Hi! Guest Blogger Cristi Broach Hendry here, GGG Granddaughter of James Littleton Burris. My paternal grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Burris “Nana” (1917-1998,) was born and raised in Atkins, Arkansas. Had it not been for the Depression, I might call Arkansas home rather than Riverside, California.
The Burris family home
JL Burris’ son James Franklin Burris, Postmaster of Atkins, built a family home in Atkins in about 1880 (See photo below. The house has been torn down). My dad was born in that house and I appreciate the fact that the Burris family home is the reason my sister and I have Burris family stuff - a quilt made by Mary’s maternal grandmother, Postmaster Burris’ desk and his Postmaster certificate, and a lovely bureau that may date to the 1800s.
James Franklin Burris II about 1925 or 1930
Frank Burris' service station in Atkins. The Burris home is on the left.
Introduction to Mary
Mary and her second husband Otis “Papau” moved to San Diego in 1940 with my dad (more on that later). Until 1969, we lived in San Diego too, and we spent a lot of time together - particularly since Mary and Otis had a pool. Mary worked at a clothing store called Walker Scott in the 60s -- a very good job for someone with a lifelong love of beautiful clothes. I can’t remember exactly how tall Mary was -- about 5’2” -- but she wore her clothes like a movie star. Think Rita Hayworth. Otis was 6’3”, and we always said, looked like Gregory Peck (see photo below).
They built a good life in San Diego. My dad spent his teen years surfing and playing volleyball. In the 60s they acquired a charming home with that pool I mentioned - and Otis had Karmann Ghia in his driveway. No matter that the steering wheel became detached on a trip to Arkansas. It was a cool car!
Mary gets married
When Mary was 16, she married Astor Pettit Broach, also an Atkins family -- son of Margarite Victoria Pettit and William Broach “Ma and Pa Broach”. My father, James William Broach, was born in 1935 when Mary was 17. The Depression was in full swing, Pettit had drinking issues and the marriage didn’t last long after my father’s birth. Mary’s high school classmate, Otis Lamar Hanks (1914-1994) of Russellville, had been carrying a torch for Mary, and was waiting in the wings. They married in 1937. Otis loved Mary truly and deeply his whole life.
Mary Elizabeth's high school class, 1933
Mary Elizabeth Burris, age 4The Depression
The Depression sent Otis looking for copper mining work in Colorado and my dad, known as “Billy,” stayed with the Broaches in Atkins. By 1938, Mary and Otis returned to Atkins, collected Billy and joined the migration West with so many others. Otis got work in a copper mine in the strangely named Miami, Arizona, where the legs of Billy’s bed had to be set in buckets of water to prevent scorpions from getting him. The wind and blowing sand drove Mary crazy and after a vacation in San Diego in 1940, they said -- this is for us!War years
In 1940, war was in the offing and defense jobs offered employment - but housing was tight because of the number of people moving to San Diego for the jobs. Otis got a job at Convair and they did find an apartment, but distressingly - the apartment didn’t allow children. Billy lived with another family for the first year, which was understandably very hard on a five year old. Eventually, they found an apartment that allowed children and, after the war, they settled into a paradisical life in San Diego.
Billy in a suit Otis tailored, 1945
James William Broach senior class photo 1952The good life
Mary and Otis were good at making friends -- Mary had a lively and engaging personality. My impression is that they had a very active social life. One thing that didn’t go exactly right is that my dad eloped after knowing my mom for six weeks. That shocked and hurt Mary - but given that he was 19, perhaps it had more to do with hormones than anything else. When dad called to tell her the news, she told him to come over and my mother should stay in the car until they had talked. And then they welcomed my mother into the family as their daughter.
No story of Mary Burris could be complete without mentioning she was an artist. Each of her grandchildren has a large canvas she painted hanging in our homes. In later years she took up ceramics, which I have displayed in my garden. I often think about what I can leave artistically for my family. Having a visual reminder of your loved ones is a marvelous thing.
Mary and Cristi, 1959
Mary Elizabeth, Cristi and VickiStaying connected
Mary was close to her mother - even though Abigail “Abby” Bailey Burris, by many accounts had a difficult and demanding personality. Mary and her parents visited each other fairly regularly - and considering the distance - that’s somewhat remarkable at that time. Abby and Frank Burris (James Franklin Burris II) never quite got into the beach culture -- included here is a photo of them sitting on the beach at La Jolla in full dress clothes.
In the mid-60s, Mary’s brother, James Franklin Burris III “Jimmy” (1921-1992) and his family visited San Diego. My dad’s cousins, Sharon and Randy, were teenagers and they were totally fascinating to me at 8 years old. Sharon was a cheerleader and actively missing her boyfriend (now her husband Winston) and Randy was a musician (still is). They came packing their own Dr. Pepper (not available in San Diego!) Also remarkable was the fact that Uncle Jimmy built their home AND airplanes. He had a lifelong passion for planes.
In 1973, my dad took us to Little Rock to visit Uncle Jimmy and Aunt Twila. That trip left a deep impression on me. The southern ways, manners, lifestyle -- all so different than California. Gracious, slower, more time for family -- in fact -- life was all about family. My sister, mother and I visited Aunt Twila in Little Rock in 2004 -- and I felt the tug of the south all over again. We visited Atkins too, and Otis’ sister Johnnie Marie was still living there. I recall that after mentioning at the restaurant that we wanted to visit with Johnnie, the word went out and reached her at the beauty salon within a half hour.
I treasure the artifacts of southern-ness that our family has held on to after migrating to California -- my Nana was a fantastic southern cook. Once I gave Nana a dessert cookbook and she was shocked. I really should have known that she never used a recipe for a dessert in her life -- the recipes were in her head. Nana and Aunt Twila used to defer to each other on fried chicken -- each said the other was the best cooker of fried chicken. I could never make up my mind. I have picked up some southern-isms in my speech -- y’all just makes sense to me! My dad didn’t stay Billy -- he reclaimed his first name as a teen and became Jim but he is still crazy for the the Razorbacks. Woooooooo. Pig. Sooie!
My thanks to Dee Burris Blakley for inviting me to do this guest blog -- it’s been wonderful revisiting the memories.
Cristi Broach Hendry
Cristi Broach Hendry is my third cousin, once removed.
If you are connected to the same branch of the Burris family as Cristi, and would like to contact her about this entry, you can either reply to the entry, or email her at:
cristihendry at gmail dot com