Roots

This one is for Tiffany.

I’ve done some amateur genealogy in the past (though I’ve never tapped into ye vast resources of ye Ancestry.com and so forth), so I’ve been able to appreciate what she’s been doing lately with all of her family history.

Of course, in my case it was pretty simple.  First, generally speaking, my family has lived in the same county in Virginia for the past 150-200 years or so.  Second, they tended to marry young, so the generations stack up kinda quick-like.  Four of my great-grandparents were alive when I was born, and all of them lived until I was in high school, so I have a good living memory of those great-grandparents as real people and not just images in a photo album.  That’s pretty cool.

Anyway, Tiff’s photo sharing made me want to dig up a few things I had around the house and scan ’em in.

This is my great-grandmother Lillie – my father’s mother’s mother.

Guess when this photo was taken.  Go right ahead!  She wore the same clothes, the same hairstyle, and sat in the same old rocking chair for decades on end…all so old-fashioned that it’s hard to put a date to it.  I know, because my uncle took this picture in the fall of 1988, just a few months before she died in 1989.

I never heard her called anything but “Ma” in my presence – no matter who was doing the talking.  She was named “Mattie Lillie” at birth, but she always hated the name Mattie.  So when the Social Security workers came around in the 1940s and asked her name, she just said “Lillie” and dropped the “Mattie” altogether.

Ma was born in 1897, but she looked like this from the day I was old enough to remember.  Wizened, almost Indian-looking, but tough as nails.  She had eight kids live to adulthood; she had running water to the kitchen but never had an indoor toilet a day in her life.  Ma dipped snuff and kept a “snake stick” by her door to bash the little boogers in the head when she was out walking.    My dad remembered watching her kill chickens for the family dinner by grabbing one by the neck in each hand, and whipping them in circles until she wrung their heads off.  I don’t remember that, but I remember tons of cornbread and gallon buckets of Armour lard in the fridge for her cooking.  A real old-fashioned country woman.

My great-uncle Glen, her son, still lives in the old house – a beautiful two-story white clapboard house that faces the direction where the OLD road was in the 1930s rather than where the present road runs alongside.  And the old well by the back of the house is still covered up with boards to keep kids like me from falling through while we played baseball.

Now flip-flop to the other side of the family.  These are my great-great-grandparents, Will and Mary – my father’s father’s father’s parents.

No, I didn’t know them in life.  This was probably taken around the time they got married around 1899.  It was Will’s second marriage – he was in his forties and already had three children by his late first wife, the oldest of which was nearly 20.  Will and Mary had three children as well…John, Fuller, and Howell, the baby, my great-grandfather, born in 1909.  Will died before Howell was 10, and Mary died before he married.  I suspect that he spent a great deal of time with his older brother John then, and thus his eye fell on Inez, the younger sister of John’s wife Beattie. They married when the orphaned Howell was 18 and Inez was 15.

I never met my great-great-uncle Fuller.  Supposedly he and John hated each other with a fiery passion – so much so that if they went out to work the tobacco fields together, their wives went along with them to make sure more than one of them came back in one piece.  My great-great-uncle John (always “uncle John”) inherited a portion of Beattie’s family farm, as did Howell and Guy, the husband of Beattie and Inez’s sister Blanche, and so he lived nearby as I was growing up.  I remember Uncle John’s two-wheeled buggy, that he would hitch a pony to once or twice a year in the spring and take all of us small kids in the neighborhood for rides up and down the road.

Amusingly, no one in my father’s family had ever seen this picture of Will and Mary until Inez died in 1997.  Before I was born, Howell and Inez had lived a quarter-mile or so back off the road, in the old house that had been built by Inez’s grandfather Samuel, the patriarch of the family, but they’d sold the farm when Howell had gotten too old to work it and put up a small trailer on a portion of it next door to their son Billy, my grandfather.  My father built his house on the other side, so Howell and Inez were my next-door neighbors throughout my childhood.

