Mary Jane Truman Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview
Mary Jane Truman

Sister of Harry S. Truman
Stephen and Cathy Doyal and Fred and Audrey Truman

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]


This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

See also Mary Jane Truman Papers finding aid.

This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened December, 1988
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page |Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]


Oral History Interview with
Mary Jane Truman

Grandview, Missouri
Stephen and Cathy Doyal and Fred and Audrey Truman


STEPHEN DOYAL: What was that first car of Uncle Harry's, Mary Jane, do you remember?



MARY JANE: The Stafford. That was his first car.

STEVE: I was thinking he had one before that.

MARY JANE: No. He had a Stafford. He took it down to Fort Sill, and then when he left for France, the boys and whoever was there broke it down when they were hauling tools. Too heavy loads [were] in it, and I don't know whatever became of the final thing. I don't know whether they saved any of it, or if it just went for junk; actually I think it just went for junk.


STEVE: It just rotted down before he got back probably.

MARY JANE: It's a good old car. I learned to drive in it. It was about 1914 I think.

CATHY DOYAL: Aunt Mary, you've driven ever since then?

MARY JANE: Way long ago.

CATHY: When was it, 19.. .

MARY JANE: Well, I've had my car since 1919.

CATHY: But you knew how to drive before then.

MARY JANE: Yes, I knew how to drive.

STEVE: That Dodge you had was the second car you owned then, wasn't it? That Dodge Coupe?

MARY JANE: No. That was the first.

STEVE: Was that the first one?

MARY JANE: That's the first one.

STEVE: I thought you had a later model than that.

MARY JANE: No, it was 19...


STEVE: About a 1918 model?

MARY JANE: Yeah, about a 1918. And I drove that for ten years.

STEVE: Yeah, I knew you drove it for a long time.

MARY JANE: And finally it got so I couldn't turn the steering wheel, it got so tight.

STEVE: Was it that Nash you had next?

MARY JANE: Let me see. Yes, I believe it was a Nash. I got it from Harold. They wouldn't let me drive for a while after I had appendicitis. And so when I bought a new car I got that Nash from Harold. I think I had two or three Nashes.

STEVE: Let's see. Two anyway I'm sure of, Aunt Mary.

MARY JANE: The first one I think was when we still lived down on the farm.

STEVE: That was that big one with the long hubcaps on it.

MARY JANE: I don't remember.

STEVE: That bird dog was the best dog you ever had.


MARY JANE: Oh yes, that bird dog was a dandy. One of the neighbors killed him.

STEVE: Yeah, what did you call him. Pep?


STEVE: He could climb every fence in the county.

CATHY: Oh, really.

STEVE: Just like a ladder.

AUDREY TRUMAN: The last dog Aunt Mary had was named Barkley. After the Vice President.

CATHY: Oh really.

STEVE: What kind of dog was it?

MARY JANE: A chow.

STEVE: He was part chow and part shepherd I think. He didn't have any of the chow characteristics.

MARY JANE: But Harry told Mr. Barkley, and he said, "You tell her she could have named me after something better than a dog." And I said, "You tell him how nice that dog was."


AUDREY: The Secret Service men had the little dog, didn't they?

MARY JANE: No, I had him.

AUDREY: Well, they were the ones that named him, weren't they?

MARY JANE: No, I named him. Let's see, I had three or four chows. [There was] Center. I called one of them Tinsin and he never bothered anybody but everybody was afraid of him and he was just the best dog with Momma you ever saw, and I had him about six or seven years.

One morning Momma and I was having breakfast, and Vivian came in the kitchen and stood in the dining room door and Center was sitting between Momma and me. He'd sit there and pat you for a piece of toast, and so he got up when Vivian came in and never barked at him. When he [Vivian] came in, he sat down in front of Vivian and stuck his paw up and he wanted to shake hands. And Vivian petted him from then on, but Vivian was afraid of him. He was just afraid of him. And he never bothered Harry at all. Harry never paid


a bit of attention to him. And when Harry was home and had breakfast with us some times, why he'd sit between Harry and me. He thought he got a bigger bite from Harry. I've had a lot of pets that have been lots of fun.

