Family

Early family memories: Parham grandparents

This really will be a brain sweep, since I am kind of overwhelmed with all of the possibilities that I have for this weekend. All of them at home, of course. I’m trying out the gallery feature on WordPress for the first time.

The Jones women: sisters and sisters-in-law. Back to front: Aunt Mildred, my grandmother Madge Jones, my step-grandmother Pauline, unknown (maybe Nell), Gertrude or Eva with Madge’s hand on her shoulder, unknown, unknown, Addie in the dotted dress on left, Gertrude or Eva in white dress in front, unknown. I never could tell Aunt Gertrude and Aunt Eva apart. Aunt Eva was the oldest sister. Of all these great aunts, I knew Aunt Mildred, who was the youngest, the best. I probably resemble Aunt Nell the most in personality, but rarely got to see her. There were ten brothers and sisters.


So, a bit of autobiography. My earliest memory is probably my grandfather Parham (aka Daddy Thad) sitting in a red leather armchair with metal studs on the upholstery. This had to be when I was two or younger because he died in 1963. I spent a lot of toddler time in my grandparents’ house in Marietta. My mother had a hysterectomy after I was born so I like to joke that I broke the mold, but in truth it meant that between that and a lot of eldercare on her part, I was babysat a lot.

My grandmother Parham, Eliza Henley, died in the 1930s from a sinus infection, when my father was 13. My grandfather Parham remarried my mother’s aunt, and that is how my parents met. So the woman who I called Grandmother on that side of the family was actually my great aunt. It wasn’t until much later that I worked all that out. My father called his stepbrother “brother” and mother called him “cousin.” She called my “grandmother” Aunt Pauline.

I don’t know why I was so formal with what I called my grandparents. I called both grandmothers “Grandmother” and both grandfathers “Granddaddy.” My other siblings called my grandmother Jones “Mom-o.”

Great Aunt Pauline Smith Jones Parham

Anyway, Grandmother Parham/Great Aunt Pauline spoiled me rotten. She lived in the back part of the house and the rest of it was shut off, dusty and mysterious, and I was terrified of the rest of the house. There was a small room with a propane heater, a sofa and chair and a little bed to sleep on. Perhaps because she was descending into dementia, I got a hefty fear of ghosts from her, because I remember her sometimes talking about Granddaddy like he was still alive, and it was very confusing. She cried a lot and reminisced about her once long red hair. I loved staying there, though, and I know that she loved me to pieces. She scratched my back to settle me down and I still long to have my back scratched when I need comfort. There were interesting old books of fairy tales and nature illustrations, and wooden blocks and little plastic figurines to play with. Outside, I loved to pick figs from her tree and her next-door neighbor, Miss Marie, had a rope swing. I remember spotted tiger lilies and lantana.

I was enthralled with a cup that had a picture of a cow on a cup that had a cow on a cup into infinity. I see the kitchen so clearly in my mind. I must have eaten many meals there.

When I dream about this antibellum house, which is often, there is a mysterious stairway down to a huge cavernous abandoned ballroom, with lots of interesting antiques and junk to poke through. It is scary and fascinating at the same time.

My brother and his first wife lived there for a time, and then my sister inherited it and rented it out. I explored it thoroughly and found some treasures. The attic was huge, pitch dark, unwired, and full of 19th to early 20th century junk. This house nearly fell apart before my sister finally sold it to someone who spent a huge amount of effort and money fixing it back up. The chimney actually fell through the roof. Then they went bankrupt and it sold to someone in the community who takes loving care of it. It is a beautiful house now.

Later, Grandmother Parham/Great Aunt Pauline went to a nursing home, and Mama and I visited her every week. She descended into that violent paranoid place where she attacked her roommate for stealing from her. I was told for a long time that I inherited Aunt Pauline’s “nerves” which I can tell you that I did not appreciate hearing. I dread the specter of dementia more than anything else in this world.

I have such complex memories of that old house, and it’s usually a pleasure when I dream about its rooms. If there are any photos of it, there aren’t any that I can access. The visual memories will all have to reside in my brain. My brother has the Civil War era bowie knife that I found in a closet. I have a Civil War cavalry manual, stack of 19th century magazines, a corset, a spinning wheel, and an American history book that is pre-Civil War.

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