Mae Ella Cooper (1957) got her mother’s good looks, but did not inherit her mother’s obsessive concern for security. Bessie Grant Walker, as a child of the Great Depression had a healthy suspicion of good news. But as she got older and the Depression faded further in her memory, she learned how to have good time when she wanted to. Still, she took nothing for granted, was frugal to the point of self-denial, and denial to her family. Whatever generosity Bessie Grant was capable of was directed not towards her children but skipped a generation and rested on her grandchildren.
As Bessie’s oldest daughter, Mae Ella could not help but rebel against this kind of upbringing and from the time she could think for herself decided to deny herself nothing.
The first thing she did was run off with Frank Wes Cooper when she was sixteen. They stood in front of the first man qualified to pronounce them husband and wife and promptly began setting up house together. Her father, Walter Calahan Walker came after her, but realizing he was too late to bring her home reconciled himself to the situation, but knew it would be difficult pacifying Bessie.
Things improved somewhat when Mae Ella announced that she was pregnant with their first grandchild, which turned out to be a boy that she named after her father, Calahan Cooper. Mae Ella and Frank went on to have four more children, the youngest being Lucy Bess Cooper, grudingly honoring Mae’s mother.
As the kids grew up and one by one left home, Mae Ella began to look for something to occupy her time and creative impulses. What she did was open a bar, juke joint, with music, illegal whiskey, dancing and other things not exactly legal. This did not sit well with her husband and Frank began to simmer with a brooding resentment over the late nights she spent away from home.
Lucy, her youngest, pretty much grew up in the bar, which contributed to her developing a wild streak.
One night after having too much to drink, Frank decided he’d had enough and attempted to burn the bar down. This caused Mae Ella to seek a divorce, of sorts. Telling him to pack up and leave, punctuating her demand with a .38 pointed at his face.
Later, after Lucy was sent to prison and dying there of an overdose, Mae Ella was informed that Lucy had given birth to a boy. This child had been put into foster care, but Mae Ella moved heaven and earth to uncover where he was, petitioned the state for custody, and by pure dent of will power, wrangled him out of the foster home, and brought him home with her (see songs “Lucy’s Grandma” and “When Louanne Met Lucy in Prison“).
She named him McCoy and raised him, doting on him, spoiling him completely.