My People

My People
My matched set of grandchildren - Oliver and Cosette

Friday, October 21, 2011

Grandma Pennington

I wanted to share this piece that was written by my Uncle Bill (does anyone else think of Jody and Buffy of Family Affair every time I say "Uncle Bill"? No? Just me?)

My two grandmothers were very different... Grandma Leta is still living - and thriving - at almost 88 years old. Grandma Pennington (I don't know why we used her last name instead of her first name) passed away at age 88 in 1998. As a child I spent much more time with Grandma Pennington, I suppose this is true of most maternal grandparents. I've always had the thought in my head that "sons are sons until they take a wife but daughters are daughters the rest of their lives". When I was a small child they lived a similar distance from us but we mostly spent time with Grandma and Granddaddy Pennington. Holidays were mostly spent with our Pennington family. I know those cousins far better than the children of my father's siblings. 

But... ultimately... I knew my mothers sisters far better than my mother's four brothers and their families. It's really only through the new social media that I have begun to connect with those family members. I feel almost as if I've wasted a valuable resource all these years in not honoring those bonds. 

However, if I had to be truthful about it, ever since Michael came into my life, two of the most distant relatives in my life are my two oldest sons. They have their lives and interests and I want them to do the things they want to do. I don't want them to spend time with me out of obligation. I want people to spend time with me because they WANT to, not because they feel like they have to. And I accept the fact that whenever my grandchildren are born of those two sons, their maternal grandmothers will be closer. It hurts... but it's one of those things in life that we have to accept. I am prepared. 

At any rate, when Granddaddy got sick they moved to the same town where we lived and Grandma remained there, near us, the rest of her life. I spent a lot of time with her but I always felt like I never really knew her... although I loved her dearly and she very clearly loved me. She died when I was thirty... and she was able to know all of my children. At the time I didn't realize the basic questions I could have and should have asked her. It's such a blessing to know her now through our family historian, Uncle Bill. 

Her photo - taken with Granddaddy on their wedding day - hangs in my kitchen and was the first thing we hung when we moved into this new nest. I know I've posted a lot of this genealogical stuff lately and I'm not offended if you choose to skip over it. I'm posting as much for my own entertainment and my own record as anything else, but I hope you'll enjoy this. Have a great Friday, y'all!

Memories of Mother -
     Flossie Virginia Jackson Pennington

Mother's father was not meek in the way we define the word, but he was meek in the true biblical sense in that he walked the straight and narrow as in the promising beatitude:  the meek shall inherit the earth. He was blessed with a quiet easy going personality that endeared him to all who knew him.  His presence was always appreciated.  

Mother's mother was more agressive, a little heavier, domineering, outspoken, and highly visable,  and she was very charitable.   Her presence whether appreciated or not, was always known.  Both of Mother's parents were devout Christians who attended church and read their bibles and prayed daily.

It is through Mother's mother's Alderman family ancestry that connects us in a direct line with King Henry II of England.  Strangely enough Dad is also a direct decendant of King Henry through his McCubbin and Howard lines thus making Mother and Dad thirty-seventh cousins. That in itself is not strange, but it is perhaps a bit strange that we have this bit of information.

Mother was the product of the rather unlikely pair known as her mother and father.   She was born on the first day of March in 1910 in rural Leake County, Mississippi and blessed in that she was somewhat more like her father than her mother.  She was one of nine children born to Mary Alice Ray and Luther Vaden Jackson.  Only four of their nine children survived much past infancy. The oldest child was Pearl, born in 1904, and usually referred to as Sister and officially known as Pearl Atkinson, LPN.  She lived most of her life in a state of divorce and raised a son, Louis Atkinson, who was a guard at Kilby State, a prisoner at Brushy Mountian, and later murdered doing a good deed.  The last child and only surviving son was Cpl. Paul David Jackson,  born in 1920.  His claim to fame was crossing the English Channel to Normandy only to be shot in the leg by friendly fire.  He was the only one in the family who ever drove a car or ever owned one.  Mother had one other surviving sister, Alberta,  born in 1914 and named for her Uncle Albert Jackson.  She was the fun loving child of the family otherwise known officially as Mrs. Wilfred Fox.  There was another unofficially adopted sister whose name was Martha Edwards but was called Nell Jackson and worked much of her life in the federal government in Washington. All these people save Alberta have passed on as of this writing.

