Blast From the Past,  Flashback Friday,  Mom

Flashback Friday: Love, Look At The 2 Of Us

Love, Look At The 2 of Them.

This is how I remember my grandparents.  The picture is from the 1980’s.

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These are my mother’s parents. We were much closer to them than to my father’s parents. We called them Nana and Papa, although everyone else called them Florence and Robert.

Since my mom died, I’ve been the keeper of the boxes of family history. A peek into my grandmother’s boxes revealed that Nana and Papa had a long-lasting romance. Frankly, the letters and pictures are hard to reconcile with my image of them.

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Florence had no brothers or sisters, and she fit the stereotype of the indulged only child. She grew up in Montgomery and was a talented pianist. When she gave a music recital, the paper noted that she was “an accomplished musician and extremely popular.” Nana would cling to that latter phrase throughout the rest of her life. She expected people to wait on her. She often talked about her college days, and how well-loved she was by her friends. I’ve known people like that, who brag about how popular they are, but the only one I loved was my grandmother.

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We don’t know as much about my grandfather, except that he had a brother and a sister.  Robert spent time in the army, traveling the world. This picture was taken around 1927. The ship he’s on is called the USS Meanticut. He was tall and slender and kept that shape throughout his life.

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Robert and Florence were courting by 1934, when they posed for this picture on the deserted beaches of Panama City, Florida. PCB has changed a lot since then. Some of you may call it the Redneck Riviera. It actually looks romantic here, although the bathing attire probably has a lot to do with it.

My grandparents married in 1937. Their engagement notice reveals another of Nana’s obsessions: her lineage.

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She and her mother, referred to as “Big Momma” in an intimidating way, not a snuggly one, wrote about Florence that “paternally and maternally she is of distinguished ancestry.” They pointed out that one of her ancestors had owned a castle and had a statue erected in his memory in Yorktown, Virginia. She was descended from George Washington’s sister. Another forebear, the great Lord Ashley, had written the well-known Shaftesbury Papers. He was also known as the Earl of Shaftesbury, and the Ashley and Cooper rivers in South Carolina were named after him. The engagement notice included the names of all her dead relatives who had fought in the Revolutionary war and a couple who’d fought for the Confederacy.

Nana and Big Momma tried mightily to conjure up some aristocratic relatives for Papa, but the best they could do was to say that he came from the “Beards, Drysdales and Dowies,” who settled in New Jersey, and some French Huguenots who settled in Virginia on land grants. I feel sure that didn’t bother Papa at all.

Regardless of his ancestral shortcomings, Florence and Robert were married, and my mother was born in 1941.

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Florence and Robert tried desperately to have another child, but were unsuccessful. In her later years, each time I was pregnant, Nana would tell me about her miscarriages in excruciating detail. Well into her 80’s, every time she saw a person having a baby, she took it as a personal reminder of her inability to have more than one child. But that’s how she was. She considered how things affected her first.

My grandfather adored my grandmother. At times they were separated while he was in the army. He wrote her letters so gushing they make your heart flutter just to read them, even when you know they are written to another woman.

He writes to  “My adorable wife” and ends with “My Florence, I think of you all during the day and night and am so completely yours. Your devoted husband, Robert.” In between he says things like, “Florence, I miss you greatly. You are worth the world to me.” He thanks her for each letter she sends, worries about her health, asks about my mother – is she talking? Can Florence send pictures?- and dreams of the next time they’ll be together.

In every picture I have of them together, he is gripping her tightly, so she won’t slip away.

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They lived long enough to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. Papa died in 1991, when I was in law school, and Nana lived another twelve years, miserable without him.

That’s the story of their romance.

Of course, there’s a different story, and that’s the story of my relationship with them.

Of all my grandparents, and my parents as well, Papa was the most effusive. He didn’t hesitate to express his feelings and tell you how much he loved you. Even as a child I could see that Nana could be a hypochondriac and that she was spoiled, but he delighted in her every move, catered to her, and assured her that she was the most wonderful creature on the planet.

He was devoted to us as well. He rode a bike most days, and would often ride to our house. He’d slip rubber-bands around the cuffs of his pants so they wouldn’t get caught in the chains, and I thought that was the smartest idea I’d ever heard. He outfitted the bike in other ways, too. He added a basket so he could bring us National Geographic magazines, word puzzles he’d found, or vegetables from the farmer’s market. Because dogs roamed the neighborhood, he cut off a broom handle and attached it with springs to the underside of his handlebars so he could brandish it if a mutt got too aggressive.

After he retired, he didn’t slow down. For years he volunteered for the Red Cross, driving the truck to pick up blood donations.  He taught us how to make his famous peanut brittle and gave it to neighbors or dropped it off at the Red Cross.

