Once a librarian at the Moline Public Library, Harvey has always kept a journal, but she’s never considered herself a “writer.” Mable and her son, Brad Harvey, began working on the family history over a decade ago after two of Mable’s brothers died within months of each other.
“There was a lot of mortality at play here, and it was good to get it down while there were still people to talk to,” says Brad. “We realized these stories wouldn’t be recorded anywhere unless we did it.”
And there was no shortage of stories to tell. During the 70 years, Mable and her husband Robert have been married, their house has served as a gathering place for her brothers.
“So many of these stories come from listening to my uncles talking about things,” says Brad. “You get two or three uncles sitting around a pot of beans at the kitchen table, and this one-upmanship takes over. ‘That’s not what happened, this is what happened!’ And my mom has a really great memory, so she really absorbed it all.”
Surviving Hard Times
A true slice of Americana, the book covers the family’s journey from Southern Thompsonville — a town of 600 — to the Northern Illinois town of Moline. And during this time, the Gulley-Harvey’s existence was touch-and-go.
The family of nine survived on the Midwestern farming economy that went bust during the Great Depression. Just to make ends meet, Mable’s father had to pull two of his sons out of school. He coached them on how to lie about their ages so they could get factory jobs.
“Kids these days have too many toys to play with,” muses Mable. “They don’t know what it was like growing up in hard times. We used to go to government warehouses where you were given a couple dresses. And when we went to school, every girl on relief would have the same dress.”
Making Ends Meet
Mable’s father was a day laborer who worked for a dollar a day. The family moved around a lot and work was hard to find. “Sometimes my father had jobs, sometimes he didn’t. Everyone was just trying to make a living — just a dollar more,” says Mable. “So you could move out of your house for one that was slightly better.”
Growing up impoverished had a profound impact on Harvey’s life. She also suffered great tragedies. As the oldest and only girl in the family, Mable witnessed her father’s tragic death in a factory accident and a brother’s battle with alcoholism. Still, Mable persevered, having two children of her own, along with five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
When Brad is asked for one word that describes his mother, “resilient” is the one that comes to mind. “Younger people warm up to my parents so quickly,” says Brad. “They have this curiosity. You can throw them in a group of 20-year-olds and they’ll be interested in what they have to say. They’ve been here for everybody — the entire Gulley-Harvey clan. They’re like totems.”
Letters From Home
Mable’s son Brad lives near Nashville — hundreds of miles away from Moline, Illinois. This distance made collaborating on a book a challenge.
Based on research and conversations with his mother, Brad would write chapters and send them via the mail to his mother, who would edit, adjust and approve the copy.
While they casually worked on the book for over a decade, in recent years they picked up the pace, after Mable had a stroke.
Brad has always been a writer at heart. With his mom working as the town librarian, he spent hours in the children’s section, surrounded by rows and rows of books.
In the past, Brad freelanced for the local paper and started an entertainment music monthly called “Oil Magazine,” which was picked up by the daily newspaper.
But no project has enthralled him quite like telling his family’s story. “Growing up I heard a lot of these stories, but sometimes the details get lost. Just to find out the actual facts of what happened, you start to see your parents as people. They’re not any different from you. They didn’t have a roadmap, they struggled, had their hardships, they persevered.”
After finishing the book just in time for Mable’s 90th birthday, the mother-and-son duo is already pondering a sequel based on the second generation. “We want to let the old folks know what the younger ones are doing,” says Mable.
Brad Harvey hopes “A Dollar More” inspires other families to delve into their history. “I think it would be really nice if people started writing their own stories. I hope that’s the legacy of this book. As they say, there’s no boring story, just boring writers.”
For those who have enjoyed the book, there is personal in the universal. “You put these things together and you wonder, ‘Who wants to read about us?’ But people want to find out where they came from. The world is so crazy. If you can find out where you come from, there’s a little bit of comfort in finding those roots.”
Fueling the Future
Mable has different dreams for her book. “I hope the younger generation will read what the older generation did for a living and how they got along — many of them don’t even know the older generation.”
And her advice to other seniors thinking about recording their family tales? “Just get out your pen and paper and start writing. If you don’t write it down, nobody will, and it gets lost. Only you know about your family, and only you can put it down on paper.”
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