The little graves of all the other children are at Midway Cemetery near the place where they were all born and died near Carthage in Mississippi.  In a strange coincidence all the surviving children were born in even numbered years as were both the parents who also died in even numbered years.  

Luther Jackson learned early in life that farming was not a very good way to earn a living. Somewhere along the way he picked up a paint brush and painted his way into a job with the Southern Railway System over at Meridian, Mississippi before being transferred to Chattanooga just after 1920.

 He bought a house at 328 Sylvan Street in North Chattanooga and he and his wife lived there for the rest of their lives.  He died in 1966 and his wife died in 1970. The house at that address was elevated with a number of rocking chairs kept on a long front porch running the width of the house and bending around to the side; this portion renovated to become a sleeping porch.  The rooms, especially the kitchen were quite large.  Grandmother was a good cook and furnished her table lavishly when the family gathered there for Christmas and other times of the year.  All in all, it was a fun place to go.

 Mother's early summers while living in Meridian were often spent with her abundance of relatives in the Ray and Jackson families in Leake County including Uncle Floss Jackson, her namesake.  It was a case where two brothers including Mother's father married two sisters including Mother's mother so that just about everyone was related two different ways.    Her childhood memories include leaving Meridian each summer and spending several weeks with her grandparents. 

Mother's own family usually referred to her affectionately as Mamie. She was never to my knowledge, known as Virginia which just happened to be the names of her two grandmothers. Virginia was the reincarnation of her unused name devised by Dad who didn't like Flossie any more than he liked his own name, Clarence.

Her early years are not throughly documented save to say that she attended public school mostly in North Chattanooga and eventually graduated from Central High School in Chattanooga, class of 1930.  She had gained some minimal work experience as a clerk in a dime store.

It was about 1931 that she left Chattanooga and went to New Orleans to attend Baptist Bible Institute. Her objective was to become a missionary. This objective may or may not have been completely clear but it is my understanding that she wanted to be a foreign missionary and while she never left this country she truly was a minister during all of her life.  Even so, if this is the case,  the failure to realize a dream may have plagued her for much of her life.  While in attendance at BBI she worked in a home for unwed mothers and the otherwise homeless in the French Quarter. When writing of her and of this particular time we have to be mindful that this period was in the midst of the great depression, and this work and place was not without its risks and dangers.  She met Dad most likely in 1932 or 1933.  He was a fairly well dressed young preacher from Oklahoma who found much appeal in her devotion and idealism. We should also say that pictures of her at the time show a young pretty and modest young lady who would have certainly been very pleasing to the eye.  Dad let it be known to her that she certainly needed him for her own protection,  a line that has played well since the days of the knights of old.

There was a bit of distance between Dad and Mother's family.  He hit it off well with Mother's father. Anyone would.  And he was tolerable, but not close in his relationship with Mother's mother. There was a world of difference in some of their views, which to my knowledge, were never discussed.  When they visited it was usually a lesson in diplomacy. Dad's relationship to Mother's siblings was always cordial but not necessarily close.

Mother took him to her home in Chattanooga and there at Northside Baptist Church in June of 1934 they said their vows.  They were off to Celina, Tennessee,  an outpost near the Kentucky line where they felt led to establish the town's first and only Missionary Baptist Church with services held weekly in the basement of the Clay County Courthouse.  It worked, of course, but not without great discomfort and difficulty. The living quarters were poor. The pay was miserable, and food and the simplest of comforts were generally denied.  By late 1934 she became pregnant and on a hot June day she gave birth to her firstborn, Albert, a tiny premature child whom the doctor unceramoniously pronounced dead.  But church people are people who come to help one another and pray together.  The ladies at the little house that day took the child and carefully moved their hands about his body and he began to move and cry. Then they prayed for many hours that he would survive. He did.

