Saturday, February 28, 2015

Story 5: Nearing the End

Grandpa's health declined in the 60's and in 1965 the family was forced to move closer to town so that Baby Grandma could continue to work.  They went to live on the corner of Fisk and Y Street in Piqua.  This is the home I remember visiting her in when I was a child.

Baby Grandma and Grandpa, ca. 1970

Grandpa died in November 1972.  There was no great mourning in the family, though, they surely missed him.  He had been very sick with emphysema for a long time.  I never knew him.

Baby Grandma's house was tiny and quiet.  I remember thinking that she only watched the boring!  We weren't permitted to run or jump in the house, but were always reminded to sit quietly. Sometimes, we would go outside to her backyard and climb the pussy willow tree.  We could be loud out there.

Her little house was filled with all sorts of sewing projects.  She sewed clothes, crocheted rugs, and loved her latch hook.  I remember she had a giant latch hook rug in what looked like a quilting frame in the corner of the living room.

Baby Grandma just loved to sew and craft.  Aunt Nancy remembers there was a dry cleaner in Piqua that did alterations on men's trousers.  The man would keep the scraps of fabric and bring them in a big bag to where Nancy was working.  Then Nancy would take them to Baby Grandma.  She would make all sorts of things with them...quilts, rugs, etc.

This is likely the first bear she ever made.
My favorite thing that Baby Grandma made was the "3 Bears".  She made them in all sorts of fabrics. We had a set in red velvet and a set in a leopard print.  Being a seamstress myself and having made many a dress, a toy, and blankets, I have to think that while she made these things, she had to have been thinking about the child or person.  This must have been the way she felt most comfortable in sharing love and affection.

Baby Grandma loved to do crossword puzzles and eat peanuts.  My Dad loves peanuts too.  I remember when I was very little, we would sit together in his black recliner and eat peanuts while we watched Star Trek.  I wonder if he snacked on peanuts because it reminded him of her.

I was reminiscing with my cousin Kathy and she reminded me that another one of Baby Grandma's favorite foods were black jelly beans.  I had forgotten that my sisters and I would bring her our black jelly beans after Easter.  I can still see her sagging skin hanging from her tiny, bony arm as she shook when she grasped the baggy full of candy.  She shook horribly.  You could always tell when she sent a birthday card in the mail because of the shaky writing.  Now, many of her children write the same way.

I wish I had more to write about, but for some reason I feel inclined to stop here...for now.  What a great time I have had this month participating in The Family History Writing Challenge.  Even though I plan to go back to writing more articles on how to do genealogy, I think I will throw in an occasional family story too!  Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Story 4: Leaving Home and Starting Out

Baby Grandma graduated from high school and then went with her step-sister Olive to work at the telephone company in Springfield.  Friend, Alberta Knapp, also accompanied them.

According to the 1930 federal census, Baby Grandma lived with the Stubbe family on Plum Street. Alberta lived with the Nicholl family on Limestone Street.  Olive had married in 1928 to a man from Springfield.

Not too far from both Baby Grandma and Alberta lived the Bowser brothers, Clint and Clyde ("Ed"), who were living on W. North Street.  They were living with their mother at that time.  Clint was a barber and Ed was working at a grocery store.  He actually was a part owner of the store.

Ed was tall and thin.  I think he was quite good looking.  Ed had been raised in an alcoholic home during his young years.  He was one of the nine children born to George Henry Bowser and Lillie Amanda West.  His father George was a mean drunk. He was known to beat the kids.  Because Ed was one of the younger ones, he may not have suffered from the hand of his father as much as the older children.

Ed's mother left her husband when Ed was about 5 or 6 years old.  There is a story that has been passed down about how Grandpa's mother would hide her little children from her drunken husband. First, she would send the older boys out to the woods and tell them not to come back for awhile.  That way, their father would be passed out and they wouldn't be hurt.  But for the little ones, she would hide them in the bottom of a cupboard where she would make bread.  She would stand in front of the cupboard and pretend to knead bread. Her big skirts would hide the little ones concealed there.

Lillie A. Bowser with her children, ca. 1917.  Clyde "Ed" Bowser is the boy farthest to the left in the front row.

Anyway, back to Baby Grandma and Grandpa's story.  They had been dating for awhile.  Baby Grandma's friend Alberta had married Ed's brother Clint in November of 1933.

Baby Grandma and Grandpa had gone to Kentucky on a trip with some friends in December of 1933. It was on that trip that I guess they decided "Why not!?" and were married there in Kenton County, Kentucky on 4 Dec 1933.

Ed and Iness, ca. 1933

Their life was never easy it seemed.  They had of course married right during the Great Depression. Grandpa had a grocery store for awhile, but soon his drinking caused him to lose his part of the store. I believe it was after the loss of the grocery store that they moved in with Baby Grandma's brother, Harvey, and his wife.  I have never been told straight out that their living there was a problem, but a few stories led me to believe that Ed's drinking did not sit well with Harvey.

They finally left there and moved to Thackery, a tiny little village near St. Paris.  There, a third child Nancy, was born.

Sometime in 1941, the family moved to Fletcher and rented a farm on Casstown-Sidney and Snodgrass Rd.  The old farmhouse was their home for many years.  Baby Grandma had two more children while living there, one of which was her youngest, my father Arthur.

Five children in all.  Florene was the oldest, then Eldon, Nancy, Judy, and Art.

The Bowser Family - Left to right, Iness, Eldon, Art, Judy, Florene, Nancy, and Ed.

They were poor, very poor.  Baby Grandma worked hard.  She held down jobs, worked in the garden and sold her vegetables, sewed, and canned.  She never had a drivers license, so Grandpa would take her to and from work in Piqua, about 12 miles one way.  She worked at the BVD underwear company and also Terry's Cafeteria.

Grandpa was a tenant farmer during those years in Fletcher.  Aunt Nancy remembers that even though he would work the fields all day, he helped Baby Grandma with her canning and would break the green beans.  They didn't talk much to each other, but I guess if you were working that hard you might not want to talk much either!

Ed helping break the beans before Baby Grandma canned them.  Picture was taken at Fletcher farmhouse.

Ed's drinking continued to worsen while at the farm, but Baby Grandma never left him.  Aunt Nancy believes it was because she loved him and also because she needed him and he needed her.