Then, I had an old [cat] -- well really he was Vivian's cat -- and when they moved over to the Good place they left him with Momma and me. We were still on the farm then and he came home one morning with a great big hole in his neck. I don't know what did it, someone or something got him. So Momma and I ended up taking care of him and he washed himself in the sitting room, climbed up in the old rocking chair we had, and there he stayed. He'd get down maybe and drink a little milk and then he'd go back to his chair. And Momma and I worked with him and doped his neck and took care of him. He got all healed up and then they put out some poison for the rats at the barn.

STEVE: The only thing it killed was the cat.

MARY JANE: And that's all it killed was the cat. By that time Momma and I thought as much of that cat as we did


any we had ever had. Then, when we lived over here by the railroad, one morning -- I think Momma and I had eaten up practically everything; there wasn't a thing that a cat would want -- I heard a cat crying in the backyard, and he was the sorriest looking black cat you ever saw and just about so thin. Somebody had gone and left him and he was just starving. I thought well, what in the world would I do; we didn't even have any milk. This is how hungry he was -- I just got a slice of white bread and gave it to him and he ate every bit of that bread. Now that was how hungry he was. 'Cause cats won't usually eat bread like that. Well, we took him in. We didn't take him that day but the next morning he was sitting on the bannister of the front porch; he had come to stay. So by that time I'd rousted up a little more food and we fed him and he just stayed. Somebody killed him, but we had him, oh for several years while we lived there, and Momma thought a lot of him too. He was just an awfully nice cat and he would get in that old chair. It was sitting near the radio; we had a radio then. So Mr. Shannon came in, and he usually sat in that big chair and I said, "Oh, Mr. Shannon," and he just jumped up, but he was


almost sitting on the cat, and he would have just been crushed. Mr. Shannon weighed over 200 and Momma got to scolding me. I said, "Well, I didn't want him to sit on the cat." Oh, we had so many things happen with the pets we had.

CATHY: They are so much joy really.

MARY JANE: And then I had a dog, I think he was a shepherd wasn't he? That nice dog I had, don't you know? Well, I believe he was part chow wasn't he?

FRED TRUMAN: I don't know.

MARY JANE: Well, anyway Vivian had the mother. That shepherd dog was his mother and I think he was part chow if I remember. And I moved him over here. He was just a little puppy about that big. I carried him home and, of course, the Secret Service men were always fooling with him and teaching him a lot of things, and he loved to play ball. So I guess I had him about two or three years before I moved over here. I was a little uneasy about moving him over here for fear he would try to go back home or somebody would do something


to him but I finally got him to realize that this was home.

STEVE: Oh, that painting must have been taken from that.

MARY JANE: Yes it was. But that's not very good. See, the eyes don't look exactly right.

CATHY: Eyes are very hard to do. Eyes carry so much personality. They're not just like your nose. It just sits there. It's kind of hard to capture, really. I tried to paint a few portraits from time to time and it's always the hardest part.

MARY JANE: I imagine. Well, he painted that from this picture, I think.

AUDREY: I always thought that picture was a pretty one.

MARY JANE: Momma gave me that for my birthday when I was 12 years old. The original frame was broken and so then I had the frame put on.

CATHY: Well, that's beautiful.

MARY JANE: The frame that was on it when she bought it was about this wide. It was an old-fashioned frame, kind of


gingerbread like. And so then, it was broken. I liked the -- it's a Chandler picture. Chandler was a quite popular painter at that time.

CATHY: Yes, I noticed that right away.

MARY JANE: And that picture, that's not a painting. That's just a print, but it was given to me up at north Missouri where I was to hold a chapter one night and they gave me a present. It was a yellow rose -- the flower I had chosen -- and that painting over there, the pansies, Ethel Noland painted.

CATHY: Oh, did she?

