Monday, June 14, 2010

Fun in the Sun! Grandma Thomas - Back in the Day! - COG 95th Edition

I'd originally been saving this up for a Wordless Wednesday, but after being inspired by Carol's "Bathing Beauties From Virginia" post, over at Reflections From the Fence, I decided to submit this picture of my maternal grandmother for the COG 95th edition, The Annual Swimsuit Edition which is being hosted by Jasia over at Creative Gene.  Just click on the link above, and scroll down to the bottom of the page for submission information! 

This is my grandmother, Mary Davis Walker Hill Thomas on an unidentified beach, probably sometime in the 1920's (but I don't know for sure).  Yes, this is the same grandmother about whom I just finished the three-part series, "My Grandmother's Loss".  At the time this photo was taken, the area beaches were still segregated, so it's most likely that she was either at Sea View in Norfolk, or Ocean Breeze, in Virginia Beach.  Either way, she looks like she's happy, possibly pregnant, and feeling good about herself!

Every time I see this picture, I just stare and stare at it.  I never saw this carefree side of my grandmother.  It does my heart good to know that my she did have "better days" before I knew her.


Sunday, June 13, 2010

Sentimental Sunday - My Grandmother's Loss (Part 3 -The Final Chapter)

For the past few weeks, I've been posting a series of stories about my maternal grandmother, Mary Thomas.  Basically, these posts were instigated by the mixture of feelings I experienced after receiving a set of newspaper articles about my maternal ancestors from a kind stranger in the genealogy blogosphere.  (This is such a wonderful community to be a part of.  Thanks so much again to genealogist, Hollis Gentry, who blessed me with these articles!)
This is the final post - the third of three. These posts have given my readers (and me) a kind of "right there" look at the losses my grandmother experienced throughout the course of her life.  In the first post, I wrote of the sudden, and tragic loss of her first husband, James Allen Walker.  A couple of weeks later, I posted about the abandonment of my own grandfather, Daniel Webster Hill.  Today, I'd like to share what I know about my grandmother's third marriage, to a man all three of her children refer to as "the love of Momma's life."

Finale - Charlie Thomas
It is with a conflicted heart that I write about my grandmother's third, and final marriage.  My mother and her siblings are still living, and they know much more about the details of Charlie Thomas' life (with and before my grandmother) than I do.  For reasons which I am just recently becoming aware of, much of his story has remained untold, and though my mother, aunt, and uncle know it, they are not ready to reveal it all to me just yet.
What I do know, and can write, is that at some point very soon after being abandoned by her second husband, my grandmother, and married Charlie Thomas, a man who was 16 years her senior.  My guess is that they must have already known each other from church, since one of the articles I received mentioned that Charlie's family belonged to Jerusalem; the same church which my grandmother was a member of, and where my uncle had won the baby contest several years before.  (See Part 2) I've heard that Charlie "swept Mary off her feet".  (I'm guessing that he and the whole church had probably witnessed her suffering after my grandfather left, and perhaps even before so.  He probably stepped right in!)  
 Charlie Thomas, with his daughter (my aunt), Jane.
I don't have the exact date of their marriage (yet), but in 1940, my grandmother gave birth to her third child, Jane Gwendolyn Thomas.  Charlie had won my grandmother's heart, and she was happier than she'd ever been.  My mother tells me that Charlie Thomas loved and cared for Howell and her as if they were his own, and that he was "the only father" she has ever known.  She says that he didn't treat them any differently than he did his own flesh and blood daughter, Jane.  My uncle agrees with all of my mother's comments.
The only other thing I know (that I can share) about Charlie Thomas is that he worked on the railroad. As I was growing up, I would occasionally ask about my grandfather, but I was only told that he "worked on the railroad."  I realize now, that since Charlie Thomas was the only father my mother ever knew, that the answer I was being given referred to him, and not to my actual grandfather, Daniel Hill.  However, knowing all that I know now, about the devastating death of my grandmother's first husband, Allen, I can only imagine how very stressful it must have been for her to say goodbye to Charlie each day as he left for work.  She had to have had incredible faith!
 Charlie, Mary, and the three children (along with Mary's mother, Manerva) were living "happily ever after" when, sometime early in 1950, Charlie began to suffer from some kind of heath problems.  According to this article, Charlie is "improving" in April, 1950.