Grandpa was never abusive to any of them in a physical way.  In fact, one might say he was neglectful, not abusive.  The only time he talked much was when he was drunk.  As my Dad said, having a conversation with a drunk is not really like having much of a conversation at all.  I believe he was a very tormented man.  His children remember that he had many nightmares and would scream out in the night.

There are just a few stories I have been told that share a more happy side of Grandpa Bowser.  Like the time, he scared the dickens out of my Dad and his friend.  The boys were in the barn and Grandpa was outside.  He decided it would be funny to make growling and scratching noises to scare them, and it worked!  It's funny, but even to this day, my Dad laughs till he cries when he scares one of us with a good-natured scare!  He recreated his childhood once by waiting until my sisters, Mandie and Andrea, were in the barn alone.  He went to the outside wall and made growling noises and scratches and they were so scared, they were afraid to leave the barn!  They thought the coyotes were sure to eat them!  You might be thinking, "What a horrible trick to play on two little girls!"...but this would have been when Mandie was nearly 30 years old!
Baby Grandma in what she wore to go berry picking.

Even though the Bowser family didn't have much, Baby Grandma was considered a great cook and a talented seamstress.  She made raisin cookies (my Dad's favorite) and jam from the berries found along the fence row. She canned so much jam that it would last through the entire winter!

Like I have said before, I considered Baby Grandma to not be very loving or affectionate. Recently, my husband has been reading The Five Love Languages by Gary D. Chapman.  It talks of how different people interpret and share love in one of five ways. While writing this story, I thought about that book.  Perhaps she felt it was "enough" to simply provide for her children's basic needs of food, shelter, and clothing.  Neither she nor Grandpa had a secure or delightful childhood.  I suppose they did the best they knew how.

Tomorrow will likely be the last blog for the Baby Grandma Series.  I want to leave a few days to dedicate some fun stories I am calling the "Art's Airport Adventures"!  You are going to love these!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Story 3: Her Brother Harvey and More Of His Tales

Baby Grandma never knew her mother and had lost her sister Lulu when she was 7 years old.  Her older brother Fred and she must not have been that close because I never heard her mention him.  He was, after all, ten years older than she.

Baby Grandma's father was a widow now and sent her to live with his sister.  He kept his son Harvey with him and his mother (Harriet Richie Walls) helped to care for him.

Harriet was a hard looking woman.  She smoked a bamboo stick pipe.  One day, Harvey and another cousin were helping Grandma Walls while she was making apple butter.  She was sitting on a stool outside with her copper pot over the fire.  Back and forth, back and forth, she would stir the butter.

It was the cousin's job to keep the fire stoked and to keep Grandma's pipe filled with tobacco.  The apple butter process was an all day thing.  I guess Cousin didn't like having to go back to the house to keep filling the pipe.

After a few trips back to the house, for some reason, he decided to make things interesting.  Why on earth he went to the attic seems suspicious to me.  While up there, he noticed the rifle and powder horn.  Noticed or went up there knowing full well that is where it was kept?  Anyway, he filled Grandma's pipe about a third of the way full with gun powder, then placed some tobacco on top and stuffed it down.

Once he handed the pipe over to the very unexpecting old woman, he picked up a stick from the fire and lit her pipe.  He ran.  I would have expected the pipe to have exploded that instant, but apparently Grandma Walls got a few puffs before KABOOM!!!  Over she went... heels over head, legs in the air and apple butter all over the ground! Harvey remembers that Cousin ran into the woods and never did come back!

Here is another fun story.  Baby Grandma's father was a farmer.  He only had 11 acres, which is rather small to make a living from.  He and his boys would pick corn for other farmers.  That was some hard work.  Harvey and his step brother would also trap animals and sell the furs.  They would trap skunk and opossum.  Uncle Harvey remembers getting $3 or $4 for each fur.

One day before school, Harvey and his step brother (Orville) went to check their traps. Something large was rustling around in the trap.  They reached in and WHEW WEE!!  It was a skunk.  They pulled him out, killed him, skinned him and took him home.  Of course, they stunk to high heaven. "Not much you can do," said Harvey in his interview, "except wash...and change your clothes."

Off to school, the boys did go.  Orville went on ahead and Harvey was following along.  Orville made it to the school house doors before Harvey and had been turned away.  He met Harvey coming back. "Where you goin'?" he asked.  "Ain't no use agoin in.  She won't let you stay."  But Harvey decided to go on into school anyway.  He sat down and stayed all day.  Not a word was said.  The teacher hadn't realized that he too had been sprayed.  I guess she assumed the stench Orville brought in was still lingering!

Everyone in the family seemed to love being with Harvey.  Baby Grandma and Harvey often double dated.  I think you can tell just by the pictures that Harvey was the life of the party.  Perhaps his giant personality overshadowed the small and shy Iness.  Though, with a brother like that, you would have had to got into some scrapes of your own!

Left to right:  Unknown girl, Harvey, girlfriend Eunice, Pearl (Baby Grandma's boyfriend), Baby Grandma...doesn't she look happy...I like this picture of her
Harvey and girlfriend Eunice (they later married!)

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Story 2 of the Baby Grandma Series: He Left Her Hanging

Last blog post, I introduced you to my paternal grandmother, Iness Marie Walls.  My sisters and I called her "Baby Grandma" because she was so small compared to our other grandma.

Baby Grandma is the little baby in the front seat with Uncle John Clark.  Grandma Clark in the back and to the left.
Teen girl was their ward, Betty Shoultz.
Baby Grandma was a quiet person and didn't tell us stories very often, but her brother Harvey, well, he was a different story. (pun intended!)  Great Uncle Harvey loved to tell stories and back in 1998, my dad videotaped him telling some of his favorites.  I recently put this interview on DVD for my dad and also made a copy for my Aunt Nancy.  (Surprise Aunt Nancy!  I know you are reading this! Can't wait for you to see the whole interview again!!)

In the words of Uncle Harvey, here is the story of when Baby Grandma got "hung up".

"Iness and I were small.  We liked to go over to these nice apple trees near the house.  The people [they belonged to] kept them pruned.  But one time, they left a little branch sticking out [about 6 inches long].

"Iness had on a pair of bloomers that reached down to her knees.  They were made of some old shirting [probably muslin].