The following year in the same house on a blazing hot July Sunday morning while his father was out preaching,  another child was was added. This time the baby weighed in at a heaping seven pounds and was quickly named for his paternal grandfather, William Judson Pennington.

By that time the family was able to buy an old car and they set forth to tour the land of all their relatives and show off their two fine children.  The trip was to Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi.  While the two new kids were loved and appreciated by all on this trip,  it is, of course, sad that neither of them have a memory of it.

What we do remember is that when we were just two or three years old our days began with a bible story read to us by Mother. This happened each day and the memory of it is fixed forever in my mind. By the time we entered public school I'm sure we had heard just about every story that could be gleaned from both the Old and New Testaments. She would also read stories from other sources. I remember Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates as well as Heidi which Mother for some unknown reason always pronounced Hilda. She would sometimes change things around in her stories to suit her own purposes. She may have been unclear as to the correct pronounciation of Heidi and changed the little girl's name for ease in pronounciation. She often did as she could to make the best of any difficult situation.  If I had to write her story in a single sentence that would be the sentence that precedes thus one.

When members of the family gather there is sometimes discussion about who among the children was more favored.  I never felt any of this as a child. I felt secure and did not believe either of the parents treated anyone any different than they treated me.  I hope I'm not missing something.

Mother was not like anyone else's mother that I knew.  Words to describe her that come to mind today begin with saintly and go from there.  She did have faults, of course, and in spite of all her prayerful and religious ways I have never quite understood her sometimes distant relationship with her older sister. During the summer of 1946 when Mother was suffering from her severe burns her sister quit her private duty nursing job in Cleveland, Tennessee and moved in with us to take care of Mother who was completely bedridden for several months.   Her sister's sense of duty was at a considerable sacrifice.  But in later years Mother would go for very long periods of time without having any contact with her at all.  As a child I had no understanding of this and I must say now as an old man I still don't understand it.  In 1978 after Dad died I was called to explain why Mother's family had not been advised of his death. I had no explanation and tried to smooth things over as best I could.  My gut feeling tells me that there was some jealousy somewhere and I'm not sure with whom it rested. Mother was too good of a person for us to dwell on this single mystery.  No matter how tough the going in her life she always seemed to have an eye on something higher than the trivality of daily life.  Her sense of humor and ability to laugh and smile even when things were tough are among my sweetest memories. There was not a day in her mothering years when she did not make at least some sacrifice for at least one, and sometimes all of her children.

Her sense of compassion extended well beyond her own family. When a child was born to a lady's unmarried sister living with a married couple and fathered by the husband,  Mother went there with a gift for the baby. Her only comment was: "Maybe they should be run out of town, but It's not the fault of the baby." She rarely had anything bad to say about anyone.  One of her more scorching criticisms of a person  would be: "She's not really like us, is she?" She believed in all ten of the commandments and was often heard to say: "Don't ever want something someone else has. Try for something similar and work hard to get it."

While I was still a teenager she found that I had an outstanding debt of $5.46 at a local store,  she paid it She wrote that she paid it because she believed the store needed the money and she was happy to tell me that I didn't have to repay her because she wanted to do something nice for me. For a little more than five dollars she created a blessing for three different people.

I cannot say how easy or difficult her life as a child was. I suspect that she had at least an average childhood for that period of time. The difficulties in he life began, if not before, when she and Dad went to Celina, and as she put it "almost starved to death".  When we moved over to two churches near Lexington and Decaturville in western Tennessee things weren't much better.  The pay was dreadfully low and the housing was not good either.  For awhile we were forced to live in the basement of one of the churches. We lived in a couple of places in Louisville in Kentucky,  and by then Dad had stopped preaching and was making a decent living, but as I remember, the living conditions were far from ideal.  The Spring Creek house in the East Ridge section of Chattanooga was good for her. It was a newly built modern home, built just before the war, and was within walking distance of a grocery store and a city bus ride away from her parent's home. The main problem was that Dad worked for the TVA and Mother had no way of getting around except by public transportation.  She also felt very vulnerable during these war years living in a house with three children, expecting a fourth,  and her husband gone most of the time except on weekends.

