Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Merry Christmas in Heaven, Mom

Two years ago, in the wee hours of Christmas morning, my mom left this Earth to be with Jesus. I miss her so much!
My daughters and I paid a visit to her grave on Christmas Eve, and adorned it in holiday style.


Merry Christmas in heaven, Mom!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

John Wesley Green

I was looking something up about my great-grandfather, John Wesley Green, and I realized that today marks exactly 88 years since his death on December 6, 1927 so I decided to do a post about him. I wish so much that I had a picture to share, but I've never seen his likeness. I'm still hoping and praying that perhaps someone will discover a (verified) picture of him, and share it with me. :)
Here's a little about John Wesley Green. 
John Wesley GREEN was born in July 1864 , to Nathaniel Hawkins (white) and Anna Green (mulatto). He married Susan Georgiana DUNSTON on January 23, 1886, Franklin County (Louisburg), NC. John and Susan lived Franklin and Wake Counties, and had six children over 18 years. He was a barber, who owned his own business (possibly with a partner). He died on December 6, 1927, in Louisburg, at the age of 63, and was buried there in the Louisburg City Cemetery, or what we know today as "The Cemetery on the Hill".
I'm including a few of the documents I've have uncovered over the years, which have helped me to learn more about my great-grandfather, and to further my research. The first is from a 1925 publication, put out by the Masons, called, "Proceedings of the Fifty Fifth Communication of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge F.A.A.M". It shows John as a dues-paid member of the lodge. (This document was an enlightening find for me, because it also shows my grandfather, Calvin R. Yarborough, and his brother, Eugene, as members of the lodge. It allowed me to see that there was a relationship between my grandmother's father, and her husband, Calvin. I wondered if maybe Grandpa John introduced the two of them, since my grandfather had been widowed, and was raising three children alone. It's just a hunch, but it does seem likely, since they were "brothers" and my grandmother was already 28 years old when they married, indicating that perhaps her father was afraid she was going to become an "old maid".)

The next document is the marriage application and license for John Green and Susan Dunston. The application was made on January 23, 1886, and they were married two days later, on the 25th. As is typical of these documents, there are errors in spelling, etc., but it is rich in genealogical information, and helped to confirm parentage and ages for both of my great-grandparents, early in my research. (The NB Hawkins is an error: It should be NM Hawkins.)

The third document is from the 1899-1900 Raleigh City Directory. It shows John W Green (colored) of "Green & Matthews" living at 9 McKee Dr. I haven't yet confirmed that this is my ancestor, but I believe it to be. I just haven't ever heard the Matthews name, in connection with him, nor did I know of him having a partner. I'll be doing more work on this. :)


The last document I'll attach here is Grandpa John's 1927 Death Certificate, showing that he died at home (my grandmother's house in Louisburg) of "cerebritis", which is an infection of the brain that leads to deadly inflammation. Thanks to the letters from John's son, WL to his wife, Georgia (which were shared with me by my cousin, Kelly), we know that Grandpa John was losing his ability to care for himself in the period before his death, and that he may have been having trouble recognizing his family members. When I was reading the letters, I thought it sounded like Alzheimer's; but this document gives a more direct diagnosis,although it probably wasn't clinically determined, since the doctor states that he'd only attended to John Green on the day of his death. Also, although we can't always read too much into these documents (because there is almost always human error), it struck me that William didn't know, or maybe wasn't able to recall the name of John's father, Nathaniel Hawkins, who would have been his own grandfather. This let me see that (sadly) the trend of not sharing family history/stories started from the beginning in our family.

I will close with this picture of the only three children of John and Susan's children who lived to adulthood. I've been told that John Green was a stocky man with white hair and blue eyes, and that he looked like a white man; however, until we see pictures of him, or of Susan, we can only try to imagine what they may have looked like, as we gaze at the faces of these three, Anna (my grandmother), William, and Mabel.


Thanks for reading!  As always, I welcome your comments, questions, suggestions, and ideas. Please do share this post with your networks. Perhaps someone will read it who knows something about my people! :)

Renate

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Sunday, September 6, 2015

Where Have All the Readers Gone?

Wow! I cannot believe it's been almost 8 months since my last post! I have GOT to do better!

