Monday, November 21, 2022

Momma Said

My mother talked a lot. She talked to me a lot. I realized this when I pass by certain houses and I know who lived there when my mother was a child. 

I know who she went to prom with, that she grew up on Ludlow Street and that the hill that the Quenby Mall was built on, now full of government offices, was once called Red Hill and was covered in houses.

Momma came of age in the 1950's. She was a bobby sockers who wore poodle skirts and black and white shoes called Saddle Oxfords. She loved Elvis and Fats Domino and could do The Twist. I loved it when Momma would be twisting and my Grandma, her Momma, would come out of the kitchen and start doing the Charleston, the dance of her own era.

Because of my Mom's love of Rock and Roll, I know the words, by heart, of dozens and dozens of songs that came out years before I was born.

Both of my biological parents were born in 1939. I had found them both in the 1940 census when I started building my family tree. 

Here's my mother in 1940.  One year old, she was the youngest of four. My mother's name was Nancy Joyce, but she went by Joyce. Lewis D. was Uncle Doug, Walter was Walter Kenneth, or Uncle Kent and Sylvia my dear Aunt Sissy. The oldest, Uncle Doug, is the only sibling left.  Their parents were Lewis Theodore  and Maude Mauldin Davis, 28 and 30 here. I remember clearly that my grandmother had issues with being just a little older than her husband.

This is my Dad's family in 1940. I knew he grew up in Aquadale, in the southern part of the county. And here he is, a baby, with his parents in Tyson township, which includes Aquadale. Dad was the oldest of three. His brother Leon, and sister, Mildred, had not yet been born. Uncle Leon, the middle child, is the only one left of his family. 

A few years before he passed away last year, my Dad drove around with me and my brother, Vincent, showing us various places he had lived, in Aquadale, Cottonville and even across the river into Anson County, where his cousins and his cousins widow still live. He even lived for a few years in Cabbarrus County where his mother was born. 

My parents met at the YMCA in Albemarle. My mother lived nearby and was there, hanging out with her friend, Virginia or "Jenny '. My Dad drove up with his cousin, Edgar, who was like a brother to him and the rest is history. Edgar married Jenny and Dad married Mom. Thirteen months after the wedding, here I came. So did War. Dad was drafted in the Korean War.

And there I am, circa late 1960.

My parents were young when they married and still young when they had me. The military suited my Dad and he stayed in it through the Vietnam War. The marriage crumbled, they divorced and both would remarry. My mother once, my Dad thrice.

My mother and I lived with her parents for a number of years and then she started dating the boy down the street. He had been to old for her when she was single before, but at 26, the 5 year age difference didn't matter. I lived with my mother and 'Daddy' growing up, and his family became mine too. 

This is Daddy in 1940. He lived in an area north of Albemarle, surrounded by family at the time. Daddy, Robert was 5 years old here, born in 1935. Daddy (not to be confused with Dad), was an only child. Grandma, Hattie, had been married before, to a McSwain, who had served in WWII. He died of mustard gas poisoning. She would later remarry to Will, a man eleven years her junior, which isn't reflected on this census correctly, as she was actually 39 when her only son was born. 

Living with them was Daddy's grandfather, Thomas Jefferson Thompson, aged 72, which surprised me for reasons I will get into later. Next door was a brother to Will and on the other side were sisters, so they were living in a family group at this time.

Hattie, born in 1898, was almost in an entirely different generation than my other grandparents. She had been a "bloomer girl" and had the pictures to prove it. Grandma was smart and funny, loving and industrious. I don't believe that there was anything she couldn't do.

She was a stay at home Mom, but suplimented the family income by sewing for friends and neighbors. Her edible yard was a virtual Garden of Eden to me as a child. She had flower gardens, vegetable gardens, and green gardens in the fall with cabbage, spinach, Kressie Greens, turnips and rutabagas. Her trees almost all had a purpose from pecan to persimmon to plum to pomegranates. If it could 'grow around here's, she had planted it, and what a green thumb. Up the hill grew corn and potatoes and yams, intermixed with beans and peas of 6 or 7 varieties. She grew cucumbers, tomatoes, onion s peppers,  lettuce, carrots, squash, yams, cantaloupe and watermelon. A creek ran across the backyard between the main garden and the grassy area. Two bridges ran across, and sunflowers lined one bank. Cherry tomatoes lined the other and we referred to them as 'Tommy toes'.

As the land rose from the creek up to the top of a hill, a cluster of tall, white barked trees, with yellow leaves in fall, grew at the crest of the hill. A smaller red maple grew in front of them. Although they took up space that could have yeilded more edible treasures, Grandma loved her aesthetics and beauty. Those trees were going nowhere.

