July 2018
Simple Times

The Sister and the Mother I Can’t Know


Sandra McCray’s bulging scrapbook

 

It’s a big cardboard-type scrapbook covered in red paper with gold trim tied with a neat gold cord.

There are photos of movie stars from the early 1960s and a complete layout of stars from TV’s "Bachelor Father" as well as a young David Jansen – before his TV fame as The Fugitive – when he starred in "Richard Diamond, Private Detective."

There’s math, English, science and other school papers – all with 100 or grades of A’s.

Then there are a couple of lists of her best friends at the old two-room Hood School in the heart of Murphree’s Valley in rural Blount County, listing Wanda Dianne Stafford, Sandra Marie Nugent, Willadean Hathcock, Roger Dale Butts, Daniel Claude Hays and Jimmy Studdard as her dearest friends.

A list of almost the exact same names is included when pug-nosed Sandra McCray started seventh grade at Susan Moore High School the next fall.

In her neat schoolgirl cursive, she garnered yet another 100 on a paper where she told of the animals on her family’s farm on what is now Blount County 42, but was more commonly called Lebanon Church Road.

She noted about the animals, "I feed the chickens grains of corn and sometimes they eat the leftovers from supper. There are two big fat, white chickens. They are pullets. They are not very old.

"I have a jet-black cow. Her name is Daisy. I named her Daisy because she likes to eat the daisies in the pasture. She likes to stand in the shade and eat the green grass. She also likes to eat hay. Daisy gives me milk, butter and cheese. I like cows because they are gentle.

"I like to raise baby chicks in the spring. I like them because they are so tiny and cute. Chicks like to eat bugs, grass and corn meal. I like baby chicks very much."

There’s another paper (with yet another grade of 100) where she details how she stayed with relatives while school was out for two weeks for "cotton picking." Schools in the Deep South regularly let out in the fall so students could help their families pick the cotton. She detailed how she stayed with part of her family who tended the toddlers so the mamas could "get a lot of work done" during the school recess.

Then there is nothing but empty gray pages after the start to high school in fall 1962.

 

Left to right, Sandra McCray’s last school picture and a painting of Evelyn McCray, who was also killed in the same wreck as Sandra.

Sandra, 13, and her beautiful mother Evelyn Thrasher McCray, 47, were killed instantly in a wreck Oct. 7, 1962, on Baker Curve along Alabama 75 about 6 miles north of Oneonta, when a drunken driver crashed into the family’s sedan.

Her 10-year-old brother Mack was carefully laid beside Sandra and their mother, and covered with whatever passersby could find, leaving his small form laying there for dead, as well.

Sandra’s father Lewis was severely injured (he stayed in a Birmingham hospital for close to two weeks and completely recuperated at home in bed for well over a month).

Mack’s twin sister Diane received several injuries, but the most severe appeared to be cuts on her face because she had just begun drinking a big orange drink from a local country store where the family had stopped after visiting their Thrasher grandparents in the Susan Moore community.

There were no paramedics back then. No emergency medical help. As passersby and then the ambulance team arrived, somebody happened to notice a slight movement from under Mack’s covering ... he’d taken a breath! So he was transported to a Birmingham hospital as well. He didn’t come to for over two days, was hospitalized for about a week and then recuperated at home for a time, eventually regaining his balance and overcoming physical obstacles.

 

Jerry McCray was killed in 1960 when HE was hit by a drunken driver.

Diane and Mack were the youngest of the family’s nine children; their older sisters, Katie Sue, Betty, Libby and Polly, pitched in to tend to their dad and the youngsters.

Ironically, older brother Billy Ray had been killed in a similar wreck on Alabama 79 coming from Tarrant July 1960 when he was exactly 17.5 years old. A drunken driver crashed into HIS vehicle.

(Another brother, Dearl Gray McCray, passed away of natural causes when he was 5, having been sick since birth.)

I grew up "in the next valley" from the McCrays.

There’s a Vacation Bible School workbook in Sandra’s scrapbook where she attended at Union Hill Baptist, where I (this writer) attended, beginning June 6, 1962, and I remember that Mack and Diane were there, too.

Sandra wrote about how she loved 2 Timothy 2:15, "Study to show thyself approved unto God ...."

How that day it was her favorite verse.

"I like it because it is so true."

There’s a large painting of Evelyn now hanging in our home. In that picture, she has the same twinkle in her eye and the same look my Mack has – like he’s about to get into something!

Her family talked about how she loved her children and was shocked to discover she was expecting TWINS when she already had SEVEN children, but how she jumped cheerfully into those duties without missing a beat – like she did everything else in her life. Even having those chubby twins at home – not in a local hospital!

She loved to sing around the house, going with her family to church and making their house a HOME because of her love. She was a true Proverbs 31 woman, whether it was wringing the neck of a chicken and frying it up for Sunday dinner or just continuing with her daily housecleaning, churning butter or making cheese (there were few shortcuts on rural farms in the 50s and 60s when your husband worked as a painter and builder while raising cotton, corn, pigs and cows).

What I know of Sandra I’ve found in her scrapbook and from the little I remember from those early days, especially how her friends mourned her loss.

The main thing I know about Lewis is how he never-ever blamed God for the trials and losses his family faced on this Earth.

And even though he couldn’t go back to work like he had before the wreck, he reinvented himself as a master antique restorer with folks coming from all-around for his almost-magic touch on their family heirlooms.

Lewis eventually married again, and Mack and Diane enrolled in Oneonta schools in the sixth grade with me.

Mack was my eighth-grade sweetheart. We were friends throughout high school and then kept in touch only as former classmates after graduation.

That changed a little more than a year ago. Most of you know we were married in early May.

But there will always be a big hole in the McCray family. Mack, Diane, Libby and Polly are now the only remaining siblings.

There were three precious McCrays lost because two different folks decided they were going to drink and drive.

According to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, 10,497 people were killed in drunken driving wrecks in 2016.

The good thing is that drunken driving accidents have gone down about a third in the past three decades because of tougher drunken driving laws and more public awareness. But that still means over 10,000 families every year have holes in their lives – such as the McCrays – that can never be filled.

We don’t drink.

But if you do, please stop and think before you get behind the wheel of any vehicle.

Please think of these empty scrapbook pages I’m holding in my lap ... and the emptiness in the lives of those left behind ... it’s that simple.

 

Suzy McCray is a freelance writer living on a small homestead in Blount County. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or on her Facebook page.