Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Finding My Story: My Great-Grandparents

Family Group Photo Credit: anyjazz65

Today has been a crazy busy day and nothing has gone on time, so here it is 11:30 and I'm just starting.  Everything has gone longer than expected, so it makes sense that this is the post I had planned today.  When I posted a story about my parents last June, I didn't really intend to start a series and I certainly didn't intend to start a series that took this long.  After planning this out, I have 4 more posts in this series and I will post 1 every 2 weeks until it is done.  Sorry this is all running so long.  I'm working on planning posts ahead so they don't come in so late.  Thanks for your patience.

I have already told you all about my parents and about my grandparents.  Today I'm going to try to tell you a few stories about my great-grandparents.  I have been supremely blessed by longevity in my family.  I had 6 of 9 great-grandparents in my life until I was 15 years old.  The great-grandparents that I didn't meet in person were available to me via those boxes of family mementos.  My great-grandfather James wrote letters back to his young bride, Grace, while he was building the home for her and their infant son.  The letters were simple updates on the house, but you can feel the love and longing in them.  He knew he was doing something important for them, but that didn't keep him from missing them.  This man who sacrificed for his family is my lasting image of him.  He passed away when my grandfather was a young child.  My great-grandmother soldiered on and raised their young son on her own for a while.  I don't have any letters from her in those boxes, but I have the letters she kept; letters from her husband and later letters from her son serving his country in WWII.  Those speak to me of a woman who loved her family deeply and didn't want to forget anything about them, even if that meant reliving some heart wrenching moments.  She did remarry a wonderful man.  He was hard working and honorable.  He loved my grandfather as his own son.  In his letters home, Grandpa L always asked his step-father about the St. Louis Cardinals season.  I think that is one of my favorite parts of those letters.  They are evidence of the family tradition.  The love and genuine desire to share life with the recipient spoke to me then as they do now.  This is who I want to be.

My Grandpa and Grandma T lived on a farm.  I vaguely remember something about gathering eggs when I was little.  I'm not sure if they had moved into town or not by then.  I'm guessing they hadn't because they were gathering eggs, but you never know.  For most of my life they did live in town and by town I mean the gigantic town of about 650.  What I remember most about them is how cool I thought their house was and my Grandma T's cinnamon rolls.  They are still legendary in my family.  I didn't really know them that well as a child.  When I got older, I learned a few stories about them and they really came alive for me.  Grandpa was actually a twin, but his brother died as a baby.  They never really were sure whether it was Ray or Roy that died.  I can't believe he lived with that knowledge his whole life.  Grandma found out her father was living a double life and had a whole separate family.  To top it off that family lived right near them and she had known them most of her life.  How do you live with that knowledge?  I don't know, but she managed to do so and with a good amount of success.  Neither of them were perfect, but they raised hard working faith filled children.  I hope I can do that no matter the circumstance.

My Grandpa and Grandma F lived in town or near it as far as I know.  Grandpa was a minster.  He started a small church in the area.  I actually pass that church every time I visit my grandparents.  They attend that church.  By the time I knew him he was retired, so I never heard a sermon of his.  I have heard stories about  my grandpa and his brother visiting people with Grandpa.  He traveled around quite a bit helping people out when they needed something.  It's the kind of thing a minister does, but somehow it seems so much more epic when you have to do it with a horse and wagon.  What I remember most about Grandpa was his stories about his mobster friend and his love for professional wrestling.  You know back before it was all one wrestling league (or whatever the correct terminology is.)  I remember watching some matches on TV with him that had no fancy lighting or special effects.  It was just a couple guys in the ring going at it.  I thought it was kinda boring, but I never told him that!  Grandma always seemed to be in the kitchen.  I don't know if she actually was or not, but in my memory that's where she is.  She was always making food for us and it was always good.  From stories I've heard, I get the impression that she was not your average pastor's wife.  Of course, a pastor who is friends with a mobster isn't normal either.  Incidentally, that mobster was related to my step-great-grandfather mentioned above.  I don't mean to suggest that Grandpa compromised his stance on God for any man or that he was corrupted in any way.  Grandpa always said, "He was a nice guy, just don't get on his bad side."  I always got the sense that Grandpa and Grandma met people where they were at.  They didn't demand they were better before they befriended them or helped them.  They served people where they were at.  I want to do that.

Mamaw and Grandaddy are the most well known to me of my great grandparents.  I spent many idyllic weeks at their house.  They took me out to eat at the diner in town or the fancy hotel restaurant the next town over.  Mamaw carried half and half creamer in her purse and Grandaddy didn't eat cheese.  Although he always made the same face and laughed when I asked if he wanted some.  They never scolded me for spinning all the bar stools at the diner counter.  They let me and my brother have a shot of half and half before our meal.  We also got to use it on our cereal.  Mamaw didn't believe in making anything out of a box.  That's why we had homemade breakfast every morning with toast.  Biscuits took too long, at least that's my opinion.  He wasn't her only husband, but he was her only love.  His family began in the oil industry and expanded into other areas because they were amazing business men.  He had 7 brothers and 2 sisters.  She was the oldest of 5, adopted at least in his heart by her stepdad because she never knew her real dad.  He did things like jump over rattle snakes, start a fur trading business at 10, and use a whole week's worth of flour on a cake.  She did things like stay with my mom for a month after my brother and I were born.  He went to college and played football against Bear Bryant before he had that nickname.  She lived as a divorced woman and single mother in the 20's or 30's.  He and his family accepted her and loved her no matter her past.  They were a powerhouse couple who loved fiercely and conquered whatever they set their minds to do.  They owned several successful businesses and greatly contributed to their church and the town they lived in. Just this past Christmas a family member commented that they heard Mamaw in Ben's phrases.  His laughter and her love shaped my life in very powerful ways.  I genuinely hope to be half of what they were.

In the coming weeks, you will hear about a few other relatives, my friends, my in-laws, and finally my story.  Stop back in here to learn a little more about my family and share your stories.

Did you know your great-grandparents?  What did you learn from them?


  1. Andrea, thank you for sharing this with me! I really enjoyed it. We are truly blessed to have had these special people in our lives. So much love!❤

    1. We are very lucky. I'm glad you enjoyed it.