Papa believed that the key to success was having plenty of sharp pencils on hand. He installed a pencil sharpener on the inside of our upstairs closet door and made sure we were well-supplied with pencils. He always had plenty himself, which he used until they were shorter than his pinky. When I think of Papa, I smell pencil shavings.

Papa always had something nifty to show us. He taught us how to sit in the sun with a magnifying glass and focus it on a leaf just so, and soon the leaf would smolder and burn.  He explained tic-tac-toe strategies. He’d take apart his hearing aids and demonstrate how they worked.

I included this picture because this is how I remember Papa. When he saw you, he’d bend down to your level and grasp your hand and pat pat pat it hard while he asked about your latest adventure. When you talked to him you felt like you were the only person in the world. I can see why Nana fell apart after he died.

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Nana remained obsessed with popularity and lineage. I might be dating a long-haired pot smoker, but if he could produce papers showing he was descended from George Washington’s sister and that they came from the same people, Nana would have been thrilled about it.

She believed that high-class people had to uphold certain standards. Women should wear their hair off their foreheads so their eyebrows were clearly visible. She’d often say, “You’d be so much more becoming if your hair was shorter in the front.”

Chewing gum was “common.”

My mother hadn’t been asked to join the Birmingham Junior League, as she’d grown up in Montgomery. When I got an invitation and turned it down, Nana took to her bed. She was stunned that a young lady would practice law rather than join a club with the Junior League’s cachet.

I redeemed myself when the twins were born and we named Drew after my grandfather. Nana was ecstatic. She’d smile at the other boys, but she wanted her picture taken with Drew, because he was “her people.”

There was a Western grocery store a mile from my grandmother’s house. She wouldn’t go near it. Instead she drove all the way to the Western grocery store in the heart of the Tiny Kingdom, because that’s where all the people who were somebody went.

When it was time for her to go to a nursing home, she flat-out refused to go to one convenient to my mom’s house, and insisted on a different one miles away, because it attracted “a better class of people.”

My mom managed her well after my grandfather’s death. She was essentially parenting her mother, as so many of us do later in life, but it was impossible for anyone to treat my grandmother with the attention that Big Momma and Papa had lavished on her. My mom was trying to hold a marriage together and spend time with her grandchildren as well. It wasn’t until after my mom died that I realized just how hard it was for her to manage day by day.

My mom and my grandmother died just a couple of years apart.

I think my grandmother would like to be remembered as she is in this picture, or perhaps the one above where she’s in the pink dress. Her hair is swept off her forehead, revealing her eyebrows. She’s happy and smiling, clearly the center of attention, where she was meant to be.

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*******

1. Jo@Mylestones
2. Ladybird (First Timer!!)
3. Misagracie; Love, love, love, love, crazy love…
4. catnip – some wedding pics!
5. Marissa (Wedding Day)
6. Rebecca (Engaged)
7. TheChickadeefeeder (We Met)
8. TheChickadeefeeder (Parents)
9. Andi (how we met)
10. Sir Nottaguy-Imadad
11. Sir Nottaguy-Imadad
12. Brandy
13. pendy (after the blind date)
14. doni@RainbowCreek@Home 30th Anniversary Card
15. bea
16. Observations of an Earthroamer (Kim)

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33 Comments

  • Misagracie

    It was kind of hard writing about love facing the first valentine’s day since the divorce. No matter how amicable a split is, it’s still tough around the 14th of February. Thank Gawd today is Friday the 13th which gives me a reason to spend the weekend watching non-romantic-gushy-chick-flick-horror-blood-and-gore movies!

    Misagracie’s last blog post..Love, Love, Love, Love, Crazy Love

  • Erin Stephenson

    Thank you for telling this incredible love story, Anne! It’s a remarkable, candid look at your grandparents and such a wonderful testimony to the legacy of memories and family. This is the kind of blog post I aspire to write, one day. 🙂

    Erin Stephenson’s last blog post..The hall monitor

  • Ladybird

    I love this post! Your grandmother was beautiful and your grandfather was quite handsome! You come from much better stock than me! LOL! My sixth-great-grandfather was hung in Bermuda in 1610 for piracy and my great-grandmother had to be chased down after she ran away with a traveling salesman.

    Love Flashback Friday…..now I have to go buy a scanner! LOL!

    Ladybird’s last blog post..FF – Love, Look At The Two Of Us

  • Erin

    You have such an exciting family. You should keep telling their histories like this. It’s a great way to honor them and keep your memories alive. Your mother and grandmother sound like amazing women. It sounds like your mother was a bit like her father perhaps? Did the Lord Ashley thing have any bearing on your name or is it coincidence?

