Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Today is Daddy’s birthday. He was born 100 years ago—March 15, 1912.

Ready for work

             I think the earliest memory I have of my Daddy was playing with him in the middle of the floor when I was just a child. My brother, Ray, and I crawled all over him--holding him down so he couldn't get up. I remember listening to him play his harmoni­ca. He made it sound like the lonely whistle of a train as it chugged down the tracks. He also made it sound like a little child call­ing its mama. He played songs for hours—always ending with “You Are My Sunshine” for me. This was long before television--when part of the nightly enter­tainment was playing with his chil­dren before their bedtime.

            Daddy was a big man in my eyes. I always felt safe and secure when he was around. I remember snuggling up next to him on the couch, as he talked to a friend or a family member. I remember the vibration I felt when he spoke, the sound of his heart, and the warm feeling of his big hand softly holding me close. I remember falling asleep in his lap and waking up the next morning in my bed.

            I cannot remember Daddy ever spanking me, but I can certainly remember being scolded. He had a gentle manner even though he was very abrupt and gruff. When I misbehaved, he looked at me with sad­ness in his eyes and say, "Your old daddy is really disappointed in you." That took more out of me than any spanking he could have ever ad­minis­tered. Its effect hurt me more. Once Mom was really upset with me over something (I can't remember what), and she told Daddy to spank me. He took me to the bathroom, closed the door, and took off his belt. However, instead of hitting me, he hit the sink and told me to yell loudly. Then he said, “Mind your Mama.” 

            My Daddy worked for the railroad. At one time, we lived in a little rail­road town named Americus, Georg­ia. This was the only place we ever lived other than Savan­nah. When the trains came in, each engineer had his own whistle signal to alert his family he was home. Wherever we were, Mother gathered us up and hurried us home to see Daddy. Ray and I sometimes ran across a big field to greet and walk home with him.  During those years, we often visited my grandpar­ents in Savannah. Once when we were riding the train home from one of those visits, I pulled a tooth. I could hardly wait to get home and put the tooth under my pillow so the Tooth Fairy would leave a surprise. The next morn­ing I wasn't feeling too well so Mom tried to cheer me up by reminding me of the tooth. She picked up the pillow to fluff it and more money than I had seen in all my life fell out of my pillow. She could not convince me that the money was Daddy's pay­check that he had hidden in the house knowing she would find it when she made up the bed. Daddy confirmed what my mom had told me was right when he returned. I was very rich for a very short time! 

Raymond on the river

            My Daddy loved to fish. While still living in Americus, he took us fishing. Mother and Ray were in one boat and Daddy and I were in another boat. (Daddy never liked more than two people in a boat.) Of course Ray would deny it, but I think he was a little bit of a bully. That day he was laughing at me be­cause he was catching fish and I wasn't. Finally, Daddy quietly took my line and pretended to be baiting my hook, but in real­ity he was putting a fish on it. He silently dropped it over the side of the boat and said, "Wait a minute--then pull it in." I pulled that poor fish in so many times that afternoon that it drowned. The good part was Ray wasn't laughing anymore. If fact, he wasn't a very happy camper because I was now catching more than he was catching. All went well, until we were loading the car and Mom asked, "Where are all the fish you two caught?" It didn't take her long to figure out the truth. Need­less to say, she was not too happy with the two of us.

            I remember Daddy swimming under the surface of the water in the Americus swimming pool with me sitting on his back. I remember lying on the ground beside him making pictures out of the shapes of the clouds. I remember him bringing home a large box of Double-Bubble bubble gum one week and throwing it away the next because he heard it caused a child to have polio. I re­member him teaching me to read the newspaper by getting me inter­ested in the little fillers that were printed between the arti­cles--unusu­al facts about many things. I remember how he would aggravate us all by buying things he wanted just a few days before Christmas, Fathers' Day or his birth­day.