I'm not sure if they were Aspens, or Sycamores or Birch, but there were none nearby like them and I don't believe that they were native. Grandma may have planted them years before. 
To the north of the first bridge the creek grew wider, and a little island sat in the middle. In summer, the island was covered with tiger lilies and the bank was lined with weeping willows. It was a beautiful melody of shapes and colors. 
To the south of the second bridge were the fruit trees, plum and fig, apple and persimmon, lining the bank next to the green garden. The green garden grew in fall and held cabbage and onions, spinach and Kressie, turnips and rutabagas. Some variety of goard grew along a small fence and would be used as bird feeders later on.
Between the two bridges there were tall red flowers with large dark leaves on the house side of the creek. In front of them grew the tommy toes and peppers, and a few herbs like dill and thyme. On the other side of the bank in front of the vegetable garden, grew the sunflowers, all in a row. 
The creek was a magical place in itself. Teaming with life, there were minnows and tadpoles and crawdads, or fresh water shrimp, had dug holes all in the banks. Some of those holes may have held snakes as well, but I never dared checking. 
The creek would occasionally yield treasures, especially after a rain, lots of marbles that I still have, sometimes little metal trucks or army men, lost by some boy upstream.

As important as edible plants we're, there was always room for flowers. Roses were front and center in front of the house, which was simple and adoened with only the roses and a few large oaks, down the sides of the house is where beauty came to life from spring to fall with daffodils, then dutch irises, to tulips and gladiolus and lilies, finishing off with spider lilies just before the first freeze.

Despite all of the colorful queens, my favorite was a humble sweet bubby, that wasn't bold or brilliant in color, but sweet in scent, reminescent of apples. There were also a few shrubs in the front that only presented their worth in winter, with red berries. 

But of all the flowers, the one that resigned was an enormous blue hydrangea that was hidden behind the house and only visible to family and visiting friends. It must have been 13 feet tall and nearly as wide. I often wonder if it's still there.

So Gramma had a green thumb, but that's not all she could do. I mentioned she could sew, and was an artisan in that craft. She also quilted, family heirlooms now, that have stood the test of time. Still, my stomach yearns for her homemade biscuits, pies and puddings. Grandma could cook! Not only that, but she taught Daddy, her only child. Good thing too, because it was he who taught Momma.

Momma was the youngest of four, as I have mentioned, but she also had a working mother. There was a lady that you could call a Nanny or a housekeeper, who stayed with them for a very long time named Louise. Louise was still living when I was small, my mother would visit her and I have memories of her, but although my maternal grandmother could cook too, and did so very well, she didn't have the time to teach my mother.

I've said alot about my grandmother, but not much about my grandfather. Grandpa and Grandma, as they would say in the Bible were 'unequally yoked'. They were not equally talented or evenly matched. Not in the manner of believer and nonbeliever, but in the matter of intelligence, ability and socially. Grandpa was a nice enough fellow, and kind. He just was from a another time and place, you might say, just one county over. Grandpa was from Montgomery County, which may not sound like anything to anyone else, but for those who know, it was a much more rural area. His family was one of many who were displaced, or driven from their property, by the building of the dams along the Yadkin/PeeDee River during the early part of the 20th century.

The Thompsons had lived within sight of the Swift Island Bridge for generations,and the Swift Island before that. They spoke a dialect that had came, I suppose, from old Scotch-Irish settlers generations before them and found its longevity in these isolated, backwoods farm families. Yes, it was English, but with inflections and words I had never heard. Granpa, who mind you, I didn't meet until I was five, used the word 'hope' in a strange way. He would ask you to 'Hope' him do something, when he actually meant Help. It was only recently that I learned that the word was actually "Holp" instead of Hope and was a Middle English word of ancient origins. The word Help was a variation of Holp, or another tense of it, so help had actually derived from help. Grandpa was using an historic, nearly extinct dialect and I didn't know it. 

He also changed anything that ended in 'a' or the 'uh' sound to 'er', especially in names. He had a niece named Edna. I was an adult before I knew her name was Edna. I thought her name was Abner, because that is what it sounded like he called her. He corrupted nearly every name he heard, and many more modern names that had not been in common use when he was a boy, he could barely pronounce at all. For instance, 'Eric' became 'Erk" and even older names he knew, he would add letters to that did not exist. An example was the name 'Nancy', which he pronounced 'Naintcy'. Where did that 't' come from? Another word it took me until adulthood to decipher was "Arsh Taters". I knew they were potatoes, but I thought the word he was corrupting was 'Ash', so I called them Ash Potatoes. One day, someone asked me, "Do you mean Irish Potatoes?' My embarrassment was all because of Grandpa's mispronounciation.

Another thing that bothered me about Grandpa was his lack of manners. Grandma had explained that his oldest sister raised him because his parents had died when he was young, his oldest sister, Esther, having been only about 13 at the time. He 'had no raisin'" in other words. When he ate, he ate like a pig at a trough, everything mixed together and food running out the sides of his mouth. It was disgusting and turned my stomach. I hated holiday dinners with him, which were far too often, as daddy was an only child, and they 'had no one else' to celebrate with. 

