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Excerpt from Oh The Glory Of It All by Sean Wilsey, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Oh The Glory Of It All

by Sean Wilsey

Oh The Glory Of It All by Sean Wilsey X
Oh The Glory Of It All by Sean Wilsey
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  • First Published:
    May 2005, 480 pages

    Apr 2006, 496 pages


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DURING WORLD WAR II, when Mom was a teenager, with only her mother and little brother left at home, the rest raised and gone (my uncle Charles, for example, studying in a seminary and working at a defense plant), Mom realized she was beautiful. A neighbor lady knocked on the door, which Mom opened with a smile. The woman was so struck she exclaimed, "My! You are the most beautiful thing!"

My grandmother actually ran into the room and shouted, "Don't you tell her that! It isn't true." It had never occurred to Mom that she might be beautiful. But in that moment she saw that it was a fact. And that it was powerful. It was an escape. She decided to go to Dallas and become a model.

Enlisted to assist her in this plan was her brother-in-law, my uncle Cecil (pronounced see-sill), who had the concession for all the jukeboxes and peanut machines in Waurika. He went around the town's theaters, cafés, gas stations, and bars, emptied his machines, brought Mom a huge sack of nickels, and said, "Go to Dallas, Patsy Lou." Mom told my grandmother she'd found a job selling hosiery for a respectable women's shop. My grandmother said fine, Mom was welcome to go, provided she bought her own train ticket—impossible—and had enough left over to pay for a week in advance at the YWCA. Mom shook her sack of nickels at her mother and got on the train. She got a modeling job at Neiman Marcus. A week or so later my grandmother, in constant contact with the YWCA, discovered that Patsy Lou was modeling, not selling hosiery. She stormed into Neiman's, calling, "Patsy Lou, come out of this wicked place!" found Mom in a dressing room, and yanked her outside by her then still black hair. "We 're going to California to live with your aunt Mary," she told her. "If you don't agree to come along I'll call the police on you for being underage and showing your body."

They drove to California. Or, rather, my great-grandfather Taylor, a ninetyyear- old part Comanche Indian, who was only licensed to drive during the day, drove them. It was 1945. The trip took weeks. They slept in the car. When they sighted the Rockies, Mom, who had never seen anything in the way of a vertical landscape, thought they were monsters. "I was that ignorant," Mom said, when she told me the story. Then she paused. "Of course, because I was so ignorant, I did a lot of things I didn't know I wasn't supposed to do. Ignorance has served me well!"

In California Aunt Mary and a slew of cousins—all of them fruit pickers— were living in a converted school bus parked in a cherry orchard. Mom took one look and decided to get a job and make enough money to go back to Dallas and model. She started waitressing at a bus station café.

One of her customers was U.S. Air Force Captain Howard Groves, owner of a nearby ranch. He nicknamed her Muggins, admired her figure, left big tips. My grandmother thought Captain Groves was the perfect solution to the problem of Patsy Lou.

Then Mom started having trouble catching her breath, went to see a doctor, and was told that a valve in her heart wasn't closing properly. Without a new form of heart surgery ("closed-heart" or "blind" they were calling it) she would die in her twenties. At that point eleven people had survived the procedure. Thinking she 'd probably be dead soon—and that he had money enough to buy her the surgery—she married Groves. It was not a conventional wedding. Mom auditioned and was chosen to be married on a live national radio program called The Bride and Groom. "You will be taking with you the good wishes of the entire United States," the announcer said to her and Captain Groves after they'd gone through the on-the-air ceremony. Then she had the surgery, and became the twelfth to survive. Howard got shipped off to an air base in the Azores, and Mom went along. She was an officer's wife for twelve years. Howard crashed and was grounded; Mom put on plays, commandeered planes with her charm, and flew to Lisbon for costumes. She modeled. She was the commanding general's favorite party guest. Her plays were hits. She threw parties every week.

From Oh The Glory Of It All by Sean Wilsey. Copyright 2005 Sean Wilsey. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, The Penguin Press.

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