July 6, 2000 —On a recent Saturday night, four of my 16 living first cousins and their spouses gathered in Memphis at the home of Jimmy and Barbara Denley in Harbor town. Jimmy conceived the idea at the second family funeral this year (both of his parents only six months apart) that it would be good for our generation to get together for something other than a funeral.
There is a Denley reunion for descendants of our grandfather’s family at the Coffeeville First Baptist Church each year — which we attend when it doesn’t conflict with the Neshoba Fair — as well as other reunions for other branches of the family.
Jimmy had given good directions except for the color of the house. We went in on Riverside, which wasn’t part of his directions, but moved over to Front — which was — under the convention center, past the Pyramid and then east over Wolf River and north on Mud Island. It was kind of like Atlanta where every downtown street is Peachtree. Every street I saw was Harbor something.
We found the right street and drove past a gray house that should have numerically been the right one, but the directions said “green.” Then I remembered Jimmy is color blind, turned around and went back.
Turner and Martha Ann Trapp of Duck Hill were just arriving with Turner mumbling that it looked like a gray house to him.
Jack and Betsy Speir of Grenada drove up shortly after. He had a bigger problem than the color of the house, however — he had left the map at home, but called his daughter, who teaches in Memphis, to get the street address from the telephone directory.
We looked at Jimmy and Barbara’s new house — new to them anyway. Jimmy returned to the Commercial Appeal last year after several years as Editor of the Birmingham Post Herald and the News-Reporter in Abilene, Texas. He is now director of new media at the Memphis newspaper.
On the agenda were family anecdotes, which were freely exchanged before, during and after dinner. Jo Ann tried to take notes, but found it difficult with up to eight people talking at the same time.
Martha Ann Boyle Trapp, whose mother was Essie Denley the oldest child in the family of 11 children, recalled going to church meetings with our grandfather G.E. Denley, who operated the Coffeeville Courier from 1910, according to a deed Jimmy found in the office safe recently, until his death in August of 1943.
She said her cousin, Jack Speir, who drove Papa Denley everywhere — Papa may have tried to drive one time, but there are conflicting stories — would pick her up to go with them, and recalled being at these meetings when folks would point to her and say, “That’s Mr. Denley’s granddaughter.”
Jack, whose mother Bessie, was the second oldest of the children, died at an early age, said he moved to the home place from his home a couple of farms away, just so he could be Papa Denley’s driver, a job that alternated between various family members during the years. They lived some five miles from Coffeeville in the Skuna Valley community, across that river from where the Denleys settled at Cole’s Creek in the 1830s.
Martha Ann said her mother, Essie, as a young girl had jumped off the porch and broken a bone in her foot.
It became infected and a doctor from Memphis came on the train to treat it. He advised “Mama” Denley that gangrene had set in and he wanted to amputate her leg.
Mama Denley refused. She would rather see her dead than lose her leg, she said, most likely influenced by growing up in an era when there were hundreds of crippled Civil War veterans.
Essie recovered but always had a slight limp.
However, Martha Ann and her brother J.P. were forbidden to jump, as were her children. On a recent visit, Martha Ann said it was deja vu, when she heard a grandchild being admonished to not jump.
She also recalled that when her mother died, at 74, someone at the funeral home had noted that Essie had been crippled. “No it was just a ‘hurt’ foot,” Martha Ann corrected them. Her mother had never called it crippled, only hurt.
I told of my father drawing his money — he never told me how much — out of the bank as he left on his honeymoon in December of 1930. The banks were closing all around and sure enough when they returned the bank had closed and he was one of the few who had any cash.
As we settled his estate in 1981, I said, as well as I could determine he had the honeymoon money.
Nobody said the stories had to be entirely true.