I know what the problem is, though -- it's FACEBOOK. See, once upon a time, I used to share my research discoveries, and other genealogy-related musings, here, or on my less personal, "Genea-Related" blog. For years, I felt a sense of kinship and belonging within a large, supportive group of genealogy bloggers. But, then, two things kinda happened at about the same time, and those concurrent events seemed to work together to lure me (and perhaps my others) from posting (regularly) to our blogs.

In my opinion, the BIG thing that happened was that more and more genealogy group began to pop up on Facebook. These groups started off with broad-topic ranges, but over time, the groups became more and more specific in scope - categorized in a variety of ways, by ethnicity, location, social/civic involvement, military service, and/or DNA-focused interests. As these groups grew larger in membership, I noticed a decline in the number of comments on, and visits to my blogs. Instead, people drifted over to the instantaneous feedback that Facebook allows, along with its ability for users to engage in "conversation" with each other about, and directly under each post. At first, I was reluctant to join in. After all, I'd been on Facebook since 2007, when I'd joined during my youngest's first year of college, just so I could see some pictures shed wanted to show me. At that time, very few "people my age" we're even on FB, but over the next couple of years, my "real" friends began to join, and the site began to serve as a place for sharing pictures and daily happenings with my family and friends.
As time went on, I began to miss the feedback I'd been used to getting when I would post to my blogs. Comments became sparse, to none, and I guess I started feeling like no one was reading. (I know that the purpose isn't supposed to be to entertain others, but we all need a little support, and the feedback was invaluable.) Anyway, I eventually began to poke around in some of the Facebook
groups, and soon, the old,"If you can't beat 'em, join 'em" adage won out. So, I dove in, joining
groups for the NC counties from which my ancestors hailed, groups for African ancestry, for genealogical societies to which I belonged, and MORE! I began to notice that those people who were still posting on blogs, would then publish the links to those posts on Facebook, and all of the commenting was being done there, instead of on the blogs. I became so active, so fast, that genea-matters began to totally consume my feed, and I was hardly ever seeing posts from my original friends. Not only that, I became a bit self-conscious about my hundreds of new "friends" being privy to my personal life, etc., so I decided it best to create a separate FB profile, just for genealogy. And, that was all she wrote! :)

The second factor which led to a slowdown in blog-posting, and surely contributed to the decrease in number of readers and commentary, was the demise of the very popular, Google Reader. The majority of us in the blogosphere seemed to have used this platform to organize and deliver the posts of the weblogs we each followed. When Google announced that its Reader was being discontinued, several options were given for new readers to which users could transfer. I chose Feedly; but it just hasn't been the same, and the transfer did not work, 100%. My guess is that this is true for many, and that's probably why we've all lost readers. Also, the interface is quite different, and in order to comment, one must click out of the program, to go,directly to the blog site, and then come back. I also find it frustrating that only small sections of posts open at one time.

So, why am I writing about all of this? Well, honestly, I hadn't planned to. I came here to write a post
about finding my dad's Marine Corps dog tags, but when I saw how long it had been since I'd posted,
I decided to "say something", and it turned into this post.  I'm still going to write that one; and I will share it (and this one) on Facebook (lol), but I'd like to ask just ONE favor of everyone who's actually ready this. Please ma'am, please sir: Just leave me one tiny comment here on the blog. I'd really like to get an idea of who is still even reading, so that I can make some decisions about how I'd like to go forth with my writing. Oh, I am going to renew my commitment to writing, the only question is, "What will my platform be?

Thanks for reading!
Renate

Monday, January 5, 2015

Not So Mysterious Monday - William A Green

1/5/2015 - UPDATE!!!!!
I've learned a lot more about the illusive William Green since writing about him in 2009, but today has been a banner day because I've positively identified a PICTURE of William!  Here he is!
Sargent William Adam Green
(October 1874 - February 21, 1940)
 I've actually had a picture of this picture for a few years, and I've long suspected that it could have been William. However, the first time I saw it, and took a shot of it, the military insignia wasn't as clear.  As a matter of fact, the "3" above the crossed rifles, didn't show up on that first picture, at all. So, for a few years, I've had that picture but didn't realize that there was such a clear identifier on it!