            I have been handicapped all my life, but I can still feel the pride and love my Daddy had for me. He always made me feel special and beautiful. Daddy never let me use my handicap as of excuse. He always told me, “You can accom­plish anything you set your heart to do. You just have to want to do it bad enough.”

            One afternoon, Ray and I were arguing over comic books. Daddy was sitting in a chair nearby reading the paper. We did not realize he was listening to us fuss. All of a sud­den he put the paper down and said "Go get two grocery bags from the kitchen and put your books in them. Then go get in the car." We quickly did what we were told. (It never crossed our minds not to do what Daddy told us to do or question it in anyway.) It seemed as though we rode for hours. We sat next to each other on the back seat, neither being brave enough to utter a single word. We ended the journey at Bethesda Home for Boys. Final­ly, he stopped the car and turned to face the two of us. "You see all those boys out there," he said. "Well, I want you to get out of the car and take your bags and give each of them one of your books." Reluctantly we followed his in­structions. When we fin­ished we sadly returned to the car. He said, "You know, I bet those kids won’t argue tonight about which book is whose. I bet they will share and read all of them." Never--and I do mean never--did Ray and I argue over anything again in his presence. I have wondered through the years if those children at Bethesda really believed us to be generous, or did they know the truth--that we were being pun­ished.

            My Daddy was known for his snoring. His job as a freight train engineer required him to be away from home for days at a time. When he was on the road, many of the railroad men refused to stay in the same boarding house with him. He did snore loudly, but I had grown up hearing it rum­ble through the house. To me it was a good sound because it told me that my Daddy was home and I was safe. 

            I remember Mom bought two little turtles for Ray and me. They had American flags painted on their shells. Daddy came home from work, saw the American flags, and that was the last we saw of the turtles. It was during World War II and he was very patriotic. “Not right for flags to be painted on turtles,” he told us.

            I remember when I was a teenager; my friends and I would go to the Triple X (a favorite hangout in Savannah). One night on his way to work he spotted us driving down Victory Drive and motioned for us to pull over. Can you imag­ine how I felt when he came to the car and asked, "Baby, can you let your old Daddy have a few dollars 'til payday?" He didn’t need money; he was just teasing me in front of my friends. He was a char­acter; you never knew what to expect next. 

            I remember him telling me not to fish in a certain spot because the line would tangle in the oyster shells. And I remember sitting there when I did tangle it, wishing he would leave and go to the house. He asked if I still had bait on the hook and I would tell him, “Yes sir, I can feel a nibble every now and then.” Several hours later, he finally gathered his things, turned and asked, “Do you want me to untangle your line before I go?” We never outsmarted him!

            I remember driving him to work so we could use his car. We had to give him time to reach the top of a tower where he watched as the car left the rail yard. He knew if we didn't stop at every track crossing the road. If the car didn't make a complete stop at each rail crossing, a phone call was made to Mom, telling her we could not use the car until he came home.

            I remember leav­ing for the church on my wedding day and praying that he would show up. He was fussing about wearing a "girdle" (cummerbund) and said he didn't know if he was going to wear it or not. However, he was there--girdle and all.

            I remember when I told him I was having a baby. It was his first grandchild. He was so happy. Daddy knitted shrimp nets in his spare time. He brought one to my hospital room when Karen was born. He stayed there with me most of that day and knitted on the net.

            I remember the nick­names he had for everyone. Mine was "Worm." If he didn't have a nickname for you, you could be sure he didn't think too much of you. After my divorce, my Mom and Daddy opened their home to my two children and me. He was always there for them as he was for me. He called Karen "Hippie" because of her long hair and Dale "Boy."

