“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
“If we celebrate the years behind us they become stepping-stones of strength and joy for the years ahead.” Anonymous
NEARLY FORGOTTEN, This collection of memories was recorded by Gerry Roe.
The following set of memories were submitted by some of Henry David Roe and Ruby Isaacs Roe’s children and grandchildren.
RANDY AND PEANUTS AND THE BIG FISH THAT DIDN’T GET AWAY
Submitted by Randy Cross:
It was summertime and before the year of the big snow of 1969 that collapsed part of the roof on Grandma and Grandpa’s house on Hardscrabble Road.
During the summer many us cousins would go spend some time with our grandparents. Me and my cousin Peanuts (Terry Roe) were 10-12 as I remember.
One day we went down to the creek behind Mr. Haines house to fish. A big salmon bumped us and we started hitting it. Peanuts grabbed a pitchfork and got it. It was big fish, but we carried it home to Grandma.
That night we had salmon for dinner. Thanks to Grandma and her cooking skills.
PEANUTS FINDS A BEE HIVE IN THE BARN
Submitted by Sherry Roe Carroll: I can’t remember how many of us cousins were at Grandma’s house that day. It was when she still lived out on Hardscrabble Road. A lot of cousins were there. We were all playing down at the barn. It was back on the property, down past the garden. We were in the upstairs part of the barn, jumping up and down in the hay. My brother Peanuts jumped up and hit his head on a bee’s nest. He ran out of the barn, all he way to Grandma’s house. The bees were chasing and stinging him. He was crying and yelling loud. He had lots of stings. Grandma took care of him. and had lot of stings. Some of us other kids got stung too, but not nearly as bad as my brother.
UNCLE ALAN AND THE RAW THE EGG
Submitted by Sherry Roe Carroll:
As Sherry recalls her Uncle Alan Roe had gone with her and some cousins down to the barn to collect eggs. He told them they had to be careful with the eggs. He said that if anyone broke an egg they would have to eat it raw. She broke an egg, and according to her, her Uncle Alan told she had to eat it. She said she asked him why she had to eat the egg, and as she recalls he answered “because I am older than you .”
Sherry has many wonderful memories of times spent at Grandma’s house in Drain.
Regarding her memory about the raw egg, her uncle says he doesn’t recall the incident at all.
NO FREE LUNCH
Submitted by Nannie Roe Cross
Nannie Roe Cross says that most who knew her mother, Ruby Isaacs Roe thought of her as the quintessential homemaker and mother. But she wants people to know that there was another side to her mother. That she was also an ambitious and entrepreneurial woman. Back in Mississippi during the time of the New Deal helped support her family by working in a WPA sewing room. She also remembers that after the family moved to Dorena, Oregon and her father was working at the Booth Kelly Lumber Mill that her mother helped pay the bills by preparing a noon meal for the men who worked at the mill with her Father. Some of the men at the mill were single and they didn’t mind paying for a hot midday meal.
The men would walk across the bridge up the road at lunch time. It was probably their main meal of the day. Nannie says she was probably ten or eleven years old at thqat time, but she worked hard to help her mother cook a hot Southern meal, of fried chicken, potatoes and gravy, biscuits and cake.
The meal preparation would start with her mother killing the chickens that they would serve. All the food was fresh, because they only had a small ice box to store food in. Everything was cooked on a wood stove, even in the heat of the summer.
Nannie recalls helping her mother wash the dishes and clean the kitchen after the men ate their lunch. Not as easy task. She recalls that they did have running water. She said that they hot water tank held water that was warmed by coils running through the wood stove. She had to help keep the fire going. No fire – no hot water.”
Once the dishes were washed and the kitchen cleaned it was time to start over. Her mother had several mouths to feed and there was a big evening meal to prepare everyday.
Nannie said that she can’t remember when the family finally got an electric refrigerator. She also said she wished she had asked how mother how much she charged for those lunches. They were a lot of work to prepare.
THE BEST JOB IN THE WORLD
Submitted by Betsy Cross Thorpe:
When I was a child it seems that most Sundays were spent going to visit my Grandparents in Drain. It was about an hour and half drive from our home in Springfield. As I recall my dad would often stop at a gas station along the way and buy me and my brothers a soda pop and some other kind of treat.
Sometime around 1964 that routine changed.
That’s when my aunt, Jeraldine Roe got hired at the Hastee Freez in Drain. From that time forward for as long as she worked there we would stop at the Hastee Freez on our way to my grandparents house. From that time forward my Sunday afternoon treat almost always included a soft serve ice cream cone expertly served by aunt.