"One day, we climbed up the tree and started to climb down again when Iness slipped.  The crotch of her bloomers caught on that branch left sticking out.  She flipped upside down and there she hung!  I was scared to death and didn't know how to get her down.  I was afraid to go to the house to get help, so I left her hang there!  The blood was rushing to her head and finally I hollered at somebody and they came and lifted her down."  End quote.

Can you imagine?  I have kids and I have sisters and I can image there was laughing and crying and some threats being made!

According to Uncle Harvey, Baby Grandma lived with her Grandma Clark (who was actually her father's sister) all through her grade school years.  She went to Pleasant Valley School and walked about 4 miles to get there.

When Baby Grandma was about 7 years old, she was either living at her father's house temporarily or her older sister Lulu was living at Grandma Clark's.  Lulu contracted diphtheria. Diphtheria is a horrible bacterial sickness that is airborne.  The symptoms include cough, sore throat, fever, swollen glands, bluish skin, swollen tongue, and a film coating over the throat and tonsils.  Baby Grandma told her daughter Florene how Lulu died.  Baby Grandma recalled that she and Lulu were both being treated for Diptheria.  They were sleeping in the same bed.  One morning, Iness woke to see that Lulu's skin looked bluish and her tongue was black and swollen and hanging from her mouth.  She remembers that they could not get her tongue back into her mouth.  Lulu had died in the night.  Baby Grandma apparently recovered.  Lulu died on August 22, 1914 and was laid to rest next to her mother in Storms Cemetery.  I am sure there was sadness in the family after that, but nothing was ever shared about how Baby Grandma or any of the others felt.

Once she finished grade school, Baby Grandma moved back into her father's house.  Her father had married the neighbor woman by that time.  Her step-mother, Ida Hixon, had several children herself and one daughter near the same age as Baby Grandma.  Ida's daughter Olive and Baby Grandma went to Bournville High School together. Olive graduated as the Valedictorian and Baby Grandma was the Salutatorian.

Olive Hixon, third person from the left in the front row
Iness Walls, third person from the right in the front row.  Graduation Picture

After high school, Olive and Baby Grandma went to work at the telephone company in Springfield, Ohio.

Since I do not have a lot of fun stories of Baby Grandma's early years, I think tomorrow I will share the story of what her brother Harvey and cousin did to their Grandma Harriet Walls.  It will really knock your socks off!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A New Series Dedicated to Baby Grandma

I can't express how much I love this February and The Family History Writing Challenge.  I have never made the time to write my family history in such a meaningful way.

This next set of short stories is dedicated to the life of Baby Grandma.  If you have been reading my blogs, you know that the first stories were dedicated to Big Grandma.  Why such funny nicknames? Big Grandma was my maternal grandmother; tall, busty, and strong.  Baby Grandma looked like a tiny doll next to Big Grandma.  She was my Dad's mother.  She was barely 5 feet...actually, she may not have even been 5 feet tall.  When I knew her, she never weighed over 100 pounds.  She was little in every feature and quite frail and sickly.  She had whiskers and wore her hair in a hair net.

Iness Marie Walls Bowser, aka Baby Grandma

If ever there was a complete opposite in body and spirit to Big Grandma, it was Baby Grandma.

Baby Grandma was born Iness Marie Walls.  She was born on 16 Sept 1907 in Twin Township, Ross County, Ohio.  She was the 5th born child to Alonzo and Chloe Yoakum Walls.  Her mother Chloe was also quite frail.  She apparently never did well during pregnancy, delivery, or post pregnancy.  In fact, she never recovered after the birth of Baby Grandma and died 11 months later.

They carried her body up the hill behind their house and buried her in an unmarked grave near the back of Storms Cemetery.  She was laid near her one week old child who had passed away in 1901.

Lulu, Harvey, and Fred Walls, ca. 1908
For whatever reason, it was decided that Baby Grandma should go and live with her Aunt Francis Clark.  Francis was the sister of Baby Grandma's father Alonzo.  I asked my Aunt Florene why Baby Grandma did not go live with her mother's family.  "They weren't considered descent people is what Grandma Clark always said," was her reply.  The family called Aunt Francis, "Grandma Clark" because she was more of a mother to Baby Grandma.  Grandma Clark and her husband John Clark never had any children of their own, but they raised and cared for several foundlings of the area.

Baby Grandma's older siblings stayed with their father Alonzo.  Oldest brother Fred was 11 years old, sister Lulu was about 9, and Harvey was just 3 years old.  I always wondered why Harvey, who was practically a baby himself, never went to live with Grandma Clark too.

Harvey and baby sister Iness, ca. 1908
Not much is known about the very early years of Baby Grandma, but it might be note worthy to say that she likely was not nurtured and loved on tremendously.  That was not the way of Grandma Clark. Baby Grandma was not known as a loving or affectionate person either.  I remember that when we would go to visit her, Dad would make us hug her, give her a kiss on the cheek, and say, "I love you". One Sunday, I informed my father that I would no longer be doing that because she didn't hug or kiss us or even say "I love you too".  She would just pat our little backs and say "Well".  Dad was quite soft spoken and gentle when he told me that Baby Grandma didn't do those things because no one had ever done them to her as a child.  He told me that I should continue to say, "I love you".

When I was about 11, I remember the one and only time I ever heard her say "I love you too" after I obliged her with my obligatory hug, kiss, and declaration of affection.  I was so surprised, I nearly gasped.  Perhaps she thought she was dying or perhaps she just wanted me to know that she really did love me in her own way.

Never before have I understood more clearly than when I think of her, that all people show love in different ways.

Tomorrow will begin the fun and sometimes sad stories of the life of Baby Grandma.  We will start off with a funny story of the time she got "hung up"!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Story 7: Farther Along

This may be the last story of the Big Grandma Series.  I have more stories of her, but these were my most favorite and I still haven't told you about Baby Grandma (my paternal grandmother).

I have entitled this story "Farther Along".  "Farther Along" is the title of an old gospel song that Big Grandma would have me and my cousin Doug sing for her over and over again.

Farther along we'll know all about it.
Farther along we'll understand why.
Cheer up, my brother, live in the sunshine,
We'll understand it all by and by.