            I remember he never allowed us to use the word "stupid." He would have disowned you if you didn't take two full gas tanks, fresh water, and a jacket if you went out in the boat. He didn't like it if you answered a question with "I guess so." He liked to eat and he liked to cook. Once my friend phoned and Daddy got stuck on the phone because I wasn't home. Since he wanted her to hang-up he said, "I really have to hang up. You see I am cooking fried bananas for the kids. They just love them cooked that way, especially when I put choco­late on them." I didn't know what my friend was talking about later when she asked for Daddy's recipe for fried bananas. Daddy did not have a recipe for fried bananas be­cause he never fried bananas. 
            I remember the day he died--March 29, 1980. It was sad. I knew I would miss him. There were many times when my Daddy made me mad. I sometimes thought he was too hard on Dale. Daddy was quick to anger and say what he felt. But he was a good man. I remember my children sitting on the floor outside his bed­room one night lis­tening to him pray. He was praying for his fami­ly, the world and the Iranian hostages. He died before they were freed. I thought of him when I heard the news that they were coming home. As the years pass, it’s hard to remember the things that upset me about my Daddy, but it is easy to remem­ber his love. 

            It was only after Daddy died that I heard how he took fish and shrimp to the older people on the island. How he took donuts to the Fire Station and sat, drank coffee and ate donuts with them. The Lutheran minister, Pastor Stukey (Daddy called him "Soupy"), told us that Daddy regularly gave him money to help a family on the island that was going through hard times. 

            I remember his funeral. We left Fox and Weeks on Drayton Street. As we turned down Anderson Street toward the cemetery, I looked back. As far as you could see down Abercorn Street were cars with headlights shining. I couldn't help but smile. It was just like one of Daddy's long freight trains and he was leading the way. He was always good to his family. We never lacked for anything that we needed. He had many friends. He was a very rich man in the things that matter.

            It amazes me to this day, how both my brother, Ray, and sister, Nancy, really believe they were his favorite child. This seems so ridicu­lous to me because I know I WAS HIS FAVORITE and no one can convince me otherwise.

            Happy birthday, Daddy. I love and miss you so much.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering 9/11

Frances Swann Thomas

Unlike some, our family did not lose a member in the 9/11 tragedy, but we felt the fear and uncertainty of the day along with its sadness. I remember clearly what I was doing that day--our own family tragedy was taking place. My mom (Frances SWANN THOMAS) was in a hospital bed where she had been, off and on, for the last nine months. That afternoon we were to meet with Hospice to set up care for her. The doctors had no hope for her surviving the cancer that had invaded her body. Each morning about 7 o'clock, I went to the hospital to relieve my sister (Nancy THOMAS SMITH) who sat with Mom at night. She would leave for work when I arrived and I would stay until she returned each evening. This was our daily routine. 

Mom would not allow us to play the television in her room because she said the sound hurt her ears. I was sitting in her room reading when she suddenly came out of a semi-conscious state, sat straight up in the bed, and cried out, "On no, they are flying planes into the buildings! The people are falling from the windows!" I quickly sent to her side and tried to reassure her that those things were not happening. I remember the look in her eyes. It was a look of impatience, one that told me without words, "Joan, you just don't understand." She settled down and I returned to my chair and book.

A few moments later, a nurse partially opened the door and motioned to me. She told me she knew the television would not be on in the room and that I probably didn't know what was happening in New York. I had no idea what she was referring to, but followed her into a vacant room. What I saw on the television was exactly what my mother had described. Airplanes were being flown into buildings and people were jumping or falling out of the windows.

I did not understand how Mom knew what was taking place as sounds from televisions or radios could not be heard through her closed door. I still don't understand. HOWEVER, she did know!
Four days later, September 15, 2001, Mom died.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tombstone Tuesday - What Do You Do with a "Used" Tombstone?

A new cemetery (Forest Lawn) was opening adjacent to Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia, and I decided to  purchase six burial spaces. In 1980, when my Dad (Raymond Mitchell THOMAS, Jr.) died unexpectedly, arrangements were made to bury him in Forest Lawn Cementery. Eight years later, my grandmother (Eddye Mae LOYD SWANN) died. While making arrangements for her funeral, we learned that the LOYD-SWANN lot in historic Bonaventure Cemetery contained more spaces than we thought. Once my Mom (Eddye Frances SWANN THOMAS) received this information, she was determined to relocate my Dad's remains to her family's lot. Her parents and grandparents are buried there as well as her brother and uncle. 
The "Unwanted Tombstone"
The relocation happened sometime during the late 1990s. Mom did not want to use the old marker because marker's design did not match the current markers on the LOYD-SWANN lot. 