Yesterday, I returned to the home of my cousin, H, in Louisburg, NC, where this picture, along with several others of the white-looking ancestral members of my family, hangs in a private room, which few people even know about.  I convinced my aged and ailing cousin to allow me to go back into the room (escorted by his wife) to compare a picture of another mystery ancestor, to a baby picture that I remembered being in there.  He obliged my request, and so, while in there, I quickly took new photos of each of the pictures in the little room. All of the pictures are framed, and most are hanging on the wall.  The ones that aren't are sitting atop an antique piano, which belonged to the home's original owner.

When I returned home from my trip, and looked over my pictures, I immediately noticed that the military-looking insignia was much clearer than it had been in the first shot, and that the was a unmistakable number "3" above the crossing of the two rifles.  I began to get excited, because I knew that I'd found William Green, some years ago, in the THIRD NC Volunteer Battalion, during the Spanish-American War! Could this be him?  But, what was on the little medal under the guns?  I studied it and studied it, trying to determine if it had the letter H on it, since that was William's company.  But, all the blowing up and starting at it couldn't clarify that part of the picture. So, what did I do?  I turned to the genealogy community on Facebook! :)  Posting the picture and query instigated lots of discussion.  In the end, although no one could  make out what was under the rifles, everyone agreed that the rest of the insignia definitely represented the Third NC Battalion.  Because there was no one else in my ancestral family who served in the SAW, and no one else who would have have been age-eligible and who would fit the physical description of the young man in the picture, I knew I had William!
Close-up of insignia

So, there you have it! I am now able to look into the eyes of the youngest son of my great-great grandparents, Nathaniel Hawkins and Anna Green, whom I've never seen photos of.  Looking at William allows me to look at the two of them - or at least to imagine what they may have looked like. I see William, and I think about what it must have been like for him to have served in this particular military unit - an all black battalion, which was subjected to the worst kind of racism, in and around their camps. I imagine for William, looking WHITE in this segregated regiment must have presented a multitude of additional challenges, both from within, and from outside of the "protective" walls of his encampments. I wonder, for William, what it was like to (presumably) for the first time in his life be immersed in an all-black world, especially since even the officers in this regiment were black?  I wonder if he got bullied? I wonder if he got called, "white-boy" - if he was beat up, or teased for his appearance?  I wonder if he was the only one in his company who was like this? I do know that he mustered in as a Sargent, and that was probably due to the color of his skin. But, why wasn't he one of the "officers"?

In William's eyes, I imagine I see the painfully-gained, growing wisdom of a young man, who has had his first venture into a harsh world, away from his family. I feel as though I see the contemplative wheels a-turning, and he considers his next move(s), knowing that he will never see himself the same way he may have before he enlisted, and understanding in even greater depth than before, the juxtaposition he would face as a white-looking black man in the Jim Crow south.  And, for the first time since I learned of William Adam Green, who moved to New York, not too long after this picture was made, and lived out his life "passing" as white - I understood, and I forgave him.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
August 9, 2009 (Updated on 1/5/2015)
Last week's mystery was about my gg grandmother, Anna Green. Today I'll introduce her son, William. William Green was born in 1873 1874 in Franklin County, NC. He was the fourth of Anna's mulatto children, whose father was Nathaniel M. Hawkins. (See last week's Mysterious Monday for the back story) I know very little about William, except that he looked white, and that he left NC at an early age and moved to New York, where he lived as a White man. According to my 90 (now 95) year-old cousin, Florine, he married a white woman, who she thinks may have been Jewish. It is unclear as to whether or not this woman ever knew William's ethnicity before his death, but Florine recalls that she actually came to Louisburg at some point afterward, said some choice words and dumped off a bunch of pictures and such - which have since disappeared. William's wife was actually Irish. I don't know anymore about the whole "coming to Louisburg thing, but something seems to have happened once either she (Margaret), or someone else in her family discovered William's ethnicity, because apparently they "outted" other family members who were also passing in NY, causing them to lose their jobs, and more.

