My name is Jennifer Bartell Boykin. I am the daughter of Barbara McCray Bartell, granddaughter of Irene Harvin McCray.
Memorial Day this year falls on what would have been my mother’s 72nd birthday. She was a veteran.
One of the first women to enlist in the military in our family, and quite possibly in Williamsburg County. She enlisted into the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) right after high school. She did her basic at Ft. McClellan in Anniston, Alabama.
She later served at Walter Reed and Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. She was a simple country girl. Skinny as a piece of sour grass in the dead of summer. She said her and her sisters all were skinny then because they were poor, there wasn’t enough food to eat at any given time. But in the military, she put on pounds. She was a dental hygienist. She would sometimes say, “I wish I had stayed in and gone to nursing school.” But instead, after a few years, she came back home.
Came back to Hemingway, eventually married my father and had my brothers and me. She worked as a cashier at Fast Fare, sewed panties and such at Hemingway Apparel, and her last job was as a housekeeper cleaning hotel rooms in Myrtle Beach. Well, that was her last job with a paycheck attached to it.
She didn’t speak often of her days as a WAC. She didn’t register as a veteran, and she didn’t take any veteran benefits while she was living.
She was well-loved by all who knew her. She was affectionally called Nanny, a nickname she gave herself. When she came home from the military, she told her nieces and nephews, who had lost their own mother: “I’m your Nanny. I’m going take care of you.” And that was what she did…she took care of people. She risked bouncing checks to help a neighbor in need. She treated nieces and nephews like they were her own children. She adopted some of her nieces’ children as her own grandchildren. She cooked food and baked Mississippi Mud Pie for family and those who paid her to do it. That was what she did best: Take care of people. And she loved it.
When colon cancer came to claim her body, she didn’t go gently into that good night. She fought the best she could. She was optimistic. She lost her hair, but gained weight as a chemo patient. She considered quitting chemo a time or two, but kept going. She held on for a few more months so that she could spend some time with her first grandchild. And when the doctors said her next round of chemo would leave blisters all over her body, she decided it was time to quit chemo for good. She was aware enough to not want to die at the house, and asked to go to the Hospice House to take her last breaths.
She taught me how to be strong even when you are weak. She taught me how to do my own eyebrows. She taught me how to put God first. She taught me that you receive by giving. She taught me how to cook a Thanksgiving turkey. She taught me so much. She is teaching me so much. She is teaching me how to be a good mother, even as her spirit guides and teaches the child I now carry.
I am a proud daughter who will be a proud mother in a few months. I can’t wait to tell my son about her.