    Erin’s last blog post..Snow girls

  • pyzahn

    What a lovely couple. And a terrific post. Do you think that 50 years from now our color digital photos will seem as charming as these vintage black and white pictures?

    Happy Valentine’s day to lovers everywhere.

    pyzahn’s last blog post..Shine a light on me

  • Haley

    My grandparents made it to 57 years together. My grandfather passed away in 2003 and he sounds much like your grandfather. He absolutely adored my grandmother and thought she was the most beautiful woman to walk the earth. He felt the same about his daughter and granddaughter. 🙂 I miss him every day, but it is posts like these that make me realize how much. Thank you.

  • Sir Nottaguy-Imadad

    You are very lucky to have pictures of your grandparents. As far as I know, all the pictures that mom had were lost due to a leaking roof. I was sick with grief to see all the ruined pictues. The photos may be gone, but memories are still here.

    Sir Nottaguy-Imadad’s last blog post..Flashback Friday #25

  • Alex

    SUCH a beautiful post. I need to go call my granny and tell her that I love her. My PawPaw died 4 1/2 years ago from lung cancer and she still cries over him every single day.

  • Catherine

    So good- again! Am I to understand you are related to William Rufus King- the former Vice president- or did I mis-read your lineage??

  • Brandy Poole

    It’s so touching to look at each photo of them together and see how he really is grasping her as if he’s afraid she’s going to float away. I also love how delicately you handled your description of your grandmother. I know, from having dealt with my mother, that it’s tough balancing loving someone but not liking their ways.

    Brandy Poole’s last blog post..Flashback Friday: Love, Look at the 2 of Us

  • pendy

    I hate I didn’t ‘get it together’ to do a post for this theme as I have really been looking forward to it. It’s just been A DAY, really A WEEK (if you visit my blog you will see that my house has been torn apart for a month but most especially this week). That said, I enjoyed your post so much, that it more than made up for it. What a lovely story of your grandparents and to have it written with the pictures included…what a treasure for your family.

    pendy’s last blog post..Our Smallest Valentine

  • andrea

    Anne, I didn’t realize–your mother must have been a baby when she had you. Your mom is only 5 years older than my parents, and I think you’re about 10 years older than I.

  • suzanne

    I hopped over here from Antique Mommy’s blogroll…and what a treat. This post was something like out of a good novel. I enjoyed reading about your grandparents…..I have some relatives VERY concerned about “good blood” too! I understand just what you meant!

    Suzanne

    suzanne’s last blog post..cookies and flowers for YOU!!!

  • Joy, East of the Kingdom

    What a wonderful story!

    My maternal grandparents owned a store and several rental properties. My mother was a late-life baby, born when my grandmother was in her 40’s. My uncle was 18 and he married the next year. My mother was raised with her nephews, as if they were her siblings (something that messed me up when I was little.)My grandfather died when I was 6. He smoked cigars and every now and then,I will catch a whiff of one. My grandmother handled the business until dementia took over. She wore her hair like your grandmother’s and she Roux-rinsed it jet black every Saturday. She wore Chanel No.5. When we went to Eastwood Mall, she wore a hat, heels and gloves, everytime. She died when I was 16.

    My paternal grandparents owned a poultry farm. My grandfather served in the Army in WWII. My grandmother was a telephone operator. After they war they moved to Wyandotte, MI so Grandaddy could work for Ford. They moved back 4 years later and started the poultry farm, that my dad runs today. My grandfather believed that anything with use left in it was worth saving, so he did. He could cook darn near anything. He died 4 years ago this June, two days before my birthday. My grandmother makes the best divinity candy on the planet and prefers that I cut all my hair off short. She never misses the opportunity to tell me that, either.

    Joy, East of the Kingdom’s last blog post..Happy Valentine’s Day!

  • rainbowcreek

    This is my first time participating in FF. Celebrated my 30th anniversary last week. We had a wonderful surprise celebration for my parents 50th a few years ago, it was one of those moments that give real meaning to life and love.

    Your story of your nana and papa is so captivating, it felt like a look through a window into their lives and yours. Thanks so much for taking the time to put that together so beautifully. I would love to do something like that for my mom and dad someday.

    rainbowcreek’s last blog post..Matt and David

  • Bea

    I love family history, but sadly most of mine died along with my great aunt 5 years ago. She was the last of her generation, and left tons of boxes of old photos, the most amazing of which is a tin photo of some long-forgotten family member.

    I’m determined to get my own parents to identify as many people as they can in those old photos to try and preserve the history – my parents, grandparents and relations lived through nightmares in the UK during WW11, it’s not stuff to be fogotten quickly!

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