Florine tells a story of going with her aunt, William's sister, to New York for his funeral, but not being able to attend because she was "too brown" and would have given away the "secret". (Interesting, because Florine is very light, but not light enough to pass.) So, she stayed at the house - which I'm assuming was her Aunt Betty's (Elizabeth GREEN Miller's) house. Betty was also living in New York and passed for White. This was sometime in the 1930's. (She, along with her sister, Ruby, were the two, mentioned above.)

What I know for sure:... (Not much!)
1. William's middle name was Adam. Now, this is complicated, but I have a Family Group Record from familysearch.org that shows William's 1904 marriage in Manhattan. This marriage was to Sally Lou Johnson, who was also from Louisburg. (Florine says this is not the white woman, but a first wife, and I'm guessing she was Black.) On this document, William lists his parents as Anna Perkins and Nathaniel Green. If this is my William, which I believe it is, this document corroborates the oral history that Anna was originally a Perkins before she came to Louisburg. Nathaniel also matches the first name of the person I was told was Wm's white father, but I have a different surname. I'm assuming that William may have been guessing at this, because his father died when he was six and he was just probably assuming that his mother got her last name (Green) from him, but she didn't. They were never married. The other thing about this document is that I can no longer find it or pull it up on Family Search! Thank goodness I printed it out when I originally saw it, but it's a mystery as to why it no longer seems to be there. The middle name, Adam, was also confirmed on William's WWI Draft Registration (see below), and on his service record from the Spanish-American War.
William's WWI Draft Registration

2. William died in New YorkWilliam died on February 21, 1940, in the Bronx, NY. He is buried at Mount Hope Cemetery, Hastings-on-Hudson in Westchester County, New York.  His niece, Ruby Green, was the informant on his death certificate.  William's wife, Margaret Boyle, had long predeceased him, having passed in 1929.  I have not found evidence of them having any children, but I'm told that they may have had a son.  

3. William's sister, Betty, also lived in New York and was passing for White. She was a "hairdresser to the rich folk", according to Cousin Florine, until William's wife found out that they were Black and went and told everyone. Then she lost all her clients. Florine says she lived in the Riverdale section of NY. Bettie married Roy Miller, a postal worker. According to Florine, my cousin H, and my cousin Virginia, Betty was also Doris Duke's personal stylist, and "traveled with her everywhere she went".  I do have a picture of Betty relaxing on a ship deck, and others of her wearing furs, so perhaps this is true. I tried to verify this a few years ago, but I'd gotten the name wrong, and ended up writing to Doris DAY's people, instead of Doris DUKE's. A followup is on my to-do list. :)

Conflicts:
William names his father as Nathaniel Green on the fs.org document. Our oral history gives the name Hawkins. (What the heck - that's the name. Nathaniel HAWKINS.) Well, this goes to show what a short time it's been since I discovered and uncovered my Hawkins ancestry!  There's no further conflict on this.  William's father was Nathaniel Hawkins.
Questions:

1. Did William ever have any children, either by Sally Lou, or by his white wife? If so, what happened to them, and how can I find them? The whole Sally Lou thing is still a mystery, although I have a few suspicions. However, I don't find her anywhere else, in Louisburg, where it says she was from, or in NY. Florine insists that William had a child, but I'm thinking that if that child was in Louisburg, we'd know about him/her, so I don't know.

2. What was William's wife's name? (the white one) William married Margaret Boyle before 1918, in NY.  I had a source for this, but can't find it, right now.  Margaret was born in Ireland, in 1876, to parents John Boyle and Bridget Nolan.  She immigrated (with her parents) to the United States in 1907.

3. Where is William buried?  William is buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery, Westchester, NY

4. Did William maintain any type of communication with his mother, Anna? (Was she even still living, when he left NC?)

5. Did Anna ever visit William in New York? Could she have gone to live with him? (Perhaps as a servant? Remember, Anna disappears from my census findings after 1880.)


Today's mystery question: How can I find out more about William Green? The work continues...