Loyd-Swann Lot
This created a real dilemma--what do you do with a "used" marker!" My brother, Ray (Raymond Mitchell THOMAS III) stored it in his garage until we could make a decision. We forgot about it until early 2002, when Ray asked, "What are we going to do with this old marker that's still in my garage?" I told him we couldn't just throw it away. Then we had a brainstorm! The gravesite of my grandparents' (Raymond Mitchell THOMAS, Sr. and Kathryne "Katie" Elizabeth AUSTIN), in Hillcrest Abbey East Cemetery, Savannah, Georgia, was minus a tombstone.

Ray and I visited the monument company and asked if the plates on the old marker could be replaced. The answer was yes, but the cost was just a few hundred dollars under the purchase cost of a new marker. We were told it would be necessary to recast the bronze. We then explored the cost of two new name plates. Ray decided he could sand the plates off the bronze marker and new plates could be attached. The representative warned that it may destroy the marker. Since the marker was of no value as it was, we decided there was nothing to lose by trying. The new plates were only a fraction of the cost of a new marker. In 2002, the "repurposed" marker was installed and it now marks my grandparents' graves.
The "Repurposed" Tombstone with close-up photos of the new plates
I have attempted to properly document the relocation of my Dad's remains from one cemetery to another, but can you imagine the headache some poor genealogist might have one day! My Dad's obituary clearly states he was buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery, Savannah, Georgia. He was, but he didn't stay. He now rests happily in Bonaventure Cemetery next to my Mom and her parents whom he loved dearly. 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Pretty Plate

I received an email from my cousin, James Rahman, passing on some “Maxine” wisdom.  It read: 

Yesterday I went to the doctor for my yearly physical.
My blood pressure was high.
My cholesterol was high.
I'd gained some weight, and I didn't feel so hot.

My doctor said eating right doesn't have to be complicated and it would solve my physical problems. He said, "Just think in colors. Fill your plate with bright colors. Try some greens, oranges, reds, maybe something yellow,  etc., and  eat an entire bowl of bright colors."
And sure enough, I felt better immediately!  I  never knew eating right could be so easy!

This funny little story reminded me of Mama Swann (my grandmother, Eddye Mae LOYD SWANN).  Every time we sat down to eat, she performed the same ritual--she folded her napkin (real cloth) in her lap and served her plate from the bowls as they were passed around the table. Then she surveyed her plate as though she was examining a fine piece of art. With a proud little tilt of her head she would say, "Now this is a pretty plate!”

One day I asked her why she did this. That is when I received my first lesson in good nutrition. “Joan,” she replied, “if you have all the colors (red, yellow, orange, and green) represented in the food on your plate, you have your basic nutrients.”

That was about 60 years ago, but I always think of her when I look at my plate and check for all the colors. I wonder if Maxine's doctor knew Mama Swann!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Trip to the Cemetery

Find-A-Grave ( is a great site. I have located many of my ancestors’ graves there. If you are not familiar with Find-A-Grave, one of its features is the “Request a Photo” option. While unloading photographs of family graves, I noticed there were eighteen photo requests for Hillcrest Abbey Memorial Park, East, where my paternal grandparents are buried.

My grandson, Hayden, accompanied me this past Sunday to fulfill some of the requests. I was impressed with his sensitivity and respect for the graves. I watched as he cautiously stepped around the lots. He said he felt he was being disrespectful when he stood on the graves in order to photograph the markers. We talked about it and I tried to assure him his actions were very respectful. I then showed him stones vandalized by people who obviously had no respect for themselves or the graves they were desecrating. He could not believe people would do this.