Often when death has taken our loved ones,
Leaving our home so lone and so drear,
Then we do wonder why others prosper,
Living so wicked year after year.

Sometimes, Big Grandma would cry when we sang it.  I asked her why and she said it was one of the songs they sang at Grandpa's funeral.  I never spoke to her about the day he died or what it was like in the long years after...I was too afraid of the hurt we might both feel talking about it.

Finally, back in 1993, I interviewed my mother about the day and what she remembered as an 11 year old girl.  I knew the real people I needed to talk to were Uncle Millard, Uncle James, and Uncle Willard.  They were there with him the day Grandpa was killed in the coal mine.  But I waited too long.  Uncle Millard passed away in 1996, then Uncle James in 2006.

In 2010, I decided to call Uncle Willard.  He was not in the mines with Grandpa that day, but was there to carry his body out and watch him take his last breath.  There are parts of his story that I have chosen not to share in this venue, they are too personal.  I will share his entire story only in the book I am writing for the family.  But here is most of the story Uncle Willard told me about the day Grandpa died in his own words.

"I was to drive Millard, James, and Dad up to the mines like I always done since the bridge was out.  Robert Montgomery was hauling coal in a big truck and broke the bridge over near the mine.  So we'd drive my car up to the bridge, walk across, get in Dad's truck and drive the rest of the way up to the mine.  Then, do the opposite when we'd come back home of the evening.  That day, before I took Dad and the other boys to the mine, Dad pulled out $2.00 and gave me for gas to go to church.  Mom was mad and said I didn't need to have that money 'cause I was just going up there to see girls and it was wasteful.  So I grabbed it fast as I could and ran to the car.  But I heard him say to Mom, "Give him the money, send him to church and let's pray for the best."  It was the last thing I ever remember hearing my daddy say.

"It was Thursday, November 13, 1958, a chilly day, kinda drizzly like and we left about 2:30 in the afternoon for the mines.  We all worked second shift, so we didn't start till the afternoon.  I dropped them off and had plenty of time to get cleaned up and get over to the church, but that wasn't to be. On the way to church, I had a [tire] blow out.  I opened the trunk to get the spare tire, but it was flat too. I still had time to run to Ben's [house] where his '51 Chevy was.  Well anyone who knows about the '51 Chevy knows that it gets stuck in gear a lot.  Ben's Chevy was stuck in gear and we couldn't get it out. I ran over to Burley Blondell's house to borrow a car, but it was up on jacks in the front yard and had no motor.  Then, I went to Oscar Ely's house and his wife, Rosie, said he'd done gone to church, but what did I want.  I said, "I wanted to go to church, but it's too late and I got to pick up Dad and the boys."  See, by then I had run all over the holler looking for a ride and it was late.  I saw another car in the yard and said, "Who's is that car?"  She said it was Billy's, her son.  He had just drove in and was sleeping in the house.  She said she'd go wake him and Billy came out all groggy and said, "Well, I can't let you have it [the car], but I can drive you.  I'll need gas money."  So I gave him the $2.00 Dad had give me.  Billy drove me back to the house to get Mom and the 3 of us drove over to the mine.  We got to that broken out bridge and there was some men working there and Robert Montgomery.  Mom and I walked on across and got in Dad's truck and went up to the tipple of the mine and as soon as I opened the truck door I could hear Millard screaming, "Daddy's dead. Daddy's in there.  Daddy's been killed."

"I was just a crying and praying.  I don't remember exactly, but I must have grabbed that railroad jack out of the back of the truck and us 3 boys ran back in the mine where Daddy was.  It was about a quarter of a mile back.  The boys said he was covered up.  That slab was 18 inches thick, 12 feet long and 12 feet wide.  People said later it had weighed 3 tons.  We jacked up the rock, but the rock started to slip and I kid you not, those 2 boys, Millard and James, held up that rock when the jack fell and I pulled Daddy's body out from under [it].  Me and James got on either side of him and carried him out of the mine.  With every breath he took, blood would bubble from his eyes and nose, his mouth and ever'thing.  He was alive, but just barely.  His [insides] were pushed out into his clothes.  Mom saw us coming and was just screaming and crying. We put him in the cab of the truck 'cause now it was late in the evening and turned cold and was raining harder.  [I was holding him on one side,] Mom was holding him on the other side, and the boys were in the back.  Dad died in my arms right there. We got down to the bridge there and Robert Montgomery opened the door and said, "Willard, get on out now and let me take your Daddy."  He felt his neck and said he was gone.  I'll never forget, he pulled him out on the gravel of [sic] the side of the road and it was raining and put and old, dirty tarp over him. Robert wanted us to go on home and he'd wait for the undertaker to come get the body, but we said no.  We'd stay there 'till Clyde come.  [Clyde was the local undertaker.]  So, we got in my car across the way and waited. [Though he did not say, it is likely that Willard's car had broke down not far from where they were on the opposite side of the bridge and was still there.] When we was about to leave then, Robert said, "Willard, before you go home, you need to stop at Wright Kirk's (he was one of the owners of the mine) and tell him what happened."  So, we did and when I told Wright about Daddy, he had a heart attack right there.  They said when they told Wright's brother George, he'd had a heart attack too. 'Course they was afraid, there being an accident in their mine and the insurance and all that.

"The undertaker brought the body back the next morning and laid him out in Lewey's room in the back there.  He [the undertaker] told us that they couldn't bury Dad without his teeth and someone was going to have to go back in there [the mine] and get Dad's teeth.  That was law [tradition] see, you couldn't bury anyone without [sic] you could find all their body parts.  So he looked to Ben and Harold who were there and they wouldn't do it.  Mom said to me, "Willard, you'll have to go".  The coroner drove me over to the mine and he wouldn't go in with me and I went in all by myself and picked up Dad's teeth like they were corn kernels and put 'em in a little, brown bag I had.  Back at the house, the neighbors and family was all there for the 'wakening' and they stayed up all night with the body."  End quote

An interview with my mother filled in the last parts of the story.  She said that she and her twin brother Ray had been over at their sister Monette's house.  It was late when the boys and Big Grandma showed up.  They first told everyone that Grandpa had been in an accident and that he was in the hospital.  I guess there was some worry that Monette would loose the baby she was carrying if she got too distraught.  However, Millard didn't agree with lying and said, "No, that's not true. Daddy's dead", or something to that affect.  Mom said she just couldn't believe her Dad was dead. She remembers thinking that only happened to other people, not her family.  It wasn't until she saw the body laid out in the house and looked at his hands, did she finally believe it.  His face was terribly swollen and she didn't even think he looked like her Dad, but his hands did, and that is how she knew.