Renate

*The picture of William A Green is the explicit property of this writer, and should not be copied without my permission.  You may, though, feel free to share this post, in its entirety. :)

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Historic Louisburg - An Article

Wow. I just finished reading this lengthy, well-written essay on the history of Louisburg, the town of my ancestors; and I must say, it's left me feeling "some kind of way".  When I first began reading the article, I was grateful to be learning more about the houses and properties on the "other side of the bridge", as I'd grown up knowing the "historic" part of Louisburg to be. As a child, visiting my grandmother on South Main Street, I was forbidden to ever travel across that bridge in my wanderings.  The one time I did, I got my behind tore up when I got back to the house, since Ms. Wilhelmina, and some of the other townsfolk, had already notified my grandmother, aunt, and uncle that they'd seen me coming back across the bridge. (I even got the privilege of picking the switch off the tree!) I didn't understand then, what I know now, about why they didn't want me to cross the bridge. They were trying to protect me, and to keep me safe and innocent. But, I didn't know that....

Anyway, I still find myself curious about the other side of the bridge when I come to town.  Yes, the historic district holds the Franklin County Courthouse, as well as the Register of Deeds - both crucial to the work I've done in my genealogy research.  But, the homes on the north side of the bridge incite in me a special intrigue, and not only because of my love and fascination for old and unusual architecture, but also because it was in some of these homes that my sweet grandmother, Annie YARBOROUGH, labored and, dare I say loved, as "the help". Not only that, but thanks to my years of research, I must also acknowledge that others of my ancestors were amongst those considered to be the town's "most prominent citizens", thus making them, and their peers the owners of many of the very properties mentioned in this article.

As I began to read the essay, I was frst filled with excitement. After all, when I drive through the neighborhoods mentioned - Noble St., Church St., N. Main Street, etc., I never dare to stop and ask anyone any questions about the homes, even though I always wonder, "Could this one be where my gg-grandfather, Nathaniel Hawkins lived?" "Is this the block that was owned by my 3rd great-grandmother, Jacobina Sherrod Hawkins?"  "I wonder exactly where my great-grandfather, Calvin's, last owner, James H. Yarborough lived with his wife, Arete?"  The questions in my mind are never-ending.  It seemed that, armed with a print-out of this article, I'd be able to ride through the neighborhoods and identify many of the very homes I've been wondering about, and more.  However, about halfway through the piece, I began to get irritated.  This article was walking me step-by-step through the building and development of the town of Louisburg, and there had not been one single mention of African-Americans, although people of color had, during the time of the county's development, outnumbered the population of whites.  As the article mentioned over and over again how these prominent folks "built" these beautiful properties, not one word was lent to acknowledge the enslaved laborers, who most certainly did much, if not all of the work, since all of the property owners were slaveholders.  There was no menton, even, of James Boon, a free person of color, who not only owned and operated his own carpentry business, but was a Louisburg property owner, too. Not a word about John H. Williamson, a freedman who represented Franklin County in the NC Legislature for six terms (and who was a friend and contemporary of my great-grandfather's). As a matter of fact, there was only one mention in the entire 5,671 word article of any persons of color, and that didn't occur until after the 4700th word, when the author stated this:   "There were other contractors active in Louisburg but unfortunately records of their work are scarce. The 1900 Census lists Houck as the only house contractor and nine carpenters six of whom were black. These carpenters, such as Perry Williams who helped construct the Alston House (107 South Elm Street, 1902-1905), worked under the supervision of builders such as Houck."  I won't go into the fact that James Boon's papers are housed at the NC State Archives, but by "scarce" records, I assume that means no one looked for them.

Anyway, I realize that I'm kind of on a rant here, but reading this article has just brought to the surface much of the frustration I've felt as a researcher with roots in Louisburg. The truth is, this city was a Confederate stronghold, as alluded to by one of it's citizens at the end of the Civil War, when she wrote in her diary of a group of Union soldiers, "but here they are still...encamped in our beautiful college groves, which have always been the pride of the Village, and consecrated to learning-now polluted by the tread of our vindictive foe."

Although I've met and befriended many of Louisburg's wonderful current-day citizens, I definitely have felt constrained in my efforts to uncover truths about my ancestors of color, and their lives in this sweet little town. I don't hold anyone living today accountable for the choices and/or actions of their (our) ancestors, but I do ask that we honor them all, by doing the work it takes to tell the whole stories of their lives, and of the building of the town that we all hold so dear.

My grandma, Anna Green Yarborough, on "the bridge".