The move to Georgia in December, 1944 was the beginning of more hardships. There was no electricity or running water and clothes had to be washed in an iron pot over a fire. Water was drawn by hand from a well and carried to where it was needed.  Ironing was even tougher. Metal irons were heated in the fireplace before being used for just a couple of minutes before having to be reheated.  Butter was made by shaking milk in a fruit jar. Milk was kept somewhat cool in a well but during most of the year it was only good for a few hours.  Night light came from oil lamps that had to be cleaned almost daily. The only fuel for fire was from the wood that we cut by hand. I remember the two winters there as being especially brutal in this unpainted frame house that had no insulation, window screens,  or much of anything else. There was a six-foot wide fireplace in the living room that was kept going, but it was highly inefficient with most of the heat going up the chimney.

It was under these circumstances that Mother was badly burned in April, 1946 while canning strawberries. She survived but endured much suffering for many months during the hot summer.  We moved to Cohutta over in Whitfield County in Novermber, 1947 but things weren't much better there either.  At some point propane gas heaters were installed and an electric pump was placed over a well allowing inside water.  Still there was no bathroom. David, born in 1941 and John in 1944 were both quite small during this period of time and required the necessary care for children of their ages.  Virginia-Ginger was born in January, 1947 while we were at the farmhouse in Catoosa County.  Norma and Linda were both born in Dalton while the family lived at Cohutta.  

It was not until the late 50's in the Atlanta area that Mother would have the hardships lifted from her life. She raised seven children and there was always at least one in the household from 1935 until about 1970. In 1966 Dad had his heart attack and without the possibility of continuing his job at St. Joseph's Infirmary, he was forced to take whatever work he could, which in this case was at the Boy Scout Camp south of Atlanta. During her married life from 1934 until Dad's death in 1978 - 44 years - I personally know of sixteen different houses where the two of them lived, and there was one house - in Cohutta - where they lived for about nine years.  Mother not only lived a hard life, but it was also mostly a nomadic existence.

It is a fact that Dad's death in 1978 was a defining moment and it began the third of the three major parts of her life:  1910-1934,  1934-1978, and 1978 until her own death in 1998, all even years, of course. His death changed the way she lived her own life.   It also created its own set of difficulties. She had a limited income, limited transportation, and slowly declining health.  We should also mention the adjustment of handling financial and other affairs, many of which were unfamiliar to her. She seemed to have done all this quite well. She sacrificed to pay off debts, kept good records, and became even more active in her church.  Whenever an obligation was paid off she would sometimes write: "Thank the Lord'  at the bottom of the page.  She also began doing volunteer work in the nursing home that was within easy walking distance of her apartment there in Riverdale.

She became very active in working with an oriental group associated with her church. The group of thirty or forty people adopted her as a mother to them and would sometimes come in large groups to her apartment with food.  I believe she held classes for them at church.  She once was heard to say that God did not choose to take her to a foreign country, but brought the people from a foreign country to her.

Once Mother mentioned in a letter to me that she was praying that I would move up to the Atlanta area to be closer to her and the family. I wrote her back asking that she please not pray about things like that. I have the greatest faith in prayer and believe that her prayers were quite powerful. I believe that many of the events and circumstances of my life were shaped by her prayers. I do not regret not living in the Atlanta area, but I do regret not being able to see her more often than I did.

Our last trip to see her was on Easter Sunday in April of 1998.  It was a very nice visit in that she used it to relate many of the events that had happened in her life.  She died on May 5th and is buried next to Dad at Methodist Cemetery in Riverdale, Georgia.  At her funeral the old minister said: "A tree always falls in the direction in which it leans." Our mother lived a good life. She often did as she could to make the best of any difficult siuation.