Basketball in the Family

hale-audrey-bball-1923Today is my paternal grandmother’s birthday; Audrey Vellence Hale was born on June 6, 1908. In this really fabulous photo, she is posing in her basketball uniform for Winding Gulf High School. Family lore is that she is turned to the side to hide a shiner received in a game a day or two preceding this picture.

This photo was probably taken around 1925. It is a great addition to the other sports photos of grandparents that we have displayed in our home. You can click on the photo to see it at much higher resolution. The athletic shoes appear to be both stylish and utilitarian. Note the very new brick wall in the background; my best guess is that the photo was taken at the school, which had just opened as a new facility. The school was known as Collins High School starting around 1925 or shortly thereafter.

Audrey was known as “Grandmam” and beloved by her grandchildren. She died in 2001 at the age of 93. This description by her son gives you a glimpse into her personality. There is much more that could be shared about Grandmam, Grandaddy and their home at Riverbend; I’ll save that for another time.

She was a fine student, and evidently had a couple of outstanding teachers in school. At that small country high school Latin was required, along with great emphasis on literature and grammar. To the end of her life she could quote Shakespeare, poets and others whose works she was admonished to memorize. Her memory was prodigious. In her final years she could still quote poetry and prose without pause, and sing long, very old songs without missing a word or phrase. Her penchant for formal language belied her humble upbringing, and gave her an aura of unpretentious sophistication. Truly, she had the heart of a scholar, although her life was anything but scholarly. Behind all that, she had a deep respect and admiration for the life style of her parents, and never spoke ill of being a “coal miner’s daughter.”

But don’t be fooled by this talk of scholarly talent. She was also known for her fiery disposition, competitive spirit and mischievous sense of humor. She knew how to have a good time, and among her school activities she played on the girls’ basketball team. Imagine: girls basketball in the 1920s! In a tiny high school in rural West Virginia.

And while she loved her poetry and literature, she never advertised it; rather, she presented herself for what she was: a person who understood basic values and a lifestyle that was unpretentious.

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