I was interested in how Big Grandma handled this horrible tragedy in her life.  How could she cope with yet another great loss?  Mom remembers that sometimes at night, Big Grandma would be pacing the floor holding the bloody clothes Grandpa died in and saying things like, "Why did you leave me? I could've handled anyone else dying, but you".  Mom and her brother sometimes thought that Big Grandma would have rather they had died than to have lost her husband.

Mom and Ray didn't go back to school that year and by the next year they were moving to Ohio to "get the boys out of the mines".  Uncle James had nearly lost his life that same dreadful November day.  When Grandpa heard the ceiling of the mine starting to fall, he yelled for the boys to run and pushed James out of the way of the slate just in time.  James had a large scratch down his back where the rock that fell on Grandpa got him on the way down.  Big Grandma would not loose any of her other loved ones in the mines she said.

To my knowledge, Big Grandma never slept in a bed after the death of Grandpa, but preferred to sleep on a couch.

Moving to Ohio changed the course of my mother's life and ultimately mine.  That one event of Grandpa dying in such a way was one of life's turning points.  A turning point that put the family on another path entirely.  I am sure that neither Big Grandma or Grandpa could have envisioned the grand houses their descendants would live in, the high school diplomas and college degrees that many would someday have, and the peace and plenty in which most of us live.  I am sure they are very proud...I know I would be.

Note: Though Grandpa always said he was born on November 11th, 1911. However, when his birth record was found in Harlan County, Kentucky, the date of birth was given as 28 November, 1911. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Story 6: Her Look and Other Quirks!

I thought I would make this story a little more lighthearted.

Big Grandma had wiry gray hair and she loved perms, but that wasn't always the case. Back in the 1940's when permanents were just becoming all the rage, Aunt Margaret convinced Big Grandma to go and get a perm. Apparently, she had to be convinced, but since Margaret was considered very "up-to-date" with fashion, she finally relented.

Big Grandma's normal hair style was just straight and wrapped up in a handkerchief like Aunt Jemima! She is remembered to have always been wearing a "kerchif and apron." Upon coming home after the perm, Grandpa did not approve and Big Grandma felt she looked like a "whore."  Not until many, many years later did she begin perming it again.

I thought Big Grandma had the bluest eyes I had ever seen. I once said so to my mother who kindly said, "Her eyes were brown, Amie." I was confused. I reminded her that they were indeed blue as blue could be! Mom told me that actually, she had had dark brown eyes until she developed cataracts and started going blind. When that happened, the color left her eyes and turned them the most brilliant of blues. Yes, she was going blind for as long as I could remember. Her eyesight was all but completely dark by the time she died.

My sister Mandie and I laugh until we cry when we remember how she looked as she was trying desperately to spy on the neighbors or to check the sky for inclement weather! If she felt her 'bones a achin' she would go to the front door and look out to the sky. I remember she would say, "Laawww children, there's a big storm comin."  (Translation: Lord children, there's a big storm coming.) She was terribly afraid of 'tornada's.'

Her blindness was the source of many funny experiences. Like when we would be at Woolworth, her favorite store in the world, and she would ask the cashier to count her money for her because she "cain't see and [was] nearly blind, honey."  (Translation: can't see and nearly blind, honey.)  You might be imagining this scenario. I bet you are imagining a half blind woman with a giant purse. Perhaps you're picturing the purse, heavy laden with lots of things, and the old woman is digging for her wallet and pulling it from the purse. But you would be wrong. Oh heavens no, she didn't keep the "billfold" in her "pocketbook" young uns'...why no! She kept that in her bosom! That's right! I thought Big Grandma was a large chested woman, but it wasn't actually breasts that filled the great chest, but rather her precious things! She wrapped a man's billfold into a white handkerchief and pinned it within the large expanses of her empty bra. She kept all sorts of things in there. Tissues, both used and clean, a Tylenol bottle for spitting her snuff in, and of course, anything she didn't want stolen, including the billfold.

I mentioned before that she could feel a storm comin' on.  She knew just what to do for aching bones. When we girls would complain of our legs hurting (probably growing pains) she would go to the white metal cabinets for the horse lineament. Yep, actual horse lineament! She would rub our little, bruised, and bony legs with the lineament and we would swear it made us feel all better. I guess it did.

My sisters and I spent a lot of time at Big Grandma's house. We always asked for candy. She seemed to always have a stash of Christmas candy in an old tin can. It all stuck together, but she would bust it apart with a hammer and give us some. I am cracking up...she used a HAMMER! Never did she say, "Oh, that candy is too old! You don't want to eat that!" Waste not, want not, must have been her motto!

We would often ask her if she had any "play purties."  We said it just like that. I was a teenager when I realized that "play purties" were actually "play PRETTIES."  I just knew that was how Big Grandma said it.  A "play purty" is anything that Grandma didn't want that we could play with and take home. My mother once had the audacity to call it junk...seriously...I couldn't believe she could be so RUDE! Our favorite things to get were old perfume bottles. We would generously apply the fermented scent all over our bodies. Oh...we thought we smelled sooo good! Mom would make us bathe as soon as we got home. I hated that.

Big Grandma loved to plant things in her little backyard garden. She had "tamaters, cukes, and beans."  She canned veggies, jellies, and jams. When she still lived in Virginia, she would sell whatever she had canned that was extra.  I
personally loved when she would let me "break the beans" with her. She would sit by the kitchen 'winder' (that's a window) and have a big pile of green beans laying on her lap. We would break off the ends and throw that part away. Then, you would break the bean into about 1 inch long pieces and put them in the bowl. I can still smell the kitchen, the beans, and the warm August air.

Isn't it funny how memories often have a smell attached to them?
It's been fun remembering today. Read the last story in the Big Grandma series here.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Story 5: When Her Baby Died

Big Grandma had lots of babies. She had them all at home with the help of her sister-in-law, Margaret, as midwife. Family remember hearing that Big Grandma would "have those babies of the morning and by evening she would be in the field." Perhaps that is an exaggeration, but I am certain she didn't rest for long! That was against her very nature!