Unfortunately, our trip satisfied only three of eighteen Find-a-Grave requests. The other requests did not give enough information to locate the graves without help from the cemetery office. We easily found the Heidt lot as described in the requests as it gave the location/lot number and I had a detailed map of Section J. We took photos of the all the markers on the lot as well as those specifically requested. Nine photos were sent to the requester.

The closed, cemetery office held the information we needed to fulfill the remaining fifteen requests. This venture was not planned. We found that no advance preparation was a mistake. An after-the-trip phone call to the office would provide the information we needed to fulfill the third Heidt request.  
We then visited the graves of my grandparents—Kathryne Elizabeth Austin and Raymond Mitchell Thomas, Sr. (Section J, Lot 152). I told Hayden the story of this marker (which I will share at another time).

Katie Austin and Raymond Thomas marker
Two uncles are also buried on Lot 152--John Hugo Thomas and William Burrington Thomas. Hayden asked about the damage to Uncle Hugo’s marker--the mowers have caused extensive damage to its corner and the US Navy insignia is missing. I pointed out that Uncle Bill’s birth date was incorrectly shown on his marker.  

Uncle Hugo's marker

Uncle Bill's marker showing incorrect birth date
Hayden wanted to know how I knew the date was wrong. This offered a genealogy research lesson! I told him that I had a copy of the birth recordings from my great-grandmother's Family Bible (actually written by Uncle Bill) and her personal Bible (written by her), a birth certificate copy, and my knowledge that his birthday was always celebrated on Oct 15th.

Written by Annie Hunsucker Austin in her personal Bible

Added to the Austin Family Bibly by Uncle Bill (his handwriting)

Copy of birth certificate
 For me, the trip was a total success. What started out as a favor for someone, ended as a gift to me. I spent a great afternoon with my grandson--visiting graves of four generations located in two cemeteries (Bonaventure and Hillcrest), sharing stories of the family, respecting others, and learning to plan! Hopefully, a genealogy seed was planted. Hayden learned that you do not take genealogy facts at face value and more than one source, if at all possible, should be obtained to validate a fact. It was a good day.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


My name is “Jeanette” and I have been a member of this family since the late 1940’s.  I was a gift to Eddye Mae LOYD SWANN from her daughter-in-law (Jeanette MALPHRUS SWANN, wife of Otis “Bubber” Franklin SWANN, Jr.)  I wasn’t a very big plant, but Eddye Mae nurtured me through the years.  When she moved to 60th Street in 1962, I moved with her.  There we lived in harmony, enjoying the antics of four generations of the family, until Eddye Mae moved to her daughter’s (Frances SWANN THOMAS) house on Wilmington Island to recover from a knee injury.  This was about 1983, if my memory can be depended upon.

Eddye Mae’s move to the Island was intended to be a temporary arrangement, but it never worked out for her to return to her home.  Twice a month someone in the family visited me on 60th Street and gave me water.  I was so lonely and I looked forward to their visits.  Only a few of them would take the time to linger a moment and talk to me.  Their visits were all I had to look forward to from day to day. 

I was sure I would have to start taking Prozac for my depression when suddenly the door opened and Bubber came in.  He walked over to me, looked me over from top to bottom, turning my pot from side to side to get a better view.  I thought for sure I was doomed.  The family must have decided to rid themselves of the responsibility of my care.  He propped the door open and came back into the room.  I was so afraid and cried out to him, “What are you going to do to me?”  Of course, he didn’t answer, he just walked over and picked me up.  I could feel my leaves hitting the sides of the doorframe as I looked over his shoulder for one last glimpse of my home.  Now I understood how Eddye Mae felt when she had to leave.  I know she didn’t want to leave her home, and certainly didn’t want to leave me! 

Suddenly, he set me on the ground.  He opened his car door and pushed me in.  My body was bend in order to fit inside the car.  I was cramped and sad.  My time had come.  I watched as he locked the door to the house and returned to the car.  He sat in the driver’s seat and started the car, pulling off for what I believed to be my last trip anywhere. 