Anyway, after Inez died, my great-aunt Jewel was cleaning out the trailer to sell it, and found this photo – a large tintype print of it, apparently – hidden behind the stove.  Jewel took this as an amusing commentary on her mother’s opinion of her late in-laws.  Jewel had prints made for several members of the family, and as I was doing some genealogy at the time, she gave me one of them.

And so we come to these handsome devils.

Yes, the photo is blurry as hell, but you can’t blame me.  That’s me on the left, trying desperately to escape the photo.  This was in the summer after I was born, in Howell’s backyard (conveniently located between my house and Granddaddy’s).  So, left to right, TB, my dad Brice, his dad Billy, and his dad, Howell.

Amusingly, this photo could have been taken anytime over the next 20 years until Howell died in 1994.  Howell looked virtually the same then, even the glasses.  Granddaddy lost some hair and gained a little weight, and the same with Dad (although he gained some fashion sense, too, thank God).  I would have been the biggest variable.  And in retrospect, I’m really sorry we never repeated the photo.  It would have been nice.

It’s amusing to me to compare the photos:  Howell and my dad resemble great-great-granddaddy Will; my grandfather Billy resembles great-great-granny Mary, although you can also see Inez in him as well.

So there ya have it, another photo-tour, this one through a little bit of my family tree.  Hope you weren’t too bored.  (And if so, blame Tiff!)

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4 Responses

  1. Your dad looks like he had you when he was about fourteen. Seriously. The high school kids I see in the mall look like that, same hair and everything.

    Your great-grandmother reminds me of my father’s side of the family. They don’t look nearly so happy or wise, though.

    Dad was two weeks shy of 22 when I was born.

    I think it’s funny how Ma looks to be primping her hair in the picture. I think it’s far more likely that she was scratching her ear – Ma and primping just don’t go in the same sentence!

  2. Insert the inevitable, “You haven’t aged a bit!” comment. Your dome is just as handsome now as it was then. 😀

    Aw, shucks. 😀

    This is so very awesome, and thanks so much for sharing. You’re so fortunate to have such a personal history of so many generations of your family! Obviously, too, your family keeps the stories alive. My family doesn’t talk about the past AT. ALL. Total anathema in our family. I was telling my sister the stuff I’d learned from the lady I found via Ancestry.com, and she already knew a lot of it. To my, “Well, why didn’t you tell me that?” she responded with, “Oh, well, we just don’t talk about that kind of thing.” FRUSTRATING AS HELL.

    Hmmm. Yeah, frustrating. In my family, stories are retold over and over until sometimes you get sick of ’em. But stories are told nonetheless.

    For instance, supposedly Ma’s dad was a huge bear of a man and her mother a wisp of a woman – so much so that he supposedly broke her ribs by hugging her. I just find that image amusing.

    But anyway, yeah, very cool pictures! I think I’ll tuck a photo of my in-laws behind the stove now. Heh.

    Long as it’s not under the toilet, huh?

  3. Not to swamp Tiff’s comment, but what the hell, I figure I’ll share an infamous family story.

    Once upon a time, my great-uncle Glen, my grandmother’s brother, was off on a drunken bender in town, 10 or 15 miles from home. He called my grandparents to come get him, so my granddaddy Billy – a teetotaler as far as I ever knew him – went at whatever ungodly hour to pick him up from the bar and bring him home.

    On the way, they passed by another bar, and Glen told granddaddy to stop so he could get another drink. Granddaddy, of course, said “No, you called me to take you home, and I’m taking you home. That’s it.”

    If you knew my great-uncle Glen’s speaking voice, this is even more hysterical, because he has the most exaggerated drawl on earth. Huckleberry Hound has nothing on Glen. But anyway, Glen’s reply was: “Man, I like you. Matter of fact, I luuuv you. But you done made me mad as hell. I’m worse off now than I started – now I gotta walk all the way back there to get a drink.”

    Granddaddy dropped him off at home, and instead of going inside, he turned around and started walking back along the road, back to the nearest bar.

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