Big Grandma had 9 children that lived and an adopted nephew she raised since he was 6 months old. Her first three daughters were Monetta, LaSula, and Betty Jo. Then came the first set of twins. She named them Millard and Willard.  Next came Wanda Faye and then, little Mary Ella. Lastly, she had another set of twins, one girl and one boy. Lillard Gay is my mother and her twin brother is Dillard Ray. Yes, you read that right...4 twins named Millard, Willard, Dillard, and Lillard. (Shaking my head)

Big Grandma told me that sometime early in her child bearing years, she had had yet another set of twins, a set of girls. They died at birth or were stillborn. She had wanted to name them Wanda Faye and Lonnie Ray...or something like that. I know one was to be Wanda Faye and later, she had a daughter that she did indeed name Wanda.

It is the story of Wanda Faye that I want to tell you. Big Grandma had 3 great tragedies in her life. Her first was the sudden death of her father at about age 9. He took sick in the afternoon with a headache and fever and was dead the next day from meningitis. The second tragedy was in November of 1949 when 5 year old Wanda Faye died. Here is the story as told to me by my Aunt Sue.

One day, the little kids were playing a game called 'Riddle Marie'. The idea of the game is to hide something and say, "Riddle me, riddle me, riddle Marie...I see something you can't see!" Then, the other children would guess what and where it was. Wanda had a little handful of buttons and a brass ball. That brass ball had been found by her brother James a day or so before. Big Grandma told James to throw that ball over the side of the hill, so one of the little kids didn't get it.

Wanda Faye had hid the little items in her mouth. Of course, as little girls do, they were giggling and Wanda choked on the items. Big Grandma smacked her on the back, but only the buttons came back up.

Many weeks later, Wanda started having seizures. This was very scary to the family. Aunt Sue remembers Wanda sitting in the floor playing with a kitten when she had a terrible seizure. Grandpa gathered her in his arms and went to the door to pray over her. He promised the Lord that if he would save Wanda, he would never "backslide" again. I don't think Grandpa had anything real pressing to repent of, but I am sure that in someway he must have felt he was being punished by the Lord. So sad.

It was shortly after that last seizure that her fever got real high. Wanda started talking "out of her mind." She didn't recognize anyone. She talked to people on the walls and Grandma said she was talking to the angels. She acted scared when Big Grandma came in and Grandma asked her if she knew who she was. When Wanda didn't answer, Big Grandma took the kerchief off her head and said, "It's Mommy, Wanda." Wanda came around a little and asked that her sister Mary be sent in to clean her shoes. Wanda said she was "a-goin' to town" and wanted to have her shoes cleaned and two red ribbons put in her hair. It was at this late date that Big Grandma finally convinced Grandpa that something was terribly wrong and Wanda should be taken to the hospital. She died there on the 6th of November 1949.

Big Grandma found two red ribbons and tied them in Wanda Faye's hair. After the body was ready, Wanda was laid out in the back room for the 'wakening'. A 'wakening' is where the family and neighbors stay up all night with the body. Neighbors bring in food and sometimes there was singing. Then, little Wanda was carried up the mountain there on Stone Creek to Stapleton Cemetery. To my knowledge, she was the first of the family to be buried there.

Aunt Sue remembers that Grandpa would sometimes be found holding Wanda's picture and crying. I wonder if he felt guilty for not taking her to the doctor sooner. Sue said she "never heard tell" that Big Grandma ever accused him or made him feel guilty. I suppose she knew how heart broken he was too.

Wanda died of what was assumed to be gangrene and an abscess. When doctors asked if they wanted an autopsy, she said no because she knew it must have been the little brass ball that had a jagged edge on one side. The doctor agreed that it could have gotten lodged somewhere and caused an infection.

Big Grandma still had several young children to care for at home, including the 2-year-old twins. I suppose she didn't have much time to grieve or perhaps she immersed herself in her work to keep from feeling the loss.

I often think fondly of the day Big Grandma died. I can imagine sweet little Wanda standing by her daddy and waiting patiently to embrace her dear mommy again.

Tomorrow, I will write about Big Grandma's last tragedy, the death of her husband. On the other hand, we might need a few more happy stories before we tell that one.

Read the next story here.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Story 4: Hell Hath No Fury Like a Woman Scorned

We've all heard the saying "hell hath no fury like a woman scorned," but that is actually an adaptation of the original line. Playwright William Congreve actually wrote: "Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, nor hell a fury like a woman scorned."

I have already told you Big Grandma didn't get mad, she got even. So this shouldn't come as too much of a surprise to you!

Apparently, Big Grandma found out that Grandpa had been helping 'that ole widder woman' (translation: that old widow woman) and she wasn't going to have it. Grandpa had been hauling wood for the woman with his mule. They used the mule and horses for just about everything, even well into the 1950's. [Side note: When my mother moved to Ohio in about 1959, her social studies teacher told them that "back in the old days, people used horses and plows to till the fields." Mom raised her hand and said, "My dad used a horse and plow just last year." The teacher accused her of lying!]

Anyway, Big Grandma told Grandpa that he had better stop helping that woman if he "knowed" what was good for him. He didn't. She caught him doing it again. I am sure she was jealous of the woman, but more importantly (as my mom speculates) she was upset that he was willing to help the woman but not willing to help her with all the work she had to do. I agree too. Sometimes, husbands are more apt to help another in need before helping us at home!

Back to the story: That evening, the mule was making awful noises. Hee-haw, hee-haw, hee-haw! Big Grandma went to the door and hollered out to the yard, "You can hee-haw all you want to 'cause tomorrow you hain't agonna be here!"

The next morning, Grandpa went out to the pen. The mule was dead as a door nail. He came back in the house. "Mammy, you know what happened to the mule? He's died." Grandpa called her "Mammy." Big Grandma denied having anything to do with it, but PAH-LEASE...he HAD to have known she did something!

