Billy’s Memoir about Jess — Part One

As I indicated in a one of my first posts for this blog, my father Billy Lee Cartwright, wrote a memoir about his father that was published in the Fall 1995 issue of Echoes, the Scott County Historical and Genealogical Journal along with a one-page text of Cartwright/Starr Genealogy.

The piece was entitled “Jessie – ‘The Gentle Life.’”  Immediately above the PREFACE, the following explanation appears after two stanzas of a poem about Jess Cartwright. “This is the true story of a man’s struggles with life, and his search through the years of the Depression in the early 1930s; Jessie was a man ever quite understood, but his plight was to be an individual – his name was Jess Cartwright.” – Bill Cartwright (23)

I will be happy to make the whole document available to those readers who are interested in reading the document (eight pages single spaced) but who are not in a position to obtain it from the original publication. For the purposes of this blog, however, I have elected to set aside some (but not all of)  the more subjective commentary my father wrote about Jess’s struggles. Rightly or wrongly, I judge that material to be so intertwined with Daddy’s mental illness that it is impossible to determine how much is the product of his own inner turmoil and how much may be accurate.

At one point in this piece, Billy suggests that no one knew Jess as well as he did. While my father may have had a very strong affinity for his father (perhaps because they both struggled with a call to Christian ministry?), that doesn’t mean that Billy actually knew Jess better than anyone else.  It simply means that he strongly identified with his father at certain points in his life. I take some comfort from the fact that after Aunt Betty read the piece, she told Daddy that she had a very different set of memories about Jess. I would welcome any comments or reflections that Aunty Betty may want to offer about this piece.

At the time, the was Echoes journal publication process worked was that the writer provided a typescript and the editors simply simply copied it adding their own page numbers. As I understand it, Aunt Betty typed up Daddy’s handwritten text. I suspect but do not know for sure that she may have cleaned up some of the errors in his grammar and spelling. My memory is that this was around the time that Daddy had driven to Betty’s house when he had lost his latest job and run out of money. Where I have quoted or summarized text, I provide the page number just in case someone wishes to follow up. To make it easier for my Cartwright cousins to comment, I have chosen to transcribe segments of his memoir in seven sections.

About mcartwright1957

I am a member of the senior administrative team at the University of Indianapolis where I have served since 1996. I am married to Mary Wilder Cartwright. We are the parents of four children: Hannah, Erin, James, and Bethany. I currently live in Nashville, IN.
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2 Responses to Billy’s Memoir about Jess — Part One

  1. As some readers will notice, except at the beginning and end of the piece, Grandpa Cartwright’s name is spelled “Jessie.” This is the only place where I have ever see Jess’s name spelled this way. The gravestone at Coop Prairie cemetery and other legal records following a different usage: “Jess L. Cartwright.” I find this curious. I wonder if it has anything to do with the way the family spelled Daddy’s own name – “Billie” (the feminine form of that name) on his birth certificate. Or was it simply a lapse on the part of someone who may not have intended to change the spelling.


  2. Just recently I reread Billy’s Memoir and like Betty I, too, have different memories of our father. And, as I did when I first read this years ago, I wondered if Billy wasn’t projecting some of his own struggles and thoughts onto Jess when he wrote that Jess would “wander in the quiet of nature to struggle with his battle of inward search.” Granted, Jess was troubled and had his struggles, and like you said Michael I think he felt this connection to his father. BTW, I have five extra signed copies of Billy’s Memoir if anyone would like to have a copy.


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