Biographical Non-Fiction posted May 19, 2022 Chapters: 1 2 -3- 4... 

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A vignette from the life of my maternal grandmother.

A chapter in the book Pioneers of My People

Grandma, Annie

by BethShelby

As a toddler, one of my earliest memories was of an older lady who seemed to come and go in our home. I soon learned she was my grandmother and someone my own mother referred to as Mama.

I would never get to meet my Grandpa Lay, because he had died about seven months before I was born, leaving my grandmother a widow. Her own four children insisted she not continue to live in their home alone. The house was deep in the country without close neighbors.

Grandma didn’t like losing her independence and having to depend on her children for support, but she didn’t feel she had a choice. She did what she called ‘breaking up housekeeping,’ and she split her household possessions between her two daughters. Her girls lived in the area, but one son was in Texas and the other was in Michigan. All of her children told her she could come and live with them, but she didn’t feel totally comfortable in any of their homes. For that reason, she moved around, not wanting to be a burden on any one family.

My grandmother was a Davis by birth. Her father, a quiet man, had served as a Confederate soldier. Her mother, the more dominant parent, was the community doctor and midwife, even while she raised her own six sons and four daughters. My grandmother, Annie Jane, was the youngest girl with one younger brother.

The Davis family had come from Wales and settled in the Isle of Wight section of Virginia early in the 1600’s. Our early Davis line had migrated down through the Carolinas and into Mississippi by the early 1800’s. Grandma was born in 1877. Her formal education ended after fifth grade because of the difficulty of getting to the one room school, and the fact once girls could read, write and do math, it was thought to be all the learning they would ever need.

Her family traveled by horse and buggy, and their social life revolved around church activities including picnics and socials. As a young girl, Annie fell in love with fellow named Will she met at a church social. Her older brothers got involved, convinced the young man wasn’t worthy of their baby sister. I guess they made it to clear to him, because his last words to her were, “I’m going far away, and I’m not coming back until I’m as rich as old Jay Gould.” Jay Gould was a railroad magnate and one of richest men of late nineteenth century.

When Annie was 26, she gave up on waiting for Will’s return and married Eugene, a young man who was serving as a constable. They had a daughter born the following year. Christine was tiny and frail. She was nearly three when Eugene was shot and killed by a man he was attempting to arrest for stealing. Shortly after Eugene's death, Annie realized she was pregnant again. Times were hard and she was having to depend on her mother for help.  When her son, who she named in honor of her dead husband, was born, he was a large and difficult baby. Following Eugene, Jr.'s birth, she suffered from female problems the rest of her life as a result of the delivery.

Mr. Lay, a well-respected farmer Annie knew in the community, had lost his wife a few months before, and he wanted to remarry. He was twenty years older than Annie. He was the father of ten children by his deceased wife, and 7 of them were still at home, ranging in from ages 5 to 17. A boy, who was 7, was crippled. Bob Lay approached Annie and asked her to marry him. With two babies of her own, I can only wonder why she agreed, but again, I think she felt she needed someone who had the means to support her.

Her mother told her she would take care of Christine, the 3-year-old. Annie agreed because she was afraid her frail little girl might be in danger of being hurt with so many big boys around. If she had any way of providing for herself, I doubt she would have remarried. Her dream was to open a small hat and dress shop, where she would tailor-make dresses for ladies, but the venture wasn’t something she could afford or was free to do.

After Annie married Bob, the man who would become my grandfather, she still couldn’t bring herself to call him anything other than Mr. Lay. Her life wasn’t easy having to take care of so many children. Two years later, she gave birth to yet another son she named Newman, and in three more years, her last child, Lucille was born. This last child would become my mother. Clyde, the cripple boy, who had been 7 when Annie married Bob, died at age 17. With  Bob's original 10 children and the 2 he'd fathered with Annie, plus the 2 she already had meant there were 14 children in the family
By the time I got to know my grandmother, she already had 4 other grandchildren, so I didn’t get the attention from her I got from my paternal grandparents. Kids were just another mouth to feed and to train. She showed she cared by making most of the clothes I wore. Later when I was older, someone came around selling encyclopedias. I wanted them badly, and Mom said we couldn’t afford them. My grandmother, who had hardly any money, paid for them, because she believed they would contribute to helping me get the education she wasn't able to have herself.

 Like my other grandmother, she also loved to quilt, and she kept busy while living in our home. She cooked and cleaned, and took it upon herself to scold me for every little infraction. My favorite memories of her were times she made teacakes, and even occasionally, she let me help with a taffy pull. It was something she had done with friends as a young girl.

Grandma often wrote letters to her children and stepchildren. She kept a dictionary handy so she wouldn’t dare misspell a word. She never stopped regretting the fact her schooling hadn’t lasted longer. Something I heard from her lips hundreds of times was “You need to get yourself a good education, and get a well-paying job. Don’t ever be dependent on any man.”

Mom seemed to think her mother and father had a happy marriage, but I believe it was a decision Grandma made because she felt she had no other choice. As long as she lived, she never stopped mentioning the first love of her life and wondering whatever become of him.

I don’t think Grandma was unhappy. She felt she had done what life dictated she should do. She had a sense of humor and often found reasons to laugh. She read the Bible daily. Because of a near-death experience as a young girl, she had no fear of dying. She trusted God would take her home, only at an appointed time. She wanted the best for her children and  grandchildren and was free with her advice as to how we should go about making our lives better.

In spite of the unsolicited advice, which sometimes grated on my nerves, I loved her dearly. I don’t want to ever forget what an important part of my life, she was. I was glad she lived to see me graduate from college and marry the man I loved. She was also able to hold my first child.


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