Name:Willia Thompson[William Thompson]
Estimated Birth Year:abt 1904
Birthplace:North Carolina
Marital Status:Married
Relation to Head of House:Head
Home in 1940:West and North Albemarle, Stanly, North Carolina
Map of Home in 1940:
Street:Oak Street
House Number:707
Inferred Residence in 1935:West and North Albemarle, Stanly, North Carolina
Residence in 1935:West and North Albemarle
Resident on farm in 1935:No
Sheet Number:12A
Number of Household in Order of Visitation:204
Occupation:Spin Doffer
House Owned or Rented:Rented
Value of Home or Monthly Rental if Rented:3
Attended School or College:No
Highest Grade Completed:Elementary school, 3rd grade
Hours Worked Week Prior to Census:40
Class of Worker:Wage or salary worker in private work
Weeks Worked in 1939:50
Income Other Sources:No
Household Members (Name)AgeRelationship
Willia Thompson36Head
Hatt Thompson40Wife
Robert Thompson5Son
Thomas J Thompson72Father

So, imagine my surprise when I saw in the 1940 census, that his father, Thomas Jefferson Thompson, was alive at 72, and living with them when Daddy was a little boy. So, apparently, in his time and mode, the father did not participate in the 'raising' of the children, teaching them how to speak or how to use eating utensils or manners, the mother did. Fathers tended the farm. He had grown-up without a mother, but his father saw him well into adulthood. Or maybe his coarse and common ways of doing things was just the 'way they did it', back then. 

Recently, the 1950 census began to become available. This was something I did not readily use, because the questions I am now trying to answer are much further back than that. However, I thought it might be interesting to find my immediate family in the 1950 census. I certainly got a laugh when I found my mother.

Name:Nancy J Davis
Birth Date:abt 1906
Birth Place:North Carolina
Marital Status:Never Married (Single)
Relation to Head of House:Daughter
Residence Date:1950
Home in 1950:Albemarle, Stanly, North Carolina, USA
Street Name:Ludlow
Dwelling Number:157
Household Members (Name)AgeRelationship
Lewis T Davis37Head
Maude M Davis40Wife
Douglas L Davis16Son
Kenneth W Davis14Son
Sylvia J Davis12Daughter
Nancy J Davis44Daughter

My mother was born in 1939, therefore, would have been turning 11 that year. She was the youngest of the four children in the family, however, the transcribers deemed her 44, older than her parents, but they were living on Ludlow Street, just like she had often told me. 

Name:Robert W Thompson
Birth Date:abt 1935
Birth Place:North Carolina
Marital Status:Never Married (Single)
Relation to Head of House:Son
Residence Date:1950
Home in 1950:Albemarle, Stanly, North Carolina, USA
Street Name:Watts
House Number:410
Dwelling Number:135
Occupation:Paper Boy
Occupation Category:Other
Worked Last Week:Yes
Worker Class:Private
Household Members (Name)AgeRelationship
William B Thompson45Head
Hattie H Thompson49Wife
Robert W Thompson15Son

I found a pleasant surprise when looking for Daddy, my step-father. His family was living on Watts Street, no surprise, and something else that I had heard, but Daddy, at 15, was working as a paperboy. This was something I never heard him ever mention, that he had delivered newspapers as a young teen. I was not surprised to see that he was working and contributing to the family income, however. That was his work ethic.

Name:Milton E Lambert[]
Birth Date:abt 1944
Birth Place:North Carolina
Marital Status:Never Married (Single)
Relation to Head of House:Son
Residence Date:1950
Home in 1950:Tyson, Stanly, North Carolina, USA
Street Name:Going From Cottonville Toward Ansonville
Dwelling Number:19
Household Members (Name)AgeRelationship
Berley Lambert34Head
Berthy Lambert34Wife
Milton E Lambert6Son
Leon D Lambert8Son
Mildred O Lambert5Daughter

I got more than one surprise when finding my Dad in 1950, not from the information itself, but from the level of errors in the form or transcription. First he was living on a street with no name, in the country in Tyson Township, leading from Cottonville to Ansonville, which was no surprise. His name, however, was not Milton, it was Melvin. He was the oldest of three, which was correct, but his age would have been 10, as he was born in 1939, like my mother, but in December, so he had not turned 11 yet. 

Ten years later,  I would arrive, and I wonder if I appear in the 1960 census of Phoenixville, PA, where I was born as my Dad, who was in the Army, was stationed at Valley Forge, PA. 

When we are young, we often ignore the small facts and anecdotes our parents and grandparents might tell us about their childhoods and their families and all that came before us, and by the time we are old enough to realize how important this information is, it's too late and all we have are memories. 

I'm so glad my Momma liked to talk. 

I miss you Momma.

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