MARY JANE: Yes, she was a pretty good artist. But she had to give it up because painting made her sick.

CATHY: Oh, did it really?

MARY JANE: Yes, the paint I guess.

CATHY: Well, for goodness sake.

MARY JANE: Yes, we have a little landscape somewhere that she painted.

CATHY: She is a nice lady. We used to see her every once


in a while because she lived next door to our church and we used to see her on Sundays.

AUDREY: You know that house is still just like it was, I assume. It was always so interesting wasn't it?


AUDREY: Their living room; they had two living rooms, and the first one wasn't as big as this, not much over half this big. Then you went into the other living room.

MARY JANE: It went across the house; it was a pretty good size.

AUDREY: And their chairs were all needlepoint, beautiful, beautiful needlepoint. I was just fascinated with them.

MARY JANE: It was an interesting place. And the dining room was larger than either one of the front rooms. But they finally cut some off the back, and there was a kitchen in back of there.

AUDREY: That lamp, Uncle Harry gave that to Aunt Mary Jane.

MARY JANE: Well, he gave it to Momma when we first got the electricity down at the farm.

AUDREY: I knew there was a little story behind it.


CATHY: When was that?

MARY JANE: Oh, that was back in 1929, when we got it down at the farm. We had to use lamps until then. So Harry gave it to us the first Christmas after we got there.

FRED: Pop pulled a horse trade with me and Harry. See, they wanted right-of-way across the place. Pop gave them the right-of-way if they would put in the electricity, and then he didn't use the right-of-way.

MARY JANE: That's right.

CATHY: Well, that was a smart move.

MARY JANE: Of course, it gave Vivian's house and ours to electricity.

CATHY: Well, that's great.

FRED: We got that out of the Kansas City Power and Light [Company]. We were in another territory, in Missouri Public Service territory.

MARY JANE: It was a long time before the lights up here would have come to the farm. They just never made any effort to come down. So we had Kansas City lights and they were far more reliable. Well these are pretty good.


FRED: These are pretty good, now. But they weren't then.

MARY JANE: No they weren't. Mine went off, I think one night last week, or the week before. I guess it was one of those rainy times the lights went off. I waited a long time and they didn't come on so I called them and they said they were working on it. And in about thirty minutes they came on. They're much better than they used to be.

FRED: I think they do pretty good now.

CATHY: We had some trouble out in Blue Springs, oh, about six or eight months ago. They were putting all the phone lines underground instead of up on the poles and somehow the phone company managed to cut the Missouri Public Service line which shut off the generator that pumps water all over town. So everyone got up one morning and nothing, no water, nothing. We thought it was just temporary, or building or something, and we called some people on down the street and no, they didn't have any water and we called a friend who lives across town and he didn't have water and there was no water anywhre in town till about 10 or 11 in the morning.


MARY JANE: My goodness.

STEVE: You had to get up in the morning and shave with what ice water you've got in the refrigerator. That's not too great either.

CATHY: That was funny. We were just like little chipmunks or something, because that night we saved water for about three nights. We'd run water into a big pan just in case something happened in the night, we'd at least have something to drink.

AUDREY: Well, I bet there were some people who didn't have any water to drink, because you never think of that happening.

STEVE: Well, I think it was even before that we had had a bad experience. Blue Springs grew so rapidly that it's taken the city a while to catch up with its people. We live north of the freeway, I-70, and most of the growth before that had been south of I-70, so there was a very small water line out there. It had really just served the country people. Now, there's five or six developments out there and at the peak of


the summer when everyone's watering their yard and taking a bath and getting ready for bed, water pressure drops down to just nothing. Well, we live on the third floor in our building and the people on the second floor had water but we didn't because the pressure wasn't enough to get it upstairs. And so, the night we discovered that, we had planted a planter box and we had planted a plant. We were just dirt all over everywhere and we went to the sink to wash and nothing came out. So we had to go wash at the faucets outside in the parking lot. We're careful with our water.

CATHY: We're very cautious with our water.