

Zula Beatrice Whaley


James Larry Poston, 13, attached his new telescopic sight to a .22-caliber rifle and showed his grandmother, Mrs. Zula B. Farley, how it worked. The gun discharged, killing Mrs. Farley.

On Christmas morning 1959, The Dallas Morning News published this terse account of one family’s tragic exchange of gifts the previous evening in the Cedar Crest area of southern Dallas.

Sad to say, it was not the first time an unexpected death disrupted the family’s celebration of the most festive of Christian holidays.

It wasn’t even the second.

Zula was born in Milam, Texas to Samuel Mercy Whaley, an…

Photo by David Tharp

Azelee (1866–1915) Imogene (1887–1919)

Azelee Woodliff and her daughter, Imogene, died within four years of one another, both having succumbed to tuberculosis. They are buried in single graves in separate sections of Dallas’s Oakland Cemetery.

As with so many women who lived and died in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the domestic concerns of the Woodliff women left fewer records than did the more public actions of their menfolk, making it appear as though their lives were of less consequence. …

Photo by David Tharp


Very early on a winter morning in 1936, half-clothed occupants of Mrs. Brown’s boarding house staggered from their rooms and hurried outside to escape smoke emanating from a second-story blaze. Luckily for them, it was a balmy 60 degrees in Dallas.

The mostly male boarders at 1714 N. Harwood included an attendant at Bob’s Service Station, a railroad worker, Virgil the hat maker, and J.C. Davenport, occupation unknown. Two men were mechanics; the one named Curly had a wife. The only other woman on the premises was Susan Brown, the widow whose boarding house was in flames.

The Dallas…

Photo by David Tharp

Mr. and Mrs. Jones

In 1910, Dallas residents had endured 31 days of August with a single day of scant rain. The first day of September brought no relief: The temperature that Thursday hit 102 degrees.

William “Willie” Jones, a fruit packer for a produce company that stretched four blocks on Elm Street, arrived home from work. Waiting for him was his wife of a little over a year, Susan “Susie” Trollinger, 17.

Something set them off — police later called it “domestic troubles” — and the couple’s disagreement spilled onto the sidewalk in front of their rented house on Griffin Street.

Willie raised…

Photo taken in 1939

Mary Venable Blythe (1871–1951)

Mary Venable Blythe, always known by that trio of names, entered the world February 3, 1871, in her grandparents’ home in Gonzales, Texas. Life began some years later, the moment she sat down at the piano and made music.

Music informed every aspect of her life: She would not marry; instead, she studied music and educated others. Her love of music would determine not only how she spent her time, but also where she lived and with whom. Even on her deathbed, she was among musicians.

It’s unclear who set Mary on her musical path, but that she came from…

I blame the masks, in part. At the deli case at Central Market, for example, I’m separated from the guys who slice and package my order not only by the refrigerated case of meats and cheeses, but also by the masks we all wear. I can scarcely see the servers, because the mask fogs up my glasses. And, I struggle to hear them, given that I can neither see their lips move nor fully read their expressions. So, I shout out my request and hope for no follow-up questions.

What makes that sad is that I like to banter with…

J.B. and Sallie Addington, early 1900s

J. B. Addington (1858–1919)

Casual in shirt sleeves and vest on his own Worth Street porch, James Benjamin Addington sported the walrus mustache and pocket watch signifying his place in the larger world. He was a turn-of-the-century Dallas businessman, a respectable church-goer and good citizen with a wife and two sons, the kind of man a jury will select as foreman, a mourner will ask to be pallbearer.

Born in Mississippi to a farmer who served the Confederacy and his Georgia-born wife, J.B. grew up with 10 brothers and sisters. In 1880, he married Sarah “Sallie” Frances Whitson and, for a time, took up…

Marcia Smith

The former newspaper reporter and English teacher is the author of the book, The Woman in the Well and Other Ancestories.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store