I was so impressed by the way she swirled the ice cream. She looked so important in her uniform. She sounded so grown up and professional when she called back an order. At the age of ten, I was quite convinced that my aunt was luckiest girl around.
For I was quite certain that she had landed the best job in the world.
EAT IT. IT WILL MAKE YOUR HAIR GROW CURLY
Submitted by Betsy Cross Thorpe:
I always wanted to have curly hair. Ringlets. Like Shirley Temple. That was my dream. So, looking back, it now comes as no surprise to me that I wholeheartedly believed a good-natured nonsensical comment that Grandpa once made to me. I fell for his malarkey, hook, line and sinker.
One sunny summer morning he saw me pick past a piece of burnt toast that topped a stack of buttered toast that Grandma had just placed on the table. “Take the burnt toast” he said. “Eat it. It will make your hair grow curly.” I grabbed the burnt toast. I was so excited to eat it. Why hadn’t someone told me this before, I wondered, how long will it take for the curls to grow in?
My hair never grew curly, but there was one unintended pleasing consequence born out of my gullibility and belief in the infallibility of Grandpa’s words. In my quest to have a headful of curly hair I learned to savor the taste of burnt toast. The smokey flavor. The crispy texture. My favorite breakfast food.
Yes. Eating burnt toast always makes me happy.
And yes. I still cling to the dream that one day my hair will grow curly.
The following memories were submitted by relatives of Henry David Roe.
ANNIE GET YOUR GUN
Submitted by Melba Flowers Pine and her son Steve Pine:
Melba is the daughter of Annie Elizabeth Roe Flowers. Annie was the sister of Henry David Roe.
Melba Flowers Pine and her son Steve Pine, son tell how Annie Elizabeth Roe Flowers was a strong woman. They say she was the bread winner of her family. Melba said “I am afraid to stay by myself now. My mother worked the second shift at McComb, Mississippi cotton mill. I had to stay by myself. My siblings J.W. and Donnis Mae had already left home. Sometimes a friend would stay with me. We would hear some noises and be afraid. When mother came home I would tell her. She immediately would go to the back door where she kept a shotgun. She would go out on the porch and shoot the gun in the air. It made her shoulder sore; but she was a strong woman and it made me feel better.”
Melba’s husband, Harold was a career military man. , Steve said that his granny would come to see them wherever they lived. She would travel alone on a Greyhound Bus. The only place she didn’t visit was when they were in the Philippines; she didn’t want to fly. She did fly later when Steve graduated. Steve said, “Granny was fearless! She was a strong woman.
Memories submitted by relatives of Ruby Isaacs Roe
Submitted by Jim Isaacs:
Jim is the son of Henry Kelly Isaacs. Henry was the brother of Ruby Isaacs Roe.
He recalled a time in 1966 when was in route from one Air Force base to another. He came to Cottage Grove where his father his father lived . His father drove him to Napa, California which was near Travis Air Force Base, which was where he was headed to. Jim recalls spending the night with his cousin Bill Roe and his wife Carol. Bill was in college at the time. Jim and his father really appreciated being able to stay with them.
The next morning Jim and his father left for the air force base. He boarded a plane and flew west to Japan, then on to Thailand. His dad got in his car and headed north back home to Oregon. .
Jim recalls that he had very good visit with his cousin Bill.
This last memory is written by Gerry Roe in memory of Jim Moore. Jim was the son of Marie Isaacs Moore. Marie was the sister of Ruby Isaacs Roe.
Gerry Roe reconnected with her cousin in the last years of his life. They grew very close. He shared many recollections, reminiscences and memories from his life with her. Gerry penned the following in his stead. It is her hope that these snippets of recollections will help keep her beloved cousin’s memory alive.
REMINISCENCES OF AN OLD TIME FIDDLER
My cousin Jim told me a number of stories about his love of music and years of singing with the Old Time Fiddlers. He was a charter member; it was started in a member’s home in Cottage Grove, Oregon in the 1950’s. I had the opportunity during this time to attend the monthly Gospel sings in Springfield and Cottage Grove where they played and sang. He and several of the remnants of the band were playing. By the time he could no longer play they were down to one living member. What a joy to see those old time men and women give it their all with the gospel music. What I most remember is the family reunions where he, his brother Manuel and nephew Cyrus White would bring out the guitars and start strumming. My mother, Ruby would be near and begin to sing with them. They were in their own world of singing some of those sad backwoods songs of Kentucky and enjoying the past.
The last weeks of Jim’s life he shared with me his life story and his love of building guitars. He had one hanging on the wall. His granddaughter Amanda has provided several pictures of his working on one.
