Memories of my Paternal Grandparents

If you read my recent blog post about my maternal grandparents, you’ll find this one to be quite different. But hopefully still interesting.

My Williford grandparents were people I enjoyed visiting and being with when I was young. I wish I could say the same about my Bruner grandparents.

I barely knew my grandfather, Weston Bruner, and I never heard him preach during his lengthy pastoral ministry.  I’m not sure how old I was when he died, but I’ll never forget the time he came to visit us, very much in his dotage. Even now I can almost picture him sitting at the breakfast room table and my shock at watching him pour orange juice on his cereal. My mother shushed me before I could express my dismay.

What an unfortunate recollection.  My only memory of him.

I got to know my paternal grandmother, Mariah Gwathmey Bruner, much better than I did my grandfather. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I was around her enough to have some specific memories. But I never saw her when I didn’t think of her as looking very old.

Grandmother Bruner–I feel certain I never called her anything but “Grandmother”–had a twin sister I vaguely recall. (My grandmother outlived her twin by a number of years.)  The two of them had been children when their mother took them to the founding meeting of the Women’s Missionary Union.

When the WMU, as it’s more commonly known, celebrated its hundredth anniversary, it commissioned a special painting, which was also issued as the postcard pictured above. It depicts attendees at the founding meeting. Yes, those twin girls at the bottom left are my grandmother and her twin, Abby.

Visiting the Bruner home on Hanover Avenue in Richmond  was seldom a fun or pleasant time. It felt like a museum in which practically everything was untouchable. Everything there looked twice as old as my grandmother.

Even Lizzie, the black cook. Of course, in those days, she was respectfully described as “colored.” She was a good cook, though, and I vaguely recall being fond of her. I don’t think I’m dreaming that she took me downtown on the bus several times, as later did one of my grandmother’s nurses.

Grandmother Bruner lived in a huge house on Hanover Avenue in Richmond in an area known as The Fan. I can almost picture the downstairs now–the entrance on the right side of the house with stairs to the second floor. An electric stair lift had been installed to allow her to go upstairs once she was no longer able to climb the stairs. A long hallway (I have no recollection of what it led to) continued past the stairs.

To the left of the entrance way was the living room , which opened into a seldom-used parlor (complete with baby grand piano). Behind the parlor was the huge dining room. At the very back of the house was the kitchen. And perhaps a pantry.

Houses in The Fan might have appeared narrow from the outside, but they tended to go back pretty far. At least that’s what I thought as a small child.

I have a less vivid memory of the upstairs, but there must have been at least four or five bedrooms. The front bedroom opened into a screened-in porch, which I vaguely remember as a pleasant place to sit during hot summer evenings.

As I’ve already mentioned, everything in that house–people affectionately referred to it as “2620,” its street number–seemed old. Yet at one time my grandmother bought a new entertainment center which contained a TV (black and white, of course) and a record player (it pre-dated the advent of stereos).

Even though I thought of her as stodgy and formal, she didn’t get upset at my bringing records to play whenever we came to visit. I played them VERY quietly, however. And can you imagine my amazement when she left that appliance to me when she died?

Grandmother Bruner was an extremely formal person. Visiting her was not a time for me to be loud or boisterous. In fact, my visits were seldom pleasant. They were simply events to be tolerated.

And no wonder. My father’s siblings were all older. Their children were already adults. So visits from other family members simply meant there were more adults around. Never anyone my age.

My word! This post is getting long, and I have more to say. If you’ll forgive me, I’ll continue my recollections on Wednesday.

Do you have–or have you had–relatives you simply failed to get close to? How about sharing with a comment?


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Best regards,

4 thoughts on “Memories of my Paternal Grandparents

  1. The entire Irish side of the family were… um… queer… strange, unusual… i can’t say I ever had more than a passing conversation with any of them. All of my aunts and uncles on that side (siblings of both grandparents) were bachelors and spinsters except my grandparents. And of their 2 kids, only my father married… so we are the end of the line. No more except us.
    They were really quiet people, no parties, no laughter, no singing… not bad people, just… strange, unusual… queer…
    Nothing like the boisterous, loud, fun-loving Italians. They ate big, laughed hard, loved strong. I really identify with my Italian side… they were great, honest, funny people. They were family, huggers, kissers… they screamed, shouted, playe dtricks… oh, what fun! How I miss them. By contrast, there wsn’t much to miss from the Irish side. It seems so unnatural, so, weird… so grossly unacceptable. Makes me sad to think about it. Sadder to think of the wonderful Italians who have now passed off the scene…


  2. Wow! What a family background you have, Tom. I must admit I wouldn’t have expected the Irish side of your family to be any quieter than the Italian side. Funny how stereotypes fail to work sometimes. *G*


  3. It surely goes against the grain. Most Irish are gregarious, fun-loving, hard drinking workaholics. I think my granddad and his kin were an exception. They were from poor, uneducated, back-woodsy Donegal. Poor folk. I am at a loss to explain it.
    From the looks of it your people weren’t big partiers either. But it seems a stict religious bent runs through that line. Interesting.


  4. No, I don’t think my ancestors–at least the ones I know about–were big partiers. I had to smile at your “strict religious bent” comment. We may seem strict, but we are all fun-loving in our own way. It’s a real shame that some Christians are so strict that smiling seems to be painful. They give those of us who joy in our faith a bad name.


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