Dr. Ray Mills Antley, Sr. – Interview, Christmas 2010

Rest in peace, Ray

Interview with Dr. Ray Mills Antley

Interview with Dr. Ray Mills Antley
Paul Fischer

What is your first memory of your mother, Wilhelmina Antley?

“Thats a question I thought about and I talked to some other people about. People are part of their mother and then they separate, the point is it becomes a matter of law, you pass a law about when you say you first remember your mother. I would have to say I don’t have any first memory of my mother so to speak, perhaps when I was 14 years old. I have pictures when I was four years old going down to main street with my mother all decked out in her fur during the great depression and everything, but I don’t remember it exactly. I guess one memory I have going downtown may have been the same time. I got lost from her, somebody recognized me in Columbia and took me to my Dad’s office. I kept hoping somebody was gonna buy me though, there was a different sense about the value of a child in the depression than today; there were too many of us depression children nobody wanted. I remember she told me to always go back to the last place you saw somebody if you ever get lost, which makes sense because if you wander, you might just miss them.”
How long were you home, and what are some typical experiences from your childhood, with Gan as a mother?
“Well I was seventeen when I left home to go to college and I never went home except for the summer of ‘58 when I came home and worked. Mother liked to do things and there was a little lake and she had a little car and we used to drive down there and go swimming, and that was great. Then we got so far we got a membership at a little pond, called Fulcrum Farms, we went up there and swam the whole summer. I remember, I used to stay in trouble most of the time. There were too many things you couldn’t do, I had to do all of it. One day I hit a girl on the head, swinging a piece of cardboard around, and I had to spend a week in the back, on restrictions in the back yard. I would come home from school and have to sit in the back yard. Mother was my disciplinarian, now I got Mary Anne.”
Do you have impressions of her from friends or family?
“They had a much more impression that mother was a powerful person, they had to do what she said. I was kind of impressed they had that impression. I don’t think I was that fearful of Mom. I thought well that wouldn’t make much difference.”
Are any of those surprising or discordant with your own experiences?
“She was completely different with all three of us. Mina was a little girl, and of all Gan’s 6 siblings, Mina was the only girl born, she loved every minute of it. Phillip and me were, you know, different. I think mother looked on me as most confident. Dad was sick, and she wanted to buy a house and forged an alliance with me to sort of see things in a similar vein to buy the house.”
Can you remember stories of her childhood or past that she told you and whether any of these were surprising?
“Most of them I’m 75-years old now, so they aren’t surprising to me now but they may have been at the time. Like one time she was about seven years old and didn’t want to take a bath and ran out in a night gown down the street and had to be caught and returned. Her sister told us that. We used to tell stories on her and all. She told me when I was an old man and she was an elderly woman about how she rang the bell during classes and emptied the school, and got away with it and afterwards they always had to hide the bell. She talked so much her dad had to pay her a quarter not to talk. Alot of my relationship with my mother we would tease and joke, and I didn’t realize until she went to the retirement home at the age of 97 and her hearing went. She’d laugh when she understood, but if she didn’t get it, she’d get disgusted and that had a lot to do with her hearing. She was a doer, I went to college, she bought me sheets and an overcoat and stuff, got me all decked out to goto college.”
How much of Gan’s life did she spend on a farm? And also what inspiration did she have to teach?
“She was the last of seven children, and all of the women taught school. She didn’t want to do that so she got a license in social work when she went to university in 1934, but Dad got a good job at the newspaper and when they got married, she stopped going to school. Then came 1941 and she went back to University of South Carolina to finish her degree and the expectation was Dad was going to be drafted. But Philip was born in May of ‘42 and Dad turned out to be too old to be drafted as the chips fell. So she continued as a housewife and took care of the family. Then 1957 after I finished my second year of college, Dad had obstruction of the esophagus and he had cancer and they didn’t expect him to live. So then she got a teacher’s certificate in ‘58 and taught for twenty years, 15 years in South Carolina and then when Dad retired in ‘74 they went to Virginia, and that was when she began to live on a farm. Her father was a pharmacist and optometrist all lived in small town and middle class, not really farm people that was more something she did as a 60-year old woman.”
Did she have any other professional or artistic aspirations to your knowledge?
“What she liked to do most was to keep house and cook. She loved her kitchen and loved the things she could do in the kitchen. Teaching was more something she had to do for a living, I think she would have preferred to do social work.”
How do you remember the communication and relations between your father and Gan?
What inspirations musically, culturally did your mother leave or instill into you?
“There is this relationship I have read about that people that are good musicians do not have much interest in recorded work, and people who are not good musicians listen to recorded music, and she definitely fits into the latter group. She had no interest in the technical aspects of music she just enjoyed opera. And she enjoyed doing things. She liked to go to opera and events she was game to do stuff. It was just a visceral enjoyment of the music. She was gregarious and outgoing and when her hearing got bad it was a big change that was sad to see, she was close to her friends, but they started to die towards the end.”
How does it feel to go by your home or neighborhood or school? What kind of changes do you see?
“The city has grown a lot and all of american society, especially city life has changed so much with the digital era, it is hard to even compare. These communities were self-contained and if anybody got out of line everybody knew it and the whole community put pressure on the family to straighten up. Things do not look the same coming back at least from the outside in. Especially the children. The streets look barren, we used to play outside and run around the playground so much there was hardly a blade of grass left on the ground.

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