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Amanuensis Monday - I'm Sorry, Grandma

I know that the title I've chosen for this post is a strange one, especially given that I don't bear any responsibility for what happened to my grandma. But, having lived a life that hasn't been particularly easy, and because I'm realizing more and more how much I seem to have inherited that stroke of fate from the (strong) female ancestors who preceded me, I can't help but to empathize with my Grandma Anna (Annie?) Yarborough for having to endure what seems like it was probably an exasperating ordeal to prove her date of birth.
So, what's this all about?  (I'm glad you asked!)
Some of my readers may recall that I recently lost an aunt.  She was last of my Yarborough grandparents' children, and she still lived in the family home, which was built by my grandfather (her father) and his brother(s), over 100 years ago.  I am the heir to this property, and I've been trying, a little at a time, to carefully go through all of the mounds and piles of STUFF that's built up and been left behind there.  My aunt, who lost both of her brothers (my dad and my uncle) just a month apart in 1997, reacted, in part, by becoming somewhat of a hoarder - in particular, a paper hoarder.  I am sure (with no exaggeration) that she had not discarded a single piece of paper since that fateful year, but the problem was seemingly beginning to develop, even before that.  So, yep - that leaves Renate, the genealogist, who wouldn't dream of just going in and trashing it all, to go painstakingly through every piece of mail, every manila envelope, every greeting card, etc., to look for possible clues to and/or evidence of my family history. But, I'll write more about that in another post.  Now, for the point of this one.
Yesterday, on one of my trips to the house, I was going through a dresser drawer that was stocked full of what appeared to only be old bank statements.  (These were from the 70's.)  As much as I wanted to just shred and chuck them, I knew better, because I've learned that anything can be anywhere in that house! (Don't get me started about the letter from my grandfather to my grandmother, written in NINETEEN TWENTY-ONE, which I found on my very first venture.  It was on the shelf of my aunt's headboard, mixed between some bills from 2012! But, I digress...)
Anyway, I stuck to it, and lo and behold, about 3/4 of the way through the bank statements, I noticed three neatly folder sheets of slightly yellowed paper.  Wondering what they might be (and getting excited), I opened the first one.  Here it is.

 Wow!  I've read posts from others about how their ancestors had to try to prove their birth dates, but I'd never seen any documentation from any of mine.  Even though I've worked with the Delayed Birth Records in Franklin County many times, those were just the actual records, but not the correspondence which led up to them.
The next paper I opened was this one.  I'm assuming my grandma had sent them a letter stating that she had contacted the Census Bureau, and her insurance company.  (I didn't find that letter.)

 The biggest surprise was third of the three documents, a hand-written letter from my grandmother to the SSA.  I was quite baffled at first, because I knew this wasn't my grandmother's handwriting, nor did she "talk" like this.  But, then I figured it out.  My Aunt Sue (who was a secretary at the time) had penned this letter for my grandmother.  Although I know she wasn't illiterate, I'm beginning to gather that, perhaps, writing wasn't her strong-suit, so she probably asked my aunt to write this for her.

The letter reads as follows:
                                        927 So. Main St.
                                        Louisburg, NC
                                        June 8, 1957

Mr. John H Ingle, Manager
District Office
Social Security Administration
Raleigh, N.C
Dear Mr. Ingle:
     I am enclosing a copy of the Census Bureau 
record to try to establish proof of my age.  
     You will note that there is a difference in
the spelling of the irst name.  I was always told
that my first name was Annie, but I've been called
Anna, and have always used Annie for official business
of any kind.  Is this acceptable or will I have to try
to do something about this?
     I will appreciate any help you can give me.
I am,
                                    Sincerely Yours,
                                   Annie G. Yarborough
                                   (SSN cut off for privacy.)