Bubber drove for a long time.  I was disheartened and tired.  I must have dozed off.  The next thing I remember we were on the highway and a “Jacksonville, Florida” sign flew by the window as he drove along.  He took me to Orange Park, where he unloaded me and carried me into his home.  I settled in and was happy.  It was nice having the television on, being watered regularly, listening to his telephone conversations, and seeing his movement around me.  Life was good! 

Suddenly one day in 1987 his life ended.  I was alone again.  I was getting depressed again.  Just as I was about to give up, the door opened and Glenn and Ray (his nephews) entered.  They gathered his possessions, took care of pending business, and loaded me in the back of a truck.  I just knew I would be taken to the dump and “dumped.”  Again, it seemed like they had driven forever.  I was cold and tired.  I don’t think at that point that I cared where they took me or what they did with me. 

It was late in the afternoon when we arrived on Wilmington Island.  “Wilmington Island,” I thought.  “That’s where Eddye Mae went!”  I felt my heart beating faster and faster.  It would be so wonderful to find her again.  I was taken inside and set in the corner of the room. 

I cautiously looked around.  There she was.  I couldn’t believe my eyes!  Eddye Mae had grown frail since I had seen her and was a little forgetful, but she seemed to know who I was.  I was happy again.  I watched the family come and go as I sat quietly in the corner of the room.  Another generation had been born into the family.  Having the little babies and children around made me feel very much alive again.  Frances’ home was filled with joy and noise.  The television was always on, people were coming in and out all though the day.  Each night I said a little prayer for all of them as they one by one left me to go to their beds.  I certainly wouldn’t be depressed in this household.

Eddye Mae died in September of 1988 and six months later her husband (Otis Franklin SWANN, Sr.) died.  I guess he missed her as much as I had missed her when she left her home on 60th Street.  I wasn’t worried this time, as I knew Frances would take care of me. 

Frances was alone now in the big house, but she didn’t have a chance to be lonely.  Not only did she have me, she had family and friends.  She loved to play cards and four or five nights a week, friends came in for cards.  They ate snacks, laughed and talked, and fused if they didn’t win.  One of her friends had been in elementary school with her.  Then in 2000, the doctor told the family that Frances' cancer had returned.  After that she spent most of her time in and out of the hospital.  In September 2001, she died.  I was alone again.  This time I knew no one would want me because of my age.  I was old!  I thought they would probably wish me well and drop me off at a nursing home.

Then, just as I convinced myself that my life was over, Eddye Mae’s great-granddaughter (Karen Marie HOLLOWAY PREVATT and her husband, Mike) came in and took me to their home in Rincon, Georgia—another long ride in the back of a truck.  They put me in a nice, sun-filled house and I thrived.  I was almost asleep one night when I overheard them talking about a move to Savannah.  I wondered if they would take me.  Well, they did.  They moved me into another sun-filled room (so good for my old body) in a house on Wilmington Island and I have been here ever since.

Through the years, shoots have been taken and given to others.  I wonder if any of them are thriving as I am.  Just before Christmas, one of my limbs had to be clipped because it was pulling on my main stalk.  I was afraid I would break under the strain.  Mike said he would take the branch to work with him and see if he could root it.  Hopefully, it will live.  Wouldn’t it be nice if it did—mmmm would it be a sibling?  I have another little plant coming up at my base--another generation of my family tree.  Since I can’t locate a birth certificate (I think the Court House burned), I am assuming I am around 62-63 years old.  Tomorrow I may check with the Social Security Office to determine if I am eligible for a pension check before they change the rules.

I look back on my life and have to say, “I am a product of family love.”  Sometimes it was even tough love, but I am certainly blessed to be a part of this family.  If you are ever nearby, stop and visit a while.  I love seeing old friends and making new ones.  You can sit in Eddye Mae's chair right by my side.  That's the chair and stool her daughter (Mary Elizabeth SWANN BRINSON) gave her in 1936.  She had the chair before I came into her life.  The chair and I share family memories and would love to hear yours.