Arsenic. That's what happened to the mule, my friends. Big Grandma loved that story so much that it even influenced one of her grandchildren years later. This person will remain unnamed as they are still living, but said person didn't like something her husband did. So said person-who-shall-not-be-named waited until the husband was out of town and while doing his laundry had a fantastic idea of revenge come over her. No doubt inspired by the ghost of Big Grandma, person-who-shall-not-be-named took some underwear out to the patch of poison sumac. Some days later, when the husband arrived home and just a day after that, he found himself quite uncomfortable and in the ER!!

Now, Big Grandma wasn't all bad. I will tell you some wonderful stories of her kindness, love, and work ethic that may soften your feelings toward her. My favorite memory of Big Grandma's love is when we were sick. She would baby us something crazy, make us our favorite salty, runny eggs, pet our heads when we had a fever, or hold us on her lap. She smelled like old tobacco...she dipped snuff. Did I already mention that? Ha, ha...yep, she loved her snuff.

One time when I was a kid, I had what she called "trench mouth." It was probably hand, foot, and mouth disease, but whatever it was, I had blisters all over the inside of my mouth. They were so painful that I couldn't eat. The doctor had given us medicine, but nothing was working. I was at her house spending the night and she hollered at me to come in the kitchen. "Let Grandma fix something for you to get rid of those blisters," she said.  She reached into her white metal cabinets and pulled out a brown paper bag.  Out of the bag, she pulled out a dirty old tree least that is what it looked like to me. "Goldenroot," she said. She cut off a part of the root, washed it, and then wrapped it in a towel. Then, she took a hammer and pounded it into a fine powder. Putting a little warm water into a bowl, she mixed the powder in to make a wash of sorts. She used a clean white cloth and swabbed it all over the inside of my mouth and told me to spit out the excess and not to swallow it. I was thinking, "Does my mom know you are doing this?" But I was too afraid to say that I would not do it or that I didn't trust her! The wash was so bitter and it made me feel like I had cotton mouth. The next morning every blister was completely gone!

Prior to moving to Ohio, one of the ways Big Grandma made money for the family was to search the mountains for herbs and roots with medicinal properties and sell them. She may not have been the most educated in the way of schooling, but she was one of the smartest women I ever met!

Oh by the way, did you know that half chewed chewing tobacco stuffed into the ear canal will cure an ear ache?

Read story 5's a sad one.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Story 3: Big Grandma's "Special" Fireworks

I guess you could say that Big Grandma liked to keep up with the Jones'.  She did not like to be out done.  She was afraid of nothing...except the Devil himself.

One fourth of July, while living in Pennington Gap on Stone Creek, the neighbors lit off some fireworks.  They lived back in the 'holler.' My grandparents home was atop one mountain and the neighbors was across the road and up on top of the other mountain.

I can image it was a warm night like many of them are in the South. Lightening bugs flashing and crickets singing, the Napier family was having a good ole' time lighting fireworks off their mountain.

Big Grandma is remembered to have said, "They think they are so big with their fancy fireworks. Well, I will show them fireworks they won't likely forget."  With that, she and her partner-in-crime (son-in-law Lewis Nimety) went out to the shed for some "fireworks."  Only Big Grandma didn't actually have any real fireworks.  She was looking for a stick of dynamite!!

Remember, I told you what Grandpa did in the mines.  He was the one that drilled the holes for the dynamite.  I suppose he just brought some home.  You never know when a family may be in need of dynamite, right!?

She and Lewey found the "good stuff" and took it out near their small field which was as far as you could get from the house without going into the woods.  And then it happened.  They lit that stick of dynamite and in the words of Big Grandma, "We about blowed that mountain clean off!"  Shoot. She's lucky she didn't blow an arm off!  Crazy woman!

I mentioned that she had a partner.  She would often use her boys as her little minions.  Her first partner was son-in-law, Lewey.  He would do just about anything she asked him to do .  Like the time he dressed in a sheet and went up behind the house and past the windows moaning to scare my Aunt Mary.

As her youngest son Ray grew up, he became one of her little proteges.  When she got bored, she would ask Ray to go get the cats and throw them in the know, to make them hiss and fight.  She would laugh her head off at the hissing and pissing. Oh my word, I don't usually use such language, but that is what she said.

I don't know what it was about her, but she loved a good fight.  Her favorite thing to watch on TV was professional wrestling.  She called it 'rastlin'.  She would holler and yell at the TV and laugh till she cried when they got jumped on.  Her favorite move was when they would jump from the top of the ring!

Big Grandma loved Ric Flair...she said he was a "purty boy" (that means "pretty" to you Yankees.) She also loved Roddy Piper and Hulk Hogan, but who doesn't?!  One of the grandkids bought her the action figures of Ric, Roddy, and the Hulk and she hung them on the wall next to the pictures of the family!  Now THAT is a fan!

I think we will talk about how she handled jealousy tomorrow.  I might entitle it "Big Grandma's Jealous Rage" or "What Happened to the Mule?" Read that story here.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Story 2: Big Grandma's Secret and Early Married Life

In this series of stories, I am writing about my maternal grandmother, Goldie Witt Cole.  My sisters and I called her Big Grandma.

Story 2:

Many years ago as I was sourcing my family tree, I looked for the marriage record of Big Grandma to my grandfather, Robert Cole.  I used and put in the parameters for a likely marriage in Lee County, Virginia.  You can image my surprise when I saw this:

I was not expecting to see TWO marriage records for Big Grandma.  There was obviously a story behind this!  I asked my mother.  Mom said that back in the 1980's, her sister-in-law had been doing some family history and ran across the same record.

Quiet speculation arose and one theory was that Big Grandma used Robert Sybert to make Grandpa jealous so that he would marry her. But that doesn't seem to fit.  Her marriage record to Mr. Sybert was dated July 1928, but she didn't even meet Grandpa till 1930, as far as I can tell.

Then, I found Robert Sybert's "second" marriage record.  It was dated DECEMBER 1928. Interesting!!  Maybe it was the opposite and rather than Big Grandma marrying Mr. Sybert to make Grandpa jealous, she actually did it to make Mr. Sybert's girlfriend jealous!!  After all, he married just 5 months later!  Maybe their little plan worked!

Big Grandma married my grandfather, Robert Cole, on 11 November 1933 in Lee County, Virginia. Grandpa was a coal miner and they lived in a coal camp after they were married.  I am not sure which coal mine he was working at when they first married, but it would have been Kemmer Jim or Bonny Blue.