Needless to say, there had to have been correspondence before and after this.  I just feel so bad to learn of all the back-and-forth that my grandmother apparently had to go through, just to prove her birth.  She was a such a hard working woman, widowed after just a few years of marriage, and having raised 3 children, 3 step-children, and helped to raise the children of other relatives, all while working as a domestic and doing the best she could for everyone.  Given the year that this was, I can't help but wonder if maybe she was trying to go over to Japan, where my father was stationed, to help him with his newly-adopted son, my brother, Henry. I'll bet anything that's what it was.  I also wonder how it is that she already had a SSN, if she didn't have a birth certificate?  And, since she did, couldn't they have used whatever documentation she'd provided for that? Why couldn't this just have been a bit simpler for her?
I guess I know the answer to that.  As I just shared with a friend a few days ago, nothing ever just goes smoothly for me, and I've always been told, "You're just like your grandma." So, there ya go!  (And, I wouldn't have it any other way!) :)

Renate

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Monday, March 3, 2014

Amanuensis Monday - My Grandmother's Poem

When we were growing up, my brother, Arthur, and I used to each teasingly "claim" one of our grandmothers as our own.  Our paternal grandmother, Anna Green Yarborough, was, "MY grandma", and our mother's mother was "his".  I'm not sure how or why this started, but I did have an extremely close relationship with my Grandma Yarborough, and my Grandma Thomas was always a bit more of a mystery woman to me, even though she lived closer to us, in Norfolk.  I've always been aware of the many traits I inherited from my father's mother, but, as time goes on, I'm finding that there's quite a bit of my Grandma Thomas in me, too! 

I've been writing poetry since I was in junior high school, but for the most part, I've kept my writings private. (The exception has been the many motivational pieces I've written for students to perform.) Several years ago, while exploring some of the items left in the dresser drawer in the room my grandmother once occupied at my mom's house, I came across this poem.  I was delighted, yet baffled.  Did my grandmother really write this?  I never, ever would have even imagined her penning a poem, especially not something as fabulously insightful as this one.  I just didn't know this side of my grandmother at all!

I remember getting on the computer and searching for the lines of the poem, to see if perhaps someone else had authored it.  Nothing came up. I even did it again, before starting this post.  Still, nothing.  I recently learned that this poem was read at my grandmother's funeral in 1986, but I have no memory of hearing it, then.  The person who mentioned it to me referred to it as, "that beautiful poem that was written by your grandmother".  I think that with that, along with the inscription and dedication which follow the poem, it's time for me to accept what I found so hard to believe.  My "brother's grandmother" (lol) was a poet!

It is with enormous pride that I present the poem, "You Say I'm Growing Old?", written by Mary Davis Hill Thomas, January 24, 1960, and dedicated to her children, Howell, (Mary)Anne, and Jane.




You Say I'm Growing Old?
You tell me I'm glowing? I tell you that's not so
The house" I live in may be worn out, 
That of course I know.
It's been in use a long, long while, it's weathered many a gale
I'm really not surprised you think it's getting somewhat frail.

The color on the roof is changing, the windows getting dim,
The walls are a bit transparent and looking rather thin.
The foundation not so steady as once it used to be,
My "house" is getting shaky, but my "house" isn't me.

My few short years can't make me old, I feel I'm in my youth.
Eternity lies just ahead, a life of joy and truth.
I'm going to live forever there, as life will go on - it's grand.
You tell me I'm getting old? You just don't understand.

The dweller in my little "house" is young and bright and gay,
Just starting on a life to last throughout eternal day.
You only see the outside, which is all that most folks see.
You tell me I'm getting old? You mixed my "house" with me.

As Mary Thomas 
                                               feel(s) about herself this January 24, 1960
                                                                                        Mary H. Thomas

On the back of the original was this inscription:

To my children Howell, Anne, and Jane
Sunday afternoon, January 24th
reading poetry at Y.W.C.A. 927 Park Ave. Norfolk
compared my present life and my future home
ove on the other side of this sheet of paper
                                             Mary Thomas

I'm so proud of my grandmother for writing this phenomenal poem, and just for being the strong, beautiful woman that she was.  I know so much more about her, and the life she lived, because of my research, and I am grateful to have been chosen to share her story, and that of my other ancestors, with the world.

To learn more about my grandmother, Mary Davis Walker Hill Thomas, click here (for a post about both of my grandmothers) and here, here, and here for a 3-part series I wrote about the losses my Grandma Thomas experienced in her life.

Thanks for reading!
Renate

The poem, "You Say I'm Growing Old" was written in 1960 by Mary Thomas, and is the express property of her descendants.  It is not to be used or copied without crediting the author.