Stephen F. Austin State University

Irwin Family Reunion: Meet Aunt Paulee and Uncle Grady (b. 1918, 1910) (May 2014)

Irwin Family Reunion: Meet Aunt Paulee and Uncle Grady (b. 1918, 1910)
by Deborah Burkett

It's getting to be that time of year when attending family reunions is what we do in East Texas. I'm already planning my menu for Memorial Day, that's when my clan gets together.

Recently, Larry "Doc" Irwin called and asked me to join his family for their annual reunion in Reklaw. The conversation went something like this "You need to meet Aunt Paulee and Uncle Grady. She'll be 96 later this year and he'll be 104 in September. You'll want to interview them; they can tell you some stories! Come and eat lunch with us too..."

Won't say if it was the offer of lunch or the opportunity to record the memories of these Irwin family elders that sealed the deal but I gladly accepted. Expectations were exceeded on both counts.

First I sat down with Paulee Irwin Akin; her brother Grady hadn't yet arrived from the Houston area. This lively lady wanted to know who I was, clearly I was a new face at her family reunion. Once introductions were out of the way, I was amazed at what I heard, "…There were 11 of us and I was the baby…three girls--all left handed. Mother (Emma Young) wouldn't let me use the left hand, had to use my right...Dad (John S. Irwin) was a section foreman with the railroad..."

"…I packed tomatoes every season, George Weatherly operated the sheds. I also worked at the State Hospital for 20 years, married and had 3 children. My brother Grady and I both worked tomatoes…He was the smartest of us kids…You've heard that the 7th child is the smartest, well that's Grady..."

When asked how she spends her time these days she replied, "I've slowed down a bit…after all I'm 95, born December 4th 1918…don't drive anymore so don't go to church as much but do attend when I get a ride..."

At this point Grady walked in and Paulee met him at the door. Smiles covered both faces as they greeted each other, so touching to see. Clearly they shared a bond forged by family memories from long ago; these two talked of things the younger generation found hard to believe.

Like the time Grady walked from Jacksonville to Tyler to see his first talking picture show. He also remembered riding the train to the Dallas Fair in 1924 and seeing the Zeppelin that later blew up. At this point he expounds upon the atomic weight of helium and nitrogen. Yep, 7th child is smart indeed.

Grady attended Lon Morris, graduated from Stephen F. Austin in 1932 at the height of the Great Depression. Would become a chemist for Gulf Oil but immediately after graduation hard times forced him to return home where he raised corn, cotton and tomatoes before beginning a long career with Gulf.

Accompanying me was my good friend and historical commission colleague, Elizabeth McCutcheon. I asked her to help record this family's history. Low and below, she was kin to everyone there!

That afternoon in Relkaw a good time was had by all. Lots of stories, tables laden with food and everyone looking forward to next year! Oh Yea, Aunt Paulee made her famous "What's it" dessert and after two helpings it was time to say goodbye. What a blessing it was meeting the entire family, especially the inspirational siblings.

As Grady and his daughter, Emmeline Dodd, drove away in a red corvette the youngest generation of Irwins was playing outside…creating their own memories to be recorded at a later date.