I cherish the times we had together before his death in 2019.
“They love each other. They’re brother and sister. It’s one for all and all for one.” Joseph Ziemba
The 52 Ancestor’s in 52 Week’s topic for this week is Prosperity. As soon as I saw the topic, I knew that I wanted to tell the following story.
This story is from 1946. That’s when my eldest maternal uncle, Eugene Roe, sent a portion of his military pay home to my grandparents, Henry David Roe and Ruby Elizabeth Isaacs Roe. He sent the money so they could move his younger brothers and sisters out of the poverty-stricken Mississippi Delta where he had spent his entire life before joining the Navy.
My grandparents purchased Greyhound Bus tickets for themselves and their five younger children with some of the money he sent. Starting in Greenville Mississippi they traveled two thousand, three hundred and seventy-three miles across the country in search of a better life. They ended up in the little town of Dorena, a wooded enclave in the Willamette Valley area of Oregon.
Dorena offered the hope of a brighter future due to its thriving lumber industry and the promise of work with the Army Corps of Engineers on the Dorena Dam building project.
My uncle was wise beyond his years. Thanks to him giving my grandparents the resources they needed to get out of Mississippi his siblings all went on to live lives of security and comfort. They all prospered far beyond what he dared dream for them in 1946.
And so did he. My uncle eventually joined his family in Oregon after he left the military in 1952. He continued to live there for the rest of his life.
Me and many others in my family believe that it was the foresight and generosity of my uncle that changed the course of our family’s history forever. And we are thankful
This one of my favorite family stories and I have heard many different versions of it throughout my life.
But as so often happens with family stories , I found that there is much more to this story than I originally thought.
This story has a backstory. And it’s a good one!
Please read on.
My Great-Uncle Kelly and His Time in the CCC
My uncle and my grandparents learned of the opportunities awaiting them in Oregon from the two eldest of my grandmothers’ three younger brothers, Benjamin Franklin Isaacs, and Herman Kelly Isaacs .
The two young men had been stationed at different camps in Oregon during their second stints in a voluntary public works program named the Civilian Conservation Corps, a program also known as the CCC. From 1933 to 1942 more than three million unmarried young men—aged 17 to 28 served in the program and my grandmothers’ brothers were among them.
The year 2020 marks the one-hundred-year anniversary of the birth of Herman Kelly Isaacs.
I just learned this eighty-four-year-old story about him and his first short stint in the CCC.
When Herman Kelly was not yet seventeen years of age, he joined the CCC. He was sent up north to a camp in Pennsylvania. Not liking the cold weather up there he soon left his post and returned to the home of his older sister Effie Marie Isaacs Moore and her husband Albert Moore down in Leflore County. The poorest area in the Mississippi Delta.
A depression era recording of a song titled the CCC Blues is posted below. The song expresses the nature of the thoughts that most likely went through the mind of Herman Kelly Isaacs before he decided to leave the CCC.
As you just heard , in the song above, the song warned enlistees that one consequence of leaving the CCC early was that they would never be able to go back into the program or join the U S military at a later time.
But Herman Kelly was a clever boy. He figured out a way to beat the system. Two years after leaving the CCC camp in Pennsylvania he changed his name and signed up with CCC again. He signed up again using a different name. He changed his name and enlisted under the name of Henry Kelly Isaacs.
This time around he was sent to a place that was much farther away from home. He was transported all the way across the country to the Triangle Lake Camp in Lane County Oregon, where he stayed and completed his term of service.
Herman Kelly Isaacs continued to go by the name Henry Kelly Isaacs for the rest of his life. However, those who knew him best called him by his middle name Kelly.
Many people, including some close relatives, never knew that he used an alias. They believed his birth name was Henry Kelly. But now, knowing that his name really was Herman Kelly, explains away the confusion that followed when he named his first born son Herman Kelly Isaacs Jr.
Herman Kelly Isaacs wasn’t the only young man in our family to change his name so he could join the CCC a second time. His older brother Benjamin Franklin Isaacs liked the program so much that he didn’t want to leave once his time was done. He dropped the s at the end of his surname. He changed his name to Isaac so he could enlist for another six months. He used the Isaac version of his surname for the rest of his life. His descendants continue to uses the name Isaac to this day.
Beatrice Issacs Lisenby was the youngest sister of Ruby Isaacs Roe. She married Herbert Lisenby shortly after he returned home to Mississippi after completing his six month term of service in the CCC. While in the CCCC, Herbert Lisenby was stationed at a camp in Oregon. Herbert and Beatrice Lisenby eventually moved to Oregon, where they raised their family. They lived out their lives there.
