“If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking.” C.S. Lewis
Fire and Family Skeletons
By Gerry Roe
I don’t remember who first told me the story about the day my grandmother Ary O’Dell Dawson caught the family homestead on fire. I don’t even remember when I first heard it. But this is the story that was told to me.
Grandpa John and Grandma Ary Roe lived on a homestead in Baywood/Pride, East Baton Rouge Parish, Police Jury Ward 5, Louisiana. Grandpa John was in the field plowing and grandma came out and said she had a headache. She wanted him to go into town and get some aspirin. Since he was almost done with the plowing; he said he would finish and then go. Well, as the story goes, that was not good enough my for grandma Ary.
I assume all the children were outside the house and that the house was located close to the fields because grandpa was able to get there in time to put the fire out, before the house burned down.
Ary was my father, Henry David Roe’s mother. I remember hearing this story and thinking, why would she do such a terrible thing? Did she set the house on fire to get his attention? Did she start the fire because she was angry? Was the story even true?
My father talked very little about his family and or how he grew up, but later in life I talked with some of my cousins in Mississippi and Louisiana about grandma and how my father and his siblings grew up.
After talking to them I came to conclusion that this story is true.
No one has ever told me if grandpa got her some aspirin.
No one has ever told me what month and year this happened.
The story I was told that she went to Minter City, Mississippi. It is in Leflore county.
From my searching the census rolls of 1920 of Beat 1, Leflore, Mississippi I find Ary Dawson Roe living with her son Jimmy Louis and wife Nora. She had taken Lucy (17), Edward, Cappie (10), Rivers (7) and (Louisiana) who was listed as Hester (4) on the census. She is listed as mother to Jimmy; children are listed as his brothers and sisters and she declares her marital status as a widow.
The 1920 census same parish has grandpa Roe, Joe and Dawson. They are listed as this spelling for Rae. He also is listed as a widow. My father Henry did not initial go with her and I find him on a 1920 census (same parish different district) living in his sister Nannie and brother in law Luke Coghlan’s household. Notes I found that my mother wrote was that daddy was seven when his mother left. That would be 1913 and he stayed on homestead with his father until he was eleven (1917) and then went to stay with his mother until he was thirteen (1919). When he left her he went to Arkansas and worked with Wallen and Davis Sawmill until the company went to Holly Bluff and he worked for them until 1930. This a big discrepancy.
These are only theories: one could be because of the young age of my father and the circumstances he told my mother ages incorrectly. Second possible theory is she did leave in 1913 but came back and had her last child, Louisiana in 1916 and then left again. There is a third possibility and that could be severe postpartum depression after so many children. After much research of the census and remembering the story. My conclusion is that my father’s dates are incorrect. I am inclined to think the incident happened around 1917 or there about. I don’t believe she left and returned. Also, since I finding him on the 1920 census with his sister Nannie; I believe his date of going to Arkansas would have been in the early 1920s. Something I learned from further research was that the homestead was not in East Feliciana Parish as I always understood.
The winter of 1928 his father came to visit him and my mother in Holly Bluff, Mississippi. The last time daddy saw his father was in 1932 when he went to the homestead to see him. Dawson was still living with his father but would not speak with daddy. In 1933 grandpa Roe had a heart attack and Dawson went for the doctor but when they returned grandpa Roe had died.
Family Skeletons unearthed:
Both Ary and John on census of 1920 are listed as a widow
Grandpa John on a 1930 census a widow
No 1930 census found for Ary
1940 census Bogalusa now truly a widow