Bonny Blue Coal Company was in Lee County, Virginia.  There are several really nice pictures online of this mine.  Here are a couple of my favorite.

Learning about life in a coal camp kind of reminded me of when I lived on an Army post.  The coal camp housing was all alike and they had their own post office and commissary.  They even had their own 'money' which was called "script".  I have attached a picture of some of the coins my uncle still has in his possession as well as a little better picture I found online.

Big Grandma was married to a coal miner until Grandpa's death in 1958.  Her 3 sons and 3 sons-in-law all worked in the mines.

Grandpa's jobs in the mine were timberer and driller.  A timberer would sure up the ceilings of the mines with timber supports.  A driller would drill holes in the rock and fill with dynamite.  Wait, did I say "dynamite"?  You are going to want to hear that story! Read about the 4th of July no would ever forget here.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Big Grandma : A Series

This month's blog posts are to fulfill The Family History Writing Challenge given by The Armchair Genealogist, Lynn Palermo.

I am going to be writing a series of posts about my maternal grandmother, Goldie Witt Cole.

My sisters and I lovingly referred to Grandma Cole as 'Big Grandma'.  Looking back on that, I wonder if she was offended!  I know that my mother sure wouldn't like to be referred to as 'big' anything!

Big Grandma wasn't abnormally big, but she was MUCH bigger than our other grandmother who we called 'Baby Grandma'.  (I just giggled out loud!) Okay, let me explain.  So when I was very young, I asked my Dad why we had one big grandma and one....and I guess I couldn't think of the word "small" so instead I said "baby", meaning one was small in stature.  The names stuck!  While Baby Grandma was only about 4'10 and 90 pounds wet, Big Grandma was a busty woman of 5' 6 and over 150 pounds. She looked like a giant compared to Baby Grandma.

Not only was Baby Grandma small, but she was quiet.  In contrast, Big Grandma gave new meaning to loud!! She had a remarkably colorful personality and was bigger than life.  Some of the things she did were not exactly appropriate for a lady, or for any decent person for that matter.  But, she was who she was.

Big Grandma was born Goldie Mae Witt in 1910.  She said she weighed only a pound and a 1/2 and was the first child of her mother to live past the age of 1 month.  Her mother had married at 13 years old (yes, you read that right!) and had several babies die before she had one live.  They lived in Blackwater, Lee County, Virginia.

Big Grandma's father died when she was only 9 years old.  Her mother then took Big Grandma and her little brother to live with her Grandma Betty and her husband.  That husband's name was Enoch Creech.  Enoch wasn't Big Grandma's biological grandfather, but her mother's step-father. Apparently, he was the bad influence that shaped the colorful personality of Big Grandma!

Oh readers...I am not happy to tell this awful little story, but it is one she loved to tell.  When she was about 9, shortly after going to live in her grandparents home, she did something she wasn't suppose to.  Her uncle caught her and told on her and she was punished.  Her Granddad Enoch pulled her onto his lap and stroked her hair and said, "Don't you punish Pickaninny.  She's a good girl."  Then he told her to not get mad at her uncle, just get even.  And she did.

Uncle had recently bought some new baby chicks.  While he was gone, Big Grandma went into the coop and.....wait, I have to take a deep breath....she went into the coop.....and.....grabbed each baby chick and.....pulled their legs off!  Then, she pulled their heads off!  She hid the legs under a rock and the heads somewhere else and left the little bodies for the Uncle to find.  Oh the horror!!  What kind of little girl would do such a thing??  (Big sigh)  But she would laugh till she cried when she told us kids that story.  She said that Uncle never told on her again!

And so the stories of Big Grandma begin. Read story number 2 here!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Mystery Solved...Sort of

Well, after blowing up the death certificate images and looking more closely, it seems that the years were penned weird and could actually be correct.  Meaning that they died AFTER the 1910 census. This just goes to show you how many times you need to check and re-check everything!

However, while digging around I found that the patriarch of the family still had some secrets.  It seems that although he went by Albert Huston by 1880, he was actually born Albert Huston Parton. There is quite a bit of chatter online about there being proof (documents and DNA) that Albert Huston Parton had lived in Sevier County, TN prior to and just after the Civil War.  He wanted out of a bad marriage and left. He had his wife notified he was dead.  Albert is said to have gone to Harlan and married a woman there by the last name of Pace.

Is Albert Huston Parton actually my Albert Huston of Harlan County, Kentucky?

This grandfather of mine, Albert Huston, doesn't show up anywhere before 1871 when he miraculously shows up in Harlan to marry my grandmother, Martha Pace.  The 1910 census does indeed say he was married 2 times, though I do not know to whom.

One proposed theory says that there are records that Albert's first wife, Sarah Evans Parton, had filed for his Civil War pension in Sevier County, TN.  She apparently was granted pension, but then is said to have died.  Albert then apparently returns and applies for his own pension and has it sent to Knoxville, Kentucky where it is then forwarded to Harlan.


I have yet to check all these theories, but it sure does make a good story!  Below, I have attached a picture of my 3rd great grandfather, Albert Huston of Harlan County, Kentucky.  This picture is said to have been taken in 1896 when the Civil War Veterans of Harlan County posed for a picture. Interesting that he is pictured here as having been a Civil War Veteran, even though no paperwork actually exists for an "Albert Huston"...yet paperwork does exist for "Albert Huston Parton".

1896 photo, Black Mountain Academy
Evarts, Harlan County, Kentucky

My Biggest Mystery to Date!

I had to send out this post!  I have just come across 2 dead relatives that miraculously show up in the 1910 Yokum Creek, Harlan, Kentucky census!  I am looking at their death records...they are suppose to be dead!  What does this mean??

Death record of the woman gives her cause of death as "no report found. informant __ due to old age ____".  The man's record says "Dr. N.S. Howard attended this patient.  Have not been able to get in touch with him.  _____ from his son said Grappe was the cause of his death."

In both cases, the son "J.C. Houston" was the informant.  Then, in 1928, the son was killed with a gun shot wound to the left side.

My mind is racing!  Is this son a con man?  Did he fake the death of his parents for some reason? Insurance fraud?  What?

I am on the trail and will keep you posted! starts The Family History Writing Challenge and I have something prepared for that, but this has me consumed at the moment!