All seven of the Isaacs siblings left Mississippi. Most of them settled in the Willamette Valley region of Oregon.
Three Isaacs sisters ( Effie Marie, Ruby Elizabeth and Beatrice) were laid to rest in Fir Grove Cemetery in Cottage Grove Oregon. Along with their husbands and a number of their deceased children. Isaacs brother Herman/Henry Kelly Isaacs and his son Herman Kelly are also buried there.
Thpre song CCC Blues comes to us from a field recoding made by Margret Valiant. She recorded the song in a migrant camp in Northern California, for the Farm Security Administration in 1936.
For 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. From the prompt for the week of February 18 to February 26. Prospertiy
“A good name is more desirable than great riches” ……. Proverbs 22:1
SAME NAME DIFFERNT SPELLING
My name is Lucy Jearldine Roe. I was born in Kings Daughters Hospital in Greenville, Mississippi, on March 15, 1946. Sixth in line of Henry and Ruby Roe’s seven children, I am their second and youngest daughter, the first of their children to be delivered in a hospital. All my older siblings were born at home.
My mother named me after two relatives, my father’s older sister Lucie Georgia Roe, and her cousin, Geraldine S. Isaacs. While our names are the same, they are spelled differently. It was my mother’s aim that I be a proper namesake to my aunt and cousin, that our names be spelled the same, but when a hospital nurse recorded my birth she spelled out my name as she saw fit and not how my mother intended. I don’t know why but I have always gone by my middle name, Jearldine. Most members of my family call me Gerl, others call me Gerry. Few people know that my first name is Lucy.
We moved to Oregon when I was a baby. My Aunt Lucie sent letters to me long before I learned to read and write. My mother answered her letters for me until I was old enough to respond myself. We sent letters back and forth for more than twenty years. I finally got to meet her in person shortly before she died in 1977. I never met cousin Geraldine, but I did meet members of her immediate family in November of 1992 when I took my mother back to Kuttawa Kentucky to visit her birth place and to spend time with cousins and other relatives who she hadn’t seen since she was a little girl.
Although our names are spelled differently, I am honored to carry the name of these two long-gone relatives and I hope that they were pleased to share their name with me. I also hope that when they look down from heaven that they see that I was careful to live a wholesome life and that I maintained the character of their good name.
By Gerry Roe, as told to my niece, Betsy Thorpe
For 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. From Prompt for week of February 6 to February 11, “Same Name.”
“You are the fairy tales told by your ancestors.” Toba Beta
SO FAR AWAY
He was a tall, handsome and adventurous boy. The only son of a well to do merchant. He captured my grandmother’s attention when she was a young girl and she fondly recalled his memory up through her old age. Her stories of him were vague, and the actual role he played in her life remains unclear.
My mother, my aunt and I, were all privy to her reminiscences of him. However, we don’t all recall her stories the same. I’m convinced that the boy’s name was Albert Thomas Firth Junior, but my mother is certain that his last name was Butts. My aunt disagrees with her. According to my aunt, the Butts family that befriended my grandmother were from Missouri, where my grandmother spent some years before her father moved his wife and children South to Mississippi.
I had the notion that the young pilot was in love with my grandmother, that he wanted to marry her, but that she chose my grandfather instead. My aunt remembers the story in a different way. She doesn’t think their friendship was ever that serious, but she does recall hearing that for some time my grandfather was quite jealous of my grandmother’s memory of the young pilot and that he would often tell her that she should have married that boy.
Until recently, when I did my research into the plane crash that killed Albert, I was sure that that he had taken my grandmother up in the air for a ride in his plane. But that can’t be true. My grandmother married my grandfather at least a year before he learned to fly and was the mother of a young son by the time he owned his own plane. Additionally, anyone who knew my grandfather would agree that he would never have allowed my grandmother to do such a thing.
More than forty years had passed from the time that he died, till the time that my grandmother told me about him. Of all the stories she told of her youth, the story of the daring young pilot was one of my favorites.
I just wish I had thought to ask her for more details. How did she learn that his plane went down? I wonder today if she was among the “large crowd” that witnessed the tragedy. Was she somewhere nearby? Did she hear the crash? His plane nosedived into a cottonfield. Was he flying over the cottonfield where she lived? I wish I knew.
But the big question I could have asked, one that is common to all, is this; Why did the memory of someone removed so far away by space and time, remain so near and dear to her heart? I could have asked her, but there really was no need.
I am a hopeless romantic and I always knew the answer.
For 52 ancestors in 52 weeks. From prompt “So Far Away.”