But, in August, 1950, my grandmother's third husband, Charlie Thomas, suffered a heart attack and died right in their Norfolk home.

 For Mary Davis Walker Hill Thomas, the third time had indeed been "the charm".  However, at 52 years old, having lost 3 husbands, and being left to finish raising 3 children, she must have also decided that with "three strikes, you're out".  Mary lived out her remaining 34 years as a widow, harboring a lifetime of painful losses, but choosing to count her blessings and bask in the reflection of a decade of beautiful memories made with the love of her life, Charlie Thomas.
As you can see, Mary never forgot her dear, Charlie.  Here, she memorializes him nine and eleven years, respectively, after his death.  I had seen the 1959 article taped inside the cover of her bible, but had never seen the 1961 piece.  However, now that I have, I realize that she had them both in there, for there is a faded outline exactly the size and shape of the column on the same page as the other one.

This ends the trilogy, "My Grandmother's Loss".  Writing this out has been helpful to me, and has helped me to put into words a "story" that needs to be shared with my daughters, and the rest of Mary Thomas' grandchildren. To those who've followed along, I thank you.


Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sentimental Sunday - My Grandmother's Loss (Part 2 of 3)

This is the second in a series of what will be three posts dedicated to the life and memory of my grandmother, Mary Davis Walker Hill Thomas. I began this series of posts after receiving copies of several articles from the Norfolk, VA Journal and Guide, which confirmed, and in some cases, revealed stories about my ancestors.  To read the initial post which explains how I came into possession of these articles, please click here. Part 1 
In writing this series, I hope to make amends with my grandmother's spirit.  I was 24 years old when she left us for her reward, and up to that point in my life, I didn't have the knowledge, nor the maturity, to empathize with what her life must have been like, after experiencing the loss of three husbands, and then, ultimately, living out her last 36 years as a widow.  Being a person who always reaches out and tries to understand and connect with others, I feel just awful for not knowing her better, seeing her more clearly, and/or loving her more dearly.  In my grown-up, intellectual mind, I know that really have no fault, especially since I was never told of her hardships; but the sentimental, emotionally-connected part of me is heavy-laden with a feeling of guilt, every time I think about how I distanced myself from this grandmother, in favor of my paternal one. Mary Thomas' outer-shell was deservedly hardened.  I imagine she must have lived each day that I knew her constantly protecting and shielding her heart from further pain.

Part II - Daniel Hill
Sometime after the (literally) crushing death of my grandmother's first husband, James Allen Walker, in 1923, she met Daniel Webster Hill.  I have no idea how they met, or how their relationship developed, but the article below - another of the nine sent to me by my genealogical benefactor, shows where it went.

  It seems that Mary had found love again.  She married my grandfather, Daniel W. Hill on July 11, 1926.  According to this article, the couple moved to Philadelphia  (another fact I never knew), but by the 1930 Census, they are back in Norfolk, living in the family home with my great-grandparents, Walter and Minerva Davis.  (Note:  By all accounts, and from what the records show, my grandmother, Mary, was the homeowner.  She purchased the home after the death of her first husband.  I presume she must have used whatever insurance money she received to buy the home.)

I know nothing about my maternal grandparent's marriage except that it happened, and that they had two children together; my uncle, Howell Webster, born in 1931 and my mother, Maryanne, in 1934.  However, this third article from the Journal & Guide at least hints at the fact that my grandmother may have been living a happy life.  She was already active in the church she was a member of, and funeralized in 53 years later. Her son was winning baby contests, and she would, just two months after this, conceive my mother with her husband, Daniel.

At some point, the happy days ended for Daniel and Mary. For whatever the reason(s), my grandfather  abandoned his wife and children when my mother was just four years old.  The family never saw or heard from him again, and I, in my 14 years of research, have been unable to track him down to find out where he went, or what happened to him.  In a recent interview with my uncle who only vaguely remembers having a father, he recalled Daniel Hill as being a "mean man".  My mother doesn't remember her father at all, and neither of them have a clue what he even looked like. 
So, for my grandmother, this was blow #2.  Another marriage dissipated, but for a completely different reason.  This time, she was left with two children to raise.  She'd just lost her father (in 1936), but thankfully, had her mother there to help her.  Though she was saddened by this loss, she was not broken.  Help (and another chance at love) was on the way.  Stay tuned for Part III...