Before I begin…

I  wish I had realized sooner that my grandparents’ untold stories would die with them. I can think of a thousand questions that will forever be without first-hand answers. I want to leave answers for the unasked questions of my children and grandchildren. I want them to know who I have been and some of the things I have experienced. I want them to be able to tell the untold stories of the ordinary and not-so-ordinary people who came before them.

~ Mary Ann Lesh, May 21, 2017


The Griners, c. 1902. Bessie Griner (“Nana”) is standing, second from right.

Dan Lesh and Helen Ruth Rice from Nocona, Texas, both nineteen, were married July 2, 1938, by a Justice of the Peace in Munday, Texas. I was born October 15, 1942, and my sister, Dorothy Candice, was born February 27, 1953.

Daniel Boone Lesh was the fourth of five sons born to John Irving Lesh and Ocie McGuire Lesh. Jake, the first, died in infancy. Jack Lesh was the second. Tom was the third, followed by my father. A fifth boy, Mike, was stillborn. Jack married Berneice Kennedy, and they had two children, Doris Lesh (Payne) and John Lesh. Tom married Oleta Henry. They had no children.

Helen Ruth Rice was the fourth child and second daughter of William Marion Rice and Bessie Griner Rice. Their first son, Cecil, died when he was just one year old. He was followed by Wendell, then Dorothy, Helen, Juanita, and Mildred. Wendell’s wife was named Oleta. They lived in Bakersfield, California, and had one daughter, Betty Gwen Rice (Penguilly). Dorothy married Delmer Lee Wells from Breckenridge, Texas. They had one daughter, Sydney Wells (Kennedy). Nita married Tom Ed Howard. They settled in Odessa, Texas, and had two sons, Tommy Dan Howard and David Lynn Howard. Mildred married Anthony Gambino, moved to Brooklyn, New York, and had two daughters, Teresa Gambino (Cardi) and Diane Gambino (Verderose).

William Rice had been married to Cornelia Harmon, who died when she was in her early thirties. They had eleven children. Of these, I knew Naomi Rice (Harris); Ona Rice (Biter); Roxie Rice (Wiest); Flossie Rice (Jones); and Bill Rice. A son named Charles killed himself in Chicago before I was born. I cannot account for the other five. At least one was stillborn, and another, named Rubie, died in infancy.

Bessie Griner Rice’s first child, Horace Howard, was estranged from our family. He was raised mostly by Bessie’s older sister Bertha. His father’s name was Eustace Howard. There may have been a hastily arranged and soon-ended marriage, but Horace was treated as a bastard son. I never met him. In spite of a difficult childhood, Horace became a teacher, married, and moved to Arizona where he reportedly had a good life. He visited my grandmother two or three times shortly before she died at the age of 91.

Before Memory

Helen Rice Lesh and Mary Ann, 1942

I was born in Sharon Springs, Kansas, where Daddy was working as a roughneck in the oil fields. He was drafted into the Army soon after I was born. I have called many places home. By my mother’s account, they include fifty houses, apartments, rooms in other people’s houses, and motel courts all across the country before I was four years old. She talked about San Luis Obispo, California; Soap Lake, Washington; and Biloxi, Mississippi. My memories begin on a starry night in the summer of 1946 when Daddy drove a black Ford into the driveway of the property that we would forever after call The Farm. Mama was in the front seat and I was in the back on a cozy nest of blankets and pillows that had been my bed as we moved around the United States of America.