Memories of my Maternal Grandparents

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you may be surprised at the subject of today’s post. Especially if you recall that I don’t remember a lot of things from my childhood. My theory about forgotten memories is that the encephalitis that almost killed me at age fifteen probably did a number on the part of the brain that housed memories prior to my near-fatal illness.

But for some reason–totally unknown–I’ve been having random thoughts the past few days about my maternal grandparents. And memories I’m certain haven’t come to mind in years.

My mother was a Williford. She grew up in a tiny town in North Carolina, Aulander, the only daughter of Bob and Virgie. Miss Virgie was a home maker, the most common thing for a woman to be in those days. She also wrote poetry, however, some of which was published in the local newspaper.

Captain Bob–I’ll probably never know why people referred to him that way–worked at a brick mill for a number of years. I believe he retired because of an on-the-job injury that affected the use of one hand.

The Williford family lived in what to a small child seemed like a pretty good sized house with a wrap-around front porch and a huge magnolia tree out front that was perfect for throwing darts and pocket knives at. The living room had a space heater that–at times–seemed to take up half the room. But it was the only heat in the house.

I sometimes had to sleep in an upstairs bedroom. On a good night, I got to use the one directly over the living room, which had a vent in the floor that let heat rise from the room below–until time came to cut it off for the night.

The refrigerator was on the screened in back porch. I couldn’t tell you what else was there, but it was a lengthy porch that was parallel to the kitchen on one side and the bathroom on the other. But, like the rest of the house, it seemed pretty old.

The kitchen had a wood stove. We ate in the dining room, which was adjacent to the kitchen. I have vague memories of fried chicken that was wonderful, corn bread I wasn’t especially fond of, and chocolate cake I could never get enough of. Strangely enough, one of my dining room memories is of a cloth being laid over the table after the mid-day meal to keep the flies off the food rather than the leftovers being refrigerated.

Captain Bob also did some farming. In the backyard was a smokehouse, although I don’t recall seeing any meat hanging there. The backyard also had a small fenced in area. For dogs or children? I never knew. There were a number of stray cats around, but I never saw any dogs.

A long dirt lane ran beside the house from the main road all the way past whatever crops Captain Bob was growing. How many times did I walk that often muddy lane to the very end to watch him slop the hogs? Perhaps not an appealing thought to me as an adult, but it was fascinating as a child.

My mother had brothers. I can’t recall now how many. At last count, all but one of them had died. Captain Bob was a smoker, and I believe all of the boys did, too. All except for one. My mother never smoked. But the second-hand smoke she was exposed to during her growing up years led to emphysema and other heart-related illnesses.

And how could I ever forget Miss Minnie? She lived in a little shack on the Williford property and helped with the cooking and cleaning. She was undoubtedly considered a maid in the old fashioned sense of the word. A wonderful black lady the whole family loved and depended on.

By the time Miss Virgie and Captain Bob died, I was no longer very close to them. In fact, I was not taken to North Carolina for their funerals. Sometimes I regret that. Not so much missing the funerals, but the fact of not so much missing them.

That’s about all I remember, but I’m thankful that those things have come to mind. Sometimes my lack of memories about the past, the kind of things everyone else remembers in detail, almost makes me feel that I have no past. Too often my past begins with my encephalitis.

Thank You, Lord, for bringing these things to mind. And for reminding me that my present and my future are–like my past–in Your hands.

Do you have anything to say about memories in general, about your past, or about specific things you recall better than you do others? How about leaving a comment?


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Best regards,

7 thoughts on “Memories of my Maternal Grandparents

  1. Good that you can at least access some memories.
    For my part my memories are near complete all the way back to 2 years old. I remember our home telephone number from Levittown, Pa, outside of Philadelphia. We left there when I was 6. The phone number was WI5-9266 (Winchester was what the WI stood for) That’s how they did phone numbers back then, no area codes.
    I so remember the smell of new clothes and pencils and paper we would get for school. I remember telling my mother the answers to my older brothers math problems when I was still in Kinder and he was in 2nd grade. She would shush me up. My grandfather died when I was 2 and I remember the room he stayed in and him tempting us with candy.
    So many things from those days, the visits to the grandparents. Too many things, actual conversations, certain tv shows, watching the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, the death of JFK and the three days of standstill as our heavily democratic/catholic family mourned during the intense tv coverage.
    I remember the nuns and their habits and the long rosaries that swung back and forth as they walked. I remember that the mother superior died while we were in 1st grade and it was a special day of prayer. The nun who gave me the most problems was Sister Mary Joseph Catheline. There’s a real witch for you. I especially remember Walter MIller kindergarten and the fact that my twin Jim and I got suspended for three days from there.
    I don’t know how other people recall their youth but mine is very clear.


  2. I was sitting here thinking of some of the things I remember… My mom lost a baby when I was 4, I remember that… There was a creek at the end of the street where I lived and we went in barefoot. My brother stepped on some glass and sliced his foot open good. We were a out 5. I remember this soup my uncle came to make… it was escarole with pepperoni. What flavor. It’s an Italian thing. I was about 5. I went to the 1964 worlds fair in NY with my aunt by train. Just us two. I remember real well the Ford car exhibit… I got a camera. I remember going to Wildwood NJ. My folks rented a house on the beach. We went down to the water and my sister got stung by a jellyfish. SO many instances. I need to sit and thing and I can draw this stuff up.
    I remeber telling my aunt she was wrong. And she was. I was 4. She had forbidden me to come to her yard to play with my cousin. SO I got a board game (which I do not remember what it was, by the way) and I sat on the neighbors property and my cousin Colleen sat on her property with the game between us.. When my aunt came down to tell me I couldn’t play on her property I pointed out I was on Mr Hill’s property and Colleen was on hers.
    I think you may be able to bring back the memories you say you lost… you may need to think about things differently.


  3. Your memories are fascinating, Tom. Thanks for sharing them. Perhaps I can find a different way to think of things in the hopes it will help to restore lost memories. If only I could be sure I wouldn’t recall something I’d rather remained forgotten.


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